The Company of Fiends (Tempting Monsters 2) - Page 145


The roots were wild, vibrant with rage, tangling together through the walls and floorboards, making a new structure of the building they'd corrupted. They fed on the dead Birsha had left behind, the magic of the warlock I'd offered up to them, and the wards seamed into the very walls.

I was flying through the house, following their path, tripping and toppling along in their urgency and entirely lost in the maze.

When the roots burst through a wall, I found myself stepping down into the center of chaos, the battle waging around me, monsters grappling together, furniture torn apart. A young woman with a long blonde braid streaked by me, her thin white strips of a dress ragged, her dark eyes wild and panicked.

Wait, I called, but I forgot to speak out loud, and a root reached out to her, wrapping around her ankle and tripping her to the floor. She cried out as she landed on the floor, and a brilliant gold demon ran for her, his hands coated in blood, his hungry expression promising violence.


The roots released her and dove for him instead, and she scrambled up and ran from the room before I could call to her.

A familiar broad pair of horns appeared in the doorway.

"Asterion!" I cried out.

He glanced at me, and his bronze cheeks were stained with blood. "Run!" The word was a clap of thunder as the minotaur grabbed the golden demon by the collar.

A clawed hand snagged my wrist, and I turned to find a ravenous feathered face looming closer. I fell backwards into the roots, and the monster snarled as I escaped.

Were we winning or losing? I wondered, wishing I'd spotted Hunter and Nireas in the melee, reassuring myself they were safe. But they wouldn't forgive me if I got myself hurt or killed in the process of searching for them, and Jude and Ronan would be wild with worry by now.

Take me outside, I pleaded with the roots. They answered in a rushing motion, sweeping me out through cracked floorboards and a shattered window, sliding me safely back into the earth, where it was crowded and quiet.

I settled in the safety of the roots, swimming through their pathways back to the large and patient bodies of the trees.

Thank you, wild sister.

Thank you, I answered, rising up in the dark hollow of an oak, resting in the silence for a moment, afraid of what I might hear or see when I stepped outside.

I pulled myself free slowly, the cries of struggle, howls of war, and screams of freedom at my back. But they were distant sounds. The trees had carried me far from the battle, and as I stepped out onto cool grass, I looked back and realized that I was on the opposite side of the estate as I'd been before. I had to find Jude and Ronan, but it would involve moving through the woods while a war of monsters was taking place.

There were shadows churning, a soft gasp and cry rushing past me, more victims escaping the house, but no friendly calls or familiar voices.

I have the trees, I reminded myself, moving forward, pointing myself in the direction of the chaos and the drive, toward where I'd left Jude. The woods answered with a distracted encouragement. They were busy with the work I'd set for them, but they were here. I knew my way back into their shelter if I needed them.

A rush of wings passed over my head as I took shelter under an old oak, and I debated calling out. Was that Ronan flying over me, or an enemy, or even simply an owl? I waited for the sound to pass and then ran forward, nearing the drive.

A scuffle of snarls and growls hissed through the shadows on my right, and I flinched in the opposite direction, drifting farther from the house to avoid notice. I was dashing across the gravel drive, ignoring the bite of stone under the soles of my feet—my shoes were lost somewhere in the house or underground—when a figure stepped out of the cover of a tree.

Moonlight struck him, his blue and opal horns catching the light, and for a moment my heart stuttered in relief at the familiarity. And then Eston leapt forward, wrapping his arms around me and clapping a hand over my mouth. Barbs dug into my hips and shoulders, and my eyes widened up at the demon, a familiar clogging and sickly perfume filling my lungs.

He'd vanished after Isabella ran, and I recalled Mr. Reddy's confusion at the fact. Recalled the padded, pillowed sensation of my attacker in my home, like a figure trying to hide recognizable features—small horns that had rutted against me on stage. Recalled Eston's bitter words about Beth's memorial, my own harsh words to him the night before my home was broken into, his wary surprise at my apology the next day.

He stared back at me, vivid blue eyes glowing in the dark, a perfect understanding passing between us. I knew. He knew.

Here was the killer we'd been searching for, under our noses the whole time. A member of the company, just as I'd sworn would be impossible.

"Why?" I asked, choking on the disguising scent he wore, the word mumbled against his hot palm.

"Money," Eston whispered, glancing up at the house behind me. "A place here, where I can do as I like instead of doing as I'm ordered by that halfling bastard. I don't want to be tamed and humiliated on a stage. I'm better than that. Better than you and fucking Reddy and all the others." He grinned down at me, his fanged smile glinting as he shook his head. "What are you doing here, Hazel?"

Because Eston hadn't heard my confession at the theater, and he still thought I was just a human girl.

"Con," I said into Eston's palm, allowing the fragrance to make tears spill out of my eyes, as if I were helpless, afraid. "I came for Con. Where's Isabella?"

"In there," Eston said, glaring at the house. "I brought her for Birsha, but the old coward ran from London sometime last night."

I blinked at that news. Birsha wasn't in the house? Was that good or bad?

"What am I going to do with you if I can't sell you to him?" Eston murmured, thinking out loud. "I suppose you'll have to go the way of Beth and Marge."

I struggled in his hold, the only appropriate response to the threat of death, kicking at his ankles and hoping it kept him distracted.

He frowned then and stared down at me again. "Why haven't you screamed yet? They always screamed."

"Hazel!" A voice—Jude's—shouted behind us.

Eston stiffened, eyes widening, and his arms constricting around me, jostling me. His hand slipped from my mouth as he reached for my throat.

"Tear him apart," I said, not shouting but speaking calmly, echoing the thought in my mind.

"Nix!" Mr. Reddy called, but both he and Jude were too far away.

Eston's mouth opened, sharp fingers and claws on my throat, but then he looked down. Tree roots bound his ankles, crawled up his legs, strangled his thighs. He grunted, and his hand tightened briefly on my throat, my vision shadowing.

I was patient. And the trees were hungry.

Tags: Kathryn Moon Tempting Monsters Paranormal
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