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THE DEVIL’S DUE
In loving memory of the greatest aunt a niece could have. Dorothy “Sugar Babe” Few Lucas. You are missed. Not just for your laughter, your witty replies, and generous spirit. You are missed, just because you were you.
I love you, Aunt Sugie.
There was Death, and she faded into the shadows.
There was Slaughter, and he disappeared as dust into the wind.
There was the Lyon, who sought vengeance in the darkness, then found the light of love.
There was the Jaguar, who was the darkness, but found the heart that saved his soul.
There were so many.
There were all who knew vengeance, who knew retribution, and they succumbed to the greatest weakness man or beast could ever know.
They succumbed to the hearts they should have never possessed.
And now, the forces of man’s greatest ally and his most cherished creator have looked down upon a heart that all have claimed to be black, to be without mercy or compassion, and felt Himself soften.
For mercy resides in quantities that are vast while compassion slices His soul with each act of justice he’s forced to mete out.
The one they call “Devil.” The one they say is the darkest of all Breeds created.
The one his creator has guided to ensure his hand had dealt the blow of justice needed to ensure the existence of the Breeds. The one for whom his creator has planned the most cherished of all gifts.
The Lyon now guides his Pride.
Slaughter now slays only the demons that risk his love.
The Jaguar now prowls only the darkness of his own lair while the bogeyman of the Breeds, the warrior Warrant, is the champion of love.
Each has received the truest gift of all, that gift of love.
Now the Devil will receive his as well.
The creator lifted his hand, his smile gentle, compassion and mercy guiding his actions as he brought revelations, hid from the Devil’s enemies those secrets that would have harmed the coming gift, and laid in place each emotion, each hunger, each separate hormone and cell, the qualities needed to ensure a match none could have expected.
A priceless, unending love.
It’s now time to give the Devil his due.
Barrett O’Sullivan stared at the tiny—too, too tiny—form of the child that his best friend had followed him into hell to save.
A little scrap of flesh and bones that was all of nine years of age, but he swore she could be barely four if she was a day.
Now Jorn Langer, the friend who had uncovered the secret of these labs, the secret of this child, lay on the cement floor next to her, his blood staining the icy stone below.
God, it was so cold.
Barrett could feel the chill surrounding him seeping into his soul, into that place within his heart, within his consciousness, that brought the realization that once again, his life was changing.
Surrounded by that cold, his naked child lay, her skin nearly blue. The wealth of long, Irish red ringlets cascaded on the floor around her to mix with the blood of her rescuer. Irish cream flesh shadowed by the tint of freezing blue glistened beneath the ringlets.
Echoing screams, shouted orders, bestial growls and animalistic snarls were like a hellish symphony invading the lab where Jorn’s greatest battle had been fought. The battle to save the child Barrett hadn’t even known existed until days before.
“Fuck me, Bar,” Jorn whispered weakly, his accent thickened by pain as thick Norse white blond lashes lifted to stare up at Barrett blearily. “I’m gonna die, lad. Helluva way to go.”
“The hell you are.” Kneeling quickly, Barrett checked the wound to his chest and knew his friend wasn’t lying. He was dying.
God help him. This man was as much his brother as any blood could be, and he was dying.
“Don’t you die on me, Jorn,” he whispered, suddenly desperate.
All their lives it had been Jorn who had gotten Barrett’s ass out of trouble, and who had gotten his ass into trouble. This was the man who had watched over him, laughed with him, fought with him.
“Got no choice, boyo,” Jorn wheezed, his ruddy face pale now, the blood spilling too quickly from his chest.
“Your daughter, Bar.” Jorn nodded to the child next to him.
Her breathing was slow and easy, but she was so stiff with cold.
Barrett all but tore his jacket off and quickly wrapped it around the girl’s nude body, wondering why he hadn’t done so the moment he stepped into the room.
She lay against Jorn’s bleeding chest, her weight so slight she couldn’t have increased the rate of blood loss, but still, Barrett moved to lift her from her resting place.
“No!” Jorn’s arm tightened around her slight form. “Not yet. Let me hold this little angel for a moment. She reminds me of Khileen. My sweet, little Khileen.”
His daughter. She was barely five, and she was the light of Jorn’s life.
They both stared at the fall of hair. There was so much hair and so little child.
“Hide her,” Jorn whispered, turning back to Barrett. “Remember the file I found, Bar. Don’t let anyone know. They can’t know she’s yours and Kella’s. Swear it, Bar.”
“I swear it.”
No one could know. It would mean more than just his and his wife, Kella’s, life. It could mean their child’s as well. A child created from the sperm and ova he and his wife had given at a fertility clinic in the hopes of a child that Kella would carry. A child she would nurture within her body and one they would raise from first birth.
Yet, as he stared at the child Jorn held close, Barrett realized no love could be greater than the love he felt for this child, at this moment.
Damn, his hands were shaking, he realized as he reached out to brush her hair back from her face.
Blinking fiercely at the tears that would have fallen, his gaze moved to Jorn’s once again.
“Kella’s lass,” Jorn whispered, his accent thicker now as death neared. “She’s her wee miniature, Bar.”
“How do I hide her child?” Desperation began to fill him. “Fuck you, Bar. Don’t you leave me to protect this child and Khileen alone. Don’t you do this to me.”
Jorn’s rakish smile tugged at his pale lips. “I wish . . .”
“No, God, Jorn, don’t you do this.” How the f**k was he supposed to do what he had to do without Jorn’s help?
“Stick closest to the truth,” Jorn was wheezing now. “Found her here. Contact Lyons in the US. Virginia. Meet. Show him the truth. He’ll give you the care of her.”