It wasn’t easy being Death. Made it hard to make friends. Harder still to keep them. No one was ever really happy to see you. Being around anyone tended to make them nervous and jumpy. Really sucked most days.
And today in particular, Grim was… well…
Sighing heavily, he glared at his hulking henchmen, Pain and Suffering. Instantly terrified of Grim’s intent and mood and what it might cause him to do to them, they skittered from the room like two roaches caught trying to pilfer a bite of cake. As if he was going to kill them while they were cleaning his office.
Later, he might be tempted. But he seldom killed anyone while they were doing something for him.
Even more agitated by their fear, he skimmed his hand over the large crystal skull on his table. Time was being tampered with. He didn’t know why and he didn’t know who.
But something wasn’t right. Something unnatural was happening. And this stupid, clear skull wasn’t helping him decipher the riddle in the least. He saw nothing, and that only ticked him off more. He’d never liked being in the dark. Never liked not knowing, and he cursed the day he’d been born without foresight.
Grim lifted the skull up, intending to splinter it against the wall.
“Are you trying to find our missing rider?”
Calming enough to return the skull to its stand, Grim cocked his head at the sound of the feminine voice. With long, curly dark hair and perfect features, Laguerre was ever beautiful. Ever evil. His favorite kind of being, if the truth were told. There was no ambiguity in her heart. No prejudice. She hated everyone equally.
And she killed without hesitation.
It was why they were best friends and had been so for countless centuries. Sighing in the midst of his bitter ennui, Grim sat back in his chair to eye her ruefully. “There’s no reason to hunt for Yrre. Sadly, Gautier refused the call and closed the door on our ride against the human vermin. There’s nothing we can do now.”
“Yes, but he left all the riders on the human side of it when he so rudely slammed it shut in our faces. None of us are trapped in other realms this time.”
She had a point. Still…
“Bane is aligning himself with our enemies. He says he’s done with the intrigue. It’s just you and me now.”
“And Yrre, with one more who is willing and bitter enough to join us. One who has the blood and fury we need to pull the ancient gods into this world and unleash them. They will be forever grateful for our service and they will reward our loyalty. While four is not as strong as our seven, four riders make a formidable team… and the majority we need to call for a judgment and take back what was stolen from us.”
Grim quirked a brow at that. “Pardon?”
“I found our missing rider who’s more than willing to eat the heart of the Malachai and lead us to Conquest. Together, we can make our Malachai-Gautier demon all he should be. Or kill him if he refuses and replace him with his brother, the elder child who bears Malachai blood.”
For the first time since Nick Gautier had fought his way back to the right dimension and decided not to end the world or die in utter agony at his feet, Grim smiled.
Things were finally looking up again. And this time, nothing would stop them. Especially not some smart-mouthed guttersnipe teenager and his motley band of friends. And little Nick was about to learn just what a liability friends really were.
“Nickaboo? Hurry, child! You’re about to be late for school!”
Nick Gautier dropped the towel from the damp hair he was drying as he glanced to the clock on his nightstand to confirm the fact that his mother was still the most vigilant and accurate timekeeper in the history of all mankind. At least when it came to his home, school, and work schedules.
But how odd… he’d had almost forty minutes just a heartbeat ago when he’d left the bathroom.
How long did it take to pull on a pair of jeans and one really foully ugly Hawaiian shirt, anyway?
Apparently thirty-five minutes.
Dang, I do move slow in the morning. Good thing his mortal enemies didn’t know that. He’d be Cajun hashbrowns.
Tossing the towel into the bathroom, he rushed to the kitchen and almost tripped over their newest furry addition.
Xevikan, who let out a nasty hiss in protest before he scurried to the corner to arch his back against the wall.
Nick started to return the cat’s growl, but since his mom didn’t know their new pet was actually a shape-shifting ancient Nick and his friends had freed from a hell dimension and taken in, he refrained. His luck, she’d think he had distemper or something, and take him in for shots. “Sorry, Mr. Fuzzy Boots.”
Xev glared at him before he mentally projected his ire at him. I really hate that name you gave my feline incarnation, Gautier.
Nick flashed a grin at the large white Egyptian Mau staring up at him indignantly. Why you think I use it?
Xev spread his claws for cleaning, but Nick caught the one he aimed directly at him.
Laughing good-naturedly at the single-finger insult Xev had picked up from Caleb, Nick started to reach for the bacon only to realize his furry houseguest had beat him to it. Again. Yeah, it was a good thing he felt sorry for Xev.
And he did. For thousands of years, the ancient being had been imprisoned in a realm without friend or family. Now Xev was extremely gun-shy of a world he didn’t understand, nor did he play well with others, which was why they’d decided the best thing was to leave him here in Nick’s house to sleep while Nick went to school and work. All of them were much happier that way. And since Xev had severe PTSD mixed with extremely frightening powers and not a lot of patience or tolerance, the world was a lot less likely to end violently if Xev stayed out of events that elevated his stress levels, and tempted him to mass homicide.
“Really, Nick? Really?”
He turned to find his petite, blond mother glaring up at him. Man, he’d never understand how a woman as tiny as Cherise Gautier could be so terrifying when riled. But then, his girlfriend, Nekoda Kennedy, had those same testosterone-sucking powers, too.
And all Kody had to do to wield hers was pout in his general direction.
Closing the fridge door, his mom wiggled the milk container at him. “First, why did you drink all the milk last night after I went to bed? Second, why did you put the empty container back in the fridge?”
He clamped his jaw shut and slid his gaze to the real culprit, who’d probably drunk out of the container without a glass on top of it all. But his mom would think him nuts if he blamed the empty milk jug on the cat lacking opposable thumbs. So he manned up and took the fall for his friend.