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Hearts of Stone – Guardian Wings

Content

About the Book

Two forlorn souls, not allowed to love... a heart-melting love story about a witch and a gargoyle.

His clan took everything from him and forced Vincent to live in the shadows. Shunned by his own kind, his only light in this darkness is a witch, Noir LeMar. Vincent is her secret guardian. He wants to touch her just once but he has been cursed by his clan – anything that he touches will die. Demons have wiped out Noir LeMar’s family. Since then, she’s been fighting a lonely battle. She does not know that she has a protector, who watches her day and night, while she tries to find her parents’ killers. To save Noir’s life, Vincent has to give up his cover. Although they are attracted to each other, both know they can never fall in love and feel passion. The consequences would be devasting. Can their passion survive the threat of death?

For fans of erotic romance novels set in a mysterious environment.

About the Author

Inka Loreen Minden is a German author of erotic and paranormal romances and young adult books. She has so many pseudonyms that people call her ‘the multi-named woman’. Inka lives in Munich and shares her home with her husband and son. She has written more than twenty-six books—historical, contemporary, and paranormal—and her titles appear regularly on the German online bestseller charts.

Hearts of Stone

Guardian Wings

Inka Loreen Minden

Chapter 1 – Scotland

Like a giant bat, Vincent hung upside down against the wall of the abbey. He stared through the window, his claws embedded into the gray stone and his wings pressed to his body. On a narrow bed, lay Noir. Vince saw a long slender leg, peeking out from under the blanket. He could look at her for hours. He sighed softly. Fortunately, the pitch-black darkness concealed him, but wind chased the clouds, and soon the moon would shed light on the monastery grounds.

Noir moved restlessly and awoke.

His pulse sped up. With one movement, he pushed himself from the wall and sailed with outstretched wings into the foliage of a tree across from the window. He dug his claws into the trunk, climbed as nimbly as a squirrel to the crown, and perched there motionless. He knew what was coming and his heartbeat quickened. Noir opened the window and Vince caught his breath, because as she stuck her head out, moonlight poured onto her long hair through a gap in the clouds and it shone like silver. Her elf-like face showed no emotion. Noir’s eyes, dark as onyx, darted around the garden of the abbey. Vince lived for moments like this. Unfortunately, she retreated too soon.

He pushed his head forward, careful not to betray himself, and blinked until he got used to the brightness of the moon, shining through the leaves of the imposing oak tree. From his hiding place, he had an excellent view into the room of the old convent. Silver Abbey had been built in the twelfth century near the harbor town of Aberdeen. The gray granite walls, quarried from the stone pits nearby, were characteristic of the Scottish city, with some buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. When the sun or moonlight hit the houses, the particles in the stone glittered like Noir’s white hair.

For many weeks, she had hidden in the ancient looking monastery. The interior had been modernized and adapted to the twenty-first century—even the monks of Abbey Silverstone wanted Internet access. Nevertheless, Noir lived in a sparse room because the monastery was a monastery, no matter what century it existed in. It offered the perfect hiding place for a witch; no one would suspect her to hide in a church facility, and no demon entered such a place voluntarily.

The clock struck ten. Light illuminated Noir’s room and Vincent squeezed his eyes shut. He heard the familiar buzz as Noir powered up her computer. A little later, the toilet flushed, and then the scraping of chair legs as Noir sat down at her desk. Vincent didn’t move, the night offered him additional protection. As Noir’s secret protector, he was accustomed to going undetected. Almost every night, the witch hunted demons, and each time Vincent followed her like a shadow.

He sighed again. Why did Noir continue with this terrible life? He’d much rather stroll around with her in the moonlight than constantly rush after her. The window framed her tall, slim shape. She had her back to Vincent as she sat at the table, typing on the computer in front of her. If he remained stock-still, she wouldn’t notice him, even though he was perched just four yards away from her on a branch.

During the day, Noir hid her hair under a habit like the monks in the monastery. Now it flowed, slightly tousled, over her shoulders. He preferred Noir in her sleeping shirt because it didn’t hide her beautiful figure as the wide robe did. The material hardly covered her ass and he caught a glimpse of tight, skimpy panties.

Her curves…Vincent swallowed hard. His claws dug deep into the wood of the thick branch to which he clung. Since the chair had an open back, he ogled Noir’s narrow waist and her taut buttocks, which slipped back and forth on the chair. How would her softness feel under his touch? How would Noir’s hair be? Stubborn like his, or soft like velvet? The way it caressed her back and adapted to each movement, it resembled silk.

Was her skin smooth? For certain. Everything about Noir would feel good. Vince would give everything if he could touch her—only once!

He had often toyed with this thought: he would spread his wings and soar over to her window while she slept, creep to her bed, pull the cover from her body, and caress her. Just once!

But Noir was a hunter, a killer. The moment she noticed him, she would destroy him. Vincent looked eerie, at least in his non-human form: his fangs lengthened and he sprouted pointy ears. Tiny horns poked out of his brown hair and strong bat-like wings adorned his back—certainly no eye candy. Noir would be frightened if a six-and-a-half-foot monster suddenly loomed in front of her in ripped jeans.

As the branch snapped under his torment, Vincent held his breath, but Noir, luckily, paid no attention. She was still leaning over her laptop at the desk. Although he couldn’t see the small screen, he knew that she was skimming, as usual, the Magic International, an online magazine for magicians, which kept her up to date on the events in their world.

An oak leaf sailed downwards, rustling through the treetop, and landing on his shoulder. Autumn was close, and would force Vince to seek another hiding place soon. If Noir discovered him now, she would take him for a demon. Vincent could hardly blame her if she tried to kill him. He was a monster, at least in his gargoyle form. Even when he transformed into a human, Noir would loathe him. After all, she could have any male. She was a beauty, tall and as graceful as a fairy, but more dangerous than a harpy. Her appearance deceived everyone. Under her petite shell hid a witch with unimaginable powers. To avoid attention, she seldom used the powerful spells she could master to their full extent. Vincent knew what Noir was capable of, because he had watched her as she practiced in the forest. She was the mistress of the elements; turning water into icy arrows to hurl at her foes. She whipped up winds, created invisible walls of pure energy, and moved the earth by using magic to bring down her enemies. Most recently, Noir had tried to blow up candles.

With her appearance alone, she dazzled the demons that were lured into her trap every night. Creatures of hell had a fondness for pretty human females. Even the pale scar running down her cheek didn’t disfigure Noir. The injury was from an attack in her childhood when her family was murdered and Noir barely escaped with her life.

Not even the monks knew a woman or a witch, protected by her magical abilities, lived among them. None of the silent monks ever asked why she skipped the daily prayers and religious services and only joined them for meals.

During the day, she rested for the most part, and only left Silver Abbey under the cover of darkness. The center of the old town housed a demon club that drew the scum of the underworld like a magnet. Every night, she ambushed spawn of hell as they left the club. She pumped the creatures for information about the location of the amulet or the whereabouts of her missing brother. Afterwards, she destroyed the evil being without effort. Noir was unforgiving and tortured if necessary. Sometimes, she scared even Vincent.

The cool wind from the east coast rustled the leaves and whirled through Vincent’s hair, messing it up a little more. He smelled salt and seaweed. To his chagrin, it mixed with Noir’s unique, feminine scent. Like a pink ribbon, it wriggled out of the window—a touch of cinnamon and vanilla—making a beeline for Vincent’s nose. He suppressed a groan because it was a blessing and a curse, not being in his human form. As a gargoyle, he could protect Noir more efficiently, as his senses were enhanced. Vincent heard a mouse scurrying through the grass under the cover of darkness, searching for food. About fifty yards away, a cat crouched in the shadow of two garbage cans with gleaming eyes. It hadn’t noticed the little mouse; instead, it stared at Vince, arched its back, and hissed. It tried to figure out whether Vincent was friend or foe. He would never harm the cat because he loved animals and didn’t need to hunt down his lunch. Unlike his fellow species, Vincent detested raw meat. Although, Vincent had always avoided dogs because a stray one had bitten him as a child.

Since Noir’s parents had been murdered ten years ago, Vincent had been her shadow, her dark guardian angel, even though she was, by now, so powerful that she didn’t need him anymore. Vincent belonged to the London Brotherhood, who had assigned him to protect the witch. He had convinced them that he had to stay with her, told his brothers and sisters that Noir’s protection was extremely important because if the demons got hold of the second amulet, the consequences would be catastrophic. He hadn’t lied. Both amulets would give the creatures of hell unimaginable powers, enabling them to enslave humanity.

Vincent happily lied, because he needed Noir like a fish needed water. Without her, he knew he could no longer exist. Despite her strength and skills in the martial arts, Vince was afraid something would harm her. He had to keep the real reasons from his clan, because it was forbidden on his life to physically approach her. The Brotherhood would expel him and that would be his death sentence. He had to be content to watch and protect the pretty female, who never noticed his existence, in secret. That had to satisfy him, even though it hadn’t in a long time. Vincent wanted to smell, feel, caress, lick and taste her. He had never made love to a woman, but countless times he had fantasized about how it would feel to penetrate Noir. His cock stirred and hardened as he thought about it. Vince would have to get off by himself as always—he still felt like a pervert, even after all this time. Actually, he was a voyeur. But if he took his eyes off Noir, even for one moment, his carelessness might endanger her life.

Dammit! Noir could take good care of herself, but he refused to let her out of sight!

He smelled her through the open window and heard the steady rhythm of her heartbeat. By the hellhounds, he had a hard time of restraining himself from sailing into her tiny room, yanking her off the chair, tearing the shirt and panties from her body, and...

Stop it! Think of something else! Frustrated, he hung his head. It would be enough to hold her in his arms.

He should rest before Noir left for her forays, as he needed his full strength. Vince could not relax because tonight his desire for her was too strong. How long would he be able to hold back? He closed his eyes and tried hard to ignore the throbbing of his cock. Noir’s heartbeat even penetrated his dreams and told him whether she was asleep, excited, or agitated. The only thing that thrilled Noir was hunting down the missing amulet and her parents’ murderers.

Vincent’s erection pressed against his three-quarter jeans. He wore nothing else as garments constricted his movements and nobody saw him in this shape anyway. If Noir moved during the day, which she did rarely, he turned into his human form and blended in with the crowd. To be on the safe side, he had clothes stashed in the vicinity, as well as a cellphone, so he could contact his clan at any time.

While the bodies of other gargoyles turned into an organic substance resembling stone at sunrise, he turned into a man—at night he changed back. Hence, his clan had appointed him to guard the witch, as Vince could watch her day and night. That made him something special, and likewise, an outcast. He was...different. Vincent snorted. Grimsley, the clan leader of the London Brotherhood, had surely only agreed that Vince—the freak—guarded Noir to keep him out of the vicinity of the other gargoyles.

Vincent wanted to stay a man forever because then he wouldn’t feel ugly. But in human form, he couldn’t protect Noir sufficiently, and anyhow it was impossible, because the healer of the gargoyles had cursed Vince. If he tried to turn into a human at night, he would succeed, but under excruciating pain. Every living thing he touched with his hands turned to stone to keep him from making the same mistake as his father. Humans and gargoyles were ill-matched.

Vince had to take a pill every day, which he carried in a leather pouch on his belt, or he would die. Grimsley had made sure of that.

“You’re different,” he said constantly. Vince was fed up of hearing it! His cursed life depended on the daily intake of a tiny pill! It was humiliating! Degrading!

Different...

He growled, because his claws ached from driving them relentlessly into the tree. Loneliness seized on him since. He hated his life; Noir was his single light in the darkness.

His arousal turned to anger as he thought of how confined his life was. It should satisfy him to protect someone as a gargoyle; it was the reason for a gargoyle’s existence. But Vincent had feelings and desires that were screaming for satisfaction, born of the fact he wasn’t a real gargoyle.

Suddenly Noir’s heartbeat increased. Something was wrong! Vincent opened his eyes and tensed every muscle. Noir reached for her cellphone that lay next to her computer and punched in a number. “Magnus,” she said breathlessly and jumped up from the chair, knocking it on the floor. “I need a flight to Paris. Now!”

Vincent’s pulse beat faster as he focused on the male’s voice. “What happened?”

“I found a suspicious advert in the Magic International. Are you online?” Noir leaned across the table. Her sweet ass covered in those tight panties stuck out towards Vince, but now he was too agitated to enjoy the sight. He had never seen her so distraught.

“Wait a minute, I have to go to the study.” Magnus replied.

Magnus Thorne was one of the most powerful magicians in the world, even stronger than Noir. Compared to his skills, Noir’s art was a piece of cake. He controlled the entire repertoire of high magic, could turn things, evoke optical illusions, or change his appearance. Magnus and his wife lived nearby in the sedate village of West Hill. Ten years ago, Noir had entrusted him with the amulet the demons were after. They had the counterpart of Noir’s amulet. Alone they were almost harmless, but if the amulets were brought together, they unleashed unimaginable powers. Both pieces of jewelry in demon hands...It was inconceivable what might happen then.

“Okay, which page?” came Magnus’s voice from the phone. He was Noir’s only ally in the fight against the underworld creatures.

“Thirteen. The news is unimportant. Someone offers classes for first degree magic, but in the frame around the advertisement...Can you see it?”

“That’s impossible!” Magnus uttered. “A circle, a triangle, and a portal.”

Noir straightened up so abruptly that Vincent nearly fell off the branch. “Yes,” she said. “Within the decoration is an exact depiction of the missing amulet. Only a person possessing it could know what it looks like. As far as I am aware no records exist.”

Vincent strained his ears. Evidence of the amulet in the newspaper! It sounded unbelievable. That meant...

“It’s a trap!” Magnus’s voice bellowed and goose bumps spread over Vincent’s body, despite the fact that gargoyles had a higher resistance to cold. A black void threatened to swallow him as he pondered the same thing. If Noir visited this address in Paris, her life could possibly end. He had to stop her!

With one hand, she swept her hair behind one ear, a gesture that betrayed her nervous state. “I’m not stupid. I know the message is from the demon that killed my parents.”

“All the more important you don’t show up,” Magnus snapped.

Noir seemed not to listen to him because she muttered under her breath, “The demon, which killed my parents, wants to lure me in to get a hold of the second amulet. Makes sense to me. I’ve always known that they’re looking for me. But why now...?”

“Noir!” Magnus sounded impatient.

“Wait, I need to check something.” Noir hammered away on the keyboard. “Here I can call up all the ads from past issues.” Suddenly she sat up straight. “That’s impossible!”

Vincent’s heart skipped a few beats. This witch was about to destroy his last intact nerve.

“What is it?” Magnus asked. “Noir!”

“The same advert...It was in every edition from previous years!”

“And you never noticed?”

“I skip the advertisement section.” Noir began to stutter. “I...It was because...This time I just...”

“Noir, if you need money, just ask me.” The voice of the magician sounded gentle.

Again, she brushed a strand behind her ear. “A flight to Paris would help me a lot.”

“Are you sure?”

Like a caged animal, Noir paced the tiny room while she packed a backpack with her most important possessions. Vincent forced himself to stay on the branch; he would prefer to sail directly through Noir’s window, tie her to the bed, and stop her from doing something stupid.

“Maybe I’ll finally get a clue on Jamie.” Jamie was Noir’s little brother, whom she had had to leave behind in the underworld. Magnus believed he was long dead, but Noir, plagued by guilt, refused to give up the search for him until she knew for certain.

The magician tried to calm her, but Vincent knew it was hopeless. “Noir, after all this time...”

“Magnus, please! You know how important this is to me. I’ll be careful. I’m a damn good witch. I’ve mastered basic magic from the inside out, as well as a high level of magic that only a few can use. And if you refuse to lend me your private jet, I’ll charter a flight. But I will travel to Paris, one way or the other.”

“And fight alone against a horde of demons?” The other end fell silent, as Magnus seemed to be thinking hard. “I would join you, but I cannot leave Amalia alone in her state.” The magician had recently married a second time and his wife was pregnant. “But I’m going to drop off something that you can use in the fight against our damned fiends,” he said. “It’s valuable and must never fall into the hands of the demons, and I want it back. Understood?”

Noir closed her computer and let her hand linger on top of it. Even from four yards away, Vince saw she was trembling. Noir trembled extremely seldom. The opportunity not only to reclaim the second amulet, but also to avenge the murder of her family and to learn what had become of her brother, had thrown her off balance. It was a disaster, as she might be tempted to act rashly.

“Thank you, Magnus, I appreciate your loyalty. I wouldn’t want you to risk your life for my cause anyway. You do enough for me.”

Noir meant her amulet, which Magnus had kept in a safe place at his home since her escape. He owned a huge castle, which was secured like a fortress—magically, of course.

“See you at Aberdeen Airport in one hour,” Magnus said, and the line went dead.

Noir stuffed the phone in the backpack, put away her notebook, and pulled off her shirt.

As always, when Vincent saw her naked, his breath caught. Did Noir know how beautiful she looked when her long hair fell over her apple-sized breasts? Her nipples were hard from excitement and peeked through the strands of her hair. Blotches formed on her face showing her flushed state. She smelled different now; her hormones were in full swing. Adrenaline flowed through her system like a stimulant. Vincent could almost see her fragrance visualized in his brain. Pink changed into a pale blue, enveloping her like an aura. God, why must she be the most appealing witch in the world? Noir, twenty-five-years-old, reminded him of the long-legged models from glossy magazines. Vincent, who was five years older than her, had witnessed her transformation from girl to a woman, from teen to powerful witch. The Brotherhood had assigned him to be her protector when he was twenty. It had swept him off his feet when he saw her for the first time. Every second he spent with her tormented him and to only be able to watch her drove him almost mad. But his protective instincts prevailed and he would save Noir from himself if necessary.

As she donned her leather motorcycle suit, he prepared for a wild chase. Noir looked so hot in the tight material that clung to her like a second skin, that it sparked Vincent’s imagination. In that outfit she seemed imperious, devilishly attractive, and reminiscent of Catwoman. His comic book collection came to mind and he wondered if Kara still hid the books under her bed. Was she still the guardian angel of his Brotherhood? Vincent often thought of Kara, who had been his closest friend and the only living being he missed since his departure from ‘home’.

Vincent sighed in relief when Noir’s slender figure disappeared under the habit. She slipped into her knee-high leather boots; each of them equipped with a dagger, and strolled over to the bed. From under the pillow, she pulled out a stuffed animal that had once been white, but now looked gray and worn. Closing her eyes, she pressed the bunny to her chest; looking like the little girl she had been when Vince saw her for the first time. She stuffed the animal in the backpack, shouldered the bag, and left the room. A short time later, she came out of the side wing located in the garden of the monastery.

From the tree, Vincent watched her tall figure creep through the night and turn round the corner of the house. Although the moon shone brightly, Noir knew how to make herself invisible. Invisible to humans that is, but not to Vincent. He grabbed the old backpack filled his clothes, which he had placed in the crown of the oak. Noir had thrown it away and it had since then passed into Vincent’s possession. At least he owned something of hers.

Vince jumped from the tree, racing to the monastery. He dug his claws into the wall and climbed onto the roof. Noir disappeared into the hedge, which grew in front of the monastery’s inner walls. Through a secret door, she sneaked away from the grounds into the birch forest beyond the wall, where she hid her motorcycle, which she used every night for her forays.

Vince pushed off the roof, spread his wings, and sailed over the wall to follow her like a shadow. Same as ever.

Chapter 2 – London
(a few days in the future)

Kara struggled with herself, as the irony of having to pass the magical hourglass to a witch, of all beings, hit her. Why me? Such activities had long ceased to fall under her area of responsibility. Shaking her head, she stared at the tiny piece of jewelry in her palm. Golden sand sparkled in the glass. The hourglass had recently fallen into the possession of the angels, and the high council of the archangels had decided straight away what to do with it.

Kara lived to make others happy, to protect them or deliver them from long-suffering. But did a witch deserve to be relieved of her anguish? The High Council had told Kara that this woman had earned a bit of luck after all that she’d been through and endured.

Who would release Kara from her suffering? The growing desire to...

My goodness, what was she thinking? As an angel, she was hardly in the position to question, which being deserved salvation or not. The members of the Council alone decided that. All of a sudden, Kara noticed that she could still sense her human past, even though she only knew it from Raphael’s stories and not from her own memories. Needs were unacceptable for angels, at least not those that clashed with the principles of the Council. Lust, vanity, free will...all of that was forbidden. How unfair to be stuck in a fully functioning human body like a mortal, minus the need for sleep or food. If she were an ethereal being, like some guardian angels, she wouldn’t have to bother with such weaknesses. As the guardian angel of the London gargoyles, it was more advantageous to have a solid form. Otherwise, the winged creatures couldn’t see her and cooperation would be difficult.

Kara still wondered why they were ordering her to hand over a magical hourglass, as it wasn’t part of her duties. Kara could never manage to turn Raphael down. After all, he had taught her a lot. She smiled at the thought of her first attempts at flight.

Such a solid body had benefits. Sighing, she stared through the dirty window of an empty shop on a shabby side street to look at her reflection. She had just concealed her wings. Without them, she looked different, which emphasized the feeling of not being a real angel. In this shape, desires surged to the surface. She avoided looking at herself in the eyes as every angel inherited an inner glow, a soul light that shone through the pupils. The purer the soul, the brighter the glow. Her light would certainly be no more than a golden sparkle and she preferred not to know, as it would just prove her imperfection.

Kara turned in front of the window. Her wings were not only invisible—they had disappeared entirely. She could make them appear at any time. Now she had to go to an antique dealer here in London, whom the witch wanted to meet soon, as Raphael had told her. Kara should therefore be visible to humans and appear mortal to make a confident impression. The witch had an erratic streak. Awesome!

Kara turned again in front of the dusty window. What a sinful figure she had: big breasts and curvy hips. She found herself a tad plump, but she liked it when men and women craned their necks to look at her, and she enjoyed wearing form-fitting clothes. She always had to be ready to fly, so she wore a strapless bustier that revealed her midriff. Her wings, perched between her shoulder blades, needed space. She preferred tight jeans and comfortable sneakers. In her hand, she held a summer coat made of a sleek, thin fabric in dark gray, to match the gloomy sky. As an angel, she never felt cold, but she would look strange walking around in this ghastly late summer weather in only a skimpy top.

She turned once more. Yes, she looked like a young woman from earth with the same body she had possessed as human. Raphael had told her so.

My goodness, she not only fostered prejudices against witches, but was also full of herself, and an awful angel! She forced her attention onto the shabby alley in front of her. If she could have only chosen her own destiny, she could guarantee she wouldn’t be an angel. She hated obeying instructions, but being strong-headed could cost an angel her wings, whereupon she would fall far, very far.

She pulled herself together and walked through the deserted passage towards the antique store, which lay fifty yards in front of her, well hidden in a backyard. The environment didn’t seem very inviting. It smelled of garbage, rats burrowed in a pile of old boxes, and somewhere, a dog barked. Thick, gray clouds blocked the blue sky, but the roofs kept the narrow street mostly dry.

“Why does it always rain in London?” she murmured. Kara hated rain. Sorry—she disliked rain because it reflected what lurked inside her: dreariness and a cold heart. Sighing, she pulled on the coat.

If you complete your mission, you will save more than one soul, Raphael had told her with a twinkle in his eyes. Kara wished her former mentor, also a member of the High Council, would have been more precise. He loved speaking in riddles. She sensed that he was right. As an angel, Kara possessed the gift of receiving visions that came to her, not in pictures, but in emotions. They now showed her that her mission would be damn hard, but eventually everything would be fine. For who? For the witch? Or for all of them? She reflected in another bout of self-pity.

As she arrived in the backyard, she sensed a sinister presence lurking in the shop. She had to face it, even if she exposed herself to severe danger. Gosh, she was only an angel, a stooge, a cheap assistant who...come on, now! She scolded herself. Get down to business! She could save her self-pity for another time. Taking a deep breath, she walked through the pouring rain to face her fate.

***

Ash tapped his fingers on the worn counter. He hated waiting, but he could barely believe his luck. The witch was on her way here! Not ‘a’ witch, but ‘the’ witch that Ceros, his boss, had hunted for years. At last, she was walking into Ash’s trap. A few hours ago, a demon had spilled the confidential message to him, and since then, Ash had lurked around in the antique shop. He had often stood behind the counter, while Mr. Burke, the owner, lay at his feet as if dead, tricking the customers into thinking he was the old man. Over the centuries, his dark forces had multiplied, so that he could effortlessly take on the shape of another.

Mr. Burke, a mortal, bought magical artifacts on behalf of the demons, when any were offered to him. Regularly, Ash used the old man, to snatch paraphernalia for his master before other demons got hold of it. The old man would remember nothing when he awoke, unable to rat on Ash.

Ash’s life consisted of waiting, carrying out tasks, pleasing his master, and unquestioningly obeying him. He hated this slavery and the pact tying him to the demon lord, Ceros. If it weren’t for the pact, Ash could live his own life, pursue his own sordid business, and would belong to the top of the underworld. Today—he sensed it in his black blood—was his big day. Everything would change the moment he grabbed the witch, obtained the second amulet–he would finally be free! His damnation for letting the witch go so many years ago would end.

Suddenly, a golden glint outside the shop caught his attention. Straining, Ash looked out the small window to his right. Since the shop wasn’t located on a road, whoever wanted to visit it had to pass between two closely-spaced houses. The light had come from this dark passageway. Was that the witch?

He made sure that Mr. Burke was still passed out, and that he still looked like the old man, with his stubbly beard and thinning hair, dressed in a plaid shirt and worn jeans. Harmless. He hoped the witch jumped headfirst into his trap.

His eyes, accustomed to the darkness, cut through the veil of rain. Ash sensed an ancient power, a divine force that was familiar, and his bowels twisted. He shivered, goose bumps taking possession of his skin. The power penetrated every cell, wreaking havoc on his body. Then the supernatural force released him. This purity, this perfection...No demon worth his horns could stand that!

Ash trembled. An empty feeling and a pull behind his breastbone lingered. Ash felt envy, but also a desire that had often tormented him throughout his demonic existence. Could he ever accept the fact he no longer played in the top league?

“Angel!” he hissed, his hands curling into fists. Had the witch brought reinforcements?

Ash relaxed as he sensed only the female angel. He would be easily done with an angel, but only because he knew her weakness. “You’re a rare, pretty specimen,” he muttered as he admired the small figure standing in the shadows of the houses, with the glittery thing in her hand. Her blond hair reflected the golden rays, before she closed her fist around the object and the light snuffed out. Her white, feathery wings almost touched the house walls on each side.

Ash sighed. Fluffy wings did the trick, especially on a female angel looking that hot. A skimpy bustier covered her ample breasts; tight-fitting pants hugged her legs. Ash whistled. Good tactic by those above, sending him such a tasty chick. Did she come to test him? Had Raphael sent her? Ash found it increasingly difficult to maintain his fake appearance.

Ash gasped, disappointed as the wings of the angel disappeared. He sensed that she was now visible to the human eye. She looked like a mortal. However, a closer look would reveal a faint, glowing aura, which also prevented the rain hitting the skin of this heavenly creature. The water simply bounced off. What had an angel to look for in this run down place? Or...No, she wasn’t searching; she was bringing something. An artifact! That glittering something she still held in her hand. Ash saw it flash again.

Bingo! The witch and an extra bonus. An angel gone astray? He liked the little one more and more by the moment, but also felt a tad disappointed. After such a long time, he had hoped for a sign from Raphael. Or was it a trap? Did the big bosses want to thwart his business? Had they sent the pretty one to spy? Oh, damn, the blonde messed him up—not just him, but his daily routine and plans. Well, Ash had a bone to pick with the archangels. He was pissed off!

Again, he suppressed a disappointed snort as the pretty woman donned a long coat, and hid her sinful curves. Just as well, since Ash had nurtured thoughts he did not like. The fantasy in itself he enjoyed, but carrying it out with an angel? His nemesis? He ignored the pull in his groin and braced himself as the door opened.

The bell jingled above the doorframe and she stepped inside. After the door closed behind her, she stayed rooted to the spot. Now it wasn’t her divine power jangling Ash’s nerves, but her sex appeal. Viewed close up, the little angel looked even more stunning. The way she wrinkled her cute nose, her flawless skin, large eyes, and high forehead, her radiance made her tremendously attractive. Damn, that green! Her irises shone like two emeralds, and her soul-light, this golden shimmer behind her pupils, making them sparkle even more. Ash’s heartbeat sped up just because this sexy angel stared at him. Once again, he became aware that he was indeed a demon, but also just a man who was not immune to feminine charms. He itched to caress her heart-shaped face, tousle her hair, and kiss her full lips. Hell, she was sin incarnate! And his nemesis. Ash should never forget that he had changed sides.

A bright flash of energy formed in her fist, probably as a warning as she didn’t hurl it at him. For a time they silently sized each other up. It was obvious that she had recognized him as a demon; like Ash felt her heavenly powers, the other side could sense his evil. Behind the counter, he turned into his true form. Needing to be in full possession of his powers, he didn’t want to waste energy on an illusion.

The eyes of the heavenly blonde grew bigger as Ash turned from grandpa into a male, looking hardly older than thirty. Raven hair, sky blue eyes, his nose perhaps a tad too big—but most women knew what they said about big noses—and a tall stature with broad shoulders. Ash deemed his appearance to be somewhat aristocratic. Well, considering his past...

The angel looked him up and down, and her face took on an arrogant expression, realizing he wanted to impress her. He did indeed look devilishly good. Many female mortals, blinded by his attractiveness, had fallen for him. Ash had taken pleasure in them as well as a minor part of their souls. He had to feed off something, that’s just what soulless demons did. They needed energy like mortals needed food and drink. Without soul food, a demon would become weaker and weaker; his powers would eventually diminish until he died. Ash had never gone so far as to suck the whole soul to the bitter end. He still possessed a spark of decency to this day, because he had always hoped for salvation. He knew, however, that it had been a wasted effort. Raphael, his best ‘friend’, had taken him for a ride in a ‘shit storm’ as he liked to call it.

Either way, it would be a waste to kill his pets when he had a fondness for pretty women. They worshiped him—the master of seduction. The master of lust. No, he was not the least bit proud because of his looks, or his exorbitant skills in bed. His appearance was the only thing he kept from his former life, a weapon, to be handled masterfully. His charm was his greatest asset, and he wondered if it affected an angel living in unending chastity. Perhaps her, more than others.

He almost felt sorry for her. As he had seen her, Ash had sensed that this little blond didn’t belong to the higher ranks, since her aura lacked brightness. Did she know that the archangels and the seven rulers of earth got away with almost anything as long as they fulfilled their duties, while guardian angels and other lower guards were bound to strict conditions? Forbidden to feel lust, pride, or vanity, and robbed of their free will; either they did what the council told them, or they would fall. Well, even up there, not everything was perfect.

A sparkle shone through the thin fabric of her coat pocket, and tore Ash from his daydream. There she kept the artifact. Ash tried not to stare at it and raise her suspicion. Instead, he said, “What draws an angel to this part of the city?”

“Business,” she said, giving him a leveled look.

Her voice floated to him as if on a summer’s breeze, fogging his brain. Gee, get a hold on yourself, drooling from her voice alone. Ash crossed his arms over his chest, to demonstrate his friendly intentions, and to show off his muscles.

The little angel did not douse her flash of energy. Ash slowly stepped out from behind the counter, put on his best smile, and asked casually, “Can I be of any help in your business?” Three steps separated him from her.

“Beat it, demon.”

Damn, she was immune to his seductive powers. Shit! He didn’t hesitate, and lunged forward. At the same time, she threw the flash at him. He ducked, rolled over, grabbed her slender ankles, and yanked her off her feet.

His little angel flopped unladylike onto her belly, while her energy projectile slammed into the counter. Wood splinters rained down on them both, leaving a large hole in the face of the counter, and a clear view of the sleeping, unharmed shopkeeper. Ash wanted to sit on her back to immobilize her and grab the artifact—and to ogle her plump ass—but she took him by surprise. Suddenly, her wings broke through the thin material of the coat and tore it to shreds. The enormous plumage escalated as a white, soft wall toward him, the force catapulting Ash back. He crashed hard with his back against the door. It was not the minor pain preventing him from getting up, but the sight of the angel and the smell of her feathers. She smelled like a meadow in spring, like warm chocolate cake, and the lemon shampoo that he liked to use. Pure heaven!

Elegantly, she rose to her feet and spun around with another energy beam in her hand. Two lines formed between her golden eyebrows, and if looks killed...”You are so into it!”

He smiled, taking in her curves. Angels and demons lived in a semblance of peace, the pact sealed a thousand years ago. Of course, there were always those who disregarded it, preferably members of his side. The angels were mostly loyal, so Ash felt relatively relaxed. They indulged themselves in a test of strength and killed only if they really felt threatened–arrogant creatures. Ash chuckled. If the big bosses above knew he’d identified their weakness!

Ash had to get closer to the little angel. Theatrically sighing, he put a hand on his chest. “To die by your adorable lightning would be the most wonderf...” His throat constricted as the tiny glittering thing flashed just a yard in front of him on the floor. Now Ash realized what it was, an hourglass. The golden sand behind the glass caused the sparkle. Could it be possible? Ash held his breath as he recalled the many stories about the hourglass, and one was that it enabled the owner to travel through time. He had to have it! His Master would be grateful, or...Kiss my ass! Ash might as well use the hourglass to travel back in time and change his fucked-up destiny.

Unbridled excitement seized him. At last, he would be free and undo the past! He hesitated a moment too long. The angel flopped back on the ground and buried the little hourglass underneath her. Ash landed on her wings. When the angel dissolved—and she would—the hourglass would disappear with her.

Quick as an arrow, Ash squeezed his thumb into the hollow in the back of her neck where the spine disappeared into the skull. The angel under him stiffened and gasped. That, she hadn’t expected.

“Make that flash disappear, sugar,” Ash said, as charming as possible, and he pressed a little harder. Via this point in the neck ran the mental excitation line, which forwarded her commands to the body. Ash stripped the little angel of the energy she needed to turn invisible or vanish. Moreover, he stopped her from forming new lightning.

“I cannot”, she stammered under him.

“Let it drop, pet.”

She opened her hand, whereupon the lightning hit the wooden floor. Crackling and cracking it dissolved and burned a jagged groove in the floorboards. The angel tried to wriggle out of Ash’s grip, but he held her put.

“Call me sugar or pet again...ah!”

“I think you’re in an unfavorable position to make demands,” Ash said with a grin. Today seemed to be his lucky day. He would snatch the witch and the hourglass. The time was ripe to master his destiny. Ash bent over his little angel to sniff her wings and the fluff tickled his nose. Hmm, he was already addicted to her scent. With his other hand, he stroked the silky soft feathers. The angel shook, for her wings were as sensitive as her skin.

“Ticklish?” he asked, a wide grin plastered on his face. He loved playing with her.

She muttered something that sounded like a curse. He must have misheard. A divine being like her...Although, he questioned her decency if she did business in this dark part of town. Concentrate, Ash. Hourglass! Remember?

“Stretch out your hands!”

To his surprise, she obeyed. Her body moved beneath him and her ass pressed against his loin as she stretched out her arms. Damn, his cock was rock hard. He had been too excited to notice. Inconspicuously as possible, he circled his hips, rubbing his dick on her buttocks, his jeans disturbing like hell.

“Stop it,” she growled.

Ash stayed put and whispered in her ear, “Palms on the floor,” and noticed how the fine hairs on her neck stood up.

She opened her hands, but...Damn, no hourglass!

Despite the pleasant throbbing emanating from his midsection and surging through his body, impatience bubbled in Ash. After all, the witch might appear at any moment. “Where is it?” he asked, less charming. No time for games.

“What are you talking about?” Her voice trembled slightly, sounding not the least bit anxious.

His little angel was playing dumb. He really had to work on his fear-appeal. Unfortunately, he had no ball of energy handy—yes, he could summon crackling bullets—because he still pressed his thumb into her neck to block the transmission of her mental commands. The other hand he needed to check the floor beneath her body. He used his mental ability to figure out what really scared her. Ash slipped carefully into her mind and found a mess of emotions. Her biggest fear was to fail and not succeed with her task.

What a loyal, dutiful, little angel. He ran a hand under the warm wing and around her waist, where he grazed her bare skin, even softer than her feathers. Her scent tempted Ash again; he inhaled the fragrance of her wings and the skin of her neck. So intoxicating, flowery, heavenly... Unfortunately, he failed to find the hourglass. She had to be lying on it.

“Stand up. Very slowly,” he whispered in her pretty ear, peeking out from her blond hair. He would like to tickle it with his tongue. Maybe later. He had to fight the distractions.

Reluctantly, she followed his command, but at least she got to her feet. Not an easy task, because he had to keep his finger on her neck. He put his free hand on her stomach and lifted her as he rose. When they stood at last, he pulled his little angel back two steps. Ash scanned the floor, but the hourglass wasn’t there. Damn, she must have pocketed the hourglass!

Ash pushed firmly against her backside while he searched her pant pockets. Nothing. He groped between her legs and grinned as she pressed her thighs together. How hot her sex was! From the corner of his eye, Ash noticed her wing tips trembled. To annoy his little angel, he rubbed hard over her crotch a few times. She gasped and leaned into him. Now it was easier for her to escape. She only needed to squirm out of his hold to get rid of his thumb on her neck. Then, she could dissolve and disappear. Was she aware of that? Ash had to hurry anyway.

His hand wandered higher, over her bare belly, which trembled violently from breathing quickly, up to her tight-fitting top. Through the fabric, he felt around her breasts. Ash found no hourglass, which could only mean she’s hid it in the valley between her ample breasts. Without further ado, he slipped his hand under the elastic top and his breath caught. Her breasts were a damn pleasant weight in his hand, big, soft, and firm. He weighed and squeezed them gently, and when he grazed her nipples, he wondered how hard they were.

“Where is the little sparkling thing?” he asked in a hoarse voice, and continued his search, although he knew it wasn’t there. His abdomen snuggled against her back, the globe of one buttock pressed right on his balls. Damn it, his little angel was so fucking hot! Ash fought hard against the desire to toss her over the counter and take her from behind, her gorgeous ass splayed in front of him.

The witch...she would arrive soon. Ash glanced out the window, but nothing moved, unlike the rush hour in his pants. He rubbed his crotch even harder on her, took one of her nipples between two fingers, and pinched the swollen nub. “You make me so hot, angel. Are you doing it on purpose?” Ash muttered in her ear.

Suddenly she trembled, gasped, and moaned softly. She threw her head back and his thumb slipped. Her eyelids were closed, but her sensual mouth was slightly open, her lips glistening in a delicate pink. Ash had never seen anything lovelier. She was pure sin and yet so innocent. Her golden lashes fluttered on high cheekbones. Her nose sweet as honey, small and well formed, and from her mouth came whimpering sounds that pleaded for more. Ash’s heart pounded against his ribs, and the last bit of blood rushed to his groin. Damn, he was so hard! His cheek pressed against hers, his little angel turned her head and her lips came closer and closer to his mouth. Impossible...She was aroused! Ash could hardly believe it.

She’s not immune to my advances, he thought with a touch of pride. On impulse, he twisted her nipple harder and she rewarded him with a throaty moan.

Time stood still. Her sweet breath brushed his lips and he inhaled. Ash picked up her scent even more intensely, felt her heart racing against his palm, heard his pulse in his ears. He was breathing heavily, she was breathing heavily.

For satan’s sake, they were enemies! They should fight and not get lost in unchaste desires. Ash had thought to annoy his little angel when he touched her intimately, instead she enjoyed it. Fuck, she wasn’t allowed to enjoy it.

“Where is the hourglass?” he asked another time, horrified how hoarse his voice sounded. He almost climaxed just from touching the angel’s breasts. What was so special about her? He’d screwed many attractive women and fondled many breasts. Was it because she was an angel and was forbidden to enjoy what he did? Because he could take revenge on her kind for all they had done to him? What a sugar-sweet vengeance! His hand traveled lower, slipped into the waistband of her tight pants. Ash closed his eyes to feel her skin more intensely, to smell her scent even stronger. As his fingertips reached her pussy, and felt out soft hair there, she moaned.

It was strictly forbidden for angels to indulge in any sexual desire or they would fall. Memories haunted Ash, cruel thoughts from his distant past. Abruptly, he withdrew his hand. At the same moment, his little angel whirled and stared at him with wide eyes. Her breath came heavily and she gasped.

“You want the witch!”

“What?” How did she know? “You know the witch?” Taken by surprise, he forgot to grab her again. Instantly the angel dissolved in a column of pale smoke, which squeezed through a gap in the doorframe.

She was gone, and with her the magical hourglass. She left behind only a feather and her scent, reminding Ash what he had just lost. “Bloody hell!” With a howl, he hurled a bluish, crackling, energy ball against the door so that it burst with a loud bang like the counter had moments before. Ash paid no attention to the splinters raining down on him, while he went outside and looked around, but the angel was gone. He shook his head at his stupidity. The hourglass could have solved all his problems, but he had blown it with his stupidity and his unspeakable lust. Once again, his fucking desires had propelled him into a catastrophic situation. To top it all off, he felt pangs of conscience. Con—sci—ence! He was a demon, damn it!

How had that sexy, little, blond angel suddenly known that he was waiting for the witch? Through a vision perhaps? Ash thought hard. At least, as hard as his anger and his heartbeat throbbing wildly in his temples allowed it. Yes, he knew that every angel had its special capabilities. His little angel could possibly receive visions and make things disappear. Shit!

Cursing loudly, he trudged back to the store, where he picked up the feather and turned it between his fingers. He had thoroughly blown it. He could only hope that the witch appeared, when Raphael failed to stick to his promise.

Chapter 3 – Aberdeen Airport
(present)

Vincent watched as Noir pulled on her robe. She left bike and helmet in the visitor parking lot, and sprinted to the airport terminal. Cursing, Vince raked his fingers through his hair and scratched his horns. He hated to let his witch out of sight.

Under the cover of the night, he raced round the area, searching for a spot where nobody would see him, and jumped over the security fence surrounding the airport. Noiselessly, he landed in the grass, and stuck his nose into the night air. He was relieved to catch the scent of vanilla; Noir headed towards the runway. Vincent’s heart beat fast, not from chasing the motorcycle for many miles, but because it drove him almost mad to be so far apart from her.

From afar, he saw the magician’s plane near the runway, ready to take off, as well as a team of airport employees fueling the jet and carrying out final safety checks. The turbines were running warm, making a terrible racket for Vincent’s sensitive ears. It was a super jet, over twenty-yards long and with room for about seventy people. Vince had already traveled on the plane as a stowaway a couple of times before, so he knew where to hide.

His bare feet scarcely touched the stubbly ground as he flew over the field until he had approached within fifty yards. Then he crawled over the short grass, dragging the backpack with his clothes next to him, so nobody noticed him. Darkness still concealed him, but strong lights illuminated the areas around the gates and runways. The area wasn’t teeming with staff, but he spotted at least four people close by that could detect him if he acted carelessly.

He crept closer to the next tarmac, crouched behind a tanker, waiting for an opportunity to get unseen onto the plane. The fumes of kerosene burned in his nose and he stifled a sneeze. He had to hurry, had to somehow get into the aircraft. Noir and Magnus were near, but he couldn’t see them. Despite the fuel, Vince sensed Noir’s smell of cinnamon and vanilla, which had long been etched into his brain, and Magnus’s slightly smoky aftershave.

The pilot and a technician conducted final safety checks. They turned their backs to Vincent, whereupon he seized the moment to sneak past them. With a jump, he landed silently on a hoist used to load luggage. Another leap, and he got hold of the edge of the cargo hatch, and he pulled himself up inside the aircraft in a flash. The freight hold of the super jet was small. Behind two steel containers, Vincent found enough room to hide during the flight. He tossed his backpack there and crawled back to the opening to peek outside. When he spotted Noir, he sighed with relief. Noir and the male at her side, a tad taller than Noir and wearing an elegant suit, were just a few steps away. Vincent growled in frustration. He felt a pang in his stomach when Magnus put his arm around her shoulders in a protective gesture. Vincent was Noir’s guard, no one else!

His gargoyle-protector genes flared. He knew very well that Magnus harbored no sexual interest in Noir. They were just friends, however, Vincent’s claws dug into the floor of the cargo compartment. He quickly retracted them. Vince never tired of looking at Noir. Her fair hair spilled over her robe, making her look like a mystical sorceress.

Noir...if he could touch her only once, to be as close to her as Magnus; just once. For this moment alone, he would sacrifice his life. Dullness spread in his chest. Of course, Noir’s protection had priority over his own cravings. Like always, he had no other choice but to drool over her from a distance. How robust was a gargoyle’s heart, really?

“Wait a sec, I need to check my cargo,” the voice of the magician carried over the noise of the turbines.

A short time later, the lift hummed, and Vince hastily hid behind a large box. The aftershave of the magician wafted into Vincent’s nose. What was the man doing in the cargo hold? He had staff for that. He remained crouched in front of the hatch.

“I hope you take good care of her, my friend,” the magician said. “I’m counting on you.”

Then again came the buzz indicating Magnus was on his way down. Vincent remained scared stiff behind the box, every muscle tensed. Adrenaline shot through his veins. How did the magician know he hid here? How did Magnus know that Vince guarded Noir? A human shouldn’t know about him.

Although there were people who had knowledge of the gargoyles existence, but most cultivated no contact with the clans. Magnus acted as if he’d known Vince forever.

That left only one explanation: Magnus Thorne was a very, very powerful man.

***

Like so often, Noir felt watched. The paranoia wasn’t new; she had been on the run her whole life. The demons were still searching for her and the second amulet. She preferred to track the spawn of hell down herself, grilling them for information, and destroying them. The hunted was in reality a hunter. The demons would perhaps not suspect this and therein lay her advantage. Noir disguised herself so that no spawn could recognize her, for surely it had long since spread that a crazy witch was chasing hell beings. But as long as no one learned that she was the assassin...Over the years, Noir had encountered people who hunted demons, just like her. Often they had been trained demon hunters. There seemed to be organizations that fought spawn. Once Noir found Jamie and destroyed the amulets, she planned to look further into this matter.

She sighed. The list of things that fascinated her was long. She would neglect her own interests until she had time. This included exploring where this strange, male-sounding voice that sometimes crept into her head came from. It belonged to someone who stayed close to her. Noir could grasp thoughts, but only from humans, not from other beings. Unfortunately, she had never identified to whom this interesting voice belonged, and who thought about her so much. The voice told her how pretty she was, how much he longed for her, what he would do to her: pleasurable, erotic things. It excited her. Meanwhile, she longed to meet the man who existed only as a voice in her head. What did he look like? How old was he? Would he really do all those naughty things with her when they faced each other? Or was she losing her mind because of her ability to penetrate the minds of others and was surrounded by the thoughts of others every day? Because she longed for a hug, for comfort, warmth and affection, even for sex? She loved the peace and solitude of the monastery; there she could resist temptation and recover her spirit. She didn’t need a man, and if she succumbed to the desire, a one-night stand was enough. She could pleasure herself.

Lying to yourself, are you? she thought. Sharing her troubles with herself, supporting herself, and never being able to let go was dissatisfying.

Magnus knew of her ability to absorb thoughts, but it wasn’t the only reason she hardly ‘heard’ anything from him, her friend, the master of disguise. He had mastered the magical arts to perfection and always sealed his inner self off from the public. Nevertheless, she sensed his concern.

For a moment, she peered at the big man as he climbed down from the platform, and put an arm around her shoulders as they walked to the nose of the aircraft. Magnus was dressed elegantly, as always, in dark pants and a pale, blue shirt, only his brown hair swirled around because of the turbines. She noticed the first silver strands, although Magnus was just eleven years older than she was. A man with experience, he had a masculine, distinctive face and exuded dominance. He also used a nice aftershave, which triggered a tender longing for intimacy with a man in her. The voice and her fantasies came to mind again. She had been living alone for too long.

If she would not devote her life to hunting demons and searching for her brother, she could fancy Magnus—if he wasn’t already happily married to his second wife. Possibly, she would have indulged in a one-night stand with him by now. Of course, not here and now, as she longed to take off. Despite her life, which focused on revenge and the hunt, a woman was stuck in her body.

“I want to give this to you,” Magnus said, as they stopped in front of the gangway leading into the airplane. From his pocket, he pulled out a slim cellphone.

“A smartphone?” Noir asked surprised. “I had a magical gadget in mind.”

Magnus smiled. “In the modern world you have to take advantage of the technology.”

He quickly explained how it worked. A navigation device was installed into the phone. Special satellites showed Noir the whereabouts of the demons roaming Earth. They radiated a different energy signature as human beings and other creatures, and showed up as red dots on the screen.

“So you always realize what stands in front of you,” Magnus said, “but unfortunately the satellite cameras don’t capture creatures that are less than twenty inches or what goes on in closed rooms. They only can scan energy waves in their line of view. In cloudy weather they can fail to work properly, but I’m still working on that problem.” Magnus pressed the cellphone into her hand.

“Sounds interesting,” she murmured. “Tell me more.”

Magnus laughed. “Okay, I’ll try to keep it simple.” He seemed to think for a moment before he said, “Do you know what infra-red radiation is?”

“Yeah, basically.”

“Thermal detectors are mounted to the satellites, similar to thermal imaging cameras, which can measure the various radiations from space. The demons emit different waves than humans. That’s why they can be distinguished.”

Noir scratched her head and uttered a ‘wow’. Magnus was not only famous as a mage, he used to be a businessman, a software developer, and many years ago, had owned a company. His programs were still sold worldwide, which is why he had long been set for life, but that he could make something like this...”Respect!”

Magnus replied with a grin, “I really shouldn’t give you the device, because I developed it for an organization that hunts down demons. Even so, I modified this smartphone. If it falls into the wrong hands, it destroys itself. The phone receives this information via satellite.”

“An organization that fights demons?” Did Magnus mean the hunters that had crossed her path? “Sounds super-interesting.”

“Now, no need to raise your eyebrows.” Magnus laughed. “Everything is top-secret.”

Noir grinned; her friend was full of surprises. “I’ll take good care of it. Thank you, Magnus.” She hugged him and wondered once again about his height, as there were not many men who were taller than her. Only a huge guy would suit me, Noir thought.

“Are you not forgetting something?” she asked him with a smile and let go of him. She did not smile often, because the scar on her cheek would stretch, reminding her of that terrible night. She made an exception for Magnus. Grinning, he handed her the blades, which she stuck into the small pockets at the sides of her boots.

“Two really nice pieces,” Magnus said. “I admire them again and again.”

He had smuggled her weapons through the security zone—with magic. Noir could learn so much from him if she weren’t constantly on the move. She had spent a few years at the London School of Magic—one of the best worldwide—but due to the sudden death of her family and her escape, she had not graduated. Magnus had suggested becoming her coach to teach her some tricks. She had almost accepted his offer, but after the accidental death of his first wife, he had lived in seclusion for some time. Meanwhile, Noir had concentrated on the hunt. She had taught herself a lot, and for that, she felt proud. Having an ally like Magnus by her side simplified her situation enormously. Since her escape, he was the only one she had trusted. As she didn’t want to expose him to danger and draw the attention of the spawn to him, she met with him only rarely.

She thanked him and pocketed the phone. Then she raised her head, because she had thought she saw something moving. The hatch still stood open; a worker on the lift loaded the last silver box into the belly of the plane.

“What are you transporting anyway?”

“A load of Scotch I promised a friend in Paris ages ago,” Magnus said. “As the jet is heading towards France...”

Noir cleared her throat, because she knew very well how much money this flight was costing Magnus. “Deduct it from my funds.”

Magnus and she had similar fates. The wizard had lost his family as a child during an explosion in the central warehouse of magicians. He had grown up with his aunt, who had been a close friend of Noir’s family; so close that her brother Jamie had called him ‘Uncle Magnus’. After the death of her parents, Noir didn’t hesitate for a second to trust Magnus with her family fortunes, which he had managed since then. Magnus knew his way around the stock market so that Noir always had a good cushion available, but which was diminishing by the day. Life on the run, and on the hunt, cost a lot. She had to figure out how she would finance her life in the future. On no account did she want to live at the expense of Magnus.

“Noir...” Magnus placed both hands on her shoulders. “When will you stop chasing your inner demons? It’s obviously a trap and will not breathe life into your beloved ones.”

“I will not rest until I’ve killed my demons,” she whispered, watching as the tank car and the lift drove off to avoid the eyes of her friend. “And if Jamie is still alive, I have to find him.”

“In vain. Your brother is long dead. Stop feeling guilty. You’ve done the right thing.”

Yes and no. She had not broken her magical oath. In her childhood, Noir had to swear as a guardian of one of the amulets, to put the protection of it over her life, and everything else. As a result, she had fled with the second amulet and let her brother down. The knowledge ate her up inside, piece by piece.

Noir had informed only Magnus that Jamie had possibly survived; all other magicians believed that the entire LeMar family, and their car, had disappeared under mysterious circumstances many years ago. All thought they were dead, including Noir.

“Noir...” Magnus squeezed her arm.

She realized Magnus had hoped she would return to a normal life when she had retreated to the monastery a few weeks ago, desperately needing a break, a period of rest. The years of flight and hunting demons had exhausted her, but she could not resist, killing at least one demon every few nights, which of course wasn’t an easy task. Aberdeen was a quiet place in contrast to the large cities, where the spawn of hell preferred to be in when they came above ground. London, New York, Cairo, Tokyo, and Paris were among their favorite haunts. In the urban areas, they could inflict the greatest harm. Noir had hunted in Dublin, Prague, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Brussels. Until now, she had avoided going to Paris, because her parents came from France, from a village a few miles south of the capital.

Unfortunately, her travels had not helped Noir discover her brother’s fate. No one could tell her if Jamie still lived, and as long as she found no proof that he was dead, she would carry on. She owed it to her brother and to herself.

“Roger,” said Magnus, who was linked by radio with the pilot. Then he turned to Noir. “The plane is ready to take off.”

She could hardly restrain herself, impatient to leave. She said goodbye to her friend, thanking him again for everything, and rushed up the gangway into the aircraft, eager to kick some demon ass.

If she finally learnt the truth about Jamie’s fate and got back the amulet, she would retire, and maybe have the fun she had lusted after for so long. But she didn’t want to commit to anyone or start a family. Too long, had the flame of loss burned in her heart.

Chapter 4 – London
(a few days into the future)

Kara sat on the balustrade of the clock tower belonging to the Midland Grand Hotel, and dangled her legs over the abyss. Below her, the residents and visitors of London swarmed into the hall of King’s Cross and St Pancras station, which connected to the neo-Gothic building. The facade of the late Victorian, brick building, with numerous arches, chimneys, turrets, and bay windows was a tourist attraction. They looked up and whipped out their cameras, despite the drizzle, and didn’t see Kara as she was invisible to human eyes. And she had no eye left for the architectural masterpiece, which she knew by heart anyway.

The demon had captured her mind. She sighed and leaned against a stone statue adorning the facade that resembled a dog. “Oh, Molto, he had such beautiful blue eyes.”

The gargoyle called Molto did not hear her, as it was still daytime. Until sunset, the bodies of this species petrified—not into real stone, but an organic substance that looked like stone. Kara could hear the heart of the gargoyle beat softly against her ear. In this state, they were most vulnerable. If somebody destroyed the stone figure, the gargoyle died. Therefore, the gargoyles perched on pillars always with their backs to the wall and made ugly faces to discourage their enemies.

Hundreds of years ago, humans and gargoyles knew each other. But people feared these creatures because of their eerie appearance and campaigned against them, even though the gargoyles had protected them. Entire tribes were wiped out and so the gargoyles retreated underground. Over time, they were forgotten. Later on, humans placed gargoyle sculptures on churches and castles, vaguely remembering that these creatures were once their protectors. The stone sculptures should keep evil spirits away.

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