Luc’s sweat-slicked skin dripped on the cushions. He needed a shower, badly. Careful not to disturb his lovers, he eased himself from Bran’s hold and climbed off their makeshift bed.
As he got to his feet, he could feel his body pulsing from their evening of sex. Sex magic was one of the most powerful ways of recharging. From the energy coursing through his body like an electric current, Luc knew the ceremony had worked, but at what price? Looking back at the men lying on the cushions reminded him why his stomach churned uneasily. How could he enjoy himself when he’d traded his relationship with Bran to lay with Nikko?
In all the years they were together, he had never brought another into their relationship and Nikko didn’t want this as a one-time thing. To the vampire, Luc was partly his and Luc couldn’t in good conscience deny him, but he knew there was no way the alpha wolf would share his mate, no matter what he claimed before the ceremony.
Bran wasn’t the type to share and trying would only fracture the already tenuous relationship they’d rebuilt after the wolf dumped him for a female. Their relationship had some patching up to do and Luc had a feeling Nikko wouldn’t do anything to help the relationship along. The vampire master made no bones about how much he wanted Luc for himself.
With a soft kiss on Bran’s cheek, Luc went to take a shower.
He stripped and turned on the faucet, waiting for the water to reach a scalding temperature. Pleased with the steam level, he climbed in and stood under the shower to soak his hair, closing his eyes to protect them from the water. His head hit the tile when a pair of strong arms enveloped him.
“Oops. Sorry, love,” Bran’s deep voice eased Luc’s tension. “I wanted to give you one last power boost.”
Looking at his lover’s expression, Luc saw that the alpha wolf’s eyes didn’t match the jovial tone he was projecting. Bran was scared.
Luc stretched up and kissed his lover. “No matter what happens to me, my love, I will always return to you.”
“I know,” Bran whispered. “But I can’t stand that they torture you every year and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m the alpha wolf. I should be able to protect my mate. You’re in a league of your own, my sweet, and I’m not powerful enough to protect you from the bad guys in your life.”
Luc stroked Bran’s cheek. A tender gesture that always made his wolf’s eyes shine with adoration. “Show me how much you love me, and I’ll take your love down with me to the depths of hell.”
Bran lifted Luc from the tub, forcing him to wrap his legs around his lover in order not to fall. “No matter what they do, remember me and I’ll help you through.”
Luc knew that Bran believed that. His lover didn’t know the trials he survived. If he even had a hunch, Bran would’ve found a way to lock Luc up, away from his relatives.
Their lovemaking was slow and easy, not their usual hot claiming. It was as if Bran was trying to soak up the moment. Slow kisses and sensual touches eased Luc’s tension. When Bran finally entered him, Luc felt immersed in his lover’s spirit as if they could never separate their two auras again.
With slow measured strokes, Bran pumped inside Luc, the werewolf’s cock sending him into ecstasy.
Bran whispered in Luc’s ear, “You are mine. And no matter what they do, they can never take that away from us.”
Luc could feel the desperation in Bran’s voice. On some level, he knew his lover was saying goodbye in case this was their last time together.
Twenty minutes later, Luc was clean and dressed, wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt he’d got as a gift from the pack years ago. It was blood red with the words The Devil Made Me Do It in bright white letters. Somehow it seemed appropriate for his upcoming day.
Bran had gone to the kitchen to get some food, and Luc was too anxious to sit. He idly paced across the antique rug, wondering how long it would take to wear a path in it.
Luc’s skin sizzled and the smell of marshmallows alerted him that he was no longer alone.
“Hello, Uncle Michael,” Luc said without turning around. He wondered if anyone ever had the gall to tell the alpha angel that he smelled like marshmallows.
“Hello, Baby Luc.” Michael’s deep voice vibrated up Luc’s spine. It was always nerve-racking to be so close to that much power.
Slowly, he turned around to face the archangel. The man towered over Luc, his white wings on full display. In his hands, he held Luc’s guitar.
“My guitar!” Luc shouted, reaching for the instrument. “I knew Jerrod retrieved it from Nikko’s club but I’ve been too busy to play.”
Michael lifted it out of reach. “It is imperative that you take this with you when you go and don’t let them part you from it.”
“Your father won’t be easily persuaded to return you to this realm. From what you tell me, he is eager to have you stay. Keep the guitar as close to you as possible at all times, it could be your salvation.”
Luc shrugged and took the guitar. It glowed brightly in the lamplight. The instrument was a gift to Luc on his eighteenth birthday by the angel Gabriel. Every year he took it to hell and every year he brought it back. Luc smiled when he stroked the golden instrument. The guitar was made from some extinct tree that Luc had long forgotten the name of.
“Promise me,” Michael’s deep voice demanded.
“I promise.” Luc slid the strap over his head. “They’ll be coming for me soon. Don’t forget your promise.”
Michael’s large hands clasped Luc’s shoulders. “I promise to sever your link to Bran if it looks as if you won’t be coming back.”
“And if I come back tainted?”
The chill in Michael’s eyes was both reassuring and frightening. “I will destroy you so completely that even your father can’t bring you back.”
Luc let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “Thank you.”
Michael placed a kiss on Luc’s forehead. “For luck.” He glanced over to where Nikko was still sleeping. “What do you want me to do about the vampire?”
Luc shrugged as he stepped back from Michael’s embrace. “Nothing. I think he’ll be fine without me.”
“You don’t believe the two of you are mates?”
Luc’s gazed at the master vampire. Nikko’s gorgeous body was only partially covered by the sheets, leaving a great deal of smooth, silky skin exposed. “I think he wants a mate so badly that he’ll take the first person he feels a connection to. But no, I don’t think we’re mates.”
“Then you’re wrong.” Michael’s eyes glowed as if he was looking into Luc’s soul. “You are mates but not in this time. The three of you are joined souls, but souls only properly linked in twos. Now is the time for you and Bran. Once Bran’s place on this earth is through, your soul will link with Nikko’s until Bran’s soul is reincarnated.”
Luc held back his tears. “Am I going to continually lose my lovers and have to find them again?”
Michael placed a finger beneath Luc’s chin and lifted until they were eye-to-eye. “No relationship can last centuries without change. You are lucky enough to have the two mates of your heart forever. You were never meant to meet Nikko during Bran’s lifetime, so it makes me wonder whose hand is dabbling in your life.”
Luc sighed. “It doesn’t matter because we met and now, he thinks he should have part of me.”
“Get through your punishment in hell, and I’ll see what I can do on this end. Make sure you come back whole.”
Luc nodded. “I’ll do the best I can.”
With a final kiss on his forehead, Michael vanished in a cloud of dust.
“He always knew how to make an exit,” a deep voice said from behind Luc. He spun around to see Bran standing in the doorway with a tray of food.
“You could’ve come in instead of lurking by the door.”
Bran shrugged. He brought the tray to the living room table before giving Luc a light kiss on the lips. “I didn’t want to interrupt in case he came to give you information to help with your ordeal. Interesting thing about the vamp.”
Luc nodded but he could feel sadness choking him, a ball of tears clogging his throat. He didn’t know if he wanted to survive incarnation after incarnation of his beloved wolf. He was greedy and wanted to keep the one he had.
Bran took Luc into his arms, holding his lover close. Luc inhaled. The scent of his lover filled his lungs. Even in the depths of hell, he knew he would remember that intoxicating combination of wildness and spice.
“He can have you in the next life. In this one, you’re mine,” Bran said before taking Luc’s mouth in a perfect kiss. It was the kind of kiss that only appeared in dreams.
The slow slide of the werewolf’s tongue sent spikes of desire through his body. They didn’t have time for any more sex, but he cherished the warm flood of desire flowing through his body. When the alpha pulled back, Luc knew that if that was the last embrace he would ever have, it was perfect.
Luc knew his brother had arrived when he felt the flash and fire heating his backside.
“Greetings, Galthine.” He didn’t need to turn around to know which of his brothers came to fetch him. Galthine was the only one of his brothers powerful enough to punch a hole through dimensions.
Luc could do it at the age of five. Another reason his brothers hated him.
Bran’s chest vibrated, a deep growl growing inside.
“Down, puppy,” Galthine taunted.
Luc placed a tender kiss on his lover’s cheek. “I’ll see you later.”
Bran gripped Luc’s upper arms, giving him a gentle shake until Luc met the were’s eyes. “I will see you later,” he demanded.
Breaking away from his lover’s embrace, Luc turned towards Galthine. The demon stood before an open doorway awash in flames. Giving one last longing look at his lover, Luc walked through the portal.
He emerged in his father’s throne room. Four of his five brothers stood around Lucifer—Stiln, Tavo, Lain and Freen stood two on each side of the devil’s chair of bones. Some people thought the chair was made from the bones of humans who annoyed Lucifer, but Luc knew the horrible truth. They were the bones of the other angels who’d fallen with him.
The only way to insure you were king of hell was to get rid of the competition.
So Lucifer had killed his brethren and magically enchanted them into the throne so they could never reassemble and challenge him for hell. If you looked closely on the back of the chair you could see the bones of their wings.
Luc was careful to never look at it directly when his father wasn’t sitting in it.
“Greetings, Lucifer,” the devil said with an evil grin.
Luc looked up at his father. Despite the pleasant smile on his stunning face, Lucifer’s eyes told the real story. His father was determined to keep him here. Leaving this time would take a lot more effort.
“Greetings, father.” Luc gave a low elegant bow. One always bowed to the devil especially if you didn’t want to.
Lucifer kept a jar of ashes by his throne. They were the remains of those who refused to bow before him. Their screams often filled the throne room until it drove petitioners mad.
One of Luc’s goals in life was to never give his father a reason to add him to the ash jar.
“I’m giving you one more chance to voluntarily agree to join my ranks as my right-hand man.”
Luc kept his head down and his eyes on the black marble floor. He could feel the glares of his brothers searing into him. They slaved for their father to gain the attention and respect Luc got just by being alive.
“I respectfully decline.”
Lucifer’s laugh was enough to chill Luc’s blood. “Respectfully?” The devil laughed again. “You are such a sweet boy. It’s a shame we have to break you before you can be my top hell lord.”
The devil’s voice was filled with remorse. Luc would’ve believed him if he didn’t know the blackness of his father’s heart.
“Let’s see.” Lucifer tapped his chin as if he were thinking things over. “Let’s go by age, youngest to oldest. Stiln first, then Tavo and Lain, I know how much they enjoy torturing together, then Freen and we’ll save Galthine for last. You each have one hour to persuade him. That good for you, boys?”
The five agreed. Luc rolled his eyes. It wasn’t as if any of them would dare to disagree. Stiln headed down the marble stairs, his one eye flickered with an unnatural light as if there were fireflies trapped in his pupil. Luc shivered with unease. Stiln was usually the easiest on him, but he didn’t think it would happen this time.
“Let’s go,” the demon said, reaching Luc’s side. Of all his brothers, Stiln looked the most like Luc and Lucifer, but his brother’s hair was a shade whiter than gold and his skin bronzer.
Rumor had it that when he was born, Lucifer was annoyed with his imperfections and said that if he was going to have a bad copy, he wanted it to be completely ruined. It was a miracle that he wasn’t killed at birth. Luc knew that his own looks were a source of anger for his brother.
Sighing, Luc turned to follow Stiln.
“Just a moment, Luc.”
Shit. Reluctantly he turned to face his father again.
“Just to make things interesting this year I’m removing your healing powers. Your brothers won’t have to work so hard if they don’t have to redo everything their predecessor did before.”
Luc paled. The only thing that kept him surviving each year was his ability to heal all the damage done to him from brother to brother.
Before he could say a word, Lucifer waved a hand and Luc felt something drift away from his body. Feeling increasingly vulnerable, Luc turned to see his brother’s wide smile.
“Come, baby brother, and let’s have some fun.”
“I have a feeling my idea of fun and yours are not the same,” Luc said.
“Luc.” His father’s voice stopped him right in the entryway. He didn’t bother to turn.
“I really like your shirt.”
Luc followed his brother through unfamiliar hallways with stone walls and marble floors. “Redecorated since I left?”
“Hell hasn’t reformed for you yet,” Stiln said as they continued their trek.
Luc stumbled on a jutting rock. “What do you mean?”
“It reforms every year when you come.” Stiln stopped and looked back at his brother. “How could you not know that?”
“I thought it liked that shape. I didn’t think it had anything to do with me.”
Stiln gave a bitter laugh. “Didn’t you know everything has to do with you?”
“Stiln,” Luc started.
“Forget it, Luc. Let’s get this over with. I have other things I want to do today, but if I don’t give my best effort, Father will hear of it and take my other eye.”
His brother lived under the devil’s threat to blind him at any time. Luc would’ve felt more sympathy for him, had his brother avoided torturing him every year. When they were children, they had played together, but Lucifer never let Stiln forget he was an imperfect copy. Eventually his brother’s anger drove a wedge between them.
They ended their walk in a cool, white chamber. It was completely empty with a white concrete floor and blinding white walls. It was as if he was in the middle of nothing.
“So shiny,” Luc smirked.
“Just for you, baby brother, just for you,” Stiln muttered an incantation. A platform rose from the floor and a pair of manacles descended from the ceiling.
For a moment, Luc thought of bolting, but he knew the repercussions of not taking his punishment. Holding back his sigh, Luc headed for the platform.
Nodding, Luc propped the guitar against one white wall before stripping off his clothing.
“What is it about you and that guitar? Is it a weapon?”
Luc shook his head. “It’s just a guitar.”
“Hmm.” Stiln gave it one more look but didn’t mention it again. He waited until Luc stripped and stood on the dais. “Nice necklace. I’ll let you keep it on, it gives you a slave boy air that I find quite enchanting.” He quickly fastened the manacles on each of Luc’s wrists before stepping off the dais.
Walking over to one wall, he pressed a button Luc had missed in his first scanning of the room. The wall rotated. On the other side was a large assortment of torture devices. Covering the wall in a tidy array were whips, knives and blunt instruments.
Luc swallowed his fear, closing his eyes to try to center himself. He could do this. He had to return to his lovers. Unfortunately, one of the rules was he had to keep conscious or he would forfeit. This was the first year where that was a real possibility.
“Father banned me from marking your face, so your eyes are safe.”
Over the years, Stiln’s favorite taunt was that he was going to take Luc’s eyes so that the devil could see a marred image of himself, but Lucifer always was careful to tell his sons that Luc’s face was sacred, and any damage would be reflected permanently on the offender. It kept his face from total destruction; however, the rest of his body was free for mutilation.
“Father told me you if I don’t punish you properly, he’ll kill my lover.”
Luc was surprised that his cold brother had taken a lover, but in hell you didn’t have to be a nice guy to get someone to fuck you.
“We both know you will come out of this just fine one way or another. Father won’t let you get killed, but he has no such problem with my lover,” Stiln said, snapping a metal tipped whip through the air. “It doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to this.”
Luc fought his instinctive cringe when his brother slid the whip across the floor. The scrape of metal against the marble reminded Luc of all the other times he’d been the recipient of that whip.
He closed his eyes. Sometimes it was better not to see what was coming. That didn’t stop him from listening though. A whistling in the air warned him seconds before his skin was flayed. He felt the warm, wet trickle of his blood flowing down his back.
Luc screamed as the whip fell again and again. He hoped Michael remembered his promise because the chances of him surviving this time weren’t favorable.
“Don’t worry, brother. This will hurt me much more than it will hurt you.”
Luc hissed as the whip ripped into his flesh again. “Somehow I doubt that,” he gasped.
* * * *
“He’ll never love you, you know,” Bran said casually.
Nikko flashed him a fanged smile. “I don’t need his love as long as I get everything else.”
“You just keep telling yourself that,” Bran growled. “I know you were listening to Michael. You weren’t even supposed to meet Luc yet.”
Nikko shrugged to hide his annoyance. He didn’t like the fact that Luc was supposedly Bran’s this time. He went to the bar and poured himself a glass of red wine. He saw Carn standing in the doorway listening to them, but he didn’t care. The demon would stand by whomever Luc chose. “What’s to say an accident won’t befall you, and poor Luc will be all alone and have to cry on my shoulder.”
Bran growled deeply. “Because if anything happens to me, Luc will kill you. He might look like a fragile boy, but he can crush you if he chooses. And trust me, if I’m dead he’ll be very angry.”
Nikko laughed. “Luc wouldn’t hurt a fly. The most he could do would be to drown me with his tears.” The vampire held up his hands. “I adore the man but he’s not exactly butch.”
“What part of potential hell lord don’t you understand?” Bran asked, flashing his fangs.
“He killed those demons for you,” Carn said, stepping into the room.
“What demons?” Nikko asked.
“The Pithel that came while you were gone.”
Nikko walked over to the red-skinned creature. “Why didn’t I hear about this?”
Carn shrugged. “Luc asked your people to keep it quiet.”
“They came demanding your territory and Luc informed them they had the wrong place. One of them objected so Luc tore out his heart. End of discussion.”
“Huh?” Nikko took a drink of wine. “Looks as if me and the pretty boy are going to have a little chat when he gets back.”
* * * *
A punch to the back had Luc arching to avoid the strike. It was difficult to do when a punch from the front jerked him back. The twins were double teaming him. After Stiln whipped the skin off his body, he dragged Luc and his guitar over to the twins’ chambers.
The dual demons liked to use their fists. They said it added a more personal touch.
Tavo punched him again from behind and Lain in front. Each time they let out a grunt like prizefighters making a particularly good hit. He was certain some internal bleeding was involved.
“How are you doing, Luc?” Tavo asked, placing his punch right in the base of Luc’s spine. “Ready to give up yet and tell Father you’ll join us.”
“No,” Luc said through gritted teeth. He was certain there would be a solid black bruise across his entire body.
The pair looked at Luc with merciless eyes. Identical twins were rare in the demon world, so they were considered quite a catch by the other demons in hell. With their black hair, yellow eyes and golden skin they were handsome to demon kind, but Lucifer never let them forget that they didn’t favor him. Their mother had been a demon concubine that he’d killed after she gave birth to the twins. According to Lucifer, she’d outlived her usefulness.
“We don’t want you to join us anyway,” Tavo said.
“We’d rather kill you,” Lain agreed, flashing a pointy-toothed smile. “But father won’t let you die so it’s rather pointless.”
“But it doesn’t matter because this time he’s not letting you go.”
“Wh-what?” Luc gasped out between hits.
Tavo stopped punching to stand next to his twin. “Aww, didn’t you know? Father has decided to keep you this time so you might as well give in. He’s not going to let you go back to your handsome wolf. But I bet he’d let you have all the demons you’d like.”
“The best part about this, is that you aren’t even competition because you’ll only want the males.” Lain looked quite pleased that he’d figured that out on his own.
For the first time, Luc couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. Misery wrapped Luc in its dark embrace. He would be truly trapped.
“I think we’ve lost his attention,” Tavo said.
“No problem,” Lain lifted his foot and slammed his heel into Luc’s upper thigh, smiling when he heard a loud crack.
“See, now we have his attention,” Lain smiled.
Freen was waiting in his torture chamber when Luc was carried in.
“What’s with the guitar?”
Tavo shrugged as Lain put Luc on the torture seat. It was a reclining leather chair that Freen had custom designed for his victims. As a chair it was remarkably comfortable with good back support and padding. If you didn’t notice the arm and leg shackles, it appeared like a luxurious piece of furniture.
Freen positioned Luc so he could strap Luc to the arms of the chair, shackling his wrists.
There was nothing remarkable about Freen’s appearance. He looked more like an accountant than a hell lord. Freen’s mother had been human and he’d inherited none of Lucifer’s amazing looks or powers. He made up for his ordinariness by being the best torturer the devil had. His plain face hid the soul of a true sadist.
He shook his head sadly at the twins when he saw Luc’s condition. “You didn’t leave me much to work with. He’s already so damaged a lot of my artistry will be lost.” Freen prided himself on creating carved designs on his victims. Some of them were quite beautiful if you overlooked the hours of torture used to create them.
“Not our problem,” Lain said. The twins walked out the door before Freen could complain any further.
Freen gave Luc a scowl. “What’s up with the guitar?”
“It soothes me.” He was hoping his brother wouldn’t try to destroy it. Luc was pretty certain Gabriel bespelled it so it couldn’t be damaged, but he wasn’t positive, and he didn’t want Michael angry if it was destroyed.
Freen laughed. “Well, by all means, let’s make sure you’re soothed while I torture you.” He picked the guitar up and set it on the table next to his assortment of torture implements. “There, now you’ll feel all better.”
He chuckled while he picked up his favorite flesh-slicing knife. “Do you know that our father had a new set of knives made for me just for this event? I want you to know how very grateful I am to you for that. These will never dull and magically clean themselves after a torture. Best quality around.”
His plain brown eyes lit with an unnatural glee. “I hope that you appreciate my technique. I’d love to be your chief torturer when you become Lucifer’s right-hand man. There’s a lot of competition in hell, you know, and a little nepotism never hurts.” Freen chuckled at his own joke. “Well, it will hurt you.”
Luc felt the cold blade slicing into his stomach followed by indescribable pain. To keep his sanity he concentrated on Bran, remembering his lover’s kiss, reliving his touch, absorbing the memory of the werewolf’s scent. He trusted his love to get him through.