“He’s not worthy of you, you know.” Galthine smiled.
Luc could see the pleasure in his brother’s eyes as he looked at him hanging by manacles in the middle of Galthine torture room. His body was a mass of bloody cuts, bruises and bits of hanging flesh. There was very little that didn’t hurt, and he was hanging on to his sanity with the last thread in his arsenal, his devotion to Bran.
He didn’t want to disappoint his lover. The alpha would be heartbroken if Luc didn’t return, not to mention what would happen to Jerrod and Carn. He hoped the two of them would get together, but that would never happen if they were pulled into the depths of hell after him.
Luc gritted his teeth as Galthine jabbed at one of his open wounds.
“That must really hurt especially since you can’t heal.” His brother’s face had the first smile Luc could ever remember seeing. It sent tremors of fear down his spine.
Luc could feel each cut and bruise on his body, but he didn’t need to wonder how he looked because there was an enormous mirror opposite him, an added dimension to his torture. He wondered idly what would happen if he never healed. Would Bran still love him and his scarred body?
I can survive. I can survive. Luc replayed the words over and over again in his head. It was his mantra for getting out of hell. If he showed any weakness to any of his brothers at any time, they would move in for the kill.
He wasn’t going to be stuck here. He’d promised Bran.
His attention snapped back to Galthine when the demon placed a hot brand onto his leg.
Luc screamed. It wasn’t just hot; Galthine had laced the brand with poison so that when he stuck it to his leg it seared into his skin along with the brand. He could already feel his leg going numb. He tried to stay awake.
“Pay attention!” Galthine snapped.
The demon calmly placed the brand back against the wall like a gentleman would his walking stick.
“I can’t believe you would go through all this with a wolf that would toss you aside so easily.” Galthine laughed bitterly. “After all those years together, he didn’t even wonder about his sudden yearning for a litter of pups.” The demon picked up a spear with his right hand and pierced Luc’s left leg with one powerful thrust.
Luc’s mouth gushed with blood as he bit his tongue, holding back his screams.
Galthine’s words suddenly sunk into his pain-fogged brain. “You entranced Bran,” he forced through his cracked, puffy lips.
His brother laughed. “Yes, and you didn’t even stay and fight for him. It wasn’t that much of a compulsion. I was testing you to see how strong your love was.” The demon shook his head sadly. “You didn’t even put up a resistance. You fought harder for that damned vampire with the Pithel demons than your soul mate.”
“You sent the Pithel demons?” It was all starting to make sense. He had to survive this if only to tell Bran how very sorry he was.
“Don’t worry about your little puppy. He won’t have time to mourn you. After I get done here, I’m taking a few of my men and wiping out everyone in that little house of yours. I’ve learned that your misery has a fabulous energy. I’m going to live off of that for a long, long time.”
Anger surged through Luc, stronger than any that came before. There was no way he was going to let anyone touch his lover.
Bran had to survive.
Galthine leant forward and whispered in Luc’s ear, “Before I kill him, I’m going to fuck him and find out why you’ve been so loyal all of these years. He must be a great piece of ass since you could have any male on the planet, and don’t bother going to Father. He encouraged me to help you break your earthly ties. I will have so much fun.”
The ember of anger flared until Luc could only see a glow of white before his eyes. Images of his brother touching Bran filled him with fury until he wanted to kill something. To slash anything between him and what was his.
“That’s it.” Galthine laughed. “Think of me and your pretty wolf. I could use a new pet since the last one killed himself to be free of me.”
Luc’s brain went primal and memories of his brother’s last pet, a pretty blue-skinned demon, played in the back of his mind, like a film.
“Maybe I’ll make him shift then skin him for a new rug.”
Luc felt something in his brain snap.
Must protect Bran. Must protect Bran.
He pinned his brother with a fiery look of hate. For the first time in his life, Luc saw a new expression in his brother’s eyes. Unadulterated fear.
“No one touches my wolf.”
The manacles hissed and fell to the ground like shards of glass. Luc fell three feet and walked across the sharp pieces barefoot towards his brother.
“No one!” he said, his powerful voice echoing throughout the room. The floor shifted and the walls shook with his fury. “You will never touch my wolf or anyone else who is mine.”
As he walked, Luc’s vision cleared along with the brands, cuts and whip marks from his body. Unaware of his impromptu healing, he marched up to his brother. “And if you ever do, I will banish you to the void forever.”
The void was the ultimate threat. Few things ever reappeared from the corridor between heaven and hell and the ones that did generally killed themselves within the first few minutes.
In the void there was nothing except your own mind, and some people’s minds were a frightening place.
Galthine’s laugh was more nervous than mocking. “You don’t have the power to access the void.”
Luc was caught off guard. Galthine was right. Only his father and the angels had the ability to open the void, but in that moment, he knew he also could open the place that even angels feared to tread.
“Don’t bet on it,” Luc said. “Now, I think it’s time to find Father and tell him that you all failed.” He knew that his smile was miles from nice. “I wonder what he has in mind for punishment.”
After grabbing his guitar and waving to his brother, Luc walked out the door. How did he heal? Did Father take pity on him after all?
It didn’t take long to reach Lucifer. The halls of hell repositioned themselves to give him the most direct route. Obviously, he wasn’t the only one who wanted him gone.
His father was in his usual perch on his throne of bones.
Lucifer eyed his offspring as Luc walked to the bottom of the stairs leading to the devil’s throne. He gave his father a low bow.
“I see they failed once again.”
“Yes,” Luc said simply.
“I’ll have to think of suitable punishments for them,” Lucifer said. The smile he gave Luc had more teeth than usual. “Now, my dear son, I suppose you think I’m going to let you go now that you’ve survived your brothers once again.”
Luc frowned. “That is the agreement.”
“It was.” Lucifer gave another disconcerting smile. “But did you verify the rules before you came through the portal?”
Shit. The number one rule of hell was to verify the rules before entering. Since they did the same routine each year, Luc had grown lax and hadn’t verified the rules before going through the portal. There was no way this was going to end well.
“So, instead of sending you back into the bosom of your lovers and friends, they are going to have to come here to claim you.”
Because there was no way his lovers could retrieve him, Luc knew he would spend an eternity trapped in hell.
* * * *
“He’s taking too long,” Bran said, pacing the floor. He bit a nail as he looked once again at the clock. Step, step, check the time, step, step.
Nikko looked up from his book, his eyes following the pacing werewolf. “What do you mean?”
“He means it’s almost two in the morning. Every other time Luc was back by midnight.” The deep, familiar voice of the Archangel Michael filled the room.
Bran turned around to meet the fathomless eyes of the angel. Over the years he’d had occasional contact with Michael, but it never got any easier. He always felt like an ant beneath a magnifying glass. The energy that rolled off the angel burned his skin and caused Bran to growl in anger. It was easier to show rage towards the archangel than admit he was scared shitless that his lover was trapped in hell.
Nikko came to stand beside him in an unusual show of solidarity.
“I think Lucifer has decided to keep our baby Luc. Someone will have to go get him.”
“I will,” Bran said.
Nikko was silent.
Michael pinned his cold gaze on the vampire. “Are you not also going to volunteer?”
Nikko shook his head. “I’ve done some horrific things in my life. If I were to step a foot in hell, Lucifer would keep me for eternity. I love Luc, but I can’t chance it.”
Michael nodded as if he already knew the answer. Bran decided that the all-seeing angel probably did. “We need someone to stay here anyway to help pull Bran and Luc back over.”
“I’ll go.” Jerrod peeked around the corner; his eyes wide with apprehension. “I can’t leave my master in hell.”
“I’d prefer to stay here.” Carn stood slightly behind Jerrod looking frightened. “Galthine might decide to keep me if I show up in hell. I can’t take the chance.” The demon shivered, his body shaking with fear. “If Luc stays there I have to return, but I can’t go any sooner. I just can’t.” Carn started to sob.
Jerrod wrapped his arms around the shaking demon. “Shh. It’s all right. Bran and I will go after Luc. You stay here and keep Nikko company. Shh.”
After much stroking, Carn settled down. “I told Luc I would return to be with him if he stayed in hell. If it turns out he’s staying on purpose, have him send for me. I might not be brave, but I owe Luc my life.”
Jerrod stroked Carn’s rich red skin, tracing the swirls of gold across one cheek. “I don’t think my master would’ve left us voluntarily. Something is keeping him there.”
Bran watched the two interact and wondered how close Luc’s new pets had grown in such a short space of time. Jerrod’s touching was intimate as if the pair was a bit more than friends.
Holding back his tears, Bran knew Luc would love to hear about it. His lover had a romantic streak three miles wide, and if he guessed correctly, Luc had hoped Carn and Jerrod would get together when he assigned the demon to the vampire. He would be excited to learn that his plan had worked.
Straightening his spine, Bran looked at the archangel. “What do I have to do?”
Michael looked the group over. “I can only send one. Bran will be the one to go.”
“I can’t go also?” Jerrod asked, his eyes wide with worry.
“No. Only one.”
Nikko glared. “Then why ask me?”
“I wanted to know the level of your devotion to Luc. If you were more dedicated, then I would send you instead of Bran.”
“It’s not a matter of devotion to not want to be trapped in hell.”
Michael shrugged, raising his wings an inch off the floor. “That’s a matter of perception.”
* * * *
Luc looked at the bars on his cave cell and knew there was no way out. Those weren’t the usual metal bars. These held the spirits of dead men’s souls. If you listened close enough, you could still hear them screaming. To break them, meant Luc would be dragged into the void for eternity. Something Lucifer knew his youngest son wouldn’t chance.
“Nice touch, Father,” Luc mumbled. He knew that Lucifer wasn’t far. The devil would let his son sweat it out before turning up the torture. Maybe he’d send Galthine to try again, but he doubted it. His father wasn’t one for repeating his past mistakes. Since Galthine failed to persuade Luc the first time, he probably wouldn’t get a second chance.
Luc turned around.
Salvador walked up to the bars, his eyes shining with tears. “Looks as if I came just in time.”
Luc frowned. “What are you doing here?”
Sal’s clothes were torn, showing more than one bite mark through the tattered cloth. It looked as if the three days he’d spent in hell were rough ones. “I came to save you.”
“B-but didn’t you try to send me here only a few days ago?”
Sal shook his head. “I knew that by poisoning you, you would be restored, but Bran would kill me, sending me here. Now that I’m here, I can rescue you from your father.”
“Let me get this right. You tried to kill me so that you could get here before me to save me.”
“What kind of whacked out plan is that?”
Sal smiled. “Ask your angel. He’s the one who came up with it. Michael had a premonition you’d need help.”
The pieces of the puzzle fell into place for Luc. No wonder Salvador’s sudden wish to become pack leader and take Luc hadn’t made sense. It wasn’t his plan. “You have no desire to be pack leader, do you?”
Sal shook his head. “I told Michael you’d figure it out, but he still sees you as a kid who can’t handle the truth.” He stepped closer to the bars. “I wanted to tell you but now isn’t the time to chat. Let’s free you.”
Luc could see the longing in his former pack mate’s eyes. “I don’t see how you can get me out of here.”
Sal produced a ring of keys from his pocket. “I didn’t spend the last few days kicking my heels. I’ve been trying to devise a plan to get you out of here once you were trapped. Luckily, there’s no such thing as discretion in hell. I heard two demons talking about your father’s plan to trap you and figured out how to help. I lifted these off the dungeon master so we’d best get out of here as soon as we can.”
Luc warned, “Be careful not to touch the bars. They’re made out of souls of the dead and will suck you into the void if you make contact.”
“Good to know.” Sal cautiously approached the jail cell, careful not to touch the bars as he placed one key after another into the lock. The fifth one fit and the doors swung open.
Luc jumped back as the door screamed past him. Not taking a chance with having the cell close again, he rushed out, holding his breath until the door resealed behind him. He was glad that he’d hurried.
“What now?” he asked, hoping Sal had a follow up plan.
“Can’t you just make a portal and get out of here?”
Luc shook his head. “I have to do it from my childhood bedroom and if I’m not mistaken, it’s two floors up from here.”
Sal swallowed. “You can make it. When you get back, please tell Bran that I’m sorry for everything.”
Wrapping his arms around Sal, Luc squeezed him tight. “You can tell him yourself,” he said as he stepped back.
“If Michael sent you here to help me, then you aren’t meant to stay. Come with me and I’ll get us out of here together.”
Sal cupped Luc’s cheek. “I’m sorry, Luc, for everything. I’ve always loved you and I hated to die with you thinking I wanted you dead. If I don’t get out of here, I want you to know that I was always your friend.”
“I know, Salvador.” He pressed a kiss on each of the wolf’s cheeks. “Now, let’s get our asses out of hell.”
Sal laughed and grabbed Luc’s hand. “Do you know how to get to your bedroom from here?”
“No. If you haven’t noticed, hell moves at my father’s will.”
“That explains why I got so lost yesterday. I thought I’d taken a wrong turn.”
Luc squeezed Sal’s hand. “I’m surprised that you were able to get to me.”
Shrugging, the wolf tugged Luc through the iron doorway and over the fallen guard.
“Did you kill him?” Luc asked curiously.
“Just knocked him out. I wasn’t sure what the penalty was for killing someone in hell. I didn’t want to have a reason to stay here, in case Michael ever remembered me and tried to get me out.”
“Good thinking.” Luc knew that it didn’t matter if you killed someone in hell. They always came back. After all, they were in hell because they were dead souls or demons and neither could be permanently killed.
The pair turned the corner and Luc caught his breath. Galthine stood blocking their way, his large body making it impossible to get around him unnoticed.
“What’s wrong?” Sal asked as Luc pulled him back around the corner.
“My brother is out there,” Luc whispered.
“Will he help us?”
Luc shook his head. He didn’t want the demon to hear him speaking.
“Come out, come out, baby Lucifer,” Galthine growled. “I know you’re close. I can smell you.”
Luc’s body started shaking. He didn’t know how he’d healed the first time, but he doubted he would be able to heal from whatever his brother planned for him this time.
“Come on, baby brother. Ripping your head off will only hurt a little.” The demon’s voice was low and persuasive.
If Luc were any less powerful, the lure of Galthine’s magic would have him running into his arms. That was how Galthine got his prey despite his sinister appearance.
Sal leant forward to whisper in Luc’s ear. “What do we do?”
Luc pressed his hand to the wall and imagined his room. For a second, he thought he felt the wall shift but it stopped before anything formed. Since hell usually allowed him a path, his father must be controlling the structure.
“I’ll go distract him,” Sal said.
“No.” Luc grabbed the wolf before he could do anything. “I’ve got an idea.”
He whistled in a low tune. Seconds later, a trio of hounds appeared. They panted while sparks shot from their mouths.
“Get Galthine,” he commanded in a low voice.
The fiery hounds looked at him with soulless black eyes before giving a ringing bark and racing down the halls. From around the corner, he could hear his brother curse.
“That’s cheating!” Galthine shouted.
Peeking around the corner, Luc saw his brother go down beneath the pile of hellhounds and quickly pulled Sal down the hall behind him. There was just enough room to squeeze by, but Luc knew Galthine wouldn’t stay down and that he would come after them as soon as he was free.
“Run, Sal!” Luc shouted, picking up speed. He felt the wolf running behind him, his breath hot on Luc’s neck.
Luc followed the familiar path to his room and luckily, it was still the way he remembered. Hell hadn’t reformed into different pathways.
It struck him then that Lucifer wasn’t trying to stop him. Something else was going on.
Unfortunately, he didn’t figure it out until he crossed the portal to his bedroom and into the arms of his brothers, Tavo and Lain.
“Gotcha,” Tavo said with a wide smile. “Father thought you would come back here.”
Lain gave an equally chilling smile. “Too bad you’re so predictable. What is it about the wolves that has you so enthralled?” Lain slid his gaze over Sal like he was a piece of meat. “Maybe we should try one out and see what we’re missing.”
“Yeah, we don’t usually get a chance to play with the shifters,” Tavo agreed, setting Luc to one side.
“Now boys, you know Father told you to leave this one alone.” Stiln walked into the room, looking the twins over with disfavor. “If you touch him, I’ll tell.”
The twins stood around Stiln like matching bookends. “Don’t make us hurt you, brother.”
Stiln flipped back his white-blond hair. “Father will make you suffer if you harm me.”
Tavo shrugged. “Maybe, but not if we bring him Luc.”
With blindingly fast motions, Stiln whipped out a pair of swords and separated both twins from their heads. Warm blood squirted across Luc’s bare chest. He held back the bile surging up his throat like an upcoming tide.
“Stiln,” Sal said disgusted. “I can’t believe you did that.”
Before Luc’s surprised gaze, his brother walked forward and kissed Sal with a passion that should’ve set his bedroom on fire.
“I may be a substitute for Luc, but I’d never let them harm a hair on your beautiful head,” Stiln said to Sal. He turned to Luc; his eyes colder than a hellhound’s heart. “Take him with you when you go, and I will owe you a favor for eternity.”
“I would’ve taken him with me anyway,” Luc confessed. He didn’t know what had got into his brother, but he wasn’t going to shove aside some help. Scanning the room, he grabbed some of the clothes he’d left there and his guitar. He didn’t know who had returned it to his room, but it was time to get the hell out of hell.
A loud pop filled the air and Bran appeared in the room.
“Bran!” Luc threw himself into his lover’s arms. Joy filled him until he thought he’d burst, but it was quickly followed by stark terror. “What are you doing here?” he shouted. “My father will kill you.”
Bran gripped Luc’s arms and gave him a good shake. “There is no power in heaven or hell that could stop me from coming for you.” He took Luc’s lips in a brutal kiss that conveyed need, love and fear. All the emotions the were normally kept bottled inside poured from his body and into Luc’s.
When they finally broke apart, Stiln was clapping. “I’m beginning to see why he’s stayed with you all these years. Too bad you aren’t loyal.”
Bran glared at Stiln.
Luc turned Bran’s face towards him. “I found out that wasn’t your fault.”
“Galthine planted the idea into your head and placed a spell so it would consume you. He didn’t count on your wolf denying the claiming.”
Bran smiled. “I wondered why it had become so important to me. Even while I was pursuing the females, I longed for you, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.”
Brushing the tears from his wolf’s eyes, Luc gave his lover a gentle kiss. “I’m glad. Now let’s get out of here.”
For the first time, Bran noticed Sal. He growled and flashed a set of suddenly sharp teeth at the other man.
Luc smacked him in the chest. “Stop that. He did it all for me. Michael put him up to it.”
“What?” Bran stared at Luc as if waiting for him to say he was kidding. “Is there anything in our life that wasn’t orchestrated by someone else?” he asked disgustedly.
“Us. We might be soul mates, but no one can predict love.”
Bran gave Luc a sappy smile and interlaced his right hand with Luc’s left. “Let’s get out of here, beautiful.”
Luc nodded. “Let’s.”
Before Luc could start his chant, the room dissolved.