For an innocent man, she’ll go to her grave. Again.
The Portal Keepers, Book 1
Cia is serving her sentence in the Canadian Arctic, guarding one of the many portals that seal off Earth from Heaven and Hell. She doesn’t mind the cold. What she does mind? Someone’s bumping off other Incarnates, the dual-souled beings who hold the Apocalypse at bay. And she’s next on the list.
Worse, she learns the prime suspect is Arthur, her ex. Arthur is many things, but despite their history, he’s no murderer. Cia has only thirty days to find him and prove it before the Wrath is unleashed to mete out justice.
It’s no relief when he shows up in her truck’s headlights on the side of the ice road. He stirs turmoil between her volatile old soul and the younger one that keeps it in line. Worse, he shows all the signs of turning into a demon.
The closer they get to Yellowknife, the more rogue demons pour out of Hell, dragging with them a past she thought would never haunt her again. Another murder, and the elders prepare to summon the Wrath ahead of schedule. A move that will, literally, let all Hell break loose. Unless Cia makes a soul-tearing choice.
Ice, frigid temperatures, lots of Poutine consuming and a mention of blubber. Many demons were harmed in the writing of this book, but the polar bear really is okay.
Grabbing the stick shift, I slipped my rig into the next gear. The grind and moan of the engine as the truck shifted and shuddered pulled me out of my reverie. The wheels slid a bit across the smooth surface of the ice. I drove closer to the side of the road, where the wheels could pick up a fine dusting of snow to keep traction.
Then I felt it. A presence I hadn’t felt in a while. My body instantly came alive, my blood heating, my heart thundering between my ears at the thought of him so close.
Shit, not now.
Arthur was out there, somewhere in the ice fields. I looked at the pipe I used to tighten the chains. It was in easy reach, but I doubted I would need it.
Sure enough, up ahead I saw a figure standing in the snow bank, his head bowed.
Any other person would’ve died from exposure, but Incarnates could handle extreme conditions. In his hands were the two familiar blades he hunted with, like two black ice picks. A thin trail of breath escaped from under his hood as he crouched low. I had no doubt what he was going to do, and, as my truck neared him, I heard the blades pierce through the cabin of my rig. A blast of cold air instantly infiltrated the warmth of my cabin through the two holes he made.
Most people would’ve freaked out, but Arthur obviously knew I had no time to stop on the thin ice road. Still I wish he didn’t have to punch the holes in the side of my rig. That was uncalled for.
“Leave him out there. Let him freeze, let him fall. He can’t hold on forever.”
I looked to the side mirror and saw the flutter of his long jacket.
“Don’t do it,” my older soul warned. I ignored her and reached beside me, hitting the button to unlock the passenger side door. Arthur opened it and quickly swung into the cabin, sitting in the passenger seat on top of the manila folder. His manila folder.
Quickly surveying him from the corner of my eye, I was surprised by how he had changed in the last decade. Gone was the boyish fresh face. He looked older, like he had aged twenty years in the last ten.
His mohawk was gone as well, which was a pity. Instead, his hair hung to his shoulders in chestnut waves, currently coated with frost. Arthur’s teeth chattered and he was breathing heavily. His complexion was sallow, as if he had been ill recently or hiding away in a hole, which was more likely the truth. Looking, I could see his deadly blades still embedded in the side of my truck.
“Thanks for letting me in. I didn’t think you would.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I thought maybe because of…”
“Because of The Agency being out for your hide?”
“So you know?”
“I know,” I said, quietly swallowing the hard lump choking me.
“And yet you opened the door for me. You have a kind heart, Cia.”
“I shouldn’t have, especially when I’m your next mark.”
Arthur’s eyes widened. “You think I’m behind the murders?”
I let out a snort. “No, I don’t believe it, but there’s one hell of a bounty on your head.”
He chuckled. “I figured there would be, and I figured they would send you out to find me.”
“They didn’t. I’m banished. They sent others.”
“Oh.” He surveyed the small, tight confines of the cabin. “I thought you would’ve been the one to track me.”
“I was told you’d come and find me. You’re sitting on my bounty file.”
Arthur reached down and slid the manila folder from under his posterior. He opened it and from the way the color drained from his face I knew he most definitely couldn’t be the killer. Especially when he picked up the picture with the threat scrawled on the wall.
“Cia, you know I—”
“I know.” I turned my attention back onto the ice road in front of me. “Still, there’s a large bounty and Trackers hunting you down. No one has heard from you in a long time, you have a motive and I have thirty days to find the killer or…”
“Yeah, the Wrath comes and gets me.” He set the folder down on the dashboard and it slid forward. He shoved his hood back and took his gloves off. “Sorry about the holes in your truck.”
“You’ll be paying for those.”
He chuckled again and my heart swelled a bit. The look on his face when I killed Henry had haunted me. I’d never thought I would hear Arthur laugh again.
“With what?” He held out his hands in supplication. “You could turn me in and get the bounty.”
“Not just yet.” I shifted the truck again and Arthur eyed me suspiciously.
“Since when did you learn how to drive a big rig, let alone drive the ice roads? Are you wishing for death?”
“Perhaps I like cheating it just a little bit.”
He grinned. “You always did. So, when do we stop?”
“Not for a while yet. This is water I’m driving over. I don’t stop until the end. Then we can discuss what needs to be done.”
“What needs to be done is find the bastard who is using my talisman and killing Guards. Whoever’s doing this has to be an Incarnate as well.”
“Why do you say that? It could be a disgruntled fallen angel, or a demon.”
Arthur shook his head. “Once angels fall they have no real power, nor do the lesser demons who escape through the portals. They wouldn’t have the knowledge to do this.”
“That’s bullshit teachings of the Elders, Arthur, and you know it.” I could feel the ire rising in me. The Elders liked to restrict what we knew about the beings that passed through our portals. It made no sense. Thankfully Michael had taught me a bit more. “Remember the fallen archangel, Nicholas?”
I regretted the words the instant they came out of my mouth. Nicholas had been attracted to the dark arts and was also the one who’d lured Henry to sell his souls to the Devil. I quickly looked at Arthur. His mouth was slack, his eyes glazed over, as he stared out at the frozen wasteland. He looked like he was going to be sick.
“Fine,” he finally said, breaking the silence. “Then it could be, but it’s highly unlikely an angel or demon could slip through a portal undetected.”
“Highly,” I agreed. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about Henry and his death.
“Got anything to eat?”
“In the back on the shelf there are some cupcakes.”
He made a tsk sound under his breath. “I meant real food. You still eat this crap?”
“It’s my vice.”
I heard him rummaging in the back and I kept my gaze on him in the rearview mirror. It was in the split second I took my eyes off the road and focused on him that the sound of ice shattering made my heart stop. Not the usual rumble of thunder.
Gripping the stick, I tried to downshift to avoid the hole that opened up in the middle of the ice road. The brakes felt like Jell-O and though my truck slowed, it was pointless. I slid right for the hole. The black, frigid water looked like a giant mouth about to swallow me whole.
This was it.
This was how I was to die for the second time.
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