Gideon Winterheart stretched his legs out, leaned back into the corner of the booth and closed his eyes, shutting out the noise of the of the bar’s day staff. Just five minutes of sleep. It was all he needed. Just five fucking minutes to forget about the demon activity he’d spent the last week wading through and cleaning up. It was enough to give even him nightmares, and he’d been dealing with their depravity since he’d been a child. He needed a shower, food, and a solid twelve hours of sleep, but while he’d been in Hell, staving off the war before it spilled topside, his friends had been dealing with not only their shit—but his on top of it. While music thundered through the massive, cavernous space, the beat so low and hypnotic it was designed to boil your blood and ramp up your base needs, the dull thrum of the ancient warding keeping violence to a minimum vibrated through his skull. When you owned a nightclub with the four most terrifying beings the world ever created, that catered to everything from demons to witches, to nymphs and the occasional angel, violence could be catastrophic. Apocalyptic, literally. Didn’t mean they were above using sex to keep them pliable and docile. And it was just more fun this way, except when you hadn’t slept, were covered in bruises, and were pretty damn sure at least two of your ribs were broken. Then it was all just fucking noise. Especially when every time he closed his eyes, he saw sky blue eyes smiling up at him from the most hauntingly beautiful face he’d ever seen. The woman who owned those eyes—and his fucking heart—was as innocent and sweet as he was a damaged abomination, and just thinking of her while in this place, after the things he’d done in the last week, made him uneasy. Like he could taint her just by letting her image float through his brain. Grinding his teeth at the sound of a heavy item hitting the table, he lifted a brow without bothering to open his eyes. “Fuck. Off. I’m sleeping.” There was another thunk, followed by a scraping sound, then the scent of French fries and burgers hit him, making his stomach growl. He managed to crank an eye open enough to snag a handful of fries, and pop a few in his mouth. “Lyr said eat, or he’ll shove the food down your throat.” Kian Sorrow jerked his head in greeting and slid into the booth’s opposite bench, ignoring Gideon’s glare. “You look like shit.” Gideon snorted. “Love you, too, cupcake.” Scrubbing his hands over his face, he sighed and straightened, too hungry to find the humor or irony in the fact that the Horseman Pestilence sent fucking War to make sure he ate. He jerked his head in gratitude when Kian—aka War himself—slid a beer his way. “Why is Lyr going mother hen this time?” Kian’s silence had tension gathering at the back of his neck. Gideon stilled with the beer halfway to his mouth. The least volatile of the Horsemen, Kian wasn’t one to beat around the bush. “Fuck. Just say whatever it is, already.” Kian’s jaw popped once before he leaned forward, dropping his arms on the table. “It could be a coincidence, but—“ Gideon cut him off with a snarl, dread a tightening band around his chest. “We don’t believe in coincidences.” While Kian was older than dirt—probably literally—Gideon wasn’t even going to be thirty five until his next birthday, so when he said ‘we’, it wasn’t an inherited or shared thing, but just common fucking sense that came from their own lives. “Yeah, I was trying to soften the blow.” Kian shoved his hand through his hair and cleared his throat. “I’ve been keeping an eye on the barista while you were gone. She’s got a Reaper after her.” Rage exploding behind his eyes and his heart trying to throw itself out of his rib cage, the only thing that kept him in his seat—kept him from leaping over the table and killing Kian for leaving her vulnerable while sitting there calmly talking to him—was that the Horsemen wasn’t stupid or suicidal. Kian wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t certain that wherever she was, she was safe. His back teeth ground together as he lifted a brow. “You realize we’re Reapers?” When Kian only met his gaze, the uneasiness mixed with the rage inside of him, until he was all but vibrating with the need to move. “How is it possible one was sent after her without us knowing?” Kian slid out of the booth. “Lyr’s looking into it. Ramsey’s watching her apartment, and Roan’s at the coffee shop.” Gideon was on his feet and shoving his way through the writhing supernatural throngs on his way to the exit before Kian was finished speaking. He jerked his chin to acknowledge the bodyguard, Malik, on his way past, then thought of nothing but getting to Bean & Gone Café. He barely remembered getting in his truck or driving across Chicago, his brain a hornet’s nest of confusion and worry. He was aware, however, that he had no business worrying about Skye. She wasn’t his, and would never be his. But. Jesus. Skye Fallon was, by far, the best person he’d ever met in his life. He was a reaper, dealing with the most evil, vilest creatures and humans that had ever existed, and he’d literally just gotten back from wading through Hell. She rescued puppies and kittens, and asked everyone how their day was going. And genuinely cared about the answers. She definitely didn’t need someone like him in her life, even in the shadows. He’d gone down that road before, and it always ended up bloody and deadly—with Gideon himself walking away metaphorically ripped open, while outwardly physically fine. As usual, circling the street for a parking spot had him grinding his teeth. Set in an ‘up and coming’ pocket of South Chicago, it was a trendy spot surrounded by either construction zones or vacant storefronts, with the occasional upscale art gallery or mom-and-pop dime store mixed in. He found her beat up Subaru wagon and parked behind it, automatically stretching his senses out and checking the nearby area for any immediate threat. When nothing about her vehicle screamed “off” to him, he started the block north toward the café, looking for Roan or Ramsey on his way, his instincts nagging him when he didn’t feel either of them anywhere nearby. While the two Horsemen were capable of not only making them invisible to the naked eye, they had the ability to completely shield their presence—except from him. There were very few perks to his heritage, but with the shit the Sorrow brothers got themselves into—even without the Horsemen parts of themselves making an appearance—it came in handy when he needed to save their asses. But the four brothers were the farthest thing from his mind as he finally walked into Bean & Gone. He told himself he’d just see her with his own eyes, then he’d fade back into the shadows where he belonged, and make sure that any threat to her was eliminated before she even sensed a problem. At least, that was the plan, until he saw her behind the counter. Violet-tinted black hair curled wildly around her perfect, heart shaped face, falling past her shoulders. Cherry-red lips tried to distract him, but his need to see her eyes won—but the tears shining in the sky-blue set off a bomb in his head. And for the first time in almost two decades, the cursed part of him almost broke free of its iron chains as all thought fled his brain, leaving him with one instinct. Find what hurt her, and kill it.
Eight days and nineteen hours. He hadn’t been to the café in eight days and nineteen hours, and yet the terrifyingly sexy, Thor-like giant chose this moment to walk back through the doors and witness her first over-emotional moment in three years. Worse, the second Skye Fallon met his gaze through the crowd of customers, all she wanted was to turn and run. She’d spent an inordinate amount of time fantasizing and lusting after this man over the last few months, but the chilling rage in his brilliant green eyes was unlike anything she’d ever seen. It didn’t even look human. He didn’t look human in that moment. He looked like a beast capable of dark, evil things her brain couldn’t even begin to comprehend. And even worse than that, he looked like he’d just walked off the battlefield. His normally neatly-trimmed blond hair shagged past his ears, and the five o’clock shadow that usually made her itch to scratch her fingertips over it had grown into a full-on beard. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a month, he was limping slightly, and there was evidence of bruises and cuts everywhere she looked. That cold, hard gaze never left hers as he waited his turn in line, almost as if he’d forgotten other human beings actually existed around him, except for her. And if he didn’t look like he was ready to commit cold-blooded murder if he had to wait one more second, she might have actually followed the impulse in her brain to run. Or if the nurturer inside her wasn’t screaming to take care of him. They stared at each other for what felt like forever, his face ferocious as he stared down at her. She had no doubt all he could read on her was confusion, worry, and no small amount of terror. But when she finally forced her shoulders to straighten, he just seemed to grow bigger somehow. “Hey, Brute Squad.” Her voice came out huskier than she’d intended, but she was just grateful it didn’t come out as high-pitched and squeaky. “I thought you’d forgotten about us here.” For the first time in all the months he’d been coming to the café, he didn’t smile that devastating grin at the nickname she’d given him the first time she’d taken his order. They’d gotten into a conversation about what work he did that gave him a cut on his cheekbone and a black eye, and when he’d awkwardly told her he was a glorified bodyguard, the line from The Princess Bride had popped into her head and she’d blurted out, “You are the Brute Squad.” But now, he barely seemed to hear her as that intense gaze scanned her face. “Why are you upset?” He finally broke their stare, as if suddenly remembering there were other people in the café, and his frown deepened as he scanned the other patrons. “Who scared you?” When his gaze swung back to hers after finding no one to take his indignant anger out on, the muscle below his right eye started to twitch. “Are you hurt?” Words seemed to have dried up in her throat at the rawness in his voice. She shook her head, keeping her eyes on his. She wasn’t sure why, but something told her it was vital to let him be the one to break eye contact this time. “I’m fine.” When he just lifted a brow, she winced and blew out a breath and held out the hand that held her cell phone. “Stupid video of a cat getting adopted.” He blinked at her. “Stupid video of…Jesus.” He finally broke eye contact and scrubbed both hands over his face. Hands that were covered in cuts and bruises. “Yeah. Maybe I don’t need a coffee.” “Hey.” For the first time in the months he’d been coming to the coffee shop, Skye voluntarily reached out to touch him. Laying her hand gently over one of his much, much larger ones, she gently tugged it away from his face. She smiled at him, and had the insane pleasure of watching his exhausted, craggy face transform with confusion. She pointed at him. “Don’t move. I know what you need.” Escaping before he could notice the blush creeping up to her hairline, she moved over and grabbed a small plate, and a few things out of the cooler. Less than a minute later, she was sliding a turkey sandwich, apple slices, and a bottle of water toward him. “You look like you haven’t had a decent meal in a month.”
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