Conah’s face froze for a fraction of a second. “Oh …”
Cora sucked in a sharp breath. “You think they wanted the scythe. They killed Peiter to get it. They stabbed you to eliminate witnesses. But they fucked up because they didn’t realize what you were, and Peiter was able to hand the scythe to you, so they tried to kill you too.”
“If I hadn’t been here at that moment, then … Then they could have had the scythe.”
“It makes sense.” Conah began to pace. “The scythes are celestial constructs. They allow the passage into the beyond, but they also hold immense power that could be used for a host of purposes. If one were to get into the wrong hands …”
Then we were fucked. “We need to get that dagger, and we need to get it fast.”
“There aren’t any clues here,” Conah said. “Just blood and the stench of death. We’ll head back and check Peiter’s chambers for clues.”
Movement above us caught my eye. An ethereal face peered over the edge of the roof. Alarm bells rang in my head. I knew that face.
It was the face of the woman who’d tried to stab me with the dagger.
I jabbed an index finger in her direction. “Hey, you, I know you.”
The ghost woman let out a yelp of panic and vanished.
“What is it?” Cora followed my gaze, scanning the top of the wall.
“It’s her, the woman who tried to kill me with the—”
I didn’t get to finish my sentence because Cora was already off. Her body morphed into a streak of silver as she flew up to the roof and vanished.
“The ghost tried to kill you?” Conah asked. His gaze roved over my face as if searching for damage.
“She wasn’t a ghost last night. She was alive, and she had the dagger.”
Conah’s mouth flattened in a grim line. “Stay here.”
He winked out, leaving me alone in the alley. The same alley where I’d been stabbed once, almost twice.
No need to panic. It was daylight, and I could handle myself. I was a reaper, but the words felt hollow in my mind because being handed a job and knowing you could do it were two separate things, and right now, I was totally out of my depth.
A minute crawled by, and then Conah reappeared in the exact spot he’d vanished from, making me jump. A silver comet flew down the alley and came to a halt a few feet from us before materializing into two forms. Cora and the woman who’d tried to kill me.
“Please, I didn’t do anything. Please,” the ghost woman pleaded.
Seriously? Did she not recognize me, her almost victim? “You tried to kill me last night. You had a dagger about yay big.” I held my hands a foot apart.
She shook her head. “An awful nightmare. This is a nightmare, an awful nightmare. I just want to wake up.”
Conah sighed. “I’ve seen this phenomenon before in humans who die violently.”
“Yes, I think she was murdered,” Cora said. “I get a dark vibe off her, and pain. I feel pain.”
“Allow me,” Conah said to Cora, prompting her to release the disorientated ghost.
Cora took a step back, while Conah gently cupped the ghost’s shoulders. Her spectral body shuddered and calmed.
“You’re safe now,” Conah crooned. “Everything is all right. What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I was walking home from work.” Her voice was dreamy. “I was headed to the local Chinese takeaway to grab a bite to eat. Night shift messes with my body clock, you know. I was hungry, even though it was almost three in the morning.”
“What time were you attacked?” Cora asked me.
“I left the club around half twelve, so probably oneish?”
“That doesn’t line up,” Conah said.
Unless … “Ask her what day it is?”
“What day is it?” Conah asked the woman.
“The date?” I prompted Conah.
“What’s the date?”
“The fifth of November.”
Last week. She’d lost almost two weeks of her life. “The hooded figures must have had her. They must have been using her somehow.”
She wasn’t a cold-blooded murderer but a pawn and a victim.
“Which means there’s information in her memories.” Conah took a deep breath and planted both hands on the ghost’s head.
I moved closer. “What are you doing?”
He gave me a half-smile. “My special trick.”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The ghost’s eyes rolled back in her head, and her body began to tremble.
Was he hurting her? “Wait, what are you doing? Don’t hurt her.”
“It’s fine,” Cora said. “She’s not in pain.”
“How can you know that?”
Cora shrugged. “I feel things. From other specters. Emotions and stuff sometimes.”
“You never told me that.”
“It never came up.”
Conah released the ghost with an exasperated sigh. “Nothing. Her last memory is of walking home and then nothing.”
“You’re saying they wiped her memories?” Cora asked.
“It looks that way,” Conah said with a frown. “Ghosts do sometimes forget how they died, and if they remain on this plane for too long, they can lose all sense of identity, but a ghost this new should have more memories in the lead-up to her death. It’s almost as if someone has cut them out.”
I stared at the poor ghost. “How?”
“I don’t know,” Conah said. “But we won’t find any more answers here.” He leaned in and whispered something to the ghost.
Her eyes opened, and she looked at Conah with a beatific smile, one that screamed peace, and then she vanished.
Cora exhaled sharply.
“What?” I looked from her to Conah.
“He took her,” Cora said. Her eyes narrowed.
Took her, as in reaped her? “I thought ghosts had to go through the process?”
“I made an exception,” Conah said.
“Don’t even try that shit with me,” Cora snapped.
Conah’s expression smoothed out. “Don’t worry, I won’t.”
She crossed her arms. “Good.”
Conah held out his hand to me. “Ready to head back to quarters?”
My stomach flipped. “Cora? You’ll be okay?”
“I’ll be fine. Go do reaper stuff, and be amazing.”
I slipped my palm into Conah’s and allowed him to pull me close. Do not sniff him, do not sniff him.
His arm wound around my waist, holding me snuggly to him. Could he feel how hard my heart was pounding right now?
“Are you ready?” he asked.
I looked up, and my lips grazed his jaw. He sucked in a breath at the contact, and my stomach erupted in eager moths.
And then the world splintered again.
We materialized in the huge lounge at Dominus quarters. Conah didn’t release me straight away; just as well, because my head was reeling slightly. It took a couple of seconds to acclimatize and register his body pressed to mine, his warm breath on the top of my head, and his solid biceps jumping beneath my fingers. I’d kissed his jaw. Fuck.
“You can let go now.” Mal’s snarky tone cut through the crackle of the fire.
Conah sighed and released me.
Mal lounged bare-chested in an armchair, one leg thrown over an armrest, and wait … was that a margarita in his hand? He toasted us and took a sip, smacking his lips together afterward. “Hits the fucking spot every time.” He winked at me. “And so do I.”
“Back already, Mal?” Conah asked. “Have you changed your mind about helping?”
“Nope, just getting a drink. Allowing my female companions a little breather before round four.” He smirked and raked me over. “You know, I could always send them away and help you work up a sweat instead? You can consider it my contribution to your fitness training.”
Conah made a sound of disgust in his throat. “Come on, Fee, I’ll show you to your room, so you can get settled.”
My room. It sounded so permanent.
“Show her my room too, Con, just in case she changes her mind about my offer.”
Conah’s shoulders tensed, but he didn’t look back as he led me away. “I’m sure Fee has much better taste than to come to you for anything.”
He led me from the room and into a dark wood-paneled corridor, one side of which was glass. The sky was an inky blanket of bright stars. I stopped to look out at the world below. The storm had passed, and tiny lights dotted the landscape.
I pressed my palm to the glass, expecting to feel the bite of chill, but the glass was warm.
“The windows are heated,” Conah explained. “We also have underfloor heating.”
Underfloor … “Seriously?”
He shrugged. “It’s a must at this altitude.”
“I kind of expected the Underealm to be hot. You know, fires of hell and all that.”
“There are regions that conform to your view, but for the most part, the Underealm is an eternal winter. Fire burns, but so does ice, just in a different way. Both landscapes can prove lethal. But demons have a high tolerance to excesses of temperature.”
“Regions? How big is this place?”
“It’s a world, Fee, just like your world.” He stepped closer, so his arm brushed mine. “Five rivers break up the regions of this world. Enmity, Torment, Lethe, Scorch, and Lament. There are towns and villages in each region and ambassadors that govern them. That below is Senki. It’s a beautiful town. I’ll take you for a visit once we eliminate the threat of the hooded figures.”
“And who’s in charge? The Dominus?”
“Our world is ruled by a monarchy.”
“Yes, and the love of her life, Samael.”