Excerpt: Wicked Road To Hell

Wicked Road to Hell (League of Guardians) by Juliana Stone

Book Two: League of Guardians

Chapter One

Declan O’Hara stepped into the middle of the crossroads, a lonely stretch of pavement on the outskirts of town. The moon was barely visible yet a thin ribbon of light bled through, basking the low lying fog in an eerie glow.

He glanced to his right as a series of subtle vibrations shot up his legs.

Company was coming.

His hands were loose at his sides and he cracked his neck in an effort to relieve the tension across his shoulders. His tall frame was draped in black, the long leather duster sweeping the road as he turned.

Declan smiled in anticipation. It was about time.

His eyes pierced the gloom. An image wavered and solidified not more than three feet from him and the smile vanished, leaving his expression blank. He studied the newcomer for a few moments, relishing the fear he sensed.

“You’re late.” Declan’s voice was low, the tone conversational, yet the hard glint in his eyes told a different story.

His visitor, a slight imp of a man, took a step backward and shook his head. “I got away as soon as I could.” His voice was thin and there was a nervous edge to it.

Declan paused, welcoming the whisper of magick that rippled over his skin. “Where is he?”

The newcomer swallowed thickly, his Adams apple protruding in a rapid jerk. “He’s no longer in Los Angeles.”

At Declan’s frown the man continued. “He now has a protector…a vampire.”

“A protector?” Interesting. “That’s all you got?”

The slight man nodded slowly.

Unbelievable. Declan swore under his breath and turned away. What a complete waste of time. For fuck sakes, he’d given up a bottle of merlot and a hot blonde for this? His irritation was surpassed only by his desire to get back to the lady and salvage at least part of his evening. He stepped away.

“What about payment?”

Declan paused, letting the energy inside him gather until his fingertips hummed with the heat of his power. He glanced back, eyebrows raised. “Payment? You didn’t give me anything I don’t already know. I wanted the location.”

“But I warned you of the protector—“

He laughed, though he wasn’t amused. “You think I need to be warned?” The ground beneath them trembled and danger swept in on the breeze. Declan was pissed. He had no time for this shit.

“There’s talk,” the man licked his lips nervously, “there’s talk that he’s been taken to New Orleans.”

“Fact or fiction?” Declan was fast losing patience. It didn’t take much to trigger his dark side these days.

“I can’t be certain.”

Declan turned once more to face him, his face hard, his eyes cold.

“I risked a lot to come here, to meet with you. If they find out…” The small man’s eyes glowed, a tinge of red burning through the gloom as he snarled in anger. “Samael will kill me.”

Declan’s surprise at the informer’s words was kept hidden. Samael? If the demon lord was involved the game had just changed big time. Declan’s fingers twitched, his nostrils flared as the energy in his hands sparked.

“What does Samael want with him?”

“I will give you no more.” The informer widened his stance and hissed. “I want payment.”

There it was…the trigger.

Declan cocked his head to the side and gave his power free reign. Mist swirled ever faster, hiding the darkness he unleashed. Wind whipped along the surface of the road, moaning as it enveloped the informant in a blanket of death. Seconds later Declan stepped over the still form that lay at his feet.

“Consider that payment rendered.” He grabbed his cell phone and hit redial.

“You get the intel?” Nico’s rough voice filled his ear. The shifter was a jaguar warrior and Declan’s partner.

“I’m headed to Louisiana. I’ll let you know what I find when I get there. We don’t have much time. Samael’s involved now.”

“Samael?” Nico sounded surprised. “That can’t be good. Who the hell is this guy we’re tracking? Do we have a name yet?”

Declan’s eye’s narrowed. “No name.” He paused as an owl hooted in the distance. “Check out Los Angeles, see if you can pick up his trail or find a breadcrumb that’s bigger than a nibble.”

The line went dead.

Guess he was heading to the Big Easy.

Declan arrived in New Orleans well past midnight the following evening. The moon was in hiding, the air was cool, and the energy in the city was powerful. Ancient magick lived here, fed not only by the great Mississippi River that slid by in silence, but by the souls of the dead who refused to leave.

It had been ages since he’d last been here. Another lifetime. He shook the melancholy that threatened and sought out the French quarter. The Voodoo Lounge was located amongst a host of venues on Decatur Street.

Declan headed that way, his tall form sliding amongst the tourists with ease, his dark good looks drawing many a female eye. He ignored them all—even the busty brunette with the large doe eyes and plump candy red lips.

There wasn’t time for such frivolities when the world was going to shit.

Decatur was party central in The Big Easy and the heat from the bodies in the streets and sidewalks created a blanket of mist that hovered inches above the crowd, as it mixed with the cooler air.

It was an eerie glow that somehow fit the chaotic undercurrent in the air. It was the chaotic undertone he was worried about. Something was off here in the land of crawdaddy’s and mint julep. He continued along Decatur until he spied the sign he’d been looking for.

It wasn’t hard to miss, being a shade past puke green with a splash of orange and yellow. The Voodoo Lounge. He smiled as he neared the club. He didn’t remember it being so…gaudy.

There was a crowd gathered along the sidewalk and by the looks of it no one was getting inside. Typical night in the quarter.

A mountain of flesh guarded the entrance, his bald head and heavy features were intimidating—as were the mess of tattoos that adorned his flesh. His shoulders were as wide as the door, the muscles bulging from beneath a tight t-shirt and his legs were leather encased, his feet booted.

The dude was otherworld. It was in the energy that slithered along the man’s frame, invisible to the human eye yet vibrant to someone like the sorcerer.

The bouncer was a shifter, one of Ransome’s clan no doubt.

Declan nodded. “Nice evening.”

The incredible hulk cocked his head to the side but remained silent.

“Ransome in tonight?”

“Depends.” The bouncer spit to the side, “on who’s asking.”

“An old friend.” Declan flashed a smile that never reached his eyes. “Tell him O’Hara’s in town.”

The bouncer’s eyes narrowed. He turned his head slightly, murmuring as he did so, obviously talking into a com device. Seconds later he stepped aside and Declan was allowed entrance.

The Voodoo Lounge had been in existence for as long as Ransome LaPierre’s family had been in New Orleans, and that had been several generations. It was an eclectic bar filled with all sorts of otherworld and a mixture of human as well. They came together in a melting pot of bodies, music and sex.

It was the kind of place that easily bred darkness. As Declan eyed the revellers he felt the potency of the energy surround him, and along with it, the familiar tug of want.

The dark side was a seductive bitch. He’d tasted her secrets. And though he was bound to the light sometimes the lines blurred.

His gaze wandered the room as he slid through the crowd. It was hot, frenetic. He spied Ransome LaPierre immediately. It was hard not to. The alpha of the LaPierre pack was a handsome son of a bitch with a mess of hair the colour of dark tobacco. The wolf was holding court in the far corner, surrounded by cheesy velvet sofa’s, jugs of beer and—Declan grinned—lots of women.

The werewolf arched a brow and moved two women off his lap, a slow smile spreading across his features as Declan approached.

“You want one?” The wolf asked as Declan approached. He grinned and shoved a tipsy blonde Declan’s way. “Or two?” He nodded toward the brunette and laughed, his ‘nawlins accent rolling off his tongue with devilish glee. “Bookends, no?”

Declan shook his head, though his eyes lingered on the generous rack that was nearly falling from the lady’s too small tank top. Lady, being an extremely loose term.

“We need to talk.” His tone was clipped.

Ransome’s smile faded and he stood in one fluid motion. The man was tall and had an inch or two on Declan, putting him near six foot six.

The blonde stepped in front of Declan, her hand falling to his chest. “What’s the rush sugar? Don’t you wanna play?” She laughed softly. Her eyes were dilated, filled with the synthetic happiness of whatever kind of drug she’d ingested.

“Not interested.” He removed her hand and followed Ransome, ignoring the expletives she shouted after him. The dense crowd parted like the red sea allowing them easy access to Ransome’s office located on the upper level of the bar.

The door closed behind them, muffling the heavy beat of the band. Declan exhaled slowly and watched as Ransome poured a generous tumbler of bourbon, but declined when the wolf offered him a glass as well.

Ransome smiled lazily, his slow Louisiana drawl falling from his lips like a melody. “So, what brings you back to these parts my friend?”

“I’m looking for someone.”

Ransome snorted. “Aren’t we all?”

“This one’s special.”

Again the wolf laughed. “Aren’t they all?”

Declan shook his head. “Not like this one.”

The smile that graced the wolf’s face fled immediately and his eyes narrowed. Declan nodded. Now he had his full attention.

Ransome took a long swig of bourbon, hissing as it went down, though his eyes never left Declan’s.

“Where you been for the last two years?”

The wolf’s question took him by surprise and Declan was silent for several seconds. To hell and back.

“Around,” he answered softly as he eyed the shifter closely.

Ransome smiled though his eyes remained aloof. “It’s a dangerous world my friend and we don’t always know who the enemy is. A little elaboration would be welcome.”

Declan didn’t like where the conversation was headed. He had no time for posturing.

“It’s common knowledge you broke ties with the Castille brothers but the rumours of your whereabouts have been murky at best. You working alone?”

Declan wasn’t surprised at Ransome’s words. The werewolf had always kept a paw on the pulse of the otherworld. “No,” he replied dryly, “I’ve got a new boss.”

An image of Bill flashed in front of his eyes and he clenched his teeth together tightly. The little bastard was one of The Seraphim, angelic creatures who had absolute dominion over the upper realm. They also dipped into the affairs of humanity or wherever else they saw fit.

Two years ago Bill had pulled Declan from the bowels of hell. Unfortunately his one way ride out of darkness had come with a price. The Seraphim currently owned Declan’s ass…for several lifetimes to come. He was now part of a group of soldiers known as The Seraph. They did the bidding of The Seraphim, no questions asked.

“A name would be good.”

“I don’t have time to play twenty questions LaPierre.”

The werewolf studied him in silence and a slow burn of frustration hit Declans’ skin.

“What does your boss want with this person who’s different?”

Declan’s anger spiked and rode the edge of pissed off. “My new deal doesn’t come with a lot of answers. I do as I’m told and move on.”

LaPierre poured himself another drink, this time not offering the same to Declan.

“Nothing is ever as it seems O’Hara.”

“No shit.” He answered, his voice tight, “Bill might be an arrogant little prick but he’s Seraphim.”

Ransome’s eyes narrowed at that. “And how’s that going?”

Declan grabbed a decanter of whiskey off the wolf’s shelve and poured himself a double. “Don’t ask.” He downed the contents in one gulp, welcoming the fire as the liquid burned its way down to his gut. “You hear any chatter on the street? Otherworlders new to the area that don’t belong? Or has my trip here been wasted?”

“A trip to Decatur Street is never wasted O’Hara.”

“Normally I’d agree but I’ve no time to play and even less time to find this bastard.”

“I might know something.” A lazy grin spread across Ransome’s face and yet his eyes were dead serious as he focused on Declan.

“Might?” Declan asked.

“I’ve got a couple of conditions.”

Declan eyed his old friend closely. “And they’d be…”

“I don’t want a holy war running amok in my back yard. Keep your boss out of my city.”

No worries there. Bill was with Azaiel. Azaiel was one of the original Seraphim but he’d fallen from grace centuries ago, lured from the upper realm by a beautiful eagle shifter. Dumb fuck.

He’d created a portal that had almost ripped a hole the size of hell into the human realm. A lot of people had suffered, given their lives in order for the portal to remain hidden. Declan’s own father, Cormac, had tried to get his slimy hands on the damn thing.

Azaiel had languished in the hell realm for eons but two years ago he’d been retrieved and now was on trial for his sins.

As far as Declan was concerned the fallen was going to get what he deserved. Bill would be busy for days.

Declan nodded. “Done, and the second?”

Ransome grabbed a leather coat from the chair behind his desk. “I’m coming along.”

“Not possible.” Declan shook his head, “I’m working this one alone.”

Ransome ignored him and slipped supple leather over his powerful shoulders. “You forget sorcerer that this is my town, and nothing of significance happens without my knowledge or involvement.”

Declan’s lips thinned but he remained silent. He could use dark magick to stop him, Ransome had no idea the kind of power that lived beneath his skin, but he couldn’t deny the wolf was one hell of a tracker.

He nodded and stepped aside, following Ransome out the back door. He’d humour the wolf for the moment.

Besides, Bill would fucking hate the idea.

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