He ignored her question, pulling out the massive sword.

“We can’t stand here hoping a gateway will open.” He began weaving his way through the puddles of lava and razor sharp rocks. “Let’s go.”

She hesitated only a moment before following him along the narrow path.

“You didn’t answer my question. Were you forced to rescue me or not?” she gritted.

He kept walking. “Does it matter?”

Did it?

Hell yeah.


She didn’t have a clue.

All she knew for certain was that it hurt to know she was nothing more than an unwanted duty for the aggravating vampire.

“I. .”

“What?” he prompted.

“I didn’t know my soul was bound to Marika’s until just before we met,” she said, for whatever reason needing him to know she hadn’t deliberately led him into a trap.

He muttered something too low for her to catch, leading them through the gap at the back. He was forced to bend nearly double as they squeezed through the opening and entered. .

A cavern that exactly matched the cavern they had just left.

Kata grimaced, not bothering to point out that there was every possibility that there was no escape from the ghastly place. Why bother?

The same thought had to be going through Uriel’s mind.

Not that he bothered to share what he was thinking. She might as well have been a stray dog for all the attention he was giving her.

Annoying ass.

In silence they crossed the cavern, nearly reaching the opening in the back when Uriel abruptly whirled around, his eyes searching the shadows.

“ Damn.”

She frowned. “What now?”

“Something’s following us.” He tilted back his head, as if testing the air. “Several somethings.”


“Phantoms,” he corrected her.

“Perfect,” she muttered, instinctively ducking as he darted past her and swung his oversized sword at the translucent creature that formed out of the steam rising from the lava pits.

There was a shriek of fury and Kata bit her lip as the phantom struck out, knocking Uriel into one of the stalagmites with shocking force. Grimly the vampire shrugged off his injuries, charging back at the enemy that had turned its attention to Kata.

She saw the gleam of malevolent red eyes among the black mist that made up the phantom before Uriel was leaping in front of her, his sword dropped to his side as he instead held out his hand and released a burst of power.

The phantom tried to halt its forward charge, but it was too late. Uriel’s icy power wrapped around the creature, crushing it before it could dissipate back into the lava.

Watching the battle, Kata very nearly missed the second phantom that rose from the lava behind her. It wasn’t until she felt the stinging pain in the center of her back that she belatedly turned to face the danger.

Without Uriel’s brute strength or his vampire powers, Kata was severely limited in her defensive skills. And why shouldn’t she be? Until Marika had become a vampire, the only defense she’d needed was the sharp edge of her tongue. She was a healer, not a fighter.

A damned shame she wouldn’t be able to convince the hovering creature to settle matters with a smile and a handshake.

Hell, she didn’t even know if it had hands in all that swirling mist.

Taking a step backward, Kata held up a clenched fist and chanted soft words beneath her breath. They burnt across her brain as if they were being etched in fire, then, as she finished the spell she released the curse and let it fly toward her attacker.

She didn’t have a clue if it would hurt a phantom.

The thing didn’t have a corporeal body, but it did have an essence that could take physical form.

All she could do was hope for the best.

For a minute nothing happened.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. The creature continued to float forward, while from behind she could hear the dying shrieks of Uriel’s opponent. But her curse seemed to be a complete bust.

Desperately searching her mind for something, anything, that might hurt the phantom, Kata sucked in a startled breath as the air suddenly began to thicken with the force of her words. Her curse was not only working, but it was growing with an intensity she’d never been able to conjure before.

Obviously a perk of being in hell, she wryly accepted, taking a hasty step backwards as the phantom began to pulse, almost as if it were being inflated from the inside. Then, with a scream that nearly deafened Kata, the creature exploded.

There was just no other way to describe it.

One minute it was a hovering mass of black mist, and the next, tiny shreds of an oily substance were dripping off the nearby stalagmites.

She barely had time to admire the stunning results of her curse when Uriel was scooping her off her feet and tossing her over his shoulder.

“Hey. .” Her head bounced against the hard muscles of his back as he leaped over pools of boiling lava and hurried toward the side of the cavern. “Stop. Put me down.”

He ignored her protests, ducking through a hidden opening into another cavern. This one similar to the previous one, but with enough differences to comfort her with the thought they weren’t going in endless circles.

Not that she had much of a chance to admire the passing scenery.

Uriel charged from one cavern to the next, not halting until she began to pummel his back with small fists. Swaying upside down was making her queasy.

“Dammit, I told you to put me down,” she rasped.

Muttering his opinion of women who didn’t have the sense of a Flandra demon, Uriel set her onto a path that ran between two sheer cliffs. Kata refused to peer over the edge. She didn’t want to know if there was a bottom far below. Or what might be lurking down there.

Things were bad enough.

Uriel seemed to agree.

“Satisfied?” he demanded, his gaze never straying from her pale face.

She licked her dry lips. “Maybe we should split up.”

He blinked, studying her as if she’d grown a second head. “Split up?”

“You know, you go one way and I go another.” She waved her hand. “It’s a fairly simple concept.”

“I understand the concept,” he growled, “I just don’t understand why you would be so idiotic as to suggest it. You wouldn’t last five minutes without my protection.”

It was true.

Although her curse had worked against the phantom, she wouldn’t be able to conjure another one until she’d had a chance to rest. And she very much doubted that phantoms were the only nasties that were waiting to crawl out of the shadows.

But she’d been stripped of her pride and dignity by Marika. She wasn’t going to let it happen again.

She wasn’t this vampire’s charity case.

“What does it matter to you?”

“I think the better question is why you’re trying to get rid of me?” He narrowed his eyes in suspicion, his face bathed in the reddish glow that filled the cavern. He should have appeared. . frightening, even sinister, standing

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