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Knell, Page 1

Olivia R. Burton




  EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ®

  www.evernightpublishing.com

  Copyright© 2018 Olivia R. Burton

  ISBN: 978-1-77339-765-8

  Cover Artist: Jay Aheer

  Editor: Melissa Hosack

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

  WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

  This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  KNELL

  Preternatural PNW, 5

  Olivia R. Burton

  Copyright © 2018

  Chapter One

  Finn lay draped over the couch in what he’d come to think of as his home, staring at the ceiling without really seeing the raw cedar beams and metal brackets. Veruca was upstairs, at the far end of their bedroom to be exact. He couldn’t tell what she was doing, but he could see her even through the layers of wood or drywall or whatever made up the parts of a modern home made to evoke thoughts of a rustic cabin in the woods.

  Oh, he couldn’t see her short, curvy form, her dark hair and stunning deep brown eyes, or her enticing smile, but he could see her all the same.

  It had been a few months since Veruca had slipped a little bit of her soul into his chest, replacing the twist of his soul she’d taken for keeps. Finn was sure that no matter how long they kept pieces of each other inside he wouldn’t get used to the feeling. He could feel the hum of it now, a thrumming behind his ribcage that reminded him of having a kitten purring on his chest. It wasn’t distracting to the point of being a burden, but to always know where Veruca was, to always be able to sense the glow of her soul, had changed him slightly.

  Always sensing this wonderful woman who loved him, who’d been willing to pull out all stops to have him in her arms again, was calming. Finally, after years on the run, scamming his way out of problems and into beds, Finn knew he was safe and adored.

  “Are you asleep, darling?” Veruca asked as she descended the stairs.

  Finn smiled, his gaze still focused on the same spot of cedar. “No, my love,” he said, the Irish in his voice thicker because he felt comfortable and at home here. “I’m just thinking.”

  “You?” she asked, leaning over the back of the couch to smile down at him. “Are you sure?”

  “Thinking about you,” he said, reaching a hand up to brush her cheek lightly, before dipping his hand lower to nudge aside the collar of her button-up so he could peer at her cleavage. “Certain parts of you, anyway.”

  “Ah, that kind of thinking,” she said with a sigh, pretending to be annoyed with his ravenous sexual appetite. “That kind I’ll believe.”

  “You calling me a liar?” he asked, voice kicking up a notch as he feigned insult. “I take offense at such a notion. My mind works on all sorts of problems, not just the ones related to how to get you out of your top.”

  “You need only ask,” she said, leaning closer so she could brace herself on the cushion and press her body to his. He felt her glide across the rich fabric and down on top of him, and he slid his hand into her hair, drawing her into a kiss. She obliged him, letting the tension ease from her body as she settled her chest against his. He brushed his fingertips gently down her body, trailing them along the soft cotton cardigan and shorts she was wearing low on her generous hips.

  When he rested his palms on her perfect backside and gave a light squeeze, she made a sound deep in her throat that, for a moment, he figured for arousal. When she shifted slightly, breaking the kiss long enough to speak, though, he realized it was less eager passion and more frustrated disappointment.

  “We’re about to have company,” she murmured, catching his lips in one last, intense kiss before pushing up and sighing. Finn tried to follow her, giving her chin a light nibble as he shifted his hands to her waist, hoping to slide her top right up and off. Thwarting him, she squeezed her elbows against his hands, trapping them. He blinked up at her, trying on his best pout in hopes she’d give in.

  “Not now, darling,” she said, getting to her feet in one swift move. He held the pout a moment longer, before reaching out to take her hand. “But you said I had only to ask.”

  “To be fair,” she said, backing up a step and pulling her hand slowly from his grasp. “You haven’t actually asked.”

  “I can,” he protested, arm still held out as if she were close enough to grab. “Veruca, my love, will you please take your top off?”

  “Later,” she said, before jerking her thumb in the direction of the front door. “Like I said, there’s someone at the door.”

  “Someone who?” he asked, refusing to believe that someone could be as important or entertaining as sex would have been for the both of them. “One of the brownies?”

  “It’s Belial,” she said, her accent giving the name a more Latin flavor than even the Prince of Hell could’ve mustered. Finn tensed slightly, suddenly feeling a bit sheepish. She was almost to the door and, while he was sure Belial wouldn’t care too much if Finn continued to lounge on the comfy couch with an enthusiastic erection tenting his expensive boxer shorts, it did seem a bit rude. Sighing, he pushed to his feet, intent on at least pulling on a heavy robe.

  ****

  “Belial,” Veruca said as she pulled open the door to greet her boss. “Como estás?”

  “Bien,” he said, echoing her native language easily. Veruca had never tested him on his skills, but she’d seen him communicate with dozens of different people in as many languages as if he were fluent. As a child, she’d conversed with him exclusively in Spanish, until he’d brought in the best tutors to teach her and her family English. She hadn’t met any other Reapers in his employ, but he’d let it slip that he had a handful spread all over the world, and if he was going to speak easily with all of them then knowing only one or two languages wouldn’t have been enough.

  So, as he was the determined, intelligent, powerful man she knew him to be, Veruca was sure he’d mastered every tongue as fluently as possible to make sure he never missed a thing.

  “Dónde está Finn?”

  “´Esta arriba, por qué?” Shutting the door, Veruca considered, switching to English in case Finn needed to be involved. “Is everything okay? He’s not in trouble again, is he?”

  “No, no, your soft-hearted necromancer isn’t in any fresh crosshairs. That I know of,” Belial added with a smile. “I was just wondering. I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

  “Nothing that can’t wait. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Veruca gestured for Belial to take a seat on the couch, settling in next to him once he did.

  “I have a favor to ask.”

  “Of course, name it and I’ll do it.”

  Belial chuckled at her unwavering loyalty, patting her knee gently like a proud father. “Let me explain first. Then you can decide if you want to get involved. If needed, I can put another Reaper on the case, but you have a certain edge that none of my others have.”

  “My excellent taste in shoes?”

  “Finn,” Belial said with a smile. “Though, no one could fault your footwear, either.”

  “Finn?” Veruca asked, confused. She loved the man intensely, couldn’t imagine her life without him by her side, but he wasn’t exactly what one would call an asset, at least not outside the bedroom. He could be a walking disaster when not paying proper attention. Even since inviting a family of lesser fae to live on her private island and having them thank her for the opportunity by cleaning the house, tending the garden, and generally keeping the household, messes still followed in Finn’
s wake like fallen buildings behind Godzilla.

  “Indeed,” Belial said. “How much do you know about banshees?”

  “Ah, well.” Veruca considered, sure he was about to reveal that whatever she thought she knew it was wrong. “The usual: Celtic spirits capable of foretelling or, depending on the mythology, causing death. They were tangled up with Irish and Scottish royalty, one spirit for each family, as I understand it.”

  “That’s more or less the rundown. It’s partly true. I used to be quite involved with several banshees, in fact. Until they were exiled.”

  “What for?”

  “Well, that would be up to the queen’s discretion. Basically, though, it comes down to punishment.”

  “What did they do wrong?”

  “Not for them, for me.”

  Veruca blinked in shock, at a loss for words for a moment, her brows lifting as she considered Belial’s revelation. For all she knew, the fairy world and Belial’s were two different circles, the crossover minimal. Fae of all shapes and sizes treated those who worked for or with Belial with a great deal of suspicion and disdain. Why the queen would want to get involved enough in earthly affairs to go after Belial, Veruca had no idea.

  “She banished an entire race just to give you the finger?”

  “That’s the gist of it, yes. I was very good to banshees, making sure they had homes and a solid form, making sure they wanted for nothing. Not all of them, of course, that would have called too much attention. When the queen found out I was using my powers the way I was, however, she put her foot down.”

  “Why on earth would she do that?” Veruca lowered her gaze, a possibility dawning on her. “Are banshees not fae?”

  “No, they are, which is probably why it rankled her majesty so much. She considers me a problem, has been known to warn her people against conspiring with me or mine, so once she found out I was opening my arms to an entire race of what she considered to be her subjects, well…” Belial trailed off, lifting his hands in a gesture that let the explanation speak for itself.

  “Interesting,” Veruca said, considering what he was saying. She’d heard about the Fairy queen here and there, knew her to be alternatively brutal and benevolent, depending on who was dealing with her and why. Veruca had never met her, and she hoped there would never be cause to do so. If even half the negative stories flying around were true, the queen of all Fairy could be considered a very nasty monarch.

  “Well, if they’ve been exiled, why is it that you’re here?”

  “There’s been a rumor going around for a few years now that a banshee’s been brought back to this plane. It’s been hundreds of years since the queen banished the entire race, but it’s not impossible for one to…” Belial chose his words carefully. “To visit earth. It’s a very difficult and dangerous undertaking, but it appears someone managed it, and through some trick of the process, a banshee was released rather than sent back. The queen, of course, would want her gone, exiled into that separate sphere of existence which, if I were to guess, is more a prison than a home. I’d like to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

  “You want to go up against the most powerful creature in of all Fairy to rescue a banshee?”

  “Well, to be frank, I’d like you and Finn to do that for me.”

  ****

  Finn had found a robe, but he had also found the remote and been reminded that one of his favorite movies was on TV which had in turn made him want to see if he could put together an outfit as classic as that of Cary Grant in Notorious. Veruca had bought him several tuxes, even making sure he understood the differences between the three. Well, he thought, she’d made sure he listened as she explained the differences. Other than one of them having a vest, while the other two didn’t, he hadn’t the foggiest how they differed.

  It didn’t matter in the end, though, because his end looked damned good in all three.

  He’d been starved of riches and luxuries for most of his life, generally making do with whatever he could steal or scrounge or scheme up. There had been brief periods of sugar mamas, plenty of sugar daddies, and the occasional generous cougar, but mostly he’d lived by his wits alone. And, he had no problem admitting, his wits weren’t really his best feature.

  His ass, however…

  Finn admired himself in the mirror, doing a little dance, flipping open his tux jacket, and then turning toward the giant mirror that took up one whole wall of the walk-in closet. Doing his best James Bond impression, he hummed a little tune, hoped he had the right theme song, and lowered his pointed finger toward the floor.

  He wasn’t sure how long it had been since Belial had shown up, but no one had called him down to ask him any questions or accuse him of any more crimes, so he was reasonably sure his presence wasn’t needed.

  Veruca would have shushed him if he’d suggested she didn’t need him, he knew. Even though she was the most perfect, capable, generous, wonderful woman he’d ever met, she had no problem making sure he knew she relied on him. It wasn’t just the sex either, he could be certain; she had vowed that her life would have been poorer without him in it. He certainly felt the same about her.

  She was voluptuous and soft with dark hair and brown eyes he loved to get lost in. He would never be able to square the idea of her with the reality of her, feeling like someone so wonderful couldn’t exist outside of a dream, but there she had been when he’d needed her. She’d saved him—several times from himself—and now that he had her in his life, he wanted to give back to the universe everything he could in thanks.

  For the moment all he could give was his sexy accent and the way he looked in his tailored suit. It was almost a fair trade, he thought, admiring his angular features and his slim body beneath the expensive fabric of his tuxedo.

  If only good looks and charm could serve the world the same as soup kitchens and donations to charity. He’d be the world’s most valuable resource, with his dark hair, brilliant blue eyes, and killer smile.

  He could do more, he decided. He was an able young man in his mid-twenties with working limbs and the desire to help. There was the little issue of not knowing where to start, but maybe his closet could be ground zero for his new, selfless lifestyle. Surely other men needed suits and ties and five or ten pairs of faux leather shoes. Someone could slip on the two-hundred dollar coat Finn had only worn once, waltz into some law firm somewhere and get himself a job. Just by owning fewer clothes, Finn could single-handedly jump-start the American economy.

  “That’s it then,” he announced to the empty closet, grabbing for any item of clothing he didn’t think he’d miss. He’d throw them on the bed, fold them up, and ship them off the very next morning.

  Chapter Two

  “You’ve… You do… Finn…” Veruca trailed off once again, still not sure what exactly was trying to come out of her mouth. She considered herself to be competent, strong, smart, and determined. Her whole life she’d been put in unusual situations, the strangest of which had cropped up since Finn’s arrival just a few months before. This was beyond going up against a criminal kingpin or nutty necromancer, though. This was suicide.

  “I wouldn’t ask you to try if I thought it was suicide,” Belial assured her, likely poking into her mind unintentionally. His power was great, a glowing orb knit inside his ribcage with the density of a thousand suns compressed into a space the size of a coconut. She often couldn’t sense when he was using his power, even if he was using it to reach into her mind or into her body to pluck out a thought or heal a wound. His magic was so blinding to her senses that sometimes it was all she could do to even stand in his presence.

  “You’ve always insisted I stay clear of the fae.”

  “And you’ve listened, most of the time.” Belial smiled, his expression teasing. “The last few months, though, you’ve ingratiated yourself with the so-called enemy pretty well. The brownies are lesser fae, but they trust you, care for you even. They talk. The scout you dealt with when Finn was suspected of wrong-doing respec
ts you, and he’s talked as well. You’re the best Reaper for the job and having Finn at your side only solidifies that.”

  “You do realize Finn’s a dolt,” Veruca said, knowing Belial would understand she said as much out of nothing but love.

  “Yes. A very powerful dolt. Banshees are soul fae, one of the purest, in fact. They don’t have a body, but they can inhabit one. However, their power is so great, it will badly damage a soul, resonating so strongly that it simply tears one apart. It’s like a pitch that shatters glass by matching the frequency. They need a body and a necromancer to stay corporeal for more than a few days.”

  “Necromancers can control them?”

  “Not on their own. That’s where a Reaper comes in. You two, bound together as you are, already have the connection needed to make sure the banshee can live as long as she may need to in a physical form.”

  “All we need is the form?” Veruca asked, frowning at the notion. “Presumably one that’s already dead.”

  “You don’t need to worry about that. I just need you to track her down, and I’ll take care of the rest.”

  “Why not send your demons after her? Or go after her yourself?”

  “That would be too obvious. If the queen finds out there’s a banshee loose on earth, there will be—ha—hell to pay. She won’t rest until she’s locked the poor thing up and thrown away the key. I’m guessing the banshee’s presence is still unconfirmed, hopefully even unsuspected. I’ve done some light digging, set a few demons on the trail without explaining what it is I need, but I worry that any further involvement on my part will draw suspicion. So, I’m here humbly asking for your help.”

  “Well,” Veruca said, surprised at the note of finality in her voice. She hadn’t meant to sound resolute, but obviously some part of her had already decided to help out. The situation was dire, the stakes just as intense. If this poor banshee needed help escaping the wrath of the queen of all Fairy and the Prince of Hell thought Veruca was the woman to step in, she supposed she had no choice but to agree to help. “Where do we start?”