A prince of the fallen angels searches for a weapon to destroy the demon who has abducted his boyfriend. Unfortunately, the murderous king also desires Death’s scythe. The prince fears becoming a monster like his father, but he will do anything to save his lover.

Prince Atticus Diamond, the heir to the Turiel Dynasty, endured a childhood of trauma and tough love at the hands of his father. King Lucius taught his son the most ruthless lesson of all—that no evil is too great when committed in the pursuit of power.

Determined not to become a monster like his sire, Atticus has devoted himself to rejecting his inheritance. As a boy, he secretly helped another prince escape the brutal massacre that claimed the lives of the Remiel royal family.

Fate is a twisted bitch, though. Sixteen years later, Atticus falls for the prince he saved, except they’re not boys anymore. Grown-up and gorgeous, Finn is hedonistic and impulsive—Atticus’s polar opposite. Given that their families are bitter enemies, their star-crossed affair appears doomed from the onset.

When a demon captures Finn, Atticus must employ the entirety of his willpower and guile to beat King Lucius at his own game. With the help of his sister and friends, Atticus undertakes a quest for the lost pieces of Death’s scythe.

This adventure can only end up in one place—the belly of the beast. Atticus will rescue Finn or die trying.

Chapter 1

Observation platform of the Storm Tower, Fallen City

A dark and stormy August night

Finn Whitlock staggered from the elevator into the alcove on the skyscraper’s observation platform. The solid stainless steel doors hummed, then closed behind him. Dead on his feet, he teetered on the verge of collapse, and slumped against the textured concrete wall of the archway.

Black clouds cloaked the sky, and thunder rumbled among the forest of towering buildings. The nook only provided minimal protection from the elements. A fierce wind whipped his leather duster about his lean frame. The cold chafed his thin, translucent skin, but the discomfort barely penetrated his bone-weary exhaustion. Shivering, he turned up his collar and pulled his jacket closer to keep warm.

Despite his misery, an overwhelming sense of relief left him lightheaded. “I made it. The demon can’t follow me here. The wards will protect me,” Finn said aloud, because he couldn’t quite believe it. “Safe. I’m finally safe, and I only had to break into a vampire stronghold to get here.”

“Safe is not a word I would use for Storm Tower,” said the muffled voice of Josie, his virtual assistant.

Fumbling a bit, he reached into his duster and fished the phone from his pocket. “Have we been detected?” Finn shuddered to imagine the future that awaited him if the vampires caught him trespassing in their stronghold. But torture or death was preferable to the harrowing fate of being consumed by the Soul Eater.

“I don’t think so,” Josie said with a hint of uncertainty.

Finn hesitated. “How’s your upload going?”

“Data transfer of my encrypted files is ninety-one percent complete.”

He rolled his eyes. “What about your consciousness?”

Josie snorted. “My consciousness is already fully transferred. I did that first, silly goose.”

“Silly goose,” he repeated, chuckling even though it wasn’t that funny. Then, a switch flipped in his brain, and he dissolved into a bout of maniacal laughter that left him holding his sides and howling. To any sane person, he would indeed have appeared to be a maniac, which suited his mood just fine. Every madman needed some bats in the belfry, and besides, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.

Just then, his phone rang, and Josie announced, “Atticus Diamond is calling.”

Finn stopped laughing as abruptly as he’d begun. Transfixed, he stared at the ruggedly handsome face of his boyfriend—ex-boyfriend?—the Nephilim prince of the Turiel Dynasty. Months ago, Finn had edited-while-drunk Atticus’s contact information to read ‘My Mountain Man.’ He’d never gotten around to correcting it—never wanted to because those three short, sweet words were the poetry in his heart.

The phone rang again.

“Would you like me to block him?” Josie asked in a tone soft with sympathy.

“No.” In a flare of anger, Finn stabbed the screen, sending the call directly to voicemail. He regretted it immediately, but there were no takebacks. All the weeks he’d spent studiously evading Atticus—undone in a hot second.

Josie groaned. “Uh-oh.”

“God’s wounds.” The curse exploded from him. As a scion of the archangel Remiel, Finn committed blasphemy when he profaned God in this way. He smacked his forehead with an open hand in self-punishment. “I messed up big time, Josie. Atticus is going to know I’m dodging him.”

“Maybe he’ll miss it.”

“Atticus is an earth Elementalist. He’s dense but not that dense.” The corner of Finn’s mouth curved cynically. He rummaged through his pockets for his earbuds and put them on before tucking his phone away.

“Maybe this is for the best,” Josie said. “The way you ended things with Atticus was abrupt. Now you can call back and say goodbye. Closure—”

“No! I don’t want to say goodbye. There’s no closure to be had because it’s not over. We can’t end like this.” An awkward silence followed his outburst, and he tasted bittersweet regret. “I’m sorry, Josie. I shouldn’t be taking my frustration out on you.”

“Please don’t apologize. I understand.”

Intense disappointment led him to ask, “Atticus hasn’t tried to call back?”

“No, but it’s three a.m. Remember, Atticus is a morning person.”

Finn chuckled. “How could I forget? All those times I complained about his crack of dawn workouts.” Right now, he’d give anything to be there again—waking up warm and snug in their bed to clanging weights and classic rock ‘n roll blasting in the next room.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call him back?” Josie asked in what Finn privately called her ‘mom’ voice.

“No, it’s better this way,” he lied with a tight throat and unshed tears in his eyes. Distressed agitation drove Finn out into the storm. A gale wind beat down as if trying to shove him back beneath the shelter. Raindrops splattered his head and shoulders. A severe downpour would ruin his metallic blue mohawk, but he had long since passed caring about lousy hair. He forged ahead, tilting into the wind until he reached the waist-height guardrail. Standing on the lowest railing, he gripped the top and leaned out, staring down into the hundred-plus-story abyss.

 A frigid updraft rose through the chasm, drowning out the clamor in the streets far below. The frostiness turned his skin blue and caused his joints to ache, but a temptation kept him perched on the ledge. One short jump, one long fall, and all his troubles could be over. He had spent the last three weeks living life on the run, unable to contact his friends or his ex-lover for fear of putting them in danger. Finn was tired. And not just physically, but in every sense of the word—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’d be so nice to put an end to it all.

In Death’s arms, he could finally rest.

But I never told Atticus that I love him, or how grateful I am for all the times he’s saved me. If I kill myself, he’ll never know, and he deserves to hear it from me. Those reasons kept him from going over, but a thousand more motives for surviving flooded his mind—all the things he loved and enjoyed—everything he would miss out on or never experience.

Besides, twenty-five was too young to die.

Resolve fortified his will. Filling his lungs with breath, he raised his face, gazing up and out. The city of lights burned like a galaxy, but a void of darkness lay beyond the fortress of sea walls holding the hungry ocean at bay. A glorious panorama of the metropolis stretched for miles. One of those distant, burning points was Atticus. Whether their relationship survived trauma and abandonment remained to be seen. Regardless, Finn respected and admired the Turiel prince more than any other. Atticus would never take the coward’s way out. He would fight to the bitter end with every iota of strength he possessed, and so should Finn.

Finn stepped off the guardrail, dropping to the ground. Right as he let go, an all too familiar tingling started in his throat. He wanted to scream, “No, now’s not the time for a vision! Not in vampire central.” However, Prophecy picked its own time and place, not the other way around. As the great-grandson of the Archangel Remiel, Finn could no more deny his bloodline’s divine gift than abstain from breathing. Tremendous pressure coalesced in his chest, and his blood howled. A heavenly fire ignited in his heart, blazing through his translucent flesh.

A harrowing glimpse of the immediate future clobbered him like a cudgel. For a heartbeat, he lost touch with the external world. Time stopped, and the vision became his entire reality. Inky darkness. Thrashing tentacles. Scorching heat and acidic fumes. The demon’s skin bulged with the hands and faces of tortured souls she’d consumed, all straining to claw their way to freedom. The tormented screams of the Damned pierced the night.

At the center of Hell, surrounded by an ocean of flames, stood a gleaming Pearl. Finn didn’t understand what it meant yet, but he knew two things he accepted on blind faith. First, The Pearl promised sanctuary and protection. Second, Finn needed to grant Atticus a vision.

The foresight ended when his boots hit the ground. His legs went out from under him, and Finn collapsed to a heap on the icy cement. He had no idea how long he lay there. When he finally came around, teeth-clattering shivers wracked his body.

Josie’s perky voice filled his hearing. “As I have explained six times already, Your Royal Hiney—I mean Highness—my privacy settings are active. I cannot provide the information you seek.”

Is she talking to me? Groggy, Finn opened his mouth to ask, but then Atticus’s deep voice boomed like thunder.

“Give me your GPS coordinates now, or I’ll feed you to an incinerator.”

Finn couldn’t help but smile despite everything because it was so typical of Atticus to issue commands, fully expecting the universe to obey. Simultaneously, Finn shook his head to clear the cobwebs. He hadn’t instructed Josie to call Atticus. Was this a dream?

“Has it occurred to you that threatening to destroy me isn’t the smartest way of convincing me to disclose our location?” Josie asked.

“Fuck,” Atticus muttered. “Josie, all I want is to help Finn. You say he’s in trouble, yet you refuse to give me anything useful. Why did you even bother calling? You’re not self-aware enough to be this stupid.”

“And your family tree is a circle.”

“Will both of you please shut the hell up?” Finn demanded, and to his surprise, they both obliged. He savored the satisfaction.

Atticus chanted, “Finn? Finn!”

Directly overhead, chain lightning splintered the sky, and thunder rolled. “Hold on a second,” Finn said. “I’d rather not get electrocuted.”

Atticus snorted. “I know the feeling.”

Finn climbed shakily to his feet and headed for the alcove. He reached shelter not a second too soon. The sky opened, and rain descended in sheets. The thunderstorm raged through the heavens. Finn’s hands shook so much that he had trouble activating video chat. It took three fumbling tries before he succeeded.

Atticus’s chiseled features appeared on the screen. He wore his default expression—resting bitch face with a dollop of James Dean rebelliousness. His short black hair stuck out in all directions. A dreamy sigh escaped Finn. He longed to run his fingers through those silky locks, mussing it up more. If Atticus could have seen himself in a mirror, his frown would’ve turned to a scowl because he’d always hated those cowlicks.

A fragile sense of joy and intense yearning filled Finn. Their separation had been more difficult than he could have imagined, and he wondered—did Atticus share his longing? “Hey there, handsome,” Finn said in a voice rough with passion. “I’ve missed you.”

Atticus’s exhalation was pained. “Where are you?”

The sting of disappointment caught Finn off-guard. His delight proved as short-lived as a moth. Perhaps he didn’t deserve a declaration, especially after the way he’d run off following their fight, but he still wanted one.

“Finn, I asked you a direct question,” Atticus snapped.

Finn sighed. “I’m on the observation platform of Storm Tower.”

“What, have you moved on to bloodsuckers now in your quest for cheap thrills?”

Finn winced. The taunt salted his wounds, but then he had this coming to him, too. “No, I came here because I thought the vampires had wards that could protect me. But, Diamond, please believe me when I say—you were never a cheap thrill.”

“Still a thrill.” Atticus gave a harsh laugh.

Reluctance delayed Finn’s response but curiosity won out. “Why aren’t you yelling yet? I thought you’d be angrier than this.”

“I’m furious,” Atticus confessed through clenched teeth. “But my sister made me promise that I’d allow you to explain before I ripped you a new one. Those exact words.”

Bless you, Ophelia. Finn adored his lover’s little sister. “Atticus, I know you’re pissed at me, and I’m sorry. For everything. Leaving. Ghosting you. The only reason I stayed away was to keep you and our friends safe.”

“Safe from what?” Atticus asked.

Ding.

Finn jerked his face up at the bright sound just as the elevator’s digital display changed from one to ten. Of course, it could’ve been anyone—a security guard on rounds or a vampire headed to the corporate blood bank for a midnight snack—but his instincts predicted doom.

Dread solidified, writhing like worms through Finn’s gut. “Oh, shit. She’s found me.”

“Who’s found you?” Atticus demanded.

Agitation left Finn fumbling for words. “The demon. The Soul Eater. It’s some shape-changing Eldrich horror that eats only —Nephilim. I think she may be undead, but I’m not certain”

Ding. Ten became twenty.

A commotion erupted in the background and the picture on the screen swept the room as Atticus started to get dressed. Breathing heavily, he said, “Hang tight. I’m coming to get you.”

There’s my hero, ready to charge to the rescue, despite all the shit between us. Tears spilled down Finn’s cheeks. “You’ll never make it here in time.”

“I’m only a half-hour away,” Atticus argued with raw desperation.

Finn blinked, and tears spilled down his cheeks. “Listen to me. She’s already in the elevator. Please don’t waste our last minutes together.”

Atticus stilled like a living statue. His metamorphic complexion—literally, the flesh of stone—darkened to the luminosity of volcanic magma. Only his lips moved when he whispered, “When we were together, you were safe with me.”

Finn wept with sorrow. “I know that.”

“Then why did you leave?”

“Because—” A sob caught in his throat. Finn couldn’t explain why he’d left without reopening old wounds.

Ding.

Finn cringed at the ring of the rising elevator, the timer counting down to the end of his life floor-by-floor. He refused to look at the display because he didn’t want to waste another precious second. Instead, he blurted out, “Atticus, you’re the guy.”

“The guy for what-who?”

“The guy for me. Crackers and cheese, you make me want to swear in ways so profane we’d be risking me accidentally opening a portal straight to Hell.”

“Then, why were we ever together?” Atticus bristled, so hurt and offended all at once. So freaking adorable. Finn forgot they weren’t physically together and reached out to engulf Atticus in a bear hug. They made a spiritual connection despite the miles separating them.

Thank you, Ma Bell.

“I can feel you here with me.” Atticus shivered within the confines of his lover’s phantasmal embrace. Experimentally, Atticus spread his arms and patted Finn down.

“Atticus, I can feel you, too. Your fingers are running down my back. Hey, watch the ass!”

The intense pressure they endured spilled over into a fit of laughter. Although miles separated their bodies, spiritually, they clung to each other like shipwrecked survivors to a raft. Their shared strength kept them united and afloat.

Into the silence, Finn confessed the truth of his heart. “Atticus Diamond, you’re the embodiment of that classic archetype of a dark, broody hero, right down to your tragic past. You’ve got it all. Epic intimacy issues. A rock-hard physique just begging to be stroked. You’re courageous, smart, and wonderfully sarcastic. If only you had great hair, you’d be perfect.”

Atticus blurted out, “What’s wrong with my hair?”

Finn arched his brow. Their gazes locked, and Atticus flashed a slow, self-effacing smile.  He wound a cowlick around his finger.

Finn rushed to continue, painfully aware that every moment of silence cost him an opportunity to express his devotion. ” I didn’t know what it felt like to fall head-over-heels in love until the day we met for the second time in Switzerland. There I was being treated like a piece of property, and there you were with those abs.”

Finn touched Atticus psychically, stroking his phantasmal palms over his lover’s ripped eight-pack but Atticus blocked him. Glaring, Atticus ordered, “Stop.”

Raising his hands in surrender, Finn said, “I guess what I’m trying to say is this—When I caused you endless grief, you were patient and kind. When I expected abuse, you cherished me. When I was low, you lifted me high. Atticus Diamond, you have shown me what it means to be loved, and for that, I will always love you.”

Silence yawned like a gaping maw, swallowing Finn’s confession whole. Resting on pins and needles, he awaited his lover’s response. But Finn’s heart shattered into a million pieces when Atticus said, “No.”

Finn’s eyes rounded. Humiliation corroded through him. In a moment of terrible self-doubt, he realized the enormity of a life lived in shadows, forever suffocating within the coils of his rock-bottom self-esteem. Countless others had treated Finn like trash to be thrown away, but never Atticus.

Before now.

A crisis of faith assailed Finn’s fragile ego, leaving him hurting and wounded. Until now, Finn had clung to his convictions, believing Atticus cared—maybe even loved—him. In a heartbeat, Finn lost all confidence in the abyss of self-loathing. Am I truly this stupid—this worthless?

“No?” Finn whispered. Outrage swelled within his chest as the elevator emitted yet another ominous ding. “I just handed over my heart on a platter. We both know I’m going to die, but you can’t even bother enough to tell me a pretty lie?”

“I don’t lie to you, and I refuse to say goodbye because this isn’t the end of our story. Come Heaven or Hell, you and I aren’t finished. “

Finn trembled in the grip of relief. “Are you going to save me, Tough Guy?”

“You bet your beautiful ass I’m going to save you. And you’re going to show me the way because that’s how we work.”

Atticus hasn’t given up on me. The foundation of Finn’s security solidified like bedrock. Yet, he hesitated, dragging his tongue over his dry lips. “You’re going to hate this… I must grant you a vision.”

“The last time you said that to me, I was sore for a week.”

Finn laughed while he wept in sorrow. The perfect retort sat on the tip of his tongue, but—

Ding. The sands of the hourglass had nearly run their course.

“We’re out of time,” Finn said. “I’m sorry, I love you, and oh, I left you a letter.”

“A letter?” Atticus sounded uncharacteristically panicked.

“It’s hidden on our train.” Finn summoned his power in a spectacular rush, and time slowed  as if encased in amber. Divinity coalesced in the Nephilim’s core, shining through his translucent skin. Radiant wings of pure energy sprouted from his back. He flexed newly manifested mystical muscles, and his wings flapped. A gale blasted through the alcove.

Another god damned ding rang out. One hundred floors, only twenty to go. Too bad he’d never mastered flight.

“Atticus Diamond, only you can save me,” Finn said, invoking the ultimate sacred gift that the archangel Remiel had bequeathed to his descendants.

Hope.

A bright and fiery stream flowed into the ether. Finn crumpled to his knees then hunched on his elbows, seeking shelter beneath his curved wings. Eventually, the last iota of his power drained, and his wings of light dissipated.

Only emptiness remained. His connection to Atticus was gone.

“Atticus,” Finn said, panting heavily. “Are you there?”

“I’m sorry,” said Josie. “The call dropped.”

“Probably just as well. I hate messy goodbyes.” Gathering the last of his strength, Finn hauled his arm back. Ah, his muscles ached. “Activate self-destruct on my mark.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

“Thank you for everything, Josie,” he said. There was no time left, but he needed to convey his gratitude.

“Love you, too, big guy. Now, let’s go. I want to go out with a bang.”

“Bang it is. Now.”

He hurled the phone out into the storm. Mid-flight, the device sparked and then exploded. Before he lost sight, the phone was smoking and on fire. Forked lightning lit up a dozen skyscrapers, and thunder growled in the distance.

The elevator reached the observation deck. It stopped with a heavy ka-thunk. Finn gathered strength from faith—in his friends, and himself, but especially in Atticus.

Swaying like a sapling in a hurricane, Finn worked his throat, but he couldn’t quite manage to swallow the spit pooling in his cheeks. Both his feet were already firmly planted in the grave. He would stand his ground against the demon and go down fighting.

He squeezed his eyes shut and prayed, Remiel, if you’re listening, I need help. The Soul Eater has found me, and this time I’m trapped. I could use a miracle—it’s now or never. Finn opened his eyes.

The Pearl filled his mind.

Double-thick stainless steel doors parted like the jaws of a crypt. The elevator’s bright interior lights shone about the silhouette of the inky-black demon with writhing tentacles. Finn looked until he couldn’t stand to look any longer. As he averted his gaze, he remembered the VIH (Very Important Hint) that he’d forgotten to share with Atticus. Without it, the skewer of Death’s scythe might be lost forever.

Judas Priest on a pony!  Heart hammering, Finn panicked for a hot flash until he was saved by a burst of divine inspiration.   He raised his gaze to the security monitor mounted in the corner of the alcove and he sang.

“Up and down North City Road,

In and out Da Eagle.

That’s where the money flows,

Pop goes the Weazle.”

Copyright © Melissa Snark. All rights reserved.