I took a deep breath as I stared at the closed door. No matter how much I wanted to turn back, to forget this whole thing, I knew I couldn’t.
I wasn’t just Loch Lacey anymore. Those days, much like miniskirts and a lack of back pain, were long behind me. Now everyone saw me the exact same way—as a Demon Lord.
Who I’d been before no longer mattered. The power that filled me now had erased all my past, taking away who I had been and replacing it with what people saw now.
Which was why I hesitated at the sight I made, dressed in a suit that would have made even Tyrus, the well-dressed bastard, proud.
I closed my eyes and gave myself a pep-talk about moving forward, about doing what I needed to do no matter how I felt about it all.
It didn’t work, much in the same way when I’d still been alive, telling myself I didn’t actually want that pizza while on my diet never really convinced me.
I still wanted that pizza, and I still wanted to run the fuck away.
Instead, I grasped the handle and twisted. With my shoulders pulled back and my chin held high, I strolled in.
And was immediately struck with something small and hard in my forehead.
“Boo,” Hale called out, a large bowl of popcorn in his lap and a smirk across his lips. Somehow, his piercings made him look even more like a bad boy. Well, being covered in tattoos and dressing like a biker helped, too.
And I’d made the colossal mistake of having stripped him down to nothing, so I knew first-hand that those piercings went all the way down.
“Boo?” I asked.
“Why’re you dressed like that?”
I peered down at my outfit, then smoothed it as if that would make it suddenly suit me. “They’re just clothes.”
“Stop pestering her,” Tyrus said as he stepped out from a back room, a large wooden board with snacks on it balanced on his hand. It was strange to see him doing something so domestic, especially because he actually looked right in his suit. “She finally came—why torture her?”
“You baby her too much,” Hale complained as he tossed a handful of popcorn into his mouth.
“And you never moved past the age where you think the way to a girl’s heart is to pull her pigtails.”
“Yeah, well, Loch is the sort of girl who doesn’t mind a little hair pulling.” Hale narrowed his eyes until the blue of them barely escaped through the slits as if challenging Tyrus by staking some claim on me. It reminded me that these weren’t men—they were Demon Lords. They had no issue killing one another if it came to that.
Or even if it didn’t need to come to that—fuck knew I’d seen them go to violence for no good reason beyond boredom.
And yet I didn’t want tonight to go that way. Well, I hadn’t wanted tonight to go any way at all, but since that plan hadn’t worked out, the least I could do was not end up covered in blood.
I opened my mouth to tell them off, but it ended up not needed because another voice, an impossibly cheerful one, rang through the room and Yazmor walked in from behind me. “You’re all early!”
Tyrus twisted his wrist to glance at his extremely fancy watch. “We were on time. You are late.” The lift of his dark eyebrows made him look even more regal than usual. Then again, little flustered Tyrus, which helped him keep that unflappable cool no matter what.
“Well, I think you’ll forgive me because I brought drinks!” Yazmor moved around me carrying a large pitcher full of an icy red liquid. The sweet scent of strawberries wafted up as he passed me.
“Is that margaritas?”
He beamed back at me, somehow managing to ride that line between harmless and terrifying as he often did. He wore a pair of jeans with holes in the knees and a large T-shirt with the name of an influencer I’d seen but never really watched. How Yazmor could seem so out of place everywhere but still keep up with all the trends kids liked I didn’t know. Then again, he looked a lot like a kid, or rather that age where men started to fill out a bit but still retained that youthful face and height.
I’d seen the real him, though, and it meant I wasn’t dumb enough to underestimate him or trust that innocent-looking face of his. He was a hell of a lot more than the college student he looked like.
“I can’t believe you didn’t bring anything better,” Hale muttered, though he sure eyed the pitcher with interest.
“Movies and margaritas go together so well,” Yazmor argued as he set the pitcher down, then waved his hand over the table to make four glasses appear. He poured the drinks and passed them out.
And, despite Hale’s bitching and Tyrus’ hard stare, both men took the offered drinks.
Hale caught my wrist and tugged until I toppled onto the couch between him and Tyrus, their large bodies boxing me in and making me feel small and suddenly breathless.
I went to move, but Hale placed the large bowl of popcorn in my lap. “Just stay put.”
I turned a glare on him at how close he was, at the way I had him pressed to one side and Tyrus on the other. Their arms were beyond warm, as if they burned me where we touched, and the entire world shrank until it stopped just outside of where we sat on the couch in the large theater room in my place.
Maybe part of the reason it unnerved me so much was that it had been so long since I’d interacted with anyone.
A month of hiding away in my room, of refusing to do anything more than I absolutely had to. Thank fuck no one had managed to come visit, since I had no doubt I’d stunk to high heaven and had looked like some sort of stray mutt.
“You finally came out,” Yazmor said before handing me my own drink. “I thought we’d have to dig you out if you burrowed in any further. How long has it been?”
“Not that long,” I answered as I sipped at the deceptively sweet drink.
“A month,” Tyrus interjected. “It has been a month of hiding.”
“Thanks, Dad.” I took another drink. Despite its sugary taste, I had no doubt Yazmor had filled it with alcohol. That thought made me take another gulp, wanting to numb my nerves and my memory.
Yazmor took a seat on the floor just in front of me, resting his back against my shins. It pinned me in place, something that would have made me panic before.
Instead, the edge of fear had mostly disappeared. I was nervous for an entirely different reason.
“Relax,” Tyrus said. “The point of this is to give you a chance to relax. That won’t happen if you remain so tense.”
“Well, I’m sorry. It isn’t like Demon Lord Movie Night is something I’m used to.”
“Well get fucking used to it,” Hale said.
“Why? Pretty sure you didn’t do this shit before me.” My words made me go still, the ugly memories like a spider hidden in the crevices of my mind. I could try to ignore them, but every once in a while, they skittered back out and made themselves known.
My brain spawned a picture of Hale, Yazmor, Tyrus and Gorrin—the previous Demon Lord—all watching a movie like this. They’d been antagonistic at the best of times, so the idea of them together in any friendly way was like rewriting gravity.
Seeing Gorrin’s serious face in my mind started a tremor through me. Red moved through his shirt, spreading out, the picture in my head mixing with the memory from a month ago, from when I’d buried a dagger in—
“Loch!” Tyrus’ sharp voice woke me, pulled me back from the edge of that abyss before I had to remember what I’d done.
I turned toward Tyrus, his face filling my entire vision. He set a hand on my cheek, his lips moving as if he were speaking, but I couldn’t understand the words. I couldn’t even hear them.
Instead, that dangerous memory threatened to consume me.
I shook so hard, everything moved around me.
The world actually did move as if an earthquake rocked the Chasm.
“Enough,” Hale whispered into my ear from behind me, his breath warm and his speech coaxing. “Don’t think about it. It’s fine.”
I let his words wash through me, and between him and Tyrus’ face, the ground stopped shaking. It all calmed until only the sound of my rapid shallow breathing filled the room.
The memory retreated, that spider crawling back into its crevice, leaving me an empty shell.
“Loch…” Hale whispered once I gained my footing again, when I could shut my eyes to close out the world around me.
I shook my head, not wanting to hear anything more, not wanting to get dragged back into the memories I tried so hard to bury deep enough to never face again.
“Movie time,” Yazmor said, the cheeriness of his voice so obviously forced. Still, I welcomed the distraction.
At this point, I either upped and left, making a much bigger spectacle of myself, or I sat there and pretended to watch a movie sandwiched between the other three who ruled the Chasm.
So despite the tense mood, the memories I struggled to not think about, the tears that stung my eyes, I turned my gaze to the television and pretended none of that was real.
Nope. I hadn’t killed the man I loved. I hadn’t stolen his power and position. I wasn’t one of the four who ruled hell.
I was just a girl watching a movie with three guys—that was it.
The devil’s in the details…
I really was.
* * * *
Earth really did just keep moving. It was something that amazed me each time I realized it.
No matter what happened, the world was just so fucking big that it kept going. No matter how horrible, how devastating an event, Earth just kept spinning.
Sure enough, as I peered into the well in my office, the one that showed me Earth, I watched people just living their lives, oblivious to everything that had happened.
“Loch?” The male voice made every muscle inside me tighten. Hell, I was pretty sure I locked up so fast I could have thrown my back out from it.
Still, I turned as if unbothered, even if we both knew it was a joke.
Standing there, in my office, was Gunnar. He stared back at me, a strange look on his face. It was something between fear and interest—the same expression he’d had each time he’d seen me over the past month.
Even though I tried so hard to avoid seeing him, outrunning one’s past was a lot fucking harder than it should have been. If I were in charge of creating the world, I’d make it a law of nature that exes never had to see one another after a break-up.
“Yeah?” I asked, striving for nonchalance. The last thing I needed was for him to realize how much he unsettled me.
He approached, then peered past me and at the well. “Spying on Jay?”
I shrugged, unable to deny it since he could see the truth of the matter. There, in the water of the well, the blonde teen sat with her young brother, Brendon. Toys rested between them, and Jay smiled so widely it made my chest ache.
I’d done so much for her, but hadn’t gone to actually see her, not since Hale had sent her and her brother back home after everything had happened. I’d wanted to, but it felt like facing something I just wasn’t ready for.
So instead, I’d watched over them from here, peering into the water to catch a glimpse.
“Can’t believe she survived,” Gunnar muttered and crossed his arms.
He snorted but kept his gaze locked on the water.
Of course he was jealous. After all his attempts to manipulate things, to gain power for himself, he’d been the one to end up dead. It had been his own damn fault for underestimating others. He’d been so sure that Jay was nothing but a tool for him, that she was too weak and stupid to stand on her own, yet she’d survived, and he hadn’t.
When he’d shown up in the Chasm, it hadn’t shocked me. I’d known he’d been headed here, having sold his soul to Gorrin, and when his little attempted coup failed miserably—due in large part to me—well, that felt like a rare time when fate had actually gotten shit right.
As it turned out, Charles—Jay and Brendon’s father—was tougher than he’d seemed. When the fake hand-off started—fake because I’d already had their hostage safe and hidden away—and the Sand Snakes had tried to take the jump to remove Charles…well, it hadn’t gone well.
Charles and his men had gotten the upper hand after realizing that Brendon wasn’t there. They had removed those who had shown up, dealing a hell of a blow to that group. It had left the remaining Sand Snakes in chaos, but no longer a threat.
Which meant now the happy little family was all back together.
Some weird part of me liked that. When everything had gone so badly—and fuck had it gone spectacularly wrong—at least Jay, Brendon and Charles got to live happily.
And Gunnar was killed by Charles, so that’s nice, too.
It seemed Charles didn’t forgive betrayal.
Well, the Gunnar-dying part I was a fan of, other than the fact that it left him as my problem. Because Gorrin had owned his soul, and I now possessed all that Gorrin had before, Gunnar’s soul was now mine. I’d considered selling it off just so I didn’t have to deal with him. Each time I came face to face with him, a rush of unease hit me. We had too much history and too much of it was ugly.
However, if I’d learned anything thus far, it was to keep dangerous things closer. Gunnar knew too much, was too slippery, for me to entrust him to anyone else.
If I were lucky, maybe he’d be stupid and get himself killed again, thus ending his torture of me.
I peered at Gunnar’s profile and sighed. He was arrogant to a fault, but he wasn’t entirely stupid. He’d already started gathering power, not nearly as stuck as I’d been when I’d arrived.
He’d come as a damned, not a demon, but he’d made deals as soon as he’d arrived. He’d set himself up as a man who could get things done, gaining power and allies immediately.
Of course, compared to my position as a Demon Lord, he was little more than a fly beside me.
“Don’t you think it’s some sort of fate that we ended up here together?” Gunnar asked.
“Yep.” Before he could get excited, I added, “I figure it’s my punishment for my life of misdeeds. Fate sure is a cruel bitch, isn’t she?”
He made a soft sound as if neither surprised nor amused by me. Then again, he was one of the only people under me who didn’t treat me with fear. He probably should have—I had more reason to hurt him than anyone else—but we knew each other too well. After having dated on and off again since we were teenagers, there was no way to ignore our history.
“So, you going to hide here again?” he asked.
“I’m not hiding.”
“What else do you call this? Haven’t left this fucking place in a month.”
“I call it a stay-cation.”
“Uh-huh. And just how long are you planning on licking your wounds before you pick yourself up and get shit done?”
“None of your business. Last I checked, I am in charge here, not you. Pretty sure that means I don’t have to answer shit to you.”
“Good try,” he said and backed away. “But, sure, you want to bury your head in the sand? Go for it. Guess you really haven’t changed all that much.”
With that, Gunnar walked out, leaving me there in the room that still reminded me of Gorrin. I hadn’t changed anything, not the office, not the private quarters, nothing.
In fact, no matter how gross, I hadn’t even changed the sheets on the bed, convincing myself that I could still smell him on them.
He was everywhere in this place, and the idea of leaving it, of losing any of it terrified me. It felt like admitting he was gone, like letting the last of him slip away.
No, not just that he was gone, but that I had killed him.
My eyes burned again, and suddenly the walls all closed in on me. The air was thick and heavy and choking. I couldn’t stay here, couldn’t look around at this all.
I had to get out of here. I’d hidden away for a month, and while I didn’t want to go, I couldn’t stay. That fact left me all but running from the room as if I fled Gorrin’s ghost himself.
It didn’t matter how far I ran or where I went, I doubted I’d ever manage to escape that pain.
And I didn’t deserve to, either.