Chapter 1

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I never considered myself to be especially lucky, but I've had some close calls. My current situation, for instance. I was traveling up the eastern seaboard with a pair of real-life demons, the ones with functional wings and claws as opposed to those fake demons who pose in front of green screens. Our cruising altitude had to be a good two hundred feet above anything firm without the protection of aluminum walls or shatterproof glass. So, there wasn't much a girl could do but hold on for dear life.

Given that over the past few weeks I had established relationships with folks who operated outside the boundaries of reality, I had become accustomed to, and yes, maybe desensitized to this type of situation. It wasn't my first rodeo, as they say. Unfortunately, I didn't have control of the ropes.

My abductors I knew by name. Christoph and I became acquainted on a previous kidnapping mission, so I didn't have to worry about his flight skills. He also didn't torture his prisoners with the silent treatment, which I fully intended to take advantage of. Christoph's second in command, Josh, flanked Christoph's right. Josh did the silent-but-deadly thing real well, and his graveside attitude kept Christoph quiet, but I wasn't interested in escaping my captors. If I did, they would only come after me again, or worse, torment my family. I needed to see this trip through. Then I would escape.

About the time my arms went numb, Christoph gestured to a stream cutting a path through the trees, and we started our descent. With very little effort, Christoph landed next to the water source, which looked more like a raging river on closer inspection. Josh quickly excused himself into the trees, and I followed Christoph to the shore. I needed to take advantage of Josh's absence and remind Christoph we had a history.

I dug my shoes into the dirt and tried to keep my clothes dry as I hung over the water's edge. "How often do you stop for breaks?" I asked casually.

"Every fifty miles or so."

"Oh. It's the same for gollums. At least, that's what I've learned."

Christoph grunted but he didn't look at me as he brought handfuls of water to his mouth.

"I'm sure it takes a lot of energy to fly with a passenger. How do you stay so fit?"

"Training."

"Well, it shows. I've also noticed your grip is not as suffocating as the demon who abducted me in DC. My shoulders aren't as sore. Thanks."

Christoph lifted his head and sat back on his taloned heels, appraising me with chocolate-colored eyes. "You're welcome. Are you hungry?"

Hungry? Had he heard my stomach complain? That was just a response to air travel.

"No. If I eat, you might get barf in your face."

He raised his hand in surrender. "Enough said. We're one hundred miles from the hive, so two more stops and your shoulders will get a break."

"Is the hive your home?"

"The hive is where I was raised, but I have lived in Manhattan for five years."

"Why do you call it a hive? Are there mazes and tunnels and walls made of beeswax?"

Christoph smiled, which came easily, but he glanced warily at the trees when Josh reappeared. "You got the mazes and tunnels right, but they aren't made of beeswax. They're made of limestone. We live off the coast."

"So, underground tunnels near the ocean?"

"Yes."

Suddenly, I had the urge to bolt into the woods. I had never been a fan of underground anything, especially something that could fill up with water, but I needed to bond with my captor. This didn't take much effort, actually. Christoph was easy on the eyes; in a buzz cut, Navy SEAL sort of way.

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