The Death Dealer Excerpt

 

CHAPTER ONE

Trevor Blane observed Soleil Stephens puttering about in her greenhouse from his spot beneath the tall pines, thirty yards away. 

“Earth witches,” he muttered. 

How provincial they all were! 

This one was no different. 

She was toiling away at her workbench, scooping dirt into a pot as she planted yet another seedling. How ridiculous to use her hands and waste hours when a simple snap of her fingers would do. Watching her spend time with her plants was like watching grass grow—boring and a complete waste of his time. 

She cooked like a five-star Michelin chef, though. Her cherry pie brought a smile to his lips whenever he thought about it. Four months ago, when they were all cloistered at the Aether’s England estate, she and her hotter-than-hell sister Taryn made sure none of those present went hungry. Trevor still dreamed about that goddamned flaky pie crust. 

“I suppose she has that going for her,” he said aloud.

On the short side, Soleil possessed a full hourglass figure. Her hair was the color of the richest, darkest soil and bundled in a topknot that forever listed to one side. Stray tendrils escaped from the thick bun and curled along the nape of a graceful neck. Longer, non-strategically placed strands framed her rounded, flushed face. Like any witch, she had the ability to glamour and make herself perfect, but apparently, she preferred the form she was born with. 

If Trev were being objective, he’d say she was attractive, but he preferred taller, sleeker women like Soleil’s ethereal older sister, Vivian. Of course, as the wife of the Aether, she was off-limits to any man who wanted to take another breath. Damian Dethridge would smite anyone who considered hooking up with his beloved mate. And Trev had no desire to feel the pain of that sonofabitch’s fury. Been there, done that. 

None of his musings mattered. He was here for a job. A shitty, tedious job, but a job all the same.

When Soleil wiped her brow with her sleeve, leaving behind a smear of dirt, he cringed. Barely suppressing the desire to teleport in and scrub her face clean, he sighed his irritation. He should abandon his post. The woman rarely left her property unless she went to her nonsensical potion store, The Elemental Shop, to sell unsuspecting mortals her useless witchy wares. It wasn’t like he needed to be here, right?

Why Trev had to stick to a timeline for this particular Death Dealer mission was a mystery. If he was going to eventually be tasked with taking her life, he might as well get it over with. He doubted he’d alter Fate’s design by killing her early. The woman didn’t appear to contribute to society in any worthwhile way. 

A mouthwatering memory of cherry pie teased his brain.

Okay, maybe her baked delicacies were the exception. For another slice, he’d tell the Authority to go fuck themselves and protect her until his own dying day. Those delicious creations had transported him back to when his mother used to make him the best apple desserts known to man. Goddess, how he missed his mother. All these years of endless aching in his chest. 

Soleil’s squeal drew his attention, and he grimaced at the sight of the spilled potting soil. The poor woman was on the klutzy side, too. Why the hell had he drawn the short straw? The other Authority veterans had laughed at him when they heard of this assignment. Most were sent after the worst-of-the-worst criminals. 

Not Trevor, though. 

He was forced to babysit an earth elemental witch until the deities determined her time was up. 

Who really knew why? He’d stopped questioning the Fates twenty-seven years ago. Going against the Authority would get you dead or, at the very least, punished. And who wanted banishment? Not him. The last time he’d braved going against his employer for the Aether and his daughter, it had earned him and his teammates shit jobs. Similar to this one. 

And he hated it. 

Trev appreciated the finer things in life. Wine, women, and fast cars. Not necessarily in that order. The witch in the greenhouse was another means to that end. 

Like a startled deer, Soleil’s head came up, and her eyes scanned the tree line where he was hidden. His inclination was to duck backward into the brush, but he was confident she couldn’t see him behind his cloaking wall. She frowned her confusion and spun in a slow circle, looking for the source of her unease. 

It appeared Soleil Stephens had finely tuned instincts. Finally! Something Trev could admire about her. Not that he wanted to, because liking her wasn’t conducive to carrying out her assassination.

Again, the Aether came to mind. Trev prayed the man wasn’t close to his sister-in-law. That was one fucker he didn’t need on his ass. They’d met and worked together to end evil in the past, and he’d seen what Damian was capable of. Hopefully, he would understand that orders were orders when they came from on high. Likely not, though. Trev would need to do some fast talking.

A black-haired child chose that moment to run into the greenhouse. Cradled within the circle of her arms was a small cream-colored animal. “Aunt Soleil! Look what Summer gave me!”

“Summer? Who’s Summer, Sabrina dear?”

“Cousin Alastair’s daughter.”

Trev straightened as his stomach dropped to his feet.

No one had told him a child would be hanging about. Especially not Dethridge’s child. This situation just grew too sticky for his taste. If Sabrina was here, her protective father wouldn’t be far behind. Not to mention, the kid scared the bejesus out of him on a regular basis. Her predictions were freaky accurate, and her abilities were like none he’d ever witnessed. At ten years old, she shouldn’t be stronger than everyone he’d ever met. It wasn’t natural.

The air around him crackled and snapped a mere second before the Aether appeared. The barrier created by his invisibility ring disintegrated, exposing him to Damian’s steely obsidian stare.

Oh shit.

“You have one extremely short window of opportunity to tell me why you’re spying on my daughter, Blane. And it had better be good.”

The Aether wasn’t tall or overly muscular. Damian Dethridge leaned on the side of a pretty boy. Although, at well over two hundred years old, the man would never be considered a boy. No one would dare call him one, either. He was the most powerful force on the planet, minus a god or goddess, and Trev would gamble he’d give any of them a run for their money if it came down to it. All in all, not a man to piss off.

“Not your daughter, Dethridge. You know I’d never hurt her. My mission is the earth witch.”

“Mission? What possible mission could a Death Dealer have with my sister-in-law?”

Trev was sure his face turned a pukey shade of green, but he manned up and answered all the same. “The Authority sent me.”

“Well, the Authority can unsend you. My extended family is off-limits.”

“I can’t go back until my work is completed, Dethridge. I’m already on probation. They’ll kill me if I disobey.”

“I’ll kill you if you don’t. So I suppose you need to decide which way is preferable for you to leave this world.”

Frustration welled inside Trev, and he wanted to kick the tree he’d been lounging against. He needn’t have shown restraint, because the Aether possessed the ability to read minds if he cared to. Still, Trev held back. Barely. 

“Look, my orders are to watch her. For now. I’m not to harm her unless a command comes down from Councilwoman Vector.”

Considering eyes studied him, taking his measure. They gave away nothing of Damian’s feelings on the matter. “Why Soleil?”

“I don’t know.”

“Figure it out. Fast.”

“I’m serious. I don’t know. Believe me, I’ve taken a lot of shit for it, too.”

“He’s telling the truth, Papa,” piped a young voice behind Trev.

“Dammit, Beastie!”

The magical slap was indicative of Damian’s anger, and Trev was slammed into the thick base of the oak tree. The rough bark scraped his forearm, but he’d be damned if he whined about it in front of them. 

Sabrina ignored her father’s wrath and approached him. She was a pint-sized tornado and the feminine version of Damian, and those fathomless yet all-knowing eyes on a child seemed wrong. After a full minute of watching him, she smiled. 

The eeriness of it traveled all the way to his toes. 

“It’s good to see you again, Mr. Trevor,” she said cheerfully. “I—”

“Beastie, go find your mother.”

“But he’s going to—”

“Not another word!” Damian’s sharp command rang out like a gunshot. The wildlife of the forest behind them went silent, as did Trev. Mainly because he forgot to breathe. 

Sabrina’s pink, heart-shaped lips thinned in irritation, and she glared at her dad. 

What did it say about the size of the balls on a kid willing to go toe-to-toe with her unrelenting, all-powerful father? Solid brass cajones on that one, for sure. 

“I’ll just be heading out now,” Trev said with a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder. 

Although the Aether hadn’t bothered to look at him, his chilly address locked him in place. “You’ll go nowhere, Blane. Not until this is settled, and I’m sure my children are in no danger.”

Sabrina faced Trev with twinkling eyes and a wide smile. “That’s a good thing. You’ll get to see Aunt Soleil again.”

 

Soleil was unable to keep up with her niece whenever the child decided to teleport off without warning. The Aether had appeared about thirty yards west of her greenhouse, and Sabrina was off. Frustrated beyond measure, Soleil stomped to where the girl had reappeared behind her father. 

Only then did she see the man Damian was talking to. 

He had sandy-brown hair and a stern countenance. His face wasn’t beautiful like Damian’s, but his visage had an arresting quality. His build was that of a professional football player, but he held himself with a comfortable grace as if he was at ease in his big frame. If he walked into a room, people were sure to do a double take. 

And she knew him. 

Or rather, of him. Soleil had been unable to stop obsessing since their first meeting.

She was out of breath by the time she arrived at Damian’s side, and it wasn’t for the singular reason that she was out of shape. Lifting pots and soil had built her stamina, but all that went by the wayside with one glimpse of Trevor. She’d arrived in time to hear the Aether’s low-voiced command and Sabrina’s cheerful response. She also witnessed Trevor Blane wince. 

He wasn’t super excited to see Aunt Soleil, was he? 

Keeping her expression blank and showing no outward sign of the turmoil she was experiencing, Soleil gave him a tight, dismissive smile. Next, she faced Damian. “I’m sorry. She’s quick.”

“No bother, dear Soleil. It’s not the first time. My daughter and I will have a nice, long discussion about her penchant for placing herself in risky situations without permission.”

Sabrina cast her eyes downward, focusing on the kitten she held. The girl was the picture of contrite. “Sorry, Papa.”

Soleil didn’t believe the little monster for one second, and she struggled not to laugh at the false apology. Glancing up, she caught Damian’s sardonic smile, and she snorted. Not a ladylike sound by any means, and her face burned when her brother-in-law laughed. 

Mortified, she pressed her palms to her hot cheeks and avoided looking at their too-observant visitor. No one was more surprised than she was when Damian wrapped an arm around her shoulders, hugged her close, and kissed her temple.

“You are beautifully unique, Soleil. Remember that, my dear,” he said in a low voice. 

There was a deeper meaning in his words, but she was damned if she understood what it was. However, if the Aether decreed it, she’d try like heck to adhere to it. 

“I’ll take Sabrina back now.”

“No need. I’ll escort her to Vivian,” Damian said, hoisting his daughter in his arms. “Maybe my wife can figure out how to curb Beastie’s impulsiveness. Goddess knows I can’t, no matter how I’ve tried.”

“Blane, we’ll talk soon,” he added. 

With one last stern look toward their visitor, the Aether teleported away, leaving Soleil at a distinct loss as to how to extract herself from her current situation gracefully. Taking a deep breath, she faced Trevor. 

His haughty-eyed stare made her squirm inside. She wasn’t in any doubt about the man liking her. He definitely did not. Why her niece felt he’d care to meet her again was anyone’s guess. If Soleil was disappointed, she refused to show it.

“I’ll let you go back to whatever it was you were doing,” she said as politely as she could manage. She didn’t know why she paused for Trevor’s response, but she did, and when it came, she cringed. 

“Trust me, you’d never be able to stop me from whatever I was doing.” 

His arrogance rankled.

“Well, have at it, buster. I hope you have fun.” In a huff, she turned and began the trek back to her greenhouse. 

The contrary man trailed along behind her. 

She spun back around. “Why are you following me?”

“I’m getting on with whatever it was I was doing.” For the first time, he looked amused. “And I intend to have fun with it.”

Soleil’s stomach dropped, and she was positive she wouldn’t like the answer to her next question. “What were you doing?”

“Observing you.”

“Why?” Her heart rate kicked up, and her palms became sweaty. 

“An assignment from the Authority.”

Dreading his response, she ventured another “Why?”

“I’m their resident Death Dealer.”

Panic took over. His mission could only mean one thing—her demise! Blackness descended, and she promptly fainted.

 

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