Home > The Demon's Song (Hearts of the Fallen #1)

The Demon's Song (Hearts of the Fallen #1)
Author: Kendra Leigh Castle

Chapter One

Once a fallen angel got kicked out of Hell, there weren’t a lot of places to go.

He’d found one...but that didn’t mean he had to be happy about it. Then again, not being happy was kind of what the Fallen did.

Phenex perched on a stool on a small raised platform, ignoring the many eyes on him as his fingers danced over the guitar strings, coaxing from them an intricate melody that echoed out over the crowd that had gathered. He rested the heel of one battered boot on the bottom rung of the stool, tapping the toe of the other in time to the music. He hadn’t bothered to dress up—shredded jeans, an old T-shirt. No one in the fancy crowd of self-important humans and sleek vamps gave a damn what about he looked like when he played, and he knew it. That was fine. He wasn’t the type to play dress-up.

Phenex felt the song spark and catch deep inside his chest. He might not have a soul...but when the music began to flow through him like lifeblood, he thought this must be what having such a thing felt like. This intense connection of his was one that could be heard, felt, in every single note that poured from him. It was why the vamps loved to have him play at their pretentious club, and why he always accepted despite the fact that they paid like shit and made him buy his own drinks.

When he played, he was the music. But then, no amount of time spent in Hell would ever erase the fact that he was the original Angel of Song.

Phenex leaned into the microphone positioned in front of him and began to sing. His clear tenor went husky as the words twined with the guitar.

His lips curved, eyes slipping shut. He loved to play flamenco, loved the passion in every word, every chord. He doubted many in his audience fully appreciated it, but it didn’t much matter. They just stood there, some swaying, some gaping, whether he was in the mood to play Springsteen or classical...and that was fine with him. This was the one time nobody bothered him.

And considering how much work the white wings had been throwing him and his fellow Fallen exiles lately, somebody was always bothering him. A year ago, he never would have imagined all of this—Lucifer deciding to put him on a hit list, and Leviathan, of all the shapeshifting monstrosities in Hell, cutting a deal with the angelic host and bringing him in on it, effectively saving his immortal skin. Seven of them had escaped, seven mercenaries now gainfully employed by a bunch of uneasy, overworked angels. Seven Fallen trying to find a place among angels and vampires, werewolves and witches, none of whom were all that thrilled to see them running loose.

This—the stage, the guitar—was Phenex’s place. It was all he knew.

Phenex let “La Malagueña Salerosa” cast its spell over the crowd, savoring every honeyed word in Spanish. The storm so often raging inside of him quieted, and all of the empty places filled with music. He was used to walking around pissed off to one degree or another. He was a fallen angel, after all. Being pissed off was kind of a way of life. But when he was playing, he could admit to himself that all the anger was tiring. There had to be more, even if he didn’t know what the more was.

Not like he’d be asking anybody. His Fallen brothers gave him a hard enough time about his future in a boy band. And he’d ruined enough good instruments busting them over people’s heads.

Phenex let his hand fall across the strings, the final chord seeming to hang in the air for a long moment before vanishing. He opened his eyes, watching the people in the crowd blink and look around as though they’d just been released from a spell. Then the clapping began. And the whistling. And the shouting for more.

As the music left him, his stomach sank. Same old story—he showed up, everyone wanted what he had. Like he was a thing. A shiny, dangerous toy, wind it up and watch it go. There’d never been any getting away from that, not Above or Below. Or anywhere in between. Usually he could shrug it off. Tonight, he wasn’t in the mood.

Hellfire. Phenex stood, slinging his guitar across his back. No way was he leaving it on the stage for some sticky-fingered patron to paw at.

“Back in a few,” he muttered into the mic, then gestured at Luc, a lanky vamp lingering at the side of the platform. Luc frowned, his red eyes glinting in the dim light, but he jerked his head at someone across the room. Immediately, the room was filled with the music of a local band that played here regularly. There were murmurs and a chorus of unhappy sighs as Phenex left the small stage, striding on long legs through a crowd that parted quickly before him. They might love his talent, but none of them would ever make the mistake of getting in his way.

That was good. This guitar was one of his favorites. He’d hate to waste it on some a**hole’s head.

He headed through an archway draped with heavy velvet curtains, barely seeing the ebb and flow of Amphora’s patrons around him. The place was nice, he’d give the vamps that. Justin, the vampire king he’d known for centuries, had taken a run-down old government building in the heart of DC and turned it into a marble temple dedicated to wine, women, and song. And bloodsucking, but that wasn’t something they put on the sign. Open at sunset every night, the sprawling building housed a nightclub, an acclaimed restaurant, and a beautiful, unexpected sunken garden. None of that was what interested him right now, though. All he wanted was the door, heavily guarded, that led to the lower reaches of the building...and then down farther, to the city of nightwalkers nestled safely beneath the nation’s capital.

Terra Noctem, the City of Eternal Night. It wasn’t exactly home—but for now, it worked.

He was nearly to the restricted area entrance when a hand fell on his shoulder.

“Where are you taking off to? You just started.”

Phenex turned slowly, eyes narrowed, and looked down at one of the only vamps he wouldn’t consider hurting. Unfortunately, Justin knew it. The vampire king of Terra Noctem looked up at him, one dark brow arched. To the vamp’s credit, he seemed genuinely concerned—not like he was just looking to yank his chain.

Phenex blew out a breath and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Justin was all right, for a vamp. He’d been a Roman soldier in the time of Julius Caesar, and both he and his sister had been turned by a vampire who decided he liked the particular flavor of their family. The two of them had, with the assistance of members of the other night races, created an underground, magically protected city that had moved various places over the years. The immense effort it had taken to make Terra Noctem a reality had been well worth it. Not only did the city serve as a near-impregnable fortress, ensuring that the night races would never go completely extinct, but the different beings that inhabited it had to work together to keep it. Amphora was a big source of revenue for the time being, but it was far from the only one. Werewolves, witches, Fae...they all pitched in from within and without.

And now, so did Phenex and his dark brothers. They’d paid a steep price for access—a blood oath that they would protect the city and its inhabitants had been required, insurance against the type of betrayal fallen angels were famous for. They’d had to fill the long-empty seat for the Fallen on the Necromancium, the governing body of all the night races, and be subjected to the occasional endless, mind-numbingly boring meeting. But they’d needed somewhere to stay, a protected base of operations for this odd existence of demon hunting and doing the right thing (albeit violently, and for pay) that they’d all stumbled into.

On the upside, the demons still hunting them couldn’t get in. On the downside, it was one more commitment he couldn’t get out of.

“Guess I’m just tired tonight,” Phenex said. Then he smirked, unable to help himself. “Maybe I’m getting a cold from your damn cave.”

Justin snorted. “It’s your cave, too, Phenex. And I wouldn’t believe you even if you could get sick.” The tall, slim vampire studied him so closely that Phenex fought the urge to just turn around and walk away. Finally, Justin spoke again.

“Okay, I’m not going to ask, because I know you won’t tell me, but it’s pretty obvious something’s been eating at you lately. I’ve never seen you take a walk at the beginning of your set before. If you need something, I’d hope you’d say so.”

Phenex looked at Justin impassively. What did he expect him to say? That he’d been pissy because of this strange, nebulous longing he couldn’t seem to shake? Yeah, right.

“You’re not going to try to hug me or something, are you?” Phenex grumbled. “You’ve been into some weird shit since you got married.”

Justin laughed, and some of the tension Phenex was lugging around like a ton of bricks lightened, just a little.

“No, Phenex. I need my limbs to stay attached. And I wouldn’t want to ruin Vivi’s good opinion of you. She likes you, for some strange reason.”

Phenex didn’t have much to say about that, but he couldn’t stop his lips from curving. He liked the vamp king’s wife right back, not that he intended to admit it. She was little, beautiful, and mean if you crossed her.

“Whatever,” Phenex grunted. “If you’re done with the psychoanalysis, I’m going back down. The mood here sucks tonight.”

Justin sighed. “You mean your mood sucks tonight. I don’t have a replacement, Phenex. At least half those people are in there because of you.” He paused, and Phenex knew what was coming.

“I’ll pay you double if you stay, all right? Make a habit out of this and you’re out of luck, but tonight I really need you to stay. If you’re having some kind of personal problems—”

“I’m not,” Phenex interjected. “Hellfire, can’t I just have an off night? It happens.”

“Not to you it doesn’t.” Justin looked at him with a degree of earnestness that made Phenex want to groan. He’d fought beside the vamp. Justin was as badass as any of them. But he was also basically a good guy. And that was still something Phenex wasn’t quite sure what to do with. He felt himself relenting and tried to tell himself it was because of the money, even if he had the unpleasant suspicion that he was bullshitting himself...and not doing a great job of it.

“Fine. Free drinks, though. It’s the least you can do,” Phenex said flatly. Justin’s grin told him they had a deal. The realization that he’d just done something nice for no particular reason left Phenex feeling confused and slightly nauseous.

Working for the good guys was screwing him up. He could feel the changes deep in his ancient bones, strange and worrying. But unless he wanted both Heaven and Hell trying to take him out, there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. Having wings meant picking a side. That was one rule he hadn’t figured out how to break.

“Thanks,” Justin said, but Phenex had already turned around and was walking away. He’d been joking about the hugging thing, but some part of him still worried that Justin would try to give him a friendly pat or something. And then he’d probably end up impaling him with the neck of his guitar, which wasn’t going to make anyone happy.

He made his way back through the thickening crowd, already brooding about what he might play. Cheering himself up wasn’t exactly his forte. Maybe he’d try some more flamenco, if he could manage it.

“Hey, watch it!”

Phenex jerked to a stop so quickly that he nearly fell over the woman who stood in the middle of the corridor, glaring up at him. He’d come so close to flattening her that it surprised an apology out of him, something he wasn’t in the habit of giving.

“Sorry,” he said. In an instant, his lousy mood had vanished, replaced by interest as keen as the edge of a blade.

She didn’t belong here. He knew it instantly. But then, she wouldn’t have been half as interesting if she had. Most of the human women who frequented Amphora were too perfect, too rich, walking ads for plastic surgery, here to see and be seen. This one didn’t look all that happy to be seen, at least by him. Pale green eyes, the color of seawater, glared irritably into his own. Such beautiful, light eyes, Phenex thought, the kind that could make you forget everything else. In marked contrast, the rest of her coloring bespoke sun-kissed warmth—long waves of dark brown hair, long dark lashes, and gold-dusted skin. Her lips were bee-stung, the color of coral, and pursed as she watched him.

Phenex let his eyes drift down over a slim waist and luscious curves, all displayed in a little black dress that glittered as it caught the light. By the time he’d shifted his attention away from her shapely legs and dragged his eyes back up to her face, a pretty flush had covered her cheeks. She knew he’d been checking her out.

Phenex felt his lips curve in a slow smile, his first of the night.

“You here for the show?” he asked.

She blinked, and the pink in her cheeks deepened. She didn’t look away, though.

“I...no, I’m not here for any show. I’m just here with...friends.”

Phenex tilted his head, fascinated. There was more to whatever she was doing here—and she was a lousy liar.

He leaned in close, his lips hovering just a breath away from her ear. Her scent enveloped him, all caramel and spice. Desire hit him so hard and fast that he had to curl his fingers into his palms to stop himself from touching her. The force of his need stunned him. It had been a while, granted, since he’d taken a woman. But not so long that this one should be in serious danger of bringing him to his knees by just standing here.

“You should come see the show. You’re missing out.”

“Am I?” He liked the way she sounded, a little breathless, her voice rich and sultry. “What exactly do you think I’m missing out on?”

He grinned, pulling back just a little as she turned her head to look at him. Those seawater eyes had warmed considerably, though her wariness was still stamped clearly across her face.

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