Bind the Soul by Annette Marie

  She faltered slightly, remembering the shock of finding out, on the fifth day, that Ash had stolen the Sahar from her on the first day. Maybe she hadn’t known him that well. Maybe, even now, she didn’t truly know him.

  Lilith’s eyebrows crept higher as she watched Piper struggle.

  Piper cleared her throat. “Five solid days is like . . . like thirty dates. That’s knowing someone pretty well.”

  “Thirty dates . . . really.”

  “Just an example. I don’t think of it like that.”

  “Of course not.”

  Piper glared.

  Lilith smiled sweetly. “So you wish me to tell you where Ash is so you can dash off to save him, is that it?”

  Piper ground her teeth.

  “He’s not missing.” Lilith waved a delicate hand. “He is exactly where he’s supposed to be—in Hades.”

  “We already know he’s in Hades,” Piper said. “We need to know why he hasn’t come back.”

  Lilith made an amused sound. “You realize he lives there, don’t you? It’s his home.”

  “He doesn’t want to be there. He wouldn’t stay there willingly.”

  “Oh? And you’re basing this on . . . five whole days of heartfelt discourse about his personal life?”

  Piper scowled. “Samael abuses him.”

  “Ah, you’re referring to those rumors.”

  “What rumors?”

  “About the draconians.” She looked disbelievingly at Piper’s confused expression. “Don’t you know the stories? Most daemons believe that draconians are vicious by nature and the Hades family likes to hire them as mercenaries because they’re good at killing. But certain factions of Underworlders suspect something quite different.”

  Piper looked at Lyre. He didn’t appear surprised.

  Lilith smoothed a wrinkle out of her skirt, somehow baring more of her thigh in the process. “They don’t think the draconians are willing employees of the Hades family. They believe the Hades have been keeping draconian ‘pets’ since the Taroth family fell five hundred years ago.”

  Piper frowned. “I thought the Hades killed all the Taroths.”

  “If the rumors about draconians are true,” Lilith shrugged, “then the Hades family would certainly perpetuate the belief that the Taroths are long gone. Either way, according to the rumors, the Hades have kept a handful of draconians as expendable henchmen for centuries.”

  Piper chewed her lip. Draconians weren’t a common caste; they’d mostly died out after their ruling family had been murdered and their territory taken over. After five hundred years, there weren’t many left.

  She looked at Lyre. “Have you heard these rumors?”

  He nodded. “Ash hates Samael but he always goes back. The rumors are the only theory that makes sense.”

  Lilith gave Lyre a scathing look. “Do you really think Samael keeps a cadre of enslaved draconians to do his bidding?”

  Lyre coolly stared back. “Do you think he doesn’t?”

  She pursed her lips. “Have you ever seen a draconian older than twenty-five, Lyre?”

  He shook his head.

  “Neither have I. They say Samael kills them once they’re too old and difficult to control. I’ve only encountered a few draconians in my life but they were all like Ash: silent, distant, and colder than steel. None were older than twenty-five.”

  “None?” Piper asked. Her stomach churned. The rumors fit with what the harpies had told her: that Samael would hurt Ash if he didn’t obey. “But why? If Samael is using Ash—using all of them—why obey him at all?”

  “Isn’t it obvious?”

  Piper shook her head.

  Lilith rolled her eyes. “So naive. Torture is a powerful tool. Do you know the depths to which a man will sink to avoid pain? And if the threat is weeks, or even months, of the worst agony imaginable?”

  “But if they escaped—”

  “Escape Hades?” Lilith looked at Lyre. “Does she know anything about the Underworld?”

  Lyre sighed at Lilith’s tone, turning to Piper. “Samael has the resources to make sure anyone who escapes him won’t stay free for very long. His influence is strong throughout most of the Underworld.”

  Piper looked between them. “So you’re saying it’s impossible for anyone to escape Samael?”

  Neither answered.

  Horror constricted Piper’s throat. She pressed both hands to her face, remembering Lyre telling her that desperate people did desperate things. She couldn’t imagine a more desperate situation.

  Five weeks ago, she’d thought she had her life pretty well figured out. She would somehow force her way to Consulhood by being so amazing at everything but magic that no one would care about what she lacked. Her life would have purpose, a destination, and she would at last let go of the nagging fear that she’d end up dumped into a human life, forgotten by her father and uncle as they went on with their magic-filled, daemon-centered lives.

  Then the Gaians attacked the Consulate to steal the Sahar Stone. Piper, Lyre, and Ash had escaped with it. They’d set out to track down the Gaians and rescue her abducted father, but in the end, nothing had gone as planned. Ash had stolen the Sahar from her early in their journey, switching it with a fake, and she’d refused to forgive him when she found out. How could she have been so narrow-minded? He’d been trying to get hold of the only weapon that could possibly save him from Samael. Without the power of the Sahar, he’d had no choice but to return to his living hell.

  Another voice echoed in her memory: His survival was the least important of everything at stake that night. Saving his life cost him everything. He will never forgive me.

  The daemon healer, Vejovis, had told her that. Ash had later explained that he’d been trying to save his sister. Finding Ash mortally wounded, Vejovis had healed Ash instead of his sister . . . and she had died.

  Ash’s voice, laced with bitterness, whispered in her mind: If that bastard had just left me and taken her instead . . . Piper’s head slowly came up. Taken her, he’d said. Not healed her.

  “Oh my God,” she whispered.

  “What?” Lyre demanded.

  “Ash’s sister. He tried to save her from Samael. He tried to get her away.”

  “His sister?” Lyre and Lilith both repeated incredulously.

  Piper nodded. “That’s why Ash hates Vejovis. Ash was trying to get his sister away but he was hurt. He was dying when Vejovis found them. ‘If he had just left me and taken her.’ That’s what Ash told me. He wanted Vejovis to take his sister to safety but Vejovis wouldn’t. He healed Ash instead, and by then, it must’ve been too late. Vejovis told me that saving Ash’s life cost Ash everything. The delay must’ve allowed Samael to recapture them.”

  Lyre and Lilith sat in silence, stunned by the confirmation of the rumors they hadn’t wanted to believe.

  “What happened to his sister?” Lyre finally asked.

  “She died,” Piper whispered. “I don’t know how. Ash didn’t say.”

  The incubus’s eyes clouded. “He never told me. He never even mentioned her.”

  Lilith looked a little pale. “When was this?”

  “He was fifteen. His sister was thirteen.”

  She nodded slowly. “I met him a couple years later.”

  “The Sahar was probably his last chance to try to escape,” Piper said bitterly. “But it was lost and he had no choice but to go back again. And now Samael is probably torturing Ash for losing the Stone.”

  Lilith’s eyes narrowed as she shed her surprise. “Let me guess: you intend to save him. How are you planning to do that, hmm? He’s in the Underworld. Haemons can’t cross between worlds any more than humans can. There is no way for you to reach him, let alone free him.”

  Piper scowled.

  “And even if you did,” Lilith continued, “how would you protect him from Samael for the rest of his life?”

  “The Consulates would protect him,” Piper said coldly. “Not even Samael would kill Ash while he
was at the Consulate under the personal protection of the Head Consul.” Her father would do that much for her—she hoped.

  “You expect Ash to spend the rest of his life hiding in a Consulate?” Her lip curled. “You know nothing about daemons. You have no idea.”

  “Better hiding than dead,” she snapped.

  “I know Ash better than you, girl. He would rather be dead.” The succubus went silent, appraising Piper. “Do you truly believe you can get him away from Samael?”

  “I’m damn well going to try.”

  “I think you’ll die trying. I hope for your sake this is more than a silly crush.”

  “It’s not,” she ground out furiously. She didn’t have a crush on Ash, and even if she did, that would hardly be enough to motivate her to go up against Samael.

  “I see.” Lilith sat back and steepled her fingers. “I don’t know Ash’s circumstances, or even if he’s alive; however, my sources have located a potential informant.”


  She smiled. “Who indeed.”

  Piper narrowed her eyes to slits. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

  “I might. What are you offering in return?”

  “You—” She bit back the insults burning her tongue. Lyre’s eyes had gone half black with anger. “This is Ash’s life we’re talking about and you want to bargain?”

  “One person’s urgency is another’s opportunity, Piper, love.” Lilith polished a fingernail on her skirt. “I am not in the business of giving away my wares for free.”

  Piper clenched her jaw. “What do you want then?”

  “Information for information is a fair trade, wouldn’t you say?”

  “What do you want?”

  “I want to know what happened to the Sahar. You said it was lost. I want to know everything you know.”

  Piper bit her lip. Ash had said Lilith held no interest in the Stone; apparently, he was wrong. Piper didn’t want to surrender information about the Sahar, but on the other hand, what could Lilith possibly do with the knowledge?

  “Fine. I tell you how the Sahar was lost, and you tell me who the informant is and where to find them.”

  “How it was lost and who has it,” Lilith clarified.

  Piper nodded curtly and quickly ran through the events leading up to the Sahar’s disappearance at the hands of a harpy that had admitted to being hired by Samael.

  “Interesting,” Lilith murmured.

  “Well? The informant?”

  “One of the Hades’ lesser mercenaries is in the city. He just arrived from the Underworld—likely straight from Samael. There’s a reasonable chance he knows something about Ash . . . if you can make him talk.” Her smile had a malicious tilt. “Of all of us, I think you could persuade him to divulge a few secrets.”

  Piper’s brow furrowed. “Who is it?”

  Lilith’s smile widened. “Micah.”

  Lyre growled.

  Piper felt like she’d been punched. “Micah works for Samael?”

  “Frequently. He does all sorts of odd jobs that suit his unique . . . talents.”

  Piper worked to keep her face blank. Merely thinking about Micah made her emotions roil with fury and shame. If Micah worked for Samael, that would explain why he’d tried to steal the Sahar from her. Knowing her history with the incubus, Samael had probably assigned him to the task. It had worked too. If she hadn’t been carrying Ash’s fake stone at the time, Micah would have gotten away with the real thing.

  “Where is the little snake?” Lyre demanded.

  “I don’t know,” Lilith replied. “He’s very well hidden.”

  Piper bolted upright. “You said you would tell me where he is!”

  “I know where he will be. Tomorrow night, he’s attending the Amity Gala.”

  Her mouth fell open. “He’s attending the gala? How did he get invited?”

  The Amity Gala was the biggest political event of the year. Every wealthy politician, government official, influential Consul, prominent diplomat, and powerful daemon attended the extravagant party to mingle, forge relationships and alliances, and suss out competitors and rivals. The gala’s publicized purpose was to unite the various powerhouses of the country in the name of peace, but in reality, it was a giant free-for-all of political maneuvers, as well as a chance to show off wealth and connections with ridiculously expensive attire. Her father and Uncle Calder were both invited but Calder wasn’t going; he couldn’t stand on his bad leg for long periods.

  Piper had never attended because it was ostensibly an adult event, but she was nearly eighteen and no one would deny her entry. Her father, however, hated the hypocrisy of the gala. He wouldn’t attend if he had a choice, and the Underworld and Overworld would collide before he’d ever let Piper go with him. He foresaw a feeding frenzy of manipulation, all aimed at her for the purpose of getting to him.

  “Micah is escorting a diplomat’s daughter to the gala,” Lilith said. “They are supposedly an item, though I’m sure you know the truth of that.”

  Of course she knew. Micah was an accomplished user of women; he sought out the most difficult scores and tallied his victories like a sick collector. He also took great pleasure in breaking the hearts of the women he seduced.

  “He probably got with her so he could snag an invitation,” Piper said sourly. “He’d never get the chance otherwise.”

  The tickets were never for sale and being invited was not only a huge honor, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. During the weeks leading up to the gala, girls from school daydreamed nonstop about an attractive young son of some important official inviting her to be his date.

  “No doubt that was his plan,” Lilith agreed. “But I suspect he has other ulterior motives. It seems too timely to be coincidence.”

  Piper pressed her hands on her knees. “But if Micah will be at the gala, how are we supposed to question him? We’d have better luck breaking into a bank vault than the gala. It has the best security in the world.”

  Lilith’s eyebrows shot up. “I assumed you were attending. You are the daughter of one of the guests of honor. Everyone is dying to talk to Quinn to find out some juicy details about the Sahar fiasco. The whole world is holding its breath, waiting for a sign of who has it.”

  Resentment twisted Piper’s face. “I’m not invited. My father didn’t put me on the list.”

  “I see.” Lilith drummed her fingers on the arm of the sofa. “You won’t get anywhere near the gala without an invitation, but you won’t be able to corner Micah anywhere else. You’ll have to find a way to get an invitation.”

  Piper’s mouth fell open. “How? It’s less than twenty-four hours away.”

  “I’m sure you can come up with something,” Lilith said dismissively.

  “Are you kidding? It’s impossible. You can’t steal a ticket. Your name has to be on the list too.”

  “Giving up already?” Lilith flipped her ponytail behind her shoulder. “How do you except to outwit Samael if you can’t handle this? You have family members attending. Figure it out.”

  Piper buried her face in her hands a second time, swearing under her breath. Impossible. It was impossible. To Quinn, the gala represented everything he hated about politics. Anyone with a grudge against the Head Consul would target her. She figured her skin was thick enough to handle it, but Quinn disagreed.

  She lifted her head. “There has to be another way. Maybe we can ambush him on his way out.”

  “Certainly feel free to try. I would be interested to see how you plan to circumvent top-notch security to get at him when you don’t even know what vehicle he’ll be in.”

  She swore again. “How am I supposed to get in?”

  Lilith rose to her feet. “I agreed to provide information, not a plan.”

  “Wait, Lilith. Isn’t there anything else you can do to help?”

  The succubus paused. Her eyes darkened slightly. “I can’t get you in. But there is a tool I can lend you that will assist you when you q
uestion Micah.”

  “You would lend it to me?”

  Her smile was pure ice. “Not for free.”

  Piper swallowed. “What do you want?”

  Lilith shrugged gracefully. “You don’t have anything I want right now. You already gave me everything you know about the Sahar. What else could you know that would be useful to me?”

  She bit her lip. “What about later?”

  “I’m sorry?”

  “I’m bound to have something you want later, right? Can I owe you a favor?”

  Lyre shot her a wide-eyed warning look. She ignored it, focusing on Lilith.

  The succubus considered her, tapping her lower lip. “An interesting proposition. A favor in return for a future favor—of my determination.”

  Piper nodded.

  Lilith’s smile made Piper’s stomach swoop with trepidation. “Deal struck. Come.”

  Piper stood and followed the succubus out of the sitting room. That had probably been a stupid decision, especially since she seriously doubted she would get the chance to use whatever tool Lilith had. Getting on the attendance list of the Amity Gala less than a day before the event? Impossible.

  If only saving Ash didn’t depend on her figuring out a way to make the impossible happen.

  . . .

  Lilith left them at the bar while she retrieved the mysterious tool. As soon as the succubus was out of sight, Piper rubbed her temples above her mask and fought back a frustrated scream. Not that anyone would hear it over the booming music.

  All around her, drunk and exuberant dancers whirled and swayed to the addictive beat, their masks flashing by in colorful blurs. She wondered if she would ever be that carefree again. With Ash missing and Samael in possession of the Sahar—not to mention her more trivial, but still painful, problems with her father . . . and her mother . . . and her sealed-away magic . . . and her future in general—well, the idea of relaxing seemed like an exotic fantasy.

  Warm hands closed around her arms. She looked into Lyre’s eyes, peering from behind his mask.

  “You’re wound tighter than a violin string,” he shouted to her over the music. He rubbed his hands soothingly over her arms. “We’ll figure something out. Even if we don’t, Micah isn’t the only source of information out there.”

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