Harper picked up Brittney and followed her directions to Emma’s house. Conner’s car was taking up the second spot in the driveway, so she parked on the street.
The neighborhood was decent, but not somewhere Harper had ever thought she’d find Conner — he enjoyed his flat on the sixteenth story of a luxury apartment tower. Here, she saw yards and kids and pets.
“I don’t like this,” Brittney said as they got out.
“I know,” Harper said, weary of the argument already. Now she knew how Sarah and Chloe must have felt with her disagreement — she’d tried to convince Brittney the entire drive that they weren’t just throwing Emma and James to the wolves.
Brittney shook her head and went up the sidewalk. She rang the doorbell, and they waited together.
Emma checked who it was, then opened the door. “Brittney, Harper, hi. What are you two doing here?”
“I need to speak with Conner, actually,” Harper said. “Is that okay?”
Emma nodded and stepped back so they could come in. She locked the door after them, then dead-bolted it. “He’s out back, but I’ll let him know you’re here.”
“That’s okay,” Harper said. “Can I just join him there?”
Emma raised her eyebrows, then nodded. She led Harper to the sliding glass door, opened it, and called, “James? Come inside, please.”
Harper saw James look up from where he was sitting with Conner. They were both cross-legged in the grass. “But Mom—”
“Now, James. You can come back out soon, but right now, Conner’s friend needs to talk to him.”
James and Conner both stood.
“Harper? Brittney?” Conner crossed his arms. “What’s up? What are you doing here?”
Brittney glanced at Harper as James pushed past. “I’m going to chat with Emma.” Her voice was pointed.
Harper stepped outside and closed the door.
“If this is about what happened,” Conner began.
“It is,” Harper said. “But it’s more — it’s about what we do now.”
Conner shook his head. “Harper, it’s crap, I know. But I’m bound by an oath, and besides — no. Look, I was going to come tell you guys at once, but—”
“Conner, wait,” Harper said. “I need to—”
“I’m out,” Conner said, cutting her off again.
Harper blinked. “What?”
“I’m out,” he repeated. “I love Afterlife, but James — Emma doesn’t want me to stay around him, not right now. She said my life is too dangerous, and she’s right. But if that changes, I could be here for him.”
“You — no,” Harper said.
“Yeah,” Conner countered, though she thought there was more resignation than excitement in his voice. “I gotta do it. That’s part of being a father.”
Harper gave him a flat look. “Uh-huh. Conner, you can do whatever you want in a few days. But the oath is about to be meaningless.”
She nodded. “Sarah and Chloe are on their way to the unders. The moment they enter and start hunting Trentreen, your deal becomes nulled. So, we need you.”
Conner’s hands balled into fists. “This was all for nothing?”
“James is safe,” Harper pointed out. “That doesn’t seem like nothing. Now we have to make sure Alec is too.”
Conner looked torn. “You don’t understand. Trentreen isn’t just having fun with me. He took Alec for a reason, and it’s not so simple as walking in and asking to let him come home. Not so simple as just killing the — the man — either. He’s got support.”
“All the more reason that you should come with us,” Harper said.
“What I should do is get them the hell outta dodge,” Conner said, glancing at the house. “Set them up somewhere new, give them money to live on. It’d be a shit to start over, but at least they’d be safe.”
“For how long?” Harper asked. “You’ve been doing this a lot longer than me, and even I know that plan is weak. The demons found me after the Perseca woman died, and that was with no direct connections. James and Emma are your Achilles’ heel — Trentreen will find them to use against you, I guarantee it.”
“Damn,” Conner muttered. He kept his arms crossed, looking down in thought.
The door opened, and Brittney and Emma joined them.
“Conner?” Emma said.
He looked at her.
She had a formidable expression on. “Brittney told me what’s going on.”
“I’ll keep you both safe,” Conner said.
Emma shook her head. “You can’t guarantee that, not with that demon alive. You have to go take care of this.”
“But you said—”
Emma shook her head. “Conner, take care of it. You got us into this. I know it wasn’t your fault, but you’re the connection to that thing, and you owe it to him to make this go away.”
“All right,” he agreed. “But then I’m done like we talked about. Because he needs me, Emma. Maybe not right now, but there are things — things about himself that he should hear from me.”
Emma’s face softened a little. “I know.”
“While we’re gone, they might come after you. I think—”
“I’ll be with them,” Brittney said. “We’ll go over to my place or maybe take James to an evening show tonight. My dad gave me tickets to see a new magician.”
Conner nodded. “All right, well even there, stay armed.”
“I will,” Brittney promised.
Conner turned to Harper. “Think we can catch them?”
“Sarah and Chloe? Sure,” Harper said. “They want us too. Well, you at least.”
“Then let’s go,” Conner said. On their way out, James smiled at them. He offered Conner a hug, making Harper think about the vision Ileana had.
About an hour later, they arrived at the unders, from the same location as before. There were new chains, and it looked like the demolition team would be moving on it soon because there was a roadway cleared and a couple of small bulldozers parked nearby. Since nobody was present, they went on in.
Sarah and Chloe were right inside.
“You made it!” Chloe said, beaming at them. “We were about to head further in on our own. We broke the peace already. Killed a demon just inside.”
Harper blinked and looked around.
“Vampire,” Sarah told her. “You won’t find a body.”
“Wait, that’s a thing? Like they actually turn to ash?” Harper shook her head. “You know, I’m beginning to think nothing is too cliché to assume.”
The others exchanged a look and then laughed. She made a face at them, then took out the flashlight she’d stuck in her purse. “Screw lanterns. I’d rather rely on batteries.”
“Bet you had plenty of those lying around,” Conner said, flashing a grin her way.
“Shut up,” Harper shot back, but she was so pleased he wasn’t sulking that she smiled too. “So, how are we finding them? I’d rather not run around like last time.”
Sarah stepped forward. “I’ve got that covered. They covered Alec’s scent somehow, but he’s still got wulfser venom in him, and that’s smelly enough to follow. You guys ready?”
“Lead the way,” Conner told her.
Sarah transformed, and her look of disgust when she sniffed was clear, even as a wolf. Harper laughed again, but as they started following her, it sounded canned in the tunnels, and so she stopped.
Using the scent made it much easier to get through the unders, but Harper didn’t like how they felt this time. Narrow, claustrophobic, shadowed with only her flashlight beam. Sarah took them down a different path, and as they wound their way further in, she paused now and again to mark the wall. It should have been something to laugh about, but their good humor was gone, replaced with quiet foreboding.
Harper kept thinking about her vision. She knew they weren’t always right, Ileana had shown her that, but this time it could be. She might die here, in the underbelly of Las Vegas, and nobody would know what happened.
Well, Brittney would, and Emma too. But that was a small comfort since they couldn’t tell anyone. Her parents would grieve, but who else would? She wasn’t that close to anyone outside of Afterlife and the Goodwin family.
“Hey, you all right?” Conner muttered, walking almost next to her.
She almost laughed, but it might have echoed, and she wasn’t sure she could stand that. “I’m fine. Just thinking that I really ought to get a life.”
Conner gave her a curious look. “You kidding? Afterlife is a life.”
“Yeah?” she glanced at him. “It’s enough for you? I doubt it, or you wouldn’t be leaving.”
“I keep myself busy outside of this, you know,” he told her. “I have a very engaging social life.”
“Bingo night every Thursday,” Chloe said with a strained giggle.
“Yeah, and I win,” he told her. “When I want to.”
“Bingo?” Harper blinked.
He shook his head. “Long story for another time. How close are we getting, Sarah?”
Sarah glanced back at him, then pawed the ground.
“I don’t speak wolf scratches,” he told her.
She didn’t roll her eyes, but Harper thought she might have if she’d been human. Instead, she went on.
When they reached a door, she transformed. “Demons on the other side, I can smell them.”
“How many?” Conner asked. He shifted into his incubus form.
“At least three,” she said. “Could be more if they share a scent.”
Chloe took a stake from her purse. “Harper, stay back, okay?”
Harper scowled, thinking about Jahres. But she knew that taking him out was a fluke from the nexus, not any skill. “Yeah. Okay.”
Conner went first. He threw the door open hard, and it crashed against the wall. The noise startled the demons inside, giving Afterlife an advantage. Sarah became a panther, and Chloe could fight, Harper saw. She was even better than Sarah. The three made quick work of those inside.
There were more doors, more tunnels, more demons. They fought their way through, with Harper doing little more than holding the flashlight. She wished for her gun but also knew she lacked the courage to use it. Not after last time.
Even with Sarah’s tracking, hours flew by. Harper was growing sore again and couldn’t understand how the others weren’t feeling it, too, especially with all the fighting.
When they hit up a room with six demons, she was forced to join in for the first time. A vampire came at her, and she remembered what Sarah told her. She blocked the fist toward her face but screamed when her bone snapped from the impact. She fell backward against the wall and scrambled to duck away, her arm feeling like it was on fire.
She turned and saw Chloe was tossing something at her. She caught the stake, dimly grateful that her left arm was the broken one, whipped around, and stabbed blindly.
The heavy wood went through the vampire like he was made of silk. He tilted his face upward, screeched, then turned to smoldering ash, and then even that disappeared.
“Damn it, are you all right?” Sarah asked after.
Harper shook her head, feeling sick. Part of it was the pain, part the vampire. Ileana had killed many that way, she knew now.
“Not much we can do about the break right now,” Sarah said, not unkindly. “Here, Conner, give me your shirt.”
Conner rolled his eyes. “If you think seeing my rock-hard abs will make her bone feel less broken, well, I live to serve.”
Harper gave a weak laugh as he stripped it off and helped Sarah make a sling. It still felt like a hot poker was stabbing her, but she couldn’t deny that the support helped.
Sarah wiped her hands on her pants, then said, “Well, at least we won’t have to fight any more of these jerks.”
Chloe was levitating a few inches above the ground, the ethereal beauty of the fey enhanced by the shadows. “Because they’re here. You smelled them on the other side, didn’t you, Sarah? Alec and Trentreen?”
“Yeah,” Sarah said. She clenched her jaw. “I smelled them, and I smelled blood.”