Home > Damnable Grace (Hades Hangmen #5)

Damnable Grace (Hades Hangmen #5)
Author: Tillie Cole

Prologue

AK

Plano, Texas

Eleven years ago . . .

“I’m gonna be a Marine!”

I raced into the kitchen. Devin was sitting by the table, working on the engine of his bike. He looked up. His face was pitted with grease. “What?” he exclaimed, brow furrowed.

I stood, catching the breath I’d lost running home. I threw off my leather jacket and tossed it on the back of a chair. “I’ve just enlisted.” I smiled, doing a totally shitty job of keeping the excitement from my voice. “Just like you. I’ve joined the Corps.”

Devin blinked at me, but said fuck all. My excitement began to wane. “Dev—” He dropped the engine onto the tabletop with a resounding thud.

He got to his feet and ran his hand down his face. “X, what the fuck have you done?”

I shook my head in confusion. “What? What’s wrong?”

My brother sighed and looked out the kitchen window. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” He took in a deep breath, releasing it slowly as if trying to calm himself down. “This ain’t the life I wanted for you. You’re my fucking little brother, and you got more brains in that stupid head of yours than I ever had. I was banking on you going to college or some shit. Not the fucking Corps.”

“I don’t wanna go to college, Dev. I wanna be over there, fighting, too. I wanna fight beside you.”

Dev was still facing the window, but I caught his wince. “Dev . . .” I tried again, but I couldn’t think of what else to say. My brother was acting weird.

“You got no idea what it’s like out there, X.” Finally he turned to me, a fucking haunted look on his face, each word pronounced like a gunshot. “You got no fucking idea.”

Unable to take him looking so damn lost, I walked over and put my hand on his tense arm. “I wanna fight, Dev. I . . .” I laughed, knowing I was about to sound real pathetic. “I wanna fight for our country, like you. I . . . I fucking wanna be like you, Dev. Always have.”

Devin’s eyes shone. Sighing, he grabbed me by the back of my neck and pulled me into his big chest. I struggled to breathe as he hugged me tight. “When do you report?” Devin’s voice was rough and raw, as if he could barely force the words from his mouth.

“In eight weeks.”

“Fuck, kid,” he said. “What MOS?”

“Scout Sniper.” I shrugged. “You know I can shoot real good.”

Devin tensed, then forced himself to relax. It must have been a couple of minutes before he let me go. I was eighteen; Dev was twenty-six. He’d joined the Corps when he was my age, and as soon as he could, he’d gotten us the fuck out of our shithole existence with our drunk parents and had given us a better life.

He’d saved us. Pulled us outta the damn gutter.

He was my motherfucking hero.

Devin pulled back and kissed my forehead. I was an inch or two taller than him now and still growing, but I always felt smaller around Dev. He just had that kinda larger-than-life attitude, or at least he used to. After the last two tours he’d changed some—the last one, to Iraq, being the worst. I knew it was ’cause he missed home. But if I ended up stationed near him, he wouldn’t have to be alone no more. True brothers in arms.

“I wanted better for you, kid,” he announced. I looked him straight in the eye.

“Fighting alongside you, for our country and freedom? That’s as good as it goddamn gets,” I said quietly.

Dev’s face didn’t change. I didn’t see any happiness in it. I just saw disappointment. “I meant like a doctor or lawyer or some shit, X.” He tapped my head. “Something where you used this.”

“Snipers are the fucking nuts, Dev. The recruitment officer even agreed. Smart, patient, focused. It takes a special kind of someone to be a sniper. Takes skills not everyone has.” My chest swelled. “I can be that fucking someone.” I swallowed back the lump that suddenly clogged my throat. “I can be good at this . . . like you. A good Marine.”

Dev’s shoulders sagged, and a small wash of pride settled on his expression. “I know you can, kid,” he said thickly. “I ain’t got no worries about that, never have done. I just . . . I just . . .”

“We can fight together, and when we’re on leave, we can come home, drink beers, work on our Harleys and just fucking ride until we have to leave again. That’s my damn American dream, right there,” I smiled a huge smile. “Imagine that, Dev. That’s gonna be our life.” I looked him dead in the eye. “Ain’t nothing better to me than family, defending our country and fucking riding the open road. It’s what I want. For real.”

Dev looked as though he wasn’t gonna agree, like he was still gonna say some shit to try and dissuade me, but then a voice came from the doorway.

“What do you want for real, Xavier?” I turned to see Tina, my sister-in-law, watching me and my brother, curiosity written on her face.

Before I could answer, Dev slung his arm around my neck and said, “This little fucker’s just signed up to the Corps. Scout Sniper.”

Tina’s eyes widened, and I saw a mixture of pride and worry cloud her blue eyes. “Xavier? Is this true?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Her hand flew to her mouth, and she rushed forward and pulled me into a hug. “I’m so proud of you,” she whispered. She stepped back. “So now I have two of you to worry about when you’re away. Great!”

I play-punched Devin on the shoulder. “I’ll look after him, I promise,” I said and laughed when my brother rolled his eyes.

Tina laughed too, but I saw her lingering concern.

She and Devin had been together since they were fifteen. Tina always said I was her brother too; that’s how she viewed me. But she was more than a sister. To me, she was the only mother I’d ever really had. She’d raised me, cared for me when I was sick and helped me with school. When Dev was away on a tour, it was just her and me. Well, her, me, and . . .

“Uncle X!”

Little feet pattered down the hallway, and my four-year-old nephew came barreling through the door.

“Zane! Get the fuck here, kid!” He plowed into my legs, and I picked him up.

“Guess what?” I said as he laid his head on my shoulder.

He lifted his head and stared at me.

“I’m gonna be a soldier, just like your dad.”

His mouth dropped open dramatically. “Wow! A real life a solider? Just like my daddy?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool!”

“Well,” Devin said from beside us. “Looks like we better go buy some steaks. Not every day your little brother becomes a fucking man.”

“A fucking man!” Zane repeated loudly. I couldn’t help but laugh at his cute face. I loved this kid. He was my damn shadow, never leaving me alone. A sudden pang hit my stomach. I’d miss all my family when I went on tour, but none like this little fucker. Best goddamn thing in my life.

Tina took Zane from my arms and tapped his nose. “No cussing, little man. Only grown men get to do that.”

Zane looked like he wanted to argue, but Tina gave him her famous stare that told all us Deyes men to shut the fuck up or face her wrath.

Zane huffed, but smirked at me when I threw him a covert wink. I could see the future now. Zane was just like me and Dev. A fucking Deyes man through and through. He’d no doubt follow us into the Corps. We’d all serve the flag, grow old, and that would be that.

Devin’s hand landed on my shoulder. “Go get your hog, kid. We’ll go for a ride, then barbeque, then we’ll make you the best sniper to ever fight for the red, white and blue.”

So that’s what we did.

And it was the best fucking day of my life.

Chapter One

AK

Hades Hangmen Compound

Austin, Texas

Present Day . . .

I undid the buttons of my jacket and tried to suck in some fucking air through the thick heat. The gate slammed shut behind us. I reached up and wiped the sand and grit from my face. My entire body felt as though it were made of it.

I could barely make my legs move, I was so fucking exhausted. I glanced down at my hand and saw the fucker shaking.

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