Ride the Storm (Cassandra Palmer #8)(5) read online free by Karen Chance
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Ride the Storm (Cassandra Palmer #8)(5)
Author: Karen Chance

Except for another haunting, skin-ruffling howl that had me clambering back onto the bed really fast.

It came again, and our heads whipped around in unison, looking at nothing some more, because the top of the hill was in the way. And then it came from the left. Or maybe the right. Or maybe—

I couldn’t tell. The buildings were closely packed and tall enough to act as an echo chamber. Which wasn’t fun when the echoes were like these. The horrible sound came again, closer now, and I felt all my skin stand up, preparing to crawl off my body and go find somewhere to hide.

I seconded the motion and grabbed Rosier. “What is that?”

“Hellhounds.”

“And those are?”

“Well, what does it sound like?” he snarled, and finally, finally, he was back with me. White and shaking, but back. Angry and scowling, but back. Chained to the bed, but back.

I shook him some more anyway. “So take us somewhere else!”

“Like where?”

“Like anywhere!”

“I’m not you! Without a portal, I can only take us back to earth—”

“Okay!”

“—and I am chained to a bed, in case you didn’t notice. An iron bed—”

“So?”

“—and we were headed for a river! I will drown.”

Damn it!

“Then give me the sword!” I tried to grab it, but he jerked it away.

“It’s our only weapon—”

“I know that—I just want to get the cuffs off you. Will you listen?”

But Rosier wasn’t listening. Rosier was freaking out again. Maybe because those sounds were suddenly a lot closer, and there were more of them, and they were coming faster now, a baying pack of something that had picked up a scent it liked—

“Give me the damn sword!” I yelled.

“Get your own!”

And then a terrifying howl almost on top of us caused him to drop it.

We both went for it, but he grabbed it first, and I grabbed—

God, I thought, as something gelatinous and porky oozed up through my fingers.

And then it was too late.

A giant head appeared over the hill. And for a second, I thought it was the hill. Because it rose out of nothing, like all the darkness in the world had decided to congeal in one place. One great big slavering freakishly huge place. I’d seen houses smaller than that, only houses didn’t have evil yellow eyes and an enormous drooling maw and weren’t jumping for us—

And then stopping, halfway through the motion. And gulping and swallowing. Because I had reflexively thrown the pig foot I’d been holding, like that was going to help somehow.

Only it had.

The hound had stopped and was just standing there, steaming and black and blocking the view of everything with its enormous face.

Which was suddenly in mine.

The breath could have stopped traffic for a ninety-mile stretch. Drool was drip, drip, dripping onto the bed linens in slimy strings. Eyes bigger than my head were reflecting the still-burning fire, along with a vision of my body as I slowly, slowly, slowly bent down. And picked up another foot. And held it out—

And felt a wash of hot breath over my arm, which was somehow raising goose bumps anyway, maybe because my skin was still trying to get the hell out of there. And then a tongue, big and heavy as a rug, wrapped around my flesh. And withdrew, along with the tiny, tiny offering, but not with the arm itself, because I guess I didn’t compare with good old pork.

And really, what does? I thought hysterically. If I had bacon, I could probably make him fetch—

Rosier grabbed my arm, his fingers like a vise. “Get. On. The. Bed.”

“I . . . am on the bed.” Well, I was pretty sure.

“Oh.”

He snaked a leg off the side and gave a little push. I felt the hell wind start to ruffle my hair as we started down the hell road with the hellhound shaking the street behind us, while I lobbed pig foot after pig foot into its gaping maw. It didn’t miss a one.

Until the darkness overhead suddenly congealed into a second hound, even larger than the first, which went for its throat. And then another crowded the street, which was almost too small to hold them despite being big enough for a couple city buses to pass each other with room to spare. But hellhounds are not buses and there was no room here, and that was before the council’s guards decided to show back up, running up the hill toward us.

And abruptly turning and running back the other way as we began picking up speed, the night boiling behind us, all black smoke and sleek, shifting fur and firelit eyes.

And sailing pig feet, because I was throwing them both-handed now.

“Put out your hands!” I told Rosier frantically.

“No.”

“What do you mean, no?”

“I mean no,” he said, grunting and straining, trying to break through the damn Victorian ironwork, which must have been forged in the same factory where they made tanks if they had tanks. I didn’t know. I just knew it wasn’t freaking budging.

“That isn’t working!” I yelled the obvious.

“You can’t throw those things and get these damn cuffs off me at the same time!”

“And when I run out? What then?”

“You’re not going to run out. As soon as we get far enough to clear the river, I’m going to shift us back!”

I blinked. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay! Sounds like a plan.”

A slight bit of color came back to his face. “Yes, okay.” He grinned at me suddenly, wide and relieved and startlingly like the younger version of his son for a second. “Okay! We’ll do that!”

I nodded.

And then the street erupted in fire.

Chapter Three

“It was a good plan,” Rosier said.

“It was.” I ate pork.

“The Victorians weren’t the most hygienic of sorts,” he told me, eyeing my last trotter.

“They boiled it.”

“And we carried it through hell.”

“It was on a bed,” I pointed out. “It didn’t get anything on it.” Except for a few fuzzies.

I picked one off and kept eating.

“I don’t know how you can eat with that stench down there,” he said, peering over the ledge we were sitting on, and glaring malevolently at the Thames.

It was shining under a full moon, which was glistening off the water. And off the streets, because it must have rained while we were gone. Time worked differently in the hells, so that might have been anything from a couple hours to a couple days. But whatever it was, it had left Victorian London looking almost pretty, with roiling gray clouds and shining streets and fresh air because the rain had washed the coal dust away.

We were sitting on the edge of what I called Big Ben and Rosier called the Clock Tower, overlooking the city. It wasn’t a choice; I was feeling a little clearer-headed, but not enough to shift back yet, which was why I was eating. It seemed to help.

“I don’t know how you can smell anything with no nose,” I said.

“I have a nose.”

“You don’t even have a body.”

It was true. The mages had shown up, unseen by us, and collectively lobbed a spell we hadn’t noticed until it nuked the air around us. Rosier had thrown himself over me and shifted us back to earth, all at the same time, and in doing so had saved my life.

And lost his.

Well, his body, anyway. Fortunately, a demon lord’s spirit is a bit sturdier, meaning that he could generate a new one . . . eventually. In the meantime, I was used to hanging out with ghosts, so the fact that I could see the city through the shimmering veil of my companion’s form didn’t wig me out too much.

Unlike his sacrifice.

I knew he’d only done it because he needed me, but still. I couldn’t figure Rosier out, and it bothered me. Half the time, he was oh, so easy to hate, a rotten, self-centered, narcissistic asshole I could have cheerfully pushed off the ledge if it would have done any good. But the rest . . .

The rest of the time I just didn’t know.

But at least his current form was too dim for Gertie to sense, so we were enjoying the view unmolested, if not the noise. The huge mechanism was tick, tick, ticking, almost in sync with my heart. This close, it was uncomfortably loud, like it was yelling hurry, hurry, hurry.

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