“De luce in tenebras et veni. From darkness shall come light.”
Liz Frost repeated the words back as instructed by the shadowed figure in front of her, the uncomfortable sense something was off gnawing at her bliss like a zombie on a skull. There should’ve been a tingle, a jolt, something to signal the ancient invocation was working, but…
She took a deep breath and waited for the next line. Maybe these things just took longer than usual. After all, she and her sister Anna were psychically linking with not just each other but the entire Blood Ravagers biker gang.
“Pluribus unum. Many become one.”
Liz snorted. All that kept running through her mind now was Tom Cruise frantically yelling, “Show me the money.” At least she had on a hooded robe, which helped hide her inappropriate grin. Now wasn’t the time to be giggling. Unfortunately, that thought and the complete inappropriateness of her mirth only made the whole thing even funnier. She did her best to control herself, her shoulders shaking with the effort. This wasn’t how the Oracle binding ceremony was supposed to go. Becoming the new Oracle for the Blood Ravagers biker gang should have connected Liz and her sister Anna both mentally and emotionally with all the gang’s members—a serious, somber, sacred thing. Yet here she was ready to crack up at any second, but she couldn’t seem to stop now. Tears flooded her eyes and her stomach ached from the effort of holding in her laughter.
One more shot at following the rules of decorum down the drain.
Finally, Anna leaned over and whispered, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Liz bit her lips, and just shook her head. Opening her mouth now would be a mistake.
Where had Dante dug up this decrepit old fossil of a priest anyway? He wasn’t a member of the gang or, given his pompous attitude and habit of looking down his crooked nose at all of them, even from their tiny frontier town of Salvation, Wyoming.
“Surge oraculum ligare nos in aeternum!” The priest’s tone turned positively bombastic in the gloom of the candlelit interior of Seven. The flames flickered as the entire gang repeated his words this time. “Arise, Oracle, to bind us together for eternity!”
And that’s when Liz lost it completely.
Weird how extreme hilarity and extreme panic could feel so similar.
Without a word, she pushed her hood back to reveal her face and exhaled slow. “Sorry, padre, but this is not working for me.”
Anna grabbed Liz by the arm and pulled her closer. “Stop it! Don’t you dare flake out on me again.”
“I’m not flaking out, sis. But this isn’t right. Doesn’t something feel off to you? There should be more fireworks or fanfare or…something. This is an important step for us and for the gang, a true commitment, and I feel nothing. Nada. Zippo. That can’t be right.”
“How would you know what you’re supposed to feel, huh? You’ve never seriously committed to anything in your life.” Anna pushed her own hood back to reveal a supremely irritated expression. She shifted her weight from one hip to the other, keeping her hands over her bulging belly. Dante had wasted no time knocking up her sister after they’d gotten married nearly eight months ago and now Anna was going on six months pregnant. While Liz was thrilled to become a new auntie, she could seriously do without her twin’s hormonal, pre-birth rants. “In fact, you wouldn’t know a true commitment if it bit you in the butt. So, pardon me, but it’s time to grow the hell up and join the rest of us adults, Liz.”
“Ofryd,” Dante stepped up onto the small dais between where the twins stood side by side and placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “Perhaps now is not the time to—”
“Stop telling me what to say or how to feel.” Anna shrugged off his hand. “Liz my sister and I love her with all my heart. No one knows her better than me. Now step off, buddy. My back is killing me, I haven’t seen my feet in months, and at this moment I would skin you alive for a vat of mint chocolate chip ice cream.”
The pompous priest gave a disdainful snort, for which Liz promptly stomped on his toe. It was one thing for her and her sister to fight. It was another for this stranger to intrude. The old man howled, Anna glared, and several snickers rang out through the gang members.
Figures. They should’ve waited until after Anna delivered anyway. Liz had tried to push the ceremony off, but her sister wasn’t having it and these days Dante acquiesced to whatever his wife wanted to keep the peace. When Liz had questioned her about why she was in such a hurry, Anna had said she wanted to just get the damned thing over with.
Deep down though, Liz knew the truth.
They all wanted to get the binding ceremony done before Liz ran again.
She shook off the niggle of disappointment the thought conjured. It was a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, right? Besides, she wasn’t that bad. There was nothing wrong with keeping one’s options open. Never mind the idea of binding herself permanently to anyone or anything—let alone an entire gang—filled her with bone-deep terror. That had nothing to do with this current situation. Nothing at all.
There was something wrong with the whole obscure ritual and they’d just have to fix it before proceeding.
She tamped down the dash of relief mingling with her rising tension.
Dante, to his credit, remained calm as a placid sea. He looked at the priest, who was now hunched over and scowling at his sore toes encased in designer Italian leather loafers. “Why is the binding not occurring?”
“Here.” The priest thrust the crumbling tome he’d been reading from at Dante. “Have a look for yourself.”
Liz peeked over their new gang leader’s shoulder as he carefully sifted through the yellowing pages of a book that was literally falling apart in his hands. “I do not understand. This was recovered from Basher’s quarters shortly after his death. He always bragged about all the secret rituals contained within it.”
“Well, he lied.” The priest straightened and shot Liz a withering stare before pointing toward the scarlet red ribbon he’d placed to mark the binding ceremony pages. “There’s a chunk missing.”
“Chunk?” Dante raised a brow.
“At least four pages, maybe more.” The priest wiped the dust of disintegrating pages from his hands. “Without the rest, there’s nothing I can do.”
He started to step down off the stage, but Dante gripped the older man’s arm tight, a tiny flare of crimson igniting in his pupils as his half-pain demon side emerged. Liz had seen that look before and almost felt sorry for the old priest. Almost.
“Yet you took our money and would have conned us into thinking it was done,” Dante snarled. “For that alone I should kill you.”
“Ah, but you won’t.” The priest narrowed his gaze. “Will you, half-breed?”
Oh, boy. Liz moved back farther, as did Anna. The gang had fought long and hard to make Seven and the entire town of Salvation a safe haven for all otherworlders, pure and half breed alike. Throwing around insults of that nature was a sure way to get a fast trip to Hell.
Surprisingly, instead of ripping off the old priest’s head, however, Dante let him go. “Give me one good reason why I should not slay you where you stand, old man.”
“I’ll give you two.” The priest walked over to the bar and grabbed a bottle of bourbon from behind it, ignoring the glare of the gang’s bartender, Dex, as he did so. Then he plopped down on a stool, twisted off the lid, and took a long swig straight from the bottle. The old man’s hands were shaking as he wiped his mouth. “First, you won’t kill me because the Council is just looking for a reason to invade this place and raze the entire hellhole to the ground. The death of a fine, upstanding priest in their order would be just the ticket to that ride, eh?”
“Huh. And where exactly would we find a priest like that?” Liz said, her voice sticky sweet.
The priest glared at her again.
Dante gave her a warning look.
Liz sighed and crossed her arms.
“What is the second reason, old man?” Dante walked over and snatched the bottle from the priest’s hand, shattering it against the bar top. Liquid and glass rained down around his feet as Dante held the razor-sharp, jagged edge to the priest’s neck. “It better be good, because your first reason will not stop me from slitting your throat.”
Other members of the gang pushed forward, along with Liz and Anna. There’d not been a good fight around here in quite some time and the creatures who haunted this place were itching for a good bloodletting. The air around them sizzled with adrenaline and for the first time all evening, Liz felt a stirring deep inside—not electric, like she felt during a psychic binding; not calming, like the connection she shared with Anna. No. This feeling was much newer and stranger and infinitely more frightening. The stirring felt like something she’d longed for her whole life, something everyone else seemed to have in spades.
The stirring inside her felt like destiny.
Still, with her future hanging in the balance, she held her breath waiting for the priest’s next words.
“The second reason you will not kill me—” The priest coughed, sounding like he was going to hack up a lung. “I’m the only person who knows where you can find the information you need to complete your ceremony and save your gang, half-breed.”