I STOOD IN Stacey’s living room as my entire world crashed around me once more.
Sam was the Lilin.
Acute horror held me immobile, seizing the air in my lungs as I stared at what used to be one of my closest friends in the whole world. Because of the demonic familiar, Bambi, and being unable to see souls while she’d bonded to me, I’d never seen what had been right in front of my face this entire time. None of us had, but it was Sam—he’d been the one to cause the mayhem at school and all the recent deaths. Instead of stripping souls with a single touch, as I’d known a Lilin could do, he’d taken his time, taking a little here and there, playing with his victims and playing with us.
Playing with me.
Except what was standing in Stacey’s house was—was basically wearing Sam’s skin, a perfectly crafted costume, because the real Sam... He was no more. The pain of knowing that my friend was dead, had been dead for a while without any of us knowing, cut deep into me, making misery of my bone and tissue.
I hadn’t been able to save him. None of us had been able to, and now his soul...his soul had to be down below, where all souls that were taken by a Lilin would go. My stomach cramped.
“You cannot defeat me,” the Lilin said, his voice identical to Sam’s. “So join me.”
“Or what?” My heart pounded like a jackhammer in my chest. “Or die? That’s not incredibly cliché or anything.”
The Lilin tilted its head to the side. “Actually, I wasn’t going to say that to you. I need you to help free our mother. The rest of them can die, though.”
Our mother. Before I could dwell on the ick factor of being related to the creature that had killed my friend and inflicted so much carnage, Zayne shifted into his true form, distracting me. His shirt ripped up the back as his wings unfurled and his skin deepened to the dark granite of the Wardens. Two horns sprouted, parting his wavy blond hair as they curled back, and his nostrils flattened. When he parted his lips to let out a low growl of warning, fangs appeared. He stepped toward Sam, his massive hands curling into fists.
“Don’t!” I shouted. Zayne halted, his head swinging sharply toward me. “Do not get close to him. Your soul,” I reminded him as my heart raced. Or what was left of Zayne’s soul, considering I’d accidentally taken a nice little bite out of it not long ago.
Zayne backed off, his stance wary.
I turned my attention back to the evil masquerading as Sam. Whatever the thing was standing in front of us, we did share the same flesh and blood. Only recently had I learned exactly how I’d come to be part demon and part Warden. I was the daughter of Lilith and this...this thing truly was a part of me. It had been born out of Lilith’s and my blood, and it was just as evil as Lilith. It wanted her freed? Impossible. If Lilith ever ended up topside, the world as we knew it would irrevocably change.
“I’m not going to help you free Lilith.” I was so not referring to her as our mother. Yuck. “That’s never going to happen.”
The Lilin smiled as it watched me with dark, inky eyes. “Get as close as you want.” It ignored my statement, taunting Zayne. Heck, taunting all of us. “She’s not the only one in this room with a taste for a Warden’s soul.”
I sucked in a sharp, stinging breath as Stacey let out a whimper. In the space of a second, her relationship with Sam flashed before me. They’d been friends forever and only recently had she recognized that Sam had always, always been in love with her. But she hadn’t started paying real attention to him until Sam had begun to change...
Stacey had to be breaking wide-open, seeing the boy she finally loved become worse than the monsters that prowled the streets at night, but I couldn’t afford to take my focus off the Lilin. It could make a move at any moment, and three of us in this room were vulnerable to the worst kind of attack it could deliver.
“There’s nothing like taking a pure soul, but you’d already know that, Layla. All that warmth and goodness goes down as smooth as the richest chocolate.” The Lilin tipped its chin up and let out the kind of groan that normally would’ve caused my ears to burn. “But taking your time, savoring the taste is so much more decadent. You should try it, Layla, and stop being so greedy when you feed.”
“And you should try shutting the Hell up.” Heat rolled off the powerful demon standing beside me. Roth, the reigning Crown Prince of Hell, hadn’t shifted yet, but I could tell he was close. Fury dripped from his words. “How about that?”
The Lilin didn’t even spare a glance in Roth’s direction. “I like you. I really do, prince. Too bad you’re going to end up dead.”
My fingers curled in, nails biting into my palms as anger flushed through my system, hot and bitter. My emotions were all over the place. On top of everything else that had gone wrong recently, I was standing here between Zayne and Roth, which was about a thousand times awkward on a normal day, but now, after Roth...
I couldn’t focus on any of that right now. “You’re very brave, making threats when we outnumber you.”
One shoulder rose in a gesture so quintessentially Sam it sent a slice of pain through me. “How about I’m just intelligent?” it queried gamely. “And how about I know more than all of you about how this will end?”
“You talk a lot,” Roth growled, stepping forward. “And I mean a lot. Why is it that the bad guys always have to give disgustingly long and boring monologues? Let’s just get to the killing part, all right?”
The Lilin’s mouth formed a lopsided grin. “So eager to die the final death, aren’t you?”
“So eager to be done with you running your mouth, more like,” Roth retorted, moving so that once again he stood directly beside me.
“It’s been you this whole time?” Stacey’s voice trembled under the weight of the pain she must be feeling. “You haven’t been Sam? Not since...”
“Not since Dean displayed his fists of fury. That was fun.” The Lilin laughed as those dark eyes slid in her direction. “Sam hasn’t been home in quite some time, but I can assure you, I enjoyed...our time together as much as I’m sure he would’ve. You know, if that’s any consolation for you.”
She clapped her hands over her mouth, muffling the words as tears streamed down her pale face. “Oh my God.”
“Not quite,” it murmured silkily.
I stepped closer to Stacey, drawing the Lilin’s attention from her. I was sick for her, absolutely repulsed. “Why?” I demanded. “You’ve been around us for weeks. Why haven’t you attacked any of us?”
The Lilin sighed heavily. “I’m not all about violence, death and gore. I discovered rather quickly that there are a lot of fun things to do topside, things I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.” It winked at Stacey, and I saw red.
My skin tingled like a thousand fire ants were marching all over it. “Don’t look at her. Don’t talk to her or even breathe in her general direction, and don’t even think about touching her ever again.”
“Oh, I’ve done more than that,” the Lilin replied. “Lots more. Everything your Sam wishes he could’ve had the balls to do. But you know, he’s not really concerned about those things at the moment. You see, I consumed him—his soul in its entirety. No part of him remains on this plane. He’s not a wraith like the others who crossed my path. I didn’t play with my food when it came to him, taking tiny bits of him. No, he’s gone. He’s in—”