Release day is fast approaching. I love Blade so much! Find out more about him in the days before Black Widow Demon opens, and why he left a comfortable life behind him:
Sleep eluded Blade.
He would have thought the opposite should be true, considering this was the first time in years he had approached it without pain. Perhaps it was because he was alone in Ruby’s bed.
Each of the women who lived at the saloon had two attached rooms at their disposal. One, they used for working. The other was private. When Blade shared Ruby’s bed, he stayed in her private room. He punched a pillow to distribute the feathers more evenly.
He did not know what to make of the half-demon. Airie, he corrected his thought. Or her relationship with Hunter. He pitied his friend though, and envied him, too. Not because of her looks, which were stunning enough, but for the way she seemed to occupy Hunter’s thoughts so completely. He could not remember Hunter ever allowing a woman to distract him before. The fact that she had done so told Blade far more about her character than her healing of his leg.
Hunter’s hatred of demons, however, ran far deeper than Blade’s. He did not know what had happened in Hunter’s past to make this a truth, but he did know that Airie was going to have a difficult time getting beyond it, assuming she’d want to try.
He stretched out on his back beneath Ruby’s plain cotton sheets. Faint light trickled through the drawn muslin curtains, but he could see the contents of the room clear enough. A small writing desk with a ruffle-skirted chair, a chaise longue adorned in many multi-colored silk cushions, delicate oil paintings on the walls he suspected she’d created herself in another lifetime. She was feminine but practical. He rested the back of his head on his bent arm and stared upward at nothing in particular.
Now that he had a life to offer her, he was going to ask her to marry him. They had been friends a long time. Together, they would run the saloon. They would offer a haven to more women who needed one. And now that he could protect them properly, the women would not have to work on their backs unless they wanted to—which, Ruby assured him, some of them did.
Airie had given him back so much more than the use of his leg.
It was early yet. In another hour, the women would rise and head to the kitchen to prepare for the day. The majority of the saloon’s business tended to happen in the late afternoon and early evening because Blade did not encourage the rougher, late night crowd. The potential for roaming demons proved another deterrent to customers.
He rolled from the bed, drew on his trousers, and took the back stairs to the kitchen where he knew Ruby would have taken the little boy so she could work.
The scene he walked in on was what he had expected. Ruby stood at the stove, her hair caught back with a scarf and her face shiny from the heat, while Scratch—Hunter needed to do something about a real name for the boy—sat on the floor near her feet. She had given him a pot and spoon to play with.
Scratch smiled up at him, and Blade’s heart caught. He wondered what a child of his own might look like. She glanced up from the stove. Her eyes darted to his leg, then away, as if she didn’t want to be caught staring.
As far as Blade was concerned, she could stare all she liked. She had seen him at his absolute worst. Now she could see him for the whole man he had once been, although he hoped he had grown better than that over the years.
He was not proud of his past. Before he asked her to marry him, he planned to tell her about it. He cleared his throat, nervous now, and she stiffened as if she knew he was about to say things she didn’t want to hear.
“I was an assassin before you met me,” Blade said to her back.
Some of the stiffness went out of her spine. Her tone, when she replied, was neutral. “That’s not a surprise.”
Of course it wasn’t. She’d seen him practice with his knives. She knew he’d murdered the woman Mamna had condemned. What she did not know was how he had become one.
“I killed my uncle when I was fourteen.” That earned him a bit more of her attention. “He raised me after my parents died. I hated the bastard. He beat me and made me work in the mines like a slave. There wasn’t a bit of kindness in him.”
“Then it sounds as if he deserved it.”
Blade had always thought so. The rest of the community, however, had not shared his belief. The mining tunnels his uncle owned had collapsed shortly after, leaving them unworkable, and he had been blamed for the bad luck.
“My uncle was a leader of the Godseekers. He had been one of the goddesses’ favored, and according to local legend, chosen by them to become the Demon Slayer. I had no choice after I killed him as to what I’d become. Only the lawless would do business with me.”
For the first few years he had not asked questions regarding who they contracted him to kill. Women and children had been among their numbers, although very rare and speedily done. As time went on and his skills improved, he had become more select. But when he’d tried to cross the desert on his own, his lost battle with a demon meant he again had no choice with regard to his future.
Until he met Hunter, and then Ruby, he had made very few choices of his own other than that initial decision to kill his uncle.
He did not regret that one.
When he finished talking, and laying out the bare facts, he waited a long time for any response. She continued to stir the pot on the stove, a frown on her face, and beckoned for him to remove the fresh bread from the oven. Above them, he could hear the other women starting their day.
She banged the spoon on the edge of the pot before setting it on the counter and turning to face him. “Does Hunter know you were once a Godseeker?”
“I was never a Godseeker.” He had never admired them or followed their beliefs. “But Hunter knows I was from the north. He knows I killed my uncle.” He gave her a half-hearted grin. “Apparently I babble when I’m feverish.”
Blade did not ask what he had babbled to her about. Her manner suggested he might not want to hear it. “He knows the Godseekers are trying to kill him. He doesn’t know my uncle was predicted to become the Demon Slayer because that no longer matters. Hunter is the far better choice.”
“Your uncle was chosen by the goddesses,” Ruby said.
Blade could not hide his distaste. “That was what he would have people believe. He was a handsome man, who was nothing more than one of their pleasurable toys, although so arrogant he couldn’t see the truth of that. He could as easily have made up the story to give himself greater importance than he deserved.”
“Is it true that a goddess will lead the Slayer against the demons?” she persisted.
He shifted his weight, forgetting his leg no longer needed to be favored, and straightened. He felt as if he had grown several inches taller overnight, and his back was stiff from the change in his posture. “You can’t believe stories that are told second hand.”
She watched him with thoughtful eyes as he stretched his back muscles. “What if Airie is that goddess?”
“She healed your leg,” Ruby said.
“That doesn’t make her one of them.” He exhaled. “I grew up on stories of the goddesses. I remember their visits to the northern mountains from when I was a child. They were never what the world would have you believe. Call them goddesses and demons if you like, but in the end they are all immortals, one and the same.” He heard doors opening and closing upstairs and knew he had to hurry. “I have something I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time,” he began. He wouldn’t ask her now, not when privacy was no longer assured, but he’d give her an opportunity to think about it rather than spring it on her unannounced. “Perhaps tonight?”
Her smile became fixed and falsely bright. “We’ll see,” she said. “The last few days have been poor ones, moneywise. If business picks up, I may be working. If not, there’s a child in the house to consider.” She nodded at Scratch, who had been so silent he was next to invisible. Blade wondered that he had not stepped on him when taking the bread from the oven. “You should go back to bed for a few more hours,” she advised him. “There will be plenty of time for questions in the future.”
She did not want to talk. A sense of unease assailed him, but he let it go. “You’re probably right.”
He climbed the back stairs to her rooms. Instead of her private bedroom, he slipped into her working area.
She’d chosen red as a color scheme, an obvious play on her name. The room was decorated in satins and silks, with lush dressings hanging from the walls and varieties of intimate lace strategically spilling from open drawers. Beneath the king-sized bed she kept a box filled with what she referred to as the tools of the trade, but she had never offered to use them with him.
He sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, mentally comparing this room to the one he occasionally shared with her. He realized that he knew very little about either her or her background. In fact, she knew far more about him. He rubbed his leg out of long habit.
Ruby knew what he wanted to ask her. She was going to say no.
And he, fool that he was, was going to ask her anyway.
Join me on Tuesday, when I add the final scene that sends Blade off into the desert to find himself in Black Widow Demon, coming November 26th!
The countdown continues…
Here is the second deleted Blade scene, taken from The Demon’s Daughter (March 2013):
Blade had created a quiet haven for himself on the third floor of his saloon.
It was sparsely furnished, with a double bed and a single window cut from the sloped ceiling. A plain wardrobe and one heavy chair carved from oak filled the room to capacity.
He sat in his chair in the deep darkness that descended before dawn and stared out the window at the black and empty sky, a cup of lavender tea cooling in his hands. He had taken off his trousers and shirt since the heat of the day tended to pool beneath the saloon’s rafters. Although the heat was long gone now, he continued to lounge in his underwear.
The street outside was quiet. The west winds had died down, but it was far too late for anyone with money to spare to be out. Even the thieves and murderers would be long in their beds.
A tentative knock sounded at Blade’s door, followed by a soft voice. “May I come in?”
“If you don’t mind the way I’m dressed. Or rather, not,” he replied.
“I’ve seen it all before. I doubt if there are any new surprises.”
Ruby opened the door a crack and slipped inside before closing it firmly behind her. She placed the small lantern she carried on the windowsill, pulled her wrap tighter, then perched primly on the edge of his bed, back straight, bare feet dangling a few inches above the plank floor. Her thick red hair swung in loose curls at her shoulders. She had not yet dressed it for bed.
The flowery scent of her soap floated around him. He and Ruby had been together a long time. She’d nursed him back to health after Hunter rescued him from the demon. They had started the saloon together. They did not love each other, but he certainly felt more loyalty to her than he did anyone else, except maybe Hunter.
She had something to say to him. She never came up here otherwise.
He did not have to wait long to find out what it was.
“What happened in town today?” she asked.
Blade sighed, then scrubbed a hand across his eyes. “Mamna condemned a woman to death.”
“I thought you were the one who threw that knife,” Ruby said, understanding and sympathy in her tone.
“She was a stupid woman who should have known enough to keep her tongue still. She wasn’t worth wasting your pity on.”
Ruby reached over and patted the deep, corded scar that ran the length of his thigh. “I wasn’t wasting my pity on her.”
Blade’s lips thinned. “I don’t need your pity either.”
“You’re testy because the woman you feel you should have killed is untouchable.”
Blade shrugged away from her hand to stare out the window once more. “Mamna’s not untouchable. She’s as mortal as the rest of us. But I can’t go after her the way I should.”
“Because of us?” Ruby asked. “Sapphire, Jasmine and me?”
Blade did not answer, which he supposed was answer enough.
Ruby settled her clasped hands in her lap. “We can look after ourselves, Blade. We had to before we met you, and we can do so again. Don’t feel like you have to protect us.”
He shrugged. “What would be the point in killing her? If not Mamna making the laws, it would be someone else. My time is better spent making certain of your safety and wellbeing.”
“If you were worried about our safety, then why did you kill that poor woman? You must have known what would happen to us all if you’d been caught.”
He placed a palm on the scar on his thigh and made a confession he would only ever make to her because she already knew his weaknesses and did not think less of him for them.
“Because I couldn’t sleep if I’d stood back and let her be raped, then eaten alive by a blood-frenzied demon. Although it’s made no difference. I can’t sleep now either, so I wasted my time and energy and risked all our lives for nothing.”
“It was hardly for nothing.” Ruby laced and unlaced her fingers, twisting them. “Despite what you may think, you’re a good man. You’ve reaffirmed for me that there are still people in this world who care about others. And as long as there are people like you, it will grow to be a better place. It might take a while, that’s all.”
How she could be so optimistic Blade would never know. Ruby’s life had been a hard one. The faint light of the lantern softened her face and lent it an air of youthfulness that was long gone in reality. He wished he had known her before she’d become a whore, but she seemed satisfied with her lot in life and did not waste her time dwelling on what could no longer be. She saved her money against the day when she was too old to earn her living on her back, and when that day came, Blade thought he might marry her. As a woman, she had few other options, if any.
Married women or prostitutes. In the wake of a goddess-ruled world, if a woman did not serve the priestesses she had to serve men.
Mamna hated women that much.
Ruby rose to leave, but a slight rumbling began in the floorboards beneath her feet, and she grabbed for the lantern to keep it from sliding off the windowsill and crashing to the floor. She looked to Blade with alarm in her eyes. “What in the world was that?”