Sweet Peril (The Sweet Trilogy #2) by Wendy Higgins

PROLOGUE

EMERGENCY SUMMIT, 1748, ROME, ITALY

Unbeknownst to the Roman community, 666 earthbound demons were making use of the infamous Colosseum. Twelve of the fallen ones, the Dukes, were present in human form, while the others hovered as spirits, blotting celestial light from the night sky.

Rahab, the Duke of Pride, took his place in the center, exhilarated by the attention his presence commanded. He looked out with vehemence on thousands of Duke descendants, the Nephilim race, who had been summoned to the meeting from all corners of the earth.

“Let us officially open this summit,” Rahab ordered.

A reverent combination of hissing and chanting filled the Colosseum—the ghoulish melody issued from the Dukes and the spirits overhead as they flapped their massive wings in unison. A chill spread across the expectant audience as Rahab poised himself to reveal the purpose of their gathering.

“It has come to our attention that two of you Nephilim no longer find it necessary to focus on the work for which you were bred.”

Nobody moved.

Rahab turned his stare to a teenage girl in the crowd, who flinched as if stung by his cruel gaze. She averted her almond eyes, a dark lock falling from her upswept hair as she shrank back.

“Come forward, daughter of Alocer.” At these words from Rahab, the girl gave a violent shudder.

“Femi?” Duke Alocer made his way to the front, forehead creased with displeasure as he sought his daughter.

“Father . . . Femi whispered so low that normal human ears would never have caught it, but every being in the Colosseum that night heard.

“Come here,” her father said. “What have you done?”

Femi made her way to him, in layers of Egyptian silk.

“Father, have mercy on me, I beg you. I carry your grandchild.”

Alocer paused, and his forehead smoothed over.

“Is that all?” he asked. “You know you will not survive the birth.”

She lowered her eyes again and nodded. Alocer turned to Rahab.

“This is commonplace, Rahab.” He did not bother disguising his irritation. “Pregnancy is hardly a worthy reason to call forth an emergency summit. The girl is a hard worker.”

“Ah, yes.” Rahab turned his sneer to Alocer’s daughter. “I’m sure this pregnancy is a result of all your hard work. No doubt, you conceived while in the act of leading a human to sin. . . . Isn’t that right, girl?”

A look of horrified realization crossed Femi’s face as she searched the crowd, meeting only blank and hostile stares. She collapsed to the ground at her father’s feet and sobbed, kissing his toes and ankles. Alocer stared down, bewildered.

“Who have you been with?” he asked her. She shook her head, hair dragging on the ground around his feet.

Rahab bent down and yanked Femi by the hair, forcing her to look up. “Answer your father. Tell him!” Femi only cried harder and screamed as Rahab’s fingers pulled tighter. “Fear keeps her silent, and so it should, because the father is not human. He is one of them—one of her own kind.”

A collective gasp rose from the crowd, followed by quick whispers and a hush. Duke Alocer’s eyes narrowed to thin slits as he searched between Femi and Rahab.

“That’s right.” Tiny specs of foam formed at the creases of Rahab’s smile. “Suspicions were raised by one of my very own Legionnaires, and confirmation was made by a fellow Neph.”

“Who was it?” Duke Sonellion asked, icy hatred in his crystalline eyes. “Who do we get to punish?”

Rahab raised an eyebrow, anticipation drawing out. “Yoshiro, son of Jezebet.”

“This cannot be!” The eyes of Duke Jezebet shone deep red as he stepped forward to face Rahab. He was the smallest of the Dukes, but his quickness and sharp eyes lent him a powerful presence. “Where is the Neph who has made this claim?”

“I regret to say she took her own life after revealing this hideous truth to us.” Rahab settled a hand over his heart.

“Yoshiro has faithfully served our cause!” Jezebet shouted, ignoring his antics.

“We shall see about that,” said Rahab. “Come forward, Yoshiro.”

The crowd began to part. All turned toward Yoshiro as he came through, taller than his father, carrying a thin sword.

“Stop right there,” Rahab said. “Lay down your weapon or it will be taken from you.”

“Stupid boy!” Jezebet chided him. “Have you no sense? You are to work against humanity, not waste away your days with a sister Nephilim!”

Yoshiro looked at Femi, who still lay in a pile of grief at her father’s feet. He set down his sword.

“This is my doing,” Yoshiro said to the Dukes. “Do not bother with Femi.”

“How very romantic.” Rahab’s voice was softly mocking. “But must I point out the obvious? You both forfeited her life the moment she conceived. Pity.”

Rahab paced for a moment, eyeing the distance with a dark smile. “Did you know some half-million humans perished in these very walls?” he asked. “These grounds are thirsty for the blood of their youth. It is the perfect venue for our own games, wouldn’t you say? I do so hope that our two little gladiators will attempt to escape. . . .” He paused, raising an eyebrow at Yoshiro and Femi, who were stunned into stillness, as if disbelieving that their secret had been made known and their lives had come to this. Several Dukes laughed without true humor, while the remaining Nephilim moved farther away, placing as much distance as possible between themselves and the unfolding events.