“You can’t trust them.”
“You’re a vampire, and I trust you.”
“I’m not a true vampire, and you shouldn’t trust me.”
“There’s no one I trust more,” Shade said quietly. He loved E, trusted him with his life. But he had a strong mental bond with Wraith, knew his mind even when his brother’s mind was scrambled. E always followed the rules even if his personal feelings didn’t match up with them; Wraith always followed his heart and instincts even—or especially—if they went against the rules. In a way, E was far more dangerous simply because he didn’t stray from the straight and narrow, and often that path didn’t make allowances for family.
Wraith cursed. “Don’t start with me. I’m outta here. Locked, cocked, and ready to rock.” He strode to the door. “Do yourself a favor and forget Nancy. Go find that new nurse, the Sora demon. The things she can do with her tail . . .”
Shooting Shade a toothy grin, Wraith sauntered off, his boots falling like hammers on the stone. Shade rubbed his jaw, thinking that seeking out the Sora might be a good idea. Work off a little stress. He’d accomplished nothing in his chat with Wraith about Eidolon, and as time wore on, he grew more and more anxious.
He’d lost too many brothers. He wasn’t prepared to lose the last two.
Eidolon couldn’t decide whether Tayla had caved in too easily to his request to take her home. He hadn’t smelled deception on her, but then, his olfactory senses were designed more to pick up on the scent of lust than anything else.
And lust was something that rippled off her in subtle undercurrents, often when she was in the middle of hating him. Or when she was beneath him.
Welcome to my world, slayer.
His own desire pumped through him as he glanced sideways at her in the passenger seat of his BMW. He’d have been attracted to her anyway, but the s’genesis was jerking him around, was making the right side of his face throb, just below the surface of his skin, where the marking would appear when the change was complete. The marking that would identify him to the entire demon world as a menace to all things female, and a threat to all things male.
The Change was coming on fast, and he only hoped his experimental treatment would hold off the worst of the effects, or at least make the transition less dangerous and painful. With any luck, he’d find a mate and wouldn’t have to worry about any of it. Then again, he wasn’t likely to find a mate if he filled his days with hospital work instead of courting females.
Not that he hadn’t tried. But few females were willing to commit to a lifetime with a Seminus, knowing the only way out of the bond was death. The females who were willing left Eidolon thinking that whatever the s’genesis did to him would be preferable to a life sentence with them. Then again, he didn’t have much choice.
He was running out of time, and he had no way of knowing if his treatment would delay the transition long enough to allow him to find a worthy female. He needed to act now. Preferably, the moment he dropped off Tayla.
“Out of curiosity,” she said, shifting her focus from the police car ahead of them to him, “why did you kill the vampire? Why not take her to your hospital?”
Fury blasted through him once more, and he had to take three long, deep breaths to keep from lashing out at Tayla. “Most of her circulatory system had been removed. I couldn’t save her.” He rubbed his chest as though doing so would relieve the ache there, the one that was starting to grow as his losses piled up.
She caught her lower lip between her teeth, the action tamping down the embers of his anger and sparking a different fire. “I don’t get it. Vamps are dead. Undead. Whatever. Why do they need a circulatory system?”
He didn’t want to talk about Nancy, but talking kept him from thinking. Or feeling. “The transformation from human to vampire alters their internal makeup. The stomach takes over for the heart when it stops beating. New arteries and veins carry ingested blood throughout the body. Without those veins, a vampire will die as surely as it will when a slayer jams a stake into its chest. It just takes longer.”
“Why would someone do that?” she asked, her curiosity genuine as far as he could tell, and damn her, he was starting to think she didn’t know anything about the killings.
“Vampire circulatory systems must be worth something on the black market, for use in spells or rituals or some crap.” And the person doing the cutting enjoyed misery, because he or she could have spared Nancy by killing her once her organs had been removed.
“So she fingered The Aegis for what happened to her? Is that what she was saying to you before you—”
Tayla shook her head. “It’s not us. It’s not The Aegis. Our job is to protect humans, not give evil more weapons by selling potentially useful body parts.” When he said nothing, she stared at him with such intensity that he damn near squirmed in his seat. And he never squirmed.
“What?” he snapped.
“What did you call her? You know, before you . . .”
“Lirsha.” He gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. “Loosely translates to lover.”
There was a slight pause before she said, “She was your lover?”
“Not mine. Shade’s.” But she’d been at UG almost since the beginning, and he’d always liked the quirky nurse. Shade’s sister, Skulk, had once said that Nancy’s aura burned bright, more colorful than that of other vampires, which hadn’t been a shock. He’d never seen the nurse in a bad mood.
Wrapping her arms around herself as though cold, Tayla braced her shoulder against the window. “Turn here and park anywhere.”
He looked around the area in disgust. He hadn’t been sure what to expect from the slayer’s neighborhood, but the ghetto wasn’t it. Not even the cheery April sunlight could put a shine on the graffiti-tagged, run-down character of the neighborhood.
“You won’t want to leave your car for more than thirty seconds, or it’ll be stripped or ripped.”
“It’ll be fine.” He parked between a furniture truck and a lowered pickup riddled with bullet holes, and they got out of the car.
When Tayla glanced hesitantly at the vehicle and then back at him, he shook his head. “Trust me. People will walk by like they don’t even see it.” The BMW wouldn’t literally be invisible, but the Deflection spell that came standard on demon-dealer autos meant his BMW didn’t attract human attention. They’d see it, but it would register only in their subconscious.
“Whatever. Your loss. My keys are at HQ, so I hope the super is around.”
She led him to a building roaches wouldn’t call home, and after picking up a key at the office, they climbed two flights of rickety stairs. When she opened her door, she swore.
Eidolon stepped inside the apartment, not bothering to hide his shock. The place was a dump. Not filthy—Tayla obviously cleaned—but she didn’t have a lot to work with. The ceiling, stained by generations of water leaks and mold, bowed as though on the verge of collapse. Gray paint peeled like shredded skin from the walls, and holes the size of his foot pockmarked the vinyl flooring.
And scattered throughout were bits of foam that had once belonged inside one of the cushions on the orange seventies-style sofa.
“Mickey. My ferret.”
“You have a pet weasel?” Said weasel poked its brown head out of the ragged hole in the cushion.
“He’s a ferret.” She moved into the kitchen, which could barely be called such. The fridge, more rust than metal, rattled like it was on its dying breath, and if the ancient stove worked, he’d sell one of his brothers into Neethul slavery. He might do that with Wraith, anyway.
Maybe The Aegis wasn’t involved in the demon organ ring, after all. If they were, they could afford to pay their people more.
“He must be starving,” she said, pouring what he assumed was weasel food into a plastic margarine container. “How long was I in the hospital?”
“My poor baby.” Her voice was a soothing croon but it did the opposite to him, and when she bent to place the bowl on the floor, he watched the way the scrub pants molded to her rounded ass. His mind fuzzed out, and he realized he’d taken three steps toward her. The way she stroked the weasel’s narrow head, yeah, if she’d touch him the way she was touching the little animal . . .
Shit. He halted in his tracks, feeling flushed and hot and way too short-fused to be anywhere near any female, let alone a female like Tayla.
The weasel tackled the bowl, flinging pellets everywhere. Tayla straightened and turned, a smile curving her full lips that he was suddenly picturing on his.
He had to get out of there.
She dug an orange out of a bag on top of the stove, which was pretty much her only counter space, and then grabbed a bag of marshmallows from one of the two cupboards.
“Three days that felt like three years.” She bit into a marshmallow and watched him, her gaze secretive, and he wondered what was going on in that pretty head.
He knew what was going on in his, and she’d probably kill him for it.
“Look, I have to go. If you need anything—”
Like, for instance, help when you grow horns and scales as your demon DNA kicks in.
“Your wound. The stitches will need to be removed.”
“I’ll do it myself.”
“I’d like to follow up with you.” He drew a card from his pocket and placed it on the TV tray that must serve as her kitchen table. “Here’s the hospital phone number. Say the words on the back before you dial.”
“An underworld communications system?”
“Something like that.”
“Are you this dedicated to all your patients? Or am I special?”
Under normal circumstances, he couldn’t have cared less if a human lived or died. But the half-demon mating-gone-wrong thing fascinated him, and the Aegi issue guaranteed that he wasn’t going to let her go that easily.
Then there was the fact that just looking at her made his blood run hotter than his normal body temperature of one-oh-nine.
Gods, she was thin, but as hard and sleek as a Trillah demon, but he knew firsthand how soft and pliant she could go beneath his touch. Knew how her slim h*ps could take his thrusts, how her long legs wrapped around him to hold him deep.
And her scent . . . damn. Her scent, deceptively appealing, the way cyanide smelled like sweet almonds, drove him mad.
He burned. He ached. He had to get back on track and fast, because he needed to find a mate before it was too late, and every second spent with Tayla was a second wasted.
“I have to go,” he repeated, but his feet didn’t move, because she was striding toward him.
He gazed at her, at the blood smears still darkening her cheek, at the smooth, tight skin everywhere else, and his own skin tightened and shrank as if it no longer fit.
“Thank you for saving my life.” She halted a foot away, close enough to smell the marshmallow on her breath. “But don’t think this changes anything.”
“Everything has changed, Tayla,” he said softly, reaching for her. He put two fingers to her throat, told himself he was probing for any signs of illness, fever, progression of her DNA transformation. Told himself whatever lies he had to in order to pretend he wasn’t touching her for the sheer pleasure of it.
“I hate it when you put your hands on me,” she whispered, but the way her pulse ticked violently beneath his fingers betrayed her.
He breathed deep, seeking her scent like a hellhound on the track of a hellbitch in heat. He slid his thumb down along her clavicle. Fragile. Delicate. He could break the bone with a flick of his wrist.
Or he could run his tongue over the silky skin there. It was insane the way he wanted her, the way his body sought the thrill of something as forbidden and dangerous as an Aegi killer. The instinct was so strong that images of the ways he’d take her swamped his brain, short-circuiting his control.
Against the wall . . . in a hot shower . . . bound and helpless, laid out like a sacrifice . . .
His gaze snapped up, caught hers. His temperature spiked and his thoughts hemorrhaged, bleeding out until there was only primal instinct to guide his actions.
He licked his lips. The knowledge of what he was about to do made her jaw drop as he dipped his head and slanted his mouth over hers. For a moment she stiffened, and then, oh, yeah, she caught his waist in one hand and melted against him.
Sticky, marshmallow sweetness coated his tongue as it sparred with hers. The soft recess of her mouth drew him deep, made him want to spend all day enjoying the wet, hot kiss. But his body wanted more, and he could find better uses for his tongue.
He tangled his hand in her thick hair, holding her firmly as he dropped his other hand to her ass to press her against his aching sex.
The subtle tightening of her body was his only warning.
A flash of silver arced near the extreme border of his vision, and the sting of metal bit into his throat. Hissing, he wrenched Tayla’s wrist and grabbed the knife.
“Son of a—” She bit off the curse and spun out of his grip.
There was nothing wrong with her reflexes, and she proved there was nothing wrong with her speed either, as she bolted toward a closed door. He dived, hit her as she reached for the handle, and they both tumbled through the bedroom doorway. She landed awkwardly, half on, half off the bed, and he came down on top of her.
“Remind me not to save your life again, if that’s how you repay small favors,” he growled.