“Mainly, I work with humans. But I do my best to intercept the odd cases that come through the hospital
. . . infections from demon bites, illnesses and injuries in those with demon parentage, stuff like that. It’s not a big deal if I miss any of it—anything that seems odd to a human doctor is diagnosed as a mystery disease or a deformity. Humans have an incredible capacity to explain away stuff they don’t want to know the truth about.”
Tayla understood that. Her mom had tried repeatedly to tell her that demons tormented her, had even described the Soulshredder, but Tayla hadn’t believed her, had chosen to believe that her mother suffered from drug-induced delusions. Because at the time, that was easier to believe than the truth. Heck, even after witnessing her mother’s death at the hands of a demon, it hadn’t occurred to Tayla that her mother had truly been tormented for years by the Soulshredder.
Gem sprawled back even more, making herself comfortable. Too comfortable. She’d been here, in Eidolon’s apartment, before.
“Have you slept with him?” Tayla asked, gripping the medical book so hard she was going to leave impressions. Better that, though, than giving in to her possessive urge to bean Gem with it if she gave the wrong answer.
“Who? Eidolon? No.” Gem’s eyes glittered. “But you have. I’ve smelled you on him.”
Geez, did all demons possess overdeveloped olfactory senses? “He’s helping me through something,”
Tayla said, and then wondered why she felt the need to explain her sexual relationship with him.
“Yeah, I’ll just bet.”
“You sound a little jealous, sister.”
“Jealous? Nah. I could have him if I wanted him.” The way she said it, so sure of herself, made Tayla bristle. “He’s desperate for a mate to head off the s’genesis.”
“A mate? I was just talking about sex.”
“That’s good, then. Because that’s all any incubus is about.” Gem dropped her feet to the floor and propped her forearms on her bare knees. “A piece of advice, sis. Don’t get too close. He’ll either go through The Change and leave you behind, or he’ll take a mate and lock himself into a lifetime of fidelity. Either way, you’re stuck on the outside looking in, and it sucks.”
“You sound like you know a little bit about that.”
“More than I’d like.” Tension vibrated between them, so not the reunion Tayla would have envisioned for something like this. “Look, just think about the integration. As you can see, I’m not a monster. Our father—”
“Don’t call him that,” Tayla snapped.
“It’s what he is.”
Realization slapped her upside the head. “You know him. Dear God, you know him.”
Gem regarded her coolly. “I’ve met him.”
“Met him? Like, what, for tea and crumpets? He tormented our mom, Gem! For years. He raped her, God knows how many times, and then he tore her apart in front of my eyes. And you met him?”
Tayla must have been yelling, because the door burst open, and Eidolon filled the doorway, fists clenched, concern branded in his expression. “You two all right?”
Gem ignored Eidolon to move closer to Tayla. “What he did was horrible. But it was his nature. We all do things we’re programmed to do . . .”
Whatever Gem was saying melted into a whirlpool of meaningless words. A cry tore from Tay’s throat and then she was launching herself at the other woman. Her hands closed around Gem’s throat as Eidolon’s arms caught Tayla around the waist.
“How can you defend him?” Tayla screamed, fighting wildly against the set of arms—no, two sets, Shade had grabbed her, too—dragging her off Gem.
“You’d better go,” Eidolon told Gem, who nodded.
“Tay, you’ve got to look at who donated your DNA if you want to know who you are. What you can be.”
Something dark and oily gurgled through Tayla’s veins, an evil industrial sludge that threatened to leach the humanity right out of her. “Oh, I know who donated it. And I want nothing to do with it. Nothing to do with you. I will never—never—integrate that shit into myself. Go. To. Hell.”
“I’m sorry,” Gem whispered to Tayla, and then she looked up at Eidolon. “I . . . I have to go. I’m sorry.”
Tayla stopped struggling, and gradually, Shade’s hands eased away, but Eidolon only held tighter. Grateful for an island in the middle of the nightmarish sea she’d been swimming in, she folded herself into his embrace and wondered how much longer she could tread water before she drowned.
If Gem had been part Trillah demon she couldn’t have run away from Eidolon’s apartment any faster. She had really, really messed up with Tayla. As if things weren’t bad enough with her parents already, now this.
“Stupid,” she muttered, as she hoofed it down the sidewalk in search of a taxi. Raised among humans, she had a tendency to eschew the Harrowgates in favor of more traditional means of transportation.
First, she’d been antagonistic about Eidolon, something that had been totally uncalled for and more than a little childish. Didn’t matter that she knew where her behavior had come from—her jealousy. Not jealousy of Tayla’s relationship with the incubus—well, maybe a little, since Gem couldn’t have the man she loved, someone who might be responsible for her parents’ kidnapping—but mostly of Tay’s relationship with their mother.
Gem had never had that. She’d seen Teresa from afar, had taken pictures. And once, she’d worked up the guts to speak to her at a bus stop. Gem had been terrified, fifteen years old and dressed like a punk, but Teresa’s voice had been soft and musical, with a hint of southern drawl that went down like sugar, a far cry from the clipped, stern voices of her adoptive parents.
Yes, she loved her parents, would always be grateful to them for saving her life and then giving her a great one, but deep down, she’d resented the fact that Tayla had been given sole rights to being Teresa’s daughter.
How f**king petty. Especially considering how Gem had grown up wanting for nothing, but Tayla . . . she’d suffered.
Once Gem was old enough to venture out on her own, she’d tracked Tayla down, had followed her from school to the rusted-out trailer where she’d lived with three other foster kids. When Gem saw her the next day, she’d been wearing the same clothes. Tayla had bounced around between foster care and the streets so much that Gem couldn’t keep track. It wasn’t until Teresa got clean and regained custody that, for once, Tayla had a stable home. Granted, the apartment she’d shared with Teresa was a roach motel, but they seemed to be happy for two years.
Until that night.
News reports had blasted the gory details nonstop, had shown pictures of the crime scene and made a big story of how Teresa had been torn apart by a vicious serial killer, and that her daughter, Tayla, was missing. Tay had eventually been found, but she’d never spoken to the authorities about the murder. Afterward, she’d gone again into foster care, but by the time Gem had located her sister, wanted for the killing of her foster father, Tay was already with The Aegis . . . which was around the time the Soulshredder had come to Gem.
She’d known instantly that the creature was her father. It had slipped into her bedroom in the middle of the night, its goal beyond comprehension. It had intended to sire young on her, its own flesh and blood.
Her struggle to keep her inner beast at bay had been lifelong, something that had required discipline and protective tattoos. But that night, for the first time, she’d let her demon side reign, had used every trick in her book to kill the thing that was her father.
So, yeah, she knew firsthand that “we all do things we’re programmed to do.” Because like it or not, thanks to her sire, she was hardwired to torment and kill.
Every day was a battle, a tug of war between her two halves. And every morning she wondered if that would be the day her human half finally lost.
Eidolon paced in the kitchen while Tayla showered and Shade whipped up some dinner. Wraith lounged on the couch, playing video games on the X-Box, Mickey tucked into one armpit. It had taken half an hour and three shots of Cutty Sark to calm Tay down, and then the adrenaline crash had turned her into a noodle. All she’d wanted was a shower, bed, and food, in no particular order.
In the meantime, he wanted to hunt Gem down and string her up. Gem had been their best shot at convincing Tayla to integrate her demon side. Now that was blown all to Hades.
“Want a beer?” Shade asked, as he pushed a plate of spaghetti across the kitchen island.
“Suit yourself.” Shade snagged a bottle of Harp from the fridge. “What a night, huh? I can’t freakin’
believe Paige was part of the organ thing. And Gem, the slayer’s sister? Gives me the jeebies, man. Maybe if we could get them to fight again . . .”
Eidolon smiled. “You sound like Wraith.”
“Come on. He had a point. You have to give him that much.” Shade popped the cap off the beer. “I mean, twins wrestling on the ground? Hot.”
Maybe, but Eidolon wasn’t interested in two women. He wanted only the one. Shade went on about twins, ticking his conquests off on his fingers. Eidolon recommended a calculator and swept up the plate of food to take it to Tayla, though he wished he had some oranges. Her citrus craving made sense now; Soulshredders were a tropical species that required the fruit to survive.
Halfway to the bedroom, his heart skidded to a halt. The sweet, musky scent of Tayla’s arousal drifted from the living room.
Eidolon sprinted down the hall, caught the corner with his shoulder, and spilled half the spaghetti onto the floor. Not that he noticed. No, all he could see was his own anger in a filter of red splayed across the scene before him.
Tayla stood in the living room, robe loosely tied and showing way too much creamy flesh. Wraith, his bloody video game on pause, watched her, his eyes glowing, not with the normal gold of arousal or anger, but with the blue-flecked gold of his hypnotic gift.
“See what it would be like with me?” he was saying. “Bet E won’t do that to you. It’s not civilized.”
The bastard was in her head, feeding her images of gods knew what.
Territorial rage lit Eidolon up like a gas-soaked torch. “Back the f**k off, brother,” Eidolon bit out. “You don’t do humans or Aegi.”
“She’s not either. Not anymore.” Wraith smiled, his white fangs gleaming hungrily. “Fair. Game.”
Darkness swallowed him. Eidolon dropped the plate and launched over the couch armrest. He slammed Wraith into the wall with a hand around the throat. Sober, Wraith could kick his butt, but he didn’t give an imp’s ass. “She’s mine.”
Wraith’s eyes went half-lidded, and if he was bothered by the fact that Eidolon was nearly choking him, it didn’t show. “Look at her, E. She’s primed. She’ll take us both.”
An image of Wraith brutalizing Tayla with his teeth as he took her tattooed itself into Eidolon’s brain, turning his thoughts to poison. “Don’t touch her,” he snarled. “Don’t you ever touch her, or I will let the vampires—”
They both turned to Tayla, who stood there as though in a daze, her fingertips playing lazily along the edge of her robe where it gaped at the sternum. A blast of lust came from her like a shockwave, and Eidolon jerked as though she’d grabbed his cock.
“That’s never happened before. She should be calling my name,” Wraith muttered. “And what were you saying about the vamps?”
Ignoring the question, Eidolon released Wraith with a shove and crossed to Tayla. She flew into his arms, climbed him like a tree until she was wrapped around him, rubbing her face on him, writhing against his body.
She was going to take him right there.
The thought made him so hot, so deliriously fuzzy-headed, that he nearly forgot Wraith was watching and let it happen. Instead, he hauled ass to the bedroom. By the time he kicked the door shut, his jeans were unbuttoned. By the time they were halfway to the bed, he was sheathed inside her wet, satin heat.
“Oh, my God, Eidolon . . . oh, my God.” She pelted his face with kisses as she began a punishing grinding motion with her hips. “I went to get my backpack. Saw your brother . . . and suddenly, my mind just kept seeing—”
“Wraith.” Fuck. He stopped short of the bed, his heart growing cold even as he thrust into her hot depths.
“No,” she moaned. “You. He was there for a second, but it wasn’t right. I concentrated hard, and it was you.”
Pressure filled his chest cavity. A sudden, fierce instinct rose in him, a foreign and yet familiar urge. It didn’t matter that her passion had been induced by a mind-seduction. It didn’t matter that she was hardly in a position to know what she wanted from him. All that mattered was that he take her. Bond with her. Make her his mate.
“Mine,” he growled into the slender column of her throat. “You’re mine.”
“Yes . . . oh, yes.” Her voice throbbed with the promise of what she was saying. That she was his, that all his years of empty sex with empty females was coming to an end, that he would no longer worry about becoming a mindless beast, that there would be no more loneliness for either of them.
The surge of emotion triggered a chain reaction inside him. Fire shot from the fingertips of his right arm, up the tribal pattern in his skin. The designs glowed red through the sheen of sweat that had broken out over his entire body.