Roag sauntered across the abandoned brewery, kicking through the piles of vampire dust, looking calmly at the two left alive, cuffed to each other in a puddle of their own blood. “You two handled things well enough.” He jerked his chin at Wraith. “Looks like you found our long-lost little brother. Not much left. Leave him. We’ll go find the whore I just balled.”
Shade and Eidolon had known Roag for ten years before they’d found Wraith, twenty-two years old and nearly dead, but never had they seen the ice-cold side of him until that day. It had only grown worse after that, Roag’s strange jealousy of Wraith causing a rift between all of them. Eidolon had played peacemaker for decades, until Roag went through his s’genesis ten years ago.
Roag had not come out of The Change well. He’d gone mad, had been unable to control his powers and urges. Shade was right; if Roag hadn’t died when he did, he’d either have been killed by other demons, or the Seminus Council would have eventually brought him to heel, and as the next-eldest sibling, Eidolon would have been required to carry out the punishment.
“Shit.” Eidolon sank into a chair and buried his face in his hands. “I need to talk to Tayla.”
“Has she agreed to bond with you?”
Eidolon looked up. “She doesn’t want me.”
Shade crossed his arms over his chest and braced one hip on the patio railing. “She’s a fool.”
“I can’t blame her. She thinks I want her because she’s my last resort.”
“Is she right?”
He swore, frustration and conflicting emotions churning in his mind. “I don’t know.”
“What is it about her that has you all wound up?”
A dull ache pounded in his chest. “She’s brave. Strong. What she’s lived through.” He shook his head, amazed at her resiliency. “She does everything with so much passion, something I’ve never had. For anything—until her.” He rubbed his breastbone as though he could relieve the empty sensation inside.
“Fuck me, I love her.”
“Well, I’d say you have your answer. She’s not a last resort.”
“She’ll never believe that, and I don’t have time to prove it.” He locked gazes with his brother. “I can feel The Change, Shade. I’m not going to make it through another night.”
A pained light came into Shade’s eyes. “Maybe—”
“Don’t. I’ve already had a taste of how it’s going to be, and who I am now is not who I’ll be afterward. But I need some favors.”
“Anything.” Shade’s voice trembled.
“I want Tayla cared for. She’s to have full access to my bank accounts, and I want her set up in an apartment of her own.”
“Done. What else?”
“I need you to give her a once-over as soon as possible.”
Shade’s brow furrowed. “For what? Oh. Oh, man, you think you knocked her up?”
“You’ve been taking tact lessons from Wraith again, haven’t you?” Eidolon muttered. “I doubt she carries my offspring, but if she does, she’ll need to understand that going through with the integration is the only thing that will save them both.”
Shade shook his head. “I can’t do the procedure without you.”
“I’ve been thinking about that. I believe you can. You’ll need Gem, though. Using your gift and her blood, you’ve got a shot. If you don’t do it, she’ll die anyway. One more thing.” He took a deep breath and spat it out. “If I turn out like Roag—”
“You won’t,” Shade croaked. “You won’t.”
“Put me down.”
“E . . .”
“Promise me, Shade. I don’t want to live like that. You have to promise me.”
Swallowing over and over, Shade nodded. Then he turned on his heel and headed inside. Eidolon followed. “What are you doing?”
Shade drew to a halt in the middle of his living room, head bowed. Something plopped to the floor at his feet. A tear. “I’m calling Wraith,” he said, his voice shot to hell. “We’re all gonna do the brother thing today, ’kay?”
“Yeah,” Eidolon said, his own voice cracking. “Sounds good.”
Kynan was still reeling from his meeting with Tayla five hours earlier. He couldn’t decide which was worse: people he trusted being demons, or people in his cell lying to him. Adding to his frustration was the fact that Jagger and four other Guardians were nowhere to be found, and when he asked Lori if she’d seen anything strange going on within the cell, she’d said no and then promptly seduced him. Which wasn’t unusual or a problem—he was a guy, after all—but afterward she’d been anxious to go out hunting, when usually, daytime sex sent her into a fit of domesticity. Guardians joked that they could tell how frisky she and Ky and been by how many batches of cookies she baked in a week.
Half an hour before sunset, just as he was preparing to dial Lori for a status check, the phone rang.
“What do you want?”
Her soft sigh crackled over the bad cell connection. “I guess you haven’t learned anything.” When he didn’t answer, because he wasn’t about to tell her that his spidey-sense was tingling, she sighed again.
“We think the captured demons are being held at the old zoo. If any Guardians are involved, that’s where they’re going. Tonight.”
Something tightened in his gut, because as much as he wanted to get to the bottom of this, if only to prove that his people weren’t involved, he was terrified that Tayla might be right.
Or it could be a trap. He couldn’t trust anything she said. Not anymore.
“Kynan? Did you hear me?”
“Loud and clear.”
“Okay, then. Um, see you around.”
He hung up. Checked his watch. Tonight. It was already tonight. Quickly, he dressed to kill; leather pants, T-shirt, weapons harness, leather jacket, and finally, every f**king weapon he could load on his body. If this was a trap, he wasn’t going down easy. He was, however, going alone. If Tayla was right, he couldn’t trust any Guardians to go with him. If this was a trap, he couldn’t risk getting any of them killed.
One way or another, the truth was coming out tonight.
At dusk, the abandoned zoo took on a strange life . . . one where shadows lurked in the corners of Tayla’s vision, disappearing when she’d turn her head, and where crickets chirped only in the distance, probably afraid to reveal their location because something might eat them.
Tay, Eidolon, Shade, and Wraith had come over the wall at the rear of the zoo, the plan being to locate Gem’s parents and any other imprisoned demons before Gem entered through the front. With any luck, they could free the demons and Gem would never have to set foot inside the zoo, but if she did, Luc was with her. Tay had never seen anyone as eager to fight as the huge paramedic, and even though he couldn’t take beast form without the full moon, Wraith had assured Tayla that he could hold his own. Wraith had been the one to tell her, because Eidolon wouldn’t so much as look at her. She didn’t blame him.
When she’d first seen him at the back wall, she’d wanted to throw herself at him, to apologize for her role in Roag’s death, but he’d kept his gaze averted, his fists balled at his sides. He definitely hadn’t invited conversation, and with his brothers standing there, talk would have been awkward, anyway.
As they cleared the back half of the zoo where they’d come in from over the wall, Wraith moved off on his own toward the big-cat habitats, moving silently, all coiled danger on the prowl. A moment later, Shade peeled away, slipping into the darkness and disappearing right in front of her. Eidolon hadn’t been kidding when he’d said Shade could turn to shadow in the presence of shadow.
“I’m heading to the bear pens,” Eidolon said, his voice low, scratchy, as if he’d been up all night the night before. “Be careful.”
“You, too.” As per plan, she’d sweep the bird-of-prey habitat and then head to the place where Gem was supposed to meet her handlers. Tay would hide and wait to see what—or who—showed up.
“Hellboy?” She grabbed his forearm, feeling his muscles tense beneath her fingers. “Look, I know I have no right to ask this of you, but will you please not kill any humans?”
“After what they tried to do to you, you still defend them?”
“I want them to face Aegis justice for what they’ve done.”
“What they’ve done is what The Aegis has taught them to do, Tayla. Do you really think they’ll be punished?”
“If they’ve been operating against the Regents’ orders, then yes, they will.”
Eidolon stared over her shoulder, his gaze turned inward where she couldn’t follow. Finally, he nodded.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
And then he was gone, and she was alone.
For the first time in her life, she didn’t like the feeling.
The bird-of-prey cages were a bust. No demons fitting Gem’s description were being held there. Some sort of winged demon occupied a cage, but having no idea if the thing was dangerous or not, Tay left it imprisoned.
Disappointed, she used abandoned buildings and trees as cover as she worked her way to the old koala habitat. Quick and sure, she slipped through underbrush and overgrown hedges, easing up to the viewing area, a pavilion built against a glass-enclosed habitat. The rustle of movement and soft crunch of footsteps on pine needles alerted her to the presence of others even before she elbowed aside some prickly branches.
What she saw nearly paralyzed her.
In the center of the pavilion, Gem knelt, head down, while Lori tied her hands behind her back. Where was Luc?
“When can I see my parents?” Gem asked.
“I didn’t say you could speak.” Jagger slapped her hard enough to make her nose bleed, and it took every ounce of self-restraint Tayla possessed to keep from bursting out of the bushes and tearing him apart.
Hatred and defiance blazed in Gem’s eyes, but when she slid a covert glance directly into the brush where Tayla crouched, one corner of her mouth turned up in satisfaction. Emotion nearly sapped Tay’s strength at the realization that struck her. Gem wasn’t afraid, wasn’t even worried. No, she knew that as grim as her situation appeared to be, nothing bad would happen to her. She had backup. She had Tay and Eidolon and his brothers. She had family.
Yeah, they were all one big, happy demon family. And Tayla needed to put a crush on the sap factor, because the mission hadn’t ended yet. It was time to put on the game face and worry about touchyfeely moments later.
Lori finished securing Gem’s wrists. Jagger checked the knot, and then, in a move that shocked Tayla to the core, he grabbed Lori by the hair and brought her face to his. “I wish we could kill her.”
“We have orders.”
“Yes,” he murmured, and ran one finger over her lips. “But someday, I want to make love to you in the blood of our kill.”
Dear God. They were lovers. Twisted, evil lovers. Though Tayla had to admit that Lori didn’t appear to be thrilled at the idea of rolling around na**d in demon blood. In fact, when he kissed her, practically crawling down her throat, she struggled against his hold.
“What. The. Fuck.”
Oh, shit. Kynan stood at the far side of the koala viewing area, his expression a mixture of shock, devastation, and rage. Lori gasped and jumped away from Jagger as if her husband hadn’t already seen her kissing another man.
“Kynan—” she said, but he wasn’t looking at her. His gaze was fixed on Jagger, and there was murder in his eyes. The men stood deadly still, and then, like two rival lions, they met in a furious explosion of blood and limbs.
“Dammit.” Tay burst from the foliage and darted toward Gem. Sobbing, Lori backed away from the battle, her hand over her mouth as if she wanted to scream. But she didn’t. She turned on her heel and bolted.
Tayla grabbed Gem and dragged her out of the way of the two men, who didn’t care what got in the way. Ky and Jagger, both expert fighters, were normally graceful, purposeful, beautiful to watch in combat. But not tonight. Tonight was about pain—who could dish out the most and draw the most blood. There was nothing graceful or beautiful about it. This was raw, brutal, a fight to the death.
Tayla tore her rubbernecking gaze away from the battle. “Sister?” It was the first time she’d been addressed that way. Sister. It felt strange. But good.
“Yes, sister,” Gem said. “But yo, I’m the tied-up twin.”
“Right.” Tay whipped out her stang and sliced through the ropes binding her sister’s wrists. “Where’s Luc?”
“I made him stay at the front when my parents hadn’t made it through the gate by the time I was supposed to meet my contacts here.”
“Find them,” Tayla said. “I’m going after Lori.”
“He can handle himself. Go!”
After casting Kynan a worried glance, Gem took off, and Tayla sprinted in the direction Lori had gone.
Aside from being extremely annoyed, Gem’s parents were no worse for wear when Eidolon released them from the polar-bear enclosure. He sent them on the run with instructions to find Luc out front, and then he released a corpse-eating demon and dispatched a mamu, a demon that ate humans and that didn’t need to be on the loose in New York City.
As he slipped away from the bear exhibit, he heard a sound. Thumps. Spinning, he came face to face with three Aegi who had leaped from a rock wall to the ground. He recognized one from Tayla’s apartment . . . the one he hadn’t killed, and dammit, he should have, because the slayer recognized him, too.