“They were destroyed. You’ll go barefoot.”
“What about my ring?”
“I told you—”
“Yeah, yeah. I’d so sue you if this was a human hospital,” she muttered. She didn’t need the ring for the powers it bestowed—she had great hearing and night vision without it, and she’d always possessed a natural and rare ability to see through the invisibility cloak that prevented average humans from seeing the demons among them. But dammit, she didn’t want demons keeping anything that had been her mother’s.
Reluctantly, she followed him out of the room and down the hall.
The same black floors and graffiti-scarred gray walls she’d had in her room were everywhere, except that out here, deep drains ran along either side of the corridor, and every so often they passed an iron cage or a stretcher. Nearby, the steady beeping of medical equipment droned; somewhere else, someone or something screeched over the grating sound of metal on metal. Tayla suppressed a shudder. If Castle Dracula screwed a hospital, this would be the bastard offspring.
“Where are we going?”
“Parking lot?” Sounded so normal.
“You were expecting to ride out on a river of fire? On hellhounds, maybe?”
Heat seared her cheeks, because that was exactly what she’d been thinking. “No.”
“We do have means for regular patients to leave, but the exit points are all in territory unfriendly to you, so I’m taking you home.”
“In a car?”
“Only because my flaming chariot is in the shop.”
“You don’t have to be such a smartass.” She paused to gaze at a row of skulls lining the walls, some suspiciously human in appearance, others clearly demon, the bony protrusions and wicked teeth hinting at dozens of different species. “How do you keep this place hidden from humans?”
“I’ll tell you if you tell me how The Aegis keep their headquarters hidden from demons.”
A Sora demon nearly ran into them as she rounded a corner. Eidolon grasped Tayla’s elbow and spoke into her ear, deep and low. “You need to be quiet now. Look miserable.”
Miserable. No problem. Besides, the intensity in his voice warned her not to argue, and she had little choice but to trust him.
Trust a demon. The thought made her want to hurl.
The Sora’s sangria-colored skin flushed even darker, becoming dried-blood black as she gazed up at Eidolon, ignoring Tayla in favor of batting her spiky lashes. “I’d say I’m sorry, doctor,” she purred, “but I’d be lying if I said I had not wanted to run into you.”
Her tail whipped like a playful cat’s around her feet, and before Hellboy could answer, she sauntered away, her species one that had always reminded Tayla of sexy cartoon devils perched on people’s shoulders.
“She was . . . interesting.”
They hurried along dimly lit hallways made darker by the black floors and populated only by the occasional nurse or maintenance worker, all of whom eyed her warily. Tayla took note of the rooms, some clearly for patients, some very lablike in appearance, and she was more than a little surprised to see a workout area complete with weight benches, treadmills, and punching bags. The hospital was larger than she would have expected.
Finally, as they entered an area of the hospital that went from sterile and weird to sterile and weirder, he slowed, drawing a set of car keys from his pocket.
“Where are we?” She trailed her fingers over the paw of a gargoylelike statue guarding the arched entrance.
“Administrative offices. The parking lot exit is ahead.”
The sound of her bare feet slapping the floor echoed as they walked past the small rooms and cubicles that resembled any other corporate offices she’d seen on TV. She almost expected to see men in suits behind the desks.
“Which one is yours?”
“Ahead on the right. We’re going to duck inside.”
They slipped through the doorway, and the door clicked shut behind them. Moving quickly, he closed the blinds on the only window, which faced out into the hall. With a few taps on his computer keyboard, he brought up a video feed of an underground parking lot.
“No one there.” He turned off the monitor. “We can go.”
“Wait a second,” she said, turning away from him.
Employee parking lot. In a demon hospital.
None of this made sense or connected in her head. She felt as if she’d read a book from cover to cover, but couldn’t remember anything but the first and last chapters. The last eight years of her life had been spent learning about demons, how to hunt them, fight them, kill them.
No Aegis lesson had ever prepared her for Life in the Everyday World of Demon Doctors. Demons were supposed to live in sewers and fiery netherworlds. They didn’t hold jobs. They didn’t save lives. They tormented, raped, and killed.
There were exceptions, what The Aegis called corporate hellspawn, fiends who masqueraded as humans, living among them to gain power and control over her race, but they were supposedly few and far between. And beneath their human skins, they were ugly beasts, with fangs and claws like any other.
“Slayer?” His voice was close, so close that his breath stirred her hair. How had he moved so silently?
Maybe he hadn’t. Things had been happening to her lately . . . loss of strength, hearing, sometimes, even, her sense of taste.
Worse, her libido seemed to have careened out of control, was even now firing up in his close proximity. She stepped away, but his hand came down on her shoulder and spun her around.
“What is your deal?” she snapped.
“Why are you stalling?” Suspicious dark eyes drilled into her. “My brother said your being here could be a trap. Was he right?”
He pushed her against the wall, held her there with the weight of his body so she could barely wiggle.
“I’m cautious, and not all that patient, so answer the question.”
“I’m not stalling. I’m freaked out. Happy?” She glared up at him. “And do you get off on manhandling women?”
“I get off on handling them. But you don’t get off, do you?”
“Do you have a problem with men? What about women?”
At her sudden intake of air, he grinned, the devastating one that made her shiver in pure, feminine appreciation despite what he was. “You’ve been with women?”
She shook her head, but her denial lacked conviction. She’d never gone all the way, but her frustration at being inorgasmic with men had driven her to see if her inability to come while being touched by someone else extended to the other sex. A few humiliating minutes with a bisexual Guardian had proved without a doubt that women just didn’t do it for her.
“Why the interest in my sex life?”
He dipped his head to her throat and inhaled deeply. “Your scent is dark, drugging.”
Oh, God. She wriggled to escape his seductive presence, but he tightened his grip. “You didn’t answer me,” she said with as much force as she could muster. “Why the interest in my sex life?”
Hot breath feathered over the skin of her neck as he spoke, his voice dripping with erotic promise.
“Because you are possibly the only female in history who hasn’t achieved orgasm with a Seminus demon.”
“Ah. So your pride is bruised.” And just what was a Seminus demon? She’d thought she knew them all.
“My curiosity is piqued.” He let his hand drift to her flank, where he stroked slowly. His erection, a thick bulge behind his fly, pressed into her belly. She tightened her abs as though to shrink away from it, but the resulting hard flesh on hard flesh only made her more aware of the intimate contact. “Can you bring yourself pleasure? When you touch yourself, do you come?”
Heat flushed her face. “That’s none of your business.”
“That would be a yes.” His fingers slipped behind her until he was probing her cleft through the thin scrub material. “I can picture you pleasuring yourself,” he murmured. “Your legs spread wide, your sex swollen and wet, your fingers coated in your slick arousal. What do you think about when you come, Tayla?”
“Stop,” she choked out.
“Why? Because I make you hot?”
“Because you disgust me, demon.”
He laughed, because he didn’t believe her words any more than she did. Pressure between her legs made her squirm, seeking more of his touch while at the same time trying to escape.
“I wonder what disgusts you more, the fact that I’m a demon, or the fact that when I touch you, it doesn’t matter.”
Growling, she brought her knee up, but he stepped back in time to avoid a shot to the groin. Pain shot through her head once more, spreading like a spiderweb of cracks in glass until she thought her skull would shatter.
The door creaked open. “Hell’s f**king bells.”
Hands pressed to her temples, she glanced at the doorway, where a huge guy who looked a lot like Eidolon right down to the arm-length tattoo stood, his face a stony mask. He was bigger than Eidolon, nearly as tall, and his dark hair fell like a thick, wavy curtain to his shoulders. His black uniform, some sort of short-sleeved military BDUs, enhanced his sinister appearance despite the stethoscope around his neck. Or maybe because of it. He looked as if he could take a life as easily as save one.
“Let it go, Shade.”
“Like hell.” Shade closed the door a lot more quietly than she’d have expected, given that the guy looked homicidal. “What are you doing with her?”
“Wraith already told you, or you wouldn’t be here.”
“Dammit, E, I should have been brought in on this decision. It’s my hospital, too.” Shade moved toward her, and she instinctively sank into attack position. “I have a say regarding her disposal, and I say we give her to Yuri.”
Eidolon angled closer to her, putting his big body between her and the other demon. “Wraith doesn’t want that.”
“No, he wants her dead. And since when do you give a shit what Wraith wants?”
“Enough, brother. We’ll talk about this later.” Eidolon’s words, sharp and edged with menace, fell like a cold blade.
For a moment it appeared that Shade would heed the warning, but then he sniffed the air, nostrils flaring, and his eyes, which she just realized were darker than Eidolon’s, turned molten gold.
“Unbelievable. I’d have expected this of Wraith, but you?” He made a harsh sound of disgust. “I take that back. Even Wraith wouldn’t touch an Aegi whore except to put her down.”
Tay didn’t have time to take offense. Eidolon’s fist connected with the other demon’s face. A crack rang out, and blood splattered on the walls. She watched in morbid fascination as the paint absorbed the thick fluid like a thirsty sponge.
“This is my hospital and I have the final word.” Eidolon’s jaw clenched so hard she heard the pop of bone. “No one harms the Aegi but me.”
“The Aegi whore thanks you,” she muttered, but neither demon seemed to hear.
“You are so damned thick-skulled.” Shade touched the back of his hand to his bleeding nose. “You aren’t a Justice Dealer anymore, E. You don’t have to play fair.”
The tension seemed to drain out of Eidolon as he looked at the other man. “You have no idea how much I wish it were that simple.”
“It’s the s’genesis, isn’t it? Messing you up, screwing with your judgment.”
There was a long silence, and then Shade opened his mouth to say something else, but Eidolon cut him off by grasping the side of his brother’s face. The hold reminded her of a scene from a Star Trek movie she’d once seen, where Spock probed some Vulcan chick’s mind. Shade closed his eyes, and a few seconds later, blood stopped trickling from his nose. Feeling like a voyeur, Tayla wanted to look away, but couldn’t. How had the two brothers gone from violent bloodshed to some sort of intimate bonding so quickly?
The throbbing in her head finally subsided, and she cleared her throat. “Hey, is the touchy-feely homo moment over? Because I’m wondering how Minion of Darkness One got to hit Minion of Darkness Two without his skull fracturing.”
Eidolon’s mouth twitched in a half-smile. “I had the Haven spell altered so it didn’t apply to me or my brothers.”
“So you guys can beat anyone you want?”
“No. Just each other.”
They came to blows so often that they’d designed an antiviolence spell around their sibling rivalry?
“Growing up in your house must have been fun.” A lot like growing up in foster homes, probably, something she knew way too much about.
Shade stepped back from Eidolon and speared her with a look of pure malice. “We weren’t raised together.” He turned to his brother. “Nancy didn’t show up for work today, and she’s not answering her phone. Watch your back.”
Nodding, Eidolon opened the door and ushered Shade out. “Come on, slayer. I’m taking you home.”
The trip through the underground parking lot proved uneventful, though once they’d settled into Eidolon’s sporty but unassuming silver BMW, he forced some sort of gem into Tayla’s hand. Instantly, she went blind, but for some reason, she couldn’t drop the stone.
Clammy sweat coated her skin as he started the car. “What did you do to me?”