An Excerpt From
By Stacia Kane
[Text may differ from finished book]
Megan was completing her umpteenth lap of the small holding room when a matron finally came and opened the door. "Megan Chase!" She scanned the room and found her. "Come on, you're free to go."
Trying not to smile at the others who weren't as lucky, Megan brushed past her and out the door. Every fiber of her body screamed to be outside. Only two hours had passed, but it felt like a lifetime. Worrying about going to jail, worrying about her career, worrying about her demons, and as time stretched, worrying about why Greyson Dante hadn't shown up yet.
The worry deepened when she got to the little check-in desk and saw the man standing there holding a briefcase and smiling: Hunter Kyle. Definitely an attorney, but definitely not the one she'd called. They'd met a few months ago at a charity party, and she'd seen him once or twice since, but . . . why was he here?
The officer behind the desk grabbed the manila envelope containing her possessions and handed it to her. "Check to make sure everything's there, please, and sign here."
She did. "What's happening? I mean, did I have to post bond, or . . . ?"
"The owners of the house declined to press charges." He gave her a tight smile, an unfriendly one. "Lucky you."
"Yeah . . . thanks." Did it bother cops when anyone got to go, or what? For a moment she contemplated reading him, but it didn't matter. Who cared what he thought? She was free! She had to suppress the urge to skip out the bullet-proof glass door separating the booking area from the rest of the building. Innocent women didn't skip.
"Are you okay, Megan?" Hunter asked, taking her arm solicitously. "I got everything started as soon as I could, but it took some time for the homeowners to agree to drop charges."
"I'm okay, thanks." They burst through the double doors into the icy darkness broken only by dim streetlights. The temperatures had hovered around freezing for weeks before finally sinking lower two days before. Now her entire face felt chapped, stretched by the fierce wind. "Where's my car?"
"I had one of the boys drive it to my place." Greyson Dante emerged from the shadows outside the circles of light like a villain in a James Bond movie. Megan hadn't seen him in four days. It was a little embarrassing how her heart leapt at the sight of him, his dark hair shining, his strong-boned face twisted in a little half-smile as if he knew the effect his appearance had on her.
Which he probably did.
He extended his hand to Hunter. "Thanks, Hunt. I owe you one."
Hunter smiled. Megan didn't think he had any idea what exactly he was being promised; Hunter wasn't a demon and so wasn't familiar with the complex system of favors and promises they used. Greyson was powerful, more so now than he had been when she'd met him. To be owed a favor by him . . . a lot of demons would have killed for that opportunity. Maybe some of them did.
Then again, maybe Greyson said it because he knew Hunter wouldn't realize. Greyson never said or did anything without having more than one reason for it, she knew.
Her suspicion was confirmed when Hunter merely replied, "No trouble at all, I'm happy to help."
Megan stood in the cold and bit her lip while the two men chatted for a minute, until Greyson slipped his arm around her waist and made their good-byes.
His black Jaguar wasn't far away and she was grateful when they reached it. Her toes were numb.
Not so numb, though, Greyson couldn't make them tingle. His lips, like the rest of his body, were blissfully warm, and the kiss he gave her sent flames blazing up her spine--just like the real flames he could create from thin air anytime he wished.
"You okay?" His thumb caressed her cheek while tiny sparks of red showed in his eyes.
She nodded. "A little freaked."
"By being in jail, or by what happened to your demon in that house?"
"I . . ." Shit. She hadn't told him what happened, only that she'd been arrested by mistake. She hadn't told him about the other demons, either. "Both."
He nodded and put her in the car, then got in on his side and started the engine. "When were you going to tell me?"
"I wasn't. How did you--"
"Come on, Meg. Where do you think I've been?"
"What do you mean?"
The parking lot disappeared behind them as he sped down the street, past deserted office buildings with bright strings of Christmas lights draped across the windows. It was not yet eight o'clock, but nobody was in this section of downtown. Even the homeless had deserted the streets and found shelter from the cold.
"I went to convince those people not to press charges. It looked like a fucking abattoir in there."
"I tried to clean up."
"How thoughtful. Why haven't you told me what's going on? I hear this is the third one."
"Why are you so mad at me? You said yourself, how I run my Meegra is my business."
"Yes, how you run it. But when your demons start getting killed, and demons in other Meegras start getting killed, it's not just up to you anymore."
"But I--what do you mean, other demons?"
"I mean, you've lost three. I lost one two days ago. House Concumbia have lost four, House Caedes Fuiltean two, everybody's had at least one loss. I only just found out about it."
"None of the others told you, then, so why--"
"I'm not sleeping with any of the others, either. I would have--Shit!"
Something thudded on the rear of the car, like a large rock kicked up from the pavement. Greyson swerved so hard Megan fell against him despite her seatbelt. Cold air flooded the car as he downshifted violently and sped up, jerking the wheel to the right and roaring down a narrow side road.
Get down, damn it, that was a gunshot!"
"What?" Megan jerked up in her seat, instinctively trying to look behind them, but his hand forced her head back down. Her ear pressed hard against the padded console.
Another shot. This time Megan heard it, heard the rear windshield shatter. She screamed, the sound ripped from her throat as Greyson cursed again and spun the wheel. She fumbled with her seatbelt, wanting absurdly to crawl onto the floor and hide like a small child under her bed covers at night.
Orange light filled the car, pulsing, disappearing and coming back as Greyson sent balls of flame into the car behind them.
He cursed. She popped up, unable to resist looking, and saw the flames extinguish, saw the black car behind them still racing along as if nothing had happened. Another tiny explosion happened inside their car. Again it disappeared and they advanced.
What sort of creatures were these, impervious to fire? Were they vregonis demons, like Greyson himself?
As if in answer to her question, the Jag filled with smoke, black and foul-smelling. It filled her nostrils, stuck to her skin.
"Stay the fuck down! Cover your face!"
She ducked, just as fire filled the car, burning away the smoke. Sweat broke out on her skin from the brief, intense blast of heat. "What was--"
"Open the glove compartment, get the gun."
The car bounced over something, a pothole or speedbump. Megan's arms flailed in the air. She'd tried to reach for the dashboard but the impact sent her back against her seat.
Greyson made a sharp left. The Jag's tires complained loudly about such rough treatment. Megan clutched at the center console to keep from hitting the door.
"Open the glove compartment, Meg, come on!"
"I'm trying!" The engine roared. The interior was bleached white by the headlights of the car behind them, switched on high. Greyson flipped the console lid up and grabbed his sunglasses, snapping them open and sliding them on in an effort to block the glare.
The car bounced again. Another gunshot broke the air, and another. Loud thunks came from the car and it shook with the impact; they were shooting the trunk, the roof, as Greyson swerved back and forth, trying to avoid the shots.
"Fuck! My car!" For the first time she felt his anger, a breeze colder than the air outside brushing over her skin.
Megan yanked the handle of the glove compartment with clumsy fingers and opened it. Greyson's leather gun case rested on the owner's manual inside.
Light flared behind them. Megan turned and saw flames erupting from under the hood of the pursuing car, as Greyson tried to make the engine explode. Even as she started to breathe a sigh of relief, the flames disappeared and the car lunged at them She could almost see the figures inside, two shapes, pale flashes in the dark exterior. Maybe if she lowered her shields . . .
"I'm trying to read them."
"You won't get anything. They're not human. Just open the case."
It took her three tries to grasp the slider and pull it down, and another second to force herself to look at what lay inside the case. She knew he carried it, she'd seen it several times. But she'd never really thought about it before, about why he needed it or what he might do with it.
"Take the gun out. Be careful, it's loaded. Take off your seatbelt."
"Do you want to die?"
Greyson swerved again, riding up on the curb. They'd turned onto a busier road; horns honked and tires squealed around them. "Then get the fucking gun out now!"
Her mouth was so dry she didn't think all the water in the world could help, but tears poured freely from her eyes. The gun sat heavy and cold in her hand, dwarfing her palm. She didn't like guns, had never liked them, and Greyson once told her he didn't particularly care for them either.
She turned around so her chest rested against the seat.
It's them or us, it's them or us...
"Okay. Steady your arms on the back of the seat, and look straight down them. Use your dominant eye and close the other one."
She obeyed. "Okay."
"Good. See those notches at the end of the barrel? Line up what you want to shoot between them. Then squeeze the trigger--don't yank at it, just squeeze it. Be ready, it's going to kick back on you, so don't lock your arms too hard."
This felt unreal. She could do this, she could, she'd destroyed two zombies once with nothing more than a showerhead and some hairspray, she could definitely shoot these fuckers trying to kill her . . .
She took a deep breath and fired.
The Jaguar was going too fast for her to recoil far. Inertia forced her body against the seat like a large hand, but her arm kicked back. The gun's report echoed in her ears, thundering all the way through her body. She couldn't see where the shot had gone.
More black smoke filled the car. This time she acted instinctively, ducking forward while heat flared behind her back.
The car behind them swerved and sped up, its front end only inches from the Jag's rear. Greyson jerked the wheel to the left. Megan fell against the door, her hair blowing wild around her face, obscuring her vision. The Jag bounced and lurched, cutting into the next lane, flying across the center divider and down another side road. Metal crashed against metal behind them.
"Okay, get my phone and hit 1," Greyson said. She couldn't believe how calm his voice was, how through all of this he'd barely yelled at her despite the rage she felt simmering below his surface. Even now his face in profile didn't reflect any anxiety save the slight tightening of his lips and a faint furrow in his brow. Whereas had she looked in a mirror she doubted she would have been able to recognize herself.
She obeyed, the sleek little phone much friendlier in her hand than the gun now resting on her lap. The other end rang once, twice, before a familiar Cockney voice answered.
"Malleus! Malleus, we're being chased, they're shooting--"
"Tell him where we are and that we're heading for the reservoir," Greyson interrupted. "Tell him to meet us at Exit 22."
She'd barely finished repeating his words when Malleus hung up.
"Are they gone?"
Her answer was another gunshot. The aluminium accents on the dash broke with a sharp, loud crack. Megan's hands flew up to cover her face. Greyson said something, but she didn't understand him.
"Shoot them again." Roughness underscored his tone.
She braced her heels against the underside of the dash and raised the gun again, shaking with adrenaline and fear.
"Shoot the grill!"
She did, aiming as best as she could, but just as she squeezed the trigger the car shot forward. Greyson jerked the wheel to the right and Megan fell onto him. His gasp was audible even over the screaming engine and the rushing of blood in her ears.
The world spun dizzyingly around the car; they were turning in a full circle, leaving ink-black tire marks on the street. Before Megan even had a chance to duck they'd sideslipped the black car and passed it, heading back the way they came. Flames leapt up behind them, completely obliterating the road.
They went right, taking the turn wide, almost ramming a truck coming through the intersection. The truck's horn added to the cacophony of sounds around them.
"Did we lose--"
The black car flew around the corner, its tires still burning. Without being told she raised the gun, her fingers working of their own accord as they pulled the trigger. This long smooth stretch of road was the best chance she'd have.
This time she hit something. The black car lurched sideways, the dim shapes inside moving. A ball of blue-white fire came out of nowhere and slammed into the grill, through the grill, flames licking the top of the hood from beneath. Black smoke poured out. Then, as Megan watched, the smoke formed itself into a shape like an arrow aimed at the Jag, only to vanish in another conflagration.
Her eyes burned from the horror and heat. She shot again, not knowing how many bullets were even left in the gun. More smoke, white now, came from the car behind them. Still it burned. Hope blossomed in her breast.
"Hang on," Greyson said, spinning the steering wheel. The Jag slipped up an entry ramp onto the highway, the black car still following but slower now, lurching forward. Its tires exploded in a mass of flames. The car leapt in the air, forced up from the blast, and landed on its side against the retaining wall of the ramp. Megan watched until Greyson merged into traffic, but the car didn't move again.
"Oh my God, oh my God, who were they? Why were--"
Pale grey light from the streetlamps flashed into the car and out, like a slow-motion strobe, highlighting the black splatter of blood on the charcoal dashboard, the gleaming river of it soaking Greyson's sleeve.
"I'm fine," he said again, just as he had so many times in the last hour as they drove all over the city to make sure they weren't being followed. Megan stopped just inside the dimly lit white entry hall of Iureanlier Sorithell, the mansion on the outskirts of town belonging to the Gretneg of Greyson's Meegra.
Right now, that was Greyson, at least in theory. Since his takeover of the position had involved handing the former Gretneg, Templeton Black, over to the supernatural law enforcement agency known as Vergadering, some members of his Meegra doubted his integrity. The other Gretnegs were still debating whether or not to allow him to have that much power and authority.
It was a battle she knew he was still fighting, but one they didn't discuss. She'd never asked, and she doubted he would give her a straight answer if she did. It was his business, just like the changes she'd been implementing in her Meegra were hers. Although she knew he didn't approve of them, he'd never once told her so, or tried to change her mind when she made a decision.
"You're getting blood all over the floor," she said, following him through the small crowd of rubendas--members of his Meegra--who stood waiting. Clearly the wound wasn't serious, but the sight of it still made her nervous. Uncomfortable.
Especially since something deep inside her, some small part she refused to acknowledge, liked seeing it. Liked the contrast of dark red blood on the white marble floor. Wanted to touch it, to raise fingertips smudged with it to her lips and taste it, spicy and tinged with smoke.
Horrified, she looked away, swallowing hard. Her eyes caught those of one of the rubendas and saw the same yearning reflected there.
Her heels clicked on the floor as she hurried to catch up with Greyson, staring resolutely at his sharp profile. Malleus strode along beside him, carrying the overnight case he'd gone to her house and packed for her. Through the open door of the kitchen she saw Maleficarum and Spud opening a large bag and setting out silvery instruments on white cloths.
Malleus, Maleficarum, and Spud were guard demons, terrifically strong and tough, with self-healing powers accelerated even beyond those of normal demons. She'd seen them lose enough blood to kill a man and do a jig three hours later, but knew they'd spent some time learning medicine as well, especially over the last three months. They were among the few demons Greyson really trusted, so their duties under his rule had increased from simple bodyguards to something more like personal assistants.
Megan and Greyson both stopped. Megan turned around to see the rubenda who'd caught her eye earlier step cautiously forward and gesture to the droplets on the floor.
"Mr. Dante, can I have your blood?"
Angry mutterings broke out in the small crowd of demons near him. Megan's mouth fell open, but when she looked back at Greyson he stood perfectly calm, as if the other demon had asked him about the weather.
"No," he said, and strode into the kitchen without looking back.
Her feet sank into the soft pale carpet under her feet as she paced back and forth, trying to somehow walk the adrenaline out of her system. Whiskey had taken the edge off, but her mind still raced.
From the way Greyson's eyes tracked her movements she knew he was well on his way to being drunk. He slouched in his heavy chair by the wall, shirtless, his bandaged arm resting on pillows beside him. His other hand clutched yet another glass.
"I really don't think painkillers and booze are a great combination, Greyson, why don't you--"
"Why don't you let it go?" he snapped. That, more than anything else, told her how unnerved he'd been by their experience. Greyson almost never lost his temper.
She stared at him for a minute then kept walking. Tension hung in the air between them, weighing Megan down even more fully than she already was. She'd found another of her demons exploded all over some suburban home, she'd been arrested, she'd gone to jail, she'd almost been killed . . . and she'd had the bizarre and unfortunately not unfamiliar desire to lick her boyfriend's blood. A desire shared by at least one demon in the house, if not more.
"Sit down, bryaela," Greyson said softly. "You're making me dizzy."
"I can't sit. I'm too nervous."
"We could lie down."
Her laugh sounded slightly hysterical in her ears. "Is this really the time?"
"It's as good a time as any, isn't it?" He stood up and crossed the room to her, capturing her between his hard, warm body and the heavy dresser behind her. "You're here, I'm here . . . I believe you're familiar with the bed . . ."
"We almost got killed tonight. After I went to jail!"
"Mmm, that's so sexy." His lips tickled her ear, then traced a path down the side of her neck, stopping so he could scrape her skin with his teeth. "You bad, bad girl."
She didn't intend to respond, but she did, meeting his lips with a ferocity that stunned her. Her arms slid up under his so her fingertips could run over the tiny sgaegas--dull little spikes--covering his spine. Goose bumps broke out on his skin under her hands.
He gripped her waist with his right hand and pulled her closer, pressing his erection against her belly, while his left hand tangled in her hair. She raised herself on tiptoes, forcing him to kiss her harder, wanting to forget everything and lose herself in him.
Heat exploded in her chest, in her stomach, working its way to points lower. Her fingers yanked at his belt. The entire night, the shame, the terror, her failure to protect her demons, disappeared in a haze of need so strong she thought she might die from it.
She shoved his pants down and grabbed his cock, hot and heavy in her palm. His breath rasped into her mouth, onto her throat, as he pulled away enough to lift her shirt.
One quick move slid it over her head, and another adroit twist unfastened her bra. It slid down her shoulders and he pulled it all the way off, then pressed his chest to hers, forcing her hips harder against the dresser. She caressed his back, down the hard muscles of his behind, forward again to stroke him where she knew he'd appreciate it the most, and all the while her heart beat with fire and fear and the need for oblivion.
He lifted her up, his powerful hands curving under her thighs, and propped her on the edge of the dresser.
"Your arm," she gasped. "Be careful."
"Hush." His mouth caught hers again while he undid the button of her trousers and lowered the zipper. Underneath she wore a tiny scrap of black silk he'd bought her on his last trip to Paris. Greyson liked to give gifts, especially gifts he could remove later.
She started to lower herself from the dresser but he stopped her, bracing her back with one hand while he used the other to peel the panties off and drop them on the floor.
"I thought you wanted the bed," she whispered.
"Changed my mind."
Her head fell back as he thrust into her, gripping her hips with both hands. She clutched the short, soft hair at his nape, twisting it between her fingers and bringing him closer. His mouth hovered not half an inch from hers, his eyes glowing reddish and staring into her, through her.
"Meg . . ."
He dove closer, capturing her lips, invading her mouth with his tongue, and the flames in her body leapt higher. Their mouths fused together as he thrust, keeping his pace steady, but she felt his arms shaking and the loose urgency of his lips and knew this wouldn't last, couldn't last, that the fear and pain which made her want to escape acted like an aphrodisiac for him.
Her hips left the dresser. She braced herself with her hands on the smooth, cool surface and wrapped her legs around his waist while he held her up, moving her pelvis in slow circles so he hit all the right spots deep inside her. She tensed, her thighs urging him on, begging for more.
His grip shifted, freeing his right hand so he could slide it down between them, and that was all she needed. Her back arched, shoving her hips further forward, and she cried out as her body shuddered and clenched with release.
He joined her moments later, his fingers digging into her skin so hard it hurt, his entire body shaking, her name on his lips.
They stayed like that for a long, lost minute, their foreheads pressed together and their breath slowing in unison, until her arms started to cramp and she lowered her feet to the ground.
He brushed her cheek with his fingers, then bent to retrieve her panties, handing them to her as he pulled his trousers back up.
"How's your arm?"
He shrugged, but the quick smile he gave her warmed her heart just as surely as he'd warmed her entire body moments before. "Hurts like a bitch, but I'll be fine in the morning. Good thing, too. I have to go to New York on Monday and there's a bunch of stuff to organize before that."
"But--I mean, aren't you worried?"
He picked up the half-full glass he'd left on the little table by his chair and drank it off. "Why? Harrel's a good pilot, and--"
"Somebody tried to kill us, Greyson. Aren't you worried about that?" She grabbed one of his T-shirts from his drawer--she didn't have anything else to wear--and yanked it over her head. Exhaustion started sinking into her bones, and the bed had never looked more inviting--almost never, anyway. But although the memory of the car chase and its attendant panic had faded, thinking about it didn't do her nerves any good.
"They weren't trying to kill us, darling. Don't be so dramatic."
"They did a pretty good imitation."
"No." He poured himself another drink, and a shadow crossed his face. "That was just a warning."
"How do you know?"
"Because they were witches. If they'd wanted us dead, we'd probably be dead."
"I don't understand."
"There's no way I could have defeated those witches so easily if they'd really wanted to kill us," he said. "Not unless they were just a couple of kids hunting demons for a lark, which we know isn't the case."
"How do we--oh. The jail. They knew I was there."
He nodded. "And they knew I'd come for you. They were too powerful to be kids, too."
"The police said someone called them and told them there was a dead body in that house. Do you think the witches might have called? That they're the ones killing the demons?"
"I don't think so, no. I think our little friends just took advantage of the situation." He emptied his glass again. Worry started creeping up Megan's spine. He looked like he was bracing himself for something, like he was trying to forget. Even with a demon's metabolism, which she knew was pretty good, four Percocet and half a bottle of whiskey couldn't be helping him think faster.
What was bothering him so much?
"Why did they come after us? Why would witches want to ki--warn us?"
"Me, not us, if I'm right--and, of course, I am--I'm taking care of it, so don't worry."
If she pressed he would tell her, but now it felt like an invasion of privacy. Which was probably his intent.
"So who is doing it? Killing the demons, I mean?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. Nobody knows."
The chill air swirling around her legs was starting to make her uncomfortable. Greyson kept the room ice-cold, and usually she preferred it that way too because he was so warm all the time. But there was no point standing here shivering. She climbed into bed instead, not realizing until she slid between the heavy silk sheets how hard it was to keep her eyes open. "Rocturnus said they used to be punished this way, with the explosions."
"So for the Yezer this is normal?" She could almost see the wheels turning in his head.
"I wouldn't say normal, but I guess it's not unheard of. Isn't it the same for the rest of you?"
"Did he say who used to do it? Was it the Accuser, or--"
"Are you going to answer my questions, or what?"
"Only if you answer mine."
"Nooo. Who used to punish them that way?"
"Roc didn't say. Do you all blow up, or what? I mean, should I expect you to explode one of these days?"
"Only if you don't do everything I say, all the time."
Her fist gripped his pillow. His reflexes were a little slower, maybe, from the injury and the chemicals. She might be able to hit him with it if she moved fast enough . . .
His eyes gleamed. Damn it. "Where is Roc, anyway?"
"Checking on the others. I kind of wanted some privacy while I was--"
"Rotting in jail."
She smiled in spite of herself. "You put it so nicely."
He raised an eyebrow, but didn't take the bait. "Do you remember anything else he said?"
He glanced at the clock by the bed. "It's past one. You should get some sleep."
"Aren't you coming to bed?"
"Eventually. I have a few things to do first."
She expected him to get up and head back down to his office, but he didn't. He was still sitting in his chair, drinking and watching her, when she drifted off to sleep.
Wings of fatigue beat behind her eyelids three hours later as they walked into the casino. Her entire body ached. All she wanted to do was go back to bed.
Unfortunately, for reasons she still couldn't seem get straight in her sleep-muddled head, that wasn't possible. Instead she was here, making her way across the floor under scarily white lights and the watchful gazes of at least a dozen demons.
She'd only been to the casino once before, when Greyson was doing some work and called her to meet him for lunch. It had been daytime then, the casino a dark silent room waiting for the crowds.
Now the crowds were here. The floor roared with bells and shouts and the harsh bright rattle of poker chips hitting each other. So much noise in such a small space made her head hurt. She didn't even know how all of these people knew about the place. The demons, yes. But at least half of the shoulders crammed up against the craps and card tables had Yezer Ha-Ra perched on them. It bothered her. She didn't know much about Greyson's various legal enterprises, and even less about the illegal ones, but she'd assumed this one--illegal--was demon-only.
He stopped when she did, and followed her gaze. "You're not the only human who knows demons," he said quietly. "Just the only one who knows what we are."
She tried to smile. "Knew I was special. Where's Gerald?"
He nodded towards the back. "They managed to get him into one of the storerooms. Come on."
His hand in hers was reassuring as he led her through the room, past a roulette wheel and a long, well-lit bar where several pretty young ladies served up drinks. They smiled as Greyson walked past, their big eyes following him. To Megan they gave the barest of nods, not daring to ignore her completely.
Two guards stood outside a nondescript doorway. "Mr. Dante," said the first. "He's inside."
"This is Dr. Chase," Greyson replied. "He asked for her?"
"Yeah, he seemed, I don't know, really off," said the second. Both of them kept their eyes averted, she noticed, and nervously shuffled their feet. "He sounded like he was speaking our language, but . . . not . . ."
"Like some weird dialect," the first added. "Then English again."
Greyson and Megan exchanged glances. One of her clients speaking the demon tongue? She couldn't understand more than a couple of words of it herself. "Bryaela," of course, although why anyone but Greyson or John Wayne would call someone "pilgrim" she had no idea. He said it was because she was like a little explorer in a new world, but that wasn't exactly a satisfactory explanation. "Sheshissma," she knew, but he only used that one when he was feeling particularly amorous.
In fact, now that she thought of it, the only words she knew seemed to be essentially useless outside the bedroom. Maybe he'd agree to give her lessons, or if he wouldn't Rocturnus would.
Speaking of whom, where was he?
"Did he say anything else?" Greyson asked.
The second guard shook his head. "No, sir, he just started crying and asking for Miss Chase. He didn't want to come in here at first, but . . ." he glanced uneasily at Megan. "We, uh, convinced him. He was strong, too."
"Let me in," she said, hating the way he glanced at Greyson and waited for his nod before opening the door. Bad enough she'd managed to get herself involved in this demon underworld of violence and crime. Now innocent people were mixed up in it, people who came to her for help and instead got roughed up in a storeroom.
In a casino--which made no sense. Gerald wasn't a gambler. She'd never read the slightest interest in gaming from him, unless you counted the occasional football pool at his office, and even that was simply him trying to fit in. Which was good because he lost every time.
Still he was a nice man, a good man, and he deserved better than this. A kind, gentle--wait a minute.
"Did you say he was strong? That you had to fight to get him in here?"
The guard nodded. Muscles bulged from every inch of his body. He was like a demon Conan, with a smaller chin. Gerald--the Gerald Megan knew--would have been a snack for him.
She pushed the door open and entered the small, dingy storeroom, half hoping, half expecting to see a stranger in there, someone pretending to be Gerald.
But no, it was Gerald. Cowering in the corner, his bare feet scraped and dirty and a bruise marring his narrow face.
"Megan! Megan!" He scrambled across the floor towards her like a broken-legged crab, his limbs jerking under his clothes. She jumped back. The unnatural movement sent shivers up her spine.
Gerald stopped, glancing up at her. His expression was innocent, fearful, but something in his eyes . . . Megan lowered her shields to read him. Maybe he was on some kind of drug, maybe he'd gotten hold of something . . .
Nothing. No images came, no stray thoughts, no flashes of emotion. Fear chased the last of her sleepiness away. This wasn't right, not at all. She'd always been able to read Gerald, he was a heavy transmitter, and the only times she'd gotten nothing at all from a person was when they weren't actually a person at all, but a demon...
Gerald's eyes glowed. Just for a second, but long enough for Megan to see it. Without thinking she turned the energy she was using to read him into a shield, a weapon, and aimed it at him.
The pressure of the hit reverberated through her entire body, but Gerald only wavered in place. Trying not to let fear overwhelm her, Megan braced herself, certain she was about to be hit back, and hit hard. The place deep inside herself that she saw as a door, the one she'd only opened once before in her life, seemed to throb and glow, wanting her to open it, to reach into it and through it to the personal demons. This is where they connected to her, this was where she knew without thinking that she could harness their power. It would be so easy, so simply to open it up and let the demon inside her take over . . .
But so wrong. So scary. Just the idea of it made her shake. So instead she forced everything she had into shielding herself and ducked down, her knees slamming against the dusty cement floor, the doorjamb against her shoulder.
Screams filled the room, high-pitched squeals of delight that sent shivers up her spine. They reached a crescendo, hurting Megan's ears, making her scrunch herself into a tighter ball, her heart pounding with terror and her entire body braced for the pain she knew was coming any second--but something inside her wanted to scream too, wanted to leap in the air and dance. The desire beat in her chest, so strong and fierce she screamed herself and wrapped her arms around her chest. She couldn't hold on, couldn't keep herself from bursting into flame--
Large bodies pushed past her, knocking her into the wall. She was too afraid to open her eyes. Where was Greyson? He didn't usually leave her like this, didn't force her to stand by herself, especially not when she was certain it was obvious that something was very, very wrong with her.
"He's dead." The other guard's voice, the non-Conan one, sounded strangled somehow, confused. "Mr. Dante, he's dead!"
In the space between the male feet crowded around it, she saw one hand on the floor. Gerald's hand, fingers curved up like a dead spider, still and unmoving. The image filled her mind. Even when she closed her eyes it stayed, burned in like a photographic negative, luminous against the blackness of her eyelids. Her client was dead. Her nice, sweet, non-gambling client died on the floor of a storeroom in a demon casino, with his eyes glowing and an unearthly scream--a scream almost like a laugh, she realized now--on his lips, and none of this made any sense and she thought she might faint.
"Get Dr. Chase out of here," she heard Greyson say. "Take her to the car." She wanted to argue but her tongue and lips didn't seem to be under her control. Gerald was dead, and she knew it was her fault. Knew it as surely as she knew her own name, knew it as surely as she knew Greyson wanted her to get in the car not just because he didn't want her to have to look at that hand on the floor, but because he needed to get the body out of his casino before anyone noticed it.
She woke up with vague, shattered memories still floating through her mind and the vague bitter taste of pills Maleficarum gave her when he put her in the car . . . she and Greyson sleeping squeezed together across the big back seat . . . Malleus carrying her up to bed. The room was dim when she opened her eyes, thanks to the heavy blackout shades on the windows, but there was enough light to see her stupid cell phone buzzing angrily on the beside table.
She picked it up and fumbled with it, trying to find the catch to slide it open. Greyson had bought her the damn thing, and she still couldn't figure out half of the spiffy tricks it was supposed to perform, much less open it with a flick of the wrist the way he and the brothers could.
"Hello?" It hurt her throat to talk.
"Hey! I'm running a little late, do you want to meet me at four instead of three?"
Tera Green sounded chipper and well-rested, the way she always did, as opposed to Megan who at the moment probably sounded as wrung out and hungover as she felt.
She pulled the phone away to look at the time. It was twenty to three in the afternoon. She and Tera had a date to go shopping and have dinner. She'd totally forgotten.
Rather than admit that, though, she nodded vigorously until she remembered Tera couldn't see her. "Yeah, of course," she said, trying to put some enthusiasm in her voice. "I was just--just getting ready."
"Great. I'll see you at four, then."
Megan echoed the response, although "great" was the last word she thought it was at the moment, and dragged herself to a sit.
He sounded tired, but not as tired as she felt. She looked at him, his hair rumpled with sleep and his eyes still heavy, and nodded. "We're going shopping."
"What fun." He yawned and reached for her, pulling her closer so he could rest his head in her lap. "Why don't you stay here instead? I have some things to do but I'll be free in a few hours."
"And sit by myself in your room all day? No thanks." She didn't move, though. Memories of the night before started coming back; Gerald on the floor, the scream, the pounding in her chest . . . she shivered.
Greyson's arms tightened around her. "It wasn't your fault."
"Yes it was, and you know it. I appreciate your not saying 'I told you so', though." She tried to keep her tone light, but it wasn't working very well.
He paused. "Yes, I worried something like this might happen, but that isn't why I want you to give up your practice. It still isn't why." He sat up and wrapped his arm around her, pulling her down a bit so she could rest her head on his chest. Beneath the smoky scent of his skin she still smelled last night's whiskey, and whatever Spud had put on his wound. She glanced at his arm. The bandage was gone, but a small puckered scar showed where the bullet had penetrated his skin.
"Meg, people die all the time. Would it have been your fault if gentle Gerald's problems had overwhelmed him and he killed himself? If he got hit by a car crossing the street because he was thinking of something you said and forgot to look both ways?"
"A demon possessed him and led him there to die, I think that's a bit dif--"
"No, it isn't different, it's exactly the same. It's too bad the guy's dead if it bothers you, but all of your patients could die and I wouldn't give a damn. The only life I'm interested in saving is yours. And mine, of course."
"Of course." She didn't know if she believed him, didn't know if she really felt less responsible, but the black cloud over her head seemed to lift a little just the same.
"Which is why I want you to take Malleus with you today."
She pulled away. "No, I can't."
"Yes, you can. Tera will just have to deal with it. And don't tell her why."
"She's going to know something's up if she sees him."
"She can think what she wants to think. What did I just say? I want you to stay safe. Malleus can make sure you do."
"I thought they were just after you."
"Call me paranoid."
He looked, sitting on the bed framed by the black satin pillows and sheets, like a medieval king granting favors, but his eyes were tired and serious.
"If I didn't know better I'd think you really cared," she said. It wasn't an unusual joke, or one they'd never made before as they edged carefully around the issue of their feelings, but this time it fell flat. Her face flooded with heat.
He blinked. "Yes, well, I've got you rather a nice Christmas present, I'd hate to see it go to waste." The covers whispered as he shoved them off and got out of bed. "Malleus will be waiting for you when you leave. He brought your car over last night."
"Greyson . . ." But there was nothing to say.
He fastened his pants and came over to her, planting a kiss on her forehead. "I'll try and come by tomorrow night," he said. "I have to leave early Monday, though, so don't wait up."
Without meaning to she reached for him, curling her fingers around his arms, stroking up and down the hard, smooth muscles. Just the feel of him under her palms made her warm.
He kissed her again, on the lips this time, lingering just a moment longer. "Unless you want to cancel out on Tera after all . . ." His hands traveled down her ribs to her waist, where they paused.
She shook her head. Much as she wanted to stay, she was looking forward to going out into the normal world again. As normal as it could be when you were shopping with a witch and had a demon following you, anyway. "She'll be hurt if I cancel."
"Just make sure you have your phone on. And be careful."
He started to move away, but she grabbed him. "What did--what did you do with him?"
"Took him back to his place, put him on the bed. Someone will find him."
The cold feeling started creeping back. He sounded so nonchalant, like he moved dead bodies around--or ordered them moved--every day. Which she supposed he might. "Who did this to him? Was it someone from a different Meegra, or . . ."
His knuckles under her chin forced her to look up at him. "We'll figure it out. Meanwhile--"
"I know. Be careful, don't tell Tera anything, and keep Malleus with me."
"See? It's so much better when you just obey me."
He ducked away before she could swat him.
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