He watched her, peered so intently into her eyes that she suddenly felt stripped bare of all her thoughts. The sensation was disturbing as hell, and she bucked, trying to dislodge him. When she struck at his face, he pressed down with his body and muscled her arms into place above her head.
“You’re a better fighter, little killer, but I’m stronger and you’re injured, so don’t f**k with me.”
She glared, tempted to spit in his face. She hated being restrained, despised the feeling of helplessness and vulnerability. She especially hated that he was stronger, because they should have been an even match, but in recent weeks she’d lost the freakish strength she’d been born with.
“Get off of me.”
“So you can hit me?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”
“You just going to keep me like this forever, then?”
“I should kill you. Here, with no Haven spell to keep me from wringing your neck.”
She had no doubt he meant it, but she’d never backed down from a threat. “Try it, asshole.”
He watched her, his eyes still glowing gold. Even when he was threatening her, he was hypnotic. She watched right back, slowly becoming aware of how his body pressed down on hers, one thigh between her legs. His muscular chest crushed her breasts, and her scrub top had ridden up so the crisp cotton of his shirt rasped against her stomach.
“How many demons have you slaughtered, Aegi?” he asked softly. “Have you even kept count?”
She snorted. “How many humans have you killed?”
One dark eyebrow arched. “None.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Because I’m a demon. So I must kill humans for sport.”
“Your ignorance is disgusting.”
“Everything about you is disgusting.” She tried to pretend that hadn’t been as childish as it sounded.
“I could remind you—”
The gold faded out of his eyes, replaced by the dark chocolate of desire that sucked her in like a whirlpool she couldn’t fight. She had to, though, because they were engaged in a war, and her side had to win. That it suddenly didn’t feel like a battle didn’t escape her notice.
One of his fingers stroked her wrists where he held them over her head, and she wondered if he realized what he was doing. It felt good, much better than it should, considering the situation.
“What are you going to tell your Aegis buddies about my hospital and what happened to you?” More fingers joined the first to caress the sensitive spot where her palm met her wrist.
“Nothing,” she said smoothly. “If they find out that I was held by the enemy, they might think I talked, and they’ll never trust me again.” Which could be true, but she did have to tell them.
One long swipe of his thumb over a pulse point nearly made her moan. “And what would they do to you, these friends of yours?”
“I don’t know. Maybe assign me to research instead of hunting.”
But something niggled at her, because she vaguely remembered another Guardian who had been captured and tortured by a brutal clan of vampires. When he escaped, mutilated and a pint low on blood, he’d gone straight to Aegis HQ.
For days they’d kept him sequestered, and when he finally went out on a routine patrol, he didn’t return. Everyone assumed he’d been killed in battle, but Tay hadn’t been so certain. What if they’d transferred him, processed him out of The Aegis, or even sent him to the Berlin Sigil to be watched or interrogated? Now that she was in a similar situation, the tiny sliver of doubt about his fate had grown into a two-by-four that was about to knock her upside the head.
She needed an insurance policy. A way to prove her loyalty if it ever came down to that.
The demon lying on top of her, his heart pounding strong and steady against her chest, was just the ticket. She could turn him over to them, if she had to.
“Look, Hellboy, what do you say we call it a draw and you let me up?”
The suspicion in his penetrating gaze made her lose hope. “What are you up to?”
His thumb still ran over the sensitive skin of her wrist in slow, rhythmic circles, and his thigh rocked against her core with every tiny movement from either one of them. It wasn’t fair, the way he could make her so aware of her body, of every inch of skin that touched his. It was almost as though her concentration had turned inward, so much so that nothing around her existed.
And because of that, she didn’t hear the scrape of claws on flooring until it was too late.
Eidolon was rarely caught off-guard, his instincts too honed, his experience with danger too vast. But the s’genesis had hijacked his senses, his thoughts, and Tayla distracted him with her curves and her voice and her scent, and as a result, they’d just been taken by surprise.
Hell’s f**king bells, as Shade would say.
Still stretched out on top of Tayla, he turned to the creature lurking just inside the kitchen passage doorway. “There’s nothing for you here, carrion-eater. Leave.”
The Obhirrat shuffled into the living room, its pale snout sniffing the air. The foot-long, razor claws on one hand clacked together in a spine-tingling, steady beat. Beneath its transparent skin, maggots writhed, the grind of squirming bodies so nauseating that few could look upon the creature for more than a few seconds, but Eidolon steadied his gaze even as he swallowed bile.
Slowly, casually, he pushed off Tayla. He didn’t help her up; any show of weakness would set off the creature. Tayla must have known, came to her feet smoothly and moved with deliberate arrogance as she squared her stance next to him.
As if they were a team.
Given the situation, he wasn’t about to complain or analyze.
“I . . . hunger . . .” The Obhirrat’s snakelike tongue slipped between long teeth, tasting the air.
“I destroyed the injured vampire you trailed,” Eidolon said, focusing on the beady red eyes that kept shifting to Tayla, “so there is nothing for you here.”
The creature’s claws clicked faster. The maggots beneath its skin writhed anew and even the air seemed to shimmer with its agitation. “She was mine . . .”
Eidolon stepped forward, and Tayla moved with him, a show of unity and power, but the Obhirrat’s burning concentration on her made him wish she’d stayed back. “Tell me where you picked up her scent.”
“Why should I help the one who stole my meal?”
The knowledge that the creature would have started feasting on Nancy’s flesh while she was still alive set Eidolon on fire.
“Ever met an Aegis slayer?” he said with a deadly calm he didn’t feel, and the Obhirrat hissed, the hunger in its eyes replaced by alarm. “I’m a doctor, you ugly fuck, and I can tell her exactly how to take you apart so your little maggots can’t do a damned thing.”
It wasn’t true, but the creatures were big on size, small on brains, and Eidolon had always been a good liar. Cutting into an Obhirrat released its primary means of defense, the maggots, which made them one of the three species that would never be treated at UG.
“Crossroadsss . . . ssssweeeeet blood.”
Without taking his eyes off the creature, Eidolon inclined his head at Tayla in a silent message. She had warrior instincts, read him like a battle plan, and immediately edged around the Obhirrat to wait at the kitchen entrance. Eidolon palmed the cleaver he’d parked in the wall, skirted the beast, and then they both slipped into the dank passage. For an instant, he regretted not finding shoes for her, but she padded unimpeded down the tunnel. If the sharp stones beneath her feet bothered her, she didn’t show it. The darkness posed no problem for Eidolon, and Tayla seemed to have little difficulty, as well.
The crude passage opened up into a wide brick tunnel. Tayla made no sound as they followed the blood trail, though he suspected that she’d manage the same silence in boots. Even injured, she moved with a deadly, powerful grace that he admired when she wasn’t looking. Which was often, since her attention focused on their surroundings, her sharp gaze taking everything in, cataloging, planning.
“What did you get us into, Hellboy?” she whispered.
“Isn’t this what you do for a living? Skulk around in sewers to find demons?”
“I don’t skulk, and I’ve certainly never done it with a demon.”
Oh, you did it with a demon, and did it well . . .
Abruptly, his skin grew warm, which cracked him up in a this-is-pathetic way. He’d always prided himself on being more civilized than his brothers, but so much for that; he was becoming aroused in a damned sewer.
Cursing, more at himself than at her, he caught her arm and dragged her around. “Then why? You could have avoided all of this. You could have left me alone with the Obhirrat and escaped through Nancy’s front door.”
Her gaze went steely, a hard challenge. “You accused The Aegis of torturing the vampire. I’m going to prove it wasn’t my people.”
“Because I’m tired of being accused of things I didn’t do.”
He wanted to ask more, but instead, he released her. “For your sake, I hope you’re right.”
“Is that a threat?”
Truthfully, he wasn’t sure. And he was rarely unsure about anything. This human was a menace to everything that made him a demon. “Take it as you will.”
She muttered something about hating demons and started moving again. The trail ended at a crossroads in the tunnel. Someone must have carried Nancy to the junction, then left her to the carrion-eaters like the Obhirrat. There were four possible directions from which the person had come, because the fifth wasn’t a possibility.
One of hundreds in New York City alone, it shimmered across the width of the north tunnel like a gossamer curtain, visible only to demons. Humans would pass harmlessly through it and continue down the tunnel.
“What is that?” Tayla asked, staring at the gate.
He scented the air for danger, detected nothing but the usual rancid currents of sewer rot. Tayla waited, her thick hair falling in soft, feminine waves around her shoulders, at odds with the hard, alert stance she’d taken.
“What do you see?” he asked.
“Outlines. Sort of fuzzy. I’ve seen them before, but I always thought they were a trick of the light. This one is clearer. What is it?”
Eidolon got an instant, alarming vision of Tayla, her demon DNA fully integrated, leading Aegis slayers through Harrowgates, and dread shivered over his skin. Only dark-souled or unconscious humans could pass through the gates, but no doubt The Aegis would find a way around that limitation. Once they learned how to use the gates for travel, there would be nothing to stop them from locating his hospital, traveling anywhere in the world in seconds, and invading the demon realm deep inside the earth. Most demons, especially those that didn’t appear human, adhered to strict rules when venturing topside where the humans dwelled, but humans had no such restrictions.
The possibilities were terrifying.
When he didn’t answer, Tayla nodded as if she’d put the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. “It’s a gate, isn’t it?
An entrance to hell,” she murmured, and he didn’t bother to contradict her. The less she knew about his world, the better. “Fine. Ignore me.” She noted the blood smears at the crossroads and looked down the passageways. “Someone carried your vamp to this point.”
“Looks that way.”
“Or they came from that gate thing.”
“Those responsible for what happened to Nancy were not demons.”
She rolled her eyes. “Back to how The Aegis is involved.”
“They are involved often enough,” he ground out, because even though demons were their own worst enemies, were more than capable of killing each other, Roag’s fiery death at the hands of The Aegis had left scorch marks on his soul.
The hair on the back of Eidolon’s neck prickled a split second before a blinding light flashed from the gate.
Shielding her eyes, Tayla leaped aside, and he spun between her and the gate. “What happened?”
“The gate activated,” he said, pushing her fully behind him, because whatever was going to come through that portal wouldn’t be happy with the welcoming party. “The light should have been invisible to you.” To all humans, actually, but as he’d discovered, Tayla wasn’t entirely human.
Four male Nightlash demons emerged from the gate, their human appearances broken only by their misshapen, clawed feet and hands. And the daggerlike teeth.
Tayla shifted forward, glaring at him. “Oh, look,” she snapped, as she sank into a fighting stance, fists clenched, back leg bearing her weight. “Demons. And me without any weapons.”
Pale silver eyes gleamed in the darkness, a good twelve inches above Eidolon’s eye level, as the largest’s mouth spread into a gluttonous sneer. “We’re in luck, brothers. A short hunt tonight.”
“Seminus demon,” another growled, as he took in Eidolon from head to toe. “No markings on face . . . he’s still a whelp. We’ll get no credit for killing him.”
The big one moved closer, bringing his putrid swamp stench with him. “We’ll take the human,” it said to Eidolon. “Go, and we’ll let you live.”
Eidolon smiled tightly. “The human is mine. Find your meals elsewhere.”
“I have a better idea,” Tayla said. “Why don’t I kill you all, and then no one will need supper?”
“As long as ‘all’ doesn’t include me,” Eidolon said, “I’m all right with that plan.” He thrust the cleaver into Tayla’s hand. No doubt she could handle herself without a weapon, but her injury compromised her more than he liked, and more than she’d probably admit.