The demons attacked, mouths gaping wide, claws extended. Tayla met them, moving like a dancer, blade flashing, and though he was no slouch when it came to fighting, thanks to his Justice Dealer background and lessons with Wraith, Tayla left him in the dust. She ripped through the demons, punching, slashing, death on sexy legs.
Moving in what felt like slow motion compared to her, Eidolon took down the largest of the enemies, smoothly, efficiently, breaking the demon’s neck. Tayla took a hard hit and slammed into him, and they both crunched into the wall.
One of the brothers lay writhing nearby, his head nearly severed by Tayla’s blade. The other two advanced, limping, bleeding, one holding his forearm awkwardly. Light flashed in the Harrowgate, and son of a bitch, a Cruentus burst from it. And, as if things couldn’t get worse, a clicking noise came from behind them.
“Hunger . . . slayer . . .”
“Shit,” he muttered, because now the remaining demons knew what they were fighting.
The Nightlashes pounced, their fury billowing from their pores in clouds of bitter scent. Eidolon spun, lashed out with a foot, and knocked one of the brothers off his misshapen feet.
“I’ve got the Obhirrat,” he shouted, as Tayla opened up a deep gash in one Nightlash’s chest.
“Don’t break its skin!”
Breaking the skin was the idea.
In a quick series of moves, he shifted behind the slower creature and shoved. The Obhirrat slammed into the Cruentus, which yelped and scrambled backward. Even Cruenti were smart enough to avoid injuring an Obhirrat.
“Tayla! Cut it!”
She paused for a split second to stare at him as if he was insane, a pause that cost her. The Cruentus raked its claws across her face, laying open her cheek. Snarling, Eidolon plowed his fist into the beast’s snout, reveling in the crunch of cartilage beneath his knuckles.
“Do it,” he yelled, and though indecision flashed in Tayla’s eyes, she buried the knife in the Obhirrat’s belly and yanked up, opening the creature like an unzipped coat.
It screamed, a high-pitched, ear-shattering sound. Tayla leaped back as squirming, ricelike grains spilled from the wound. The maggots moved with unnatural speed and purpose; unlike their nondemon counterparts, these fed on living flesh.
Eidolon seized Tayla’s arm and yanked her up the tunnel that led to Nancy’s lair, leaving the sounds of battle and pain behind.
When they burst into Nancy’s purple nightmare, Tayla slammed the door shut, and he bolted it. Blood dripped down her face from the Cruentus’s clawmarks, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“We took a risk, cutting that thing open,” she said, doubling over to catch her breath.
We. Interesting. “You okay?”
Immediately, she straightened, her chin jutting out stubbornly. “I’m fine. Been through worse.”
“You never stop fighting, do you?”
She watched him warily as he slid his palm over the curve of her cheek and pinched her torn flesh between his fingers. The familiar warm tingle traveled down his arm. Her lids flew up as the power ripped into her flesh. Beneath his fingertips, her tissue knitted together, the torn blood vessels fusing. In moments, he wiped the blood away from new, unmarked skin.
“How . . . how do you do that?”
“Members of my breed share three different gifts, all with some healing ability.” The healing abilities were, however, secondary to the primary purpose . . . which was to aid in reproduction once the s’genesis was complete. Shade could use his gift to stimulate early ovulation, Wraith practiced mindseductions, but could also heal mental disorders. Eidolon could create favorable conditions for fertilization of eggs.
She touched her face, awe reflecting in her expression. Man, she was beautiful, all wild-haired warrior with the scent of battle clinging to her skin. The sight of her, the smell of her, triggered a primitive reaction deep in his core, one that both disgusted and intrigued him. He hated everything about her. But he wanted to bed her. Over and over.
She’d been spot on when she’d said his ego had taken a blow because he hadn’t brought her to cl**ax, but his desire to take her again went beyond patching his pride or even slaking the ever-present lust that plagued his breed. He’d never encountered anyone who radiated such a fierce will to live. Her life force drew him, her fire fascinated him, and her sensuality held him in an iron grip he couldn’t break.
He wanted to f**k her when what he should do was kill her.
Her eyes flared, as if she knew what he was thinking, and his focus slammed home.
“I’m taking you home now.”
“You can drop me off in the general vicinity.”
Despite the fact that they’d fought together, saved each other’s lives, and he’d healed her wounds, she still couldn’t make this easy. Not that he blamed her.
But she still wasn’t going to win this round.
“Not an option. I’m walking you to your door.”
“Why?” She stepped back. “So you can tell all your demon buddies where I live?”
He closed the distance she’d put between them, used his size and height to deliver the message that if she wanted to fight, he was ready to throw down. “Remember how I told you that my colleagues wanted to torture you for information?”
“Kinda hard to forget, and hello, personal space.”
“You don’t have the luxury of personal space right now, because you’re in danger. I want to make sure my colleagues don’t know where you live. As in, they aren’t there waiting for you.”
“That would suck.”
Call it a curse of his species that the word “suck” would turn him on, but there it was, a sexual stirring in his gut that was so powerful he had to grind out, “Is that a yes?”
“Fine.” Gods help him, he was going to take her home. He’d be walking into the lion’s den.
Nothing possessed a hair trigger like a werewolf on the eve of a full moon, so when Shade rounded a corner on his way to the hospital’s administrative offices and collided with Luc, he expected a snarling backlash. Instead, the were smiled, actually smiled, and clapped Shade on the shoulder.
“See ya next week, incubus.”
Luc would be locking himself away for the duration of the full moon, which usually made him grumpier than a Cruentus with a fangache, but today he was downright cheerful.
“Luc, you okay, man?”
“Oh, hell, yeah.” Luc sauntered off, the strike of his boots on the stone floor echoing through the halls.
Weird. Shade made a mental note to check the ambulances’ drug boxes and continued down the hall to admin. He propped himself against the door jamb of Wraith’s office and watched his brother throw on a worn leather jacket. “Where are you off to?”
“Mongolia. E wants some special mana crap for his collection of ‘what ifs.’ ”
Laughing, because Eidolon was always sending Wraith to retrieve rare artifacts, potions, and materials for the hospital on the off-chance that they might be needed, Shade entered the room, which was little more than a junk closet. Wraith’s job at the medical center was, in truth, to acquire nontraditional supplies unique to demon medicine, and his office reflected his haphazard method of researching and locating said supplies.
As Shade was a control freak, Wraith’s utter lack of organization in any aspect of his life gave him heartburn.
Wraith shoved a set of knives into his chest harness and a Glock into his thigh holster. Two more blades slid into ankle holders, and various vials of poisons and holy waters got tucked into the dozens of hidden coat pockets. The guy didn’t screw around when it came to a mission, especially since he made enemies wherever he went.
“I’m worried about E,” Shade said abruptly. “He introduced my face to his fist a little while ago.”
Wheeling around, Wraith let out a low whistle. “He decked you? E? That’s not like him.”
No, it wasn’t. Shade and Wraith regularly went at it, but Eidolon usually kept his fists to himself. “I think the s’genesis is making him unstable.”
Wraith snorted. “Just because he healed the slayer when he should have killed her, boned her, and then instead of giving her to Yuri—which I was against but really, it would have been the smart thing to do—
he’s giving her a lift home?”
Shade digested that for a second, and then it all came back up like acid in his esophagus. “Eidolon had sex with the Aegi butcher? In the hospital?”
“Yep. I caught a whiff of him right afterward.” Wraith plopped down on the edge of his desk, spilling papers and pens all over the floor. “Who would have seen that coming? Mr. Stick Up His Ass finally getting laid in the hospital. With a patient. And an enemy to top it off? I’m not sure if we should throw him a party or throw him into a firepit for being so stupid.”
Shade pinched the bridge of his nose to stave off what was going to be a killer headache. Fuck. This was worse than he’d thought. Clearly, The Change was messing with Eidolon’s judgment and sex drive, and that meant they were all in a lot of trouble. If Eidolon couldn’t control himself, there wasn’t a whole lot of hope for Shade or Wraith.
“He needs a mate.” A mate wouldn’t stop the s’genesis, but it would stop the out-of-control need to impregnate every female in the underworld.
“Yeah, right. How often do we find females who are willing to spend the next six hundred years with us?
I don’t know about you, bro, but there isn’t a female in the universe I’d tie myself to for that long.”
And there was the rub, the reason so few Seminus demons mated. Mating was for life, and the only way out was to kill the other. The fear of mating often outweighed the fear of s’genesis. Shade had never known a single Seminus male who had mated. Only Eidolon had ever shown any desire to do so, but worthy females were rarer than fallen angels, and so far, he’d come up empty.
“E just needs to stop fighting it. Maybe it won’t be that bad. We’ve known Sems who didn’t change much after the transition.”
“Name one,” Shade said, and then silently screamed, Don’t say it, don’t say it—
Hell’s fires. He hated talking about Roag, hated how he and Shade had been at odds before his death. Roag had never understood Eidolon’s need to protect Wraith, even though Roag had been there in the Chicago warehouse nearly eighty years ago. When Roag died, Eidolon had been devastated, but Shade had been more relieved than anything.
“Roag doesn’t count. He was such a bastard that he didn’t have a lot of room to turn into—”
“A dick?” Wraith offered. “You’re right. He was always that. What about Otto?”
Shade sighed. “He’s the only one, and he did have to give up his vet practice.”
“He still worked there part-time. Maybe E can keep working here so Yuri the Asshole doesn’t have to take over once you’ve gone over, too.”
“We can’t count on that,” Shade said. “And even if he’s stable enough to keep working, he’ll have to limit himself to admin crap, stay in his office.” A post-s’genesis male couldn’t control himself in the presence of fertile females, would immediately change form to match theirs and try to seduce them. If seduction didn’t work, force often did.
“This is bullshit.” Wraith pushed to his feet. “We’re all going through the transformation, and you two whining about it won’t change anything.” He ran his finger over his rack of weapons, snagged a flail, and grinned as he slammed it home through a loop in his leather harness. “I can’t wait. Bring it on, baby.”
Gods, Wraith had issues. Sure, Shade wasn’t going to fight the s’genesis like Eidolon was—fuck if he was going to store blood for transfusions in hopes it would hold off The Change—but he also wasn’t looking forward to it. He just wished he could take a mate. If not for the—
Shade scowled at his brother. “I hate it when you do that.”
“I can’t help it. Your thoughts invade my head sometimes.” Wraith finished loading himself with weapons, probably adding another twenty pounds to his already large frame.
“My. Ass.” Shade fisted his hands to conceal the slight trembling that always followed one of Wraith’s mind invasions—the same gift Roag had possessed.
“Seriously, man. That one just popped into my brain.”
“You being straight with me?” Two big secrets drifted around in Shade’s brain, secrets that could destroy his little brother, and son of a bitch, it made him nervous when Wraith went on an expedition inside his head.
“I always am, bro.” Wraith hoisted a backpack off the floor and slung it over a shoulder. “Hey, you still seeing that human female? Runa?”
“Sort of.” Shade doubted their month-long relationship would last much longer, partly because she was growing clingy, and partly because he was tired of holding back with her during sex. Humans were fragile, which was why bonding with them was out of the question. They’d never survive the bonding rituals. Even if they could, the offspring would be half-breeds, so bonding would be pointless.
“I know she’s not the only one. A human female couldn’t meet your needs.”
Shade grinned. No single female of any species could meet his needs. “I get off work in an hour, and I’ll be getting off with Vantha and Ailarca about an hour after that. And Nancy, if she ever shows up . . .” At Wraith’s rumbling growl, Shade sighed. “Let’s skip the vampire lecture.”