“You’re getting sloppy,” she said, taking note of the twin punctures in his throat. “Got yourself tapped.”
So did you, by a demon.
Jagger shot her the finger, his Aegis ring flashing. Cocky bastard was the only Guardian who didn’t bother to hide the shield symbol on his jewelry. No, he liked to show it off, to strike terror into the hearts of the demons he encountered. Idiot didn’t care that it made him a target for demons, said he welcomed the challenge.
“Ky said you might need some brainstorming help. Some BS about a demon hospital.” He stroked his chin, his fingers rasping over whiskers he kept trimmed into a permanent five-o’clock shadow, while she brought him up to speed. When she finished, he glanced at Lori. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
How interesting that Jagger was so plugged into the cell’s leaders. Tayla really needed to start hanging out at HQ more. She’d gotten an apartment to maintain the emotional distance she required, but she definitely didn’t like being kept out of the loop. And sure, she could admit to a little jealousy where Jagger was concerned. He was such an ass.
The ass turned to Tayla. “If you can contact your demon and tag him, we can track where he goes. We might be able to locate the hospital.”
Your demon. Eidolon wasn’t her demon. He was her captive. Visions of him chained to her bed clouded her brain again. She shivered and tried to tell herself it wasn’t from pleasure.
“Sounds good.” She smiled, but her joy felt half-hearted. The hospital needed to be destroyed, and Eidolon with it. All for the good of mankind.
She repeated that to herself as she hoofed it to the weapons room to replace those Hellboy had confiscated at the hospital, but for some reason, “for the good of mankind” didn’t ring as true as it had just a few days before.
Tayla arrived at her apartment as darkness began to swallow the red glow of the sun on the horizon. Hardcore executives were just now leaving their Wall Street offices. Drug dealers were hitting the streets. Vampires were waking from their sleep and getting ready to suck innocent humans dry.
Her own blood sang, ran like a wolf pack through her veins as the hunt called to her. Oh, how she wanted to be tracking and destroying hellspawn. But her wound ached, and she had a demon tied to her bed.
She entered her apartment cautiously, in case he’d pulled a Houdini. Once inside, she peeled the tracking sticker—nothing more than a spell-saturated black paper dot—from its backing and concealed it in her palm. She eased around the door frame to her bedroom, and her jaw dropped at the sight of Eidolon lying on the bed, one arm nearly free from the chain still attached to the twisted mass of metal frame. He’d obviously gone on a rampage to get loose, but what shocked her was how Mickey lay curled on Eidolon’s washboard abs, looking content as the fiend petted the traitorous animal.
“Oh, hey, Tayla,” he drawled, as though he were lounging on a beach and not being held prisoner. “I hope you picked up some Taco Bell while you were out. I’m starving.”
She dropped the bag of weapons she’d taken from HQ. “You eat fast food?”
“Only when there’s a shortage of live sheep and small children.”
Smartass. At least, she hoped he was being a smartass. “I’m fresh out of those things, but I have stale marshmallows and oranges.”
His eyes caressed her, half-lidded and glittering with hunger that had nothing to do with food—or affection, which was something she’d do well to remember. “I can think of something else I’d like to—”
“Don’t say it.” The dark, sultry note in his voice hit her right between the legs, and she gritted her teeth to keep from falling into the incubus trap. “Is that all you think about?”
“Lately? Yeah,” he said, and he didn’t sound happy about it, either.
“Does it have something to do with that s’genwhatever you were talking about?”
“S’genesis, and yes. I’m close to the change.”
He scratched Mickey on the belly, and the ferret rolled onto its back, practically purring. The weasel was in so much trouble, though if she were being honest with herself, she’d admit that Eidolon’s touch had made her purr, too.
The bastard. She moved to the bed and pretended to check his bonds. When she leaned across his big body to test the loose one, she casually applied the sticker to his pager, a necessity since Stephanie’s magic worked only when attached to electronics. Tayla’s br**sts brushed his chest, the light contact sending up a violent tingle through her body.
God, he felt good, even when he wasn’t trying.
“You going to release me any time soon?”
Straightening, she peered down at him. “I was thinking I’d hold you prisoner for as long as you held me in the hospital. Why? You have some other patient to screw?”
“I need to feed my dog.”
“You have a dog? To eat?”
Eidolon stared at her.
“What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
He snorted. “My kind has been terrified of you for centuries, and now I realize how stupid we’ve been.”
“Excuse me?” The demon was chained to his mortal enemy’s bed, vulnerable, and calling her stupid?
“Aegi. You kill indiscriminately. You have no idea what you kill or why. You know nothing about us.”
“I know exactly what I kill,” she shot back. “Evil. I don’t need a reason to do that.”
He kept petting Mickey, the silence growing thick until he finally said, “We’ve always assumed The Aegis is all-knowing, highly trained and organized,” he mused, one corner of his mouth turned up as if he’d uncovered a great secret. “But it’s nothing but a cult, isn’t it? The weak and uneducated being led by those with their own agendas. Brainwashed lemmings following orders without question.”
“So you think I’m brainwashed. That I blindly do the bidding of some David Koresh because I’m ignorant about the underworld?”
Overwhelming rage pummeled her like the fists of foster parents from so long ago. The knife he’d used to cut off her scrubs lay on the floor, and she picked it up, tested the edge with one finger. Hellboy watched her warily, but if he was frightened, it didn’t show.
She suddenly wanted him to be afraid, to hurt as much as she did. But she also knew that what she wanted wasn’t possible. She could skin him alive and he wouldn’t feel the pain she felt on a daily basis. Still, she put the blade to the pulse at the base of his throat.
“I knew the nature of demons long before I became a Guardian.” Her gravelly voice cut out. She had to swallow several times before she could continue, but not before putting more pressure on the knife, until a drop of his blood welled at the tip. He didn’t even flinch.
“When I was sixteen, I watched a demon torture my mom for hours before he killed her. After that, I lived on the streets and fought them when they would have taken me as a meal. Or worse, because I happen to know there is worse. So don’t you dare tell me I know nothing about evil, you sonofabitch.”
“You think you’re the only one who’s experienced loss at the hands of the enemy? Have you heard of a pub called Brimstone? Yes, I can see you have. Two years ago, Aegis slayers slaughtered everyone there, including the brother I told you about, Roag, who had done nothing to deserve death. You haven’t cornered the market on pain, slayer.”
Brimstone. Two years ago. A cold sweat broke out on her skin. She’d been there. She remembered going in through the rear of the secret lair, remembered how the place had reeked of smoke and worse, a coppery, rotten stench like decaying blood. Demons had been drinking, fighting, gambling. In the center of the room, several demons had been involved in an orgy while others placed bets. On what, she’d had no idea.
The Guardians had swarmed over the demons like mosquitoes, drawing blood. The entire cell had been there, and not one demon had escaped. Especially not after they set fire to the place.
Tayla could have been his brother’s killer.
Mickey scampered off his belly and out of the room, and Eidolon put his hand over hers, not threateningly. “You say I’m wrong about you. If I am, then can’t you accept that you might be wrong about me?” His voice was surprisingly calm, given that she could kill him with a flick of her wrist. Given that she’d hit him over the head, tied him to the bed, and probably slaughtered his brother.
“If I’m wrong about you, then everything I’ve lived for . . .” Was a lie. She shook her head, because the beasts she’d killed over the years had been just that. Beasts with no redeeming qualities. And yet, she couldn’t get the image of Eidolon caring for the dying nurse out of her head. “I’m not wrong.”
Holding her gaze, he tilted his head, exposing his throat, making blood drip down the smooth skin there.
“Then you have to kill me.”
Just three days ago she’d have believed that. Three days ago, if not for the orders to send him packing with a tracking device on his pager, she’d have put him down where he lay. But he’d saved her life. He’d healed his brother and shown mercy to the nurse. Her long-held beliefs had been challenged, and now her resolve wobbled. She tried to pretend she didn’t feel relief at the fact that she didn’t have to kill him. That would be some other slayer’s job.
“You didn’t let me die,” she said, pulling the knife away and tamping down the desire to find him a bandage, “so I won’t kill you today.”
“How generous.” He tugged at the chains holding him down. “Are we done with these now? Or are you going to pay me back for keeping you in the hospital?”
“I should. You destroyed my bed.”
“I could think of more ways to destroy it.”
She huffed. “Demons.”
He winked, and she wheeled away, refusing to be charmed. She retrieved the key to the cuffs from where she’d hidden it beneath the music box—the only gift besides the ring her mother had ever given her. Sweat popped out on the bridge of her nose in an ominous warning, instantly followed by a wave of dizziness. Eidolon’s face blurred.
“I’m fine.” She stepped toward the bed, but her right leg went rubbery and her arms turned into lead weights. Oh, yeah, she was going down.
Swaying, she sat on the floor before she fell. She was getting so tired of this.
“Tayla, what’s wrong? Look at me.” He jerked on his chains with such force that the rattle of metal echoed off the inside of her skull. “Look at me, dammit,” he said, the commanding tone in his voice irritating but effective, because she swiveled her head in his direction.
“Shut up,” she groaned.
“Your eyes aren’t tracking. You’re pale.”
The room spun in a pudding-smooth mix of pale grays and browns. She really, really wanted to fall over and go to sleep, maybe after throwing up.
“Hand me the key and I’ll help you.”
Yeah, like she’d let him loose while she was weak and vulnerable. He couldn’t kill her in the hospital, but he could do it now. That smooth doctor voice he was using didn’t fool her or comfort her in the least. Not when his words at Nancy’s apartment kept replaying in her ears. “I should kill you. Here, with no Haven spell to keep me from wringing your neck.”
“This’ll pass.” She pushed to her feet, only to stumble. Eidolon caught her forearm with his loose hand, and she dropped the key.
Her legs gave out, and she found herself face-down on the floor, unable to move.
The key had fallen just beyond Eidolon’s reach. He rocked his body, jiggling the mattress until the key slid into range of his fingers. Once he had it, he quickly released himself.
“Tayla.” Ignoring his stiff joints and aching muscles, he crouched beside her and turned her face toward him. “Can you hear me? Blink once if you can.”
She blinked, her terror shining through the glaze of confusion in her eyes. He knew how it felt to be helpless and vulnerable, and for someone as strong as she was, the sting would go deep. He shouldn’t care, was still pissed as hell that he’d allowed himself to be knocked out and tied up, but he was a physician and this was his job.
“It’s okay,” he murmured, and gently brushed her hair back from her face. “Just answer my questions. Can you move at all? Two blinks for no.”
She blinked twice.
“I’m going to roll you onto your back. If I hurt you, blink.” Carefully, he rolled her. “I’m going to check your vitals, so just relax and breathe, okay?”
A rapid assessment revealed a clear airway, a regular pulse, and rapid but steady breathing. Her skin felt too cold, but her capillary refill was satisfactory. Until she could speak again, he wouldn’t know what was wrong, but he suspected that her demon half was having a tantrum.
It wanted out.
“Does this happen often?”
No response at all, though the fingers on her left hand began to wiggle. Grasping her arm, he closed his eyes, wishing he possessed Shade’s power to affect bodily functions and detect systemic malfunction. Instead, all Eidolon could do for Tayla was send a generalized healing wave into her and hope that any damage would reverse.
Warmth washed over his skin, seeping from his fingertips into her arm. “This won’t hurt,” he said, because the bitter scent of fear was rising from her and her pulse had gone tachy. “I’m trying to heal you.”
A low moan wracked her body, and her feet twitched. He reached down, pressed his palm to one sole.