“Push against my hand.”
She did, a good sign.
“I’m getting better,” she rasped, and he pulled back his healing powers, uncertain if they had anything to do with her recovery.
She grasped his hand, her grip strong but trembling. “Do you know what’s wrong?”
Sixty years ago, he’d gone to Africa to rescue Wraith from yet another incident, and he’d come across a lion dying from a festering bullet wound. The animal, once strong and proud, had been reduced to a weakened shell, but its eyes still burned with the will to live.
Tayla reminded him of the big cat, dismayed at how its powerful body had failed it, yet wanting to survive. Something inside Eidolon buckled, and fuck, nothing should be buckling or unbuckling for this woman. There had already been way too much of the latter.
If anyone in this room was weak, it was him.
“Does this happen often?” he repeated, more sharply than he intended.
She hesitated. It couldn’t be easy revealing vulnerabilities to a mortal enemy. “It’s happening a lot more lately.”
“When did it start?”
She still hadn’t released him, as though she needed comfort and had forgotten who—and what—he was. Just as he had.
“A few months ago. It started small. Numb fingers and toes. Then I’d lose the use of a hand or foot for a few minutes.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. Without thinking, he covered her free hand with his, stroked the cold skin. “Tayla? I need to know.”
“Sometimes both legs go out. Or one side of my body. This has been the worst so far. I’ve never been completely immobilized.” She opened her eyes, tried to lift her head, but failed. “I haven’t been to a doctor.”
“I don’t think a human physician could help you.”
“Why?” She struggled to sit up, but he held her down with gentle force. “Tell me!”
“Oh, my God,” she breathed, struggling even harder against his hold. She was growing stronger by the second. “I’ve been infected by some kind of demon disease, haven’t I?”
“Something like that . . .”
“What will it do to me? Can you cure it?”
“I took blood samples at the hospital. I won’t know the results for a couple of days. We can go from there.” It would definitely be helpful to know her sire’s species.
She relaxed, but her eyes shifted wildly in their sockets as her mind worked. “It started after an Alu demon bit me. They carry disease. I’ll bet that’s what happened.” She rolled her bottom lip between her teeth and worried it in a way that stirred him in an extremely inappropriate manner considering the situation. “Do you think that’s it?”
“Alus do carry disease,” he hedged. The bite of the Alu had been known to trigger dormant illnesses and diseases in remission. Contact with the creature could have activated her demon genes.
She nodded as though relieved at having pinpointed the source of her malady. “The Aegis has doctors. Good ones who used to be Guardians, so they understand this kind of thing.” The pitch of her voice climbed a notch, and her words fell out in a tumble of excitement and hope that would have broken his heart if he’d cared about her on more than a professional level. Which he didn’t. “They probably see stuff like this all the time.”
Infections, curses, demon bites, yes. Half-breeds gone wrong? He doubted it. If an Aegi doctor learned the truth, she would probably wind up dead after a lot of torture or painful medical experiments.
“You can’t see a human doctor, Tayla.”
“Why not?” The familiar wariness had crept back into her eyes, shadows that flickered in the green depths. She scrambled to sit up, and this time he let her, though when she jerked out of his grip, he felt a slight twinge of regret. “I can’t trust a demon to help me.”
“You’re right.” He hated it, but demons weren’t the most trustworthy beings, though many, like his mother’s species, did live by a code of honor that had influenced his upbringing and had instilled in him a sense of moral principles. Which was something his brothers lacked, and was why he didn’t fully trust anyone. Not even his own siblings. Wraith was too unstable, and Shade . . . he had a curse to deal with.
“You can’t trust any demon,” he said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that you might have to rely on one to save your life.”
She pushed to her feet, a little wobbly. Standing, he reached out to steady her. For a moment, she swayed toward him. Then, as though realizing what she was doing, she pivoted out of his reach, her movements fluid despite her weakness. Even when not in top form, she radiated deadly strength and determination. She was a fantastic specimen, a perfect female, and his body hardened in response.
Her gaze locked onto his, and this time he was the one who swayed. His world tilted as he pictured her beneath him, begging him to relieve her ache. But he hadn’t. Couldn’t. His inability to do so had him cracking his knuckles in frustration.
“You think I’m going to rely on you? Do I look like an idiot?”
“I could have killed you while you were helpless just now.”
“I’m sure there’s a reason you didn’t,” she said. “I just don’t know what it is yet.”
There was no point in denying her accusation; not only was it true, but he couldn’t convince her otherwise. She was too smart, too street-savvy and well-trained to believe anything else.
“Your condition is more serious than you think.” The panicked light in her eyes flared again, and he didn’t wait for her to speak before blurting, “You are half-demon, Tayla.”
She stared. Blinked. Stumbled back a step. “What did you say?”
“One of your parents, likely your father, was a demon.”
“You son of a bitch,” she said softly. “How stupid do you think I am?”
“It’s true, Tayla. Think back to when you were a kid. You were different in some way. Your nutritional requirements were probably odd. You craved certain things.”
Hatred came off her in sizzling lashes that practically peeled away his skin. “Shut your lying, filthy mouth. My mother—”
“Slept with a demon.”
“She wouldn’t! She would never willingly have sex with something so . . . so vile.”
Vile? “It was easy enough for you.”
She punched him, knocking him back a step. Shit, she had a killer right hook. He’d feel that one in his cheek for hours.
“Get. Out,” she snarled. “Before I change my mind about letting you go.”
Her pain, anger, and fear hit him like another blow, and he knew there would be no more talk. “You know how to contact me should you need help.” He strode into the living room. “And you will need help.”
“Don’t hold your breath.”
Not holding his breath was impossible when she looked the way she did, even as pissed as she was, standing in the bedroom doorway, the neckline of her tank unbuttoned enough to show cleavage. The hem had ridden up to reveal a creamy expanse of skin between the top and her extremely low-slung jeans. Lust shot through his blood, throbbing through him with the same beat as the pain in his cheek.
He cursed, long and loud. The human was a menace to his control. Control would keep him alive. Lack of it would land him as dead as Roag.
And his control was being slowly stripped with every hour he drew nearer to his change.
Gem checked her watch for what had to be the millionth time as she sat on the hood of Eidolon’s car and watched the entrance to Tayla’s apartment building.
What was going on in there? Gem had come to have a little chat with the slayer, had arrived just in time to see the other woman enter her building a half-hour ago. Gem had been poised to follow . . . until she saw the other doctor’s BMW.
It was too much of a coincidence to assume he was in this part of the city on business unrelated to the slayer, so she’d held back, growing more agitated by the minute.
Her suspicious nature was running amok.
A gang of humans approached from the north, their sleazy banter ringing out over the honking horns, distant sirens, and the sounds of domestic violence from the dwellings above. Humans like Tayla should worry less about the evil brought about by demonkind and focus on the evil and violence their own species perpetuated. Violence like what she witnessed today while handing out condoms. What she witnessed every day in the human emergency room where she worked while covertly assessing patients for suspicious injuries, illness, and impregnation with demon spawn.
The men passed by without noticing her, thanks to the spell surrounding Eidolon’s vehicle. She breathed a sigh of relief, not because she’d been afraid, but because defending herself would have been messy.
Yet another reason she was glad Kynan had neutralized the earlier threat. Had she done it, her secret would have been exposed.
Exposed not only to humans, but to the demons from whom she hid her identity, as well. As far as her demon brethren were concerned, she was a full-blooded Sensor, just like her parents. Because to many demons, slaughtering half-breeds was considered sport.
Movement in the shadows across the street drew her attention, and she sucked in an appreciative breath at the sight of Eidolon exiting Tayla’s apartment building, his shirt wrinkled and missing most of the buttons. The man was fine. Smokin’. Why hadn’t she bedded him before now?
Oh, right. Because she was in love with a married human who hardly knew she existed.
She shook off thoughts she had no business thinking when her parents were in such grave danger and hoped to hell Eidolon wasn’t in league with The Aegis in the demon organ ring.
She respected the Seminus demon and his brothers for what they’d done with UG. The hospital was one of the few places a demon could go for help. UG had had a rough start, but as the word spread, suspicion faded and there was even talk of opening a similar facility in Paris, where the demon population was nearly double that of New York.
If Eidolon had anything to do with the black market killings, or if the hospital was being used . . . the damage done to all medically trained underworld beings would be irreparable.
Eidolon crossed the street, his easy, powerful stride ratcheting her heart rate up a notch. Incubi did that to her, even incubi as uptight as he was. Son of the devil, she’d never met an incubus with such selfcontrol. Then again, he had grown up with Justice demons, a species that couldn’t be more opposite. He was the ultimate experiment in Nature Versus Nurture, and she imagined he must be engaged in a constant battle between what he was and what he wanted to be.
He didn’t miss a step when he saw her sitting on his hood, but his gaze narrowed and the angular line of his jaw hardened.
“Gem.” He stopped next to the driver’s-side door. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same.” Could ask, but given the state of his clothing, the answer was obvious. So much for his famous self-control.
His expression shuttered. “I gave a patient a ride.”
“Oh, please.” She barked out a laugh. “There’s no way in Hades you’d treat an Aegi.”
“Why are you here?” He crossed his arms over his broad chest, the flexing muscles making his dermoire dance. “To see me or the slayer?”
“I was hoping to have a chat with Tayla.”
A blast of scent came from him, sweet yet acrid, like burnt chocolate. It was a potent cocktail of lust and unease, an arousing combination for the demon in her.
“How do you know about her?”
She slid from the hood on the passenger side. “You know my mother works at an East Side free clinic?
Well, she took care of Tayla’s mom when she was pregnant with Tayla.”
“Then you know she’s half-demon.”
“My mother had sensed a demon pregnancy,” she said carefully.
Eidolon smiled, nearly taking her breath away. “Get in the car. We have a lot to talk about.”
Tayla sagged against the front door, shaking uncontrollably, as though she was coming off a drinking binge to put college kids to shame. She covered her mouth with her hand as her stomach rolled and rebelled. Why would Eidolon lie like that?
Because he’s a demon. Duh.
So why had his words hit her on a level so deep she couldn’t climb back out of the pit she’d sunk into?
Think back to when you were a kid.
She didn’t want to, but everything that had separated her from the other kids came crashing back. She’d been stronger. Faster. She’d read others’ emotions by the odors they gave off. Her need for vitamin C
had been overwhelming and crippling at times, something doctors had never understood or explained.
Not that any of those things were proof of what Eidolon claimed. No way was she the spawn of hell. It wasn’t possible. She’d have felt it somehow. She’d have known.
So why had she kept her exceptional vision, hearing, and strength a secret from everyone including her mother and, especially, The Aegis? Deep down, had she suspected?
Fury exploded inside her, and she put her fist through the flimsy door. Eidolon had made her question her beliefs about demons, her loyalty to The Aegis, and now, her very heritage.
“You bastard,” she shouted, but she didn’t know if she was cursing at Eidolon or whatever had fathered her, human or demon.
All she knew was that she needed to kill something. And unlike earlier when she hadn’t taken Eidolon down where he stood, this time, she’d show no mercy.