Dispose of her. It was the right thing to do. After all, it was what The Aegis had done to their brother, Roag, a loss Eidolon still felt like a hole in the soul. “No,” he said, grinding his teeth at his own decision.
As tempting as it was to let Wraith have his way, only three types of beings could be turned away at UG, according to the charter he himself drafted, and Aegis butchers weren’t among those listed, an oversight he intended to correct. Granted, as the equivalent to a human hospital’s chief of staff, he had the final say, could send the woman to her death, but they’d just been handed a rare opportunity. His personal feelings about slayers would have to be put aside.
“Take her to ER one.”
“E,” Shade said in a voice that had gone low with disapproval, “catch and release in this case is a bad idea. What if it’s a trap? What if she’s wearing some sort of tracking device?”
Wraith looked around as though he expected Aegis slayers—“Guardians,” they called themselves—to pop in from nowhere.
“We’re protected by the Haven spell.”
“Only if they attack from the inside. If they find out where we are, they could go Bin Laden on the building.”
“We’ll fix her and worry about the rest later.” Eidolon wheeled the human into the prepared room, both paranoid brothers and Paige on his heels. “We have an opportunity to learn about them. The knowledge we could gain outweighs the dangers.”
He removed the restraints and lifted her left hand. The silver and black ring on her pinky finger looked innocent enough, but when he removed it, the Aegis shield engraved on the inside of the band confirmed her identity and sent a chill through his heart. If the rumors were true, any jewelry bearing the shield was imbued with powers that bestowed slayers with night vision, resistance to certain spells, the ability to see through invisibility mantles, and gods knew what else.
“You’d better know what you’re doing, E.” Wraith whipped the curtain closed to shut out the gawking staff.
Judging by the number of onlookers, they’d probably been paged. Come see the Buffy, the nightmare that lurks in our closets.
“Not so scary now, are you, little killer?” Eidolon murmured as he gloved up.
Her upper lip curled as though she’d heard him, and he suddenly knew he wouldn’t lose this patient. Death despised strength and stubbornness, qualities that radiated from her in waves. Unsure if her survival would be a good thing or a bad one, he cut away her bra and inspected the chest lacerations. Shade, who had been hanging around while waiting for his medic shift to start, managed her vitals, his gifted touch easing her labored, gurgling breaths.
“Paige, type her blood and get me some human O while we’re waiting.”
The nurse set to work, and Eidolon widened the slayer’s most serious wound with a scalpel. Blood and air bubbled through damaged lung and chest wall tissue as he inserted his fingers and held the ragged edges together for fusion.
Wraith folded his thick arms over his chest, his biceps twitching as if they wanted to lead the charge to kill the slayer. “This is going to bite us in the ass, and you two are too stupid and arrogant to see it.”
“Ironic, isn’t it,” Eidolon said flatly, “that you would lecture us on arrogance and stupidity.”
Wraith flipped him the bird, and Shade laughed. “Someone got up on the wrong side of the crypt. You jonesing for a fix, bro? I saw a tasty-looking junkie topside. Why don’t you go eat him?”
“Shut up,” Eidolon snapped. “Both of you. Something isn’t right. Shade, look at this.” He adjusted the overhead light. “I haven’t been to med school in decades, but I’ve treated enough humans to know this isn’t normal.”
Shade peered at the woman’s organs, at the tangled mass of veins and arteries, at the strange ropes of nerve tissue that wove in and out of muscle and spongy lung. “Looks like a bomb went off in there. What is all that?”
“No idea.” He’d never seen anything like the mess that had scrambled the slayer’s insides. “Check this out.” He pointed to a blackened blob that resembled a blood clot. A pulsing, morphing blood clot that, as they watched, swallowed healthy tissue. “It’s like it’s taking over.”
Eidolon peeled back the gelled mass. His breath caught, and he rocked back on his heels.
“Hell’s rings,” Shade breathed. “She’s a f**king demon.”
“We’re f**king demons. She’s some other species.”
For the first time, Eidolon allowed himself a frank, unhurried look at the nearly na**d woman, from her black-painted toes to matted hair the color of red wine. Smooth skin stretched over curves and lean muscle that even in unconsciousness conveyed coiled, deadly strength. Probably in her midtwenties, she was in her prime, and if she weren’t a murderous fiend, she’d be hot. He fingered her ruined clothing. He’d always been a sucker for women in leather. Preferably, short leather skirts, but tight pants would do.
Wraith tipped the woman’s chin back and inspected her face. “I thought Aegi were human. She looks human. Smells human.” His fangs flashed as his tongue swiped at the bloody punctures in her throat.
Eidolon probed a peculiar valve bisecting the transverse colon. “What did I say about tasting patients?”
“What?” Wraith asked innocently. “We had to know if she’s human.”
“She is. Aegi are human.” Shade shook his head, making his stud earring glint in the light from the overhead. “Something’s wrong here. It’s like she’s infected with a demon mutation. Maybe a virus.”
“No, she was born this way. She’s got a demon parent. Look.” Eidolon showed his brother the genetic proof, the organs that had formed from a human-demon union, something that occurred more frequently than most knew, but that human doctors diagnosed as certain “syndromes.” “Her physical abnormalities could be a birth defect. Or maybe these two species aren’t compatible genetically. She was probably born with some unusual traits, ones she’s been hiding or that haven’t been blatantly noticeable. Like better-than-average eyesight. Or telepathy. But I’ll bet my stethoscope this is causing problems now.”
“Could be anything. Maybe she’s losing her hearing or pissing herself in public.” Excited, because this kind of thing made his corner of hell interesting, he glanced up at Shade, who palmed her forehead and closed his eyes.
“I can feel it,” he said, his voice rough with the effort he expended to go deep into her body at the cellular level. “Some of her DNA feels fragmented. We can fuse it. We could—”
Wraith let out a disgusted snort. “Don’t even think about it. If you fix her, you could turn her into some sort of uber assassin. That’s all we need hunting us.”
“He’s right,” Shade agreed, the glossy black of his eyes going flat. “Depending on the species, it’s possible that we could turn her damn near immortal.”
Sedating and medicating could also prove difficult, given the unidentified demon DNA. Something as seemingly innocent as aspirin could kill her.
Eidolon studied her for a moment, thinking. “We’ll take care of her immediate injuries, and deal with the rest later. She should have the choice about whether or not she wants the demon half to be integrated.”
“Choice?” Wraith scoffed. “You think she gives her victims a choice? You think Roag had a choice?”
Though Eidolon often thought about their fallen brother, hearing his name out loud was a punch to the gut. “Do you give your victims a choice?” he asked softly.
“I have to feed.”
“You need to drink blood. You don’t need to kill.”
Wraith pushed away from the wall. “You’re an asshole.” Lashing out with one arm, he sent a tray full of surgical instruments flying and swept out of the room.
Shade crouched to help Paige pick up the mess. “You shouldn’t provoke him.”
“You’re the one who brought up the junkie.”
“He knows I was yanking his chain. He’s been clean for months.”
Eidolon wished he could share Shade’s certainty. Wraith liked to escape his life now and then, but since their species was immune to drug and alcohol highs unless the substances had been processed through human blood, eating a human druggie was Wraith’s only path to blotto.
“I’m tired of coddling him,” Eidolon said, pulling another tray of instruments to him. “Let alone constantly yanking his ass out of trouble.”
“He needs time.”
“Ninety-eight years isn’t enough time? Shade, in two years he’s going to go through his transition. He’s not ready. He’ll get us all killed.”
Shade said nothing, probably because there was nothing to say. Their brother was out of control, and as the only Seminus demon in history to have been conceived by a vampire female, he was alone and had no idea how to handle his urges and instincts. As a male who had been tortured in the most heinous ways imaginable by the vampires who’d raised him, he had no idea how to live life at all.
Not that Eidolon had room to judge. He’d spent the last half-century concentrating on nothing but medicine, but unless he found a mate, in a few months his focus would shift and narrow until he became a mindless beast that functioned on instinct alone.
Maybe he should let the Buffy kill him now and get it over with.
He looked down at her, at the deceptively innocent face, and wondered just how easily and remorselessly she’d take him down.
Before she could do that, though, he’d have to fix her.
Awareness came slowly, in a haze of black blotches punctuated by points of light. Warm, elastic darkness tugged at Tayla, luring her toward slumber, but pain prodded her into consciousness. Every inch of her body ached, and her head felt heavy, too large for her neck to support. Groaning, she opened her eyes.
Fuzzy, shadowy images swirled and pulsed in front of her. Gradually, her vision came into focus, and whoa . . . she must be in another realm, because the dark-haired man staring down at her was a god. His lips, glistening sensuously as if he’d just licked them, were moving, but the buzz in her ears drowned out his words.
She narrowed her eyes and concentrated on his mouth. Name. He wanted her name. She had to think about it for a second before she remembered. Great. She must have hit her head. Which, duh, explained the headache.
“Tayla,” she croaked, and wondered why her throat hurt so much. “Tayla Mancuso. I think. Does that sound right to you?”
He smiled, and if she weren’t dying on some type of table, she’d have appreciated the sexy curve of his mouth and the flash of very white teeth. The guy must have a fab dentist.
“Tayla? Can you hear me?”
She could, but the buzzing lingered. “Uh-huh.”
“Good.” He put a hand on her forehead, allowing her a glimpse of one muscular arm adorned by intricate, swirling tribal tattoos. “You’re at a hospital. Is there anything I need to know? Allergies?
Medical conditions? Parentage?”
She blinked. Had he said “parentage”? And could eyelashes hurt? Because hers did.
“This is a waste of time.” The new speaker, an exotic-looking man, Middle Eastern, maybe, glared down at her.
“Go handle your own patients, Yuri.” The hot doctor with the espresso eyes shoved Yuri aside. “Can you answer my question, Tayla?”
Right. Allergies, parentage, medical conditions. “Um, no. No allergies.” No parents, either. And her medical condition wasn’t something she could share.
“Okay then. I’m going to give you something to help you sleep, and if it doesn’t kill you, when you wake up you’ll feel better.”
Better would be good. Because if she felt a little less like she’d been run over by a truck, she could jump on Dr. Hottie.
The very fact that she wanted to jump Dr. Hottie told her more about the state of her head trauma than anything else, but what the hell. The pretty nurse had just injected her with something that totally rocked, and if she wanted to think about boinking a bronzed, tattooed, impossibly handsome doctor who was so far out of her league she needed a telescope to see him, then screw it.
Screw him. Over and over.
“I’ll bet you could make a woman throw out all her toys.” Had she said that out loud? The cocky grin on his face told her that yes, she’d verbalized her runaway thoughts. “Drugs talking. Don’t get excited.”
“Paige, push another milligram,” he said, in his rich, smooth doctor voice.
A warm, burning sensation washed through her veins from the IV line in the back of her hand. “Mmm, trying to get rid of me, huh?”
“That’s already been discussed.”
Damn, this guy was saying some weird shit. Not that it mattered. Her eyes wouldn’t open anymore, and her body wouldn’t work. Only her ears still seemed to function, and as she drifted off, she heard one last thing.
“Wraith, I already told you. You can’t kill her.”
Aww. Her hot doctor was protecting her. She’d have smiled if her face hadn’t frozen. And clearly, her hearing had gone, too, because he couldn’t have tacked on what she thought he tacked on.
Someone was ha**g s*x nearby. Eidolon could feel it. Smell it. The ability was part of his breed’s gift; any Seminus demon within thirty yards would sense the same thing. As he walked, the scent of arousal grew stronger, making his body tighten and his balls throb. At any given time someone was screwing in the hospital—usually Wraith—but this time he scented only a female.