“I couldn’t find a sewer with a view.” He put Mickey down, along with his litter box.
“So where’s your dog? Did you eat it after all?”
“While you were packing I called the lady who walks him and asked if she could take the mangy thing for a few days. Wasn’t sure how he’d react to the weasel.”
Somewhere in the house, a grandfather clock chimed. “Mangy thing? Don’t like him much?”
“He keeps me company.” The words were casual, spoken with a shrug, but the underlying affection in his voice gave him away. He liked his mangy mutt.
He took her bags, and she followed him down the hall, complete with oil paintings of medieval castles and châteaus on the walls, to a bedroom. The room was huge, richly decorated in masculine shades of brown and burgundy. The four-poster bed had to be custom-made, larger than a king-size. How odd.
Then it struck her, and she bit off a gasp. The bed had been made to accommodate more than two people.
“This is your room,” she whispered. “I saw a guest room back there . . .”
He dropped the bags on the polished wood floor and in a flash, framed her face in his warm hands.
“We’re beyond that.” He brought his head down to her neck, his lips caressing her skin. “You sleep with me.”
Like a real couple. Way too intimate. “I don’t want to.”
He inhaled deeply. “Don’t lie to me, Tayla. I can smell your desire.”
God, that sense of smell of his was a pain in the ass. “I need space.”
“The bed is big enough to give you that.”
“It’s big enough to give an entire cheerleading squad space.”
She felt him smile against her skin. “You almost sound jealous.”
“And you should get some rest.” He stepped back, surprising her, but one fingertip stroked her jaw line lightly. “You’ve had a hard day. If you want to shower, the bathroom is to the right. Robes are in the closet.” He cocked a dark eyebrow. “You didn’t really get into a fight with a Daeva, did you?”
“No.” God, what she wouldn’t give for this entire day to rewind and start all over. “Look, about the halfdemon thing . . . what evidence do you have? Or are you screwing with me?” It was a measure of her exhaustion that she came right out and asked if he was lying to her, but the day had gone to hell in a handbasket, and she just wanted a straight answer.
“Come with me.”
She followed him back down the hall to a room nearly as large as his bedroom, but cozier. The walls were lined with full bookshelves, many titles in languages she couldn’t read. A desk took up one corner, a leather couch took up an entire wall. Black marble tile on the floor reflected light instead of darkening the room as she might have expected.
Eidolon pulled a leather-bound book from one of the shelves and flipped it open to a blank page. Closing his eyes, he waved his hand over the parchment. A glow sprang up under his palm, and when he removed it, a pulsing, shiny—wet—picture of bloody internal organs appeared.
“First of all, that’s nasty. Second, how did you do that?”
“It’s a medical text. I wrote it. On these two pages, I can visualize anything I’ve seen, and it’ll temporarily appear like a living photo.”
“Cool. But eew. What’s that supposed to be?”
“That’s your open abdomen.”
She recoiled. “I’m no medical expert, but that doesn’t look right. Are you sure?”
“I was up close and personal,” he said grimly. “These are your organs. They’re misshapen. Formed from a union of two different species. And no, it’s not a human birth defect.”
She wheeled away as though she could escape what he was saying. “I still can’t believe this. My mom wouldn’t have kept me. She wouldn’t have wanted me if some demon had—”
“She probably didn’t know.”
“But how—” She cut herself off, because yeah, stupid question. “An incubus.”
“That’s a likely scenario.”
The conversation they’d had at her apartment before she knocked him over the head with the pipe came back to her, along with a glimmer of hope. “Wait . . . you said incubi only have male offspring.”
“No, I said Seminus demons produce only male offspring. Other breeds of incubi can produce both males and females.”
She really was a demon, and there was no point in denying it any longer. She hated what he was saying, but none of it truly surprised her, if she was being honest with herself. Even as a child, she’d been different from the other kids. More intuitive. Her vision had been off-the-charts perfect. As she got older, her other senses had become more acute.
And her ability to empathize and sympathize with other humans had taken a dive.
“So what’s going to happen to me? Your brother said the demon DNA is taking over. Am I going to turn into some horrible beast?” She’d kill herself before she allowed that to happen.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? You don’t know?” A bitter laugh escaped her. “You’re supposed to be a doctor. A demon doctor.” She waved at the books on the shelves. “You have demon sorcery at your disposal, and you don’t know?”
“There’s something I do know. My brother was right.” He propped a hip on his desk, stretched one long leg out in front of him. “The demon DNA is aggressive. It’s trying to take over rather than merge with your human DNA. That’s why you’re having problems. There’s a question what, exactly, you’ll turn into, but you will turn. Or you’ll die.”
“Dying is better than the alternative.”
He shook his head. “There’s another option.”
“Yeah, I can eat a bullet before either of the other two happens.”
“No. With Shade’s help, I think we can integrate your human and demon DNA. Basically, it’ll give you the biology and form you should have been born with.”
“Which is what? Right. You don’t know. So if I do nothing, I either die or turn into a monster?”
The antique clock on the wall ticked away several seconds of silence. “That about sums it up.”
“Wow,” she said quietly, “my future looks pretty bleak.” Worse than bleak. The only thing she had to look forward to was her own death. Then again, she’d never had anything else to look forward to, so this was nothing new. She trailed a finger over the books on the shelves. “So I’m a ticking time bomb. Any idea when I’ll go off?”
“I don’t know,” he said, shoving his fingers through his hair in that way he did when he was frustrated.
“For a doctor, you don’t know all that much.”
The raised gold lettering on one fat tome made her pause. “Daemonica.” She drew it out, frowning. “A demon bible?”
“In essence. It’s the other side of the story.”
“So, what do the minions of darkness say happened in the beginning?”
“Do you really care?”
“Yeah.” She weighed the book in her hands, expecting it to burn her, but it just sat there, a cold weight.
“It’s always good to know how the other side thinks.”
Except, he was no longer the other side.
Eidolon folded his arms across his chest and stretched his long legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankles. “Basically, demon lore says that after Satan was banished from Heaven, he was allowed to create his own races. But, because humans are born good and can be turned evil, God insisted that the same, but opposite, should apply to creatures born evil. Satan created some species from his own twisted imagination, and others . . . he used animals as foundations for some, humans for the rest.”
“Which is why demons can appear human.”
He nodded. “Some species are a cross between animals and humans. Shapeshifters, for example. And some species are more inherently evil than others. There are species and individuals who strive to be good.”
“Good? So . . . they don’t worship Satan? They aren’t walking hand in hand with the guy?”
“Some of us even doubt his existence. Just as there are humans who don’t believe in God, there are demons who don’t believe in the Lord of Darkness.”
“So you’ve never seen him?”
“Have you seen God?”
“That’s not how it works.”
“Exactly. When humans speak of seeing divine energies, they’re talking about angels. We have dresdiin. And for the record, many of us consider your God to be the supreme ruler. Others worship—or, at least, acknowledge—both. The Two Gods.”
“That doesn’t seem possible.”
“That any of us can be less than evil? Do you not see that sometimes, something goes wrong at conception, and some humans are born evil? Or they turn evil?”
“Imagine that the opposite happens in the demon world. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Yin-yang. You can’t have one extreme without the other. So in the demon world, some of the most heinous races sometimes experience an anomaly. I knew a Cruentus once who wanted nothing more than to work in the hospital. He was slaughtered by his own family for his behavior. The world isn’t as black and white as you think, Tayla.”
“Believe me, I’m starting to figure that out.” She rubbed her temples, wondering if her life would ever be normal. Not that she knew what normal was. From the moment she was born on the floor of an abandoned warehouse, premature and addicted to heroin, everything had been out of whack.
“Tayla, let me get Shade over here, and we’ll help you.”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Afraid of? Oh, well, maybe I’m afraid of losing myself. Of turning into everything I’ve ever hated. I’d rather die than turn into something I don’t even recognize.” He looked as if he understood, and she remembered what he’d said about his upcoming transition. “I don’t see you embracing your own change.”
“That’s different. I know what I’m going to become. You don’t. You have a chance at becoming something better.”
“Better? How is turning into a demon better?”
“Says the human whose own kind tried to kill her.”
Tayla chomped down hard, her teeth grinding. “Go to hell.”
“You don’t get it, do you? This is hell.”
She snorted. “Yeah, well, you aren’t exactly fun and games yourself.”
“I was talking about earth. There are no fires, no burning pits of torment, no levels or rings or rivers of lava. When we die, we get put right back on earth to live our miserable existences over and over and over for all eternity.”
Her head spun at what he was saying, things that went against everything she’d ever been taught at Bible school the few times she’d been forced to go by foster families, and by The Aegis. “That makes no sense.”
“There is no hell,” he said flatly. “Not like you mean. Our world works like yours. You die, you go to the Other Side. We die, we go to the Nether Side. We’re reborn to earth, though most demon species live far below the earth’s crust, in what we call Sheoul. It’s where I grew up. It’s cavernous, dark, confining. Demons want out, and will do whatever they can to bring about an event that will allow them to live on the surface.”
“Imagine what you call the Rapture. Armageddon. The Apocalypse. According to a variety of human religions, the righteous will go to heaven and leave nothing but evil on earth, which is what we call the Reclamation. Earth will then be hell. There is no need for a fiery pit.”
He gestured to the book she still held in her hands. “The Daemonica tells us that human sinners are reincarnated, given another chance to change their ways so that the next time they die, they can go to what many of you call heaven, or the Other Side. When the Reclamation finally comes, that will be the end of redemption. This is what evil wants. A world where the numbers are static and suffering will be eternal.” He speared her with a flat, black stare. “That will be demon heaven. At least, for some demons.”
It was all too much. Too complicated. Black, white, shades of gray, an occasional splash of blood red. She wanted simple, and she didn’t care how she got it. “Hellboy?”
“Touch me. Make me forget all this.”
He was on her in an instant, took her down to the floor before she could blink.
Hundreds of females had solicited Eidolon for sex. But never in his eighty years of sexual maturity had one desired sex for something other than a release. He didn’t know how to offer comfort; his healing skills were limited to clinical knowledge of anatomy. But the way Tayla was clinging to him told him she needed more than just sex, even if she wasn’t aware of that fact.
A small sound of desperation escaped her as he tore through the scrub top. He cupped one breast through her bra, running his thumb over the creamy swell that overflowed the cotton cup.
“You’re so beautiful, Tayla.” And she was. He’d always preferred humanoid partners, had sought out the most attractive females. Tayla wasn’t classically beautiful, but her fresh, earthy looks drew his eyes in a way no other female ever had.
His words must have been exactly what she needed, because she sighed and arched into his touch, the small of her back coming completely off the floor. He should move them to the couch, but she wrapped her legs around his waist and his thoughts of comfort scattered.