“It’s Tayla. Look—”
“Where is he? What did you do to him?”
She lowered her voice and drifted farther away from the den. “I didn’t do anything to him. But he’s hurt. We’re in his condo . . . he went through that portal, and when he got back . . .” He’d looked like he went through a meat grinder. “He’s messed up. Bad.”
“Shit.” The sound of something breaking on the other end of the line was loud enough to make her jerk the phone away from her ear. “Turn up the heat as far as it’ll go. He’s probably in shock, but you can’t put a blanket on him because it’ll wick the blood out of his wounds. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
He hung up, leaving her with the distinct impression that this had happened before. Sickened by the thought, she located the thermostat, set it for eighty-five degrees. As the hum of the heater filled the apartment, she hurried back to the den.
“Hey,” she murmured, as she sank down next to where he shivered on his hands and knees, in the same position as when she’d left him. He said nothing, but the straining muscles in his jaw told her why; he’d clenched his teeth so hard he couldn’t speak.
Nausea rolled through her. Who had done this to him? Other Seminus demons? Were they not allowed to kill humans? The questions ate at her, but until Shade arrived, the only thing she could do was to try to take Eidolon’s mind off his pain.
“I like your apartment,” she said. “I snooped. Hope that’s okay. Didn’t find anything weird.”
She let a teasing note filter into her voice, because as much as she didn’t want to admit it, she wasn’t surprised at what she’d found in his apartment. Normalcy.
“So, uh . . . when do you think we’ll know what kind of demon my dear old dad was? I hope it isn’t something really horrible.” She almost laughed, because just a few days ago she’d made no distinction between really horrible and not as horrible when it came to demons.
Eidolon’s breathing grew more regular and less labored, so she kept talking, inane chatter about stupid things like her bad grades in school, her favorite food—oranges—her desire to learn to ice skate. By the time Shade stalked into the room, Eidolon knew more about her than anyone in The Aegis ever had, though she had no way of knowing if he actually heard what she’d said.
Shade didn’t spare her a glance as he dropped his medical kit and knelt at Eidolon’s head. “Hey, man, I’m here. You’re going to be all right.”
As though his brother’s presence had allowed him to feel again, Eidolon moaned, and the pain buried deep in the sound made her heart bleed.
“What did they do to him?” she whispered, and Shade’s flat eyes focused on her as if he had just realized she was in the room.
“Looks like a combination of fists and a cat o’ nines.” He slid his gaze over Eidolon’s frame and added,
“They also used teeth.”
Ice formed in her chest. This was her fault. He’d been defending her when the Guardians attacked her in her apartment. He’d killed to protect her. “He didn’t deserve this.”
“Let it go, slayer.” Shade turned back to Eidolon, his expression softening as he gently took his brother’s face in his palms and lifted his head. “Those bastards really worked you over this time, didn’t they?”
“This time? He said he’d never killed a human before.”
She wanted to ask what he’d done to deserve the other beatings, but the cold rage in Shade’s expression didn’t invite questions.
Shade inspected his brother’s face, his touch tender and light. When he finished, he lowered Eidolon’s head and spoke in a soothing, low tone as he ran his hands over his ribs, belly, and extremities. Eidolon’s teeth chattered, but he didn’t make any other sounds even though the exam must have been excruciating.
“Slayer, open my jump bag and hand me the syringe in the right inside pocket.”
Glad to have something to do, she fetched the item and handed it to Shade, who injected the contents into Eidolon’s shoulder with professional efficiency. The guy might have the fun-loving personality of a pissed-off pit bull, but he exuded confidence in his medical abilities, and, she couldn’t help but notice, a raw masculinity that was every bit as powerful as Eidolon’s.
“Was that for the pain?”
“Antibiotic.” Shade pulled some tubing and a bag of blood from his kit. “Painkillers are against the rules.”
“Rules? There are rules for being beaten nearly to death?”
Instead of answering, he started an IV with the blood, and hung the bag from the door handle. When he finished, he laid his large palm on the back of Eidolon’s neck, one of the few uninjured areas, caressing in slow circles.
“Bro, your pulse is off the charts, and your resps are all over the place. I need you to relax.” Shade closed his eyes, and for a moment it seemed as though Eidolon’s tension had slipped away, but then he convulsed, and his breathing grew labored again.
Without thinking, Tayla covered his hand with hers. Shade’s eyes flew open, and at his dark stare, she jerked her hand away, afraid she was hurting rather than helping.
“No,” he said, grasping her wrist. A low growl erupted from deep in Eidolon’s chest, and Shade’s eyes narrowed. “Well, now, that’s interesting,” he murmured, and very carefully placed her hand over Eidolon’s again. “Your touch seems to calm him. Leave it there until I put him to sleep.”
Gently, she stroked his fingers, the ones that had saved her life and brought her pleasure, and a few minutes later, Shade nodded.
“He’s out. He should stay that way for a couple of hours.”
“He’ll be all right though, yes?”
“Yeah. We’re not easy to kill. Just FYI, Aegi.” He gathered his gear and gestured for her to follow him into the kitchen, where he washed up. “If Wraith calls, don’t speak a word of this. If he comes over, don’t let him in.”
He hesitated for so long she didn’t think he’d answer, but as he dried his hands, he said, “Eidolon was punished, not for something he did, but for something Wraith did. Wraith can never know.”
“So this wasn’t about what happened at my apartment? I don’t understand.”
“You don’t need to.”
“Yeah, I do. I’m not going to hurt Eidolon, or I would have done it instead of calling you, right?”
Shade bared his teeth at her. “If you hadn’t, I’d have—”
“I did,” she snapped. “So tell me why he’s nearly been killed for something your brother did.”
“I. Don’t. Like. You.”
“Feeling’s mutual, buddy. So spill already.”
Shade blew out a harsh breath, as if that would cool him off. At least it got him talking. “Wraith is part vampire. But he’s also a Seminus demon. Vampire and Seminus law don’t always mesh, and he falls into a crack between the two. Neither Council can agree on how he should be punished for various transgressions. But they both want someone to pay.”
“Because Wraith wouldn’t survive it.”
This was seriously twisted, and it fired up all her protective instincts, which she hadn’t known she even possessed.
“I don’t understand why Wraith would allow this to happen. Why doesn’t he stop doing whatever it is that gets Eidolon beaten?”
“Wraith thinks he’s untouchable . . . he has no idea Eidolon is suffering. If he did, if he knew what E has gone through . . .” Shade shook his head. “We’d lose him. He can never know.”
“That’s crazy. You’ve got to tell him. This has to stop. What if next time they kill Eidolon?”
“It’s none of your concern. Like I said, not a word. If you even hint to Wraith that this has happened, I’ll take you out, slayer.”
She slapped her palms on the counter and leaned forward to snarl, “Try it, asshole.”
Shade’s eyes flared gold, reminding her of the man suffering in silence in the other room, reminding her that now wasn’t the time to pick a fight with the demon who had helped him. He seemed to come to the same conclusion, and the gold melted away, to be replaced by the eerie brown-black, which always seemed to shift, as though a shadow lurked behind his eyes.
“You look like Eidolon,” she said quietly. “But you’re so different.”
He grunted. “All Seminus demons are nearly identical to their siblings, but our behavior varies because we’re raised by different species.”
“But . . . Wraith. He’s blond.”
“His eyes are blue.”
“That’s because they aren’t his.”
“They aren’t his eyes?”
Shade slung his bag over his shoulder, done with the conversation. “E will be healed by morning. Try to get him to drink fluids, and . . .” He trailed off, averted his eyes before boring those chips of stone back into her. “Stay with him. He usually goes through this alone.”
He slammed out of the apartment, leaving her standing in the kitchen, her heart pounding. Emotion like she hadn’t experienced in years nearly brought her to her knees.
The brothers loved each other fiercely, something she wouldn’t have believed if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes. They protected each other, healed each other, and clearly, they’d die for each other. She doubted anyone but her mother would have died for her, and even then, most of Tayla’s life, her mother had been too stoned to lay her life on the line for anything but the next fix.
What would it be like to have family like that? she wondered as she filled a glass with orange juice she’d found in the fridge.
And then she stopped wondering because that road would only lead to the corner of Self-Pity and Pathetic Idiot.
She slipped into the room with Eidolon, where he appeared to be sleeping peacefully despite the fact that he was still on his hands and knees—the only parts of his body that hadn’t been beaten. Already some of his wounds had started to heal.
Yeah, his wounds were closing, but hers had just opened up.
The sound of a phone ringing woke Eidolon. Before he could rouse himself, the ringing stopped and Gem’s voice ground out over the answering machine. She sounded as if she’d been dragged through a frat party and left to sleep it off on the front lawn.
“E, it’s Gem. I think something happened to Tayla. I don’t know what, but I spent the night in her damned closet. I’m at UG now. I need to talk to you. It’s important. Can you come in? If not, I’ll come to you.”
Why the hell had she spent the night in Tayla’s closet? She hung up, and Eidolon groaned. His mouth was dry and his muscles were stiff from spending the last twelve hours on his hands and knees. Rolling his head, he worked out a kink in his neck and then looked down to see Tayla, curled next to him on the floor, her fingers covering his. At some point during the night, she’d snagged a pillow from his bed, and now her hair fanned out like a Leonine Beast’s mane, begging for his touch.
He’d never seen her sleep before, not peaceful sleep that didn’t involve a hospital bed and pain medication or sedatives. The doctor in him measured the steady rise and fall of her chest; the male in him stirred at the push of her br**sts against the T-shirt of his she’d put on.
It looked much better on her than it ever had on him.
He inhaled her scent, so brutally feminine, mixed with a tart note of concern, a sharp thread of fear. He vaguely remembered Shade being there, touching her . . . had his brother threatened or hurt her?
He scanned her body, tipped her face up off the pillow to check for injuries. Sweet relief sighed out of his lungs.
And then he wondered why he’d worried. Tayla could take care of herself, a fact he’d seen with his own eyes. Maybe it was his brother who had borne the damage.
Jerking to his feet, he winced at the creak of aching joints. Dried blood cracked on his skin, but beneath it, he’d healed. He made a quick call to Shade to make sure his brother was unharmed, and then he showered. Still na**d, he returned to the portal room to gather Tayla in his arms and settle her into his bed.
He’d barely pulled the sheets over her when she opened her eyes.
“Hellboy,” she rasped in a morning voice that sent shockwaves into his groin. “Are you okay? I mean . . .”
His lack of clothing had registered, and the way she was staring at his erection made him, for the first time, a little self-conscious. “Yeah, I’m good. My species heals rapidly. Get some rest. I know you were up all night.”
He turned away, but then she was there, grabbing his arm to bring him back around. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Her hands slipped frantically along the skin of his back, chest, arms, as though she were looking for damage. “You were pretty messed up. Is that why you have all those little scars?”
“You can see them?”
“In the right light.”
The feel of her hands on his body as she traced the scars was torture, far worse than what the vampires had done. He wanted to pounce on her, but something had changed between them, a subtle, fragile bonding that he was afraid to break by attacking her for sex.
Besides, what she was doing to him wasn’t about sex. It was about her caring enough to make sure he was okay. No one but his brothers had ever truly cared about him. Oh, his Judicia parents and two sisters felt affection for him, but only because it was logical to feel something for someone who’d grown up in the same household. If ever a time came when it would be logical to kill him, they wouldn’t hesitate.