And suddenly, Tayla realized why Gem’s eyes had seemed so familiar. They were her mother’s eyes.
Eidolon was just as stunned by Gem’s news as Tayla was, and as they all headed back to his apartment, he wondered why he was so surprised. With the exception of the dyed hair and Goth-style makeup, Gem was very nearly the spitting image of Tayla.
And now, the reason he’d been so aggressive in the car with Gem became clear. He’d seen Tayla in her.
“I don’t understand this,” Tayla said, as they exited the Harrowgate in an alley near his building. Like all of the gates, it was invisible to human eyes and wouldn’t open if humans were within visual range, but Tayla lowered her voice anyway. “How long have you known?”
Gem picked up her pace, walking slightly ahead of the group. “My parents told me years ago so I would have the choice about whether I wanted to know you.”
“How special. And what, you just spied on me all this time?”
“I wanted to tell you.” Gem sighed, slowing. “I went to your apartment once, but you were leaving. I followed you, saw you meet up with some delinquent-looking friends. Figured you’d be drunk in an hour. Turned out you did your partying in the sewers.”
“You followed us down there?”
“Yep. I saw you hunting. Telling you who—and what—I was, didn’t seem like a great plan at that point.”
They arrived at Eidolon’s building, and inside the elevator, Tayla turned on Gem, though she kept her hand in his. “Your parents left me and my mom to die on the warehouse floor.”
“My mother called an ambulance, but she couldn’t risk being seen with me. Please, Tayla,” Gem said softly. “Stop fighting what you are. Who you are.”
“Easy for you to say.” Tayla’s voice was sharp, cutting, and he knew she wasn’t going to accept anything without drawing blood first. “You’ve known since you were born. You didn’t have a choice about what you are. I do.”
They exited the elevator on Eidolon’s floor, and as he unlocked his door, he said quietly, so as not to freak out any neighbors, “You are half-demon, Tayla. There’s no choice about that.”
“True.” She didn’t look at him, her eyes focused on the door. “But I don’t have to integrate that half.”
“You’d rather die? Because that’s your choice, slayer,” Shade said as they entered.
Wraith rubbed his hands together in cheesy horror-movie glee. “Join us or die.” He grinned. “I’ve always wanted to say that.”
“Wraith’s demented,” Gem said, “but he’s right. Tayla, let us—”
Tayla whirled, stopping them all in the foyer. “No.”
“You agreed earlier,” Eidolon reminded her, hoping his voice didn’t betray his fear that she’d truly changed her mind.
“That was before I found out what my father was. Before I learned I’m a monster.” Tears welled in her eyes as she looked down at her hands, her arms. “That . . . that thing, is inside me. In my blood. Under my skin.” She began to scratch, and then claw, as though trying to rip off her skin.
“Stop.” Eidolon grabbed her by the shoulders. “Calm down—”
“Let me go.” She jerked wildly in his grip until he pulled her against him.
Gods, she felt good in his arms. Her struggles had triggered his libido, of course, but as she settled down and just held him, rubbing her face against his chest, something else triggered, something more powerful than an urge to mate—an urge to save her life so he could keep her as his own.
“Listen to me, Tayla. Look at Gem. Look at your sister.” Tayla lifted her head as Eidolon gently stroked her wet hair. “See the tattoo bands around her wrists and neck?”
Gem pulled down her inch-wide dog collar to reveal the Celtic knots that circled her throat. “They’re on my ankles, as well. They contain the demon side of me. Without them, it comes out when I’m upset or angry. Tayla, you can contain yours, too. Being a demon doesn’t automatically make you evil.”
She pulled out of his arms, and he felt the loss in his soul. “You guys are broken records. Demons aren’t all evil. The Aegis is selling our body parts—”
“Ah . . . well . . .”
She dabbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. “Well, what?”
Shade popped a stick of gum in his mouth. “While Wraith and Gem were looking for you, we went to the hospital to have a chat with one of our nurses who was injured in the explosion. It was . . . enlightening. Seems The Aegis isn’t involved.”
“Then who is?” Tayla asked.
Fury washed through him at the memory of standing at Paige’s bedside, her hatred of demons becoming clearer with every vile word. “Paige wasn’t sure. She was human, but not Aegis.”
“She was disposed of.” And unfortunately, she’d known nothing about the status of Gem’s parents.
Tayla crossed her arms over her chest and stared toward the kitchen, her gaze distant. Scents swirled around her, confusion, suspicion, and anger. “Why did she do it?”
“She was addicted to black magic,” he said grimly. The dark arts seduced humans, gave them powerful highs and the belief that they were damned near gods. Paige had considered demons to be nothing more than insects, minions for her to abuse as she wished, and she’d gone willingly into the organ ring not for money, but to harvest parts for her personal use. “Apparently, she’d receive a message from the Ghouls to meet somewhere. A different location every time. She’d be met by various demons who would take her to a facility outfitted for surgery.”
“She was a doctor?”
“Nurse. But she learned enough working at UG to perform the duties required. It wasn’t as though she was removing organs for transplants.”
“Now they want me,” Gem said. “They took my parents and threatened to kill them if I don’t cooperate.”
Realization sparked in Tayla’s eyes, flickering like green fire. “That’s why you’re here. It has nothing to do with wanting to know me.”
“I’ll admit, the kidnapping pushed up my timetable, but I always wanted to know you, Tayla.”
“Yeah. Whatever.” Tayla’s self-defense mechanism, disbelief that anyone might want to get close, reminded Eidolon so much of Wraith.
“What’s next for your parents?” Eidolon glanced at Gem. “Are you supposed to contact the Ghouls?”
Gem nodded. “I’m supposed to meet them at the old zoo tomorrow night.”
“The zoo?” Tayla frowned, turning to Shade. “Didn’t you say your paramedic werewolf was attacked by Guardians?”
“So that’s a yes.” She twirled a strand of hair around her finger and tugged, thinking. “And he said they smelled like . . . what was it? Apes?”
“Yeah? So? Humans stink.”
Eidolon would have argued that, but he knew Shade was being obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious.
“It’s just . . . someone is lying. Luc said he was surprised in his house. The Guardians who survived the battle told our leaders that they chased him into the house. Just for shits and grins, let’s say they’re lying. Why? Why would they lie to the leaders of our cell? The only answer is that the leaders don’t know what’s going on. And if your were is telling the truth . . . if they smell like apes . . .”
Eidolon cursed. “The abandoned zoo.”
“Yeah.” Despite the fact that she now suspected Guardians were involved, she sounded relieved to know that at least the leaders she’d trusted might be clueless. “It would be the perfect place to keep demons they caught.”
“But we know demons are involved,” Shade said.
Tayla nodded grimly. “Sounds to me like they might be working together.”
“There’s a nightmare scenario. Oh, hey, a weasel!” Wraith swept up Mickey, who had been circling at his feet.
“I need to contact Kynan,” Tayla said, though she seemed to be talking to herself.
“Kynan? Kynan Morgan?”
Tayla spun around to Gem, who had gone utterly pale. “You know him? How?”
“He’s a slayer?” Gem’s mouth worked silently for a moment, as though she couldn’t process her own question. “He’s one of them?”
“How do you know him?” Tayla repeated.
“He’s a regular at the hospital. Comes in every Tuesday to see a friend.” Gem exhaled slowly, the way Tayla did sometimes, when she was trying to keep it together. “Oh, my God . . . Holy shit.”
Tayla hugged herself, shivering even though the heat was on in the apartment. “Dennis. He’s known Dennis for years.” She heaved a grateful sigh as Eidolon wrapped her in his jacket.
Gem moved like a snake, her desperation obvious in the way she clamped her hand down on Tayla’s forearm. “You’ve got to talk to him. Tayla, you’ve got to go now. Ask about my parents.”
“I can’t. The Aegis either thinks I’m dead or wants me dead. I can’t go waltzing into headquarters right now. It’d be a suicide mission.”
“We’ve got to do something,” Gem insisted.
Tayla casually peeled Gem’s fingers away. “Tuesday . . . that’s tomorrow. He’ll be at the hospital. If you can arrange for me to talk to him in private, I can catch him unprepared. Without backup. That’s the only way this will work. I’m still not sure what’s going on at The Aegis and who is involved.”
“We’ll work something out,” Gem said, her voice barely a whisper. “Damn, I still can’t believe he’s Aegis.”
“He’s more than that. He’s a Regent. The leader of the New York cell. What did you think he was?”
Gem toyed with her dog collar, her fingers trembling slightly. “He tells everyone he runs a halfway house.”
“That’s the cover.”
“Do you . . . do you think he’d know anything about my parents?”
“No,” Tayla said fiercely. “The leaders aren’t in on it. They can’t be.”
“You’re sure that waiting to talk to him tomorrow is the only option?”
“Absolutely.” When Gem nodded, Tayla cocked her head and studied her sister. “How did you know where to find me tonight, by the way?”
“I sensed you were in trouble.” Gem touched a hand to Tayla’s shoulder. “I’ve always been able to sense you if you were close enough to me.”
Tayla stood there, avoiding eye contact with her sister and looking more vulnerable than Eidolon had ever seen her. He fought the urge to wrap her in an embrace and protect her from all of this. Which was insane, because he’d never seen a female so capable of protecting herself.
“Eidolon, if I were to do the integration thing, would I be able to sense Gem, too?”
He almost smiled at the wariness in her tone. His little killer had to question everything. “Probably.”
Her gaze caught and held his for a long moment as she considered what he’d said. “Okay, but one thing I don’t understand . . . Gem said her parents sensed demon in her when she was born, but not in me. If we’re twins, why did she develop her demon half, but I didn’t?”
“I’d probably need to run tests on you both to answer that, but my guess is that since you are fraternal twins, you don’t share an identical genetic code, and you developed differently. Her DNA merged. Yours didn’t. But we can fix that.”
When she didn’t respond, Gem broke the silence. “You need to decide, and fast. The changes I’m sensing in you are all over the place. You don’t have much time.”
Tayla’s eyes narrowed into slits, as if she questioned Gem’s motives. “I’m not sure I trust you.”
“I don’t trust you, either,” Gem shot back. “So where does that leave us?”
“It leaves you in what’s called a family, girls,” Wraith drawled. “Get over it.”
After spending two hours in Eidolon’s den talking to Gem, Tayla decided that she didn’t like her newfound sister. It wasn’t that Gem had grown up in a mansion, had attended private schools, and had lived an outwardly normal life despite being raised by demons. It wasn’t that Gem was smart and educated, having entered college two years early, where Tayla was a high-school dropout who had a GED only because Kynan insisted that all Guardians have a basic education.
No, Tayla hated Gem because she kept saying “our mother,” when Gem had never known her. She didn’t have the right to call our mother anything but Teresa.
“You seem distracted,” Gem said, when Tayla pulled Eidolon’s medical text off the shelf and began thumbing through it. She couldn’t read a word of it, but the illustrations were interesting, if disgusting.
“Maybe I’m just tired of hearing how lucky you are.”
“I am lucky. I should have been slaughtered,” Gem said. “That’s what my parents’ species does. They sense demon pregnancies and either ensure that the young are never born or destroy them at birth if a foster family can’t be found. But my parents had been unable to conceive a child of their own, and I came along at just the right time.”
“And that’s what you do at the hospital? The same thing?”
Gem hooked a leg over the armrest of Eidolon’s couch, making the slit in her short leather skirt open over a tattoo of a long-stemmed rose on her thigh. Blood dripped from the thorns—Tayla counted three drops along the length of her leg, the last one half-covered by the top of her combat boot. It made her wonder if Gem had more tattoos, or more piercings besides the six in her ear, the one in her eyebrow, and the one in her tongue.