“He’s a demon,” Bleak said, and the three immediately spread out, circling. “He killed Cole.”
The dark-haired one with glasses looked Eidolon up and down, measuring him, and then, in a coordinated move, launched a morning star as Bleak swung a machete.
Eidolon blocked the machete, but the star caught him in the chest. Something blunt mashed a kidney. Hot streaks of agony rose up from his wounds. He grunted, managed to wrestle the machete away from Bleak. The next few moments were a blur of fists, steel, and feet.
When they came apart, Eidolon was still trapped, his left leg wasn’t working right, and blood ran freely into one eye. The slayers were panting, bleeding, but he’d held back, Tayla’s plea to spare them ringing in his head. On the other hand, they outnumbered and outweaponed him. If he didn’t kill them, they were going to turn him into mulch.
The right side of his face pulsed. An injury . . .
He froze. Not an injury, not with the way his face burned as though it had been branded. Not with the way his vision had gone sharp and red, as if he could see the aggression around him as well as smell it.
Time was up. Game over.
The urge to shift into something huge and scary made him moan with anticipation. He wanted to tear the slayers apart, feel their bones break between his jaws. And then he’d hunt down their females and—
No. Gods, no. Cold sweat broke out all over his body. He would not turn out like Roag. He would not force his brothers to kill him, or worse, force Tayla to do the deed.
Pain ripped through his chest, pain that had nothing to do with what the slayers had done to him. He hadn’t had nearly enough time with her, hadn’t opened his heart soon enough. And now he’d never know the feel of her tender touch again. The next time she saw him, he’d be the beast she had believed him to be from the beginning.
A bolt of hell no shot through him like summer lightning. Roag should have been put down at the time of his transition. Eidolon would be.
He tore the morning star from where it had lodged in his right pec, and smiled. “Well, Aegi, seems like it’s your lucky day.”
Gem raced out the zoo’s front entrance, nearly knocking over Shade, who was rushing inside.
“Your parents are fine. I found them wandering around, looking for Luc.” He cocked a thumb over his shoulder. “They’re over there. Worried as hell about you.”
“Thank you.” She grasped his forearm before he could take off. “Make sure Tayla is okay. Please?”
“It’s what Eidolon wants,” was all he said. Like a phantom, he stepped into a shadow and disappeared.
“Gem!” Her father’s voice, as full of emotion as she’d ever heard it, called out to her. Within seconds, both parents had engulfed her in a hug, something as rare as the Amazonian orchids her mother collected.
She hugged them back. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“What’s going on in there?” her mom asked, as they broke apart. “Can we go home now?”
Gem dragged in a breath. “I want you to go home. I have to stay. I have to make sure Tayla is okay.”
“Tayla?” her parents said in unison.
“I’ll explain later. But you have to trust me.” She glanced at Luc. “Can you make sure they get home safely?”
“Do I look like a taxi driver?” He growled low in his throat, obviously disappointed that he couldn’t kick some ass inside the zoo. “Yeah. Whatever.”
“Gem, no. You’re a doctor. And part human. You shouldn’t—”
“Mom.” She reached out, cupped her mom’s cheek in a loving gesture she’d never made before. “I’m also a Soulshredder. I know you’ve tried to pretend I’m a Sensor, but it’s time to face reality. I was built to take care of myself. And I need to do this.”
The demons who had raised her, had taken her in when they should have destroyed her, looked exhausted, worried . . . and proud.
Tayla lost Lori, but she found Eidolon.
Sig, Warren, and Bleak were circling him, sharp blades drawn. Bleak was limping, and a steady stream of blood ran from Warren’s nose, but Eidolon had taken a good beating, as well. Deep cuts scored his back and arms, and his bared teeth were tinged red.
Those sons of bitches.
He said something she couldn’t hear. The machete and a morning star fell from his hands, clattering to the asphalt. What was he up to?
The guys backed off, suspicion darkening their expressions, but when Eidolon did nothing, they closed in, smiling, mocking him. Their taunts cut her like any blade, the things they said to him, the vulgar names she’d once used. She launched herself across the span of space. At the same time, Warren struck Eidolon from behind, a scissor kick to the spine. Eidolon crashed to his knees.
“No!” she screamed, and four heads whipped around. “Take them, Eidolon! Forget what I said!”
But he stayed where he was, a willing sacrifice. “Go! Get out of here.”
Good God, was he insane?
“This is my choice.” His voice throbbed with something sinister and foreign even as the swirling glyphs on his face began to glow and set in his skin. “Better them than you.”
A chill went through her, jerking her to a halt. The Guardians all paused, their curiosity temporarily overriding their training.
“I won’t force you to have to kill me, lirsha.”
“How f**king sweet,” Warren said. “Now kill them both.”
Oh, Jesus. That was the wrong thing to say. Eidolon’s face contorted with possessive rage. The air around him practically shimmered with menace.
“Touch her and die.” Eidolon exploded into action, came to his feet in a flash. His red-eyed glower lit the darkness, and then Bleak was flying backward, crashing into a fence before crumpling to the ground, momentarily motionless.
She joined the fray, striking Sig in the jaw before nailing him with a hard kick to the gut. The bite of a blade in her shoulder made her yelp and miss a step. As she careened off a tree trunk, an inhuman roar shattered her eardrums.
Eidolon had morphed into some sort of horned demon she’d never seen before. Shredded clothes hung from a frame that was taller by half, twice as wide, and his sharp-toothed jaws held Warren between them, dangling off the ground.
Sig launched himself at Eidolon. Bleak leaped to his feet and came at her, his fists crunching into her ribs. Screams tore into the night, accompanied by wet ripping sounds, and then Bleak was lifted violently into the air. Eidolon held him in his jaws as he’d done Warren . . . who was now in pieces on the ground, something she could have gone her entire life without seeing. Sig lay crumpled in an unnatural position at the base of a nearby oak tree.
“Hellboy,” she said gently. He swung around to her, hell on two thickly muscled legs. “Drop the human. He’s not a threat anymore.”
He raised his head and sniffed the air, his red eyes going to the cut on her arm. A low growl erupted in his chest, and his jaws tightened until Bleak cried out.
“I’m okay.” She moved toward him, her arm outstretched. Gently, she laid her palm on one leathery biceps. “Please. Put him down.”
Abruptly, he opened his mouth, and Bleak plopped on the ground. Eidolon’s arms came around her, and his hot breath fanned over her neck. Behind him, Bleak stirred, but didn’t make any stupid moves.
“Thank God, Eidolon. I’m so glad you’re okay.” She stroked his massive back as he hunched over her, long, slow passes to calm him. That she was petting a beast, the very type of demon she used to slaughter with relish, struck her so hard it reverberated to her soul. She loved this beast. It didn’t matter what he was, what she was, or what either of them had done in the past.
Eidolon’s weakness is you. But you could also be his strength. Gem’s words from earlier in the day rang through her head. He loves you.
And yes, he’d been ready to die rather than hurt her, proof, perhaps, that he really did want her. Tears stung her eyes, and she began to shake.
“Please, Hellboy,” she whispered. “Come back to me.”
The next time I shapeshift, I might not come back as myself.
Beneath her fingertips, she felt his skin soften, his body grow more supple. “Tayla . . .”
She gasped as he palmed her ass and hauled her hard against his arousal. He was back, but his eyes still glowed red, and the swirling tattoo on his face remained. One hand tore at her shirt, but she didn’t resist, lesson learned during the Soulshredder disaster. This would be her last chance to save him, and herself.
“Eidolon, it’s not safe here. We need privacy.”
Growling low in his throat, he swept her up and carried her to a nearby building, a veterinary clinic, if she had to guess. The door was locked. In one powerful move, he kicked the door open. It crashed into the wall behind it, and before the building had stopped vibrating from the impact, Eidolon had placed her on a desk. When he stepped between her thighs, her legs came up to lock around his of their own accord.
“I want you,” he said, his tone a rough command, and her body heated, went wet at her core as though it had become trained.
“Yeah, that’s pretty clear.” She grasped fistfuls of his torn, bloodied T-shirt and pulled him close, needing full body contact as her skin came alive.
“That’s it, Tayla.” He tore her pants in his haste to remove them. “Show me what you want.”
She wanted him. Whatever it took.
Her voice shook as she blurted, “Bond with me.”
He reared back, breaking her leglock. “Bond? No.” Red eyes glowed in the darkness. She thought she saw a flicker of gold break through, but then it was gone, and his guttural rasp drifted down to her.
Shit. He’d warned her that if they waited too long it would be too late. Desperation clawed at her as the reality set in. She couldn’t lose him now. Remembering what she’d read about his breed and their mating rituals, she tore off her shirt, fumbled with the fasteners on her ankle holster, and withdrew her stang. Before he could blink, she sliced through the front of her bra and drew the blade across the top of one breast. Pain surged through her, followed by a double burn of lust and love.
His chest heaved as he lowered his gaze to her breasts. Reaching up, she threaded her fingers through his hair and pulled him toward her, but just as the heady sensation of his hot breath fanning her skin hit her, he jerked away, eyes wild. He palmed the cut, and the familiar vibration shot through her as it sealed up. Every one of her injuries knitted together before she could pull away.
“Please, Eidolon,” she whispered. “This is what you’ve wanted your entire life. You want a mate. Children. You want to be a doctor. Take me. Claim me.”
He groaned, and this time, when he looked at her, his eyes were gold, molten brilliance. “Be . . . sure,”
he panted. “Can’t hold on . . . much longer . . .”
“I’m sure.” She toed off her sneakers and pulled him tight between her thighs again. “Hurry.”
Instead, he kissed her. Gently, leisurely, as if they had all the time in the world. Then, as though to make up for time wasted, he hauled her off the desk and yanked down her pants. As she stepped out of them, he settled on the desk and lay back. One hand gripped the edge with white-knuckled force, and the other released his arousal from his jeans.
“Climb up.” His voice was a tense rumble, spoken through clenched teeth, and she knew they had not a second to spare. “This has to be voluntary. You must initiate it and offer it, the way I did with you in my room.”
Anticipation made her sex clench and weep as she straddled him, knees braced on the desk, hovering over his rigid shaft. His hands opened and closed at his sides as though he wanted to grab her. In one quick motion, she sat on him, burying him deep. He shouted and bucked, and the expression on his face could have been ecstasy or misery.
He bit his lip so hard he drew blood as he strained to remain still.
“Hurry, lirsha, hurry,” he rasped. “Your wrist. Feed me.”
She’d dropped her stang on the floor along with all her other weapons when she’d undressed. Shit. Thing was, she knew better than to not have a weapon within reach. That was what he did to her, made her so crazy with lust and love that all her training, all her hatred, disappeared.
She looked down at him, at the way he was watching her with a laser focus. Little flecks of red broke through and she knew they’d reached critical mass. She tore his caduceus pendant from his neck and stabbed the tiny dagger into her right wrist. It hurt; the blade was dull, but it did the job. Quickly, she forced the cut against his mouth. His right hand, the tattooed one, closed on her left. He threaded their fingers together so that from shoulder to shoulder, they were one long, sinuous piece of artwork. The connection, wrist-to-mouth, hand-to-hand, pelvis-to-pelvis, created a circuit, an electric path that made her scream with the intensity.
She rocked on top of him, writhing with no sense of rhythm or regularity. Her body did what it wanted. Every nerve ending tingled. Her head spun. Eidolon surged against her as she churned above him. The loss of control barely registered in her mind, should have been frightening, but nothing had ever been so intense, so good. She was falling, and Eidolon would be there to catch her.
Sensations popped all over, on her skin, in her veins, and when he pulled deeply on her wrist, it felt as though an erotic string connected her wrist to her sex. She whimpered her approval as he sucked harder and her sex clenched with each draw from her vein.
“I feel you inside, Tayla . . . Gods, I love you.” The fingers on her hip tightened. “Oh . . . damn!” He threw back his head and shouted, slamming his h*ps upward with such force that she came off the desk. Their tattoos glowed red fire and then she came, a full-body orgasm that went on and on.