Next time, she might not be so lucky.

“Good evening.” A petite blonde woman in godawful fuchsia scrubs stood next to the bed. How she got there without Tayla hearing, she had no clue. “You look better than you did when you came in, what with all the blood and bite marks and Cruentus bits splattered all over. And you really should rethink the red leather. It clashes with your hair.”

“The red hides the bloodstains, and who the hell are you? The fashion police?” Her voice sounded scratchy, unused.

The air-headed twit shook her head as if Tay had been serious. “Nurse Allen. I brought food, but you can’t eat until Dr. Eidolon removes the restraints.” She smiled, revealing shiny fangs. “Obviously, the restraints are necessary, seeing how your kind are merciless murderers and all.”

Tayla stared. “Pot, meet kettle.”

“Thanks, Nancy. I’ve got it. Go home. We’ll see you tomorrow.” The masculine voice shivered through Tayla like a forbidden pleasure. Vodka for the alcoholic. Cheesecake for the dieter. Orgasm for the monk. “Hello, Tayla.”

“Hey, Dr. Evil.” She didn’t look. What if she’d dreamed up his good looks? What if he had horns, hooves, and porcupine quills?

Nancy’s bubbly laughter followed her out the door, and what kind of vampire chatted and giggled like a brain-dead cheerleader? Didn’t really matter, though. The vamp would die in a rain of embers and ashes just like any other bloodsucking fiend. Tay just wished the remains weren’t so greasy. Washing that crap out of clothes was a bitch.

But then, such was the life of a member of The Aegis, the unsung protectors of the world. The secret guardians of humanity. The slayers of demons and things that went bump in the night.

And all the other bullshit that was supposed to make Tay feel warm and fuzzy, but that only reminded her how she had nothing better to do with her life than hang out in monster-infested alleys that smelled like rancid piss.

After all, it was hard to find a legitimate job when you had an arrest warrant for murder hanging over your head.

Then again, even if she had a perfect record and a freakin’ doctorate to her name, nothing would change. She’d still spend her nights patrolling the New York City underground she knew more intimately than anyone should, searching for evil filth to squash.

Evil filth like the doctor whose footsteps grew louder as he approached. She closed her eyes, still unable to face him. It wasn’t until she felt the head of the bed jack up that she dared to peek.

Chills shivered over her skin. Dressed in green scrubs, he was just as she’d remembered, all muscle and angular features and brown eyes that flashed with intelligence and confidence. That wicked tattoo on his right arm shimmered, its sharp, curved lines blurring when she looked too closely.

She’d fought demons for eight of her twenty-four years, but never had she encountered one whose devastatingly powerful presence filled her with a sense of awe. It was as though he was pure sexual energy contained in a wrapper of smooth, bronze skin, and damn, it wasn’t fair that a demon should be so cover-model handsome.

Too bad she’d have to ruin his looks with the bruising end of her right hook.

“I’m going to release your wrist restraints so you can eat. Don’t try to fight me. The hospital is under the protection of an antiviolence spell.”

Sure. She waited until he’d freed her hands. Then she smiled. And took a swing at his jaw.

Pain nearly sheared off the top of her skull. She fell back, clutching her head with both hands.

“I warned you.”

“My ass,” she groaned. “You wanted me to try something.”

“Maybe a little.”

When the pain dimmed, she narrowed her eyes at him. “That’s why I’m still alive, isn’t it? The spell. You probably want to kill me but can’t.”

He shrugged and marked something on her chart. “I also want to be inside you again, so I wouldn’t read too much into my instincts.”

She nearly choked on her own saliva. “I could have done without the reminder.”

Did he mean what he’d said? About being inside her? Not that it was a possibility, because clearly, she had to kill him at the first available opportunity.

“Oh,” he said, his voice rumbling through parts that had no business being rumbled, “you remembered all on your own.” He set aside the clipboard and put his long, slender fingers to the pulse in her wrist.

“You didn’t come, but you wanted to. And I wanted to make you come. Wanted to feel you spasm around me.”

His eyes darkened as he took in her face, her throat, her br**sts beneath the hospital gown. “I can still smell what we did. Smell your desire.” He pressed more firmly against the skin of her wrist, where her pulse throbbed harder with every word. “I can feel your desire.”

So could she, in the ache between her legs, the sweet pinch of puckered nipples, the rush of moisture that funneled through her sex.

“I wonder,” he purred, “how your desire would taste.”

Good God. The effect he had on her, the way he made her crave things she’d never wanted . . . it shouldn’t be happening. Not only was the man an enemy, but the lust itself . . . it shouldn’t be there at all. Sex had always been a weapon, a tool, the only form of currency that never ran out. Sex with a man was certainly not recreational. The times she’d tried to make it so had ended in anger, frustration, and emptiness. She faked orgasms like everyone else faked laughter at dumb jokes.

“Stop touching me,” she said a little too breathlessly, “or the only thing you’ll be tasting is my fist.” An idle threat, given the stupid spell, but threatening him made her feel better.

To her relief, he released her and stepped back, his arousal straining the front of his scrubs. Averting her gaze, she reached for the ankle restraints, but he shook his head.

“Leave them. Your hands are free so you can eat, but you aren’t at liberty to walk around.”

“Okay, Hellboy,” she said. “What if I have to go to the bathroom?”

“A nurse will assist you.” His voice pitched low with dark amusement. “Unless you’d rather I helped.”

“Thanks, I’ll pass.” She dragged her fingers through her tangled hair and cast a longing gaze at the food the vamp nurse had brought. “Do I get to eat, or what?”

He handed her the tray, and even though her stomach growled at the sight of what appeared to be an egg salad sandwich, she hesitated. “What kind of eggs are in this?”

“Could be anything. Rusalka. Harpy. Bone devil.”

She had a feeling he was messing with her, but it didn’t matter. She couldn’t take a bite. Not until she asked the vital questions that had been bugging her since she woke up.

“So, uh, where am I, exactly? And what do you plan on doing with me?”

“You’re at Underworld General Hospital. As you can probably guess, we specialize in nonhuman medical care. Our location is secret, so don’t ask.”

“UGH? Your hospital is called, ‘ugh’? Oh, that’s precious.” Doc Humorless gave her a flat stare, and she sighed. “How did I get here?”

“Ambulance. We have our own.”

“Of course you do.” She wished she could remember even the smallest detail of the trip here, but her mind was a black hole. “What about the Cruentus? Is it dead?”

“He’ll be released tonight.”

Rage burned like acid in her belly. “It killed my friend.”

“Your colleagues have killed many of mine,” he shot back.

She ground her teeth and forced herself to take control of her emotions. Truthfully, she’d never considered Janet a friend—she’d learned long ago to avoid attachments to people who risked death daily, but if he wanted to talk about loss, she could go toe to toe—or hoof, paw, whatever he had—with him. But right now, she had to play smart. And smart meant intel. She just hoped Guardians had already found Janet’s body. The thought of an Aegis warrior rotting in a sewer made the acid in her gut bubble.

“So where do you get training for something like this? Because I’m thinking a lot of you wouldn’t blend real well in anatomy class.”

His pager went off, but he ignored it. “Anyone who is human or can pass as human trains in human medical schools. I’m a medical doctor with a degree from Harvard, for example. We train all others ourselves.”

He brushed his fingers over the medical symbol on the pocket of his shirt as though making sure what he’d said was true. At least, she thought it was a medical symbol. The familiar winged staff encircled by two serpents had been replaced by a sinister-looking dagger. The vipers wrapped around the blade looked ready to strike. And the feathered wings had been replaced by batlike, tribal wings in a pattern similar to those on his arm. She frowned, because she’d seen it before . . .

His necklace. His pendant matched the design on his scrubs.

“It’s a modified caduceus,” he said, and she tore her gaze away from the design because now the image of the silver blade caressing her skin while he’d been inside her was burned into her brain. “My youngest brother designed it. We couldn’t very well use a human medical symbol.”

“I still don’t understand how demons can get into medical school. Don’t you have to have good college grades, or hey, here’s a novel idea—proof that you’re human?”

“Not everyone who looks human is, Tayla. Friends in high places can arrange anything. Including getting demons who didn’t grow up in human society into med school.”

The idea that demons had come together to do something so organized and not blatantly evil blew her mind. Almost enough to make her forget that he hadn’t answered her second question. Almost.

“And? What about me? You just going to keep me tied to the bed as your personal sex toy?”

“I should point out that you begged me for sex. Not the other way around.”

There he went with the unnecessary reminders again.

“And what? You couldn’t resist the injured, weakened human having a sexy dream?”

Something in his gaze went all smoldering and hot, and her body answered with an inappropriate return of heat. “Call it a peculiarity of my species. I couldn’t resist your scent. You had a need. I responded.”

“But you didn’t fulfill it.” A cruel blow, meant to injure since she had no other way to do so, but he merely frowned, looking troubled.

“Could have something to do with your biology. I could run tests . . . try again . . .”

“No!” She wondered if his apparently keen sense of smell would pick up the odor of her failing deodorant. She knew why she hadn’t cl**axed, but she wasn’t about to share. “Just answer my question. What are you going to do with me?”

He finally glanced at his pager and then back at her. “Some of my colleagues want to take you elsewhere and torture you until you talk.” The way he said it, all calm and matter-of-fact, frightened her more than the actual words did. “I’d rather they didn’t do that. I worked too hard to save you.”

Tay poked at her mystery egg sandwich, knowing she wouldn’t eat now. “Yeah, I can see how torturing and killing me after all your efforts would be a bummer.”

“Then give me something, slayer.”

“And what? You’ll let me waltz out the front doors?”

“I’ll make sure no one tortures you.”

“If you think I’m going to say one word about The Aegis, you’re on crack.” She looked down at her hand.

“Where’s my ring?”

“Consider it a partial payment on your hospital bill.”

“You . . . bastard,” she sputtered. “That ring has sentimental value.”

Upon joining The Aegis, every Guardian chose a piece of jewelry—rings, watches, necklaces, anything personal—to have imbued with magical enhancements, and her ring had belonged to her mother.

“Much of what The Aegis took from me had sentimental value.”

Great. Just great. If the enemy learned how the sorcery attached to her ring worked and what gifts it bestowed upon the human wearer, demons could find a way to neutralize the Aegis magic.

Clenching her fists, she cursed the antiviolence spell. “I’m not telling you anything.”

“Tell me about your parents.”

She blinked, caught off-guard by the change of subject. “Why?”

“If you won’t give me anything about The Aegis, tell me something about yourself. What can it hurt?”

Surely it was a trick, but she didn’t see the harm in discussing people who no longer existed. “I never knew my dad. My mom died when I was sixteen.”

“Did you ever see your father? Pictures, maybe?”

“What the hell kind of question is that? And not that it’s any of your business, but no. My mom never even gave me a name.”

Tayla doubted her mom had known the guy’s name. Tay had been born addicted to heroin, so her old man could have been one of any number of losers her mom screwed while doped up.

Hellboy looked thoughtful, as if what she’d said had been fascinating. He must not have a life beyond patching up other evil demons and boinking human patients.

“How did your mom die?”

Memories she’d battled for years twisted and rolled like a living thing inside her head. She didn’t bother to tamp down the rage. The bitterness tasted too good, and she needed the reminder of why she hated this man. “She was killed,” Tay said. “By a demon.”

Nancy Allen had no intention of taking the life of the man standing at the junction of a shadowy sidewalk and a dark alley, even though he deserved death for being so stupid. His expensive trench coat, slacks, and dress shoes all but screamed, “Rob me, beat me, and then stab my liver.”

Larissa Ione Books | Romance Books | Demonica Series Books