“The effect is temporary. I’ll take back the artifact once we’re clear of the hospital.”
The BMW slid into motion, the smooth ride angling up some sort of steep incline. Once they leveled out, she wondered if they were out of range of the Haven spell, and then decided that pummeling him while she was blind and he was driving might not be the best idea she’d ever had.
Silence descended on the leather-scented interior like a shroud. Tay bounced her legs. Tapped her fingers on the arm rest. Chewed her lip.
Anything to keep her breathing even and steady when all she wanted to do was fight the darkness, silence, and unknown.
“I should have sedated you.”
“I’m sure you’ll regret it soon enough.” Like when she drove a blade through his throat at her first opportunity.
“I already do.”
She really wanted to glare at him. “Anything else you regret? Like saving me? I mean, why didn’t you let me die?”
“I’m a doctor.”
“I’m not a doctor?”
“You’re a demon, smartass, so you can’t tell me that the hypocritical oath applies to you.”
“Hippocratic, and it doesn’t.”
“A, I was being sarcastic, and B, you didn’t answer my question.”
She felt the vehicle take a sharp turn and sensed that he’d steered a little harder than he needed to. “I don’t owe you any answers.”
“Christ,” she muttered. “I hate demons.”
His bark of laughter made her jump like a twitchy cat. “I didn’t let you die because doing so would go against hospital policy, which I wrote and can’t violate without losing the respect of my staff.”
He sounded as if he might be telling the truth, but then, demons lied as easily as they killed. “Know what I think?”
“Please,” he said drolly, “do tell me.”
Ass. “I think you kept me alive to get information about The Aegis. You’d have been stupid not to.”
“That was part of the original plan, yes. But since you aren’t hanging from razor wire in a dungeon with rubber floors that hose clean, you can assume the plan changed.”
His tone told her there was a story behind the rubber-floored dungeon, a story she figured belonged shelved alongside the only books she owned, tattered, used copies of Stephen King novels. “Does the change of plans have something to do with the play-fair-Justice-Dealer thing your brother was talking about?” When he didn’t answer, she pressed on, because the dark silence was making her nuts. “What’s a Justice Dealer?”
“My former career. I was raised by the Judicia.”
“Ah. Vengeance demons.”
“Justice demons,” he corrected. “Vengeance demons can be summoned by anyone, human or demon, to take revenge on another. Justice demons serve only other demons—generally species and breed Councils. And, unlike vengeance demons, Judicium must investigate the complaint before taking action.”
Interesting. Demons had their own cops. “What happens after the investigation?”
“Sentences are meted out based on the crime. But if we find that the petitioner is in the wrong, it’s the accuser who is dealt the punishment.”
“We? So you still do the job?”
“No. Since I’m not Judicium, my JD powers weren’t inherited and had to be bestowed upon me as a fledgling.”
“Did you like being a demon cop?”
“Are you always so nosy?”
She shrugged, making her scrub top rasp against the warm leather. “You got something better to do than talk? Besides drive, I mean.”
There was a brief silence. “I hated being a Justice Dealer. But because I grew up in a Judicium household, it was expected of me. My species’ innate gifts make us naturals in the field of medicine, so as soon as I earned my doctorate, I relinquished my JD powers.”
“Your brother said you weren’t raised together. How many brothers do you have?”
“Total? Dead and alive?”
Well, this was awkward. “Um . . . both?”
“I had forty-four.” Another sharp turn had her sliding in the leather seat. “I’m down to two. I’m the eldest.”
“No. Twenty were born before I was, but only one survived to s’genesis. Roag was killed two years ago. Now, if I take back the artifact, will you shut up?”
He pried the stone from her fingers. Bright, noontime sunlight nearly blinded her as effectively as the darkness.
“Obviously, daylight isn’t an issue for you.”
“My species isn’t heliophobic.”
Of course not, because sensitivity to the sun would be a weakness, and from what she could tell, there was nothing weak about Hellboy. Not with those muscles, that jawline, those eyes. Everything about him screamed strength. Intelligence. Sex. Definitely sex. Her body reminded her of that fact with a wave of hot tingles across her skin.
“You got the heater on? It’s like a furnace in here,” she muttered, and he smiled as if he knew exactly what had jacked up her body temperature.
She huffed and glanced out the side window, where people were taking advantage of the mild spring day, dining in outdoor cafés and chatting on corners, clueless about the horrors that took place right under their noses. She didn’t recognize the part of the city they were in, but she did make note of the street names. His vile hospital couldn’t stay hidden. Not from The Aegis.
“Where do you live?” he asked.
“Like I’m going to tell you.”
“Stubborn human. You can think about it on the way.”
“The way where?”
“One of my nurses didn’t show up for work today. I’m checking on her.”
She kept to herself the thought that maybe a Guardian had cremated the bloodsucker.
Sliding a glance at Hellboy, she wondered if killing him would be as easy as driving a stake through a vamp’s chest. Sure, he didn’t look weak, but every demon had a vulnerability. Maybe his tattoos were his. The way they snaked around his hard, muscular arm, all the way to his throat . . . she remembered how they’d writhed when he was inside her, and yeah, they were part of him. Not inked tattoos, but extensions of his tan skin. Special features were often the heart of a weakness, and she intended to find his.
“What do your markings symbolize?” Before she could stop herself, she reached out and skimmed her fingertip over the clean lines of the top one, an oddly crooked set of scales, on his neck.
A sound broke from deep inside him, a rush of air through slightly parted lips. “Unless you want me to pull over and take you where you sit, you’d better remove your hand.”
She drew back so fast her elbow clanked against the passenger window.
Gripping the steering wheel hard enough that his knuckles turned white, he brought the vehicle to a smooth stop at a red light. When he spoke, his voice sounded as if his larynx had gone a round with sandpaper. “It’s called a dermoire. It’s a history of my paternity. The symbol on my throat is my own. The one below it is my father’s. The one below that is his father’s, and so on, all the way to my fingers. When we meet others of our species, one glance will tell us all we need to know about our relationship to each other.”
The knowledge that he could trace his paternal roots back more than a dozen generations while she didn’t even know the name of her father clawed at her. He’d probably grown up all happy in his special little demon family, Mom baking freakin’ cookies and Dad teaching him how to ride a bike. Tayla’s upbringing had been less rosy, sleeping on cots if she was lucky, getting secondhand toys for Christmas .
. . if she got a toy at all, spending most of her days hungry and hiding from drunks.
Oh, yeah. Way to feel sorry for herself. Christ, she hadn’t felt sorry for herself in years, and she wasn’t about to let a demon change that. She wouldn’t let anyone change that. Her survival depended on her ability to lock out the past and people. No one was getting in, especially not Doctor Evil over there in the driver’s seat.
He made a left turn, making those tats undulate on ropy muscle. If he were human, she’d run her tongue along every one of them . . .
Focus, Tay, focus. Well, the tats were the focus, but not like that. “So, um, you were born with the markings?”
“Yes, though my individual symbol didn’t appear until I reached my first stage of sexual maturity.”
He studied her with a cool, measuring gaze, probably trying to decide how much to reveal. “There are two,” he said finally. “The first hits around the age of twenty. The second, s’genesis, occurs during our hundredth year.”
It’s the s’genesis, isn’t it? Messing you up, affecting your judgment.
So that was what Shade had been talking about. Which made Hellboy three-quarters of a century older than her.
“What’s your true form?”
“This is it.”
She gaped. “Your species looks like Playgirl models? It’s not fair.”
“You. You’re a demon. Evil should look . . . evil. Ugly. Wouldn’t hurt if you smelled bad, either.” Heck, she’d be happy if he just didn’t smell good. The air around him smelled faintly of spiced dark chocolate and man, making her mouth water and her libido kick into high gear.
“I’m not exactly evil.”
She snorted. “All demons are pure evil.”
“What about half-breeds? Are they evil, too?”
“They’re abominations that deserve to die the same as any other demon.”
He turned and looked at her, wearing a grin that was about as evil as any she’d seen. “This is going to be fun.”
Doctor Gemella Endri was up to her elbows in condoms.
Which was what made hearing the man of her dreams’ voice so incredibly mortifying.
She extracted herself from a thirty-gallon tub of prophylactics in the back of the ambulance and smiled. Shakily.
Kynan Morgan was crossing the street, his easy, powerful stride ratcheting her pulse up a notch. Tall and lean, with thick, muscular arms and a broad chest made to crush a woman beneath him, he invited wicked fantasies that didn’t stop between the sheets. Gem pictured being with him on the floor. On counters. In pools and hot sulfur baths.
He halted on the sidewalk behind the ambulance and peeled off his sunglasses. He was dressed like always; worn jeans, a brown leather bomber jacket, and combat boots. Another human male, ten years younger than Ky at twenty, maybe, stood next to him.
“Hey.” She gestured to the little yellow baggies filled with condoms and safe-sex pamphlets, hoping her nerves didn’t show too much in the way her voice wavered. “Obviously, it’s my day to run the ‘come prepared’ campaign with Judy.”
Judy, the woman in charge of the public service, waved over her shoulder but didn’t miss a beat as she finished stuffing a bag. “Gem is always happy to give up a day off to make sure people on the streets can have protected sex.”
“A noble cause,” Kynan said, and graced her with one of his heart-stopping grins.
God, he was fine. At least six-two, with spiky dark hair and eyes the color of new denim. He filled out his clothes as if they were custom-made for his athletic build, which she’d seen nearly unclothed. He was a regular at the hospital where she interned, Mercy General, where his best friend, Dennis, a man who’d saved his life during his military days, headed the emergency department. Usually, when Kynan came in, it was to have one of his halfway house residents treated, but sometimes he needed a little patch-up work himself.
He was such a good guy to take in street kids, clean them up, and give them a chance in the world. Kynan even smelled good . . . not just the natural, earthy male scent that clung to him, but the pure, fresh rain aroma of someone who was truly . . . decent. She never encountered that in the demon world, and rarely in the human one. Such purity should have repelled her, but instead, it drew her, fascinated her . . . and sometimes, it made her demon half long to corrupt it.
Her demon half could be a real bitch.
“Did you notice that Gem changed her hair?” Judy gave Gem an exasperated look and handed a passerby a baggie of condoms. “Again.”
Kynan nodded. “The black and blue is much better than the red.”
“Well, people kept saying I looked like a Goth Raggedy Ann doll.”
He laughed, a rich, deep sound that hit her in every one of her erogenous zones, and Judy sniffed.
“Don’t encourage her. Now she looks like a Goth bruise. It’s not seemly for a doctor.”
“I think she looks great,” Kynan said, and then winked at Gem. “Don’t let this old biddy talk you out of being who you are.” He shot the old biddy a mischievous look. “You should take some pointers from Gem. I’ll bet you’d look hot in chains and leather.”
Judy blushed. “You are a such a flirt, Kynan Morgan. Does Lori know that about you?”
“It’s why she loves me.” He lit up, as he always did when he talked about his wife, and Gem sighed. His bone-deep loyalty to Lori was one of the most attractive things about him. She couldn’t fathom how it would feel to have someone love her like that. Being a half-breed in a world where both humans and demons valued pure blood over all else left her on the lonely outskirts of society.
Even her own parents liked to pretend she was pure demon, and when small things reminded them of her mixed parentage, their unintentionally hurtful comments left her longing for the company of someone who understood.