Shade swore, his head swimming. “Outside. She’s outside. Something’s wrong.”
Eidolon’s gaze caught his. “The Carceris.”
“Maybe a jaguar got her,” Wraith offered, less than helpfully, though at least he was back to his usual self.
E shot Wraith a glare before turning to Shade. “Stay here. Wraith and I will take care of it.”
“Like hell,” Shade growled. The choking feeling had faded, leaving him unsettled and unable to sense Runa’s mood. He could feel her proximity, but even that was fuzzy. He broke away from Eidolon and hauled ass toward the exit.
“Shade, wait! We aren’t done!” Wraith followed, and behind him, Shade heard E’s curse.
If those Carceris bastards had hurt Runa to get to him, he’d kill someone. Or several someones.
He burst out the side entrance and braced himself for a confrontation with the Nightlash and Seminus he’d seen earlier. No doubt they’d have hellhounds as well, and those beasts loved a good fight. Well-trained Carceris hounds wouldn’t kill their target, but they’d fall just short of it. Worse, they were perpetually horny, and what they did to a demon when it was down amounted to a lot more than a little leg-humping.
With Wraith and Eidolon on his heels, he charged down the path to the south side of the cliffs where the waterfall met the pool, not bothering with stealth. Ahead, in the clearing, Runa lay on the ground, her body crumpled next to a tree.
“Son of a—” Something struck him in the head, and pain exploded in his skull. He wheeled toward the source, a slimy Drec demon holding a cudgel.
Wraith struck with the bullwhip. How he’d managed to grab the thing while on the run was a question for later. His brother wielded it as if it was an extension of his arm, and the Drec’s face split open, sending blood and teeth flying.
More creatures burst from the brush, but Shade weaved around them or barreled through them, his entire focus on Runa.
Almost there. Almost …
A massive four-winged creature dropped in front of him. A demon he’d never seen before, a hideous black beast that smelled—and looked—like rotting flesh. Its head was little more than a gaping mouth full of rows upon rows of razor-sharp teeth.
Behind him, the sounds of battle raged. He figured his brothers were dealing out the worst of the punishment, but he couldn’t look back. The winged thing was between him and Runa, and nothing would get between them ever again.
Shade dropped, swept his leg out to catch the creature in one of its bony ankles. It crashed to the ground but was up in an instant. He struck hard, crunching his fist into its gut. The spongy, wet flesh sucked his hand into the demon’s body up to his elbow. Hell’s fires, that was nasty.
Shade spun away, bringing his foot up between the thing’s legs. It screamed and slammed a heavy wing down on Shade’s shoulders. He ducked, taking only a glancing blow, but an explosion of pain and the smell of blood told him the strike had been damaging enough. Another beast landed next to him, its wings stirring up the trees, creating a whirlwind of vines and leaves. Something struck his back, the shock of the impact stunning him.
What the hell was going on? This wasn’t a Carceris operation, not unless they’d changed their methods in recent years.
The word, spoken in Sheoulic, the universal demonic language, meant to stand down, which might have been a relief if it hadn’t been uttered in Roag’s damaged, deep rasp.
The winged monsters backed away. Roag stepped out from behind one of the things, a barely conscious Runa in his arms. He wore some sort of brace on one hand. Wicked, Freddy Kruger—like extensions gave him sharp fingers where his own should have been.
“Stay where you are,” Roag said, bringing the blades to Runa’s throat, “or she dies.”
“Trust me, brother, you don’t want to do that.”
Roag raised his eyebrows, dark, sickly things that hadn’t completely grown back after the fire. “You aren’t in a position to make threats.” He nodded at Wraith and E, who were on the verge of being overwhelmed. “Tell them to stop.” To emphasize his command, he slashed Runa’s cheek with a blade. She whimpered, but through the bond Shade knew she was too out of it to feel much pain.
“Damn you.” Shade struggled to keep his voice low and even, when what he wanted to do was scream.
“Do it!” Another flick of a blade opened a gash dangerously close to Runa’s jugular.
The scent of Runa’s blood filled Shade with a bitter, sharp rage. He wanted to shift form into something horrible and bite Roag’s f**king head off. But he couldn’t risk Runa, and even if he succeeded in killing Roag, the army of monsters he’d brought with him would probably take them all out.
“Wraith! Eidolon!” He didn’t take his eyes off Runa as he shouted to his brothers. “Back off!”
“Not happening, brother.” Wraith’s words were mushy, gurgled, and Shade suspected his little brother was speaking through split lips and a mouth full of blood. Which meant the taste was on his tongue, and between that and the pain, he’d gone into vampire bloodlust.
“Stop him,” Roag warned, digging his blades into the delicate skin between Runa’s throat and jaw.
Shade’s heart hammered hard, and cold sweat broke out on his brow. “E! You’ve got to stop Wraith. Now!”
Torn between staying as close to Runa as possible and helping E take down Wraith, Shade hesitated, but the sound of Eidolon getting pummeled by Wraith tipped the scales. Shade darted toward them. He caught Wraith from behind, managed to pin his arms to his sides, but only for a moment. Wraith had the advantage on any day, but add to that the bloodlust, and gaining control of him turned into a vicious battle.
They muscled him to the ground, but damn, Wraith was strong and pissed, and with the way his eyes burned red and his fangs had elongated into daggers, Shade doubted Wraith even knew who he was fighting anymore.
Eidolon used his weight to hold Wraith down while Shade channeled power into him, using his gift to slow Wraith’s heart and breathing, then reaching deep to cut off the adrenaline flow.
“Ease up, bro. Idle down,” Shade murmured, even as he looked over his shoulder to make sure Runa was okay and none of Roag’s minions were going to launch a surprise attack.
Bringing Wraith down was agonizingly slow, and most likely futile. As soon as they let him up, Wraith would probably go ballistic on Roag’s demons.
“Very, very good,” Roag said. “But honestly, I can’t believe you two haven’t figured out that killing Wraith would make life a whole lot easier.”
Eidolon bared his teeth. “You know what would be easier, you f**king—”
“Don’t.” Shade gripped E’s arm and squeezed. “I can’t risk Runa.”
The wind rustled the leaves in the trees, bringing with it the scent of brimstone. Hellhounds.
“Where’d you get the trackers?” Eidolon eased off Wraith, who leaped nimbly to his feet and stood there, quivering with the amount of restraint it must have taken to not go for Roag’s throat.
Roag stroked his blades through Runa’s hair, and now it was Shade who had to restrain himself, especially when locks of her gorgeous hair began to flutter to the ground. “What, you think I don’t have my own kennel?”
It was on the tip of Shade’s tongue to say Roag couldn’t control his own female, let alone a hellhound, but with Runa still in danger, Shade kept his mouth shut. Two Carceris officers stepped into the clearing, held prisoner by Roag’s minions.
So that was how he’d found Shade. He’d taken the Carceris officers prisoner and forced them to use the hounds to track him. Son of a bitch.
“Shade?” Runa’s voice was quiet but steady, and pride swelled in him. He smelled no fear from her, instead her strength permeated the air. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, lirsha.”
Roag snorted. “You’re fading, you know. I’m thinking it’s not okay.”
A deep, low growl rumbled in Runa’s throat. Shade’s pulse went tachy with panic. “Runa, no!”
She struck. A double blow, one sharp kick to Roag’s shin and a reverse punch to his face. A shockwave of energy hit Shade; she was trying to shift.
“Little bitch,” Roag hissed, and buried one of his blades in her shoulder. Her scream rent the air. “This blade is solid silver. You can’t shift.”
A veil of crimson came down over Shade’s vision. He sprang forward, because he was going to tear out Roag’s throat. Something pierced his neck. A dart, drugged, no doubt. He fell to the ground hard enough to knock the wind from his lungs. Determined to get to Runa, he yanked the dart from his skin. Eidolon and Wraith’s furious shouts told him they’d fallen victim to the same fate.
The last thing he heard before he lost consciousness was Runa’s bloodcurdling wail.
Kynan stood at the threshold to Gem’s apartment, his stomach in knots and his mind fuzzy from the half-dozen shots of liquid courage he’d slammed before coming over. Before Lori died, he hadn’t been much of a drinker, but lately he’d been lonely and all too eagerly seeking the kind of embrace only Captain Morgan could give him.
Though he normally didn’t fall into the Captain’s arms until after noon.
But this morning he’d started early, after calling Arik and confirming that the military knew about his work at UG. Ky had made clear that he wouldn’t betray Eidolon or the hospital, and Arik seemed to be cool with that. They’d spent some time catching up, and it had all been cozy—too cozy. His spidey sense was tingling.
The door opened, and Gem stood there, looking surprised and really freaking hot in a black V-neck, cropped sweatshirt that dipped low enough to reveal a hint of crimson bra beneath. Her black miniskirt seemed to be made of the same sweat material and was so short he wondered if she was wearing underwear that matched the bra. Strangely, he got the impression that this was her idea of lounge-around-the-house casual.
“Kynan. Ah, this is a surprise.”
“Can I come in?”
She narrowed her gaze at him as though trying to figure out if this was a trick, but she moved aside. Her sweet, citrusy scent came to him as he walked past, and he damned near swayed. It’s the alcohol.
Maybe, but it wasn’t the damned alcohol that was making his dick stand at attention. He entered her small living room and turned to her.
“Were you getting ready to go out?”
“Out?” She looked down at her clothes. “Oh, no. Nowhere special, anyway. I was going to raid the grocery store later. Exciting, huh?”
His dick jerked, because yep, it was excited. Little bastard.
He cleared his throat. Rubbed the back of his neck. Grew some balls to say what he needed to say.
“Yeah, look, Gem. I think we need to talk.”
“I think so, too.” She propped one hip on the back of her sofa, black leather like all her furniture. Even her lampshade was black. In fact, everything in her living room was either black or stark white. No shades of gray for Gem, but that was no surprise.
“Maybe we could start with why you’re still torturing yourself,” she said bluntly. “Lori’s been dead a year.”
He hadn’t expected that, and surprise veered quickly to defensive anger. “There’s a time limit on grief?” he snapped. “Is that a demon thing?”
“Why does it always come back to that? I could say I think clouds are pretty, and you’d say they’re only pretty to demons.”
The fact that she was right only pissed him off more. “What do you expect? I’ve been fighting them for years. Losing friends to them. Losing my wife to them.”
“And yet, here you are in a demon’s apartment.”
“I’m not here to stay.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Why are you here?”
“To apologize. I was an ass the other night. I shouldn’t have led you on like that. I used you, and it wasn’t fair. I won’t do it again.”
“You didn’t use me. I needed you, you needed me … there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“We walk in different worlds, Gem.”
“Oh, really? Because I see you walking down the same hospital halls I do. I see you wearing the same hospital scrubs bearing the demon caduceus.”
Cursing, he jammed his fingers through his hair. “You think I don’t know how messed up that is?”
“I think you’re immersing yourself in a world you hate so you can hang on to your anger. You don’t want to forget your wife’s betrayal, do you?”
“You don’t know anything,” he ground out.
“You think I don’t see that it’s not demons you hate, but yourself? That you hate the fact that you’re starting to like some of us?” She walked up to him, got right up in his face so her br**sts brushed his chest. “You hate the fact that you want me. It’s driving you nuts, isn’t it? Screwing with your head.”
“You know what’s screwing with my head?” He fisted the hem of her skirt, and his voice plummeted to a low growl. “These skimpy little fuck-me outfits. Do you get off on teasing men? Is it human men you’re after? You like to f**k them and then laugh at how you got the unsuspecting, stupid human to screw a demon?”
They were unfair questions born of anger, frustration, and plain old lust. He wasn’t sure what he’d hoped to accomplish by asking them, but the pinch to his biceps wasn’t it.