He sure wasn't beautiful. More like scary. He'd been called that a few times. Perfect-uh, that was another word that would never fit him and the shit that was his life.
As for human…not quite.
Even when he held Nathalia late at night, when she was beside him in bed and he could feel the soft beat of her heart, he worried he'd lose her.
Because he was a monster, too. And no matter what that crap in storybooks said, Beauty didn't want to spend her life shacked up with the Beast.
She wasn't looking at him now. Just staring out the window with her shoulders slumped. "When I…first found out about the Other-"
He winced. That had been a brutal introduction, and just thinking about the attack she'd suffered made him want to kill .
"-I thought all supernaturals were evil. Even though Gyth saved my ass, my head-" She glanced back at him and McNeal thought he managed to wipe the desperation from his face. "-it was all messed up."
An attack by a psycho could do that to a woman.
"It's okay." His voice sounded gruff. He hadn't planned that. He'd wanted to sound soft and comforting, but his voice was always like gravel. "You don't have to-"
"That girl-Kim. When I saw her, I didn't think about her being human or Other. I just saw a victim."
Because that's what the girl was.
"Monsters, humans-we're all a tangled mess, just trying to survive." Her eyes held his. "And I'm not afraid anymore, Danny. I'm not afraid ."
That cracking was his heart. Breaking-no, bursting, because dammit, he loved her. A woman who'd walked through hell, but could still understand the monsters.
He walked to her, slowly, even though he knew she wouldn't frighten off. "You don't need to be afraid anymore." He'd never let her be in danger. Never.
"But others do. Kim. Holly Storm. They have to be careful." She turned fully to face him. "This killer is smart and she's good."
She'd sure managed to clear out of that house fast. Gyth and the crime scene guys had been poring over that place and they'd found jack shit. A guy with a nose like Gyth's wouldn't miss anything.
Which meant there was nothing to find.
And it meant they had three dead bodies.
And one live victim.
Thanks to the demon king of the city. Owing that guy stuck in McNeal's throat, but he'd make sure he paid his debt.
McNeal always paid his debts.
After the killer was caught, and he would catch the slicer, he'd handle Niol.
Her eyes were grainy from crying. Because, yeah, she'd cried like a baby when she'd been in that ambulance with Kim. Cried and prayed-prayed like she hadn't prayed in years –and used every bit of her strength to will Kim to live.
And so far, she had.
Holly climbed from Niol's SUV, her knees shaking and her calves trembling. Her stomach was one hard knot. She couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten and she just wanted to crawl inside and wash away the blood staining her fingers.
Just wash it away.
Niol's voice. Tense.
She didn't stop walking. She didn't know what to say to him then. The guy confused her too much. She wanted him. She needed him and-
And if she wasn't careful, she'd lose her heart to him.
Because she knew Niol wasn't the staying kind. Or the loving kind. He'd warned her of that, himself.
Her steps were heavy on the sidewalk. She wasn't paying attention to-
"Holly?" Not Niol's voice. Feminine. High. Screech-level.
Her head lifted. Her gaze searched the darkness and saw the figure standing on her porch.
"Tried to tell you." Now Niol was talking. Quiet. Whisper-like. "We aren't alone."
Her mom was there. Since when did her mom pay her late-night visits? Or any visits?
Click. Click. Click. Her mother's shoes on the steps. "I've been waiting here for hours, Holly Ann Storm. Hours. I called your cell at least a dozen times and you couldn't be bothered to answer."
She'd had to turn the cell off in the hospital. Frowning, she dug around in her purse and, after a moment, felt the cool touch of the phone. Forgot to turn it back on.
Holly continued walking, one foot in front of the other. She passed her mom and pulled out the house keys. "Sorry, Mom, I was-"
"Out. With a man." A sniff. "You sounded like you needed me, Holly Ann. I came all the way from Birmingham and you weren't even-"
Holly shoved open her front door. The alarm beeped as she flipped on the lights and punched in the security code and-
" Oh. My. God. Is that blood?"
Yeah, and a lot of it. She'd scrubbed as hard as she could in the hospital, but her fingernails were still stained red and her shirt, though dry now, had Kim's blood coated on the front. "It's really been one hell of a night, Mom."
Her mother had followed her inside. The lights flickered off the red of her hair, a shade softer than Holly's own, one that had a bit of professional help. Her mom was in her early fifties, but could easily have passed for a woman just hitting her mid-forties.
Holly dropped her bag onto the sofa and thought long and hard about collapsing next to it. Her mom seemed stunned, staring at her with wide eyes-a perfect shade match there-and parted lips.
Niol loomed in the doorway behind her. Holly wasn't sure her mom had even seen him yet. "Uh, it's not my blood, Mom."
"You take these dangerous stories. You stay out all hours with strange men-" She finally glanced back over her shoulder at Niol as she snapped, "It could be your– No! "
The last was gasped. And that horrified gasp was full of recognition. Recognition that a human who'd spent the last seven years living in Birmingham, Alabama, shouldn't have for a demon in Atlanta.
Holly got a really, really bad feeling in her gut.
No, no she wouldn't have kept this from me. Not all of these years. Not after Peter-
Her mother still had her eyes glued to Niol. He lifted a brow and his own black eyes stayed locked on her.
"S-send him away." Hoarse.
Holly blinked. "What?"
Her mother's head turned toward her. Very slowly, as if she were afraid to take her gaze off Niol. Her mother had always been smart. "Send him away." Stronger now.
Holly glanced over at Niol. No expression there. She took a deep breath and said simply, "No."
Then she motioned to Niol. "Shut the door so the alarm will kick in." And she walked away.
Silence behind her. Then a hand caught her arm. She swung around and met her mom's wild eyes. Used to be so calm. Not anymore. "You don't know what you're doing! This-this man, he's not for you! Go back to that nice doctor you were seeing. He was a good man, safe. He was-"