"Get off me, Spade. I mean it - "

He released her hands and rolled off her, putting a finger to his lips in the universal gesture for silence. Then he nodded at her hands.

Her face whitened when she saw them.

"I couldn't let him see," Spade said, so low she might not hear him.

She did, because she nodded once. Her gaze brightened and then she looked away from her hands, as if she couldn't bear the sight of them.

"Denise." Spade gently took her deformed hands into his grip, ignoring her attempts to pull free. "It might not be permanent. It wasn't last time."

She blinked rapidly and then her face hardened. "It doesn't matter. What does matter is what you've done to Raum. He'll never leave my family alone now. You've pissed him off too much."

Spade got up and went over to the telly, switching it on and turning the volume up very loud. The demon had left at the first sight of him, which was noteworthy. The salt bombs must have wounded Raum enough for him to run from a fight with a Master vampire, which Spade would have relished. Still, Spade didn't want to risk Raum overhearing what he had to say to Denise, if the demon still lurked nearby.

He sat back on the bed, leaning close to Denise so she could hear him above the blaring telly and trying very hard to ignore the headiness of her scent that said she had her monthlies.

"We know now that Raum wasn't lying about tracking you through the brands," Spade said. "Which means he would have followed you if you'd gone with me. Since that was a possibility, I left you here, both to see if the demon found you, and to keep Raum from finding out what I was doing."

"Your plan better be amazing, or after those salt bombs, my family's as good as dead if Raum finds them," Denise said, fear and anger still sharpening her tone.

He met her gaze, wanting her to see the intentness in his. "We now know Raum is a corporeal demon, not merely a possessed human. A corporeal demon can't enter a private residence unless invited, can't move around in the daytime, and can be injured by salt. A possessed human being piloted by a demon can go wherever he pleases, whenever he pleases, and has no aversion to salt."

"Is that a good thing about Raum, or a bad thing?" she asked.

In point of fact, it was a bad thing, because a possessed human would be much easier to dispose of, but Spade wasn't about to inform her of that.

"Before you can kill your enemy, you have to know what your enemy is," Spade replied, choosing his words. "Now we know what Raum is, which means we're one step closer to killing him. As for your parents, they're in the middle of the ocean. Raum wouldn't want to be anywhere near all that salt water, even if he did know where they were, which he doesn't, or he'd have taunted you with their exact location."

Denise chewed on her lip, reaching out to brush her hair back and then pausing in disgust when she caught a glimpse of her hands. She wound them in the bedspread without a word, though, and met his gaze without that former shine in her eyes.

"They can't cruise forever, Spade, and Raum can still track me whenever he wants. I get that you needed to know what sort of demon he was, but unless I never see my parents again, they'll be in horrible danger whenever I'm around them. You should have discussed this with me instead of deciding we weren't looking for Nathanial and we were going after Raum instead."

His brow arched. "We're still going to find Nathanial, but once we do, we'll be in a position of strength to deal with Raum. Not dependent on his goodwill that he won't kill you despite you fulfilling your promise."

He couldn't risk that. His time away from her had served several purposes; discovering the truth about her brands, determining the type of demon Raum was, and confirming how Spade felt about her without her presence clouding his judgment. All three of those questions had now been indisputably answered. Denise was more than a situational fancy. She was special. When he was with her, she stirred things in him that he hadn't felt in a century and a half, and it had started from the first moment he laid eyes on her. As for Denise being human, well...she wouldn't remain that way, if he had anything to say about it.

So after Raum took the brands off, Spade intended to kill him.

The fact that no one he knew had any inkling of how to kill a corporeal demon was something he wasn't about to share with Denise. If Spade couldn't discover any concrete information on demon dispatchment, he'd start with decapitation and work his way down from there.

"When we find Nathanial, I want you to leave," Denise said softly. "Raum will know you set the salt bombs. He'll want revenge, and if he can track me, he'll know the second we find Nathanial. Then he'll probably try to kill you. He won't need you anymore."

Raum wouldn't need Denise anymore, either, and she knew that as well as he did. Even if the demon didn't have a grudge against her - and Spade doubted that, after today - Raum could kill her just for amusement.

"I have a plan for that as well," he said.

Her hazel eyes narrowed. "What?"

If Alten or Emma thought it was strange that she came downstairs with towels wrapped around her hands, neither one of them gave any indication. Denise hoped that just as before, her hands would transform back to normal. Otherwise, she'd have to find a more practical solution for keeping them covered aside from Spade's monogrammed towels.

She prayed it wasn't permanent, and for more reasons than just anyone seeing how monstrous they looked. If it was permanent, even if they did defeat Raum, there went her hope of one day being a mother. How could she cradle a child without fear that claws would slice into her baby's skin? How could she even risk getting pregnant, if she had demon essence inside her?

The sight of the two strange people in the front hall jerked Denise from her depressed musings. One was a blond woman who stood near the fireplace, seeming to admire its huge size. Even though she was tall, if she'd decided to walk into it, she would have easily fit. The other was a young man with a closely shaved head and tattoos covering his arms like sleeves.

Spade nodded at them. "Denise, this is Francine and Chad."

"Nice to meet you," Denise said, walking toward them. Out of habit, she started to extend her hand, then flushed and dropped it to her side.

They cast pointed glances at her towels, but didn't comment. Once again, Denise cursed Raum, the brands, and her long-lost relative for starting this whole mess.

"Very nice to meet you, too," Francine said. Chad echoed that while giving Denise a once-over that made her feel like a woman instead of a walking monstrosity. Then Chad glanced at Spade, blanched a little at whatever Spade's expression was, and cleared his throat.

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