And wouldn’t killing her lover prove exactly what she’d said.

Though every instinct screamed at him to kill the demon in front of him, he drew his hand away from the weapon. “Who am I?” he asked calmly. “I’m your competition.”

Red rotating lights on the emergency room walls announced the arrival of Underworld General’s only working ambulance. The other had blown an engine this morning. Perfect. On top of the hospital’s woes, Eidolon had been sick with some sort of demon bug, and Shade seemed to have caught it as well

Wincing at his muscle aches, Eidolon donned a paper gown and finished gloving up as Shade and Luc rolled a stretcher laden with two hundred pounds of pregnant Suresh demon into the first trauma room. The female moaned and tossed her head, her black dreads smacking against equipment that threatened to topple.

“No progression of labor since we picked her up,” Shade said. “I can make the womb contract, but there seems to be a blockage.”

“Page Shakvhan.” Normally Eidolon wouldn’t require a female physician to handle a birth, but Sureshi females were notorious male-haters, and they responded much better to the same sex. How they ever managed to get pregnant was a mystery.

“I’ll clean up the rig,” Luc said, and slipped out of the room. The warg was a great paramedic in the field, but once he brought in a patient, he wanted nothing more to do with them.

The Suresh lifted her head and screamed, and blood gushed from between her muscular legs. Shade gripped her hand, his dermoire glowing as he channeled power into her. “It’s coming.”

“Hurts,” she moaned through clenched teeth.

“Guess we’re not waiting for Shakvhan.” Eidolon would have to take his chances with the female and hope she didn’t bite his arm off.

Quickly, he set up a sterile field. Shade assisted with towels as the female pushed, her contractions coming one on top of the other.

“There we go,” Eidolon breathed, as the infant’s head began to crown. It was big. Bigger than it should have been… and smoother. “Shade, contract the uterus.”

Shade moved his hand down the Suresh’s swollen stomach and closed his eyes. The female cried out and bore down.

The infant’s head emerged. Eidolon swore silently. This wasn’t a Sureshi baby, and he had a moment of both dread and joy at his sudden suspicion.

“You’re doing good, female,” he said. “Shade, one more.”

Another contraction rocked her, and the infant slid fully out, covered in blood and birth fluids, but the dermoire on the infant’s right arm confirmed his suspicions. Seminus demon. The mother was not going to be happy.

“Shade, I need you to take the infant.”

Surprise flickered in his brother’s dark eyes. This was only the second Seminus born at UG. The first, over ten years ago, had possessed the markings of one of the Seminus Council members, and the mother had wanted the infant. Eidolon had a feeling the Suresh would not. At least, she wouldn’t want to raise it. Eat it, maybe. Kill it, definitely.

“Where is it?” The female writhed on the table, trying to see her child.

Shade wrapped the squalling infant in a blanket and brought it around.

“That?” she roared. “That is what grew inside me? That parasite?” She snarled and swiped for it, but Shade stepped out of the way. The writing on the walls pulsed violently, and she yelped at the activation of the Haven spell. She held her head and panted through the pain, but she never stopped glaring at the baby. “Give it to me. I will take it outside and crush it.”

A low growl emanated from deep in Shade’s throat. “We will dispose of the infant.” He stalked off before the female could argue, but she cursed in a dozen different languages as Eidolon completed post-birth procedures.

When he was done, he found Shade with the baby in the nursery. He didn’t look up as Eidolon entered. “Congratulations, bro. You’re an uncle again.”

“What did you say?”

Shade fastened a diaper like a pro and turned to him, keeping one hand protectively on the baby’s belly. Shade had always been good with the young of any species, had practiced a lot with his sisters, but since becoming a father, he had developed an even stronger paternal instinct.

“This is Wraith’s offspring,” he said, and Eidolon missed a step as he approached the changing table.

“Interesting.” Eidolon ran his finger over the infant’s dermoire, pausing over the top mark, an hourglass at the base of his neck, the one that identified the father as Wraith.

“I’ve already called Runa. We’ll raise it as our own.”

“You plan to tell Wraith? Because for all his faults, he can count, and eventually he’ll figure out that you have four babies instead of three.”

Shade bundled the squirming infant in a blanket. “Yeah, he needs to know. And he should be the one to name it.”

Eidolon shook his head. “This is weird.”

Shade lifted the infant gently into his arms. “It’s never going to end, is it?” His gaze locked with Eidolon’s. “We’re never going to be done cleaning up Wraith’s messes.”

“He’s doing what our breed does after s’genesis.”

“I’m not talking about populating the world with Seminus young.”

“I know.” Wraith had always been a troublemaker, and at one point, he’d nearly started a war between their species and vampires. Wreaking havoc was what he did best. “And it’s going to be even worse once he gets that charm.”

Shade looked down at the newborn. “Sometimes I think the only thing that keeps Wraith going is the idea that, eventually, someone or something is going to kill him. If he gets the charm, he won’t have that anymore. I don’t want to see him lose his mind like our father did. Like Roag did.”

“Like I almost did,” Eidolon said quietly. If not for Tayla, he’d have turned into a beast his brothers would have been forced to put down.

“We can’t give up hope.” Shade made some cooing noises at the baby and then looked up. “Wraith is full of surprises.”

“Yeah, but they usually aren’t good ones.” Eidolon rubbed the bridge of his nose as his persistent headache worsened. “Hey, you feeling any better?”

“I wish,” Shade said. “This morning my gut cramped so hard I think my spine cracked.”

“Are Runa and the kids okay?”

“They’re great. In fact, I haven’t seen anyone else who’s sick. Maybe this is a breed-specific bug?”

“Maybe.” But something about that wasn’t sitting right. Namely, they hadn’t been in contact with any other Sems. Wraith was getting worse, but that was because of the poison… “Oh… oh, fuck.”

“What?”

“I need to check on something. I’ll page you when I get a definitive answer.”

“E—”

Eidolon ignored Shade and jogged toward his office. He had a sinking feeling this wasn’t a bug. This was a cancer.

Twelve

Wraith spent a fitful night after Serena left his cabin. He’d been aroused to the point of pain, requiring an injection of Eidolon’s anti-libido drug, but that had only been a minor part of Wraith’s sleeplessness.

He hadn’t been able to get Serena out of his mind. Her voice, her scent, the sounds she made when she came. Gods, the feel of her slick honey on his fingers… he’d wanted to taste her and then bury himself so deep inside her she’d feel him there for weeks.

Except, would she have weeks to live afterward? To think about him and regret what she’d let him take from her?

He’d warred with himself over whether or not he should go after her and apologize, but in the end he’d decided to give her some space. Besides, his failure to take her virginity when he’d had a couple of prime opportunities was eating at him. Why the hell was he stalling? He told himself that he was playing with his prey the way he often did, but was he? Or was he holding off the grand finale because for the first time in his life, he was enjoying being with a female for something other than sex?

He’d lain awake for hours thinking about it, and when he finally had fallen asleep, he’d succumbed to nightmares again. He’d been transported back to that dark basement, the dungeon where he’d spent his childhood, locked in a cage with nothing but a scratchy wool blanket on the dirt floor to sleep on and a metal pail in the corner that functioned as a toilet.

He shook his head free of the memories and nightmares as he exited the dining car and headed to Serena’s cabin. She hadn’t shown up for breakfast, and now he was concerned that she’d been spooked by what had hap-pened between them last night and had gotten off the train at Luxor or Cairo, the two stops before Aswan. If she had, he’d be screwed, right to the wall and right into his grave.

Shit.

He increased his pace from a walk to a jog as he approached her sleeping car. When he reached her cabin door, he knocked. Waited. His lungs ached, and he realized he’d been holding his breath.

She didn’t answer. He knocked again and was about to kick the door in when she finally opened up. She wore khaki cargo pants and a long-sleeved, olive button-down, but her feet were bare and her hair was a fluffy tangle of gold around her shoulders, and he got the distinct impression he’d woken her up.

“Hey,” she said. “I must have fallen asleep after I got dressed this morning. Did you already eat breakfast?”

He nodded and held out the box in his hand. “I figured you’d slept in, so I brought you something.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” she said, even as she snatched the box out of his hand. “But thank you. Are you feeling better? How’s your stomach?”

“Fine.” He stood there like a dolt, feeling awkward and stupid, and she wasn’t making things easier by staring at him as if she expected something. Like, maybe, an apology. Fuck. He wasn’t good at those. He rubbed the back of his neck, which did nothing to ease the tension there. “Ah… could I come in?”

She backed up in the narrow space. “Suit yourself.”

He stepped inside. “I owe you an apology,” he blurted. Man, that hurt.

“I agree.”

Okay, what now? He shoved his hand in his pocket and felt up his switchblade, which always comforted him. “So… I’m sorry.”

“Boy, you suck at apologies.”

“What do you want me to do? Fall at your feet and beg for forgiveness?” He snapped his mouth shut, because talking to her this way was definitely not going to score him points.

He seemed to be losing ground with her a lot faster than he was gaining it, and he needed to get back on track and fast. He’d called E this morning, and his brother had sounded like hell as he talked about all the shit that had gone down. Apparently, the hospital’s entire third wing had collapsed. Six staff members had died and it had taken some seriously powerful magic to keep the New York City streets above the underground hospital from caving in.

Suck up. Just suck up. “Serena, I’m sorry. I really am. I’m not good at apologies. Obviously.”

“It’s okay,” she sighed. “It’s not all your fault. I over-reacted to something that shouldn’t have been a big deal.”

“No.” He took the box away from her, tossed it onto the bed behind her, and framed her face in his hands. “I’m the one who overreacted. I’m not used to anyone worrying about me. No one except my brothers, anyway.” Hey, that wasn’t so hard. Probably because it was the truth. Novel idea, telling the truth.…

“And your brothers worrying is a bad thing?”

“It’s like they think I need a babysitter.”

She covered one of his hands with hers, stroked his fingers with her thumb. “So, are they overprotective, or have you done something to deserve their concern?”

He blinked, taken aback by her blunt question. “You speak your mind, don’t you?”

“I’ve found that beating around the bush takes too much time to get to the same place.”

Man, he liked her. He really, really liked her. “Baby, you’re speaking my language.”

“So… about your brothers?”

“It’s a little of both with them,” he said, running with the honesty thing. “E’s a doctor, so he’s naturally a worrywart, and Shade’s always been the nurturing kind, but he’s gone overboard since he became a dad.”

“And what about you? What have you done to make them worry?”

“There isn’t enough time in this day to list it all,” he admitted. “Let’s just say that I’ve been a very bad boy.”

Something sparked in her eyes. Excitement, as if she was picturing him doing naughty things. Maybe to her. “Girls like that, you know.”

“Like what?”

She hooked a finger under the collar of his T-shirt and tugged playfully. “Bad boys.”

“Oh, yeah?” His voice was low and rough, and he liked it. “What about you? Do you like bad boys?”

“There’s definitely appeal,” she breathed.

“Good.” He bent and clipped her earlobe with his teeth. The scent of her desire filled the air, and his nostrils flared, taking it in. “Because they don’t come badder than me.”

“I don’t know…” Her tone was flirty, yet husky, made more tantalizing by the way she dragged the ball of her foot up his calf. “I’m hearing a lot of talk and no action.”


Tags: Larissa Ione Demonica Romance
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