“I’ll see what kinds of supplies we have here. We’re probably going to need to go shopping.” She stood in the doorway, her hair blowing in the breeze and glinting in the sun, and he wanted her. Right then, right there.
He shot to her like he’d come out of a cannon. Her soft sound of surprise was muffled by his mouth, easing into a contented sigh as she melted against him. Now wasn’t the time or place to do everything he wanted to do, but he made his message clear.
He would take her ten ways from Sunday when she was cured, because he refused to believe it wouldn’t happen.
And then he’d find a way to make her his. Humans couldn’t bond with Seminus demons, but there had to be a way. Somehow, it could happen.
Right. As soon as she forgave him for lying to her, seducing her, oh, and being a demon.
Shit. He was living in fantasyland. All he needed now were mouse ears and fairy f**king dust.
Cursing silently, he broke away from her and made the circuit around the house. Nothing was out of place, but he discovered more subtle signs that told him this house was more than what it seemed. The entire property line had been carved out with a very narrow, shallow ditch almost invisible to anyone not looking for it. This would be where someone might put out a protective circle of salt, ash, holy water—any substance meant to guard against evil.
His inspection turned up several more curious features, including a number of tiny silver stakes in the ground, set out in the shape of a giant pentagram that spanned the entire property.
He headed for the front door, pausing at the threshold. He heard Serena coughing somewhere in the house, but she was nowhere she’d see if the ward worked on him. Taking a deep breath, he stepped through the doorway.
Nothing happened. Cool. He wondered if the ward should have affected him, or if the charm was doing its thing.
Serena was drinking a glass of water in the kitchen, so he poked around the other rooms. In one of the back rooms he found a wooden chest. When he opened it, his blood ran cold.
It was full of weapons—swords, stakes, bottles of holy water, ropes, blades, and stangs. The double-ended blades of the stangs were each coated in a different metal to kill different types of demons. These were Aegis weapons.
Suspicion confirmed: Wraith had walked right into the middle of a f**king Aegis stronghold.
He slammed the lid shut and stalked into the kitchen, where Serena had set two colas out on the small dining table.
“I found drinks and canned goods. Some pasta—”
He slapped his hands down on the counter on either side of her hard enough to make her jump. “When is the rest of the crew showing up?”
Caged in, she looked up at him in surprise. “Crew? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I think you do.”
She ducked beneath his arms and jammed her hands on her hips. “I don’t like your tone.”
“I don’t like being lied to.”
“And I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” she shot back.
He believed her, but by now his nerves were frayed and he was juiced. He was a freaking demon standing in the middle of Demon Slayer Central. “I thought only Val was coming.” Which was going to be a difficult situation as it was. He’d have to get into the guy’s head again and do some creative memory reconstruction when it came to the real Josh.
“Well, gee. I’m so sorry I forgot to mention we’d be joined by people who can help us. Why does it matter?” She put her palm on his forehead. “Are you okay? You’re acting strange.”
Oh, hell. He was making her suspicious by flying off the handle like this. “I’m fine.”
“You owe me more than that, Josh. We’ve shared too much for you to shut down now,” she said, throwing his words from earlier right back at him.
Fuck. She was right, and it only pissed him off. Mainly because his lies were sitting on him like a two-ton lava beast, and guilt was practically leaking out of him. Maybe he should tell her the truth. If she knew what he was… what? She’d only hate him sooner.
Gods, this was f**ked up.
He didn’t answer her because his tongue felt glued to the roof of his mouth, and eventually she rubbed her temples and shook her head.
“Serena? What’s wrong?”
“Headache,” she muttered. “I need to lie down. Do you mind?”
Yes, he minded. He minded so much his heart was ripping in half. Because somehow, he knew that once she was down, she wasn’t getting back up.
Serena had just put on a tank top and shorts and was looking at the bed like a lover when her cell phone rang. Feeling unreasonably weak, she dug it out of her backpack and flipped it open
“Where are you?” he barked.
She sighed. “Hello to you, too.”
“Where are you?”
A sudden spike of dread made her legs wobble, and she sank onto the bed. “I’m at the house you sent us to. Why?”
“Us. So you aren’t alone?”
“Josh is with me.”
There was a moment of tense silence, broken by the sound of someone near him whispering. David. “Serena, listen to me very carefully.”
“You’re starting to scare me.”
“Good. Are you somewhere private? Where you can’t be heard?”
She glanced at the closed door. “Yes, but what is this about?”
“In the smallest room at the back of the house, there’s a chest full of weapons. As quietly as you can, I need you to arm up, and then lock yourself in the bedroom and wait. We should be there in a matter of hours.”
Goose bumps crawled over her skin. “Val?” Her voice was trembling as hard as she was. “What’s going on?”
“I just spoke with Josh,” he said, the chill in his tone sending her into an emotional tailspin, “and the man you’re with isn’t him.”
Wraith turned off the stove burner and searched the cupboards for a bowl. He’d made Serena soup, and he wanted to get it down her before she fell asleep.
His pocket vibrated, and he checked his phone. E. “What?” he said, as he poured soup into the bowl.
“You need to come home. Get to the nearest Harrowgate.”
“Wraith, listen to me. You’re in danger. Byzamoth is going to come after you.”
Wraith went taut. “I thought you said the charm can only be transferred through sex. If he thinks he can take it from me that way… ah, well, I don’t play for that team, and even if I did, man, you should see him when he morphs—”
“He doesn’t want to have sex with you.”
Wraith dug a spoon out of a drawer. “I’m oddly crushed and relieved.”
Eidolon’s voice sounded frayed with annoyance, as usual. “He needs charmed blood. Once he figures out that Serena is no longer charmed, he’ll want yours.”
“He’s not getting that, either.”
“Dammit, Wraith, you need to come to the hospital where he wouldn’t dare try to get to you.”
Wraith peeked down the hall to make sure Serena was still in her room. “I’m at full strength now, bro. I can take him.”
“He can still be hurt.”
“It’s not worth the risk. We spoke with Reaver. The charm is ineffective against fallen angels. Come to the hospital.”
“I’m not leaving Serena.”
“Get your ass in a Harrowgate. Now.”
“You know what?” Wraith dropped the pan onto the stove, splashing soup all over the wall. “Fuck you, E.”
“We’re coming to get you.”
Wraith took a deep, soothing breath, in what was probably his first attempt to be calm. Ever. “Eidolon, this isn’t one of my rebellious, death-wish, stubborn-for-no-reason moves. For once in my life, I’m doing something for someone else. I’m going to keep Serena safe, and I’m going to find a cure for her.”
“Really?” Serena’s cold voice came from behind him. He spun to find her standing in the hallway. Fire sparked in her eyes… and she was holding a stang. “What do you plan to do, Josh?”
“Ah… hey. What are you—”
She launched the S-shaped blade at him, and though he was certain she had deadly aim, the weapon veered to the left and took out the bowl of soup. “I knew it wouldn’t hit you, seeing how you’re charmed and all, but it felt good to throw it.”
Whoa, she was lit up. Wraith threw down the phone and moved toward her. “What’s going on, Serena?”
She took a few steps back, until she was at the bedroom doorway. “Who are you? Who are you, really?”
She shook with fury. “And don’t you dare tell me your name is Josh.”
“It’s Wraith. I told you, my name is Wraith.”
“Why should I believe that, when everything else you’ve told me was a lie?” Her voice sounded empty, as though she’d been carved out by pain.
Guilt made his chest hurt, because for the first time in his life, he understood how it felt to inflict pain on someone who didn’t deserve it.
“Not… everything has been a lie,” he said lamely, because the important things had been.
“Uh-huh. Why did you do it? I mean, I can guess, but I want to hear it from your filthy, lying mouth.”
“I was dying, Serena. I needed the charm to live.” He inched toward her. “It’s not as bad as it seems.” It was far worse than what it seemed.
“Did you know I would die? Before I told you?”
He averted his gaze, but dragged it back to meet hers once more. She deserved that, at least. “Yes.”
She blanched and stumbled back. “Oh, my God. You disgusting, murdering, bastard!”
“Serena, listen to me—”
She slammed the door in his face. And locked it. She had to know it wouldn’t keep him out, but he gave her credit for trying. He kicked it in.
“We aren’t through yet.”
Tears shimmered in her eyes. “Oh, we’re through. We’re so through. I want you gone,” she screamed. “Get out! Get out and let me die in peace.”
“That’s not going to happen. I can’t leave you unprotected.”
“Unprotected? Are you kidding me? You killed me!”
Agony wracked his insides, far worse than anything the poison had done to him. “I didn’t mean for it to happen,” he said hoarsely. “I couldn’t carry through with it. Not once I got to know you. That’s why I was going to get off the train in Cairo.”
“How noble,” she spat. “How you must have suffered when I forced myself on you.”
“That,” he said slowly, deliberately, so she would never doubt this, “was the best night of my life.”
“I actually believe that.” She snorted. “It was the best night of your life because you weren’t dying anymore.”
He got in her face so fast she blinked as though trying to figure out how he was suddenly inches away. “No. It was because it was the first time I made love to anyone. You can call me a liar for anything else, but do not doubt me on this. And I swear to you that you were the first, and you will be the last.”
A cold ache drilled a hollow in his chest. He needed sex or he’d suffer, but he would never make love to a female again.
She swallowed hard, but in an instant the fury came back and she shoved hard at his shoulders. When he didn’t budge, she scooted around him and put a good fifteen feet between them. It felt more like light years.
Sudden evil screamed through the air, increasing the pressure in the house with the violence of a spring storm. The window blew inward, and a swirling black cloud surrounded Serena. It solidified, and Byzamoth, grinning, was holding her, her back to his chest, his hand clamped over her mouth.
“Hello, Josh,” the fallen angel said, clearly aware of the truth. Serena’s backstabber at work again. He looked between Serena and Wraith. “Fucking tell me it isn’t true. Tell me this little whore didn’t give you her charm.”
“I’d tell you that,” Wraith growled, “but it would be a lie.”
Serena made a noise of outrage, and Byzamoth shifted his hand, allowing her to fire off a shot. “Oh, now you decide to tell the truth?”
Though her verbal slap smarted, he ignored her. If Byzamoth knew how much Serena meant to Wraith, he’d have a damned effective weapon to use against him. “So, angel, what gave me away? Someone leak it to you? Or is the post-coital glow?”
Byzamoth hissed. “Something like that, you fuck. You aren’t cloaked.” He shoved Serena onto the bed. She bounced awkwardly and rolled into the headboard. Byzamoth drew a sword from his robes, a dull silver blade that glowed azure in a thin line down the length of the metal and at the hilt, where symbols pulsed. He pointed the sharp tip at Serena but never took his eyes off Wraith.
“No sudden moves, or I run her through. My specialty is destruction, Sem, so I know how to use this.”
Man, he was going to rip this guy’s heart out and feed it to him.
“You’ve really f**ked things up.” Byzamoth gestured to Serena with a flick of the blade. “Fucked her all up, too. Pun intended.” He bared his teeth. “No matter. I’ll still get what I want. Destruction. Yours. Hers. The world as you know it. I think I’ll start small and work my way up to mass chaos.”
Serena’s glare promised pain if she ever got her hands on the fallen angel. “You aren’t going to get away with whatever it is you have planned, you know.”