“Yup. Flew in this afternoon. I’m already checked in.”
“You live in Italy, right?” She had to yell over the sound of a honking horn.
He nodded, recalling what he’d extracted from Josh’s mind, and said, “I’m originally from Ohio, but I’ve been in Perugia for the last six months.” He had no idea why Josh had moved there, so he hoped she didn’t ask.
“I love Italy.” In bed. Her smile grew dreamy, and he really wished she wouldn’t do that, because it made him want to kiss her.
Which was crazy, because he’d never kissed a female before, not in his hundred years of life. But suddenly he wanted to put his mouth on Serena’s and see what all the fuss was about.
She watched him, her eyes glittering with curiosity, and he wondered if she felt the static crackle of awareness between them. When her gaze slid to his mouth and she swayed, he knew she did.
In an almost dreamlike state, he drew closer to her. His vampire senses picked up her sweet scent, the sound of her pulse rate increasing. His own went erratic and off the charts as he leaned in. Anticipation made his skin tingle, but out of nowhere a foul scent like burning flesh hijacked the air.
He started, shaken out of his insanity. Oh, he was going to kiss her—Tayla had given him a damn primer on what human women liked, and she insisted kissing was part of seduction—but pouncing on Serena out in the open was probably not the way to go.
“Do you smell that?” He swung his head around, zeroing in on the odor. There, behind a truck parked on an incline between two closed-up shops… eyes. Red, glowing eyes.
“I don’t smell anything—”
“Stay here.” He peeled off toward the threat, his body revved for battle, adrenaline pumping hotly through his veins.
The creature behind the truck growled, a chilling sound that made the hair on the back of Wraith’s neck stand up. This was a khnive, a summoned demon tracker bound by its master to do his bidding until the spell controlling it timed out.
“What is it?”
Wraith paused at Serena’s voice. She was right behind him. “I told you to stay where you were.”
“Last time I looked, you weren’t my boss.”
So she was sexy and spirited. An admirable yet annoying combination.
“Stay.” He sprinted toward the creature. It screeched and skittered down the street toward a drainage hole. If it escaped, it would report to its master that it had found Serena. “Oh, no you don’t.”
Wraith grabbed the creature, which looked like a mastiff-sized skinned opossum, by its ratlike tail. It wheeled around, snapping razor-sharp teeth.
“Bad monster.” Wraith flipped it with a flick of his wrist. It landed awkwardly on its side with a snap of bone, but the injury didn’t stop it. The demon came at him, a drooling, fire-eyed abomination—
A backpack smashed into its face and the khnive yelped, rearing backward and clawing at its eye, which had been impaled by a pencil. Serena clobbered the creature again, and it struck out at her with venom-laced claws, but somehow missed despite its close proximity.
Bright lights blinded Wraith. A swerving vehicle bore down on them, its driver apparently drunk, the vehicle’s tires bouncing off curbs.
“Serena!” Wraith caught her around the waist and threw them both into an empty vendor’s cart. Brakes and tires squealed. The compact car smashed into the truck the khnive had been hiding behind, and the creature leaped into the back of the pickup as it rolled forward, gaining momentum on the hill.
Serena tore free of Wraith’s grip, darted toward the truck, and vaulted nimbly into the back with the demon.
Unbelievable. The woman had no sense of self-preservation. Wraith chased after them, landing next to Serena as she pummeled the thing. With a curse, he darted around behind the demon, wrapped his arm around its neck, and snapped hard. It went limp, sinking to the pickup bed.
The truck hit a bump, catapulting Wraith backward. He grabbed for the roof with one hand, and for Serena with the other. Horns blared, and a busy-ass intersection loomed ahead. Shit. He dove on top of Serena, covering her as chaos exploded around them. The truck T-boned a bus, and then at least two more vehicles smashed into its rear quarter panel and the driver’s side door, spinning it wildly into other cars. The sound of metal crunching, glass shattering, and people screaming pierced the veil of smoke and steam that rose up all around them.
“You okay?” He pulled Serena to her feet. Though she looked a little dazed and had lost her cap, she smiled sheepishly.
“I’m fine.” She shook shards of glass out of her hair. “Stuff like this happens to me a lot.”
“Your dates must love you.” Sirens warbled in the distance. “Let’s get the hell out of here before people start asking questions. Or before a plane lands on you or some shit.”
Keeping hold of her hand, he leaped out of the truck and they both ran, weaving through the tangle of smashed cars and the crowd of people. She kept up easily, her strides quick and graceful, a gazelle in flight. The predator in him wanted to give chase, to take her down to the ground. The male in him wanted to ravage her while she was there.
Right now, the best he could do was keep other predators away.
They didn’t slow until they reached the hotel. He pulled her to a stop in front of the door.
“What was that thing?” Serena panted, looking back over her shoulder as though afraid it would come after them, even though it had started to disintegrate before they’d even jumped out of the truck.
“Don’t suppose you’d buy that it was a rabid dog?”
“Hardly. I know it was a demon.”
“A tracker.” He watched her closely, wondering how much she was willing to say. “What do you think it’s tracking?”
She lifted her chin and looked him straight in the eye. “No idea. But thank you for killing it. I’m glad your Aegis skills haven’t rusted.”
Well, good. He’d earned her gratitude. Tayla had told him to be nice, but maybe killing things for her would be even better. Not to mention, more in character. And more fun.
Tayla had also said human females liked polite men, so he opened the hotel door, releasing an aromatic breeze of coffee and spicy lamb coming from the restaurant. He entered behind her, and speaking of behinds… hers was nice.
“I could use a drink,” she said, gesturing toward the bar. “Want to join me for one before we talk business? You have the artifact, right?”
“It’s in my room.”
“Excellent.” She gave him a smile that made his insides quiver. Weird. No female had ever made his insides do that. His outsides, yes, but that didn’t take much.
Maybe the poison was affecting him in yet another way. Besides the libido-dampening, he’d been intermittently nauseous and dizzy, and sometimes his muscles and organs cramped as they slowly died.
Fun stuff, that mordlair necrotoxin.
“I could definitely use a whiskey.” Which didn’t affect Wraith, unless taken through the veins of a human who had imbibed. He eyed Serena’s throat. He didn’t suck human females, but he’d love to latch on to Serena’s long, slender neck and drink his fill, maybe settle between her thighs.…
“I could use a few more than a drink.”
“My kind of female.” Wraith could really like this chick if he ever allowed himself attachments, which he didn’t.
Find an excuse to touch her. Tayla had told him that. She’d said something about how he had to start small. Light, innocent touches.
He was not good at light and innocent. Pounce and pillage… that was his style.
Cursing to himself, he cocked out his arm in a foreign-feeling gentlemanly gesture to escort her. To his surprise, she hooked her dainty hand around his forearm and allowed him to walk her to the bar, where they were greeted by a middle-aged Egyptian man who wrinkled his nose at Wraith’s facial dermoire.
Wraith itched to shove the guy’s head up his ass, but he kept himself in check and ordered a double whiskey, neat.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” Serena said, and Wraith felt the slow burn of admiration creeping up on him. He’d expected her to drink something sweet and fruity.
This chick was not what he’d expected, and he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad one.
He put his hand on her knee.
She picked it up and put it back in his lap.
Crash. And. Burn.
As though Wraith didn’t exist, Serena braced her elbows on the bar top and played with her napkin, grinning at the bartender when he set her drink down in front of her. Goddamn. The sensual glow that radiated from her when she smiled was downright unholy, and he felt an erotic surge rise up like a tide in his veins. And in his jeans.
He despised that reaction to humans. It made him feel dirty, and he ruthlessly tamped down his urges, even though those urges were what were going to win him the prize.
He’d planned to meet her, whisk her someplace private, take her, and be done with it without ever having to exchange names. He was a freaking incubus, after all. Effortless sex was what he did. No female had ever resisted him. It figured that the one he needed to not resist him would be the one he would have to work at seducing.
This situation had been poorly planned on his part, which was unacceptable. He usually spent weeks, if not months, researching his missions, his prizes, his targets. It wasn’t that he liked research, but better to know every detail than to spend too much time chasing his tail when he could be chasing some female’s tail. He liked a quick in and out. Smash and grab.
Serena was not going to be a quick in and out, though there would be some of that.
“I wouldn’t have taken you for liking the hard stuff,” he commented as the bartender slid his glass toward him.
She downed her whiskey like a shot and pushed her glass at the bartender for a refill. “Love the burn.”
Burn. Yeah. Because that’s what she was doing to him right now.
“You probably think that’s pretty unladylike, don’t you?”
He shook his head, which had begun pounding at the temples. The poison again. “I think it makes you pretty damned hot.”
“Well, aren’t you a charmer.” She frowned. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” He hooked his foot through one of his backpack straps and tugged it closer to the leg of his stool. His meds were in there, and he wanted to keep them close. “Slight headache.”
“That thing didn’t hurt you, did it?” She put her hand on the side of his head, running her fingers through his hair. His scalp tingled and his body coiled and he hissed in a breath. She jerked her fingers away. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“It’s okay.” His voice was humiliatingly hoarse. “I have aspirin.”
She nodded at his lame response and trailed her finger along the rim of her refilled glass, circling it almost lovingly. “So, when do you head home, Josh?”
Josh. Man, he wasn’t going to survive this. Wraith downed his drink, welcoming the smoky bite and the burn, just like she did. He signaled for more whiskey.
“Whenever I feel like it. I decided to make a vacation out of this trip. One of those one hundred and one things to do before you die.”
She slammed another shot, and a railroad spike of lust hammered into his groin. “So you’ve never been here then?”
“I’ve been here.” Hundreds of times, actually. Egypt was a treasure trove of useful artifacts for Eidolon’s magic collection. “But always for work, never for… pleasure.”
“Ah. What kind of work do you do?”
Here was where he needed to play his cards right. Too much information might make her suspicious, especially if it didn’t jibe with what she’d been told about the “real” Josh. But he needed to tantalize her, reel her in with common interests.
“My brothers and I run a medical center that uses nontraditional cures to treat patients, and I’m in charge of collections.”
“Collections? As in, getting people to pay?”
“Collections, as in assembling the ingredients and mystical objects the doctors sometimes use in the cures.”
“Your medical center sounds very new age.”
“You might say that.” He leaned back on his stool and stretched his legs, letting his calves “accidentally” brush hers. Her heat shot straight to his dick. “And what brings you to Egypt? Obviously, something to do with the artifact I brought.”
Serena practically bounced in her seat. “Val didn’t tell you?”
“He just told me you needed the key. I’m guessing you’re searching for something in the catacombs?”
Wraith watched her over the rim of his glass. “So evasive,” he murmured as he put the glass down. “Why?”
“Well…” She braced her forearms on the bar top, leaned in, and lowered her voice with dramatic, conspiratorial flare. “I don’t know if I should be telling the competition what the prize is. I wouldn’t want you taking it from under me.”
Oh, he’d be taking the prize, from under her or from on top. Either would work for him. “No worries. I’m on vacation, and if I don’t get paid, I don’t do the work.” He shot her a stern look. “And why are you traipsing around Egypt by yourself? That’s dangerous, you know. As tonight should have proved.”
“Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?”
He shrugged. “I can take care of myself.”
“And you think I can’t?”
He grinned, enjoying playing clueless when he knew damned good and well that, thanks to her charm, she could take care of herself. “Does Val know you have demons after you?”