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Chapter 21

After spending two hours in Eidolons den talking to Gem, Tayla decided that she didnt like her newfound sister. It wasnt that Gem had grown up in a mansion, had attended private schools, and had lived an outwardly normal life despite being raised by demons. It wasnt that Gem was smart and educated, having entered college two years early, where Tayla was a high-school dropout who had a GED only because Kynan insisted that all Guardians have a basic education.

No, Tayla hated Gem because she kept saying our mother, when Gem had never known her. She didnt have the right to call our mother anything but Teresa.

You seem distracted, Gem said, when Tayla pulled Eidolons medical text off the shelf and began thumbing through it. She couldnt read a word of it, but the illustrations were interesting, if disgusting.

Maybe Im just tired of hearing how lucky you are.

I am lucky. I should have been slaughtered, Gem said. Thats what my parents species does. They sense demon pregnancies and either ensure that the young are never born or destroy them at birth if a foster family cant be found. But my parents had been unable to conceive a child of their own, and I came along at just the right time.

And thats what you do at the hospital? The same thing?

Gem hooked a leg over the armrest of Eidolons couch, making the slit in her short leather skirt open over a tattoo of a long-stemmed rose on her thigh. Blood dripped from the thornsTayla counted three drops along the length of her leg, the last one half-covered by the top of her combat boot. It made her wonder if Gem had more tattoos, or more piercings besides the six in her ear, the one in her eyebrow, and the one in her tongue.

Mainly, I work with humans. But I do my best to intercept the odd cases that come through the hospital infections from demon bites, illnesses and injuries in those with demon parentage, stuff like that. Its not a big deal if I miss any of itanything that seems odd to a human doctor is diagnosed as a mystery disease or a deformity. Humans have an incredible capacity to explain away stuff they dont want to know the truth about.

Tayla understood that. Her mom had tried repeatedly to tell her that demons tormented her, had even described the Soulshredder, but Tayla hadnt believed her, had chosen to believe that her mother suffered from drug-induced delusions. Because at the time, that was easier to believe than the truth. Heck, even after witnessing her mothers death at the hands of a demon, it hadnt occurred to Tayla that her mother had truly been tormented for years by the Soulshredder.

Gem sprawled back even more, making herself comfortable. Too comfortable. Shed been here, in Eidolons apartment, before.

Have you slept with him? Tayla asked, gripping the medical book so hard she was going to leave impressions. Better that, though, than giving in to her possessive urge to bean Gem with it if she gave the wrong answer.

Who? Eidolon? No. Gems eyes glittered. But you have. Ive smelled you on him.

Geez, did all demons possess overdeveloped olfactory senses? Hes helping me through something, Tayla said, and then wondered why she felt the need to explain her sexual relationship with him.

Yeah, Ill just bet.

You sound a little jealous, sister.

Jealous? Nah. I could have him if I wanted him. The way she said it, so sure of herself, made Tayla bristle. Hes desperate for a mate to head off the sgenesis.

A mate? I was just talking about sex.

Thats good, then. Because thats all any incubus is about. Gem dropped her feet to the floor and propped her forearms on her bare knees. A piece of advice, sis. Dont get too close. Hell either go through The Change and leave you behind, or hell take a mate and lock himself into a lifetime of fidelity. Either way, youre stuck on the outside looking in, and it sucks.

You sound like you know a little bit about that.

More than Id like. Tension vibrated between them, so not the reunion Tayla would have envisioned for something like this. Look, just think about the integration. As you can see, Im not a monster. Our father

Dont call him that, Tayla snapped.

Its what he is.

Realization slapped her upside the head. You know him. Dear God, you know him.

Gem regarded her coolly. Ive met him.

Met him? Like, what, for tea and crumpets? He tormented our mom, Gem! For years. He raped her, God knows how many times, and then he tore her apart in front of my eyes. And you met him?

Tayla must have been yelling, because the door burst open, and Eidolon filled the doorway, fists clenched, concern branded in his expression. You two all right?

Gem ignored Eidolon to move closer to Tayla. What he did was horrible. But it was his nature. We all do things were programmed to do

Whatever Gem was saying melted into a whirlpool of meaningless words. A cry tore from Tays throat and then she was launching herself at the other woman. Her hands closed around Gems throat as Eidolons arms caught Tayla around the waist.

How can you defend him? Tayla screamed, fighting wildly against the set of armsno, two sets, Shade had grabbed her, toodragging her off Gem.

Youd better go, Eidolon told Gem, who nodded.

Tay, youve got to look at who donated your DNA if you want to know who you are. What you can be.

Something dark and oily gurgled through Taylas veins, an evil industrial sludge that threatened to leach the humanity right out of her. Oh, I know who donated it. And I want nothing to do with it. Nothing to do with you. I will neverneverintegrate that shit into myself. Go. To. Hell.

Im sorry, Gem whispered to Tayla, and then she looked up at Eidolon. I I have to go. Im sorry.

Tayla stopped struggling, and gradually, Shades hands eased away, but Eidolon only held tighter. Grateful for an island in the middle of the nightmarish sea shed been swimming in, she folded herself into his embrace and wondered how much longer she could tread water before she drowned.

If Gem had been part Trillah demon she couldnt have run away from Eidolons apartment any faster. She had really, really messed up with Tayla. As if things werent bad enough with her parents already, now this.

Stupid, she muttered, as she hoofed it down the sidewalk in search of a taxi. Raised among humans, she had a tendency to eschew the Harrowgates in favor of more traditional means of transportation. Idiot!

First, shed been antagonistic about Eidolon, something that had been totally uncalled for and more than a little childish. Didnt matter that she knew where her behavior had come fromher jealousy. Not jealousy of Taylas relationship with the incubuswell, maybe a little, since Gem couldnt have the man she loved, someone who might be responsible for her parents kidnappingbut mostly of Tays relationship with their mother.

Gem had never had that. Shed seen Teresa from afar, had taken pictures. And once, shed worked up the guts to speak to her at a bus stop. Gem had been terrified, fifteen years old and dressed like a punk, but Teresas voice had been soft and musical, with a hint of southern drawl that went down like sugar, a far cry from the clipped, stern voices of her adoptive parents.

Yes, she loved her parents, would always be grateful to them for saving her life and then giving her a great one, but deep down, shed resented the fact that Tayla had been given sole rights to being Teresas daughter.

How fucking petty. Especially considering how Gem had grown up wanting for nothing, but Tayla shed suffered.

Once Gem was old enough to venture out on her own, shed tracked Tayla down, had followed her from school to the rusted-out trailer where shed lived with three other foster kids. When Gem saw her the next day, shed been wearing the same clothes. Tayla had bounced around between foster care and the streets so much that Gem couldnt keep track. It wasnt until Teresa got clean and regained custody that, for once, Tayla had a stable home. Granted, the apartment shed shared with Teresa was a roach motel, but they seemed to be happy for two years.

Until that night.

News reports had blasted the gory details nonstop, had shown pictures of the crime scene and made a big story of how Teresa had been torn apart by a vicious serial killer, and that her daughter, Tayla, was missing. Tay had eventually been found, but shed never spoken to the authorities about the murder. Afterward, shed gone again into foster care, but by the time Gem had located her sister, wanted for the killing of her foster father, Tay was already with The Aegis which was around the time the Soulshredder had come to Gem.

Shed known instantly that the creature was her father. It had slipped into her bedroom in the middle of the night, its goal beyond comprehension. It had intended to sire young on her, its own flesh and blood.

Her struggle to keep her inner beast at bay had been lifelong, something that had required discipline and protective tattoos. But that night, for the first time, shed let her demon side reign, had used every trick in her book to kill the thing that was her father.

So, yeah, she knew firsthand that we all do things were programmed to do. Because like it or not, thanks to her sire, she was hardwired to torment and kill.

Every day was a battle, a tug of war between her two halves. And every morning she wondered if that would be the day her human half finally lost.

Eidolon paced in the kitchen while Tayla showered and Shade whipped up some dinner. Wraith lounged on the couch, playing video games on the X-Box, Mickey tucked into one armpit. It had taken half an hour and three shots of Cutty Sark to calm Tay down, and then the adrenaline crash had turned her into a noodle. All shed wanted was a shower, bed, and food, in no particular order.

In the meantime, he wanted to hunt Gem down and string her up. Gem had been their best shot at convincing Tayla to integrate her demon side. Now that was blown all to Hades.

Want a beer? Shade asked, as he pushed a plate of spaghetti across the kitchen island.

Nah.

Suit yourself. Shade snagged a bottle of Harp from the fridge. What a night, huh? I cant freakin believe Paige was part of the organ thing. And Gem, the slayers sister? Gives me the jeebies, man. Maybe if we could get them to fight again

Eidolon smiled. You sound like Wraith.

Come on. He had a point. You have to give him that much. Shade popped the cap off the beer. I mean, twins wrestling on the ground? Hot.

Maybe, but Eidolon wasnt interested in two women. He wanted only the one. Shade went on about twins, ticking his conquests off on his fingers. Eidolon recommended a calculator and swept up the plate of food to take it to Tayla, though he wished he had some oranges. Her citrus craving made sense now; Soulshredders were a tropical species that required the fruit to survive.

Halfway to the bedroom, his heart skidded to a halt. The sweet, musky scent of Taylas arousal drifted from the living room.

Wraith.

Eidolon sprinted down the hall, caught the corner with his shoulder, and spilled half the spaghetti onto the floor. Not that he noticed. No, all he could see was his own anger in a filter of red splayed across the scene before him.

Tayla stood in the living room, robe loosely tied and showing way too much creamy flesh. Wraith, his bloody video game on pause, watched her, his eyes glowing, not with the normal gold of arousal or anger, but with the blue-flecked gold of his hypnotic gift.

See what it would be like with me? he was saying. Bet E wont do that to you. Its not civilized.

The bastard was in her head, feeding her images of gods knew what.

Territorial rage lit Eidolon up like a gas-soaked torch. Back the fuck off, brother, Eidolon bit out. You dont do humans or Aegi.

Shes not either. Not anymore. Wraith smiled, his white fangs gleaming hungrily. Fair. Game.

Darkness swallowed him. Eidolon dropped the plate and launched over the couch armrest. He slammed Wraith into the wall with a hand around the throat. Sober, Wraith could kick his butt, but he didnt give an imps ass. Shes mine.

Wraiths eyes went half-lidded, and if he was bothered by the fact that Eidolon was nearly choking him, it didnt show. Look at her, E. Shes primed. Shell take us both.

An image of Wraith brutalizing Tayla with his teeth as he took her tattooed itself into Eidolons brain, turning his thoughts to poison. Dont touch her, he snarled. Dont you ever touch her, or I will let the vampires

Hellboy?

They both turned to Tayla, who stood there as though in a daze, her fingertips playing lazily along the edge of her robe where it gaped at the sternum. A blast of lust came from her like a shockwave, and Eidolon jerked as though shed grabbed his cock.

Thats never happened before. She should be calling my name, Wraith muttered. And what were you saying about the vamps?

Ignoring the question, Eidolon released Wraith with a shove and crossed to Tayla. She flew into his arms, climbed him like a tree until she was wrapped around him, rubbing her face on him, writhing against his body.

She was going to take him right there.

The thought made him so hot, so deliriously fuzzy-headed, that he nearly forgot Wraith was watching and let it happen. Instead, he hauled ass to the bedroom. By the time he kicked the door shut, his jeans were unbuttoned. By the time they were halfway to the bed, he was sheathed inside her wet, satin heat.

Oh, my God, Eidolon oh, my God. She pelted his face with kisses as she began a punishing grinding motion with her hips. I went to get my backpack. Saw your brother and suddenly, my mind just kept seeing

Wraith. Fuck. He stopped short of the bed, his heart growing cold even as he thrust into her hot depths.

No, she moaned. You. He was there for a second, but it wasnt right. I concentrated hard, and it was you.

Pressure filled his chest cavity. A sudden, fierce instinct rose in him, a foreign and yet familiar urge. It didnt matter that her passion had been induced by a mind-seduction. It didnt matter that she was hardly in a position to know what she wanted from him. All that mattered was that he take her. Bond with her. Make her his mate.

Mine, he growled into the slender column of her throat. Youre mine.

Yes oh, yes. Her voice throbbed with the promise of what she was saying. That she was his, that all his years of empty sex with empty females was coming to an end, that he would no longer worry about becoming a mindless beast, that there would be no more loneliness for either of them.

The surge of emotion triggered a chain reaction inside him. Fire shot from the fingertips of his right arm, up the tribal pattern in his skin. The designs glowed red through the sheen of sweat that had broken out over his entire body.

Spinning, he pinned her to the wall. He pumped into her, lost to the sensation of the intimate slide of slick flesh on slick flesh. Pleasure whipped at him, and still, it wasnt enough. He needed to possess her, to have her in every way he could.

The thump of their bodies against the wall reverberated in the room, all the way to his balls. Words came out of his mouth, words hed never heard and didnt even know the meaning of, but he no longer operated on a logical level. Something primal and raw demanded he do nothing but follow a natural course.

Reaching down, he opened his bedside drawer and fumbled for what he was looking for.

Tayla was whimpering and writhing and clenching him to her so hard that he had to wrench his spine to get the space between them he needed. The air around them pulsed with powerful mating magic, cocooning them in their own world as he drew the scalpel across his chest. He felt no pain and was powerless to stop himself. Dropping the blade, he cupped her head and brought her lips to where his blood welled at the thin seam.

She hesitated, looking up at him with passion-darkened eyes.

Do it, he whispered. Taste me. Take me inside you.

Holding his gaze, which was erotic as hell, she touched her tongue to a single pearl of blood.

Oh, sweet hell.Electric whips lashed at him, spreading from her tongue through his entire nervous system. He was short-circuiting with ecstasy, humming with the energy and hunger. A moan dredged up from the depths of his chest, and as she latched on and began a gentle sucking action, he threw back his head and roared.

His climax hit him with the force of a fire tornado, burning, twisting, turning him upside down and inside out. Tayla joined him, screaming with the force of her release. She bucked against him, her female muscles clasping tight and drawing on his shaft for every last drop of seed.

For a moment, they shuddered together, panting, and he had to lock his knees to keep from sliding to the floor with her. His muscles quivered, and his insides gelled. Hazy reality filled his mind like smoke, and just as he realized what hed done, Tayla cried out.

A violent spasm hit her with such force that they were propelled away from the wall. Hurts, she gasped.

Lirsha,oh, gods, what have I done? Fear froze his marrow as he laid her on the bed and sank down beside her, one hand on her hip, the other threaded in her hair. She writhed, alternately clutching her gut and clawing at her skin. Shade! Shit. He pulled her robe closed and tightened the sash. For fucks sake, Shade! Get in here!

The door crashed open, wood splintering. Shade hadnt bothered with the door handle. Wraith was right behind him, both taking in the scene in an instant.

Is her DNA Shade sniffed the air. Ah, man, you didnt.

Tears streamed down Taylas face, dampening the pillow. Her eyes were closed tight against the pain as she huddled in fetal position on the silk comforter.

I did.

Wraith peeked around Shade. Did what?

He began the bonding process, Shade said.

Wraith let out a low whistle. I knew you were desperate to get around the sgenesis, but I didnt think you were that desperate. Have you lost your fucking mind?

Shade reached for Tayla, jerking back when Eidolon growled before he could catch himself. I need to get inside her, E.

I know, he snapped, not wanting anyone, includingor especiallyhis brothers, to touch the female he wanted as his lifemate.

Warily, Shade wrapped his hand around her ankle. Our blood is toxic to humans, you knew that.

Yeah, he knew that, but he hadnt been thinking, had been too deep in the rut, too driven by pure instinct. The argument that she was only half-human was too lame to bring up, so he stroked her cheek and talked to her as shed done for him the night hed taken the vampire punishment.

Youll be fine, he murmured, sending a healing wave into her, figuring it couldnt hurt, but she still made little sobbing noises, punctuated by high-pitched cries. Her legs scissored back and forth until Shade gripped both ankles and held them still.

Im not sure whats going on, he said. I think its a combination of the poison she ingested and her bodys reaction to the chemical changes the bonding put into motion.

Damn, he felt so helpless. Hang on, Tayla. He wrapped his arm around her slim waist and dragged her against him, as if, if he held on tight enough, she couldnt die. Damn you, hang on. Dont let a demon be the death of you. Youve fought too hard for too long.

Wraith uttered some smartass remark from behind him, but Eidolon wasnt going to leave Tayla for even the five seconds it would take to ram his brothers head through the wall. Hed deal with him later. Right now

Hellboy? The sound of her rasping voice was music. Whats happening?

Shh well get you through this. He slid a pleading glance at Shade. Sedate her.

I cant. Not until she he broke off, nodding at her left hand. There. Its happening.

Eidolon bunched the sleeve of her robe up to her biceps and nearly swayed with relief at the beautiful miracle taking place. A shadowy replica of his tattoo was etching itself onto her arm, temporarily marking her as his. Gradually, she calmed, the tension draining out of her so she melted against him.

Where she belonged.

Someone get her some water, he said, not looking away from her. Her strength amazed him, humbled him. She was the fire hed never had, the spark that had lit his calm, measured existence. He brushed her hair out of her eyes, an excuse to touch her. How are you feeling?

Better, she croaked, as she pushed up on one elbow. Is this a DNA thing? Is it happening? Am I dying?

No, nothing like that. He handed her the glass Shade brought. You guys go make the preparations for tomorrow night. Ill call you in the morning. After his brothers left, he grasped her empty hand. Gently, he raised her arm so she could see the markings.

Her hand shook as she set the water on the bedside table and pulled the robe open to get a look at the tattoo that ran from fingertip to shoulder. This is yours. What did you do?

I initiated a bonding sequence. Its not complete yet, he finished quickly. Gods, she made him feel like a youth just entering his first transition. Be mine. Yeah, that was smooth.

Eidolon

You dont have to decide now. You have five days, and then the markings will fade. Once they disappeared, the window of opportunity would close, but by then, he might have completed the sgenesis and wouldnt care, anyway.

But you said your species doesnt mate with humans because the offspring are half-breeds.

We can mate with half-breeds. The young will be full-blooded Seminus demons.

Tayla was silent for a long moment. Is that what the blood was about? She shot upright and her face, already pale, grew even whiter. Oh, gag. I drank your blood. Why did I do that? And why do you keep a scalpel in your drawer? She narrowed her eyes at him. Most guys keep condoms there.

He bit back a smile. I dont need condoms, since I cant impregnate anyone yet. Though he vaguely remembered wanting to plant his seed in Tayla when hed shapeshifted, so maybe he could now. The idea that she could right now be swelling with his offspring filled him with a sense of wholeness hed been missing all his life. He could ask Shade to feel for a pregnancy

So whats up with the scalpel?

Heat flooded his face, probably making him as red as she was white. I he felt so stupid admitting this Ive always wanted to be prepared in the event that I found a mate.

Are all Seminus demons so sappy?

This time, he couldnt contain the smile. I doubt it.

I really, really do not understand demons. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. I heard Wraith say something. Something Gem said, too. About being desperate to stop the sgenesis by taking a mate.

Well talk about it later. You need your rest. He pulled the sheets up over her, but she stopped him with a firm grasp on his wrist.

Tell me about it.

Oh, hell. He swore and looked up at the ceiling. Taking a lifemate is the only way to stop the worst of the sgenesis changes. We still become fertile and gain the ability to shapeshift, but the insane need to impregnate everything in sight will disappear.

And youve been looking? Your brother said desperate.

Yes, but

So am I like, your last resort?

No, Tayla. He climbed into bed beside her and tucked her into his body, her back to his chest. Its nothing like that.

There was a long pause, and then she said in a small voice, How close are you to no-return?

Reaching around her, he tipped her face up to his and sealed his mouth over hers. Her lips were warm, firm, tasted mildly of the salt from her tears. For a moment, she melted, opening to him, shifting toward him.

But she wouldnt be deterred, and she murmured against his lips, How close?

Close, he admitted, running his palm down her hard belly, spanning the narrow distance between her hipbones where her womb might be quickening. The next time I shapeshift, I might not come back as myself. Ill look the same, but I wont be running the show.

She pulled away from him. And you say that bonding with me now has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that youre on the verge of no-return?

As much as he wanted to answer that, he couldnt. Had he met her a year ago, he didnt know if shed have set fever to his blood the way she did now.

Thats answer enough, she said, lurching to the other side of the bed. And my answer is no. I wont be anyones last resort.

Shit. This couldve gone better.

Just listen for a minute, okay?

I said, no.

He sat up and stretched across the bed for her hand, which she yanked away. Dammit, Tayla, I dont care if my instincts are responsible or not. I want you.

Oh, thats one hell of a proposal, she snapped, tugging her robe tight around her. Excuse me if I dont run out and reserve a caterer and a church. Oh, wait. You probably cant set foot in a church.

So I need to work on my delivery

You need to work on finding someone who doesnt mind being the 3:00 a.m. wallflower. I might not have anything to my name or any place to go, but that doesnt mean you can take advantage of me just so you can hold on to your precious medical degree. She glared at him, daggers of fury that pinned him in place when he would have grabbed her and held her to him. How dare you lie to get me to fall for your shit? You dont want me. You cant. You dont even know me.

Im not lying. I do want you, and I know all I need to.

You know nothing. Nothing. How am I supposed to believe what I am isnt a problem for you, when it was before? Im an Aegi butcher. A lemming, remember?

I was wrong, Tayla. My brothers are wrong.

She shook her head. See, thats where you are wrong. I am a butcher. Want proof? Proof that you know nothing about me? When a tremor entered her voice, she cleared it ruthlessly. Lets talk about your brother Roag

Dont say it. He searched her eyes, seeing an ugly truth in their murky depths. Dont. Even. Say. It.

But she pressed on, leaning forward on fists pressed into the mattress. I was there. At Brimstone. I was there and I killed anything that moved. When Jagger set the place on fire, the sound of demons screaming didnt bother me at all.

Oh, shit. Roag. It might not have been you The desperation in his voice was pathetic, and he hated himself for it.

Or it might have been. I dont remember seeing a demon like you, but

He could have shapeshifted.

Eidolon felt his world collapse in on him, felt his chest crack wide open. It hurt. Gods, his heart hurt.

The female he wanted as a mate had killed his brother. Had been involved, at the very least.

Do you see, Hellboy? Do you see why we cant be together? Can you really see beyond what I was? Can I ever see beyond what you are?

But he was no longer listening. You killed my brother.

He pushed backward, off the bed, feeling the anger rise in him, feeling something even more horrible churning inside. He could feel The Change pulsing, clawing to the surface.

With a roar, he tore out of the bedroom, out of the apartment, away from Tayla before he did something hed regret. Because he was pissed, hurt, and he was also out of time.


Chapter 20 | Pleasure Unbound | Chapter 22



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