Blood of the Demon
Demons of Infernum
By Rosalie Lario, Libby Murphy, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2012 Rosalie Lario
All rights reserved.
She wasn't what he'd expected.
Keegan crouched on a nearby roof, watching, waiting for her gallery to clear out. A stray gust of cold wind whipped through the night air, ruffling his jacket. It didn't matter. Considering where he'd come from, the cold was a welcome relief.
The woman had looked fragile when he'd caught a glimpse of her through the store's large window front. Undeniably beautiful, with her long honey-brown hair falling in waves around her heart-shaped face — but fragile nonetheless.
It was the perfect cover. No one would ever believe what she truly was, what lived inside her. But the blood never lied. She wasn't what she seemed.
Despite the gravity of the situation, Keegan had felt a stirring of lust rise within him at the sight of her, blindsiding him with its unexpected force. It had simply been too long since he'd gotten laid, something he'd have to remedy soon. Didn't have anything to do with the woman. It couldn't.
After all, she might very well be dead by the end of the day. Because if he received the order, he'd have to kill her.
He fished his cell phone out of his jacket pocket and called his brother. As expected, Taeg answered on the first ring. Skipping the useless chatter, Keegan said, "I've got an eye on the target."
"That's perfect." Even over the phone, the relief in Taeg's voice was palpable. "What now?"
"As soon as she's alone, I'll grab her."
"You don't think Mammon has managed to find her yet, do you?"
Keegan gave a short laugh. "If he had, he would've taken her already. Waiting's not his style."
"Yeah, right," Taeg muttered. "Don't I know it?"
"I'll keep you posted." He hung up without waiting for a reply.
Even though he couldn't see her from this vantage point, he wasn't worried about losing her. Not after he'd tagged her scent. He closed his eyes and inhaled, giving himself over to his sense of smell. Sorting through the various odors he'd picked up — the rich aroma of coffee, the ashy smell of a discarded cigarette, the pungent stench of rotting food — he discarded them, one by one.
Yes. There she was. Her scent was unique. Like strawberries and cream. Something he'd tried only recently and discovered he loved.
Would she taste just as sweet?
Shit. What was he thinking? She wasn't a potential lay, but a dangerous and powerful weapon. Maybe even the enemy. He'd do well to remember that.
Finally, the store emptied of everyone but her. He supposed the right thing would be to go in and question her. But what if Mammon was no more than a few steps behind him? He couldn't take that chance. Not when the stakes were so high.
He would take her back to the apartment with him. There, he could question her at leisure and decide what to do without having to worry about Mammon or his henchmen discovering them. But what were the odds of her going along with him willingly?
Well, he couldn't worry about that now. He'd simply take her.
The night had grown dark enough that he didn't bother heading for the roof exit. Instead, he walked to the side of the building facing the narrow alleyway and stepped off. He landed the six-story fall with a thud that shook the ground. A cracking sound, followed by a twinge of pain shooting up his right leg, made him pause, but he ignored it as the fissure healed itself. The homeless man lying unconscious in a puddle not ten feet away mumbled and stirred before growing still once again.
Keegan crossed the street, his gaze single-mindedly locked on the figure of the woman visible through the window as she buzzed about the front of the gallery. A ray of light from a small lamp decorating the window caught her hair, spinning it into a web of gold. In that lighting, she looked almost like an angel.
But why was he thinking about the color of her hair? She wasn't an angel — not by a long shot.
And her luck was about to run out.
Brynn Meyers stifled a yawn as she tidied up the eclectic space of her showroom floor. With its old furniture and traditional chandeliers, the space more closely resembled an antiques shop than an art gallery. She'd started it several years ago with the inheritance she received following her father's death from a car accident, just a short time after her mother died of breast cancer. It seemed like she spent every waking moment there. If she wasn't working, she was painting in her small studio located in the back.
"Just two hours of painting tonight, then I'll go to sleep early for a change," she told herself. "This time I mean it."
God, how pathetic was she? Was she so lonely that she had to start bargaining with herself?
No, not lonely, Brynn. Just a loner. There's a difference.
Really, there was. Even if deep down inside, part of her wished she wasn't quite so alone. So unique.
Her hand grazed the easel holding the painting that had arrived earlier today. She turned to examine it more closely. Created by her favorite artist, it drew her in because of the artist's tendency to incorporate unusual materials into his work, such as the tattered pieces of muslin glued to this painting. It was an amazing work of art, and the cloth was obviously old and worn.
Brynn brushed her hand against the gathered fabric. Closing her eyes, she focused on the feel of it at her fingertips, on the shadows of memories that whispered to her, begging her to uncover them.
The muslin yielded beneath her touch, revealing its deepest secrets. Her vision narrowed, focusing in on the fabric as its memories hurtled toward her. Several hundred years old, the painting began its journey to her as part of an elegant dress worn by a Frenchwoman. Images of the woman's trembling fingers flowed into Brynn's mind, and she smiled at the impressions of the woman smoothing the material down, eagerly anticipating a visit from her secret lover. Then, in a scene years later, someone tore apart the dress for scraps. Even later, the bits of fabric were twisted and crafted into a rag doll, cherished for many years by the little girl who lovingly slept with it until she became too old for dolls.
The flashes of memory faded away. Taking a deep breath, she slowly returned to the present.
It's just a bit of fabric. She often had to remind herself of that. The memories embedded in inanimate objects tended to make them seem alive to her. But they weren't. They were just conduits for energy. And for some reason, she had the ability to sense this energy. This was a gift she'd had her whole life, and what had initially drawn her to art. Each piece had a story, an experience, rooted within it. Older art pieces could be positively overwhelming.
Of course, her so-called gift wasn't limited solely to art. There were times when it didn't seem like much of a gift at all — like when she discovered something she wasn't supposed to know. Case in point: when she'd touched her last boyfriend's cell phone and learned he'd recently used it to make an assignation with his ex-girlfriend. God, what a string of losers she'd dated recently.
The front door opened with a loud chime and Brynn snatched her hand away. Not like anyone would ever know what she'd been doing, but for some unexplainable reason, she always feared her gift would be discovered. Life was difficult enough without being branded a freak or a psycho.
She lifted her gaze to find a tall, well-built man standing in the doorway. Her breath caught as her eyes traveled from his skintight black shirt, highlighting every curve of his muscular chest, to the dark, shaggy hair framing his olive-toned face. A shiver ran through her. He embodied Dark and Dangerous, with the leather jacket to match.
And crap, she was ogling him like a slab of meat in a lion's den.
She wiped her suddenly damp palms against her slacks before moving forward to greet him. "Hi, welcome to Meyers Gallery. I'm Brynn."
He stared at her outstretched hand for so long that she fidgeted. Maybe he'd noticed her wiping her palms and had gotten grossed out. Great.
She started to pull her hand back, but he stopped her by at last reaching out to clasp his hand over hers. A tingle of awareness flashed across her palm, so sharp she had to struggle to hold back a startled gasp.
"I know," he said.
"What?" Brynn took a second to remember what they were talking about. Once she did, she flushed anew. This hunk of a man was making her lose her train of thought. "You mean you know my name? Have we spoken on the phone before, then? Are you here about one of the new art pieces?"
"No," he said, without releasing her hand.
His grasp was warm, heating Brynn from the inside out. The sensation was so disconcerting she needed another long second to process his response. "No? Well then, how can I help you?"
The man smiled, but something resembling regret flashed through his bluish-green eyes. Lord, they were amazing.
"Sorry," he said, the sound curling around his lips like a lover's caress.
Her gaze drifted to his full, luscious mouth, and she couldn't look away. If she didn't get him out of here soon, she was afraid she might jump his bones. Never before had she felt so viscerally attracted to a man, and it was unnerving, to say the least. This was the sort of distraction she didn't want or need.
"You're sorry? About what?" She tried to tug her hand back, but the man's grip held firm.
His left arm came at her so fast she only saw a flash of it, right before his fist connected with the side of her face. There was a burst of pain. Then, she went blissfully numb.
He'd made it all the way uptown with an unconscious woman in his arms and hadn't been spotted once. Not bad. Then again, he did have a few assets at his disposal. Like not having to use the ground.
Keegan carried the woman's limp figure into the Upper East Side penthouse apartment the Council had lent him and his brothers. The place was a far cry from the tiny shack he lived in back at home. The office alone was bigger, not to mention the four sizable bedrooms. And the amazing view of the city skyline from the wall of windows in the living room was nothing to scoff at. Too bad the magnitude of the situation didn't allow him to enjoy the view.
Taeg and Dagan, however, seemed to have no qualms about living it up. Sprawled out on the huge leather sectional in the living room, beers in hand, they watched some sports game on the large plasma television. The two of them didn't even look up when he entered the room.
"Glad to see you two douchebags can relax when this whole world is on the verge of being destroyed," Keegan said.
"No problem," Dagan said, before turning his attention back to the screen.
Taeg shrugged and kicked his feet off the coffee table, swiveling his head in Keegan's direction. He was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words Why Do Today What You Can Put Off Until Tomorrow?
Keegan stifled a snort. "Nice shirt."
Taeg rose and started toward him. "My favorite thing about Earth so far is the shirts. Followed closely by the supercool lingo. Did you know 'Fuck off' is practically a greeting in this city?" He stopped a few feet away and examined the figure of the unconscious woman lying in Keegan's arms. "Wow. She's a real looker. What did you do to her, anyway?"
Keegan would've thought that was obvious. A dark purple bruise in the shape of his fist marred her otherwise flawless cheek. He swallowed past the flare of emotion that tightened his throat. "Knocked her out. How else was I going to get her back here?"
"I could have gotten her to come with us willingly, if you'd let me go with you," Taeg said. "But no, you wanted to go off and be Master of the Universe all by yourself."
"She was my responsibility."
"Yeah, and we all know how much you love responsibility."
Keegan ignored the unreasonable stab of irritation his brother's words provoked. He was only annoyed because Taeg was an ass. No other reason. Of all his half brothers, Taeg especially knew how to push his buttons. The only way to win this battle was to ignore him.
"She's a job, and nothing more," he told Taeg. "And don't forget what we might have to do to her."
"I haven't forgotten." Taeg smiled, though there was no humor in it this time. He obviously dreaded this as much as Keegan did. Taeg wasn't a monster. Not like their father.
Keegan's irritation melted away. His brothers didn't want to be here any more than he did. It wasn't their fault, what they were born into.
"Where's Ronin?" he asked.
"I'm here." Ronin appeared in the doorway leading from the kitchen. He was the second youngest of his half brothers, older than Dagan but younger than Taeg. "So you got her, huh?"
"Did she seem to know anything about Mammon or her ancestry?"
"I haven't questioned her yet. But there wasn't a trace of demon activity surrounding her. I figured I'd get her out of there first and ask questions later."
"Good idea." Ronin waited a beat before saying, "So ... are you going to hold her all day, or what?"
Embarrassment flooded through Keegan. He hadn't even considered letting go of the woman. Holding her in his arms eroded his ability to think straight, like the blood kept trying to rush out of his brain and into other parts of his anatomy.
I really need to get laid soon.
That was it. Nothing more.
Keegan turned and strode into the room they'd specifically prepared for her. For Brynn. As he carefully laid her on the bed, he couldn't help but think how well that name suited her. It was just as interesting and unusual as she was.
With her figure encased in tight wool slacks and a fitted black sweater, the outline of her slim form was clearly visible. Small, firm breasts. Flat stomach. When she'd looked up at him back at her art gallery, her eyes had been a soft, calming green.
She was beyond enticing.
The sound of a throat clearing roused Keegan from his slow survey. He looked behind him to see Ronin and Taeg crowding the doorway.
Ronin nodded toward Brynn. "Looks like you hit her pretty hard."
"Didn't mean to." What a dick thing to do, hitting her like that. But he'd had no choice. Not really. There was no knowing how close Mammon was to finding her, or if he hadn't gotten to her already. Either way, he'd needed to get her out of there fast. "I'll heal her."
"That's not necessary," Ronin interjected. "Not when I can do it with a simple touch."
Ronin started toward Brynn, but Keegan surprised himself by letting out a low growl. "I said I'll do it."
Shock registered on Ronin's face, and he held up his hands, backing off. Not that Keegan blamed him. Where did he get off being angry at the thought of his brother touching Brynn?
He must be losing his mind.
"Let him do it." Taeg's smooth voice dispelled the tension in the room. "You know how Keegan likes to suffer for his sins."
"Fuck you," Keegan said, taking a seat on the bed next to Brynn. He withdrew his iron pocketknife, flicked it open, and cut a shallow groove in his palm. After pressing his hand to her cheek, he drew it away. His blood seeped into her pores, healing her blood vessels. The swelling went down, and within a few seconds she was good as new.
He wiped the remnants of his blood off her cheek, trying not to think about how soft and cool her skin felt beneath his hand. She was just a woman, and a human one at that.
Well, mostly, anyway.
"So what now?" Ronin asked him.
"Now, we wait for her to wake up, and we question her. Then we'll decide what to do with her."
Taeg gave a soul-weary sigh. "Sounds great. I'm gonna go drink some more." He did an about-face and disappeared.
Unable to help himself, Keegan turned back to the woman. So soft and feminine.
The sound of Ronin moving behind him barely registered. "You did more than just walk tonight, huh?"
Without another word, Ronin poked his fingers through the jagged slits in Keegan's jacket and shirt, making contact with the bare flesh of his back.
Keegan fought back a flush. "Oh. Almost forgot about that." Which was unusual for him, something his intuitive little brother had no doubt picked up on.
"I had a feeling," Ronin replied dryly. "Might want to change before she wakes up."
"Yeah, good idea." If she didn't settle for outright panic and screaming when she awoke, she was bound to have questions for him. He didn't need to add any more to that list. Standing, he followed Ronin out of the room and clicked the door shut, then slid the lock on the outside into place.
Brynn opened her eyes to taupe satin wallpaper, dark wood furniture, and the faint smell of fresh, clean linen. She turned her head to the side, confirming that she was lying on a bed. A soft, comfortable bed with silky chocolate-colored sheets and a faux fur bedspread folded across the bottom. Where the hell was she?
Wait. What happened?
It all came back in one blinding rush. The gallery, the too-hot-to-be-real man. His fist shooting toward her face.
Brynn jerked up off the bed. Her first instinct was to panic, but she forced herself to calm down. She'd been through something like this before ... and she'd learned from that horrible incident that she was stronger than she looked. That was something the creep who'd dared to take her was about to find out ... (Continues...)
Excerpted from Blood of the Demon by Rosalie Lario, Libby Murphy, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2012 Rosalie Lario. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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