Touch of the Angel
Demons of Infernum
By Rosalie Lario, Libby Murphy, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2013 Rosalie Lario
All rights reserved.
Ronin had no idea what he was doing at a place like Opiate. The Harlem club took the concept of freaky to a whole new level, catering to the less-savory members of Otherworlder society: demons, fae, vampires, and other non-humans who were outsiders among their own kind. It might've been perfect for his younger brother Dagan, but it was so not his style.
Yet, at close to three o'clock in the morning, after trying to get some sleep and failing miserably, here he was.
Ronin walked through the dank alley and stepped past a nondescript green metal door. His demon radar was going off the charts, making him damned uncomfortable. The best way to fix that was to dampen it with alcohol. He passed the bouncer, paid the cover to the demon at the desk who'd glamoured himself to appear human, and walked up the stairs, which opened to the main area of the club. Dark red walls were framed with intricate metal scrolling, a bar lined one side of the room, and round booths with zebra-patterned seating were scattered throughout.
He headed straight for the bar, nodding a greeting at the bartender, a tall, golden elf named Crull.
"Haven't seen you around for a while," Crull said as he dried a clean glass with the white dishcloth in his hand.
That was because Ronin generally made it a point not to come here. "I'll have a whiskey. Straight."
Crull nodded and arched his pierced brow. "Long night?"
"Aren't they all?"
Laughing, Crull poured him a glass, which Ronin drank in one smooth swallow.
An amused smirk crept onto Crull's face. "You need another one?"
Ronin choked a bit as the strong liquor burned its way down to his stomach. "Yeah."
"I'll get you a double."
He'd never admit it aloud, but lately Ronin found himself missing the company of his brothers. Less than a year ago, Ronin, along with Keegan, Taeg, and Dagan, had lived in Infernum, a hellish world populated by demons and angels. They had kept busy working as Detainors — interdimensional bounty hunters for the Elden Council. The Council was composed of species from each of the various dimensions, and it governed travel between them. Those who traveled outside their own world and committed grave offenses were hunted and imprisoned.
Ronin and his brothers had been called to this world to catch their father, a demon who'd been hell bent on conquering Earth. Once he was apprehended they'd been granted leave to remain, which had been great since Keegan had fallen in love. But work had been tapering off the past few months. It was damned annoying not to have anything to do. Hence, his side trip to Opiate.
Crull handed him a refill that Ronin accepted with a muttered, "Thanks."
"No problem. I saw Dagan here earlier. He left with a couple of sirens about an hour ago."
"Big surprise." The dog. Sometimes Ronin wished he could be carefree like Dagan. Focus on beer and women and getting his rocks off. But he didn't get the same high from it all that his little brother did.
Crull must have sensed his bad mood, because he plunked the bottle of whiskey down onto the bar in front of Ronin, gave him a curt nod, and turned away. "I'll leave you to it."
Ronin eyed the whiskey bottle. Clearly, he was going to have to find another interest to occupy his free time. But until then, alcohol would have to do. "It's just you and me, baby."
He'd already downed his third double shot before he was propositioned. Must be losing his touch, if it had taken that long.
The woman sidled up to him, eyeing him like he was a big juicy steak. She leaned against the counter, her body mere inches from his. "Hello, handsome. You seem lonely."
"Hi." He glanced over at her, taking in her features. Short, silky dark hair, a decent body, too-pale skin. Vamp. He stifled a shudder. Biters creeped him the hell out.
She slid a cold hand down his forearm. "Want some company?"
"No." Normally he'd be smoother about it, but he was a bit drunk, so who cared?
Her lips tightened and she shot him an offended glare. With a muttered "Fine," she marched off.
Mission accomplished. With the funk he was in, he was probably better off alone. The thought of having yet another meaningless sexual encounter wasn't cutting it right now. He longed for an emotional connection. Hell, he missed his brothers.
Ronin finished off a fourth shot. Whiskey wasn't doing much for him tonight. Maybe he needed something a bit stronger.
He swiveled his head to search out Crull. That was when he spotted her. No way he'd miss her. In comparison, every other face faded into the background.
She stood halfway across the long bar, flipping her long dark hair behind her shoulders. Her slanted brows, thin, straight nose, and full, luscious lips could have come right out of one of those smut magazines human men favored. She wore a short brown dress in a shimmery fabric that showed off her tanned flesh. It was cut so low the top of her belly button was visible, and her round, full breasts threatened to spill out the sides.
A small crowd of men clamored around her, each trying to get her attention. She twirled a lock of hair around her finger and ignored them. Although she gave off a bored vibe, he sensed something else hidden beneath. Something she couldn't hide.
A hint of vulnerability.
Against his better judgment, he allowed it to call to him.
Forget it. Waste of time, his brain told him.
Shut up and get over there, his dick replied.
The two fought for dominance before his dick won the battle, urging him to his feet. In his defense, he had been drinking.
He was about halfway to her when she first saw him. Her eyes widened the slightest bit before she turned back to the bar and drummed her fingertips, acting like she hadn't noticed him. Liked to play coy, did she?
Her pack of admirers closed in around her. He squeezed his way inside, ignoring the grumbles and protests of the other men.
"Watch it, asshole," one of them said.
"Out of my way," another grumbled.
A big guy who resembled a biker stepped into Ronin's path. His lips curled back to reveal jagged teeth and a forked tongue that gave him away as a navisti demon. His type stuck mostly to eating animals like pigs and goats, but they'd been known to attempt eating other demons. Ronin would like to see him try.
"This is a private party," the navisti demon growled.
"Yeah?" Ronin eyed the demon, then pointedly glanced around the club. "I don't see any signs."
The demon uttered a harsh, gravelly laugh and showed him his fist. "I got your sign right here, motherfucker."
Uh-huh. Real original. Ronin stifled a sigh. Thanks to the duality of his heritage — half-demon, half-angel — he couldn't decide whether he wanted to fight the dude or send him on his way. In the end, he decided to use the ability he'd inherited from his mother. He focused inward and a knot of cool, calming energy unwound itself from his gut, curling outward through his pores. It settled over the demon like a fine mist, then spread out to touch a couple of the other men who stood close by. Their bodies relaxed and their faces went slack.
The demon's brow wrinkled and he stepped to the side, scratching his head.
Heat from the crush of demons enveloped Ronin when he stopped next to the woman, motioning for Crull to come over. She turned, giving a slow, leisurely perusal of his body. Her lips curled into a smile. "You're an inviting change from the norm."
He made a show of subjecting her to the same scrutiny. She was even more beautiful up close, and he noticed the burgundy highlights reflecting in her shiny black hair. Her dress ended high up on her thighs, leaving the long expanse of her legs bare, down to her sandal straps, which wound around her ankles. She wore no jewelry other than a gold band around her wrist. Hell, she didn't need any. "Come here a lot, I take it?"
Her smile was bitter and something melancholy flashed in her eyes, quickly replaced by a seductive glance. "Too often."
Crull stopped in front of him. "Can I get you anything else?"
"Elvish absinthe." It was the strongest liquor on the market. Ronin turned to the woman. "Anything for you?"
"I'll take the same." She threw him a daring wink, then as Crull strolled away, stretched out her right hand in greeting. "I'm Amara."
A few of the men surrounding them swore and stalked away. She'd clearly sent some unspoken message by accepting his drink and introducing herself to him.
"I'm Ronin." He clasped his hand over hers. She emitted a muted but distinct energy that marked her as a demon, though with its low level she couldn't be more than half. That was good, she couldn't be a succubus if she were only half-demon, and that meant he didn't have to worry if things progressed beyond the talking stage. Succubi and incubi were the only demon subspecies who could kill other demons through sex.
He opened his mouth to ask her what she was.
"You're different." She tilted her head to the side and eyed him up and down once again. "Demon, but different."
"You've got strong senses."
"So what is it, Ronin? What makes you so ... special?"
The last word sounded out like a caress from her lips. It was an open challenge, if he read her eyes correctly. What she really wanted to know was what made him better than all the other assholes who'd been fighting for her attention.
"Guess you'll have to stick around to find out," he retorted with an easy grin.
Amara regarded him for a long moment before gracing him with an electrifying smile. Crull plunked the drinks in front of them, and she tugged her hand back, lifting her drink.
"Cheers." She extended her glass toward him.
He picked his up and clinked it against hers before downing it.
With a raised brow, she copied his motion.
He had to give her credit — she barely shuddered at the taste.
"So." She put the glass down. "Do you dance?"
Not usually. But he wasn't about to say no. "I hold my own."
She grabbed his hand, leading him through the crowd. He focused on the curves of her tight, rounded ass. He could see the very bottom of those luscious mounds every time she took a step forward.
Was she out of her mind, coming alone to a place like this dressed like that?
Amara led him to the dance floor, twirling to slide her hands up his chest. His hands rested on the small of her back, pressing her closer to him. He swayed his hips in time to the slow, pulsing beat of the music, a twisted love song by a musician he recognized as Marilyn Manson.
"Not bad for a novice," Amara said.
"Who said I was a novice?"
But when she swung her hips toward him, a move clearly executed to seduce, he got the sense that compared to her, maybe he was. Her natural essence, like flowers and merlot with the musky hint of sex, enveloped him. Made him grow hard.
"What brings you here tonight?" he asked.
"You mean, why would a girl like me come to a place like this?"
Her smile seemed somewhat forced. "Maybe this is my kind of place."
If so, then why did she emit an aura of sadness? Yes, it was mixed in with the allure and damn hard to spot, but there all the same. Every so often it came through in her eyes.
She was a lost soul, searching for her place in the world.
Just like me.
"No, I'm not buying it," he said. "This isn't your type of place."
She laughed, though there was no joy in it. "How wrong you are. This is exactly where I belong."
They danced quietly for a few minutes, her hips moving to the thumping beat of the song. Each arc of her body pressed her tighter into him, and he couldn't help but respond. There was no way she could've missed it either, pressed flush against him as she was.
The musician sang on, something about putting a "spell on you." Ronin had to admit, the sway of Amara's body against his seemed very much like an enchantment, drawing him further and further in. Making him ache for her.
She let out a soft sound, almost like a purr, and rested her cheek on his chest. "So tell me, what brings you here?"
He opened his mouth to say something smart, but somehow the truth came out. "Don't know. I guess I'm looking for something."
"Aren't we all?" she replied, her voice bitter, yet resigned.
"My brothers and I moved to this dimension almost a year ago. Seems like everything's changing lately." Damn, what was with his major case of verbal diarrhea? He couldn't stop himself from spewing the words. "One of them is married with a kid on the way, and another met his 'soul mate,' as he calls her."
He was happy for his brothers. Truly. Hell, sometimes he even thought about finding a woman of his own, but then he'd wake up. The only thing worse than having no family was having one and losing it. He knew how much that hurt. His father had taught him that lesson at the ripe age of nine. He'd vowed on that day never to get personally involved again. The pain of loss was far too great. Better to have zero personal involvements, the way he'd done his whole life. Even if this particular woman made him wonder what it'd be like to have someone to come home to.
Amara stiffened in his arms. "You have family?"
"Yeah. They can be frustrating at times, but I wouldn't trade them for anything."
"You're lucky," she said with a hollow laugh.
Aw shit, he'd said the wrong thing. "You don't have any relatives?"
"A mother. But our relationship is ... difficult, to say the least."
"Sorry." Now he felt like a jackass for bringing it up.
"Don't be. Family is a wonderful thing." She stepped out of his embrace and ducked her head, directing her eyes toward the general vicinity of his shoes. "Enjoy them, Ronin."
Puzzled, he came to a standstill. "I will."
"Good night." She turned to leave.
What was going on? How had he offended her?
"Wait." He grabbed her wrist. The metal of her bracelet cooled at his touch, practically freezing his fingers. Icy pain snaked up his arm, prompting him to wrench his hand away. Strange. He curled his fingers into his palm and shook off the sensation. "What did I do wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Her lush lips curved into a sad smile. She traced her fingers across his lips. "You did everything right."
"Then why are you leaving?"
Amara shook her head. "You seem like a good person. Decent. And that means you're not my type. Sorry."
With that she jerked away. He watched, openmouthed, while she maneuvered through the crowd toward the hallway containing the restrooms. She liked him. She was attracted to him. There was no mistaking that. So why the mixed signals?
When she slipped into the corridor, he followed, cursing himself all the while. The last thing he wanted was a relationship, and she seemed like the kind of girl who'd be hard to walk away from. Yet he couldn't stop himself from giving chase. If she blew him off, he'd leave, but at the very least he could guard her from the other losers who were probably hiding in the corners, waiting to get her alone.
He passed a few couples making out in the hallway, but they ignored him. He turned the corner toward the restrooms and stopped short when he saw her leaning against a wall. Her head was tipped back and her chest heaved like she fought to breathe.
"What's wrong?" he asked, rushing toward her.
Her eyes flew wide open, and her mouth dropped. "You fool. Why did you follow me?"
"Something was obviously wrong. Tell me, what is it?"
"Get out of here," she said, her eyes narrowing.
"Fine. But not before I make sure you're safe. I'm not going to attack you or anything. Believe me, I don't go where I'm not wanted."
Letting out a defeated sigh, she closed her eyes and rested her head against the wall once more. As if trying to shut out the sight of him. "It's not that I don't want you. If anything, I find you too attractive."
"Then what's the problem?"
Amara shook her head, her throat convulsing. "Go home, Ronin. Find yourself a nice girl, one who can give you a home and babies. You'll get nothing but trouble from me."
He tilted her chin up and her eyelids fluttered. "I don't want those things. Right now, the only thing I want is to be here with you." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Touch of the Angel by Rosalie Lario, Libby Murphy, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2013 Rosalie Lario. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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