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London, October, present day
Professor Dawn Maybank peered into the dense London fog and drew her trench coat tighter around her shoulders. Pressing the auto lock on her Jaguar, she shivered. She should not have parked on the street. She knew better. Anything could be out there, peering back at her. Vampires, demons, were-creatures: any of the paranormal beings that inhabited the dark shadows of the mortal realm. This was exactly the kind of cloaking fog that drew paras out to hunt. She knew that.
It would be her downfall someday, her impetuousness.
In the tomblike silence of the twilit morning, Dawn's high heels clicked loudly on the uneven cobblestones, echoing off the ancient walls that canted Old Trolly Road where the Department of Anachronistic Research, of which she was now the department head, was located. She should at least have worn flats. In case she had to run. Damn this job and damn the dress code, and damn her father for making her accept the position.
The thick mist crept slowly around her body like a moving shroud of unease. She could see sod all. Even her hearing was muffled, the cries of the gulls from the nearby Thames sounding more like whispers in the distance.
A drift of warm preternatural energy tingled over her skin. Damn. There was something out there. Instinctively she slid a hand into the pocket of her suit jacket, reaching for the emergency countermeasures she always kept close. Dead Sea salt for demons, a tiny but powerful UV flashlight for vampires, which also had a built-in high-frequency tone-emitter to ward off werewolves and other were-creatures. Gripping her briefcase tightly in her other hand, she quickened her pace. And murmured a spell of concealment, which she really should have said before she left the car. She never got to finish it.
Because suddenly he was there. A man. Looming over her. She halted, scant inches from his towering body.
Never show your fear.
Their eyes met. For a moment they just stared at each other, her heart beating so quickly Dawn thought it would burst from her chest. He was huge, his broad shoulders made menacing by the black, ankle-length macintosh that swirled about his legs. Otherworldly power emanated from him, humming over her arms like a comb covered in warm wax paper.
For a split second she weighed the possibilities. Vampire? Unlikely. It was after sunrise, and very few vampires were able to venture out in the light, thank God. Demon? Maybe. Sidhe? The heated energy radiating around him did not feel like faerie glamour. Glamour was cooler, more tingly. A were? Maybe. Or a human with magic? No, the energy didn't feel human, either.
All at once the man's fingers were wrapped around her arm. She hadn't seen him move; they were just there. At the contact a prickly wash of power surged over her, hotter than before. The fine hairs on her arms raised.
Definitely not human. "Let me go," she ordered, keeping her voice firm and steady. What had happened to her instincts? Three months away from her job as a demon tracker for the Cadre and already she was slacking off. Somehow she needed to get to the capture crystal in her briefcase, in case he was a demon. If he was some sort of were-creature, she was already toast. Still, a good bluff never hurt. "Let go now!"
"Lady Dawn?" the man asked. His deep voice was oddly hushed, like the fog surrounding them. Another clue.
Which immediately became lost in a more disturbing fact: He knew her name.
"Lady Dawn, I have something for you," he said softly, barely above a whisper. His voice trailed along her skin like the brush of fire-warmed velvet, sensual, erotic. "Something you've wanted for a long time."
A strange light flickered in his eyes as he spoke, as though he expected to tempt her with his low-spoken words.
She wasn't impressed. Or fooled.And he'd given himself away. Demon.
To be more precise, daemon sapiens. One of the two major genera of demon, this type was nearly indistinguishable from humans. On the outside.
But a demon's whisper was dangerous. Its power of suggestion could easily lure a mortal to her doom.
Dawn shielded her mind against it, and visualized a solid circle of protection around herself, both techniques the Cadre had taught her well. "What do you want?" she demanded.
One corner of the demon's mouth curved up, a wealth of meaning shining in those tempting black eyes. Promises. Wicked promises.
She jerked her arm, but his fingers were like a vise, her efforts useless. Demons were strong enough to bend steel with their bare hands, their preternatural energy even stronger. His hot, otherworldly power pulsed into her almost painfully, shattering her invisible circle of protection. Her heart pounded harder. She'd been caught in his net like a novice. She was going nowhere until he wished it.
Maybe the Cadre High Council was right. She didn't deserve adept status.
"I'm here to make a bargain with you," the demon said.
A devil's bargain. "Not interested."
"Trust me, you will be."
Unwilling curiosity tugged at her. He seemed so certain. Besides, she appeared to have little choice but to listen. Fine. If he'd intended to harm her, he would already have done so. Probably.
"All right," she said. "But keep your voice above a whisper. No more tricks."
He tilted his head in acquiescence. "What kind of bargain?" she asked. "I'll show you." He glanced at his fingers on her arm, then met her gaze with black brows raised.
She nodded and he released her. She wouldn't run because it would be no use. She could no longer feel his dark power flowing between them, but it was still there. He would easily catch her. And she would suffer his displeasure. Even Cadre novices knew that much. A demon's displeasure was not a pretty sight.
As though reading her thoughts, he smiled wickedly. For a second she was blinded. Lord, such a handsome devil. Her heartbeat took off, but this time not from fear. Then she came to her senses. What in God's name was this demon thinking of? Trying to seduce her? He knew her name; he had to know who she was. What she was. The man must be as recklessly impetuous as she! Maybe he'd been passed over for demon adept....
The small irony bolstered her courage. She took a deep breath as his hand disappeared beneath his mac, and came out with-
"Oh, my God." Her eyes widened.
Between two fingers he held a diamond. A very large black diamond. The diamond.
The Demon Stone!
Her gaze shot to his. The Demon Stone belonged to her family; it belonged at St. Yve Manor! The Saxon Crown from which it came had been found in a cache on the estate in the 1600s by the daughter of the very first Earl of St. Yve, Dawn's direct ancestor. It was stolen two centuries later by the infamous demon of destruction, Rofocale. Not the whole crown. Just the center diamond known as the Demon Stone.
The hair raised on the nape of her neck. Could this man be Rofocale?
Before her imagination could take off, she pulled in another calming breath, dismissing the idea. No. A minister of Hell, one of the dark realm's ruling Grigori, would hardly deign-or dare-to appear in the mortal realm. Not like this.
She focused on the stone between his fingers. Her fear abated as excitement began to build within her. "Where did you get the diamond?" she asked.
"You know where." He watched her carefully as she set down her briefcase on the cobblestones at her feet.
"Was it you who took it?" Never hurt to double-check.
"No." He shook his head. His thick black hair was long enough that it swayed back and forth with the movement. It reached his collar, glossy and rich, cut in a perfect style for his angular face. "It belonged to Ba'al Rofocale," he said. Lord Rofocale. Ba'al was a demonic term of rank, of respect.
So she was right. She'd heard the name many times in her work for the Cadre. Evil. As evil as it got. Some of the demons the Cadre had captured even claimed Rofocale was plotting to take over the mortal realm. Did this man work for him? She swallowed, and yanked her attention back to the demon's eyes.
"How did you get it?"
"I won it from Ba'al Rofocale in a game of chance," he said. Dawn knew all about most demons' penchant for gambling. It was one of the few weapons a good demon tracker could use against them. But gambling with a demon was dangerous. Most of them, even the more evolved daemon sapiens, felt only two emotions-lust and anger. Both were legendary. You didn't want to piss a demon off. Even if you were another demon. This man had to be out of his mind to risk gambling with a ruling minister like Rofocale over something so...insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
And speaking of insignificant...
Why Dawn? What could he possibly want from her? Because there was no doubt he wanted something.
She shifted nervously as his gaze slid down the length of her body and back up again, almost as though he could see right through her trench coat. Lord, maybe he could. Did he have that power? One never knew, as each demon possessed different strengths and abilities.
Her cheeks warmed as his frank appraisal continued. She must remember to shield her thoughts. Most of them couldn't read your mind unless they were somehow able to put their demon essence into you, but this one seemed to know just what she was thinking.
Again she wondered. What did this nameless, handsome demon want from her?
"My name is Galen. Galen McManus."
Damn. Shields! "And I'm Professor Dawn Maybank," she responded crisply. "But then, you already know that."
"I do," he confessed. "Though I prefer Lady Dawn. Professor sounds so...impersonal."
He drew out the last word in a dark, sensual whisper that played inside her head, toying with her body like a warm physical touch. His hot power spilled over her. To her mortification her nipples tightened and a tight-throated thrum of sexual attraction seeped through her body.
She was horrified. Galen McManus was a demon. An entity she'd been fighting all her life. What was wrong with her?
A chill breeze swirled the fog around them, cooling her. But not nearly enough.
"What do you want for the diamond?" she asked, her voice cracking.
He stepped in closer. She could see his pulse beat strong and steady in a vein that disappeared beneath the collar of his mac. He smelled...exotic. Like rich spices from the Far East, like lush, verdant jungle foliage. He was so much taller than she that her nose was at his throat, almost tucked under his square jaw where the faint scent was strongest. Aftershave? Or him? She leaned in.
For some insane reason she was not afraid. Not when he matched her movement so his buttons brushed her breasts; not even when he bent down and whispered in her ear with a voice soft as black sable, "I want you."
She didn't move. She didn't move because she thought if she did she would probably start to shake. Not from fear, but from... Oh, God.
The demon wanted her. In all her years in the Cadre as a demon tracker, she had never been blindsided like this.
He could mean any number of things by that, she reasoned desperately. Her loyalty. Her help. Her soul.
Oh, Lord in heaven. She squeezed her eyes shut. Which would be worse?
"Me?" she asked in a whisper.
His fingers brushed along her jaw, startling her eyes open with the prickle of preternatural energy, energy that was a living thing, leaving behind a rough, sparking-hot residue.
"I am an incubus," he said as though that explained everything. Perhaps it did. The seductive whisper, the obvious heat of his energy. Every demon derived his power from one of the four elements: air, water, earth, fire. An incubus's element was fire, his power of possession sexual.
Suddenly she wondered if she was already dreaming this. Dreaming him.
His fingers tipped her chin up. He laid his cheek to hers. "Let me come to you," he ordered softly in her ear. His voice was like a lover's whisper in the night. Beckoning. Seductive. Promising those wicked, wonderful things.
In her rational mind she knew it was a spell. An illusion of intimacy, a cruel trick designed to rob her of her free will. A demon's whisper was a thing to be feared. It could make a person do...anything...if she let it.
She fought its power with all her strength, dredging up her simplest, most powerful spell of protection, the one she'd memorized at her mother's knee. But she made the mistake of looking up into his eyes. And was caught in the dark light of his gaze. Caught in their drowning magic.
"Five nights," he whispered. "Five nights in your bed and your body. That is my price for the Demon Stone."
The dense fog swirled. In the distance, some of it lifted, causing a pale haze of blue to shimmer above the billowy curls of gray cloud. But around the two of them, the shadowy gloom still lingered.
This was madness. She shouldn't even consider his devilish proposition.
But the Demon Stone glittered on his palm, calling to her. Five nights. With an incubus.
Thoughts sifted through her, mysterious and elusive as the dimming vapor that enveloped them. She couldn't. She couldn't.
This man was a demon. Her enemy. He could be lying, tricking her. But here was the Demon Stone, not an illusion, and within Dawn's grasp. Finally an opportunity to reap vengeance for all the times she had been found wanting. By her perfectionist father. By her perfect sister. This would put an end to Father's indifference and Aurora's condescending smugness forever!
So very tempting.