(Living in Eden – Book #2)
October 5, 2010
Being a little wicked isn’t all bad…
Every woman has a sexy demon inside her just waiting to get out, but for Eden Riley it’s a little different. Her inner demon is named Darrak, and he’s been inhabiting bodies for the past 300 years. In the daytime, thanks to her special psychic energy, he’s able to take physical shape—a shape she wouldn’t mind getting her hands on, if it wasn’t a threat to her immortal soul…
Because of her possession, Eden now has uncontrollable black magic at her fingertips, and she and Darrak are trying to end the curse that binds them before the situation gets any worse. To do it, they’ll have to get tangled up with some unsavory characters from the underworld. When sparks and spells fly, they could get the distance they need…or each have their own private hell to pay.
C H A P T E R O N E
“Would you look at this place? Equal parts lust and desperation. It’s fantastic.”
Eden grimaced. She’d been trying to pay as little attention to Darrak as possible, but it wasn’t easy. The demon was very hard to ignore.
“It’s a singles’ club,” she replied. “What did you expect?”
“This, of course. But it’s even better than I thought it would be.”
“You have a strange sense of what better is.”
A tall man holding a bottle of Corona tapped Eden on her shoulder. When she turned to look at him he leered approvingly at her. “Who are you talking to, sexy lady?”
She cleared her throat. “Nobody. Just talking to myself. I do that frequently now that I’ve stopped taking my medication.”
“Uh . . . okay.” He slowly backed away from her and went to hit on someone else. Someone sane.
Darrak snorted. “Busted.”
She felt her face redden. She had to remember that no one but her could see or hear Darrak at the moment. He was her demon. Her inner demon. After all, Eden Riley was the current cover girl for demonic possession.
This time she spoke under her breath so no one would hear. “I thought you said you were going to keep quiet once we got in here?”
“I lied. Besides, you need me to coach you through this, don’t you? I thought you said you’re a bit out of your element.”
He was right about that.
“Okay, so coach me. Now what should I do?”
“Walk over to the bar, order a drink, and scan the room. I know he’s around here somewhere. I just have to spot him.”
“You still haven’t told me how you found this guy. How were you able to contact anyone in your, uh, current condition?”
“I have my ways.”
Well, that was cryptic. But instead of grilling him about it, Eden walked across the floor of the dark nightclub, Luxuria. It was very upscale, with gleaming black floors and indigo interior. A cascade of pretty sparkling light moved slowly across the hundreds of faces and bodies in attendance. But the lust and desperation Darrak mentioned seemed to permeate the entire building, giving it a distinctly unpleasant ambiance Eden was able to pick up with her subtle sixth sense.
As she walked, she tried not to twist her ankle in the four-inch stiletto heels Darrak strongly suggested she wear tonight. Her legs felt cold in her short skirt. She normally didn’t like to show off so much skin, especially this late in October. However, a quick scan of the club made her feel that she was practically in casual wear compared to the other women-on-the-prowl. They, however, didn’t share her inner accessory.
No one could see the demon, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t very much there, currently sharing her scantily clad body.
Why wasn’t Eden freaking out over the fact that she was possessed by a demon? She had. Many times. She’d since realized that no matter how much freaking out she did, it didn’t do much to change the situation.
Three hundred years ago, Darrak had barely survived a witch’s death curse. It had destroyed his physical form, leaving only his essence behind. He’d existed for three centuries unseen and mostly unheard by the hosts he’d been forced to possess.
That is, until he’d possessed Eden.
For some reason — and it was probably because she was a little bit psychic and had been for as long as she could remember — he was able to feed off of her energy to communicate with her at night in her head and take physical form during daylight hours.
Until they found a way to break his curse and return him to full power so he could reform a permanent body, they were stuck like this. And screaming about it wasn’t going to do anything except make her throat hurt.
There was someone in this club tonight who could help them. A specialist in the affairs of Others — aka the “otherworldly” — who would know where they’d need to go for curse removal. Whether this person was human or not was something the demon hadn’t yet shared with her.
Demons, witches, fairies, and werewolves, Eden thought as she scanned the crowd of seemingly normal mingling singles. Welcome to my new life. I definitely need a drink.
The bartender eyed her when she slid onto a tall stool. “What’s your pleasure?”
“Uh . . . I’ll have a white wine. Thanks.”
“That’s so boring,” Darrak commented internally. “A white wine? Could you order a more generic drink?”
She cleared her throat and tried to keep the smile fixed on her face.
“Sure thing,” the bartender said, quickly uncapping a bottle of house white and pouring her a glass.
“Let me guess. You’re not a fancy cocktail kind of girl,” Darrak continued, even though she wished he’d just shut up for a moment. The demon hadn’t had much conversation in three centuries so now he was a regular chat factory. It was a good thing he had such a nice voice — deep, warm, and usually filled with wry amusement at the human world he witnessed through Eden’s eyes.
“Not particularly,” she replied, dryly, when the bartender moved further down the bar and out of earshot. “The little paper umbrellas can be so intimidating.”
“It’s all fun and games till someone pokes their eye out. So you’ve found something you like, and you stick with it.”
“Makes things very simple.”
“But how will you ever know if there’s a drink out there that might be the best thing you’ve ever tasted?”
She shrugged a shoulder. “I’m perfectly content with my white wine.”
“Content,” he repeated, and the one word sounded like a pronouncement on Eden’s boring life. At least, up until she got possessed. Things now were difficult, awkward, and frequently dangerous, but they couldn’t exactly be described as boring. Too bad, really.
There was a wall-length mirror behind the bar that allowed her to see both herself and the club behind her. Her gaze didn’t go to her long, bone-straight auburn hair, green eyes lined with smoky liner, or plunging neckline that showed off too much cleavage to be considered remotely modest, but instead to the necklace she wore. The pendant was light gray with darker veins running through it. It looked like a two-inch oval piece of polished marble. She absently ran her fingertips over its cool surface.
“Don’t worry.” The previous amused and mocking edge to Darrak’s voice was gone and replaced by a serious tone. “It’s still practically white.”
She tried to smile at her reflection. “You’re a very good liar, you know that?”
“I have been told that once or twice before.”
The amulet showed how damaged her soul was after having recently come into some . . . powers. Dark powers. She was now officially a “black witch” — a woman who had black magic at her fingertips to use whenever she wanted.
Using this kind of magic destroyed a soul piece by piece, little by little, eating away at one’s ability to tell good from evil. The best solution — the only solution — was not to use the magic at all. Eden had used it just once and her soul was damaged from it. Just a shade darker, but it would never be completely pure again.
Eden could feel it now, only a short mental reach away — a bottomless ocean of power that itched to be used. It was like doing heroin. She’d heard that you became an immediate junkie the first time you did that drug.
Ditto black magic.
She hadn’t told Darrak about this constant urge she now had to dip into the dark well of power. He was adamant that she never use it again, no matter what — it was too dangerous for her. He felt a great deal of guilt about her current gray-stoned predicament, which was understandable. After all, it was his fault she was now officially a black witch.
Having sex with the demon had — hocus-pocus — accidentally turned her into one.
She chewed her bottom lip and tasted her red lip-gloss as the memory slid through her mind of what had happened between them.
Well . . . Darrak did have solid form during the day. And that form was a mighty fine one.
What could she say? It had happened. Once.
But it could never happen again. Ever. Not unless she wanted to put more of her soul at risk. And she didn’t. She was very fond of her soul, even in its current, slightly dingy state.
“Do you see him yet?” she asked, taking her mind off other hazardous subjects. She turned away from her reflection to look at the faces in the crowd, slowing scanning the width of the room.
“Not yet. This place is packed. I think every desperate single person in the city is here tonight.”
Eden took a shaky sip of her wine. It tasted bland and, to be honest, a bit boring. Not that she’d ever admit it.
“I don’t believe it,” a voice said to her left. “Eden Riley. Long time no see.”
She turned, and her eyes widened with surprise. “You’re kidding me. Graham . . . Graham Davis?”
The attractive dark-haired man grinned at her. “You remember me.”
A matching smile blossomed on her face. “High school was only, oh, a dozen years ago.”
“Seems like two dozen sometimes.”
Darrak sighed internally. “Eden, you need to keep your attention on the room so I can spot my contact. Priorities, remember?”
Obviously the demon didn’t realize how long it had been since she’s seen Graham. It felt like forever. She had no idea why they hadn’t stayed in touch. After high school, Graham had gone backpacking in Europe, she’d gone off to university, and time had simply passed. Too bad, really. Graham had been one of her very best friends.
Graham’s gaze moved down the front of her. “You’re looking fantastic. Just as gorgeous as you were back in grade twelve.”
She grinned. “Right back at you. And that’s a great suit.”
Graham looked down at his gray Armani. “I dress to impress.”
“Eden . . .” Darrak said tightly. “I know we’re in a lustful, desperate singles’ club, but that’s no reason to let this guy hit on you.”
Darrak thought Graham was hitting on her? She tried not to smile at the thought. As attractive as Graham Davis was, and as good friends as they’d been back when they were teenagers, she and Graham had never hooked up and never would. It could have had a little something to do with Graham being gay.
But Darrak didn’t know that, which would explain the jealous edge to his words.
The thought that another man’s potential interest would make Darrak jealous, despite their mutually-agreed-to platonic partnership was . . . interesting.
But it only made things more complicated.
“You really shouldn’t be here, Eden,” Graham said.
That got her full attention. “I shouldn’t?”
He shook his head, taking a moment to scan their surroundings. “If you’re looking to meet someone new, there are better places than this to find someone. It’s dangerous here.”
“Doesn’t look all that dangerous to me. Besides, what are you doing here?” She raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t seem like your kind of singles’ club.”
His mouth curled up on one side. “You don’t think I can meet my future bride here?”
She smiled back at him. “Somehow, I doubt it.”
Graham’s grin widened. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s fate, us seeing each other again. Maybe I should leave my old life behind and you should marry me and we’ll have lots of gorgeous babies together.”
“I hate this guy,” Darrak said. “Eden, letting this blast from your past drool on you is not productive to our goal tonight. Let’s carry on, shall we?”
“Sounds like a perfect life,” she said to Graham. “Shall we set a date?”
Graham held the smile a moment longer before it faded at the edges. “Seriously though, I think you should take off. This place . . . I don’t know what’s going on, but something’s very wrong here.”
She frowned. “Which means what?”
“I’m doing a story on this club for the Toronto Star.”
“You’re a journalist? That’s so great. It’s what you wanted to be back in the day.”
He nodded. “Investigative journalist. And I’ve been investigating this club. There have been six women who’ve gone missing in the area, all of whom were regulars here since Luxuria opened for business last month. I feel like there might be a predator at work, and” — he shook his head — “I just have this strange hunch that it’s directly related to the club itself.”
The thought made a chill run down her spine. “Are the police investigating, too?”
“The disappearances, yes. The club itself, no. The missing women are only loosely connected to this place and they don’t see the connection as keenly as I do. There’s nothing yet that ties it directly to the club except for a gut feeling on my part. If I find anything to substantiate my hunch, this place would be shut down in a heartbeat.”
“So you’re telling me to be careful.”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.” Graham touched her arm. “Consider it a request from an old friend. Stay safe. Even though it’s a big, lonely city and it’s nice to find someone to be with, I figure it’s way better to be alone and alive than alone and dead.”
A chill went down Eden’s spine. “You think the women are dead?”
“That’s what I’m here to figure out, and I’m not leaving until I do.” He cocked an eyebrow. “And, you know, if I win a journalism award along the way then it’s all the better. It’s going to be a great story.”
Eden reached into her purse and pulled out a business card. “Here. Take this.”
He did and looked at it. “You’re a private investigator?”
“I . . . well, I own half of Triple-A Investigations. It’s just a small office on the outskirts of the city. I assist someone else, mostly, but what I’m saying is if you need some help, I’d be happy to pitch in any way I can.”
Graham smiled and tucked the card into the pocket of his jacket. “I’ll definitely keep that in mind. It was good seeing you again, Eden.”
“You, too. Good luck with the story.”
“I’ll take all the luck I can get.” He touched her face and shook his head. “Twelve years.”
“I know. And yet we still have that youthful glow.”
“I turned thirty last week. The glow is starting to fade.” He laughed. “Let’s not make it so long next time, okay? Good friends — people you can really trust — they’re hard to find.”
“You have my card. We’ll do coffee and catch up?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Graham leaned over and gave Eden a quick kiss. She felt Darrak’s presence tense inside of her, even though the kiss was only one of friendship.
However . . . something else happened with the contact. A sensation of dread, of fear, of darkness swept over her. As soon as it was there, before she could grab hold of it and analyze what she’d felt, it was gone. That was how her psychic abilities usually were. Totally useless.
“I’ll give you a call tomorrow, Eden. Promise,” Graham said before moving off into the crowd, which seemed to swallow him whole in a scattering of light and mingling bodies.
“I hate that guy,” Darrak said. “Loathe him. And I can’t believe you let him kiss you. I almost made you slap him, but luckily for him he didn’t try to slip you the tongue. It’s obvious to me that he’s only after one thing from you and –”
“He’s gay,” Eden said simply.
“Oh.” There was a pause. “I totally knew that.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“No, actually I didn’t. Huh.”
“What do you think about the six missing women?” Eden asked quietly as she sipped on her glass of white wine and scanned the crowd looking for Darrak’s contact. She felt disturbed by what Graham had told her and from her strange psychic flash.
“All I know is it has nothing to do with us. But he’s right . . . sometimes people looking for love will find more than they bargain for. Places like this leave certain people exposed, willing victims driven by lust and desperation. Which, of course, is the vibe I feel here.”
“Which you approve of.”
“My incubus days are long behind me, but I still find it interesting how many of them are so quick to mistake lust for love in a desperate attempt not to be alone.”
She didn’t particularly like the reminder that Darrak had once been an incubus, a demon who fed off the sexual energy of humans. However, he’d later been promoted to “archdemon,” which, actually, was much scarier. Luckily for her, he’d changed a lot since being cursed.
“I liked being alone,” she said. “I was perfectly content being alone before you arrived.”
“Were you?” Darrak’s tone turned amused again. “Or maybe I was the answer to your silent wish to have somebody in your bleak, lonely life. You’re much too attractive to be a spinster.”
“I think there’s a big difference between having a live-in boyfriend and being possessed by a demon who will slowly but surely drain me of all of my energy until I’m dead.”
She hadn’t meant for it to sound quite so blunt, but the fact was, if they didn’t find a solution to their problem, Darrak’s demonic presence would eventually kill her. She knew in the three hundred-plus years he’d been cursed, he’d been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people he’d possessed. He’d tried his best to chose hosts that deserved death — murderers and other vile humans. But, still. Knowing she was possessed with someone who was essentially a metaphysical leech — even though he was a very attractive leech during daylight hours — didn’t help her rest easy at night.
“We’ll find a solution,” Darrak said firmly. “I swear we will.”
Eden downed the rest of her wine in one gulp, then dug into her purse to pay for it. “If you say so.”
“I do.” There was a pause. “And speaking of our solution, I just saw him.”
Darrak’s voice now held a thread of anxiety. This was important, after all. If they didn’t find an answer to their mutual problem . . . well, she may as well invest in a nice gravesite with a view and he’d be forced to find his next unwilling victim.
“Over by the dance floor. To the right. There’s a table with three blonde women and the bald man staring at their breasts is the one we’re looking for.”
“Charming,” she said, keeping her voice low. “He’s human?”
“I think so. He’s the personal assistant to the local wizard master. The wizard master’s the one we really need to get to.”
“Wizard master?” she repeated skeptically. “What is this, Dungeons & Dragons?”
“That’s a game, right?”
“This isn’t a game.”
No, it definitely wasn’t. Wizard master it was, then. “So what do I do?”
“Go over and say I sent you. He’ll know who I am and what you’re here for. The dress you’re wearing is just for him. He’s very fond of the ladies, as you can see, but he has a special place in his libido for redheads just like you. We’re golden. But if that little pervert touches you, I’ll probably rip his head off. Just an FYI. We’ll have to see how it goes.”
“Try to restrain yourself.”
“This is it, Eden. We’re close. I feel like this is going to be the solution to our problem.”
“I sure hope you’re right.” Because otherwise they were out of options.
She slid off the chair and adjusted her skirt that had crept up higher on her thighs. Then she forced herself to be brave and cross the floor, keeping the average-looking human in sight just in case he tried to magically disappear. It could happen.
Only fifteen feet away now. Twelve. Ten.
“Wait a second,” Darrak said suddenly. “Eden, stop walking.”
She froze in place. “What is it?”
“I’m not sure. I thought I saw someone I recognized.”
“Look over toward the left, just a quick glance so I can check.”
She did what he asked, sweeping her eyes slowly across a sea of faces. “Who is it?”
The demon swore.
Eden waited, every muscle in her body now tense.
“We need to get out of here right now,” Darrak said tightly.
“But I thought you said we need to talk to the wizard master’s assistant.” She looked over at him laughing with the three women, oblivious to her. Only ten feet away. They were so close.
“No. This isn’t the right time. Leave, Eden. Now, before I make you.”
“But why are you –?”
The next moment, she found herself forcibly turned around toward the exit. If motivated enough, the demon was able to control her body — or parts of it, anyhow. Since Eden didn’t enjoy losing control of her bodily functions, so to speak, she’d set up rules that prohibited him from ever doing that. At the moment, though, instead of anger she felt panic well inside her at his unexpected reaction.
“I’m serious,” Darrak said. “You need to get us the hell out of here right now.”
There was something in his voice that made her decide not to argue any further. Eden began walking toward the door. She exited and put one foot in front of the other on her way to her car.
“Are you going to tell me what that was about?” she asked.
“I saw someone I used to know. Someone I haven’t seen for over three hundred years, since before I was cursed.”
“Who was it?” Her hand shook as she tried to get her key into the lock of her rusted Toyota.
“He’s an archdemon like me.”
Eden inhaled sharply. “Does he know you’re here?”
“I don’t know. But coincidences are usually fate giving us a kick in the ass. All I know is he’s dangerous. He wouldn’t know what happened to me with the curse. And he wouldn’t understand that I’m . . . well, I’m different than I used to be.”
This was shorthand for saying Darrak used to be demonically evil and now — thanks to being infused with humanity after possessing humans for hundreds of years — he wasn’t.
Which meant this other demon would be everything Darrak once was — powerful, destructive, scary, without conscience or empathy. Someone she’d want to avoid in every way possible. “What would this demon do if he found out what happened to you?”
“I’m not sure.”
She shivered as she got in the car and turned the key in the ignition. “So this demon . . . he’s an old enemy of yours?”
“No,” Darrak said wryly. “Actually, he was my best friend.”
C H A P T E R T W O
Four hundred years ago (give or take a decade)
Being promoted was a good thing. Even when it hurt like . . . hell.
Darrak braced himself as the fire scorched his body, burning away his former incubus self and replacing it with his new archdemon form. On the surface, he looked the same. Inside, it was a major upgrade.
Which was good. He’d always hated being an incubus.
Well, almost always. The job did have its perks, after all. Draining the sexual energy of humans was all kinds of fun—depending on the human, of course. But helping to stock Lucifer’s personal harem with the human souls Darrak hadn’t completely consumed, well, that just felt like work.
Ever since he’d been created from hellfire five centuries ago, he’d been made to feel like a lesser demon. Made-demons rarely were treated as well as fallen angels or humans who’d sold their souls in service to the pit. Demons like Darrak were treated as if they hadn’t earned the right to any privileges and should feel, quote, “honored to exist in the first place.”
No damned respect.
But that was all behind him now with this promotion to archdemon. Darrak wouldn’t be used anymore to do anyone’s dirty work—he was nobody’s slave. New strength and power coursed through his improved form. From the corners of his eyes he could see his long curved horns. His skin was covered in amber fire. His upgrade came with fire as his element to call—appropriate, being that he was created from it in the first place. He looked at his hand, at the rippling flames that filled him with warmth and power. He could destroy a lot with this new perk. The thought pleased him.
“How do you feel, Darrakayiis?” Lucifer asked. He always observed promotions like this firsthand, although from an unseen vantage point.
The use of Darrak’s true name made him stand up straighter and answer truthfully even if he’d been inclined to lie. “Never better.”
“You’re very lucky. Many do not survive what you have just been through. Their forms are destroyed and swept into the Void.”
Sure, now they tell him. “It shows you that I’m worthy of being an archdemon.”
“That remains to be seen, incubus.”
His lips thinned. He wasn’t an incubus anymore, but he didn’t correct the prince. Lucifer had a nasty, destructive temper on him. Not that Darrak had ever met the boss face-to-face before. He’d only heard the rumors—and there were many of them.
“You now answer only to me,” Lucifer said. “You are in my trusted circle. You will defend and protect me whenever I need you, without question or comment. Do you wholly agree to this?”
There really was only one acceptable answer to that question. Anything else would be asking for that one-way trip to the Void. “Yes, my prince.”
Lucifer’s archdemons were essentially his personal bodyguards—the only ones, outside of his vast harem, who ever saw Lucifer in person. But, except for his duties to Lucifer, the benefits of the job were endless.
“Go now,” Lucifer said. “And I will summon you when you’re needed.”
Darrak lowered his head in an obligatory bow before turning and leaving the antechamber. He immediately shifted to his human form and raked a hand through his dark hair before grinning at his accomplishment. His demon form was necessary to wear when in Lucifer’s presence—it was a show of respect, much like wearing a uniform—but his human form had always felt more natural to him. Plus, the horns ran the risk of scraping against archways. They were very impressive, but not terribly practical sometimes.
“So?” another voice asked him as he turned the corner of the mazelike halls of Lucifer’s palace.
A smile twisted on Darrak’s face as he turned to see his friend, Theo. “So what?”
“How did it go?” Theo had long black hair he always wore tied back by a strip of leather. He had a slight exotic slant to his brown eyes that spoke of many different nationalities, which helped him fit in just about anywhere at any time in the human world.
“Don’t forget the arch before demon when you’re discussing my future triumphs. And you will be discussing them since I’ll have many.”
Theo’s grin widened. “Told you so.”
“You did indeed.”
“Ask and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.”
Darrak laughed. “Reading the Bible again?”
“I love fairy tales. They make me feel all tingly inside.”
“As you can see, I survived the conversion. Which I’m told is rare. Thanks for the warning on that.”
Theo crossed his thickly muscled arms. “Warnings are for cowards. So now you’re finally one of us. One of the chosen few that can do whatever we want and have power left over to spare.”
“All thanks to you.” Darrak’s gratitude surprised even him. If it wasn’t for Theo, he wouldn’t have gotten this rare chance to move up the food chain.
Darrak and Theo had both been incubi created from hellfire at the dawn of their existences. Both created to serve their masters. But Theo had a real drive to become something more, never satisfied with where he was. He made Darrak see it was possible to want more, to achieve more. All one had to do was put one’s mind to it. He was very inspirational—for a demon.
“Follow me,” Theo said. “I need to ask you something very important, but not here.”
That was interesting. Darrak followed him until they were deeper in the palace, a place where they wouldn’t be disturbed or overheard.
“So now what?” Darrak grinned. “Shall we go out and celebrate? Head up to the human world? I can go there now at will, can’t I? I don’t have to wait to be given permission.”
“You can do anything you like now. Anything.”
Darrak’s smile faded and he tensed, feeling a strange sense of foreboding. “Is there something wrong?”
“No,” Theo said, although he seemed preoccupied. “Do you trust me, Darrak?”
“Yes,” he responded immediately. “Out of everyone I’ve ever known, I trust you above them all.”
“Because I want to tell you something. Something important.” Theo hesitated.
“You can trust me with anything you have to say,” Darrak assured him.
“Can I?” A straight black eyebrow raised.
“Of course. You’re like a brother to me.”
Theo snorted. “Always so emotional, Darrak. You’re just like a human.”
Darrak knew an insult when he heard one. “Am not.”
“I’m jesting, of course. I’ve seen you drain their energy and take their souls. No hesitation, no second thoughts. I’ve seen you tear apart the ones who cross you with your bare talons. Why do you think I’d recommend you for this promotion if I felt otherwise? You have the soul of a killer, don’t you?”
It was an old joke. “Yes, and it was delicious.”
Theo studied him a moment longer. “I don’t know when it will happen, but I need you to be prepared when it does.”
“When what happens?”
A smile snaked across Theo’s face. “I’m not satisfied with being an archdemon. I want more.”
“More? How can you get more? Arch is as far as we can go.”
“Not exactly.” He lowered his voice further so Darrak had to draw closer to hear him. “There are seven lords of Hell. I’ve recently discovered that if they were to be . . . destroyed . . . one by one, their power would shift to the one who ended their existence.”
Darrak hadn’t expected this. “You can’t destroy the lords. They’re omnipotent.”
Theo shrugged. “Maybe that’s only what they want us to believe. I’ve been secretly looking into things. There is a weapon that can kill them and send them to the Void just like any other lowly demon.”
“What kind of weapon?”
“I’m still working on the details. It may take time. Patience is a virtue, you know.”
Darrak snorted. “So is chastity. Luckily, demons aren’t required to be virtuous. I have no desire to be either patient nor chaste.”
“I want you to be a part of this. When I rise to power, you have the chance to take some as well. After all, I don’t know if I can handle all seven rings myself.” His grin widened. “Maybe four for me and three for you. We can rule Hell together.”
Darrak’s head felt heavy with this influx of information. “You’ll be destroyed if they ever find out about this.”
Theo’s eyes narrowed. “And will you tell them?”
“Of course not.”
“So you’ll help me?”
“To kill Lucifer and the others and take their power for ourselves the moment we’re given the opportunity?” Darrak said it very slowly so there would be no misunderstandings.
“Yes. So what do you say? Are we partners? Shall we take over Hell and leave those who oppose us in our bloody wake no matter how long it takes or how difficult it might get?”
Darrak gave his friend a slow grin and felt his newfound power rising inside of him, itching to be used as soon as possible. “I’m so in.”
C H A P T E R T H R E E
“I need to dampen you now,” Eden told Darrak when she entered her bathroom, still disturbed by what had happened at the club.
“Thanks for the warning.”
“Only for five minutes. Just need to do some stuff.”
Darrak sighed. “I know. Your mysterious bathroom routine. But it’s not necessary to dampen me. If you knew half the things I’d seen—”
She held up a hand. “And I don’t want to.”
“I have seen you naked before,” he reminded her. “Trust me, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Your body is gorgeous. Right down to that little freckle on your—”
“You’re not helping.” She glared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror.
“Sorry.” But there was a twist of amusement in his voice that made her think he wasn’t all that sorry.
“Five minutes,” she said again, and before he could protest again, she flicked the metaphorical switch in her head that shut the demon off from seeing or hearing anything for a while. It wasn’t without effort. This ability had more to do with her meager psychic abilities than tapping into her black magic. She could tell because it was hard to do. Using magic was effortless and tempting. This was difficult and gave her a headache if she tried to hold him back for too long.
Eden finished in the bathroom as quickly as she could and changed for bed. She used to wear a T-shirt or sleep entirely in the nude, but ever since she’d acquired her new roommate, she’d bought a few sets of full-length pajamas—the least sexy ones she could find. One set even came with feet attached. Tonight she chose the ones with a pattern of small pink poodles all over the thick white flannel fabric. Could not be less sexy if she tried.
Only after she’d gotten in bed, and pulled the covers up to her chin, did she release the dampening. She immediately felt the demon’s warm presence inside of her again.
“That felt like more than five minutes,” he said.
“It was ten minutes. Maybe eleven.”
“If you say so.”
“I do. Now I’m exhausted. It’s been a long night and it wasn’t even worthwhile.”
“I know. But we’ll try again,” he told her. “The wizard’s assistant hangs out at that club every night, I’ve heard.”
It still confused her. “And where exactly did you hear this from? You’re with me all the time.”
“Don’t sound so thrilled about that.”
He was inside her head at night. And by day, even though he could take form, he couldn’t stray more than a hundred feet from her side or he was drawn back to her like a magnet. A magnet in great pain.
“I was in Toronto for a week before we met, you know,” he said. “Even though I didn’t have much control, I did manage to collect some information about potential ways to break the curse.”
Following his “only possess scumbags who deserve to die” philosophy, he’d been in the body of a serial killer who’d tried to kill Eden before he was shot dead, forcing Darrak to make the jump to a new host whether he wanted to or not.
She stared up at the ceiling. “I didn’t like that nightclub. Something felt off about it.”
“You found your old friend.”
“So did you.”
“Touché. However, you didn’t scurry away in the opposite direction of yours.”
“You didn’t scurry. You were—”
“A cowardly fool afraid to face my past?” he finished.
“I was going to say you were being protective of me.”
He groaned. “If you call me your guardian angel again we’re going to have a problem.”
She smiled, but covered the expression with the edge of the bedsheet. “I’d never use a term you find so morally insulting.”
“Good.” He was quiet for a moment. “I honestly don’t know why you sound so calm about all of this.”
“About what in particular?”
“The curse. Me still harassing you internally. It must be completely frustrating for you.”
“Well, yes it is. But why I’m calm is very simple, really.”
“So why is it?”
“Because I trust you.”
Darrak didn’t respond to that for a moment. “You do?”
“Yes. I know we’ll figure a way to break your curse before anything really bad happens. And until then I trust you to do the right thing.”
“I . . . I appreciate that, Eden. I’d never do anything to hurt you.”
“I know that.” Despite all that they’d been through together, it was true. She trusted the demon. He’d done everything in his power to protect her, to keep her safe, and the fact that bad things had happened since they’d met wasn’t really his fault. Even the things that seemed to be entirely his fault.
Like she’d said, their relationship was seriously complicated. But she supposed it didn’t have to be. She helped him. He helped her. They were just partners in finding a solution and nothing more. And one day soon they’d go their separate ways and she’d forget how it felt to kiss him or how good his body had felt against hers when they’d made love. It was something they hadn’t discussed much—kind of like an elephant in the room.
It made it a little easier to pretend it had never happened.
“Go to sleep, Eden,” Darrak said, his voice as warm as his presence. “Everything will be better tomorrow.”
“Promises, promises.” She closed her eyes. It took a while, but just after midnight she finally drifted off.
* * *
Darrak didn’t sleep. He zoned out sometimes to restore his energy when needed, but actually being unconscious like a human didn’t happen for him. All those awake hours gave him lots of time to think.
She trusts me, he thought.
He really wished he deserved her trust. However, if Eden found out what he could do at night, she’d strongly reconsider her position on the subject.
A half hour after she’d fallen asleep, Darrak sat up and swung Eden’s legs out of bed. He’d never been able to do this before with past hosts, but when Eden was unconscious, he could possess her body completely if he wanted to.
And he did want to. He had things to do.
He walked to the bathroom and flicked on the light. Eden’s beautiful face stared back at him in the mirror, and guilt twisted in his gut.
Demons really shouldn’t feel guilt. It was so undemonlike.
He dressed quickly without sneaking a look at Eden’s body. Okay, fine. He wasn’t made of stone. He looked. But it was quick.
Several quick looks. That was all.
He’d never been this attracted to a human female before. He’d had his share of them during his time as an incubus, but Eden was the first woman who had been more than that to him. More than a meal, a snack, a soul to take back to Hell.
He’d rationalized what he felt for her was only gratitude. She’d had the chance to have him exorcised several times, but she hadn’t—instead choosing to believe he’d changed from his pre-curse days. She’d helped him, risking her own life to save his. Everything she did, even when she grumbled about it, was to help him.
He leaned forward to stare into her beautiful green eyes and felt a tug inside him that indicated what he felt toward her was more than simple gratitude.
He shook his head. You are so whipped, buddy. You know that?
It was almost amusing, really.
Besides, it didn’t much matter how Darrak felt about her. Once he’d broken the curse and had his own body back full-time, he’d have to high tail it out of the city. Out of the country. Off the continent. Hell had agents who’d be on his ass the moment he was at full power again and registering on their demon radar. Those demon agents would likely send him on a one-way trip to the Void, deeming him useless as an archdemon now that he was dealing with this pesky humanity issue of his.
Yeah. He’d like to avoid that, pretty please. The Void was an endless nothing where demons went when they were destroyed. Death for demons with no escape clause. He’d also like to avoid being the cause of Eden’s inevitable death if he didn’t find a way to break his curse.
Which was exactly why he was headed out again tonight in this borrowed body.
But before he could leave the apartment, first he had to get past the guard.
Forgoing Eden’s heels for a more comfortable pair of flats, he left the bedroom wearing the same outfit she’d worn earlier. The skirt was a bit on the drafty side.
A small black cat jumped down from the sofa where she’d been curled in a ball. The next moment it shifted into an attractive woman with dark skin, long black hair, and a skeptical expression.
“Didn’t you just get home, Eden?” Leena asked. “And now you’re going back out?”
“Got a date,” Darrak said. It felt very strange to hear Eden’s voice as he spoke.
“A date?” Leena’s eyebrows went up. “With who?”
“Just someone I met earlier.” Darrak shrugged and tried to look coy. The less he said the better. The shapeshifter hated his guts. He wasn’t particularly fond of her in return. If he gave her any reason to believe he was borrowing Eden’s body when she was unconscious, that would so not go over well. To say the least.
In return for free rent in the apartment, Leena had appointed herself Eden’s chaperone—keeping an eye on the dangerous demon in case he was up to no good.
“Okay, Ms. Mysterious. And what about tall, dark, and demonic?”
“I dampened him.” Actually Darrak had dampened Eden so she wouldn’t inadvertently wake up while he was out and about. More of that inconvenient and unfamiliar guilt coursed through him at the thought. “He’d just get in the way of me having a good time, anyhow.”
“You’re right about that.” Leena studied her housemate for a moment before a smile spread across her face. She casually leaned against the laminate counter in the kitchenette. “You are so devious. I love it.”
“A girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do.”
“Okay, have fun. I think it’s good that you’re seeing someone else, whoever this mystery man is.”
“Yeah.” Leena moved toward the refrigerator and opened it so she could grab a can of Coke. “But you should let Darrak know. Maybe it’ll help extinguish that torch he carries for you when he sees once and for all you two can’t be together and you’ve fully accepted that.”
Darrak struggled to keep his expression neutral. “He doesn’t carry a torch for me.”
“Come on. If you really think that you’re blind. He’s in love with you and you know it.”
He swallowed hard. “It’s not like that. Trust me.”
Leena held up her hand. “Fine. Stay blind. But that’s why I’m here. Just in case you two want to go at it again, I’m here to make sure you don’t risk your soul for that six-foot piece of chiseled brimstone. I don’t care how good he is in the sack. Stick with humans. They’re way less trouble.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” His jaw clenched. “I’ll be back later.”
Leena opened the can and took a sip. “I’ll be here.”
Oh, I know that, Darrak thought darkly, now in a foul mood. But the smile remained plastered on his borrowed face until he stepped outside the apartment and closed the door behind him.
In love with Eden. That particular emotion would be completely negligent and stupid of him. Not to mention entirely hopeless.
Stupid shapeshifters. Always so damn insightful, weren’t they?
* * *
Ben Hanson watched Eden leave her apartment and glanced at the clock on his dashboard. It was after twelve thirty.
Instead of getting in her Toyota as she’d done earlier, she hailed a cab. He followed in his car at a discreet distance.
It had been a week and a half since he’d learned the truth—seen it with his own two eyes. After a lifetime of trying to do the right thing, trying to make the world a better place, a mind-set that guided him into a career as a cop, he’d seen that true evil really did exist in the world—and it was worse than any arsonist, murderer, or con man he’d ever faced before.
Demons existed. And one of them currently possessed Eden.
When he’d first met her on a case—Eden occasionally consulted for the police using her psychic abilities—he’d thought they had a connection. Possibly a romantic one. Even after his shaky history in that department—a murdered fiancée didn’t exactly make him a catch without major emotional baggage—he’d thought it might be worth it.
Hadn’t exactly worked out as smoothly as he’d hoped. Eden had chosen to protect the demon instead of allowing Ben to help her. It was clear to him she was in danger—that her soul was in danger.
His arm itched. The brand on his left forearm of a fleur-de-lis enclosed in a circle. It had been given to him by the Malleus and was still healing. The Malleus was a centuries-old secret organization that fought against the darkness only a small percentage of humans were aware of. They’d seen his potential, so they’d inducted him into their numbers. And the ritual, culminating with the brand, had given Ben certain abilities—to see Others clearly and separate from humans, the extra strength required to fight against them, and the knowledge he needed to defeat them.
And to think, two weeks ago he’d scoffed at horoscopes as being ridiculous mumbo jumbo.
Virgos were naturally skeptical.
He’d done a little research on lots of things in the past week and a half. And most of it still sounded like bullshit to him.
At the moment his assignment for the Malleus was to keep an eye on Eden and report back any unusual activity. He’d do that. And when the moment presented itself to save Eden from the demon who’d taken over her body and her life, he’d do that as well. Without hesitation. Without fear.
Ben hadn’t been able to save his fiancée, but he’d damn well save Eden. Even if she didn’t want to be saved.