Authors: Pippa DaCosta
Where was Del?
The street was deserted. This close to netherworld-zones, the streets always were. And I still couldn’t feel my brother. I sent out my ethereal touch, seeking the comfort of Del’s familiar presence. Further and further, I reached, until it stretched too thin, spluttered, and died. He wasn’t here. He wasn’t anywhere.
“Del?” I stumbled and fell against the cordon. Blue light throbbed, beating into my vision, pounding its glare against the back of my skull. The sirens were getting louder, weren’t they?
Can’t feel him.
He can’t be gone. He’s always with me.
. Murmured voices. The bitter taste and medicinal smell of antiseptic.
I snapped my eyes open to white walls and beeping machines. The beeping came faster as panic raced through my veins. They couldn’t have found us. We’d been careful. Allard had said—
I blinked at the uniformed cop standing upright and respectable beside my bed. Why was there an LAPD cop at the Institute? I took another look at the cubicle. Curtains, not one-way mirrored glass. I could move beneath the bed sheet. No restraints.
The cop smiled and removed her cap. “Take it easy. You’re okay now.” She pulled a notepad from her uniform pocket. “I’m Officer Ramírez. Can you tell me your name?”
“Where’s my brother?”
She blinked kind eyes. “Are you up to answering a few routine questions?”
I shuffled backward in the bed, pulling the sheet with me. My clothes were gone. I felt the pinch of bandages here and there, one particularly thick wrapping threatened to cut off the blood supply to my right arm. The doctors obviously didn’t know what I was, or they’d have refused treatment. Or maybe they did know, and they were keeping me here until the proper authorities arrived to
with me. I listened hard for the stamp of boots and rattle of automatic weapons but heard only background chatter and the rustle of patient charts.
“I have to go. Where are my clothes?”
Officer Ramírez gave me what must have been her normal pity-the-victim smile. I almost believed it. She didn’t look much older than me, at least physically. Her dark hair and eyes gave her a sultry look that probably won her the wrong kind of attention, but her hard smile and square stance broadcast a don’t-screw-with-me attitude. “There wasn’t any ID on you when we picked you up,” she said. “Is there anyone you’d like me to call to come and collect you?”
There’s no one.
“Where’s my brother?”
“Your brother? Was he with you?” Finally, her brown eyes sharpened, taking me seriously.
“He was there.” I reached for a plastic cup and sniffed at the warm water. It smelled faintly of chemicals. Was it drugged? They might drug me for when the Institute arrived. I set it back down, un-tasted.
“Shall we start from the beginning?” Ramírez asked. “What’s your name?”
She smiled her hard smile. “How old are you?”
“Older than I look,” I grumbled. I needed clothes. I needed her to go away so I could get away from hospital. I had to find Del. What if he was still back there? No, no, he’d loosened his power. That mistake had probably saved his life, but where was he? Why wasn’t he here with me?
The cop cleared her throat, drawing my skittish gaze back to her. “Look, Jane Doe, this will be much easier if you cooperate. I have a few necessary forms to fill in. A name, address, birthdate are all I need for you to be going on your way.”
I almost laughed. My name was fake. My address didn’t exist. And my birthdate? What did that matter? I wasn’t even wholly human. If Officer Ramírez knew a demon lurked inside me, she’d probably take that pistol from her holster and shoot me right between the eyes. Six months since the Fall weren’t enough for people like her to forget what the demons had done.
Her face tightened in a weary frown. She sighed through her nose and tucked the notebook away. “I can see you clearly want to leave. Help me to help you.”
I ran my scratched-up fingers through my hair. “My name is Gem.”
“Great, Gem. Is that short for Gemma?”
Close enough. “I live…” I wet my lips and fought with several lies. “Can I just go? I don’t need your help. I’m fine.”
She held my gaze without blinking. “My partner and I were on patrol when we found you out cold by the nw-zone. You’d clearly been attacked, probably by demons. What were you doing in the zone? An explanation would at least help me with the paperwork so we can both get on with our day.”
I gritted my teeth. I didn’t owe her anything. And the more seconds she wasted, the more chances there were of me being found out. All the docs had to do was take a peek below the bandages to know I’d already healed many of the bites. They’d likely run my blood work and would find PC34A in the toxicology, the drug used by the Institute to control a half blood’s inner demon. Why would a girl have an Institute drug in her veins unless she was demon?
I threw off the sheet, swung my bare legs over the edge of the bed, and frowned at the little blue flowers peppering the paper-thin hospital gown.
Ramírez raised an eyebrow. “I can get you some clothes if you answer my questions.”
Damn, she was persistent. “You’re just doing your job. I get it. But my brother is missing, and I really need to find him before…”
What if he’d run? What if he had no intention of coming back? What if… What if his demon was free? I couldn’t think that. He was probably at the pier. If his demon rode him hard, he’d have gone back for his meds. That was the only reason he would have left me the way he had. Given a choice, Del would have never,
I met and held Officer Ramírez’s pretty eyes. She had no idea what she’d scooped up off the street. If she did know, would she stop with the questions?
“I live at Santa Monica pier,” I said coolly.
In the space of a few seconds, realization clouded her expression, and her kind eyes cooled with something like contempt. Good, now we were on the same page. She swallowed, blinked, and fought not to look away. She probably wanted to step back too, but she wouldn’t because she was clearly trying to be professional. “I see,” she said, voice clipped.
“So you’re a demon then?”
“Yes. One-hundred-percent, thoroughbred demon, straight outta hell.” If I said half demon, that would raise more questions. It was better for everyone if we kept it simple. Now she would scurry off and tell the doctors they had a demon on their roster, and by the time they could kick me out or call the Institute, I’d be gone.
Her lips twitched. I wondered if this was the look Officer Ramírez gave her perps before she slapped the cuffs on them. “You must think I’m an idiot.”
“You’re not demon. I was on duty when the veil fell. I tried to fight them when they tore through my home like it was made of paper. They’re vicious monsters. You’re just a girl wearing a baby-blue flower hospital gown. So why don’t you tell me the truth?”
I couldn’t have been more shocked if she was the one who’d sprouted horns and a tail. I told her what I was, and she didn’t believe me? I could show her, summon a little ice, make it dance for her. Then we’d see how vicious I could be.
“Officer Ramírez,” a smooth male voice said. The curtain peeled back, and Allard stepped into my cubicle, instantly shrinking the space around us. “Thank you for helping Gem.”
My gut flip-flopped, and my heart turned to ice in my chest.
The hospital lights flickered.
Allard wore his usual mocha-colored Henley shirt over black pants. The short sleeves ended mid-bicep, and the dark, earthy colors complimented his caramel skin. His shaven head and trimmed goatee thinned out a square, defiant jawline. It all combined to create a casually handsome persona that slotted in nicely with LA’s beautiful people.
Allard made being human look easy, but beneath the deliberate exterior, he was demon. The real deal. One hundred percent. Thoroughbred. Straight outta hell. Demon. And he’d come into the city for me. Fear raced a loop around my thoughts. He’d make me pay for this.
Officer Ramírez lifted her chin. Her cop instincts had to be chiming alarm bells. Her human senses would be sparking too.
, her gut would tell her.
Run as far away as possible. Monsters are real, and there’s one right here.
Allard tucked a hand into his pocket, and held out the other, expecting Ramírez to take it—a well-practiced human gesture.
Ramírez blinked herself back into the moment, taking a few seconds to refocus. This was the part where most women and men politely excused themselves or fell over their own feet to do Allard’s bidding. I wondered what type Ramírez would be.
She shook his hand, holding on a moment too long. “You are?” she asked, her tone professional. As soon as he let her hand go, she rubbed her fingers together.
“Clayton Allard.” His voice was as smooth and delicious as rich, dark chocolate, the kind with a bitter bite. “Gem’s guardian.”
“I have some questions if you don’t mind, Mister Allard.”
“I thought you might.” His smile was another weapon in his arsenal of charm. He wore it now, a little lopsided, a hint of perfect teeth. Ramírez was getting the works. “I’ve filled in your forms at the nurses’ station. Is there anything else, Officer?”
Ramírez’s eyes flicked to me and then back to Allard before I could hastily plaster a fake smile on my lips. “Gemma mentioned she lives at the pier?”
Allard’s smile faltered, just a flicker. I doubted Ramírez noticed. “Nearby,” he replied. “It’s not so bad.”
My insides curled in on themselves. Stupid, I shouldn’t have told her anything.
Ramírez looked at me again, and this time I did muster up a smile. Did she know what he was? She said she’d seen demons, but those that flooded into the cities when the veil fell were mostly lesser. Vicious beasts, yes. They were formidable in their vast numbers, like the wave of
had been. But there were also rare
demons, demons who could craft themselves human vessels, who looked like people, talked like them, could live among them for centuries without anyone knowing. Allard was one of those.
I schooled my expression, keeping any sign of panic off my face. “Thank you, Officer Ramírez.”
“You’re going to be okay?” A slight inflection showed her concern. Perhaps she did know what he was. It didn’t matter. If she went for her gun, he’d break her neck without blinking. She couldn’t help me now. But I could help her leave here without knowing how close she came to her nightmares.
I smoothed down my gown. “Yes. Fine.”
“Well, if you need anything, look me up, okay?”
Not going to happen.
She faced Allard, meeting his gaze for a few moments. Amiable concern had settled in his warm eyes, and Ramírez’s hard smile softened. He parted the curtain. She nodded her thanks and ducked outside. When the curtain fell, Allard turned his gaze on me, and a chill whispered against my bare legs.
I’d already clamped my jaw so tightly my teeth ached. I stood, turning to face him in my ridiculous gown, and lifted my chin. He regarded me without saying a word, barely moving, running his gaze from my head to my toes. A trickle of fear spilled down my spine, as cool and sharp as ice water.
“Well,” he said, low and dark. “You and your brother have given me the runaround this morning.”
“You found Del?”
Allard’s brow pinched, furrowing lines between his eyes. He hadn’t known Del was missing.
My heart sank. “I can’t sense him. He’s not here.” If Allard didn’t know where Del was, that meant my brother hadn’t gone back to the pier. He hadn’t gone home. He was still out there somewhere with his meds wearing off. Did his demon have control?
Allard watched me closely, scrutinizing my face, reading every line, every twitch, no matter how small. “Is there a problem?”
He started forward, and my breath caught. Fear knotted my insides, yanking my thoughts in all directions. By the time he stopped in front of me, close enough that I had to look up, my teeth chattered, and adrenaline buzzed through my veins. But worse, my demon stirred, spilling tiny sparks of desire in among the fear, and stirring it all up into a heady mess of emotions that I hadn’t learned how to untangle.
Allard curled his hand around the back of my neck. His touch was soft and curiously smooth for a man who appeared to be in his late twenties, but I still turned my face away, teeth clenched so damn hard that my eyes watered. He slipped his fingers up into my hair and then snapped his hand into a fist and yanked me almost off my feet. He bowed his head and inhaled, running my scent over his tongue.
My heart fluttered like a frightened bird beating at its cage bars. I hated that I feared him, hated that while he held me close, while he breathed the smell of me deep inside him, his nearness aroused my demon, and he knew it.
“Where is my
demon?” he hissed, his breath scattering gooseflesh down my neck.
. “I lost it.”
He held me back, dangling me at arms length with his hand fixed in my hair, and I couldn’t do a damn thing to stop him. I was as limp and helpless as the
I’d caught hours before.
“Well then, half blood, you’ve failed.”
He let go, and I crumpled against the cabinet, grateful I hadn’t fallen to my knees. “I’ll make it up to you.”
My voice appeared to belong to some pitiful little girl. Was it any wonder he sneered down at me? I hated him, but I hated what he made me more. I’d been trained from birth to hunt and kill demons, and here I was, barely able to look one in the eye. At least Del wasn’t here to see my shame.
“You’ll get your chance. We’ll discuss my compensation back at Fairhaven.” He turned and pushed through the curtain. Before I could wither on the spot, two of his guards appeared. One dumped a bundle of clothes on the bed while the other stood back and eyed me without comment.
I stripped and dressed, seething from the inside out. Del was missing, and I’d angered Allard at the worst possible time. I
Allard to help me find Del. He had all the connections, all the resources.
I couldn’t search LA alone, but I could make a start. Maybe the guards would swing by the nw-zone where Ramírez had picked me up. I had to check, to make sure Del wasn’t back there.
He wasn’t. I’d have felt him.
He would never leave me.
left me. With every minute, my brother’s absence hollowed out the parts that made me feel safe. I had to find him. Nothing else mattered. He was my brother. We’d always been together. We would always