Authors: Pippa DaCosta
Trapped, with no choices and no way out. “Yes.”
For years, for as long as I can remember.
Whatever Vanessa held over him, it was crushing the life out of him. He didn’t have a brother to hold on to. “There might be another way.” His eyes lit up. “But I don’t know if it will work or just switch the problem elsewhere.” My ice-cold heart skipped an unusual beat. This was a bad idea.
“Allard,” I said. “He will help you. But then he’ll own you in return, so I’m not sure how that’s helping.”
“He wants the
,” Torrent murmured, not so much to me but to confirm something. His distant, unfocused gaze reminded me of the one I’d often give my reflection, and my treacherous human heart squeezed again. “You think he’d help me?”
“Yeah, but… What’s the difference? You’ll still be owned.”
His shining eyes locked on my face. “I’m already living a hell. What could be worse?”
Did he really believe that? Was he so desperate to get away from Vanessa that joining Allard’s stock was a reasonable alternative? I’d been where he stood now, but the streets had been my death sentence. Maybe it was Allard or death for him too?
“Alright.” I nodded. “I’ll take you to him.” That hope still shone in Torrent’s gaze, and I wondered if I’d saved him or condemned him. I wondered why the hell I cared.
he demons were prowling
the beach. From the pier, they looked like roaches scurrying across the silvery moonlit sand. The pier creaked and groaned around us as we wove with purpose through the abandoned amusement park. The Ferris wheel stood tall, its skeleton black against the star-speckled sky. Trash had caught in its trusses, and over time, the wind had whipped it to shreds. The fluttering reminded me of the prince’s burned wings. I shuddered. I hadn’t mentioned the Prince of Pride to Torrent.
Oh, by the way, there’s a demon the size of a family car in the elevator and a Prince of Hell in the basement. Welcome to Fairhaven.
Torrent hung back, a few steps behind me. He had his crossbow under his coat and carried enough power circling around him to deter any opportunistic demon that thought they could have themselves a half-blood snack. He hadn’t said much since we’d left his house. I’d warned that Allard might not let him leave Fairhaven, but he hadn’t collected any personal items and had taken on that confused look when I’d suggested it. I’d assumed the house was his, but he’d let it go without batting an eye, so perhaps I’d been wrong.
I’d tossed a few warnings at Torrent on the walk over, and he’d absorbed them without a word. Basically, don’t do anything to irritate Allard. Make sure he didn’t let any other demon get the jump on him, and it should be enough to at least get him in the front door. Once he was in, he was on his own.
Allard might kill him.
I’d been rolling that thought around my head more and more the closer we’d gotten. And now we were here, and I’d managed to convince myself I was walking Torrent to his death.
As we neared the hut at the end of the pier, Joseph flared to my left. He wore fire like Torrent wore his jacket. He rolled his shoulders, and his leather wings bled through his human disguise. He deliberately half changed, muddying reality and what my human brain could process. I saw demon and man. The two images blurred and combined, not quite gelling together. It was enough to make my eyes water and twist my stomach up in nerves. Joseph knew exactly how his appearances affected human minds and was using them as a deterrent.
I lowered my right hand and spread my fingers, hoping Torrent would see, and read the gesture as an
“What’s Vanessa’s pet doing here, half blood?” Joseph growled, words slurred around a demon tongue and teeth. He’d blocked my sightline to the end of the pier.
“Get out of the way, Joseph. We have business to discuss with Allard. Connie said he’s here.”
can go. Not the pet. He stays with me.” Joseph tilted his head one way and then the other, cracking his neck in an oddly human display of macho nonsense. “I can’t play with you, but he’s fair game.”
“He’s with me.”
Joseph snorted. Heat swelled around him, and fire licked across his wings as he spread them wide. I had little choice but to shield my face from the heat.
“Back off, sweetheart,” Torrent said to Joseph, and I didn’t need to look to know he smiled. A dry, crackling humor laced through his words. “I have a proposition Allard is going to want to hear, and you’re in my way.”
If Torrent was afraid of Joseph, he gave none of it away in his voice. Joseph wasn’t Vanessa, but he was a capable fire demon and not one I’d choose to mess with. I’d warned Torrent. He knew what he was doing. I hoped.
I stepped aside and saw Torrent standing tall, hands at his sides, his stance braced—ready. If these two threw down, I couldn’t get involved. Helping Torrent would mark him as weak. My demon shifted, getting comfortable for the show.
“You think you can best me, boy toy?” Joseph growled. He gave his wings a dramatic flick, scattering embers through the air.
Whatever I thought of Joseph, he did have impressive wings. The bigger a demon’s wings, the bigger the egos—and other things. I smirked and skewed a raised eyebrow at Torrent. He wasn’t ruffled, not even when faced with Joseph’s display. Torrent scratched absently at his nose, glanced my way with that same cocky smirk he’d given me when he tossed the
in the air, and called his demon. All of it.
His wings unfurled, arching high and wide, leathery like Joseph’s, but that’s where the similarities ended. Torrent’s wings were thundercloud gray until they weren’t. Just as I’d seen scales shimmer on his cheek when we’d fought, his wings had the same pearlescent gleam. Moonlight poured over those scales, sparking them alive like liquid fireworks. Subtle colors swirled along the smooth membranes in an oil-on-water display. He stretched them wide until their tips almost touched either side of the pier.
Man and demon overlaid as one, Torrent readied and curled a claw-tipped finger at Joseph. “Bring it, imp.”
These two were really going to throw down right here.
Joseph roared. Warmth blasted over me like a desert wind. It was enough to stagger me on the spot, and for one heart-stopping moment, I thought this would be the end of Torrent and his pearly-gray wings. I’d forgotten where we stood, and so had Joseph. Torrent jerked his right hand up, lifting the water around the pier like someone might lift a rug to flick it, which was exactly what Torrent did. He flicked his wrist—such a tiny motion for what basically resulted in a tsunami slamming over the pier.
The flood of salty water knocked me on my ass and swept me sideways. Wooden boards whizzed by. Water gushed into my mouth, up my nose, and for a few endless moments, I couldn’t see or hear. My nail-like claws dug in, snagging me to a stop. Water washed over me, but its onslaught had faded, and it soon drained away, leaving me soaked and panting, but alive.
Slow clapping punctuated the hiss of receding water. I snapped my head up and blinked through wet hair. Torrent had bunched his wings in tight and bowed his head, and there, standing a few strides away, was Allard.
Stay submissive, Torrent.
“That was some display, half blood.” Allard looked at Torrent the same way I’d seen him look at the more impressive catches confined to his stock, with a slow, hungry, salacious appraisal. It was a thorough gaze, one that dug deep and rooted around in your soul.
Tearing my gaze away from Allard, I scanned the pier for Joseph, expecting retaliation, but he’d vanished, hopefully over the side of the pier. Scrambling to my feet, I flicked my wet hair out of my face and waited for Allard to make his move.
He circled Torrent, lifting his gaze to admire the wings, leaving no inch of him unexamined. Under that gaze, a shudder trembled through Torrent’s wings. Allard noticed and smiled. “You’ve flushed my muscle into the sea.” He came to a stop in front of Torrent. He paused, waiting for Torrent to explain perhaps or considering whether his next words might be a death sentence.
Torrent’s actions could have been construed as an attack. The fact he held himself in a submissive position probably saved his life, but it also left him vulnerable. Allard could slash his claws across the back of Torrent’s neck, and he’d never see the killing blow coming. But the look on Allard’s face—the parted lips, the keen glare—wasn’t anger. Lust shone in his dark eyes. He
Torrent stayed quiet, kept his head low, and tucked his wings in close, their swirl of color now dull. He knew his place. I gritted my teeth, stopping them from chattering, and tried to soothe the rattle of nerves at the same time. If Allard killed Torrent, he might not stop at the death of one half blood.
Allard drew in a breath, blinked slowly, and turned his gaze on me. “I assume there’s a reason you’ve bought me Vanessa’s half blood because she’ll tear Fairhaven apart to get this one back.”
Torrent dropped to one knee, kept his eyes down, and flattened his wings against the pier, spreading them out like a leather cloak. He couldn’t get any lower without rolling onto his back and offering Allard his vulnerable parts. “My lord, I know what you want. With your most gracious assistance, we can retrieve the
from Vanessa. I only ask that you consider me yours.”
Allard blinked down at Torrent. “That’s an offer a demon can’t refuse.” He slid his gaze back to me, but a smile had swept across his lips—a hungry, demon smile.
I bowed my head, mostly to keep from Allard seeing the concern and fear on my face. The twisting, slippery eels of unease were back in my gut, making me wonder what it was I was so afraid of, Allard’s easy acceptance, or Torrent’s perfectly attuned groveling.
llard didn’t give
me time to pull Torrent aside and speak with him in private, although even if he had, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say. I hadn’t expected Torrent to be so thoroughly
, which was ridiculous. He’d survived the Fall, the sundering of worlds, so I should have known he’d be formidable. I’d clearly underestimated him.
We strode wordlessly back down the pier, up Ocean Avenue, and into Fairhaven. My clothes squelched and chafed. Torrent had shaken off his demon, remaining dry throughout the whole display. He kept his gaze ahead, barely sparing me a glance. His expression was set and bleak with a slight downturn of his lips. He regarded Fairhaven and its mix of demons as though it was all perfectly normal. Inside, he was probably wondering what I’d gotten him into. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t warned him.
We trailed Allard into the bar. He snapped at the handful of demons inside, scattering them, and closed the door, sealing Torrent and me inside with him.
“Half blood…” Allard smirked. “Torrent,” he corrected, softening his snarl and sweeping a hand at the dozen or so tables and collection of scattered chairs. “Please sit. Explain what you’re doing here, why I should believe a word you say, and what you want.” Allard took up a relaxed posture on a plush bench at the side of the room. He leaned an arm along the back cushion and thoughtfully touched his fingers to his chin. “You may speak freely. We’re alone, besides Gem.”
I was amazed he remembered I was in the room. He hadn’t spared me a glance since the pier.
Torrent pulled a seat out and settled into it. Neither of them cared I was there, so I drifted toward the bar and leaned against it, watching Allard blatantly soak up the sight of Torrent. Torrent leaned forward, rubbed his hands together, and told Allard everything he’d told me and more: the whereabouts of Vanessa’s residence, how many guards she had, and exactly where the
was—placed on a mantelpiece in a similar fashion to when I’d found it as a vase at Torrent’s. Vanessa had apparently suspected Allard would look for it and had placed it with the most unlikely candidate for safekeeping, the private dwelling of a worthless half blood. Allard listened, demon-still, absorbing the information without comment. He made no attempt to hide the hunger in his eyes. They made quite the pair—Torrent, ragged and frayed at the edges and Allard, polished and refined.
“Do you know what the
is?” Allard asked.
“She said it could act as a key. I don’t know how it works or what it does.”
Allard flicked his gaze to me, maybe to see if I was paying attention. Lesser demons couldn’t have dragged me away. “The
is the last piece of a puzzle.” He skewed his gaze back to Torrent. “A puzzle I am rebuilding. I have the majority of the necessary components. The
is the crowning jewel.”
Ask him what the puzzle does. Ask him… Ask him, Torrent, while he’s talking.
I itched to ask, but Allard was likely to clam up if I butted in on their little man chat. Torrent was getting more information out of Allard in thirty minutes than I had in months. Either Allard didn’t believe Torrent was a threat, or he was letting his desire disarm him.
“I can’t get to the stone without your help. I asked Gem, but she was reluctant to speak with me without your consent.”
Torrent was bending the truth somewhat. Still, his confession regarding my allegiance put me in a stronger position, one of loyalty to Allard. Torrent was well versed in demon etiquette, it seemed. He knew what Allard wanted to hear and gave it to him in swathes. It didn’t stop there either. The earlier quiver of his wings, the submission—that behavior ticked all of Allard’s boxes. Demons get-off on the groveling of others and the stroking of their own egos. In Torrent, was I watching a master manipulator at work?
“And you give me this information in exchange for protection and servitude?” Allard asked.
“Of course. Half bloods must be owned.”
The skin on the back of my neck prickled. Allard extended his touch, likely sweeping it over and through Torrent’s in a demon handshake, and in this instance, a deeper, probing examination. This was no cursory inspection. Allard meant to delve deep and dig out any indication that Torrent might be lying.
I couldn’t have let Allard inside me like that. It would feel like having a stranger strip you naked in the street. But Torrent bowed his head again and let it happen without a flinch. Nobody did that, not with a demon you’d just met.
I squirmed against the bar and glanced at the door. Maybe it was time to leave.
After what felt like hours but was probably only a few minutes, Allard’s element withdrew. Apparently satisfied with whatever he’d discovered, he asked softly, “What’s to stop me trading you for the
?” Torrent lifted his head, and Allard raised his brow. “It would be the easier solution.”
I couldn’t see Torrent’s face, but by Allard’s creeping smile, I imagined he too was smiling. Torrent took his time, relishing the anticipation as the seconds dragged on. “I washed your demon off the pier. You’ve seen a fraction of what I’m capable of.” A pause, anticipation building. Allard’s dark eyes widened by the smallest of amounts. Mine probably did too because Torrent was baiting him, reeling him in. “You don’t want to give me back.”
“Mm…” A small frown worried across Allard’s face, but he seemed to catch himself and flicked a hand at Torrent. “What’s your interest in my half blood, Gem?”
“The ice demon?” Torrent looked over his shoulder at me as though he’d forgotten I existed. “Nothing.” He shrugged. “I needed her to get close to you, my lord.”
Ouch. That cut too close to what sounded like the truth for my liking.
Allard drew in a breath and stood. Well aware Torrent was watching, he crossed the room and stopped right up close, crowding me against the bar. I knew what was coming, and there was nothing I could do.
He clamped his marble-hard fingers into my cheeks, holding my jaw still, and narrowed his eyes. “Half bloods must indeed be owned. Isn’t that right, Gem?” He’d spoken loudly for Torrent’s benefit because his next words he delivered as a whisper against my cheek. “Perhaps he will take your place? What need do I have of you with one such as Torrent in my service?”
I blinked quickly, clearing the gritty burn in my eyes, and couldn’t help seeing how Torrent watched it all unfold. Nothing showed on his face, not a damn flicker of emotion. Had he used me like he’d said?
My demon stirred. My element shifted, spritzing ice across my skin. At its touch, Allard sucked in a sharp hiss. His grip tightened, fingers cutting into my cheek, and Torrent looked on, indifferent—
“Torrent is in your care, Gem.” Allard let go and stepped back. “Any betrayal on his part is also yours.” He paused and let that threat hang in the air between us. “Think of your brother. Now go. I’ll consider all this and summon you both when I’m ready.”
I left the bar as quickly as I could without breaking into a run.
Think of your brother.
Damn. I didn’t want the responsibility of Torrent on my shoulders. I had enough to worry about.
Torrent caught up with me as I slipped into the stairwell and started to climb to my floor. He stayed a step behind, just in sight over my shoulder so I could see how he regarded the demons we passed. It took a couple of flights of stairs for him to relax and start looking around him in wonder. I pushed through a door onto my floor, watching Torrent side step around a lounging
. The lizard-type lesser lifted its head and flicked its tongue, tasting Torrent’s new scent.
Up ahead, tapping at the window was a
. They look like higher demons, humanoid in shape, but they’re sexless, slippery, and have more in common with eels than people. Torrent gave it a wide berth. His eyes widened as the
eyed him through slitted irises. I didn’t think it would be foolish enough to jump him, but it might. There was just one rule in Fairhaven: survival of the fittest.
“This place is a circus,” Torrent remarked with a wild grin. “You’ve got demons crawling these halls I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.” He’d jogged to my side and almost tripped over something scuttling and spikey. Even I couldn’t identify that one. The little critters belly growled. Torrent grumbled back.
A little smile found its way to my lips. “Some are ex-stock, the ones Allard couldn’t sell. Some, he lets go instead of killing them to make room for more. Some just kinda show up. They hang around. It’s not like they have anywhere to go. They venture out of the nw-zones and don’t know how to get back or don’t want to. It’s not their fault the netherworld kicked them out.”
“How many stay here?” He glanced at something scurrying under a skirting board.
I shrugged, “It changes. Fights break out all the time. Some die. More arrive. There’s a
nest at the pool bar and some
hanging out in the palms.”
“And you live here with them?”
“I guess so.” We arrived at my room. I let Torrent step inside and closed the door firmly behind us. “Okay, here’s the deal.”
On hearing my icy undertone, he turned. His right hand hovered close to his crossbow. I didn’t think he was about to draw. It was probably more of a defensive reflex, but he
jumpy. With good reason.
“If you jeopardize what I have here, I will kill you myself.” I said it clearly with no hint of irrational demon growls. It was fact.
The tension melted from his shoulders, and his smile bloomed all over again, this time with a hint of sly knowing. “What do you have here exactly?” His gaze strayed to the empty injector lying where I’d discarded it on the dresser.
I pinched my lips together. I wasn’t explaining myself to him. What I did or had to do was my own personal business. “I mean it. That was some display.”
His sly smile tilted. “The wings?”
“No, the lies.”
“Lies?” Torrent turned away and wandered toward Del’s bed. “I told Allard what he wanted to hear. Besides, not all of it was lies. Actually, most of it was true.”
He’d certainly won over Allard, but I knew what it was like to be the focus of Allard’s
and didn’t envy Torrent should Allard act on the raw lust he’d let us both see.
Opening my closest, I yanked my top off and shrugged on a dry one then stepped out of my pants, peeling them off my wet skin and rummaging around in the drawers for replacement pants, finally settling on jeans. When I closed the closet door, Torrent was pushing down on the bed, testing it for springiness, I figured.
“Don’t touch anything.”
He snatched his hand back. “It’s a bed. Unless there’s a demon hiding under it. Is there?”
“It’s Del’s bed. Stay away from it.”
Straightening, he smiled. “Aren’t you a bit old to share with your brother?” An implication hung on those words.
I ignored him. He was baiting me, and I wasn’t biting. I had better things to do. Keeping him firmly in the corner of my eye, I swept the spent injector into the drawer and paused. I didn’t need a hit—yet—but if Allard called on us to raid Vanessa’s house, I might. Or I could miss one hit, couldn’t I?
I checked to see if Torrent was watching. He’d drifted to the window. Moonlight teased through his dark hair and over his dark coat. Chewing on the inside of my lip, I checked the drawer again. I didn’t want Torrent here when I injected PC34A. I didn’t want him here at all, but Allard had made sure I was stuck with him for now.
Think of your brother.
“You have a wonderful view.” Torrent pressed a hand against the glass and spread his fingers as though he could capture the view in his hand.
The ocean… For a water elemental like him, being this close to the Pacific must have felt liberating, like having a vast well of power in your back yard. I’d seen pictures of places with snow, dreamed about shedding my human skin to dance with the ice. It was ludicrous, of course. And dangerous. If I let my demon free like that, she’d never give me back control. And I probably wouldn’t want it.
I slammed the drawer closed and made my way to the window. “That really was impressive, what you did to Joseph.”
Torrent’s lips twitched, but he kept his eyes on the ocean. “He had it coming.”
“Yeah, well, he’s not going to let it go. You knocked him off his top spot.” Torrent probably hadn’t needed to go all-out demon on the pier. He’d deliberately done it to impress Allard. It could easily have backfired. I respected the risk.
“Just like every other demon I’ve known. Joseph isn’t much. I’ve been deflecting Vanessa’s fire for as long as I can remember.”
“Allard too,” I said carefully. He knew exactly how Allard had looked at him, like he was Allard’s to feast upon. “Your display caught his eye.”
Torrent swallowed and rolled his lips together, his expression tightening. He reached for his pendant and closed his hand around the winged key. “It’s a small price when you’re worthless to begin with.”
Worthless? He really believed that? How long had Vanessa owned him?
When he finally looked at me, his turquoise eyes had captured the hypnotic roll of the ocean. Blues, and greens shifted, drawing me in until he blinked, and the effect vanished. That was his demon, I realized. How did he control it so effortlessly?
“I’m sorry.” He paused, choosing his words. “About what I said, using you to get to Allard.”
I blinked, scrambling around my head for what he meant. He’d said a lot, and I thought about the demon behind his green eyes, the demon with the smooth, scaled wings.
“It was mostly lies but also kinda true, a little bit.” He winced but did it with a smile. “I figured he’d know a lie.”
“It doesn’t matter to me. We had a deal. You’re here, we’re getting the
back, and I meant what I said. I will kill you if you screw with me.” I smiled as sweetly as possible, which often comes across as a slightly manic, crazy grin. It worked, because his smile died a little.
He shuffled back a step and nodded at the bed. “Where am I going to sleep?”