Authors: Kathy Love
What a Demon Wants
Young's Friends 04
WHAT A DEMON WANTS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
This book was a struggle without you.
You will be deeply missed.
Julie Cohen—thanks for all the plotting help. And for driving, too.
Erin McCarthy—just for answering her phone. Always.
F. Paul Wilson—for all the weapons info. All mistakes are my own…. Oh—thanks for the sweet websites, too.
The Tarts—for being there.
Megan Records—for her patience and hard, hard work.
And for Emily—my life.
Where the fuck is it?
This was the second time going through her shit. Her computer, her notes, her books.
He grabbed one of her New York Times bestsellers off the shelf, where it sat with eight others in the series. Fantasy, fiction. But not all fiction. He knew that all too well.
And this was the one. The one that had brought him to this place.
He flipped to page 128 where, in innocuous Times New Roman print, italicized of course, as all her spells and incantations were, was the one spell that had brought him to this lowly state. Intolerable state.
He didn’t reread the passage. He’d read it dozens of times before. He had it damn near memorized. The goddamned spell. He shoved the book back onto the shelf. Then his rage overtook him. With a sweep of his arm, he brushed all the books off the shelf. Then another shelf. And another.
But with each crash, each thump of the falling books, his rage didn’t lessen. It only rose until it strangled him. Blinded him.
He turned on her desk, attacking that with his fury.
When he was done the room looked as if a violent storm had hit, leaving destruction in its path.
He was breathing heavily, his chest puffing up and down with his exertion and his anger. Another wave of rage filled him. He was weak and pathetic now. He couldn’t stand this…not a moment more.
But how? How did he reverse this spell?
He stepped forward, walking on her books and papers as if they were nothing but trash. Then, in the moonlight filtering in through the French doors, he saw something.
A single sheet of lined paper with neat, precise handwriting listing ingredients and chants. Something about those tidy words drew him. He leaned down and carefully picked it up. Something told him he needed to be calm now. To focus.
He zigzagged his way through the mess until he stood in a direct beam of moonlight.
The full moon illuminated the page, so the words were bright and clear even to his inferior eyes.
A Spell of Escape.
His heart, not fully recovered from his fit of anger, sped up more. This could be it.
This could finally be his ticket out.
He read the words.
This would work, he realized. This would release him from the awful bonds he’d been stuck in for months. He’d be strong again. He’d be free.
Relief and excitement made him almost giddy, replacing the anger that had seemed to simmer within him for weeks.
He’d be free!
He read the spell again. It was really quite a simple incantation. Some herbs and other sundries created into a powder that he would dust over himself. Then he would read the invocation aloud. There was only one part that could be tricky.
While dusted in the charmed concoction and saying the chant, he had to commit a human sacrifice.
A smile turned up his lips. Lips that hadn’t smiled sincerely in weeks.
Hmm, who to kill?
He glanced around the office that he’d just ransacked. Well, that was a no-brainer, wasn’t it?
“Found dead today in her New Orleans home was Ellina Kostova, the reclusive author of many highly successful fantasy novels.”
He laughed as he carefully folded the paper in Ellina’s own handwriting, her handwritten death warrant, and exited her home through French doors that led into her courtyard.
“Why would a demon need a bodyguard?” Ellina Kostova pushed her relentlessly unruly hair out of her face and attempted to give her brother her most formidable look.
Maksim ignored her and continued to thumb through the papers he held, pulling out one and tossing it on her desk.
“You need a bodyguard, and I have a man coming here today to meet with us,” he said.
“Maksim, you are being ridiculous.” She didn’t bother to look at the paper, which she knew was probably the equivalent of a bodyguard résumé. It struck her as sort of amusing. What would a résumé like that say? Took a bullet for so and so in 2005. Roughed up so and so in 2007. Fended off crazed paparazzi in 2009.
“And you’re overreacting,” she added.
Maksim lifted an eyebrow. “You do realize you live in a fantasy world?”
“If I can’t live in a fantasy world, who can?” She pushed the paper back toward him, trying not to disturb any of her notes. She’d just finished researching The Ritual of Restraint, which was a particularly involved incantation for binding the most powerful of demons, and one she was using in a key place in her next Jenny Bell, Demon Hunter, book.
So she did not want to get her notes out of order.
And she prided herself on her accuracy. She might write fiction, but her demon knowledge was correct. It should be; she was half demon, after all.
She glanced back to her brother. Of course, she couldn’t always be totally accurate.
Some things humans wouldn’t necessarily buy. Like how sullen demons often were.
Oh, they were evil and manipulative, sure. But oversensitive and cranky…
That just didn’t make for good fantasy adventure.
Her brother scowled.
Or maybe it would. His glare might border on cranky, but it was certainly dark enough to be seen as menacing too.
She ignored it.
“You are reading way too much into a few coincidences,” she said.
“Broken into. Not once, but three times.” He held up three fingers just in case she wasn’t clear on how many times that was. “In fewer than as many months, I might add.
Your books and research missing. You call all that a coincidence?”
She shrugged. “I’d call it unlucky. Or maybe lucky, because I wasn’t home any of the times it happened. And nothing irreplaceable was stolen.”
“And the strange phone calls?”
“They’ve stopped,” she pointed out.
“Yes, about the same time the breakins started. Coincidence?”
“This is New Orleans. I mean, crime happens. Come on, weird stuff happens here all the time.”
Maksim shook his head, the desire to shake her clear from his grimace and his clenched hands.
“And you were just nearly run down by a car?”
“Again, this is New Orleans. Drinking and driving definitely happens.”
“Ellina, you have to be smart about this. You are a famous author. What if this is some crazed fan? Or some religious fanatic who doesn’t like that you are writing about demons? Or worse yet, some other demon who doesn’t like you writing about demons?”
She’d thought about all these things too. She wasn’t that clueless, but a bodyguard?
In her house?
It was a known fact that she was a bit of a recluse. A reclusive writer who created fantastical worlds filled with monsters and demons and the inexperienced, yet fortuitously savvy, cake decorator turned demon hunter who protected humanity from them.
She liked staying in her charmed and fictional world of writing, and while Maksim didn’t know why, it was necessary.
But lately it did seem that the altogether too real outside world was determined to come into her safe little haven.
“And what about being trapped inside a cat? For several months?” He raised his eyebrows, daring her to argue that one.
Well, that hardly seemed like the “real” world, but it had happened. And it was disturbing, to say the least.
Ellina sighed. “Well, that one’s a little harder to explain away.”
But actually she had; she figured it was one of her other half brothers. The twins, maybe. They loved practical jokes. Neither Andrey nor Pasha had owned up to it. Even after Maksim bullied them, and Maksim was a professional when it came to bullying—now being a perfect example. She definitely liked it better when he bullied someone other than her.
He glared at her, clearly frustrated.
“I think it was the twins,” she said as she had many times before. “You know they aren’t particularly fond of me. They love to mess with me.”
“They aren’t fond of anyone. But I don’t think they put you in the cat. They seemed altogether too disappointed that they hadn’t come up with the idea.”
She could imagine they would have seen that as a missed opportunity. But their disappointment still didn’t clear them. It’s not like either of them could be labeled the embodiment of truth. And while they tolerated Maksim, because he was a more powerful demon than they were, they didn’t have to be so careful with her. They somewhat tolerated her, because Maksim insisted they do so, but she certainly couldn’t rule them out as the culprits of the cat fiasco.
Being trapped in a cat was something she’d rather not repeat, but it hardly warranted a bodyguard. Okay, all the things he mentioned put together did perhaps necessitate something to keep her safer. An alarm system. A dog maybe. But a bodyguard?
She didn’t want some burly lunkhead following her everywhere. She had too much work to do. She liked her privacy.
Not to mention she was far behind on her deadline for her publisher, who was already calling every other day to see if her newest Jenny Bell book was close to completion. Which was great, because her publisher was excited about her books, but it wasn’t even close to being done. And how did one explain that the reason she was late on her deadline was because she’d been stuck in a cat for nearly six months?
Her editor loved the books and all her demon ideas, but she didn’t think Ellina was working from experience. She certainly didn’t know that Ellina was half demon. Like she’d believe any of it anyway.
So Ellina just had to buckle down and get the book done as quickly as possible and with as few distractions as possible.
Maksim pushed the paper back toward her.
“You might as well look it over. I’ve made up my mind about this.”
Ellina stared at paper bullet-pointed with dates and past jobs. Nothing about “taking a bullet.” How good could this guy be anyway?
“This is ridiculous,” she said.
“Maybe. But better safe than sorry.”
Ellina snorted, knowing the sound was inelegant—and so undemonlike. “Better safe than sorry? That hardly sounds demonlike to me.”
He ignored her. “Jo thinks it’s a good idea too.”
“What do I think is a good idea?” Jo said, appearing at Ellina’s office doorway, her very pregnant belly showing just slightly before the woman herself.
Maksim was immediately at his wife’s side. “Did you walk here?”
The wind-mussed hair and flushed cheeks answered for her, even as she said, “No.”
Clearly Maksim didn’t believe her any more than Ellina did.
“You shouldn’t be walking,” he said, his dark scowl now directed at Jo.
“Of course I should walk,” Jo said, undaunted by his frown. “It’s nice and cool outside. And my back has been bothering me all day. Walking helps.”
“Your back hurts?” His glower was replaced by a frown of concern. He instantly began to rub a place low on her back that he’d obviously rubbed for her in the past.
Jo sighed, closing her eyes.
Ellina smiled at her brother’s protectiveness and attentiveness. He’d gone from the ruler of the eighth circle of Hell to a complete worrywart and a pretty great husband.
“I’m fine,” Jo told him after a few moments, touching his cheek, which seemed to pacify him. Unfortunately, because he only studied his wife a moment longer, then tugged her over to Ellina’s desk.
“Tell her,” he said to Jo. “Tell Ellina she’s being stupid, she needs someone around.
That the things happening lately aren’t just coincidences.”
Jo pursed her lips, giving Ellina a pained look as if to say she didn’t want to think the worst, but…
“I do think you should have someone around. At least until you find out who pulled the cat trick.” Then Jo smiled as if to buffer her words and gestured to Ellina’s hair. “I like this new color. Blond suits you.”
Ellina touched her newly colored hair. “Thanks.”
Maksim rolled his eyes.
Ellina rolled her eyes back, then returned to the topic at hand. “But we may never discover who did that. And I’m not having someone hanging around all the time. My work requires alone time. To write. To research. No.”
She shoved the paper back across the desk at her brother, this time disregarding her orderly, printed-out notes.
Maksim growled, frustrated. “Don’t even get me started on all your alone time.”
Ellina frowned. This was a topic she didn’t want to talk about, but she couldn’t stop herself from saying, “I like my life the way it is.”
“How can you like…”
Jo stepped forward, raising a hand to stop the tirade she saw coming. “Ellina, just let Maksim hire someone for a couple weeks. If nothing else happens, then you can let him go.”
Maksim made a noise as if he was going to argue the plan, but Jo waved her hand again, silently shushing him.
“And you know with the baby nearly here, Maksim won’t be able to watch out for you himself. And he will worry.”
Well, that was great. Now they were guilting her for not taking around-the-clock security. And sadly, it was working. Darn it.
“What can it hurt?” Jo added, driving in the last nail of the coffin of her will.
Ellina looked at her note-cluttered desk, then her computer screen with a Word doc opened and reporting a mere twenty pages finished.
What could it hurt?
Her career. Her deal with her publisher. Her future deals.
Then she glanced back at her brother and sister-in-law, and selfishness created a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Both of their expressions showed how worried they were. And they had a baby due to arrive any day.
What could it really hurt? It would calm Maksim down and allow him to fully focus on Jo and their new baby, and it did only have to be for a little while. She could suffer through it for a little while, right?
Once Maksim realized he was paying someone for nothing, she’d be back to her normal life.
“Fine,” Ellina muttered, but waved the unwanted résumé at Maksim.
Maksim frowned but accepted the paper. “Don’t you want to look it over more?”
“I’m assuming he’s already your choice,” Ellina said, not bothering to hide her irritation with being railroaded.
“Well, I do think he’s the best, yes.”
Ellina made a well there you go face at him.
“Now,” she said, turning her attention back to her computer, “why don’t you give me a little time to—”
A loud, abrupt rap echoed through her apartment.
Ellina glared at her brother.
“That’s him,” Maksim said with a smug smile.
So much for work now.
Jude stood in the doorway of a shotgun cottage that looked as if it had fallen out of the pages of a fairy tale. He half expected children in lederhosen to answer the door.
But instead of Hansel or Gretel, the door was jerked open by a tall man, fit and tough enough to be a bodyguard himself.
Jude nodded. “Yes.”
The man extended his hand. “Maksim Kostova. I’m the one who contacted you on behalf of my sister.”
Jude had guessed as much. He accepted the man’s hand, giving it a brief, firm shake.
As he released it, he fought the urge to wipe his hand on his pants as if there was something thick and slimy clinging to his fingers.
Demon. That particular preternatural aura affected him more than some others. The energy from Maksim was strong and heavy, coating Jude’s palm and fingers, creeping up his arm like a living thing. The Blob from horror movie legend.
Damn, he hated that sensation. He flexed his fingers, trying to subtly shake the sensation off.
Maksim raised an eyebrow, obviously aware that Jude had had some reaction to him, but he didn’t inquire. Instead he stepped back, opening the door wider.
Jude moved past him, keeping a good distance between them. This male was clearly a powerful, high-ranking demon. Jude could even feel his aura just in passing.
Jude steeled himself to the sensation, but was pleased to step into a fair-size sitting room. More space was always better.
He could do this. Just a few more jobs, and he’d be done with this life. No more paranormal creatures. No more of this existence. He would reinvent himself.
With renewed determination, he turned his focus away from the demon and to the room they’d just entered. His impression again was that of being in a fairy-tale world.
Lavender walls, gold brocade furniture, and beaded lamps gave the room a feeling of a princess’s private parlor.
But the woman who entered the room was no fairy-tale character. Not unless fairy tales had changed greatly since he’d last read one. She was hugely pregnant, making her hard to miss. Her belly protruded, almost comically large when compared to her slight frame. Then his gaze moved to the tall, blond-haired woman who followed the waddling pregnant one.
She was stunning. Definitely princess material here…except instead of a flowing gown she wore a faded concert T-shirt that clung to her small, pert breasts and slender midriff.
Dark washed jeans encased her long legs, accentuating the flare of her hips and cupping what he had no doubt was a great ass—not that he could see that, but he just knew.
Pale bare feet with her toes painted cherry red peeped out from under the cuffs of her jeans.
Jude’s body tensed, very aware of her.
Just observations, he told himself. What he was paid to do. Notice—things. But his body told him it was more than a detached inventory. He reacted. Instantly. Viscerally.
Don’t let this be Ellina Kostova. Please don’t let this be her.
He tried to ignore his response, relieved when Maksim spoke. “Jude, this is my wife, Jo,” Maksim said, gesturing to the very pregnant woman, drawing Jude’s attention away from the beauty.