Simone jumped as the phone in her pocket rang, breaking the awkward silence between them. Pulling it out of her pocket, she answered it to find Julian on the other end.
“Sorry to bother you, Simone. But since my wife is back, we were wondering if you’d like us to return your car to you?”
“That would be fabulous. Are you sure it wouldn’t be too much trouble?”
“Not at all. Just give me the address and we’ll head over with it.”
“Oh, wait, you don’t have my car keys.”
He gave a low laugh. “Trust me, it won’t be a problem.”
How could she forget she was talking to a demigod? “In that case, thank you very much.”
Relieved to be getting her stuff back, Simone gave her address to him, then hung up. Finally something was going right. It was about ten hours too late, but maybe better late than never.
She pushed herself up from the bed. “I guess we need to bring the mattress from Jesse’s bed and lay it on the floor for you.”
Xypher stepped back to give her room to move around him. “Why would you do that?”
“So that you’ll have a comfy place to sleep tonight.” His scowl deepened. “I don’t need a mattress.”
Was he serious? There was no way she was going to let a strange man sleep in her bed, especially not one who looked as good as him. She didn’t trust either one of them to keep their hands to themselves. “You can’t sleep on the floor. It’s cold.”
He arched a brow at her indignant tone. “I’ve been sleeping on ice-cold dirt for seven hundred years. At least your floors are clean and they don’t have anything scurrying over them that’ll bite me while I sleep.”
Her heart ached at what he described. By his expression, she could tell he wasn’t kidding or exaggerating. “What did you do that made them condemn you?”
He looked away.
Simone approached him slowly so that she could look up at him and touch his arm. She half expected him to curse and shove her away.
Xypher couldn’t breathe as he stared into those curious hazel eyes that seared his soul. That touch, combined with those eyes, weakened him.
All he wanted to do was pull her into his anus and feel her soft comfort.
If only it were that simple. But it wasn’t. His aches couldn’t be relieved so easily. Too many centuries of abuse had left him hollow. He let out a deep breath before he answered her question. “I let someone use me.”
“Use you how?”
How could he explain Satara to someone who had no concept of a creature so devious and cold? There were times when not even he understood the nature of their complicated relationship. “She addicted me to her emotions and used that addiction to control me. I thought I loved her and I would have done anything to make her happy.”
Simone cocked her head. “Anything, huh? So what did she ask you to do?”
He hesitated to tell her everything. There was no need in her knowing just what a monster he’d been. “I drove her enemies mad for her. Made them turn on each other and on their own families. They killed other people violently and then they killed themselves.”
He winced at the memories that still haunted him. Men he’d goaded into fights for no other reason than to make Satara happy. “Believe me, I earned my damnation. I’ve never shirked from it. It’s why I know that there’s no way Hades will free me when this is over. The Fates won’t allow it. But I shouldn’t have to suffer alone in Tartarus. I may have done the deeds, but Satara commissioned them.”
Simone tried to understand him and what he’d done. Why it had caused him to be condemned. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t reconcile him with someone worthy of being punished so severely. “You said demons were tools for others. Why were you held accountable for being tine to your nature?”
“I’m not just a demon, Simone. I’m a god. What I did was unforgivable. I don’t ask for any land of salvation or for understanding.”
No, he only asked for vengeance. “What made you so unforgiving?”
The intensity of that stare singed her. It was empty and cold and at the same time it touched something inside her. “Be grate fill that you have the luxury of asking me that question. Pray to whatever god you worship that you’ll always be ignorant.”
He pulled away from her and walked to her window.
Jesse drifted back into the room, making her wonder where he’d been for the last few minutes. Then again, Jesse didn’t really like visitors in the house so maybe he’d taken a walk outside.
“Do you have any salt?” Xypher asked suddenly.
“Salt?” What a strange segue from their previous subject into an offbeat topic. What did salt have to do with anything?
He tested the lock on her window before he answered. “We need to spread it around the windows and doors, or anything else that leads outside.”
“Salt is a pure substance. Incorruptible. No full-blooded demon can cross it.”
Simone liked the sound of that, but she had one question. “You can, right?”
He nodded as he turned away from the window. “But Kaiaphas can’t.”
“Salt coming up!” Jesse ran for the kitchen. Simone wasn’t far behind him.
Xypher pulled up the rear as she got out her tub of salt. “It needs to be a high concentration.”
“By all means, use whatever it takes.” She handed the salt to him. In no time, they had her condo prepped.
“God bless Morten’s,” she said, closing the spigot on top and returning the round container to her cabinet. “Who knew that could come in handy for anything other than cooking?”
A knock sounded on her door.
Simone’s eyes widened as a stab of fear pierced her. “What are the odds that could be Kaiaphas?”
“Very slim. He doesn’t knock.”
“Oh.” Feeling a little ridiculous over her question, she went to the door, only to have Xypher stop her by placing a hand on the door so that she couldn’t open it.
“Careful of the salt when you open the door. If you wipe it away, it won’t do us any good.”
Good warning. “Thanks.” She opened the door carefully to find Julian there.
“Hi,” he said, smiling. “I left your car out front. I just wanted you to know.”
She returned his smile. “Thank you so much for this . . . and for everything else. I really appreciate it.”
“No problem.” He looked past her to where Xypher stood. “Glad to see you up and about. We had a moment of fright when you went down. Nothing like a demon battle right after dusk to make you feel alive, right?”
“If you say so.” Xypher held his hand out to Julian. “I appreciate your help.”
Julian shook his hand. “Anytime . . . especially when the lads aren’t around. Goodnight.”
“Good night.” Simone shut the door, then turned to face Xypher. She was amazed by what he’d done. It was so out of character for his demon self that she wanted to pinch him to be sure he hadn’t been body-snatched. However, she wasn’t feeling suicidal. “Did you actually thank him just now?”
“Yes. I know you find it hard to believe, but I am capable of it.”
He looked baffled by her comment. “Why do you tease me?”
She shrugged. “You’re rather teasable.”
“Like a cobra,” Jesse said snidely as he pretended to pet an invisible snake. “Here, reppie, reppie. Here, reppie, reppie. Ow!” He pulled his hand to his body and waved it. “He bit me!” Then he started frothing at the mouth and twitching before he fell on the ground. “He killed me.”
Simone stepped over his spasming form. “You’re so odd, Jesse.”
He lifted his head to stare after her. “I’m not the one teasing the cobra, dude. That’d be you. Mr. Spicoli ordering pizza in Mr. Hand’s class. Stop the madness, sister. Stop!”
Xypher took a step toward him and Jesse quickly pushed himself to his feet.
“I’m going to listen to Duran Duran albums. Later,” Jesse vanished.
Simone rubbed her eyebrows in a slow circle before she moved her massage to her temples, trying to dispel some of the ache that had started in her head. She walked back to her bedroom to deposit her purse and keys on her dresser. “What a day this has been. Chased by a demon, threatened by lycanthropes, near-death experiences galore, mutilated bodies . . . I get giddy just thinking about what tomorrow might bring.”
Xypher cast a sullen glare toward Jesse’s room. “If we’re lucky, a medium who’ll help Jesse find that light and walk into it.”
Simone gaped at his dry comment. “Oh, my God, was that a joke?” Laughing, she approached him. “Did
Xypher was completely enchanted by the sound of her melodic laughter as she stepped in front of him. Her eyes glowed with warmth and humor. She was so vibrant and alive that he wanted to reach out and touch her.
No. He wanted to kiss her . . .
That knowledge tore through him. He was a Phobotory Skotos. They thrived on causing fear in others. But standing here, right now, looking at her, he wanted to ship her clothes off and taste every inch of her body until she came in his arms, screaming out his name.
He burned with a need so tight and fierce, it actually scared him. His body hardened to steel, begging him to pull her close and taste those tempting lips that teased, but never mocked him.
Simone was singed by the heat of Xvpher’s gaze. It was electrifying. Piercing. He was so feral and complex. So frightening, and at the same time she wanted to touch him. It was a compulsion like watching a caged wild animal you knew could slued you with its claws. Even so, it held so much beauty that all you could dream of was sinking your hand in its soft fur and feeling it purr against you.
But that wasn’t the man in front of her. She wasn’t sure if any woman could tame him long enough to pet that beautiful body. He didn’t seem like he’d lower his defenses long enough to allow a woman to be intimate with him.
Simone could count on one hand the number of men she’d been with . . . and all of them she’d known a long time before dating them. Even longer before she’d welcomed them into her bed.
Never once had she met a man who tempted her like this. She actually wanted to pull him to her and strip him naked before tasting every succulent inch of him.
What was wrong with her?
He was obnoxious and aide. Terrifying and threatening.
And the sexiest thing on two legs.
His eyes darkened as he dipped his head toward hers.
She couldn’t. Instead, she opened her mouth to receive one of the hottest kisses she’d ever tasted. At first he didn’t touch her. Just his lips sliding against hers, tasting and teasing.
A feral growl escaped him before he cupped her face in his hands and deepened the lass to an ecstatic level.
Xypher breathed the scent of her in, letting it wash over him. As their tongues swilled, he tasted her humanity, her spirit. Most of all, he tasted her passion. It set fire to his own, making him ache in places he didn’t even know a man could ache. But the needful pain that surprised him most was the one in his condemned soul.
For the first time in centuries, he didn’t feel like a demon. He felt like a man.
That thought washed over him like an ice bath. Gasping at the truth, he pulled away. Anger coiled through him that he would be so stupid again. And for what? A gentle touch? A fleeting moment of pleasure?
One moment of bliss wasn’t worth an eternity in hell. And neither was Simone.
She was a human. No good could ever come of being with her. He belonged to the immortal world and she lived in this one with its rules and civility. There was no way she’d ever understand who and what he was.
Simone couldn’t breathe as she watched a multitude of emotions sweeping over Xypher’s face. Confusion, remorse, torment, but the one that stung her was the bitter anger.
“Stay away from me.” His voice was a savage growl that reverberated through the room.
He laughed mockingly. “I never said I wasn’t stupid. Obviously. If I’d had a brain, I wouldn’t have fallen for the lies that got me damned.” He turned and started to leave.
He cursed as he reached the doorway. “I can’t even get away from you.” Leaning his head back, he glared at the ceiling. “I hate you. Hades, you bastard.” A muscle worked furiously in his jaw as he turned back toward her. “I’d rather they just beat me than to be stuck here like this.”
Well, if that didn’t sting her all the way to her core. How dare he! “I didn’t realize I was such a nuisance to you.”
“You’re in my way, aren’t you?”
She balled her hands into fists then raised them at him and flung her fingers out as if to hex him. “I wish you’d been the one who was mute. No, I take it back. I’m glad you’re not mute. Because every time I start to think you’re an okay guy or that I like you, you open that mouth of yours and remind me that you’re not. So thank you. Now get out!” She pushed him through the door.
Xypher opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, she slammed the door shut in his face and locked it. Then she shoved her dresser over the opening, just to make sure he couldn’t open the door. Satisfied, she leaned against the dresser and folded her arms. A light knock sounded on the door. “Simone?”
“Go. Away.” She added a silent “jerk” to the end of that sentence.
“I can’t. We’d die if I did.”
“Then you can just stand there in the hallway until I calm down.” It was immature, but even so it made her feel better. He deserved it.
Perhaps, but sometimes immaturity was called for. This was one of those times.
Xypher raked a hand through his hair as he fought the urge to use his powers to disintegrate that door. He could feel her sense of satisfaction and it set off his ire even more.
Unable to let her have the last word, he manifested right in front of her.
She glared furiously. “No, you didn’t!”
“You can’t keep me out.”
“You are such a dickhead.” She put her hands up to force him back, but the instant she touched him, something inside him shattered.
He pulled her against him and kissed her with every confused emotion he felt waning within him. Dizzy from it, he pinned her to the bureau she’d used to keep him out. Closing his eyes, he felt every inch of her body pressed against him. Her breasts were so soft against his chest. Her breath sweet and welcoming as her hipbone rubbed against the part of him that was swollen stiff and begging for the softest part of her body.
Simone couldn’t think straight with him kissing her like this. His hands felt so good roaming her body as their tongues danced. She hadn’t been held in so long… She’d almost forgotten the feel of strong arms around her. The scent of a man as his whiskers brushed her skin.
It was heaven.
And all she wanted to do was climb on top of him and ride him until they were both begging for mercy.
“Push me away, Simone,” he said in her ear, his voice ragged. “Is that what you want?”
“No,” he growled. “I desperately want inside you. I want your scent on my skin as I taste every part of your body until I’m drunk from it.”
She shivered. Right now, it was all she wanted, too. But they were strangers and he was a condemned demon.
Putting her hands on his shoulders, she pulled back. “I don’t understand you.”
Xypher bit back a caustic retort. In truth, he didn’t understand himself, either. Any more than he understood why he wanted to be with her as badly as he did.
And so he had. He’d given his life for hers and she’d laughed while he died.
He hadn’t been attracted to a woman since that day. Until now.
He cupped Simone’s face in his hand and tilted her chin until their eves met. “If you loved someone, would you make them die for you?”
Confusion darkened her gaze. “What?”
“Answer the question. Yes or no. Would you make someone you love die for you?”
“My entire family is gone—both the one I was born into and the one that adopted me. I live in fear of losing anyone else I’m close to. Hell no, Xypher. I would
The joy those words brought him was unbelievable. “Would you die for someone you loved?”
“Of course. Wouldn’t you?”
Xypher stepped back as he remembered the day they’d dragged him down and killed him. Would he do it again?
He scoffed at the idea. “People aren’t worth your life. It’s a precious gift, and instead of cherishing it, they mock you for the sacrifice. Stop being naive.”
Simone flinched as she realized what he was saying. Someone he’d laved had betrayed him. No wonder he wanted revenge. “Not everyone squanders love, Xypher. My father didn’t mock my mother when she died. He grieved more than anyone I’ve ever seen. So much so that he killed himself five months later.”
She glanced to the photo on her desk of her with her mother, father, and brother. It’d been taken a month before their deaths. The happiness on their faces haunted her at times, and comforted her at others.
Tonight it comforted her.
“My father used to say that life is what you make it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. You can’t change the past, but the future isn’t set in stone. You can effect a change there. Move forward not with hatred or love. Move forward with purpose.”
He turned on her so fast that it made her gasp. “What did you say?”
She tried to remember. “That today is—”
“Not that. The last part.”
It took her a second to remember. “Move forward?”
“Yes. Where did you hear that?”
“It was something my father always said. Does it mean something to you?”
He looked down at the writing on his arm. “It’s an old saying among Summerian demons. It’s almost like a battle cry we use. I’ve never known a human to use it before.”
She touched the intricate scroll she couldn’t read. “Is that what’s written here?”
“And the rest?”
He pulled his arm away from her. “It’s a reminder to me of what I’ve been through. A reminder to not fail until I’ve tasted blood.”
“Simone!” Jesse’s voice echoed in the room before he came running through the wall. “You’ve got to see this!” He snatched the cord for the blinds to lift them up.
Simone stumbled back into Xypher as chilling red eyes stared at her.