Her face lost color. "A demon?" she whispered.
Xypher nodded. "She travels with Acheron as his companion. Simi."
Xypher was shocked by the exuberance of the clerk’s voice. Short with jet-black hair, she stood on the opposite side of a glass counter filled with jewelry and goblets.
Simone frowned at the woman. "You know Simi?"
The dark-haired woman’s smile widened. "Oh, yeah, we all know Simi and her sister. They clean us out every time they’re in town. We love them. Are you a friend of theirs?"
Xypher bit back a snort. Friend . . . there was a word no one had ever applied to him before. But he couldn’t exactly tell the woman that off an army of demons and save the world. "Yeah, we’re friends."
"Oh, honey, then welcome to Roadkill. Any friend of the Parthenopaeuses is a friend of ours. What can I do for you?"
"We need to get him some clothes," Simone said. She pointed to a leather jacket high up on the wall. "Can we see that?"
The woman stepped out from around the counter to get it down.
She handed it to Xypher who shrugged it on. It was all he could do not to moan at how good the warm leather felt on his skin after being cold for all these days. The jacket was heavy, but he welcomed the weight of it.
It felt really, really good.
Simone smiled as she came up to him and adjusted it. Her hands brushed against his neck, making him instantly hard. "Very nice. Looks good on you. You like it?"
He didn’t even know how to respond. "It’s okay," he said, knowing that was incorrect. It was so much more than just okay. He wanted to hug her for the gift.
Simone stepped back as a strange wave of desire went through her and she didn’t know why. Okay, maybe she did. Xypher looked hot in the black motorcycle jacket that was painted with an anarchy symbol on the left shoulder and the Misfits face on the back. She wanted to stroke the leather and feel the hard body underneath. He looked so dangerous and feral.
Which he really was.
It was all she could do not to purr.
"How many shirts you want?" Jesse asked.
Simone blinked before she stepped back, grateful for Jesse’s interference. "At least a dozen."
"A dozen what?" The sales clerk stared at her.
Simone blushed as she realized the woman didn’t know Jesse was standing beside her. "Sorry, I was thinking out loud."
"All, I thought you were speaking in code." The woman’s gaze slid down Xypher’s abdomen. "’Cause I’m sure he has a deadly dozen concealed."
Simone had no idea why, but a flash of jealousy went through her. How ridiculous was that? Yet when she collected the woman, her tone was clipped by that stupid, unexpected emotion. "Eight, actually."
The clerk was impressed. "Really?"
"Damn, you’re one lucky woman. Mine’s only got a single, but I love him anyway."
Xypher didn’t. "What are you two talking about?"
Simone patted Xypher on the arm. "Nothing, sweetie. Let’s get you a couple of sweaters and some shirts and pants."
Jesse rolled his eyes. "They’re ogling you, dude. Talking about your assets and the fact that you’re nauseatingly lipped, which I would have been had I not bit the dust at seventeen." He puffed out his chest, trying to make himself look more muscular. "I’m forever trapped in my tall, gangly phase."
Xypher didn’t comment on his appearance, he was more perturbed by the women. "Are they supposed to do that?" he whispered to Jesse.
"Only if you’re lucky … or if you’re going to be." Jesse made strange clicking noises at him.
The clerk grimaced. "Are they supposed to do what?"
Simone cleared her throat. "Get his clothes. Yes, honey, they are." She leaned closer to him. "Ignore Jesse before they throw us in a padded room." She then gave Jesse a pointed stare.
"She’s just jealous I can go into the dressing rooms and not be seen," Simone mouthed the words "you are such a perv!"
"No I’m not. Perverted would be spying on you when you’re bathing or changing clothes." He shuddered, "That’s like spying on your sister. Gag me and leave me dead."
"I wish," Simone muttered under her breath.
Xypher was actually amused by their exchange. It took a couple of seconds for him to realize what the emotion he felt even was.
Amused. He’d never experienced it before, but it was good. His chest was light and his stomach tickled. There was no anger or intent to harm in their tones. They were merely bantering playfully and enjoying each other.
He liked watching them.
Simone gave Jesse another warning stare before he seriously got her in trouble. Though she loved him, she hated when he did this. She didn’t like to ignore him, but she didn’t want anyone to think her insane, either.
Turning away from Jesse so as not to encourage him, Simone followed the woman toward the back, then paused as she saw the shoes in the middle of the store on shelves attached to the walls. Most were pretty funky, including a pair of clear stilettos with nine-inch heels. But one pair of black biker boots with skulls and crossbones for buckles caught her eve.
A slow smile curved her lips as she knew the one person who could do them justice. "Xypher?"
She pointed to the boots. "Would you wear those?"
The grin that question caused was absolutely wicked. And for once, it wasn’t mocking. It was a look of pure pleasure and it warmed her all the way through. Damn, that man was gorgeous.
Clearing her throat, she called the clerk back to where they stood. "We’ll take a pair of those."
The clerk laughed. "I just love it whenever friends of Simi come in. You guys shop like demons."
Simone cast a sideways glance at Xypher, who passed a guilty look to her. The woman was half right.
Before long, they’d picked out clothes, underwear, and accessories for Mr. Fine But Obnoxious.
Simone had to bite back a whimper when she handed over her credit card. Even though she had a lot of money, it wasn’t like her to spend it shopping, especially for a temporary guest. But she couldn’t have him walking around for three weeks nak*d, either. Then again, he would be hot, but they’d both get arrested.
At least that was her thought until she caught an unguarded expression of joy on Xypher’s face as he stroked the sleeve of his new jacket. It was obvious he’d never been given anything like it before.
Yeah, that made it worth it.
Smiling, she glanced toward the wall behind the clerk’s head. A rack of scarves hung there. Her smile widened at one in particular. "Excuse me," she said to the clerk, "let me get that scarf behind the counter, too."
The clerk picked up the black one with a white skull and crossbones on it. "This one?"
As soon as it was rung up, Simone took it from the counter, pulled the tag off, and wrapped it around Xypher’s neck.
"What are you doing?" The suspicion in his eyes actually burned her. "It’ll keep your neck warm outside."
Xypher didn’t speak as she tucked the ends of the scarf in his jacket, then zipped it closed. It was such a tender gesture of caring that it brought a foreign ache to his chest. He didn’t like the sensation of it. "I’m not a child."
She laughed. "Trust me, babe, that has not escaped my attention." He frowned at her playful words. "Are you teasing me?"
Teasing … no one had ever done that before. At least not playfully. He looked at Jesse.
"Teee-zeeeen," Jesse said, elongating the word. "It means . . ." Scowling, he paused. "Well, hell, I don’t know what it means. It’s when someone, you know, teases you."
Grinding his teeth, Xypher popped him on the back of his head.
"Ow! Dang, I forgot you could do that." Jesse stepped closer to Simone.
When Xypher started to pursue him, Simone stepped between them and handed him the bags of clothes. "We’re leaving now," she said in an exaggerated tone. "Thank the nice lady for her help."
The clerk laughed. "You’re definitely welcome. You two have a good night."
Before Xypher could respond, Simone lightly pushed him toward the door. He followed after her grudgingly.
Was she insane for coining between them? He couldn’t fathom anyone putting their life in danger for a ghost. Especially not a silly one like Jesse.
Simone paused outside to give them both a chiding glare. "You two are going to get me into so much trouble one day. Can you not behave?"
Jesse huffed. "He started it."
Simone held her hand up in frustration. "Not another word!"
Xypher turned and zapped Jesse so hard, his hair started smoking.
Simone grabbed his arm to protect Jesse, who was now whimpering.
Xypher’s eyes flared as if he were about to fry her, too.
"Diplomatic immunity," she said, holding up the bracelet to remind him that he couldn’t kill her so long as she wore it.
"You’d do well to remember that won’t last forever."
"But it’ll last long enough to get you to leave Jesse alone."
He growled threateningly. Luckily, though, he turned his back to Jesse and started down the sidewalk.
Relieved that she had them both quelled, Simone had barely taken a step when her phone rang again. "Hello?"
It was Tate.
"We’ve got another homicide . . . just like Gloria. Can you get your butt over here and take a look at it while the cops are still investigating the scene?"
"Of course. Where are you?"
She didn’t hear his answer as two police cars went streaming by, headed toward the other side of the French Market. There was an urgency about them that set off her sixth sense.
"Oh, wait, let me guess," she said after they passed. "You’re at North Peters."
"Heard that, huh?"
"To the depths of my now deaf soul." She watched the cars turn. "I think I’m only about four blocks from you. Be right there."
It didn’t take them long to cut across the street and find the police . . . and a small crowd that had gathered to watch and comment or speculate. Simone pulled her wallet out of her back pocket to flash the first officer she reached. Even though she carried a purse, she always put her wallet in her back pocket-a force of habit after she’d had her purse stolen several years before.
He wrinkled his nose at her ID. "Meat Division. I don’t envy you guys,"
She smiled at him. "It’s okay, I don’t envy you, either. At least the people I take into custody don’t try to kill me."
"Good point." He lifted the tape so that she could bend and go under it.
"He’s with me," she said before he could stop Xypher.
"It’s okay, Ryan," Tate shouted as he headed toward them. "We need them on this one."
"Whatever you say, Doc."
Simone stepped back to introduce them to each other. "Tate, this is Xypher, my current paranormal dilemma."
Laughing, Tate offered his hand to Xypher. "I’ve never met a Dream-Hunter before."
Xypher shook it. "Sure you have. You just don’t remember it," he said with an evil glint in his eye.
Tate shook his head. "That’s not comforting."
"My kind seldom are." No missing the ominous tone in those words.
"Xypher is very much in the hair-raising scare’em crew," Simone explained.
Tate led them toward the victim who waited under a black tarp. "I can see that. And I’ll make a note to stay on his good side. Last thing I need are any more nightmares in my sleep."
Simone couldn’t agree more. "I think Xypher lives for nightmares." Tate snorted. "In that case, he’s going to feel right at home."
Tate indicated the body on the ground at their feet. "Just like Gloria. Same wounds. Same MO. No blood. Drained and dropped. Only difference is this one seemed to fight back."
"He," Tate corrected.
Simone frowned. That would debunk the serial killer idea. "He?"
Tate lifted the tarp to show her a Caucasian male in his mid-twenties who was lying face up, staling blankly at nothing at all. His face was contorted, frozen by the honor that had taken his life.
Simone winced as a wave of sympathetic pain went through her. She hated this part of her job most. That feeling of seeing someone as a killer had left them. The sick die ad that clamped her stomach tight. But the worst was the firsthand knowledge of how the family would react to this tragedy.
"We have to find this ass**le and stop him," she said between clenched teeth.
"Yeah," Tate agreed.
Xypher set his bags down before he approached the body to examine it.
"Careful," Tate warned. "Don’t touch the body. We don’t want to destroy any evidence. We have to find the perp and bring him to justice immediately."
Xypher leaned over to carefully study the neck wound. "That’s going to be hard."
"It’s a demon kill."
"What?" she and Tate said simultaneously.
Xypher sat back on his haunches to look up at them. "A human didn’t do this."