"You love Jesse." It was an obvious statement given the room they were in.
"I do." Her eyes shone with sincerity and truth. "He stayed and looked out for me after my family was gone. He was like a big brother …" She tilted her head and smiled before she continued. "Now he’s more like a younger one. But there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him."
How he wished he had that kind of loyalty from someone. His problem was there was nothing anyone would do for him.
"You can put your clothes in here." She opened an empty drawer in the bureau:
Xypher set the bags down on the floor. "You know, this might not work."
"Your bedroom might be too far from this one. We may not be able to separate."
She sucked her breath in sharply. "I’d already forgotten about that stipulation. How will we know?"
Xypher stood back. "Start walking. When you hit a spot where you’re gasping for breath, that should tell us our limitations."
"Oh, joy. I can’t wait to be the guppy."
"Glub, glub, little fishy. Start walking."
Simone wasn’t sure about this as she headed for the door, slowly. She walked through the doorway, into the hall. After a few steps, she was less afraid. So far so good.
"This doesn’t seem …" Her voice broke off as she choked. All of a sudden, she couldn’t speak or move. Everything around her was getting dark. Frightening.
Out of nowhere, Xypher was there. He scooped her up in his arms and earned her to her bedroom and laid her on her bed. His face was red as he, too, struggled to breathe.
It took her several minutes before she could breathe normally again. Xypher stayed by her side, watching her with an expression that she would have called worried if the very idea of his concern for her wasn’t ludicrous.
"That was scary," she said quietly once she could speak again. "How did you make it to me when you couldn’t breathe, either?"
She placed her hand on his cheek where his whiskers teased her palm. How could a demon have moments of kindness and compassion? "Thank you."
He inclined his head to her. "Now we know how little space we have."
It was true. They had maybe fifteen to twenty feet before it killed them. "What are we going to do?"
Xypher considered their options . . . none of which were very good. He cleared his throat before he answered. "We’re going to find some way to get you out of this."
"What if we can’t?"
Then she was going to die with him when he killed Satara. And there wouldn’t be any way to avoid it.
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 you actually make an honest-to-goodness joke?"
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 nak*d 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. Run, Simone, run . . .
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.