"I’ll take care of it and leave it in the yard for you. Unless you want the stink of it in the house …"
"No, and don’t leave it in the yard to scare the innocent neighbors. Can you put it back in the alley where she died?"
Jaden held the cup out to him. "That’ll cost you a bit more." Xypher ground his teeth before he complied.
Smiling, Jaden inhaled the scent of his blood before he again drank it. "Ew!" Gloria said, wrinkling her face up. "That’s disgusting."
Jaden save her a cold smile. "So are sausage and escargot, but you ate your share of that, did you not, human?"
She didn’t respond.
Jaden set the empty cup on Simone’s nightstand. He ran his finger around the rim, gathering the leftover blood. He licked it from the pad of his finger before he spoke. "I’ll be back tomorrow night. Have my amulet for me." He glanced toward Simone. "Otherwise you’re going to be very sorry . . . and the woman even more so."
Simone woke up with an awful headache. She pulled the pillow off her head to find bright sunlight streaming in through her bedroom window. When had the blinds been opened?
"What time is it?" she whispered, rolling over to stare at her alarm clock. Seven twenty-five. Why did it feel so much later?
Yawning, she paused as she caught sight of Xypher sleeping on die floor-he’d completely refused to sleep on Jesse’s mattress, saying he was too used to hardness to want die comfort of it. Not to mention he’d pointed out that since his arrival in New Orleans, he’d been sleeping sitting up in alleyways with his back against die wall. Her floor was a step up for him. At least here he could stretch out.
The blanket she’d given him last night was still lying folded beneath the pillow. He hadn’t touched diem. Instead, he was lying on his side with one hand stretched out over his head and the other curled just under his chin.
A day’s growth of beard dusted his cheeks. There was something so manly and yet boyish about him lying there like that . . . But as she stared at his lips and remembered the hot kiss he’d given her last night, it chased away any thought of him being boyish.
She jumped as Jesse came running into the room. A slice of fear went through her. Had the demon found a way in? "What’s wrong?"
He stopped beside the bed and stomped his foot. "Would you tell Gloria to stop whining about my music? I like Culture Club and Prince."
Simone frowned in confusion. "Gloria?"
"Yeah. She came back last night."
He shrugged. "She said Xypher brought her back."
"How?" she repeated.
"I don’t know, but could you have a talk with her? There’s a reason I’m an only ghost in this house. I don’t like sharing."
"Okay, tell her to come here."
"Gloria!" he shouted so loudly that Xypher jerked awake on the floor.
Gloria manifested in front of Simone. "If I hear ‘Karma Chameleon’ one more time, I swear I’m going to find Boy George and make him eat Jesse’s record. What does red, gold, and green have to do with anything anyway?"
Jesse was offended. "It’s a brilliant song! C’mon . . . ‘Every day is like survival. You’re my lover, not my rival.’ What could be more meaningful than that?"
Xypher groaned as he lifted his head up from the floor to glare at the ghosts. "Someone please tell me that we’re not seriously having a friggin’ debate over the genius of ‘Karma Chameleon’ at seven o’clock in the morning?"
Simone laughed. "Afraid so, sweetie." Xypher glared hostilely at the ghosts.
"How do you know about Boy George?" Jesse asked.
"I was in hell, Jesse. What do you think they used to torture me with? Bad pop songs."
Gloria gave Jesse a smug look, "Told you."
"It’s a great song."
Xypher groveled low in his throat. "Yeah, the first nine thousand times you hear it. After a while it gets trapped in your head until it makes you crazy . . . now you know why I’m so effing nasty all the time. For that alone, I take Gloria’s side. Now if you both don’t go be quiet, I swear by the river Styx that I’m going to feed you to Daimons as soon as the sun sets."
The ghosts vanished instantly. "Thank you," Simone said.
His response was to roll over onto His back and drape one muscular arm over his eyes.
Simone got up and knelt on the floor beside him. Lifting his arm, she waited until he opened his eyes and gave her a quizzical look. "Seriously, thank you. How did you find Gloria?"
"I’m not sure you want me to answer that. Remember not to look a gift horse in the mouth."
"Why did you do it?"
He shrugged. "You were worried about her."
"Is that the only reason?"
"What do you think? God knows I didn’t want her here aggravating Jesse and waking my ass up at dawn."
She smiled at his surliness. "You’re not a morning person, are you?"
"I’m a Dream-Hunter demon. By my very nature I’m nocturnal. That big yellow ball in the sky offends me to the very core of my being."
Leaning over him, she gave him a hug. "Well, I personally like the mornings. Every one is a fresh start. My father always said that you should begin each day with purpose."
"My father always said that someone should run Apollo and Helios over with their chariots . . . and throw Phaeton under them for good measure."
She laughed. "Your father wasn’t a positive influence on you, was he?"
"Being the god of nightmares, he wasn’t a warm fuzzy bunny. Unless you count Happy Bunny, Amazingly the two of them have a lot in
"How do you know about Happy Bunny?"
"What? You never walk around the French Quarter? There are Happy Bunny shirts hanging in almost every store. And I have to say that I’ve developed a fondness for that pissy rodent."
"Oh." He was right. Happy Bunny was everywhere.
His eyes darkened as he locked gazes with her. "And if you don’t stop rubbing on me right now, Simone, I’m going to take that as an open invitation to go Skoti on you."
He rolled over with her, pinning her to the hard floor. Simone bit back a moan at how good he felt lying on top of her, and there was no denying what the hefty bulge against her hip was.
When he spoke, his voice was ragged and hoarse. "It’s when Skoti slip into humans and have their way with them." He nuzzled her neck.
"I thought you were a nightmare Skotos."
Simone ran her hand over his muscular back, delighting in the feel of it and the weight of him.
It would be so easy to let him strip her bare . . . She could just imagine him inside her. The very thought made her wet.
"So I take it you had good dreams last night?" she whispered. He jerked back from her. "I didn’t dream …" "I don’t always dream, either."
"No. I’m a Dream-Hunter, Simone. It’s what we do. Always." He looked dazed. "Why didn’t I dream?"
"Maybe you didn’t sleep deeply enough,"
Xypher started to respond until she moved and brushed against his erection. All rational thought left him as he became totally focused on the fact he was lying on top of her.
And she wasn’t wearing a bra . . .
Oh, this was torture. It’d been so many centuries since he’d last felt a woman like this. He could just imagine sliding himself into her body. See her head tilted back while he tongued her neck. He burned from wanting her . . .
Simone couldn’t move as she caught the hot look in his eyes. This was it and she knew it. She was lost to him. How could she deny him after all he’d done to protect her?
She jumped at Jesse’s shrill call.
He popped into the room, then screamed like a girl. "I’m sorry. You two continue."
Xypher let out a low, evil growl as he hung his head down and shook it over her. "I don’t know about you, but that just killed my mood. The only thing to do more damage would be to see Jesse nak*d. That would probably make me impotent for eternity. I think we just found the perfect birth control."
Laughing, Simone rolled out from under him stood up, and cocked her head as she saw her goblet on the nightstand. How had that happened? It was always on the dresser.
She went to move it back, then froze as she caught sight of what appeared to be dried blood in it.
"What on earth?" She glanced to Xypher who quickly looked away. "Is this yours?" He didn’t answer.
Before she could pursue it, her phone rang. She picked it up and saw it was Tate. Flipping it open, she answered.
"We found Gloria’s body."
She couldn’t believe it. "Where?"
"In the alley where she died."
"Nope. It was really weird. The police called a few minutes ago to let me know."
That was great, except for one tiny detail that made her stomach shrink. "Is she . . . turning?"
"Not at all. It’s very strange, but I thought you’d like to know."
"Yeah, thanks. I know you’re relieved." Simone hung up and turned to face Xypher. "They found Gloria’s body again."
There was something extremely guarded about him. "You knew about it, didn’t you?" She looked back at the goblet and wondered why someone would put blood in it. Besides her, there was only one other person in this house who could bleed. . . . "What did you do after I went to sleep?"
"Xypher," she snapped from between clenched teeth, "Don’t lie to me. I’m not stupid. I know blood when I see it. For Saint Peter’s sake, I’m a pathologist. You know I can take that to my lab and get a DNA sample off it."
An angry tic beat against his jaw. "What do you want me to say, Simone? I summoned a demon lord and made a bargain with him?"
Yeah, right. "Would you be serious?"
"I am serious." His tone and face confirmed it even though she didn’t want to believe it. "I had to feed him my blood to get Gloria and her body back for you-that was the price he demanded."
Simone was stunned by his words. No, it couldn’t be, could it? "You’re not kidding."
"Why else would there be blood in your goblet?"
Why else, indeed? After all, people waking up to find blood in a cup nest to their bed had to be a daily occurrence.
In the Twilight Zone.
"This can’t be my life …" And yet why was she so surprised? One of her best friends was a ghost and the other worked for a group of immortal vampire slayers. So why wouldn’t her pseudoboyfriend be able to conjure a demon lord and feed it blood?
"What next? You gonna tell me my new neighbor is a demon, and the dog down the street is a lycanthrope?"
He shook his head. "Now you know why I didn’t want to tell you what happened. I knew it would only upset you."
"Yes, yes, it did. How would you feel if someone invited a demon lord into your bedroom while you slept and fed it blood from your favorite cup? I don’t think you’d be all happy over that, do you?"
She glanced at her clock. It was just after eight. "And now I need to shower and get ready for work. Guess you have to follow me since I’ll die if you don’t and please try not to summon any more demon lords into my house while I’m nak*d, okay?" Damn, the ludicrousness of her life was beginning to know no boundaries.
Xypher’s expression turned sullen. "Yeah, but I’ll die if I do follow you and hear you nak*d in the shower."
Simone didn’t know why, but that took a lot of the anger out of her. Probably because she was enjoying the idea of torturing him.
She patted His cheek affectionately. "There, mere, baby, it’ll be okay."
He looked down at where his erection made an impressive bulge in his pants. "Not really, it won’t. You only say that ’cause you’re not the one in pain. And here I thought I had a few weeks’ reprieve from torture. You’re working with Hades, aren’t you? Go ahead. Admit it."
Simone gathered her clothes, then paused as something he’d said a minute ago seeped into her mind-I had to feed him my blood to get Gloria and her body back for you. Why would he do that? "Why did you get Gloria back?"
He turned around as if looking for something.
"Xypher?" She closed the distance between them. "Why?"
His expression sheepish, he shrugged. "You were upset over her. I didn’t want you to be worried or blame yourself for her loss."
For the first time, she understood his incessant need to find out what her motivations had been for helping him. There were some acts of kindness that were so altruistic, they defied logic. To him, the simplest act was baffling.
To her, this one was. "Why did you care?"
"I don’t know."
Xypher ground his teeth. It wasn’t true. He knew exactly why he’d done it. For once he’d put her feelings above his own, but to admit that… It was most likely more than he could do right now.
Even so, he’d sacrificed a part of himself to make her happy.
She lifted herself Up to kiss him lightly on the lips. "Now you understand that kindness doesn’t have to be motivated by anything except a desire to help someone else and make them feel better."