“So whaddya say, Electrocution?” Xan taunted. The demon glaring at her hated when she messed up his name. So she made sure to do it on a daily basis.
It was like the damn demon had a homing beacon on him that led her straight to him. He was hideous and arrogant, yet she always had a hard time leaving the chamber she found him in.
“It’s Quution,” he gritted for the one thousandth two hundred and eighty-second time. She’d been counting.
As she spun away to study the books lining this particular hole in the wall she’d found him in, a low growl bounced off the walls. The corner of her mouth kicked up.
Score. She’d gotten to him.
She listed random titles off the top of her head, hoping at least one was in his collection. “A Tale of Two Cities? Treasure Island? Anne of Green Gables? Who reads this shit?” Jealousy snaked through her. He probably did. She couldn’t read human languages. She couldn’t read her own language. There was a reason most demons used pictographs. Their claws got in the way of holding a writing utensil.
She glanced down at her own nails. Sharpened to pert points, they weren’t much longer than a human’s and fit her humanoid form.
Only humans weren’t purple like she was.
“I don’t know, Nebula. Perhaps people who like to broaden their thinking beyond kill, eat, fuck.”
She briefly shut her eyes. Quution saying “fuck” did naughty things to her insides. Why? Why him of all demons? He lurched more than walked. And he wore clothing like a heathen. A huge tent-like trench coat with raggedy canvas pants and platform boots.
Who was the monster humans used to fear? Xan hadn’t been to the movies in decades, preferring documentaries. What was his name? Frankenstein?
Yeah. Quution shared a wardrobe with Frankenstein. And he probably had Mary Shelley on his shelves.
Xan kicked her shoulders back. There. She was just as smart as him. “Why do you call me by that name? Nebula. I’m not an interstellar cloud of dust.” Suck it, demon. She could Google shit, too, thanks to voice search. She craned her head around to peer at him.
Quution cast a droll look her way from where he sat hunched over a carved wooden desk. How the hell had he squirreled that down here? She suspected he’d brought all the items here from the human realm only to show off his staggering power, an ability that had painted a target on his smelly jacket.
Actually, his coat smelled like a fresh field she’d once run through when she’d possessed a human child in the 1700s. It hadn’t been a flight of pleasure, and that was perhaps the reason why the scent clung to her memory. She hadn’t been fast enough to carry the child away from danger.
He made quite the target.
“Nebula is an assassin in the Marvel universe,” he said.
He stared at her like he couldn’t believe she’d even asked. “Perhaps the next time you hit the human realm, you should go to a movie theater. They are quite the hoot.” He tipped his head back down to read the tome in front of him.
“Why an assassin?” she blurted. All demons killed. Being sneaky about it was more of a sign of weakness down here, unlike with humans, who regarded assassins as skilled hunters. And she wasn’t an assassin, just…stealthy.
Quution sighed and lifted his lilac gaze off the page. His sunset-orange horns stuck out of his shaggy mahogany hair. Half the time, they pointed in different directions. How humiliating.
Then why couldn’t she quit staring at them, wondering if he had touch receptors in them? If she stroked them—
No pleasure. She wasn’t interested in how good anything felt for Quution. Weakness was her strength, fear specifically. An easy target for a sort-of empath like her. Others of her kind could detect a target’s weaknesses through other emotions, but not her.
“Because you resemble her and she’s an assassin in the movies.” He went back to reading.
It was like Quution was sensing her weakness. She hated being dismissed as insignificant. At six feet tall, she was still shorter than many demons. And she was only a half-breed, not full and not terrifying to look at like a full-blood. Like Quution.
Only she wasn’t terrified by him. She was mesmerized. Bizarrely fascinated.
His fangs stuck out so far they pushed his lower lip in. There was nothing attractive about him.
Nebula from the Marvel universe. She’d have to look that up, see herself from Quution’s eyes. Perhaps she would pop into her host just to check. It was another way to delay her report to another member of the Circle. Spaeth. She despised the male, but he currently had her by the short hairs—or would have, if she’d had any hair.
Xan’s brimstone scent filled the room. The sulfur smell was part of him, part of his surroundings, but when Xan entered a room, her brimstone scent was…different. Enticingly different. There was a hint of lavender underneath. A purple flower to match her purple skin, though her hue was much darker.
Her eyes were nearly a solid black, but when he looked close enough—not that he ever did—they were actually a rich eggplant. Swirls of lighter purple lined her skin and were the only reason he hadn’t called her Mystique. Both characters were pigmented and deadly, but Xan’s eyes held a hint of vulnerability. It was why Nebula had popped into his head.
Why she hounded him down here, he couldn’t guess, but she was up to something.
For years, all he’d had were himself and his smarts. Xan had a plan and he was involved and he probably wouldn’t like it.
If he were more ambitious, he’d figure out what she was up to, but part of him didn’t want to know that she wasn’t bugging him because she had a raging crush. Disappointment was too much of a constant companion. As much as loneliness was.
He was so busy searching the records of his kind that she was sometimes the only being he talked to all day. All of his vampire—dare he say friends?—were happily mated and the underworld was fairly stable.
It wouldn’t last forever. There were too many loopholes in their governing system, if he could call it that. Part of the reason he was so isolated was to avoid dominance challenges for his position. One, he didn’t like killing others. Two, it was a time suck. Three, no one could best him anyway.
But the other Circle members were different. Even demons could have an off day and lose a fight, including those who’d won their spot on the Circle. Through meticulous intervention, he’d seeded part of the Circle with half-breeds, but they wouldn’t stay there for long if he didn’t find a way to prevent another upheaval from happening. And he’d bet his left toenails that the full-bloods were planning one. They couldn’t get past being ruled by half-breeds, and they certainly resented the necessity of cavorting with vampires to access the human realm. How full-bloods could be cunning and manipulative, yet dumb as a stone left him shaking his head.
Demons wanted more access to what they all called the human realm, despite the other creatures that lived there. It was humans that made creatures like him stick to the shadows. Their sheer numbers made them impossible to conquer or enslave, though that didn’t stop demons from trying. His kind wasn’t known for following the rules in any realm.
Xan sauntered closer. It was getting harder and harder to keep his eyes above her collar. She had the ripest breasts. His fangs throbbed every time they were visible in his peripheral vision. Even his prosthetic fangs ached.
The last thing he needed around the demoness was an erection. She’d bite it off and tease him with it.
He might let her.
Only she’d find that he wasn’t all that he seemed and he couldn’t let that happen. She couldn’t get under his clothing. He didn’t know who she was spying for, but his half-breed lineage had to stay secret. Full-bloods didn’t exactly trust him, but sometimes they couldn’t help themselves and treated him like “one of them.” To them, any full-blood was better than a half-breed.
Sweet brimstone, he couldn’t wait until he didn’t have to wear this gaudy outfit anymore. Only he wasn’t sure he could wander around nude. He’d been covered up in this realm since he’d first interacted with someone other than his mother. Wearing clothing would be suspicious, especially after what his sire had done, but Quution’s attire served another purpose.
Not many beings could carry items between realms, but he was an energy demon. Every being had energy, electrical currents running through them. Even inanimate objects possessed potential energy, which meant he could manipulate nearly everything. Displaying all his human-realm possessions was a show of his power, and a reminder of the bounty he could share with his full-blood “allies”—if he chose to. That Xan meddled with him when she thought he was a full-blood was either a show of her own power or… He wasn’t sure what. He couldn’t figure her out.
“What do all the vamps call you?” Her purr was too close to his ear. “Q?”
“Yes. Sometimes.” His brother especially. He fought the urge to tell her more. Was that one of her powers? Or just the allure of a beautiful demon?
Funny, he’d thought that with all his studies, he’d fall for a human. A vampire at the very least. Why a demon?
She cocked her head and arched a black brow. “Whatcha reading, Q?” Her gaze brushed the page, but a small frown marred her lush lips.
He studied her closely. Not a hardship, but he had to know if she could understand what was on the page.
She couldn’t. Her expression remained blank, though, with a hint of frustration. Since she’d rattled off titles absent from his library, he guessed she couldn’t read many languages, if any at all. Not many demons could. Why educate a population you want to control? had been the former Circle’s attitude.
He wouldn’t be able to read, either, except that having been imprisoned with his mother for much of his early life, he’d learned to pass the time. “I’m catching up on Albrecht Dürer’s theories for the geometrical construction of complex polyhedra.” Watching her reaction, he waited for her to call bullshit.
“Why would you read that?” She brushed a long finger over the page. Was that reverence in her eyes?
Ah. She wanted to know how to read.
She stiffened and slid off the table. “My mind is as sharp as my claws, demon.”
His gaze touched on where her round, muscular ass had been. What he wouldn’t give for just one chance to ogle her properly. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Two main reasons. He’d seen firsthand what unwanted male attention did to a female. And he’d also seen the atrocious fallout of a male trying to pull off full-blooded status and what it had done to him and his mate—and their young.
Xan wasn’t staying away from him no matter how much he tried to evade her, so he’d have to stoop to insults. Because if she was even a little bit receptive to his lack of charm, he might be willing to throw his life’s plans away.