“Looks like we’re taking the stairs,” Rocco said and scowled at the out of order sign taped to the elevator.
Zenon looked at the other knight and shrugged, trying to appear unaffected when he was anything but. He still didn’t know why he’d come, why he’d forced the issue when Chaos had tried to discourage him.
Zenon never went on retrievals. Ever.
But this morning something had hit him—Christ, immobilized him—and then he’d felt…something. He was used to pain, but this, the feeling that had him crying out, tearing him from sleep, was different. Nothing like he’d felt before.
Fuck. This was a mistake. He should have stayed behind.
Rocco kept with the jaw flapping as they took the stairs, grinning, treating him like he was just another male, like he could be Lazarus or Gunner or Kryos.
Any one of his brothers.
Yeah, they were all knights of Hell, demon hunters, made up of the same basic DNA, but that’s where it ended. Because other than that, Zenon was nothing like them. Never had been and never would be.
Even now, after all this time, he expected the males he lived and fought beside to suddenly cry uncle, to realize the mistake they’d made, and kick his worthless ass to the curb. Or worse, back to Hell.
It hadn’t happened yet, and until it did, he’d fight beside them, with them, in a world that still felt foreign, a world touched by warmth and light instead of unrelenting darkness and pain.
He was a knight, not by choice but by birth—the fucked-up result of an unholy union between fallen angels and Kishi demons.
“Shit, this place is a dump.” Rocco stopped in front of a scarred wooden door, a frown on his handsome face.
Zenon couldn’t say one way or the other. His entire focus was centered on the weird vibes coming out of the apartment in front of him.
Something wasn’t right; something more than the usual shit anyway. But with every step he’d taken toward that door, the tingly, prickly sensation at the base of his spine had intensified.
Rocco released an exaggerated breath. “Can you unclench your jaw or something? Jesus, you look like someone’s giving you a wedgie.”
Zenon would have told him to go get fucked, but for Rocco that was a given. And since speaking wasn’t an option right then, he pinned the other knight with a stare that said everything he couldn’t.
“Just a thought. But if you’re okay with the whole nuts-in-vise look you’ve got going on, then so am I.” Rocco gave him another head to toe, shook his head then knocked.
Zenon held his breath.
At the sound of several locks releasing, he reached back, wrapped his fingers around the hilt of the blade he had concealed under his jacket, and braced for what might be on the other side.
The door opened a crack, then wider, and the female demi-demon they’d come for poked her head out. A pair of big blue eyes lifted to meet theirs and her pretty pink mouth dropped open, followed by a kind of strangled sound in the back of her throat.
Zenon released his knife and took a startled step back. Like a champagne cork popping, the weird sensation he’d woken with shot up his spinal cord and nailed him in the back of the skull with the force of a fucking two-by-four.
Whatever this female’s power was, it was seriously messing with him.
His fight or flight instincts fired to life, and zeroed in on the defenseless female in front of them. She was no threat to him—he knew this—but right then he wanted to turn around and get as far away from her as fast as he could.
It took all his strength not to turn around and leave a Zenon-sized hole in the wall in his rush to get the hell away.
Which was screwed up and made no sense whatsoever.
Rocco stepped forward and introduced himself. The guy plastered a smile on his pretty face and some of the tension left her shoulders. Rocco had a way with females. They liked him. A lot. This one was no different.
Her bright blue gaze darted to Zenon then back to Roc, and she opened the door wider. “I’m Mia. You, ah, got here fast.”
“I would never leave a damsel in distress,” Roc drawled, and the female blushed.
For some reason, seeing her respond to the other knight’s easy charm had Zenon fighting the urge to introduce Rocco’s forehead to the wall.
She invited them in, and ducking so they didn’t brain themselves on the doorframe, they followed.
Her place was sparsely furnished, and what she did have was worn out and old. She didn’t have any of that knickknacky crap Kryos’s and Lazarus’s mates had scattered all over their apartments either.
She stood in front of them, waiting expectantly. Zenon retreated a few steps. Better Rocco did the talking. Communication of any kind, dealing with humans—or any species for that matter—was not where his skills lay. If he tried, he’d just mess it up.
“We have a room all ready for you at our compound, and the plane to take us home will be touching down in an hour or so,” Rocco said.
He and Roc had flown the old-fashioned way. Wing power was still the quickest way to fly, but when they transported new demi-demons they used a plane. Not just because carrying someone while flying was an extremely intimate act, but because most new demi were freaking the fuck out, and holding onto someone fighting and screaming was just too dangerous. Something the knights used to do for a lot of years before humans got it together and came up with alternative options for transportation.
Demi-demons like Mia—half human, half demon hybrids—were a hot commodity among full-blooded demons, and were bought and sold as slaves for their unique abilities. A new demi’s powers reached a peak exactly one month after they developed, when all that unstable energy could no longer be contained and escaped in a rush. An inbuilt sense, kind of like an alarm going off, alerted the knights when that happened. It was their job to get there first before they could be captured by rogue demons or, worse, taken to Hell where suffering took on a whole new meaning.
But this morning Mia had called them, asking to be picked up, which had surprised the hell out of all of them. And for some fucked up reason, he stepped forward. Unsurprisingly, he’d received more than a few worried glances from his brothers.
Zenon kept all contact with the demi-demons they rescued to a minimum. He fought, he hunted…and he killed. He wasn’t good at putting people at ease, wasn’t good at small talk. Not like Rocco.
Rocco’s gaze softened, waiting for the meltdown that would come next. Not many handled leaving everything they knew behind and never looking back well. But Mia just nodded with a small lift of her lips. “I’m all packed and ready to go.”
Zenon didn’t usually pay much attention to the females he encountered, but this one was, well, she was different. He couldn’t work out how, there was just…something. She was short—five-six, maybe five-seven, but then most people seemed short to him. Being well over six feet that was a given. Her body was rounded, soft, and her skin—her skin looked pale and smooth. His fingers twitched at his side. What would it feel like?
He frowned at the uncharacteristic thought.
She wore jeans and a pale green sweater that highlighted a narrow waist. And her long red hair—shit, it glowed. Yeah, she was—lovely. There was no other way to describe her.
He couldn’t sense what type of demon had sired her, but whatever it was had resulted in delicate facial features and a pink heart-shaped mouth that Zenon thought might taste sweet, like cotton candy.
He tore his gaze from her.
What the hell? Cotton candy?
He studied the tiny apartment, looking anywhere but at the pixie-featured female smiling openly at Rocco. People didn’t like it when he looked at them, especially females, so he fought the unfamiliar impulse to do just that.
“I’ve heard so much about all of you from Chaya,” she said.
Rocco smiled back, charming as always. “Your sister did a good job teaching you to block that initial rush of power, Mia. None of us sensed you this morning.”
Zenon shot a glance at the other knight. What was he talking about? He’d woken up, gut in knots, skin tingling, more than aware of the new demi-demon throwing out enough energy to light up every apartment in Roxburgh. Whatever she was, he’d never felt anything like it before.
“I thought I’d be okay on my own. Chaya was going to see me through the transition, but I, well…I think I’m going to need more help than she can give me.” She lifted her hand, and Zenon sucked in a breath as delicate flames licked across the tips of her slender fingers. Her waist-length red hair lifted and flew around her face and shoulders like she was surrounded by a mini tornado.
“Jesus.” Rocco looked back at him. “You seen anything like that before?”
He shook his head, making sure to keep his gaze on Roc and not Mia. She’d been darting glances at him since they’d arrived, but he knew it was more morbid curiosity than genuine interest.
“Your and Chaya’s father, do you know what breed of demon he was?” Rocco asked.
The fact that this female had a sister was an oddity, one they’d never encountered before. Demi-demons were usually conceived through the most despicable act of violence, but from what Mia had told Chaos over the phone that morning, their mother had loved the male who’d sired them.
She dropped her hands, and the wind stopped. Her straight glossy hair drifted back into place, settling at her waist. “No, and our mother never told us.”
“Do you know where we can find him?”
She shook her head. “Sorry. He disappeared when I was a baby.”
Her phone started up, the ringtone “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”
Roc snorted, a grin spreading across his face.
She raced to the tatty old couch in the corner and rummaged through her bag. Face flushed, she answered. “Chay?”
There was a pause as she listened. “Yes, they’re here now.” Another pause. “It’s Rocco and…um.” She glanced up at him, brow scrunched, and he realized he hadn’t told her his name.
He remembered Chaya at the compound a year ago. Their features were similar, elfin, delicate. Their figures, too—voluptuous, rounded…soft. But where Chaya was dark, her sister had fair skin and vibrant red hair.
Rocco cleared his throat. “You gonna tell her your name or glower at her all morning, Zen?”
The phone at her ear creaked, like she’d tightened her fingers around the thing. Mia bit her lip and blinked up at him. Afraid.
“Zenon.” It came out a growl, and she flinched. He quickly averted his gaze so she wouldn’t have to look at him.
“Jesus Christ,” Rocco muttered.
He tried to shrug it off. Her reaction to him shouldn’t matter. It sure as hell wasn’t anything new. He had that effect on most everyone. But for some reason, her fear pissed him off. He could smell it, bitter and dark. Fear usually fueled him, but he didn’t like it coming from that female. He didn’t know why he gave two fucks, but he did, and that just made him angrier.
He turned his back on her and stared out the window in an attempt to pull his shit together. And as he suspected, with his ugly mug facing the other direction, the bitter smell faded, replaced by her own wholly unique scent.
She repeated his name to her sister, and his stomach clenched at the sound of it coming from her lips.
The feeling was foreign, odd. He couldn’t name it or place its source, but it moved up, squeezing behind his ribs in the center of his chest.
Maybe he’d burned his energy stores already? He thought he’d be okay for another couple of weeks. Yeah, the pain was there, but it was always there. He knew from experience it would only be a matter of time before it became too much, until he could barely walk, his skin burning like acid, like his flesh was being flayed from his bones. Then and only then would he go groveling for what he needed.
A crawling sensation traveled across his skin at the memory of the last time. Cold, grasping hands tearing at his skin…pain, humiliation.
He sucked in a breath and forced the memory from his mind, allowing his senses to return to the female at his back. She’d been quiet for a long time. But he didn’t need to hear the conversation to know Chaya was warning her sister about him. The demi they rescued and took back to their compound were trained to block and control their new powers so when they were released back into the world they would remain safe, undetectable to the demons that would hunt them.
Zenon wasn’t on the training schedule. In fact, he barely interacted with the demi there unless he had to. It was counterproductive. They took one look at him, or heard his voice, and lost their shit.
A demi with untrained powers could wipe out an entire town if left to their own devices, and after several incidents he’d been encouraged by Chaos, their leader, to take a step back. He’d only relented and allowed Zenon to come today because they had another retrieval elsewhere and were short a man.
He didn’t give a fuck what Chaya thought about him, but for some reason her warning Mia to stay away from him pushed him close to the edge, drew his demon to the surface, and sent another lance of anger tearing through his gut. He gritted his teeth.
Keep it the fuck together.
“Okay, Chay. I will…yes…I promise…love you, too.” There was a rustling sound then silence.
“You ready to head out?” Rocco asked. “Gunner should be landing shortly.”
He tried to fight it, but he couldn’t stop himself from turning to look at her. She smiled, but it was forced. “Absolutely.”
Rocco walked up and draped his arm around her shoulders, giving her a friendly squeeze. “You’re gonna be all right, Mia. I promise.”
The unreasonable anger he’d been fighting to keep under wraps ripped from his chest by way of an unexpected growl. It tore through the silence and both Roc and Mia spun to face him. Roc looked pissed and Mia more terrified than she’d been moments ago.
Rocco scowled. “What the fuck is your problem?”
He didn’t know what to say, couldn’t explain what had caused his reaction if he tried. But then, he never explained himself to any of the males he fought alongside. Instead, he grabbed her bags and headed for the door. “I’ll meet you downstairs,” he muttered.
The silence left in his wake was deafening.
Mia stared out the window. The sky was clear blue above the cloud bank. Beautiful. And though she was looking, it wasn’t the view that had her focus. How could it when her mind was in such a whirl? Her belly fluttered madly with both excitement and stomach-twisting nerves. Her life would never be the same again. Finally, she could start living.
Plus, it was kind of hard to relax when she was trapped twenty thousand feet in the air with two huge males—well, three if you included the pilot, another knight, named Gunner.
She glanced away from the window to the seats across from her, and her nerves shot higher. Okay, Zenon was still looking at her, and he was still scowling. She couldn’t see those yellow eyes with his chin dipped, hiding behind his hair, but she could feel that cold stare like ice sliding across her skin.
What was his problem?
Dammit, for some reason she couldn’t stop her gaze from drifting back to him every few minutes, and every time she did, he caught her and scowled harder.
The big male was intimidating, and the fact that he hardly spoke put her on edge. But that unease got a hell of a lot worse when he did force himself to talk. One-word, snapped out answers that sounded like rusted steel grated against concrete.
And after Chaya warned her to keep away from him, that he was known to be unpredictable and unstable, well, it didn’t help settle her nerves any.
Rocco was trying a little harder, and grinned her way every so often. But he also kept sending her puzzled looks, like he was trying to figure her out and failing miserably. She got the curiosity. Her situation was different than other demi-demons’. But she was starting to feel like the bearded lady at a circus.
So much for finding a place where she would finally be accepted.
Rocco twitched and shifted in his seat like he was having trouble sitting still. “So what are your plans after your training’s complete?”
“I’ll join Chaya. Brent said he’d give me a job in his club.” Her sister’s boss was a demi-demon as well and had given her sister a job when she left the compound.
Rocco raised a brow. “You know what kind of club it is, right?”
Inwardly she rolled her eyes. “I don’t plan on donning a leather corset and whip. I’ve worked a bar before.”
That handsome grin turned wicked. “I don’t know, I kinda like the corset and whip idea.” He held her stare for several seconds too long and she felt her face burn. With the blue-tipped mohawk and tattoos and facial piercings, he had the whole sexy bad-boy-rocker thing going on, and he knew it, too.
“Not really my style,” she muttered.
He shrugged his big shoulders. “Shame.” Then he opened a small bag of peanuts and started tossing them in his mouth.
Zenon, who hadn’t said a word for the last half hour and didn’t appear to be in the mood to change that anytime soon, turned sharply toward Rocco. His chest expanded and a low, rough sound rumbled from him.
Oh God. Was that another growl?
“What?” Rocco asked, looking completely unaffected by Mr. Unpredictable. Zenon stared back with those cold eyes. He wasn’t even looking at her, but Mia couldn’t help squirming in her seat.
“Someone’s cranky.” Rocco shook his head then tossed another peanut into his mouth.
“Get fucked,” Zenon fired back.
Well, at least now she knew he could string two words together if need be. The tension in the room shot through the roof. Mia needed a break from all the testosterone humming through the cabin before she broke out in a nervous rash.
The speaker crackled above her head and Gunner’s deep voice spoke to them. “Down in twenty.” There was another crackle then it was quiet.
Obviously another male who was economical with words. Mia rose and both Zenon and Rocco turned to her. Her face heated. Again. “I just need to use the, um”—she pointed to the rear of the plane—“the bathroom.” Zenon quickly looked down, and Rocco just continued to grin. Jesus. Scooting out of her seat, she hustled to the tiny room and shut herself in.
She took a moment to calm her frayed nerves and splashed cold water on her face. She could do this. Her sister managed it, and so could she. She just had to get through her training then she could start her new life. A life she’d had on hold for far too long.
That’s what she needed to focus on. Her plans had changed, but she could work with it. It turned out her powers weren’t anything like Chaya’s. They’d been wrong, which meant her sister couldn’t train her like they’d hoped. So there’d been a small bump in the road. Did it really matter? The end result would be the same. It would just take a bit longer to get there. Big deal, right?
She was doing the right thing. This would all be a bad memory in a matter of weeks. Then she could be with her sister again. Chaya might be a hell-raiser, constantly dragging her into her drama, but Mia missed her terribly. They hadn’t seen each other since she came into her powers and relocated to Chicago.
She splashed some water on her face, dried off, and pulled her hair back in a ponytail. She stared at herself in the mirror and hated how pale and frightened she looked. “Pull it together, Mia. You just have to get past this last hurdle.”
When she walked back out, Zenon was alone, and after the dire warnings from her sister, Mia felt her fear spike.
Her step faltered. “Where’s Rocco?”
Zenon didn’t look at her but tilted his head toward the cockpit.
The silence stretched out until it became unbearable. She told herself to keep her mouth shut, but words started tumbling out to break the silence before she could stop herself. “So how long does it usually take for a demi to master their powers? I mean, I knew this whole demon power thing was coming and all, and would take some getting used to, but I’m guessing everyone’s different? Timewise, I mean. You know, it’s weird, but when you guys were close, I actually felt you coming. Well, not Rocco. Totally freaky, right? Is that normal?”
Oh God, she was babbling, but the guy made her so nervous. His head shot up and his glare had morphed into a frown. When she raised her brows in question, he looked back down. His entire body had gone rigid and his hair hung forward to cover most of his face. “Depends,” he finally said.
“What’s the compound like?”
Okay, they were back to one-word answers. Now would probably be a good time to shut up. Thankfully, Rocco chose that moment to come back in and didn’t stop talking until they’d landed. But Mia couldn’t help sneaking glances at the big male across from her. He sat so still, so quiet, and had barely lifted his head the entire flight.
Despite Chaya’s warnings about him being unstable and dangerous, not to mention her own unease toward him, Mia had the weirdest urge to get close to him. To try and make him talk to her—look at her.
She shook off the feeling. She was being stupid. He’d made it more than clear that he had no interest in doing any of those things. In fact, he’d made it clear he didn’t like her at all.
She needed to get over her desire to have everybody she encountered like her. This was about her training.
So she could join her sister and finally start living.
The drive to the compound was uneventful. Chaya had tried to describe it to her, but it hadn’t prepared her for the sight she faced when the massive gates shuddered open. The large, ominous gray building was cold and uninviting. All the concrete surrounding it made the place seem desolate, like they were the only living things left on Earth.
They drove down a ramp into an underground garage. The temperature dropped, and she hugged herself. But it wasn’t the cold lifting the hairs on her arms. Maybe there’s another way? I shouldn’t have come here.
But even as the thought crossed her mind, she knew there was no other option. Until she learned to shield her powers, this hell on earth was the safest place for her to be.
The car stopped and they climbed out. The big males stuck close to her as they walked toward then stepped into a rusted-out elevator. Her stomach lurched as it started its ascent.
The sheer power emanating from the giants surrounding her made her struggle for breath, but it was the ice sliding across her back that demanded her attention. Zenon.
He was always alert, even with his long black hair hanging over his face, hiding that strange scar on his right cheek, and she knew he missed nothing.
Everything about him was designed to intimidate: the tats that covered his arms, the heavy design that covered every inch of his throat, right up to his jawline. And when he trained those cold, freaky yellow eyes on her, she felt his gaze like a physical thing, like he could see right through her.
It worked, because one look from him and she wanted to run in the other direction.
But something kept her rooted to the spot, no matter how wild and untamed he seemed. It was weird, but it was that part of him, the terrifying part, that drew her, to the point where curiosity overpowered her fear. She’d been the same as a little kid, had hungered to touch something savage and uncontrollable, and that thing inside her—that thing she’d never understood about herself—made her want to reach out to Zenon now, to touch him, to…to what?
Inwardly she shook her head. What the hell is wrong with me?
When Zenon looked at her, it was with distaste—maybe even hate. Had she done something to make him angry? She couldn’t think of anything, but he stared at her like she offended him by breathing. If she ever decided to follow through with the bizarre impulse, he’d more than likely bite her hand off.
The doors slid open and she shook off her crazy thoughts.
“Come on. I’ll show you your room,” Rocco said and strode ahead.
She started to follow, but stopped when she realized the others weren’t coming. She turned and watched as the elevator doors began to slide shut.
Gunner gave her a chin lift. “Later, Mia.”
She smiled and waved, waited for Zenon to look up, to acknowledge her in some small way, but he kept his head down. Then the doors were closed and he was gone.
Yep, the guy hated her guts. Whatever. His bad attitude was his problem. But even as she thought it, she had to fight the urge to go after him and ask why.
Rocco showed her to her room, told her where she could find him if she had any questions, and left her on her own to settle in.
The place was nice. Really nice. Better than any of the apartments she’d lived in with Chaya after their mother passed away. Heck, this was a five-star penthouse compared to the usual one-star hovels they’d lived in.
It took a total of ten minutes to unpack her meager possessions and slide her suitcase under the bed.
Her first training session wasn’t until tomorrow and she still had several hours to kill before bedtime. Her floor housed the demi-demons, and Rocco had said something about a common room on the top floor.
May as well meet the other freaks.