The corners of his lips tipped higher. “Fear has a sharp, bitter scent. I can smell that on you. Anger is like a chili pepper—it’s hot and it burns. And I can smell that, too.” Roth paused, and somehow, he was even closer. So close that when he spoke next, his lips brushed the corner of mine. “Ah, yes...and then there’s attraction. Sweet, tangy and heavy—it’s my favorite of them all. And guess what?”
I strained back against the wall. “You do not smell that on me, buddy.”
He reclaimed the distance with little effort. “That’s the funny thing about denial. It makes for a really bad weapon. You can say you’re not attracted to me all you want and maybe you don’t even know it yet, but I know differently.”
My mouth dropped open. “You need to get your demon nose looked at, then, because it’s seriously broken.”
Roth leaned back, tapping a long finger on the tip of my nose. “This has never lied before.” But he did step away. Though the smug grin remained on his face like his lips had been made for it, his next words were laced with seriousness. “You need to stop tagging.”
Grateful for the breathing room, I let out a ragged breath and clutched the edges of the sink. Now it made sense—this Upper Level demon showing interest in me. “What? Have I tagged too many of your friends?”
One dark brow arched. “I frankly don’t care how many demons you tag or how many the Wardens send back to Hell. As you can see, your glow-in-the-dark touch doesn’t work on me.”
I frowned as I eyed him. Crap. He was right. And I hadn’t even noticed it until now. Nice.
“It doesn’t work on any Upper Level demon. We’re just too cool for that.” Roth folded muscular arms across his chest. “But back to the whole tagging thing. You need to stop.”
I barked out a short laugh. “Yeah, and why in the world would I do that?”
A bored look crept across his striking features. “I could give you one good reason. The Seeker last night was looking for you.”
My mouth opened, because I’d been preparing another dismissive laugh, but the sound caught in my throat. Fear was back, and rightfully so. Had I heard the demon correctly?
A keen light reflected in his eyes. “Hell is looking for you, Layla. And they’ve found you. Don’t go out tagging.”
My heart pumped painfully as I stared at him. “You’re lying.”
He laughed under his breath. “Let me ask you a question. Did you just have a birthday? Turn seventeen recently? Say, within the past couple of days?”
I could only stare at him. My birthday had been just three days ago, on Saturday. I’d gone out to dinner with Stacey and Sam. Zayne even joined us. During dessert, Stacey had tried to get Zayne to tie a cherry stem with his tongue.
The smirk was back. “And yesterday was the first day you tagged since then, right? Hmm...and a Seeker finds you. Interesting.”
“I don’t see the connection,” I managed. “You’re probably lying, anyway. You’re a demon! You expect me to believe anything you’re saying?”
“And you’re a demon. No—don’t interrupt me with your denial. You’re a demon, Layla.”
“Half,” I muttered.
His eyes narrowed. “You have no reason to think I’m not telling you the truth. I also have a thousand reasons to lie to you, but the whole tagging thing? I’m not kidding. It’s not safe.”
The bell rang, startling me. I stared at him, wishing Hell would open up and welcome him back with open arms.
Roth glanced at the door, frowning. He turned back to me, lips curving into a strange smile. “I mean it. Don’t tag after school.” He pivoted around. At the door, he stopped and looked over his shoulder. His eyes met mine. “By the way, I wouldn’t tell your family about me. I’m afraid you’d find out just how much they really do care for you.”
* * *
My brain was having a hard time processing Roth’s sudden appearance. Telling me that I was attracted to him? Ordering me to stop tagging? Who in the Hell did he think he was? First off, he was a demon—a hot demon—but ew. There was no reason for me to believe anything he said. Second, he wasn’t just any demon, but an Upper Level one. Double the reason not to trust him.
He might have been right when he said I didn’t know a lot about my heritage, but I knew my demons. Hundreds of years ago, there’d been a race of them that could pluck up a soul just by touching a human. They’d been called the Lilin, and they’d been wiped off the planet by the Wardens. Sure, there were still succubi and incubi who fed off the energy of humans, but in this day and age, the ability to completely take a soul was rare. Abilities and traits in the demon world were hereditary, just like in the human world.
The first stirring of unease I’d felt upon hearing Roth’s words tripled.
If the other demon he’d mentioned, “the one before me,” was my mom and she was still alive... I couldn’t even finish that thought without my chest squeezing. Because even though mommy dearest was a demon, the fact that she hadn’t wanted me still hurt. The only good that could come out of discovering who she was would be learning what kind of demon she was, and who knew if that would actually be a good thing.
At lunch, I managed to convince Stacey that faking sick had been my last-minute solution to getting out of the bio exam. She bombarded me with questions, wanting to know how I’d met Roth.
“Met who?” Sam asked, shrugging off his backpack and sitting down next to us.
“No one,” I muttered.
“Whatever. Layla ditched us last night so she could shack up with this superhot new guy.” Stacey pointed her square slice of pizza at me. “You dirty ho. I’m so envious.”
“Layla hooked up with someone?” Sam laughed as he popped open his soda. “Was it a Warden? Wow.”
Pulled back into the present, I frowned. “No. It wasn’t a Warden. And what the Hell is that supposed to mean?”
Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. I just can’t picture you hooking up with anyone.” He took his glasses off, using his shirt to rub them clean. “And I assumed he was a Warden or something. Who else gets Stacey all crazy?”
Stacey took a bite of her pizza. “He was...wow.”
“Hold on a sec. Why can’t you picture me hooking up with anyone?” I sat back in the chair. I had this ridiculous urge to prove I was hookup material.
Sam shifted uncomfortably. “It’s not that people wouldn’t want to hook up with you.... It’s that, well, you know...”
“No. I don’t know. Please elaborate, Samuel.”
Stacey sighed, taking pity on him. “What Sam is trying to say is that we can’t picture you hooking up with anyone because you don’t really pay attention to guys that way.”
I started to disagree, because I totally paid attention to guys. But I was always on the sidelines, which probably made me seem uninterested. The truth was I was so interested. It was just that I couldn’t have a relationship with anyone who had a soul, and that really limited the whole dating pool.
“I hate you both,” I grumbled, attacking my pizza with a vengeance.
“All right, as much as I love talking about hot guys, can we change the subject?” Sam poked his slice around the plate, watching Stacey from under his lashes. “Guess what I learned last night.”