A thin line of drool escaped McKenzie’s gaping mouth, dropping down his chin.
“Now go away before I change my mind.” Roth waved his hand, dismissing the man.
Stiffly, McKenzie turned around and went back into his office, a strange wet spot spreading down his leg.
“Uh...is he going to remember any of that?” I stepped away from Roth, clutching my bag close to my body. God, this demon’s abilities were astronomical. I didn’t know whether I was more frightened or impressed.
“Only that food is his worst nightmare now. Seemed kind of fitting, don’t you think?”
I raised a brow. “How did you know all of that?”
Roth shrugged, the light fading from his eyes. “We’re attuned to all things evil.”
“That’s not much of an explanation.”
“Didn’t intend for it to be.” He took my hand again. “Now let’s get back to business. We’ve got a zombie to check out.”
I bit my lip, weighing my options. I was already way too late to join class and there was a zombie in my school, which I should check out for Abbot’s sake. But Roth was a demon—a demon who followed me to school.
Roth sighed beside me. “Look. You do realize I can’t really make you do anything you don’t want to do, right?”
I peeked up at him. “What do you mean?”
His stare turned incredulous. “Do you know anything about what you are?” He searched my face, gaining the answer to his question. “You aren’t susceptible to demon persuasion. Just like I can’t sway a demon or a Warden to do something they don’t want.”
“Oh.” How I was supposed to know that was beyond me. It wasn’t as if there was a demon operation manual or something. “So why do you want me to check out the zombie thing? Shouldn’t the idea of a zombie running amok in a high school be a good thing for you?”
Roth shrugged. “I’m bored.”
Irritated, I tried to pull my hand free. “Can you ever give a straight answer?”
Something flashed in his eyes. “Okay. You want the truth? I’m here because of you. Yes, you heard that right. And don’t ask me why, because we don’t have time right now and you wouldn’t believe me anyway. You’re part Warden and if you get bitten by the zombie, then you will get infected. Maybe not completely batshit crazy like humans, but crazy enough to make my job harder.”
My heart rate quadrupled. “Why—why are you here because of me?”
“For the love of all unholy things, why must you be so difficult? I apologized for calling you a prude. I’ll even apologize for yesterday. I scared you. I threw your cell in a toilet. See, I was raised in Hell. You could say I’m socially awkward.”
Awkward was not one of the descriptions that came to mind for him. He had a sort of fluid grace that was otherworldly and predatory. “This is weird, even for me,” I admitted.
“But better than gym class, right?”
Most things were better than gym class. “I want to know why your being here has anything to do with me.”
“Like I said, you wouldn’t believe me.” When I held my ground, he said something too low and quick for me to understand. I wasn’t even sure it was English, but it sounded like a curse. “I’m not here to hurt you, okay? I’m the very last thing you should be worried about.”
Taken aback by that, I could only stare as realization smacked me upside the head. For some reason—I didn’t know why—I...I believed him. Maybe it had to do with the fact that if Roth wanted to harm me, he could’ve done so by now. Or maybe I was just incredibly stupid and had a death wish. And the idea of going to gym class did suck.
I sighed. “Okay, but you have to tell me why you’re here when we’re done.”
My gaze dropped to our clasped hands. Warmth had traveled up my arm, and I really didn’t trust that feeling. “And you don’t need to hold my hand.”
“But what if I get scared?”
Several seconds passed and then he released my hand. Scratching his chin, he shrugged. “Okay. It’s a deal, but if you want to hold my hand later, you’re out of luck.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
Roth slipped his hands into the pockets of his black jeans as he rocked back on his heels. “Are you happy now? Can we go?”
“All right,” I said. “Fine.”
He shot me a wide smile, flashing two perfectly placed dimples I hadn’t seen before. He looked almost normal when he smiled like that, but the perfection of his face still seemed unreal.
I tore my gaze from him, walking forward. “Where is it again?”
“The boiler room in the basement. And it’s probably going to smell worse down there.”
I’d forgotten about the smell somehow. “So you guys keep track of other demons and stuff?”
Roth nodded as he shouldered the double doors open. “Yes.”
I caught the door before it slammed shut, easing it closed. “And you let them infect humans even though it’s against the rules?”
Heading down the steps, he glanced back. He was humming under his breath, a song that was faintly familiar. “Yes.”
I followed him, gripping the rail with damp fingers. Something felt as if it was nesting in my stomach. “The Alphas forbid that kind of stuff. You’re only allowed—”
“I know. We’re only allowed to nudge humans, but never outright manipulate, infect and/or kill, and blah, blah. Free will is bullshit.” He laughed and jumped off the step, landing nimbly on the cement. “We’re demons. Rules kind of only apply to us when we want them to.”
“Free will isn’t bullshit, Roth.”
He stopped suddenly in front of me and our eyes locked. “Say it again.”
I frowned. “Say what?”
The dimples appeared again. “Did you know that was the first time you’ve used my name? I’ve decided I quite like hearing you say it. But back to my point—free will is bullshit. No one really has free will.”
I couldn’t look away. “That’s not true. We all have it.”
Roth came up a step, towering over me. I wanted to back down, but I forced myself to stand still. “You have no idea,” he said, eyes glinting like chips of tawny jewels. “None of us do. Especially not the Wardens or the demons. We all have orders, ones that we must obey. In the end, we always do what we’re told. The idea of free will is a joke.”
I felt sorry for him if he truly believed that. “I make choices every day—my choices. If you have no free will, then what kind of purpose would you even have in life?”
“What kind of purpose does a demon have? Hmm?” He tapped his chin with the tip of his finger. “Should I coerce a politician to turn dirty or should I save a kitten from a tree today? Wait. I’m a demon. I’m going to—”
“You don’t have to be sarcastic.”
“I’m not. I’m just giving you an example of how we are who we are—what we’re born to be. Our paths are clearly laid out in front of us. There is no changing that. No free will.”