“What’s up, Layla-bug?” he asked.
Part of me loved it when he used my childhood nickname. The other part—the part that wasn’t a little girl anymore—loathed it. I peeked at him through my lashes. He was fully clothed now. What a shame. “Who’s on the roof?”
He sat beside me. “A few travelers from out of town needed a place to rest. Abbot offered them beds, but they preferred the roof. They didn’t—” He stopped suddenly, leaning forward, grabbing my leg. “Why are your knees scuffed up?”
My brain sort of shorted out the moment his hand touched my bare leg. A hot flush stole over my cheeks, spreading way, way down. I gazed at his high cheekbones and those lips—oh, God, those lips were perfect. A thousand fantasies blossomed. All of them involved him, me and the ability to kiss him without sucking out his soul.
“Layla, what did you get into tonight?” He dropped my leg.
I shook my head, dispelling those hopeless dreams. “Um...well, nothing.”
Zayne moved closer, staring at me as if he could see through my lies. He had an uncanny ability to do so. But if I told him everything, like the Upper Level demon part, they’d never let me leave the house alone. I liked my freedom. It was about the only thing I had.
I sighed. “I thought I was following a Poser.”
“And you weren’t?”
“Nope.” I wished he’d touch my leg again. “It turned out to be a Seeker pretending to be a Poser.”
Amazing how quickly he went from superhot guy to all serious-faced Warden. “What do you mean the Seeker was pretending?”
I forced a casual shrug. “I really don’t know. I saw it in McDonald’s. It had the appetite of a Poser and behaved like one, so I followed it. Turned out it wasn’t a Poser, but I tagged him.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” His brow pinched, a common expression whenever he was turning over something in his head. “Seeker demons are errand boys, or they’re summoned by some idiot to find something stupid like frog eyes or the blood of a bald eagle for a spell that will inevitably backfire. Pretending to be a Poser is not typical.”
I remembered what the Seeker had said. Gotcha. As if it had been looking for me. I knew I needed to tell Zayne that, but his father was already a spaz when it came to where I went and who I was with. And Zayne was pretty much required to tell his father everything since Abbot was the head of the D.C. clan of Wardens. Besides, I had to have misheard the Seeker, and demons rarely had a reason for doing weird or unexpected things. They were demons. Explanation enough.
“Are you okay?” Zayne asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I paused. “I did lose my phone, though.”
He laughed, and oh man, I loved the sound of his laugh. Deep. Rich. “Jesus, Layla, how many does that make so far this year?”
“Five.” I stared at his heavily stocked bookcases, sighing. “Abbot isn’t going to get me another one. He thinks I lose them on purpose. I don’t. They just...unfriend me.”
Zayne laughed again, nudging me with his denim-clad knee. “How many did you tag tonight?”
I thought about the few hours after school, before I met up with Stacey and Sam. “Nine. Two were Posers and the rest were Fiends, with the exception of the Seeker.” Which Zayne would probably never find since there was a good chance Bambi had eaten it.
Zayne gave a low whistle. “Nice. I’ll have a busy night.”
And that was what Wardens did. Generation after generation, they’d been keeping the demon population in check since long before they went public. I was only seven when it happened, so I didn’t remember how the public responded. I’m sure the big reveal included a whole lot of freaking out. Oddly enough, I moved in with them around the same time.
The Alphas, the angelic guys who ran the show, understood that there needed to be good and bad in the world—the Law of Balance. But something happened ten years ago. Demons began pouring through the portals by the buttload, creating chaos as they wreaked havoc on everything they came in contact with. Possession of humans became a huge problem, and things spiraled out of control at that point. Hell’s lovelies no longer wanted to stay in the shadows and the Alphas couldn’t have mankind knowing that demons were real. Abbot once told me it had to do with free will and faith. Man needed to believe in God without knowing Hell truly existed. Willing to do anything to keep mankind in the dark about the demons, the Alphas had issued their mandate. Seemed like a big risk and that humans would eventually add one plus one and get demons, but what did I know?
Only a select few humans knew the truth. Besides Morris, there were some within the police departments, the government and surely military personnel around the world who knew demons existed. Those humans had their own reasons for keeping the general populace in the dark, reasons that had nothing to do with faith. The world would descend into chaos if humans knew demons were ordering their morning coffee right alongside them.
But that was the way it worked. Wardens helped the police departments with capturing criminals, and some of those criminals hunted down were demons, who may have had a get-out-of-jail-free card, but who went straight back to Hell and did not pass Go. If the demons ever exposed themselves to the world, the Alphas would destroy all the demons that were topside, including my happy half-demon butt.
“Things are getting kind of crazy,” he said, mostly to himself. “There’s a Hell of a lot more Poser activity. Some of the Wardens in different districts have even run into Hellions.”
My eyes popped. “Hellions?”
As Zayne nodded, an image of the overgrown, beastly things formed in my thoughts. Hellions weren’t supposed to be topside. They were like cracked-out mutant apes and pit bulls rolled into one.
Zayne bent at the waist, rummaging under his bed. Strands of hair fell forward, obscuring his face. I could openly gawk now. Zayne was only four years older than me, but being a Warden, he was a lot more mature than most human guys his age. I knew everything about him, except what he really looked like.
That was the thing about gargoyles. The skin they wore during the day wasn’t who they were. For the millionth time, I wondered about Zayne’s real appearance. His human skin was hotness, but unlike the others he never allowed me to see his true form.
And since I was only half-Warden, I couldn’t shift like a normal one could. I was permanently stuck in human form, irrevocably flawed. Wardens typically didn’t do well with flaws. If it wasn’t for my unique ability to see souls and tag those who lacked them, I’d be pretty damn useless in the big scheme of things.
Zayne sat up, a lump of stuffed fur in his hand. “Look who I found. You left him in here a couple of nights ago.”
“Mr. Snotty!” I grabbed the raggedy teddy bear, grinning. “I was wondering where he was.”
His lips curved into a smile. “I can’t believe you still have that bear.”
I flopped onto my back, clutching Mr. Snotty to my chest. “You gave him to me.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“He’s my favorite stuffed animal.”
“He’s your only stuffed animal.” Zayne stretched out beside me, staring up at the ceiling. “You came home earlier than I expected. I thought you were studying with your friends?”