Raw, unbridled panic clawed up my throat as the Rack got a handful of my hair and then grabbed the hand that bore Lilith’s ring.
And then it let go so fast that my head snapped forward. It flew through the air and hit something behind me—maybe a car? Flipping over, I saw Bambi streak across the pavement, hitting the Rack before it could regain its footing. I scanned the parking garage, seeing some piles of ash and some gross-looking gunk, but no more demons.
Roth knelt in front of me, grabbing my wrists. “What the Hell were you thinking, Layla?”
“What?” I tried to pull free, but he flipped my hands over, inspecting my scuffed palms. “I wasn’t just going to stand there. I know how to fight.”
His eyes narrowed on the pink skin and then flipped up to mine. “Who taught you all that? Stony the gargoyle?”
I made a face. “His name is Zayne, and yes.”
Roth shook his head as his thumb smoothed around my palms. “Watching you kick ass was incredibly hot—like really, really hot. But if you ever do anything like that again, I will throw you over my shoulders and spank your—”
“You finish that sentence and I’m going to introduce my knee to a certain part of your anatomy.”
His gaze dropped and he winced. “Okay. You win. I’ve seen your kicks.”
I started to respond, but Bambi slithered up and placed its horse-sized head on my shoulder. Every muscle in my body locked up and I squeezed my eyes shut. There was a puff of air, stirring the hair along my temple. Bambi’s forked tongue shot out, tickling the side of my neck.
“Hey, look, Bambi likes you.”
I pried one eye open. “And if she didn’t?”
“Oh, you’d know, ’cause she would’ve eaten you by now.”
* * *
My palms stung a little, but all in all, it could have been worse. Both of us were alive and Bambi was back where she belonged, on Roth’s skin. Someone was increasing their efforts, and by bringing Rack demons into the mix, things would only get worse from here.
“Do you think your place is safe?”
“No demon would dare to come any closer to my place. And before you accuse me of having an unnecessary ego, there are too many demons here that would get all angry-faced if their turf was invaded.”
I sure hoped that was the case. I really didn’t want a round two with Racks. Adrenaline still coursed through my veins, kicking my heart against my ribs. If I had been alone tagging demons and run into them... I didn’t even want to think about that. Usually demons were nocturnal because it was easier for them to blend in among humans when the sun started to set. For the Racks to be out like that? So not good.
My eyes were peeled wide as we headed through the front door of the apartment building into a brightly lit lobby. The last time I’d been here, I’d gone out the side entrance, so all of this was new to me.
A huge golden chandelier hung from the center of the mural-covered ceiling. The painting was...uh, interesting? Angels covered the vast ceiling, depicted in hard-core battle scenes. They were fighting one another with fiery swords. Some were falling through frothy white clouds. Time had been spent on their expressions. The grimaces of pain and the righteous gleam in their eyes looked far too real.
Old-school leather couches and chairs were spaced under the lighting fixture. The air carried a faint and not unpleasant smell of coffee and tobacco, and it looked like there was a coffee shop or something behind the darkened doors straight across the lobby.
It all had a very old-Hollywood hotel feel to it. I almost expected the ghost of Marilyn Monroe to appear out of thin air. The lobby wasn’t empty, but I was sure nobody here was rocking any human DNA.
Demons were everywhere, sprawled along the couches, talking on cell phones, curled up in chairs, reading books, and some were clustered in small groups.
Roth placed a hand on my back, steering me toward the stairs. “No elevator?” I asked.
“None that you’d want to get on.” At the look on my face, he smiled. “The elevators here only go down.”
Whoa. I’d known there were...doorways all around the city and the world. Common sense said there had to be, because how else would demons go back and forth? But no one, and especially not the Wardens, knew where they were, and I’d definitely never seen one. The fact that Roth would bring me here and tell me there was a portal was astronomically stupid.
In the stairwell, he slid me a knowing look. “I trust that you will not tell Stony about our elevator system.”
The thing was, I wasn’t planning to. I kept thinking of the Fiends and those in the lobby. They all looked so...so normal.
“Layla?” he questioned.
“I won’t.” And I meant that. “Besides, I’ve kept my mouth shut about everything else and I’m supposed to be at school right now.”
He nodded and we headed upstairs. Seeing his loft again—his bed—left me feeling out of sorts. While Roth went over to his piano, I mumbled something about going to the bathroom and ducked inside it. My face felt ungodly hot, my pulse out of control.
His bathroom was nice, surprisingly tidy and spacious. I hadn’t noticed that last time. Matching black towels hung beside the clawed tub and shower stall. The faucets were gilded in gold. I had a feeling it was real gold, too. I took my time, trying to calm the pounding in my chest.
I’m here to talk about where the Lesser Key could be. That’s all. The fact that I want him to kiss me has absolutely nothing to do with this visit. At all—and I don’t really want him to kiss me.
God, my inner monologue sounded nuts.
When I opened the door, he was sitting by the piano, idly teasing the black kitten with one hand and a glass of—was that wine?—in the other. Late-morning sunlight from the nearby windows cast a halo around him. No boy should look as good as he did, and especially no demon. I busied myself looking around his room, suddenly shy. There was something intimate about being in his loft again.
Roth looked up, eyeing me over the rim of his glass. “There’s a glass here for you if you wish.”
I inched closer to him. “No, thank you. Your...place is nice. I’m not sure if I told you that last time.”
He chuckled and stood. “Figured you wouldn’t.” He stopped in front of me, pulling my hand away from my hair. “Stop fidgeting. I’m not going to ravish you.”
Feeling myself turn three shades of red, I sidled over to the rows of books stacked on shelves. A second later, he was beside me. This time I only jumped a little. Roth’s half grin was both smug and mischievous. Humming under his breath, he ran a finger over the spines of the various books in a languid manner that made me think of him touching me that way. I let out a quiet breath, grateful he wasn’t looking at me. When Roth stopped on one, he pulled a thin volume out. As he strolled past me, he winked.
“What do you have?” I asked, sitting in his desk chair.
Without looking at me, Roth brought the book to the bed, where he flopped down on his side. The thin novel dangled from two fingers. “This is a commercial copy of The Lesser Key of Solomon. Want to take a look-see?”
I rolled closer to the bed. “A commercial copy?”
He nodded. “Yep, for all the little Satanist wannabes out there. It’s incomplete, obviously. But it goes over the list of all the major players. I’ve looked over it a dozen times. Maybe I’m missing something.”