I made a face. “I look that out of place?”
“You got that look that says not quite human, but that’s not it.” Cayman cocked his head to the side. “Frankly, when you look around, you look like you’ve smelled something bad, sugar.”
Cayman flipped the white towel across his shoulder. “I don’t have to know you that well to know you ain’t happy with what you are.”
“That’s not...” I trailed off. There was no point in denying it. I still hadn’t fully come to accept that I was both Warden and demon—the embodiment of good and evil.
He smiled again. “You know, I know why Roth brought you here. He wanted you to see this—to understand what this place is.”
“A den of sin?”
Cayman chuckled. “Cute, sugar, but I’m sure he told you that a certain kind of people come here, right?”
“People whose souls are already tainted?”
He nodded as he lowered his voice. “These are the bottom of the barrel, the humans who do bad all on their own. They find their way here because it’s in their nature, and we’re doing society a favor with the services we provide.”
My brows rose.
“We’re aiding the process, getting them out of the gene pool so to speak, one little nip and suck at a time. That is what most demons do. We don’t go after the innocents. We go after the sinners—and, boy, do we love them.” He straightened. “That’s what your Wardens don’t understand. Just because there’s a few bad demons in the bunch, doesn’t mean what we do isn’t a very necessary evil.”
His words rained down on me as though I’d stepped out into an ice storm. Was that why Roth had brought me here? To show me that evil was necessary in the world and maybe not even that wrong?
I glanced around the bar again, easily spying the humans, and Roth was probably right. If I could see their souls, I’d see their sins. But what did that have to do with me?
It was so obvious that I sort of wanted to smack myself in the face.
Maybe Roth was trying to show me that somehow, some way, the demon part of me was necessary. That the demon side had been the one who’d given me the ability to see souls, and now to feel others’ emotions, and it had been the demon that had forced me to shift the night Paimon had tried to free Lilith. In reality, he’d always been trying to show me the benefits of my darker heritage. A small grin pulled at my lips. Thinking of those benefits didn’t lessen the blow of Abbot’s obvious disgust with me, but it helped.
“So has Roth wooed you away from all common sense, yet? He’s a yummy one, isn’t he?”
Caught off guard by the question, I felt my smile fade. “No! No. It’s not like that.”
“It’s not?” Cayman’s eyes seemed to catch and swallow all light. “How is it ever not like that with Roth? Denying him is like not breathing air.”
“Well, then, I must not be breathing. Roth and I are just friends.” Friends sounded so lame and wasn’t even particularly true considering our past.
He arched a brow, but shrugged. “Whatever you say, sugar. You want to pretend you’re not attracted to a hottie like that, it’s on you. Although he usually doesn’t do the dark hair. I like it better than the bleached white he does sometimes. It’s like Billy Idol called, wants his hairstyle back. I prefer the darker look myself.”
I couldn’t help it. Curiosity got the best of me. I leaned forward. “What do you mean?”
He grinned, dropping his head so we were eye-level. “He likes to change up his coloring. The facial features are always the same, and so are the piercings, but the hair is different. Now that he’s rocking the dark-and-brooding look, I guess he isn’t all about the ‘White Wedding’ or ‘Cradle of Love.’”
Cayman rolled his eyes. “You younglings wouldn’t know good music if it hit you upside the head. Anyway, I like him when he’s dark and poetic. It’s rather entertaining.”
“I kind of like him this way, too.” I bit my lip and mentally bitch slapped myself. “I mean, I think the hair looks good.”
Another man sat down in the spot Ricky left open, sighing heavily. Cayman glanced over at him and a look of pure eagerness crept across his handsome face. “Ah, duty calls, little Layla. I have another client.”
“Uh...well, have fun?”
Cayman whipped the towel off his shoulder. “I always have fun. Love my job. Sit still. I’m sure Roth will be back soon with all kinds of greasy goodness.”
My stomach grumbled at the thought of food as I shifted back in the stool. That probably had to be one of my most bizarre conversations, and that was saying something. Even stranger was the fact that the moment I’d crossed through the door, none of the humans in here were all that tempting when it came to wanting to suck out their soul. Maybe it was sensory overload, or all the evil kept my demon in check. Wouldn’t that be ironic? The only place my demon behaved was around other demons. Totally would be my luck.
A hand curved over my shoulder. “Well, hello there.”
I twisted around. A girl a little older than me stood there, her waist-length hair shiny and black, just like her skintight dress. Her eyes were dark, lush mouth painted red, and she was beautiful in a purely sinful way.
Another hand touched my other shoulder, heavier and far stronger than the female’s. “Sister, what have you found for us?”
My head whipped in the direction of the voice. He could have been the woman’s twin. Raven hair fell over his pale cheeks. His crisp white shirt was a shocking contrast to the dark hair and red lips. I looked for Cayman, but he was preoccupied with his latest client.
I swallowed. “I’m here with Roth.”
“Did you hear that, sister?” The guy sent a provocative smile over my head. “She belongs to Roth.”
“Hold up. I don’t belong to him. I’m here as his guest.”
Sister laughed softly. “Did you hear that, brother? She is only his guest.”
I had a strong feeling I should’ve said I belonged to Roth.
“Then we must treat her like the guest she is.” Brother ran his hand down my arm, threading his fingers through mine. The sudden rush of desire simmered into mind-numbing lust the moment his flesh touched mine. “We will take good care of you.”
“I...I don’t think you...” My eyes met his. It was like falling under water, sinking so fast I couldn’t even will my lungs to breathe.
“She doesn’t think,” murmured Sister. “No one thinks here. This is the place for no thinking.”
“Yes,” agreed Brother, his eyes taking up his entire face. “This is where fun begins and fun ends. You must join us.” He tugged on my hand. “Come with us.”
I stood on shaky knees, my mind strangely empty of all thought.
Sister grabbed my other hand and they led me out onto the dance floor. One of them let go of my hand while the other spun me around. Brother caught me around my waist, pulling me against him. I looked up, his eyes a solid black. No white. Instead of fear and dismay, I felt nothing.
“What are you?” he asked. Brother spun me around.
Sister caught my arms, leading me through a stilted waltz. “There’s a strong demon inside of you.” She let go, hissing much like a spooked cat.
“But,” Brother murmured in my ear, his arm snaking around my waist from behind, “There’s a Warden in there, as well.”
We swayed to the heavy beat of the music for a few moments, brushing against other couples that seemed just as lost as us. His hands dropped to my hips. I let my head fall back against his chest, closing my eyes. My blood did burn. The cage girl was right. He spun me around, into Sister’s waiting arms.
“You’re so very beautiful,” she cooed, sounding childlike. She rested her head on my shoulder as we spun around again and again. “You’ll taste like nothing else, but taste you I must.”
As I spun, I saw odd shapes and shadows. Flesh with no faces. Faces made of skeleton and nothing more. Soft material billowed around my legs, supple and daring. For a second, I thought I wore a gown, but when I looked down I saw only blue jeans.
Brother pulled me back into his arms. I pressed against him, inhaling deeply. He had no scent, nothing at all. Our h*ps fit together, moving in tempo.
“We feel the same need.” He placed his lips against my flushed forehead. “A taste will not hurt.” He pushed me away.
“A taste will ease your burden,” Sister whispered, placing a kiss against my throat. “A taste will help you see.”
“See what?” I asked, breathless and dizzy.
Sister smiled. “Brother, she wants to see.”
He came up behind me, flattening his hand against my stomach. “We have one for you, our lovely little sister.”
I let him pull me away from Sister, turning me so that I faced the crowd, my back to his front. We were farther into the shadows than I’d realized. Everyone seemed so far away. Sister flitted away from us, spinning around the dancing couples like a mini tornado.
“Lovely,” he said again, kissing my neck, where my pulse pounded, then underneath my jaw, my cheek.
I closed my eyes, leaning into him. I felt warm, wanted and cherished in his embrace. I wasn’t lonely or unwelcome. I was the most beautiful girl in his world and his world centered around me—only me.
“Open your eyes, lovely,” he ordered softly.
A redhead stood in front of me, her dress pink with purple dots. A pretty cupcake, I thought. I liked cupcakes, especially these kinds.
Her face seemed fuzzy, though. I thought maybe she was older and that maybe I should be more concerned about this, and yet, I no longer knew myself. Sister whispered in her ear, taking a glass from the woman’s suddenly limp fingers.
“Dance,” Brother said.
And we danced, this girl and me. We didn’t touch, but we moved in the exact same step. As if we were reflections of one another, but we were nothing alike. That much I knew. Soon, Brother joined me, whispering words I didn’t understand. A language I was meant to know, I believe, but could not quite grasp. Sister did the same, and the woman seemed to grow fuzzier.
The woman stilled in front of me, head tipped to the side and blue eyes closed. Blue? She wasn’t a demon. She wasn’t like me. But it didn’t matter. I stepped forward, because I knew I was supposed to. It was what Brother wanted. I wanted it, too.
I stood on the tips of my toes, barely able to reach her. I felt hands on my shoulders, holding me steady. We were close, close enough. I closed my eyes, waiting for a moment, a sweet moment of pure torture. Then I inhaled slowly, deeply.
I took her soul.
Warmth flooded my veins, igniting flames as it continued to my curled toes. This woman tasted of frosted sugar and bubbling wine. Every cell in my body opened up, like a flower that had been denied water and sun for far too long. Without thinking, I inhaled again.
The air moved as the woman jerked.
Oh God, why had I denied myself this?
Brother sighed, his fingers digging into my arms. The tiny spark of pain was nothing compared to the rush of this woman’s essence. I kept dragging her in, filling my body with light and air. A door seemed to open in my mind. I saw her more clearly. She was a pretty woman but had a cruel mouth that said cruel words. She’d cheated her way through school and then on her fiancé. In a flash of light, I saw a brief memory of her whispering wretched words about a coworker to her boss and then laughing when the coworker was fired.
So many memories rushed me, all of them stacking the odds against her. She was mean, spiteful to the core, but I knew if I kept going, if I kept tasting her spirit, I’d see what damaged her. Something had turned her into this hateful person, something darker and more twisted than any bullshit she could pull.
Without warning, she was yanked away from me. I stumbled forward, gasping for air. I felt Brother let go of my arms and I looked up.
Roth was before me, tall and terrible. He held on to the woman’s chin, forcing her to look him straight in the eye. “You will remember none of this,” he said. “Leave this place. Go home and never come back here again. Do you understand me?”
The woman managed a short nod and then stumbled to the side, into the crowd. Where she went, I didn’t know. I didn’t even care. My eyes were trained on Roth.
Sister giggled. “You ruin all the fun. She said she didn’t belong to you.”
Roth leveled a stare at me. “She doesn’t belong to either of you.”
I sighed dreamily, swaying toward him. “Where have you been all this time? It’s been hours and hours.”
“I’ve only been gone ten minutes,” he snapped, and I didn’t like his tone or the way he thrust his hand through his hair, as if he were upset. “Shit, Layla... Didn’t I tell you to stay put? Not to dance?”
I giggled at his stern expression. “They made me.”
“We invited her,” corrected Sister. “We didn’t make her do anything. We know the rules.”
“She just wanted a taste,” added Brother, touching my arm with just the tips of his fingers. I shivered. “We didn’t hurt her. Did we, lovely little sister?”
Roth shot forward, wrapping his hand around Brother’s throat and lifting him off the ground until his feet dangled in the air. “What did you just call her?”
Sister hissed, fingers sharpening into deadly looking claws. In an instant, her beauty fell away. Skin thinned over sharp bones, eyes narrowed and predatory. She looked more feline than human.