“You take one step toward me, and I will snap your brother’s neck,” Roth warned without taking his eyes off Brother. “Do not ever touch her. You’re not welcome here any longer.”
“You cannot banish us,” Sister shrieked. “You are no King.”
Roth dropped Brother and turned around. “Maybe not, but I can rip your heart out and feed it to Hellions. How does that sound? Like a party you want to join?”
The dysfunctional siblings retreated, slinking back into the crowd. I floated away, eyeing a dancer on the stage. He was beautiful, full of ropey muscle and long, flowing blond hair. Cayman stood by the stage, smiling up at the guy.
An arm circled my waist, stopping me. “Where are you going, shortie?”
I leaned into him. “I don’t know. I feel...really good.”
“You do.” A sigh seemed to work its way through him and, when he spoke, his voice was deep and lovely. “You almost killed that girl, shortie. I shouldn’t have left you alone.”
I shrugged, moving my hand back and forth. A strange pearl-colored shade followed it.
“What are you doing?”
I turned in his arms, looking up at his near-perfect face. God, he was so beautiful. Why must something so hot be so...hot, especially when I couldn’t have him? I couldn’t remember why exactly, but I knew there were reasons, good ones. “I think I can see my soul.”
His brows rose. “Can you? Can you see anyone else’s now?”
“No, but mine is white.” I sighed happily. “That means my soul is pure.”
Roth watched me, a slight smile on his face. “Demons can’t have pure souls.”
Somehow my head ended up burrowed in his chest. “Then I can’t be like you.”
“Oh, wow, you’re so off the charts right now.” Shaking his head, he moved, and the next thing I knew I was off the floor and in his arms. “Up you go.”
A wild laugh escaped me, and I felt as if I could keep laughing. “What are you doing?”
“Taking you someplace you won’t get into any more trouble.” He started forward, easily parting the crowd.
The bar was upside down to me. “Everyone is walking on the ceiling.”
His laugh was strained, reluctant sounding as he shifted me in his arms. My head now rested against his chest. “Better?”
The world was right once more. “What were those people back there?”
He shouldered open a door, walking into a dimly lit corridor. “A succubus and an incubus. I call them Sucky and Inky. I think I’m going to change their names to Dead and Deader. I can’t leave you alone for ten minutes without the wolves pouncing on you.”
I threaded my fingers behind his neck. “They weren’t so bad.”
“Guess what?” His grin didn’t quite reach those eyes of his.
“You’re not going to be thinking that later.”
I giggled. “You’re such an ass**le.”
Roth’s laugh was lighter as he turned toward the stairs. “I kind of like you like this.”
“Maybe.” I kicked my feet in the air, giggling. “You can put me down. I can walk.”
Instead, he carried me up a set of stairs so easily it was as though I was nothing more than a feather. He went down a hall, then up another flight of steps. “You’d trip and break your neck or fall over one of our guards. Or try to pet it.”
“What guards?” I looked around the stairwell. “I don’t see anything.”
Roth didn’t say anything as he continued all the way up. An average man wouldn’t have made it fifteen floors, but he wasn’t even out of breath. When he pushed open another door, I saw something that hadn’t been there before. Sitting before his door at the end of the hallway were two dogs the size of Chihuahuas.
I squealed, clapping my hands together. “I do want to pet them! They’re so tiny!”
He sighed. “I’ve been told size doesn’t matter.”
“Someone lied to you.”
“Ah, that may be the case.” He lowered me to my feet gently, keeping an arm around me. “Do keep in mind that looks can be deceiving.”
I started to turn into him, but one of the rat dogs stood. “I could carry it in a purse, like...like one of those expensive purses.”
“I don’t think they like the sound of that.”
They didn’t. Both were now standing, ears back and growling. One barked. It sounded like a squeak.
I laughed. “What are they going to do? Bite my ankles?”
Roth pulled me closer, which was all right by me. I liked the warmth his body gave off, the way we seemed to fit together even though he towered over me. How had I not noticed that before? But I had. It was something I had forgotten or had been trying to forget, but I couldn’t make sense of the why behind it. I wanted to admit it now, scream it from the top of the building and do stuff, lots of stuff.
Teacup dogs forgotten, I twisted and placed my hands on Roth’s chest.
His dogs didn’t like that.
One let out a squeak that turned into a roar. I whirled around, stumbling aside. Growling, snarling and snapping, their bodies twisted and grew. Huge paws replaced little ones. Claws rapped the floor as they prowled forward, still growling. Their flanks were thick with muscles, their tails bushy. Snouts grew long, mouths wider and ears flattened back against matted russet hair. Their teeth jutted from their mouths, razor sharp and huge. Eyes went from doe-brown to bloodred and the smell of sulfur filled the hallway.
They were the size of bears and, in the distant part of my brain, I realized they were hellhounds.
“Holy shit,” I whispered, knowing I should be afraid, but I was still floating.
“Sit down,” Roth ordered, suddenly in front of me. “Vos mos non vulnero suus!”
In unison, they backed up and sat beside the door. Their ears were still pinned back, but they no longer looked as if they wanted to eat me. I considered this a good development.
Roth glanced over his shoulder at me. “You’re right. Size does matter. They won’t harm you. Come on.” He held out his hand.
I took it, eyeing the beasts. One smelled my leg while Roth opened the door, and the other rolled onto his back, tongue lolling out of its mouth. He swooped down, patting the hellhound’s exposed belly.
“That’s a good boy,” he cooed. “Who’s the good boy?”
“What’re their names?” I asked, leaning against the door. My head felt heavy.
He looked up, grinning. “This one is Bluebelle and that one,” he gestured at the one that smelled my leg, “is Flower.”
I made a face. “What is it with you and the movie Bambi?”
He stood up fluidly. “It’s an American classic.”
Smiling, I closed my eyes. “You’re ridiculous.”
“Open your eyes, shortie.”
I felt his hand in mine again, so I pried my eyes open. “Why?”
“You need to see where you’re going.” He pulled me into the darkness. A second later, soft light flooded the room and he let go of my hand. Heavy blinds were pulled down, blocking out the sun.
I kicked off my shoes, stumbling as I pulled off my socks. My toes sank into the plush carpet. “I think I’m hungry.”
“I’ll have the food sent up here.”
I faced him, my breath catching as he pulled off his shirt and tossed it aside. Smooth skin stretched over hard muscle. His pants hung so low.
“I had a little bit of everything made. Hamburgers. Fries. Chicken tenders.” He stopped, looking at me. A smug smile appeared as he removed his shoes. “See anything you like?”
I couldn’t answer, but I saw lots of things I liked.
He prowled across the room, stopping a few feet in front of me. “Sorry. I can’t stand the smell of smoke. Does it bother you?”
I knew there was a reason it should, but I shook my head and then found my voice and a healthy dose of boldness. “No.”
“Then you won’t mind shedding this?” Roth wrapped his fingers around the strings dangling off the neckline of my hoodie. “It reeks of Sucky and Inky.”
Before I even shook my head no, he’d worked the zipper down. I held my breath as his knuckles brushed over me. Sharp tingles shot through me, clearing the haze from my brain for a moment or two. Then he slipped the “offensive” material off my shoulders, letting it fall to the floor.
“Pretty.... What is it called?” he murmured, eyes clearly not on my face.
“A...camisole.” I took a deep breath, but couldn’t get enough air in my lungs. “Roth?”
His gaze flicked up. “Layla?”
I started to speak, but something soft and furry brushed against my foot, drawing my attention. A tiny white kitten stared up at me with beautiful blue eyes. I bent at the waist, reaching for the little fur ball, wanting to hug it and squeeze it and love it, but then I remembered.
Frowning at the little devil, I pulled my fingers out of reach. “No. I remember you. Bad kitty.”
Hair along the little darling’s back rose, and it hissed before spinning around and dashing back under the bed.
“I see you’ve learned from your previous mistakes, but I think you’ve upset Nitro.”
“Those kittens have rabies.” I rose and then gasped as a wave of dizziness washed over me.
Roth placed a hand on my arm and there was a muted sensation of concern. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah...I’m fine. This happens after...” I trailed off as the black-and-white kitten poked its head out from under the bed, eyeing me with ears flat.
Feeding. Was that what I’d been doing? Just like the rest of the demons in the strange place in the bowels of this apartment building? Doing my part in the demonic food chain? I shivered.
“You didn’t take her soul, shortie.”
I cocked my head to the side. I hadn’t. “She was okay, right?”
“And if she was down there, that meant she was bad, right?”
His warm breath danced along my cheek. “Yes.”
Did that make it okay? I wasn’t sure. “I don’t want to think about this.”
“You don’t have to. Why don’t you sit down?”
Because there didn’t seem to be much else I could do, I made my way around the edge of his bed and sat among the king-size pillows. His scent was everywhere, and when I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply, I remembered being here before, on this bed...in his arms.
A warm flush traveled over my skin and my eyes drifted shut. When I reopened them, I saw Roth striding toward the bed with a long tray in his hands. Several plates were covered with silver tops.
I sat up straighter, confused. “Did I fall asleep?” It had felt like seconds had passed when I’d closed my eyes.
He laughed as he sat, placing the tray between us. There were two tall glasses filled with ice, sitting next to two cans of soda. It was like room service provided by a hot, half-naked, demon dude. “No. You were sitting here singing.”
“Yep. ‘Paradise City.’” He smiled as he peeked up at me through thick lashes. “I think I’m rubbing off on you.”
For some reason, that didn’t sit well with me, but then he started removing trays and I fell in love—in love with all the glorious, wonderful food placed before me. A buffet of meat, grease and salt.
Between Roth and me, the food was gone in a nanosecond. As he gathered up the plates and took them into his kitchen area, I lay on my back and patted my stomach. “My belly is happy.”
“I bet it is.” There was a sound of water running and then it stopped. Not even a second passed before he was sitting down beside me. Placing a hand on the other side of my shoulder, he leaned over me. “How are you feeling?”
My lips split into a wide smile. “Good. Great. Happy. Maybe a little tired, but I feel like—”
“I get the point,” he said, chuckling. His head tilted to the right as the intensity of his stare increased until it felt as though he could see right through me. A tense look appeared on his face as he carefully picked the strands of my hair off my shoulders and spread them out on the pillow. “I wish you would feel this way later, but you won’t.”
My heart turned over as he lowered his gaze. “You’re going to hate yourself after this, even though you didn’t hurt that woman. To her, it will be like having a hangover after a bad night of partying. And she won’t miss that tiny part of her soul that you took. Not that she missed any part of her soul that she willingly gave for every atrocious sin she committed.” He sighed heavily, as if there was an invisible weight settling across his shoulders. His lashes swept up. “I didn’t mean for you to do this when I brought you here. Sucky and Inky should’ve stayed away from you. I should’ve made sure of that.”
He gave a little shake of his head. “I just wanted you to see how the other half lives. Not those two bastards. They’re bad news, but not...not all of us are like that. I wanted you to see that. For you to see that what’s inside you...” He tapped a finger off my stomach. “Isn’t bad, no matter what that ass**le of a clan leader says to you or how he makes you feel.”
“Same to you.”
A brow arched. “What does that mean?”
I reached up, tapping my finger off his chest. “You are not as bad as you like to think. You are capable of acts of great kindness.”
He snorted. “You’re high.”