The fire had moved up my arm, and I tried to pull away, but Zayne locked me down, keeping my injured arm straight and still. A dizzying swarm of curses left my tongue, and Zayne chuckled hoarsely.
“I had no idea you had that kind of mouth on you,” he said.
“I don’t care. I want her to stop. Now.” I tried to pull back, but his grip tightened. “Stop. Please.”
“We can’t stop, baby. It’ll be over soon. She’s almost half done.” Zayne’s body was stiff, and Bambi started to slide up my hip. The last thing we needed was for her to come off and eat Danika. But the snake stilled. Maybe Zayne was right and she had an upset belly. “And then you’ll be perfect,” he added.
“I’m not perfect.” My entire body throbbed like one giant raw wound. God, I was a wimp. No pain tolerance whatsoever. Then again, my skin was being stitched back together with minimal numbing. “I s-smell like a demon.”
“You don’t smell like a demon.” He seemed to hold his breath as I screamed into his chest again. “You smell like...like freesia.”
“Freesia? I—I smell like blood and demon,” I whispered hoarsely, squeezing his hand until I felt his bones as she made another loop. “Sorry,” I gasped out.
“It’s okay.” Zayne managed to get closer, fitting his body against mine. “You don’t smell like blood.”
I moaned as Danika tugged on the thread. “You’re a really bad liar.”
“Finished,” she said, letting out a ragged breath. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“I-it’s okay.” I pressed my face against Zayne’s chest, inhaling that winter-mint scent of his. My fingers ached from clenching his hand and shirt. “T-thank you.”
She drew in a deep breath as she quickly bandaged the wound. “You should rest for a few minutes, let your body settle down, and it might be a good idea to take a deep sleep tonight, just so you’ll feel better quicker after the loss of blood.”
Deep sleep meant retreating into a shell-like form so we could rest on a cellular level, but I’d never slept like that before. Even though I probably would’ve shifted today if Bambi hadn’t made an appearance, I hadn’t shifted since the night in the gym and I didn’t think I could ever sleep that way.
I didn’t know how long we lay there with Danika sitting on the edge of the bed. Zayne smoothed a hand up and down my back until eventually the tremors subsided and the contents of my stomach settled a bit. He eased his leg off mine.
“You okay?” Zayne asked. When I nodded, he pulled back a little, smoothing a hand over my damp cheeks. “You want to try to sit up?”
Not trusting myself to speak yet, I nodded again. With Zayne’s help, I got the quilt readjusted and sat up. My head swam a bit and dark spots clouded my vision.
“I can get her some pain relievers,” Danika said, her voice slightly off as she stared at her elegant hands while wiping off my blood. “Jasmine won’t notice that.” Looking over her shoulder, her gaze landed on where Zayne’s arm rested over my shoulders. “I can get you something to wear.”
“There...there should be a hoodie on my bed.”
Danika left and returned quickly with the hoodie and while both of them turned away, I carefully eased it up over my bandage. When I was done zipping it up, they faced me.
“Thank you,” I said again.
“How do you feel?” Danika moved to sit beside me.
“I don’t think I’ll puke.” At her relieved look, I tried to hide my weak grin, but Zayne saw it, and his eyes lightened. “That...sucked.”
“You did good.” She glanced over at Zayne. He stood in front of me, arms crossed and features stark. “What do we do now?”
My brain felt like mush, I figured because I needed sugar. Lots of sugar. It helped with the cravings. And a nap. Maybe two naps. Just because. Then I was going to bed.
Zayne sighed heavily. “I don’t know. I don’t think this is the time.”
“She needs to know. Obviously.”
Ears perking right up, I lifted my head, my gaze bouncing between the two. “Know what?”
He looked as though he wanted to argue, but instead he took a step and sat beside me. “There has been something I’ve sensed about you over the past couple of days.”
“Okay.” My arm burned something fierce, but dread pushed away the pain. “I smell like a demon?”
“You don’t smell any different than usual. That...asshole never should’ve phrased it that way, but I do...” He exhaled deeply as he rubbed a hand along his jaw. “I have sensed the demonic side in you more.”
My already sensitive stomach dropped.
“It’s really no different than sensing another demon,” Danika said, twisting her hands together. “But it’s as though we’re sensing a certain kind of demon—an Upper Level one.”
Air whooshed right out of my lungs as I twisted toward Zayne and my voice came out in a pitiful whine. Upper Level demons were the most powerful, the most dangerous. “I’d rather smell like a normal demon.”
He didn’t say anything, but a tortured, pinched look crept across his face.
A second went by. Then a minute. I’m not even sure it had sunk in. The fact that I felt like an Upper Level demon to them was moldy icing on the cake. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How could I? You would have thought the worst and I didn’t want to bring that down on you. And it doesn’t matter, because you’re part Warden. You’re inherently—”
A low hum reverberated through the house and steel shields slammed down over the windows, causing Danika and me to jump. Similar thumps sounded as Zayne shot to his feet. I’d never seen the windows do that before, but I knew what it meant.
Zayne whirled as Danika paled. “Demons,” he said, hands curling into fists. “There are demons here. Stay here. Both of you.”
He was already out the bedroom door.
Danika and I exchanged looks and, rising in mutual agreement, we followed him downstairs. What they had told me could wait. For the shields to go down on our home, we had to be under attack.
Two of the clansmen stood guard in front of the sitting room, where I knew Jasmine must’ve been cloistered away with the babies. The front door was open, which caught me off guard. There was steel reinforcement there, too, but for the door to be open, as if there was nothing to fear? The night air seeped in, bringing with it a certain scent.
My pulse kicked up and my mouth dried.
Maddox blocked the entrance and he turned, eyes narrowing on us. “Danika, you need to stay back.”
“What’s going on?” she demanded as her pupils stretched vertically. “There are demons out there. I sense them.”
“We’re well aware. Abbot is with them,” he replied. “So are the men. This is none of your concern.”
Danika stiffened beside me.
I didn’t sense jack, which solved the question about that, but that smell—oh my God, that smell. Tiny hairs rose all over my body as I stumbled forward blindly.
“Layla.” Danika rushed after me. “You shouldn’t go out there.”
Maddox didn’t try to stop me as I dodged around him. The scent grew stronger as I stepped out into the chilly air. Goose bumps raced across my flesh. The sweet and musky aroma invaded my nostrils. My overworked heart kicked into overdrive and too much—too much—emotion rose swiftly through me.
I saw Zayne standing in the driveway and beside him was his father and Geoff and Dez and others, but it was the darker forms beyond them, near the lawn leading to the woods, that drew me closer. My legs shook as I picked up speed and raced down the steps.
Zayne turned halfway, holding up a hand as if he wished to stop or catch me. His jaw was set in a hard, forbidding line. “Layla—”
I didn’t stop. Nothing in this world could’ve made me stop. Exhaustion and pain were forgotten in a rush. Zayne stepped just a few inches to the side, completely facing me.
Then I saw him.
Tears pricked the back of my eyes as my heart stopped in my chest and then sped up. Everything messed up about the past two weeks vanished the moment my eyes locked with that golden-colored gaze.
“Roth,” I whispered.
He was as tall and striking as any prince topside could ever be.
And he looked like he had the first time I’d seen him.
Lazy locks of raven-black hair fell over his forehead, brushing against equally dark, arched brows. His cheekbones were broad and high; eyes slightly tilted at the outer corners were a dazzling blend of gold and amber, giving his face a near inhuman quality. Those lips, with their fuller bottom one, were currently parted. A black T-shirt stretched across a chest that I knew was unbelievably well-defined and a toned stomach—the kind of stomach that put six-packs to shame. His jeans hung low on his hips, held up by a studded belt.
Only thing missing was Bambi and she was currently wigging out on my skin, slithering up and down, but Roth was alive and he was here.
His eyes widened slightly. Might’ve been my imagination, but I swore I could see the glint of the metal bolt in his tongue as he wet his lips. The muscles in his jaw tensed as an unreadable look flickered across his striking face, and I forgot about everyone else. My heart was swelling so big I felt as if I could float right up to the stars.
Someone said something, but it was lost in the pounding of my heart and the blood rushing through me.
Roth took a step toward me as his gaze swung sharply to my right. He stopped, his eyes flashing an intense amber. A hand clamped down on my upper arm, just below the bandage.
My step faltered as I swallowed a cry. Zayne moved forward at the same time Roth did, but Abbot bent his head to mine. “Mind yourself, girl. No matter what he did for us, don’t forget he’s still a demon.”
“Actually, I’m a prince,” Roth corrected him in that deep, rich-as-dark-chocolate voice that sent a wake of shivers down my spine—the voice I wasn’t sure I’d ever hear again. “It’s best you don’t forget that.”
Abbot stiffened and his hand tightened a fraction as I tried to pull free.
“And it would also serve you well to let go of her,” he continued, raising his chin a notch. “So we can start waving our little white flag of friendship without spilling blood.”
“Not that spilling blood would be such a bad thing.” Beside Roth, a demon I recognized as an infernal ruler smiled broadly, displaying straight, white teeth. Cayman was sort of like demon middle management. I had no idea who the third demon was that remained behind the other two.
“And you will do well to remember you’re on my property.” Abbot did release his hold, and I would’ve raced forward, but the look Roth sent me warned me not to.
Confused, I drew in a deep breath and tried to calm my racing heart. I wanted to ignore his look and throw myself at him. Just so I could touch him and make sure he was real and he was okay, but I couldn’t forget where I was. Half my clan was outside and although Roth had sacrificed himself—well, it had appeared that way—for the greater good, no one would be happy if I started climbing all over him like a deranged spider monkey.
But as I stared at him and it really began to sink in that Roth was here and he was okay, I couldn’t understand how this was the first time I was seeing him. Better yet, how had he gotten out of the fiery pits? They were supposedly inescapable.
Or why he was here.
Abbot seemed to rise to a fuller height. “And there will never be a ‘white flag of friendship’ between our kinds.”
Roth placed a hand to his chest. “Ouch, there went all my hopes and dreams of our kinds dancing together under rainbows.”
A vein started to protrude from Abbot’s forehead. He turned to me. “You need to go inside, Layla.”
Like holy Hell I was, but before I could say that, Roth inclined his head and said, “No, she needs to be here. I came for a reason, although we got a little off track.”
A little off track with what? How long had Roth been here? Pushing my hair back from my face, I felt as though my brain was running in slow motion. I glanced at Zayne, but he was focused on Roth as if he wanted to punt kick him back to Hell. The corners of my lips slipped down. I got that Zayne and Roth could never be BFFs, but had Zayne forgotten what Roth had done for him?
Maddox had made his way outside and stood beside a silent Dez. At some point, Maddox must’ve shifted, because he was in his true form. His skin was the color of granite and his wings reached out to an impressive eight feet. Nostrils flat and yellow eyes glowing fiercely, he showed his fangs. “There can be no reason why we’re allowing them to stand here.” He turned to Abbot, clawed hands forming fists. “Tomas is missing and I’m wagering they have something to do with it.”
Bambi curled around my stomach and then stretched, as if she were happy with the reminder of her early-evening meal.
“I have no idea who Tomas is,” Roth replied, his lips—lips that had burned themselves into my memory—curled into a smirk. “Then again, you Wardens do all look alike.”
Maddox hissed. “You think you’re cute?”
“Nah, I think I’m sexy.” The smirk spread, but it didn’t reach his cool ocher eyes. “And I also think I’m hilarious.”
Dez and the rest of the Wardens tensed. I guessed they thought Roth should be intimated by so many of them, but Roth...well, the more sticky the situation, the more of a smart- ass he became.
Cayman winked at me as he swaggered forward. My brows rose. All of this seemed surreal. Maybe I’d lost too much blood, passed out, and all of this was just some kind of bizarre dream.