Sun
Feb 13 2011 6:00am

Demon Song - Excerpt

Cat Adams

Cat Adams gave us an exclusive extended excerpt including chapters 1 & 2 of her upcoming book, Demon Song.  We're giving everybody this taste of her latest to celebrate Valentine's Day.  Going forward, exclusive excerpts will be for site members only.  So be sure to head up to the register button and stake your claim.  And now, without further ado...

Demon Song

by Cat Adams

You can’t turn off intuition after you’ve spent years developing the sense, honing it to a razor’s edge. I could feel something gathering among the seemingly innocent racks of clothing. The voices of my two best friends in the world faded into a background buzz, and I found myself shifting the way I was holding the shirts I’d planned to take to the dressing room so that I could use my hands if needed.

My eyes moved from person to person in rapid succession while my feet backed toward a wide aisle that could be easily navigated. The bored but patient father of a tween girl wasn’t a threat. Neither was the mother with one child in a stroller and another held by the hand. Clerks moved among the holiday- festooned racks like ballerinas performing The Nutcracker; I tracked them briefly. The best salespeople are often empaths or psychics. They’re attuned to those shoppers who want approval—codependents in the process. They weren’t the cause of my alarm, either.

Or were they? Nothing I could see accounted for the tingling of my skin.

It forced me to raise the bar and start checking the area over again, which made me noticeable.

“What’s wrong, Celia?” Dawna had taken one look at my face and begun to spill panic from her pores. The whisper from her perfectly colored and edged lips held an edge of fear. Things didn’t used to bother her as much, but she had been attacked recently and was still a little skittish.

She wasn’t the only recent victim. The part of me that had been transformed by a vampire bite could feel her fear, taste it, smell it. While my reaction wasn’t as strong as it might be closer to sunset, it still made my vision go into the sort of hyperfocus that makes vampires one of the apex predators in the world. Dawna wasn’t going to be my victim, though. Not ever.

Then I spotted him. I shook my head slightly and transferred the hangers from my hand to Dawna’s exotically tanned one, motioning her toward the dressing room. She obeyed instantly, grabbing a few additional random skirts before pulling the third member of our group, Emma Landingham, toward the sheltered hallway. Emma was obviously reluctant. Dawna was practically having to drag her away. It was unlike her—usually she was very practical about avoiding danger—and made me a wonder just what she was up to. Emma had obviously been trying to get up the nerve to tell or ask me something all day. But even when I’d asked her directly, she’d changed the subject and acted evasive.

Whatever her problem was, it would have to wait. Trouble was brewing.

I’d believed the teenage boy in the next department to be the older brother of the bouncing tween girl—just like he’d planned. But once I concentrated my vampire sight on him, I could see that his energy was all wrong. He wasn’t a bored sibling. He was following them, just at the edge of their comfort zone . . . not so close as to be noticeable, but enough that he became invisible, part of a family unit.

Was he after the girl? I watched where he looked whenever eyes weren’t on him. No, he had no interest in her, which relaxed me just a bit. His focus was on the jewelry counter. Instead of being cluttered and difficult to reach like in most department stores, this one offered a straight shot to an exterior door and, worse, was being restocked, so the display cases were open. The girls’ clothing department was a short, straight walk down the aisle from jewelry, which made his choice simple.

I started scanning for store detectives but saw none. Was it shift change? Were they cutting back on personnel? That seemed stupid this close to Christmas. Maybe the boy knew something I didn’t, because he started dissolving his act. His hand moved instinctively toward the pocket of his hoodie as he started looking for threats. Either he didn’t see me or he didn’t consider me worrisome. His mistake. The rectangular lump I spotted in his pocket was similar to the one under my jacket, but I was betting he didn’t have a concealed-carry permit in his wallet. The weapon turned a simple, impulsive snatch and grab into armed robbery with possible injuries.

The problem was that I wasn’t a police officer or an employee of the store. I was just a self-employed bodyguard who happened to be at the wrong place at the right time. Even under a broad definition of citizen’s arrest, I couldn’t detain him, disarm him, or hurt him without risking arrest myself . . . and the possible loss of my license.

But I also couldn’t let him rob the store and possibly shoot someone.

I hate my life sometimes.

I started toward him, hoping I would think of something between misses’ petites and jewelry. Without making my movements obvious, as I neared the shoe department I let my face light up at a particularly sparkly dress sandal—which actually was really cute—and headed for it. The shoes were directly between the would-be robber and the slender young clerk crouched behind the open display cases, oblivious to her predicament.

My entire focus was on the teenager as I increased my speed. I might not be able to pull my gun or throw him to the elegantly patterned tile with a flying tackle, but I could intercept him and strongly suggest he find another way to occupy his afternoon. His every movement seemed like frames of stop-motion animation thanks to my supernatural sight, so I didn’t worry that he would pull his gun before I could react. But I hadn’t expected that when my vision slipped into vampire mode the rest of me would, too. In fact, it wasn’t until I stepped directly in front of him and put out a hand to stop him that I realized my skin had taken on a pale green glow. A glance into a nearby mirror showed me that my lips had pulled back to reveal fangs.

The look on his face was priceless when he finally turned his attention from the glittering gold and diamonds to see who had bumped straight into his chest.

“Holy crap!” His eyes went wide and his face got nearly as pale as mine. He backpedaled so fast he stumbled against a display of boots and spilled to the ground, taking the whole carefully arranged stack of red and green boxes with him. The battered 9mm fell from his pocket and was lost among the boxes of size 8s.

Before he could react, I was crouched down next to him and reaching for his arm. With a smile on my face, as though I was helping him up, I pulled him close. The scent of his fear made me remember that I hadn’t had a nutrition shake before we came to the mall. But I had to ignore that and concentrate on what I was doing. I’d love to say it was easy, but it wasn’t. Bloodlust is nothing to be casual about. I found myself staring at his neck, watching the warm glow of energy trapped under supple skin. So much energy, and my stomach was so very empty. I shuddered and forcibly moved my eyes from his neck to his face.

His wide eyes took in my fangs and probably now red eyes before coming to rest on the .45 Colt nestled under my arm, revealed when my jacket swung open as I reached for him. Oh, and let’s not forget the long line of drool dripping onto the plush carpeting. Mustn’t forget the drool.

He struggled to pull away, but there’s really no way to break a supernatural grip unless you also have superstrength. My voice became a hiss normally reserved for bad things in dark alleys: “I know what you’re planning, and I’m sick and damned tired of guys like you making my clothes cost more so the store can recoup the losses from theft. You are going to get your lazy ass out of this mall right this second and find a legal way to make a living, or I swear on everything holy that I’ll find you some cold, lonely night and make you regret it.” I parted my lips so he could get a good look at what would be chasing him. No, I wouldn’t really eat him or drain his blood. I don’t plan to ever try human blood. It could be that one straw that breaks me. But I could scare him really well.

In fact, I already had. His blood had retreated so far from his face that he didn’t even smell good anymore. His white lips opened, but only a squeak came out.

I raised my brows and leaned close enough to smell the scent of liquid courage on his breath. “Got it?”

He nodded, slowly at first and then in a rush of movement that gave him the appearance of a bobblehead doll. “Yeah. Got it.”

Leaning back, I pulled him to his feet as I stood. “Good.”

He didn’t so much run out of the store as scrabble, using both hands and feet. The guard who had finally come to investigate the commotion noted the boy’s guilty exit and raised a walkie-talkie to his lips. Whatever he said caused the security cameras to spin in the boy’s direction and follow him out of the store.

I was so busy watching all this that I didn’t notice the father of the tweenage girl shooting holy water at me until the stream hit me in the face. Sadly, I’ve come to expect being doused in holy water and having crosses shoved against my chest in the past few weeks. The fangs sort of give the impression I’m the threat, rather than the punk I’d just stopped. Fancy that.

“Hello! How rude was that?” Dawna had arrived and was at her touchy best. She tends to translate adrenaline into confrontation once she forces her way past her fear. She simultaneously pushed away the man’s water gun and handed me a stack of tissues from her purse. “Do you see anyone on fire here? She just stopped a robbery. A little gratitude would be nice.”

“A robbery? What robbery?” The man’s eyes went wide, moving from the doorway where the kid in the hoodie was having his hands cuffed by the boys in blue to the guard using a hankie to pluck a semiauto pistol from among the boxes of boots. Finally, his gaze landed on me, the pale lady with red eyes and fangs—the good guy who was patting her face carefully to avoid smearing her makeup.

“Jeez, Dad.” The girl at his side rolled her eyes and crossed slim arms over her chest. “It’s broad daylight. How could she be a bat? And don’t you watch the news or anything?” She turned to me. “You’re Celia Graves, aren’t you?”

Her father lowered his eyes to the floor and grabbed her elbow, guiding her away from me with a reddened face. At least he had the dignity to mutter a soft, “Thanks, sorry,” as he walked past.

“Please don’t leave the store, sir,” the guard called after him. “We might need to talk to you later.”

I was already pulling my wallet out of my purse. Before the guard even asked for it, I’d handed over my bodyguard license and carry permit. He raised brows a little at that and only then noticed the slight bulge under my arm. I obliged by discreetly opening my jacket. He wrote down my information on a pad before handing back the two documents and then dipped his head toward my arm. “Nice tailoring . . . and I appreciate the discretion. We’ll call if we need a statement. Thanks for your help.”

The shrug was automatic as I tucked my wallet back into the messy depths of butter-soft leather. “Discretion keeps people like you handing back the permits.” It’s why I pay big bucks for custom blazers. Nobody’s supposed to notice the gun, and I keep it holstered until needed. It wasn’t needed today. “Oh, and you might consider junking up the aisle next to jewelry. It’s a pretty attractive target.”

He nodded and started to walk at a brisk pace toward the exit, probably to turn over the gun to the cops.

I turned to where Emma was swearing under her breath, apparently realizing that she hadn’t predicted the robbery attempt—a hard thing for a clairvoyant. But hey, not every event is worth a vision. I don’t know why she stresses over it. “I’m going to need something to eat . . . and soon. I got a little twitchy just now. Let’s hit the juice bar when we’re done here.”

The three of us have started using “twitchy” to signify that I wanted to chomp on someone’s neck. It sounds a little less threatening to people on the street. “Here you go.” Dawna, bless her heart, pulled a bottle of a meal replacement shake from inside her tiny purse, where it should never have been able to fit. But she always manages to find handbags that resemble TARDISes in their ability to hold more things than they should. Sadly, the drink was banana flavored. I loathe bananas.

“Thanks, but I’d rather wait for something not so . . .”

“Eww, banana. How can you stand those things?” Emma and I shared more than a few tastes, which I was discovering now that I was getting to know her better. We’d been friendly acquaintances for a while, but it wasn’t until our shared friend Vicki Cooper was murdered recently that we’d gotten close.

“Maybe you’d prefer chocolate.” The voice behind me froze me in my tracks and the appearance of a bottle of chocolate Ensure over my shoulder made me shudder. The man who owned the bland, helpful voice was neither bland nor helpful. People disappeared when he was around. Unfortunately, I owed him for saving my life. He managed to make sure I wasn’t staked and beheaded after the bat attack and covered my butt later when I needed it.

I still didn’t know why.

“Thanks, Jones.” I kept my voice blandly pleasant. I didn’t trust the man as far as I could throw him and had no plans to ingest anything that had ever been in his possession. But I took the bottle, over the wide-eyed objections of my friends, who were vigorously shaking their heads and mouthing the word “no” at me.

I wanted to prove a point. Smiling, I gave the bottle a little squeeze, just a little gentle pressure. Just as I expected, one side sprang a leak. What a shock. I turned to see Jones smiling at me. He’s not much to look at—not handsome or ugly, neither tall nor short, he moves with easy grace that’s not threatening. He’s the kind of man who would easily disappear in a crowd. Literally. Not only did he have mind magic, but I’d actually seen him disappear—a trick only the strongest mages seem to be able to manage. I returned his smile and handed back the soggy bottle. “So, what’d you inject into in it, Jones? Would I keel over dead in a few minutes or just pass out in traffic and roll the car?”

Emma was glaring at him now. She didn’t like him, even if her brother Kevin worked with him.

He put a hand over his heart and offered a hurt-puppy face. “You wound me, Graves. Can’t you believe it’s just a defective bottle?”

I let out a small chuckle. “That depends. If I pour it on a potted plant, will it sizzle like stir-fry?”

“Ooh,” he said appreciatively. “No, but that’s an interesting image. All this would do would make the plant damp.” At my raised brows he added, “Well, honestly, plants don’t really sleep, do they?”

Knockout drug. Okay. “So, why are you here, Jones? Or is this something you do for entertainment on the weekends—take time off of killing to wander around the mall offering women mickeys?”

He smiled and it made him actually stand out. He would probably clean up well. He noticed himself in the mirror behind me and turned the smile off like he was flicking a switch. “I shouldn’t find you as entertaining as I do, you know. Dangerous for both of us. But you should already know why I’m here. Unless . . . Emma hasn’t done as she promised.”

Dawna and I turned as one to stare at Emma. “You’re working with Jones? What the hell, Emma!”

She glared at him again, but he was nonplussed. Then she turned back and met my eyes. “I’m not working with him. And I didn’t make any promises. I asked him for help. I wanted to ask you, Celia, but I . . . I was afraid.”

Okay, that hurt. “I’ve worked really hard so you would never be afraid of me, guys.”

Her slender arms crossed over her chest and her eyes went to the floor at my feet. “I know; I know. It’s just . . .”

Jones let out an annoyed sound. “He’s going to be dead before you finally get around to spitting it out, you know. We’re already hours late and sneaking in is only going to get tougher after dark.”

His words were soft but utterly serious. I turned my head and my friends did as well. “Who will?”

His hands were tucked in his pockets, casually. But his eyes . . . those eyes held anger, worry, and something dark and dangerous that I wouldn’t want to cross. Ever. He raised his chin toward Emma and I felt my stomach tie in knots. “Her brother. Still want to shop?”

Oh, fuck a duck.


2

A pained sound from Emma forced me to turn her way. I almost wished I hadn’t. How could I stare into her terrified face and still tell Jones no? Because I wanted to. I was angry beyond words at Kevin. He and his father had kidnapped me, trussed me up, and offered me up to a demented siren who wanted me dead. Yes, Emma’s life had been at stake, and yes, they had had a plan to save us both. But I would have volunteered to help if they’d only asked. I was still hurt and insulted at their behavior, especially since I’d considered Kevin and Warren to be two of my closest friends.

Now I knew why Emma had been so hesitant all day. She’d rightly assume my first instinct would be to say no. Plus, Kevin’s a werewolf as well as a black-ops commando. There isn’t much he can’t handle. I couldn’t imagine what I could do that he couldn’t do for himself. Still . . .

“What happened?”

Instead of answering, Jones turned and walked away. I was guessing he didn’t want to discuss whatever it was in the middle of the store, which made sense. I followed at his heels and

Emma and Dawna followed me in turn. Our own little parade, without the floats.

The sun was right in our eyes as we opened the door. Damn. I’d thought it was earlier than that. Had we really been shopping long enough for sunset to approach without my noticing?

Jones walked straight to a nondescript gray sedan at the edge of the parking lot. I caught up to him so we didn’t look like we were playing crack the whip. “Jingle Bells” was playing from loudspeakers outside the store. Cool ocean winds and my ever-present flock of seagulls made the whole situation totally surreal. Even Jones looked up to watch the white birds swooping and dancing in the air above our heads.

“You have a very weird life, Graves. Did the gulls follow you before the siren blood activated?”

I shook my head. “The most attention seagulls paid to me before was to poop on my car. Can you see why me sneaking up on anything is impossible? My freaking feathered entourage goes everywhere. Can’t someone else help you with this?”

“I’ve already tried everyone else.” Emma caught up to us; she sounded both frustrated and afraid. “I had a vision last night. One of the strongest since I saw the vampires attacking you in the alley. I didn’t even know Amy had been captured, but Kevin went to get her out. She made it out safely, but they caught Kevin. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where he was—who they were. I just saw bars and heard screaming. I asked Dad, but he couldn’t find out anything. So . . . well, Jones was all I could think of.”

“And I found him. But there’s no chance of getting him out without your help.”

My head shook of its own accord. “I find that hard to believe and it’s even harder to believe that Kevin would want me involved.”

Emma smacked me on the shoulder, so apparently she was no longer afraid of me. “Celia! If Kevin needs help, we have to help him. He’d do the same for us.”

I didn’t let my jaw drop in shock, even though the comment deserved it. I didn’t even laugh sarcastically. Instead, I took a deep breath and let it out slow. For you, Emma. He’d move the world for you. Not us. I knew exactly where I stood with him—somewhere slightly lower than dirt.

I was still so angry with him, so hurt. Part of me wanted him to suffer. But another part, which I prayed every day was still the larger portion, wanted to rise above the pettiness and show Kevin and his father, Warren Landingham, what true friendship was. But it had only been three weeks since the night they’d betrayed me, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to face them.

Jones was watching me with an odd expression. He leaned on the car door and crossed his arms over his chest. “I have to admit you’ve surprised me, Graves. I expected I’d have to hold you back, not convince you to help. Can you at least tell me where he is in the facility?”

I felt myself rear back in surprise and the looks Dawna and Emma gave me said they were clueless as well. “What facility? How am I supposed to know where he is?”

Jones raised his brows like he didn’t believe me. Apparently he believed I was kidding and was about to announce that I’d take him straight to Kevin. But that wasn’t going to happen. I stared at Jones while the sun continued to lower and my stomach growled. My gaze moved from his eyes to his neck. His body started to glow faintly and I felt my breathing growing shallow and my muscles tensing. He very carefully didn’t move, but his center of gravity shifted just a bit, preparing.

“Okay, this is getting ridiculous!” Dawna finally exclaimed, exasperation plain in her voice. She grabbed my hand and shoved the yellow bottle into it. “You. Drink this before you go nuts. It’s been nearly four hours since you ate and you exerted yourself with that robber. Hold your nose if you have to.” She turned to Jones.

“You. Tell them why Kevin might die and what facility he’s at. I’m going to go back inside the mall and get us all something to eat. Apparently it’s going to be a long night—whether you plan to take me and Emma along with you or if we’re just waiting by the phone.” With that, she turned and started to jog back toward the mall entrance.

I shuddered and blinked and then grimaced at the bottle. She was right, of course, but I didn’t have to like it. Jones was already starting to look yummy, and that would be counterproductive on a number of fronts. I twisted off the lid, held my nose, and literally poured the drink down my throat, successfully avoiding most of my taste buds. I managed not to choke or gag, which was a plus.

Jones sighed, then opened the back door of the car and pulled out a sealed four-pack of chocolate Ensure, still in shrink-wrap. He tossed it toward me, but I let the bottles hit the ground at my feet. I’d wait for Dawna. Her I trust.

Emma spoke, her voice filled with anger fueled by fear: “Where is my brother? You still haven’t told me. You owe him your life, you know.”

“Several times over,” Jones agreed. “But I still find it difficult to believe Celia doesn’t already know the details. I thought all you’d have to do is mention you ‘saw’ the capture and she’d be racing to his side.”

“Believe it,” said a new voice. I jumped. I couldn’t help it. Even with my super new senses I hadn’t heard our newest member approaching. Damn it. I hate it when real vampires join the party. I hissed and moved back as Edgar, an extraordinarily powerful vampire, simply appeared in the shadow of a nearby palm tree.

If you saw Edgar walking the streets of L.A., you’d assume he was an ordinary businessman on his way home from the office. As long as you didn’t catch sight of the fangs peeking out from under his upper lip, you’d never have a clue he was the most dangerous person in a fifty mile radius. The fact that he was out in nearly broad daylight told me he was even more powerful than I’d realized, and I’d already put him at nearly the top of the list.

“She’s not lying, John. I’d know.”

Jones and Edgar were on a first name basis? Terrific. Why wasn’t I surprised?

Jones hadn’t even flinched when Edgar arrived, which meant he’d either invited him or could sense him. “She’s his Vaso, Edgar. She has to know. She’s blocking the connection or lying.”

“Vaso.” The word rang a bell, but it had been too long since lycanthrope cultural studies in college, so I turned to the resident expert, Emma. My questioning look made her nod and respond with lecture-like precision. “A werewolf often chooses a human partner, called a Vaso, to maintain its energy level. Excess energy is one of the leading causes of off-moon shifting and aggressive tendencies. In order for a werewolf to maintain a human appearance in normal society, the energy must be bled off periodically.”

Okay, that made sense. “Meaning Kevin has a Vaso, since he worked in IT at the university for a couple of years and nobody but us ever caught on that he’s a werewolf.”

She nodded. “Kevin always hinted that you served that role.”

That was news to me. He and I had never really talked about his condition. “Wouldn’t I know? I mean, that’s sort of personal, isn’t it?”

Jones cut in. “Precisely, because the partnership isn’t just a physical thing but a mental link. The human has to know where and when to find the wolf when he needs to have energy drained. So, you should know where he is.”

“But it makes no sense that I’d be the Vaso. Even when we were speaking, we barely spoke, and I sure as hell didn’t come running at his command.” I’d considered him one of my closest friends, but we weren’t close in the commonly understood sense. “Since when do you two chat? I thought Edgar was a hard target and you were hunting him.”

The organization Kevin had worked for in the past, and had gone back to work for recently, was some sort of quasi-governmental agency that ran black ops and hunted supernatural criminals—hard targets.

Edgar shrugged. “We live in a world of shifting alliances. Now that you’re out of play I figured helping get Landingham out will make him less likely to actively hunt me.”

Jones nodded and reached into the car to pull out a file folder. “Hewitt here is one of the best there is at getting inside locked buildings and removing people. So he’s useful even if he’s no longer affiliated with the Company.”

I was confident I didn’t want to know the history of either statement, so I didn’t reply or ask for details. But it was handy to know Edgar’s last name. It made him feel, oddly, like less of a threat. Weird.

“Besides,” he added, instantly quashing the whole idea of him being less than a threat, “I wasn’t there when you killed either Lilith or Luther, Celia, And I’m very curious about just how tough you are.”

In other words, did I do it alone or had it taken an army to kill two vamps, one more than a thousand years old? I didn’t answer, just raised my brows. Luther I’d done myself, but a devout reverend had held Lilith at bay with a glowing cross while I tossed a magical knife at her. Edgar had never seen my knives and I wasn’t about to share the details. Let him wonder. Just like he was letting me wonder how he had so much intelligence. That wasn’t supposed to be possible for vampires. How was he sane and smart enough to trust in an operation? And how had he traveled to the parking lot while it was still daylight? It was nearly sunset, and he was keeping to the shadows, but still.

My sire had been powerful enough to be able to be awake in daylight, but he couldn’t be out in it. Could Edgar? That was a very disturbing thought.

“If you’re done having a ‘who’s tougher’ lovefest, could we get on with saving my brother before he’s dead?” Emma’s voice was as sharp and angry as I’d ever heard it. Not that she had the right to be. We’d been shopping for the better part of three hours and she hadn’t said a word. So now it was my fault? I raised my brows at her and she blushed.

Jones handed me the manila folder and I flipped it open. Emma was beside me instantly, her golden hair brushing my arm in contrast to my own pale blonde as she leaned in to read the documents inside.

There were stacks of paper paper-clipped together and I quickly realized that they were dossiers of people. The first was for Ronald Tarnique, father of two pretty dark-haired girls. I frowned as I read about his perfectly normal life. What was I missing? “Okay, so he was a corporate executive for one of the major charities, nice house, good income, happy family. So?”

Jones flipped to the final page of Tarnique’s dossier. It was a court order sentencing Tarnique to life at the California State Paranormal Treatment Facility—aka “the zoo.” It was the very facility I’d fought not to be sentenced to. It was located in the desert outside my hometown of Santa Maria de Luna; I’d watched TV exposés on the place that would curl your hair and heard rumors that would make you lose your lunch. According to the paper, Tarnique had gone on a rampage and slaughtered forty people at a school bake sale. I flipped back to the original police report, which had the man—as a werewolf— chewing kids’ limbs off and then eating said limbs covered with cake frosting.

Emma grabbed the file from me and read the first few pages again. “This doesn’t sound right at all. Something doesn’t add up. Lycanthropes can’t put on acts this good. To raise a family, exist in the corporate world long enough to become a man- ager, participate in society, and then . . . this.” She looked at Jones with haunted eyes. “What sent him over the edge?”

“Therein lies the question.” He tapped a finger on the edge of the folder. “All of these cases didn’t add up. Amy got suspicious. She told Kevin and said something was very wrong.” Amy, Kevin’s girlfriend, is also a werewolf. “She said the one thing all of these people had in common is that they’d recently visited the zoo. Tarnique had been interested in having his charity provide resources to the facility to better the lives of the prisoners.”

He shifted another paper-clipped stack to the top so I could see the picture of a pretty woman with a Farrah Fawcett–style hairdo. “Tamara Cornith, also a lycanthrope, went on a similar rampage—right down to the bake sale—in the same week, two hundred miles to the south. She’d been to the zoo months before to see her husband’s aunt, who was a guard. But they met in the parking lot, just long enough for the older woman to sign some papers. Cornith never even made it inside.”

“What does this have to do with Kevin? Has he been frequenting bake sales?”

Jones shook his head and opened his mouth, but Edgar spoke up. He was now leaning against the fender of the sedan and watching us with interest. “No. Amy apparently got curious and decided to talk to the people in the file.”

“She’d mentioned to me,” Emma added, “that she was going to try to get a visitor’s pass to the zoo. She thought something was going on there and she wanted to see for herself.”

“She got inside.” Jones let out a noise that was both annoyed and frustrated. “And they decided to keep her. They locked her in a cage and Kevin called me to help get her out.”

Emma’s outrage was immediate. “They can’t do that! They have to have a court order to put someone in prison. They can’t just keep them.”

“Are you sure?” Jones sounded amused. “Amy is a werewolf. Kevin thought they might have some sort of sniffer that alerts the staff. It would be a small matter to lock up a guest and ask for a sanctioning order to keep them. What judge would refuse if it was claimed someone went berserk inside the facility?”

“But they’re already overcrowded. Why in the world would they want more residents?” As the words left my mouth I realized that, while it made no sense, it also made perfect sense. There were plenty of people in the world who’d be happy to lock me up in there, just because I have fangs.

“We’re thinking there’s more at work here than overzealous right-wingers or bureaucratic red tape. Something a little more . . . sinister.” The way Jones said it made my stomach twist in knots.

Edgar smiled grimly. “Precisely. It would be a perfect place for a demonic being to set up camp. It’s well known that the mentally unstable are more open to possession. Add magical ability to that, and . . .”

Oh, hell. Most people don’t like to think about prisons. Consciously, everybody recognizes they’re necessary, and so long as nothing bad happens inside they remain just outside our perception of normality. But while the inmates were locked up, plenty of people came and went from any institution every day—from delivery people to friends and family . . . and of course, every guard. I’d experienced for myself just how persuasive a greater demon could be. Even knowing he was going to torture me, toy with me until I went insane, then kill me hideously, I’d had to fight not to walk willingly into his arms. Someone already unstable would be toast.

“You said Amy got out. Is she okay?”

Jones took back the folder. It was pointless to read any more. I knew what I needed to. “She’s not . . . she’s in a coma. She has brain function, but she won’t wake up. We don’t know what they did to her. Warren’s got the top experts in the field on it—including warrior priests who have already done at least two exorcisms.” He paused. “Kevin got her out, but they captured him.”

“And you had to get Amy to safety.” I understood. Anytime people in our line of work go on missions, whether guarding celebrities or getting people out of the line of fire, there’s a chance we won’t make it out. We have to make choices and I was actually glad Jones had made the same one I would have. You get the wounded out and leave those capable of taking care of themselves behind. It sucks, but then most things in- volving danger do. And as angry as I was with him right now, I also knew Warren had more resources than most. He knows everyone in academia who is involved with the paranormal, and I knew from personal experience that every religious leader in the world had begun to realize that California was becoming a hotbed of demonic activity. The militant arms of the Christian churches, along with Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu religious warriors, were all working together to confront a true hell on earth.

Warren would have no problem finding people to take care of Amy’s soul.

I stared into Jones’s eyes for a long moment while “O Come All Ye Faithful” played in the background, then nodded. I was terrified down to my toes, but I had to help. “Okay, I’m in. But if it’s a demon stronghold, we can’t risk going in without an army behind us.”

“There’s no way we can get one in time,” Emma said. “Assuming anyone would believe us. Demons can influence people so subtly that the police and courts would be likely to say we’re nuts, because nothing overt is going on.”

“Exactly,” agreed Jones. “We have one choice, which is to get in the same way we did last night. As far as I can tell, no- body figured out how we got in. We should have gone back out the same way, but there was no way to with Amy unconscious. She was dead weight.”

That meant the route either was underground or involved climbing. Either Kevin or Edgar could easily carry her for hours unless it was an issue of dexterity. That meant I needed gear. “I’m not dressed for this. I say we go in after dark and after I’ve had a chance to get some tools and proper clothing. We won’t do Kevin any good if we’re not prepared for whatever they can throw at us.”

“I’ve got everything we’ll need. We’re in a hurry.” While I’m sure he believed that, he didn’t know what I had available to me.

“No offense, but for something like this I want tools I’m familiar with. Besides”—I pointed at my feathered friends—“they aren’t exactly native to the desert. Let’s let them go to bed so they don’t signal our arrival. Kevin’s tough enough to last for another hour or two.” I believed that absolutely and let the confidence show in my face and body. Jones let out another disapproving noise while Edgar shrugged. Emma looked at me for a long, silent moment and let out a deep breath before nodding.

“Fine. I’ll take you to wherever your tools are.” Jones opened his car door. “Get in.”

That so wasn’t happening. I smiled cynically. “Look, it’s not that I don’t trust you, but . . . well, I don’t trust you. I’d rather you not know exactly where I keep my stuff. I’m sure you feel the same.” Paranoia, thy name is Celia Graves. “Just tell me where and when to meet you.”

His expression shifted from surprise to offense before settling into respect. “You’ve got GPS?”

At my nod, he leaned into his car, punched a few buttons on his Garmin, then wrote something on the back of an envelope he picked up from the floor. “Use these coordinates. Meet me there in two hours. Hewitt and I will go start scoping out the facility. We’ll be ready to move in once you arrive.”

Edgar spoke up then: “I haven’t eaten yet, Jones. I doubt you want me to snack on a demonically possessed person.” Ouch. I don’t know exactly what the result of that would be, but bad seemed likely. “Of course, I’d need less if . . .” He left the statement unfinished but raised his brows at Jones.

No. He couldn’t really be suggesting that Jones donate blood. I’d heard that magical blood had more kick, but Jones didn’t seem the type to agree to that.

But he shook his head with only mild annoyance, not the outrage I’d expected. “Fine. But no more than a pint. I can’t afford to be less than my best.”

Eww. And they seemed so . . . casual about it. “Oh my god! You have got to be kidding. Have you done this before?”

Edgar seemed taken aback by my outburst. “Celia, vampires drink blood. It’s what we live on. Whether it’s Jones or a random drunk in an alley or one of your friends, I plan to eat tonight. You may have the luxury of being able to pick and choose your meals, but I don’t. One of these days, you might not have the choice, either, so you might as well get used to the thought. Eventually you will become a full vampire, by accident or intent or simple biology. There’s no way to avoid it.”

With that and probably to prove his point, he grabbed Jones’s arm. Jones didn’t move a muscle as Edgar’s lips peeled back to reveal delicate fangs. His eyes glowed red and Emma gasped. She backed behind me and even I wanted to turn away. But I couldn’t escape those eyes and the need behind them. The vampire inside me struggled to reach the surface. It wanted to share in the feast, and when Edgar drove his teeth into the soft flesh my whole body shuddered. It took more effort than I’d imagined to hold my ground. Even closing my eyes didn’t help, because soft slurping sounds made every nerve tingle, so I covered my ears. What I really needed were nose plugs, because the sweet copper that filled the air made me moan. I turned away then, just barely managing to avoid banging into Emma, and started to walk. I ran smack into Dawna, who was holding bags of succulent-smelling food that erased the copper from my nose. There was spaghetti for Emma, Chinese for herself, and when I opened my eyes I saw a tall cup with a straw that I was betting was mine.

Before she could react to my slamming into her or to Jones playing blood donor, I brought the straw to my lips and began to suck. Surprisingly, it was warm and thick and tasted equally of fruit and something I couldn’t quite place. Whatever it was, it satisfied the hunger of both vampire and human.

I looked at Dawna questioningly while continuing to drink. She had given Emma one of the Styrofoam containers and Emma had a sick look on her face as she stared at the rich tomato sauce. Jones’s blood was dripping onto the pavement. Jones didn’t seem to mind; he reached for one of the containers of Chinese with his free hand and a calm expression. Dawna handed it to him at the farthest reach of her arm. The discomfort on her face was the same sort of expression she would use while watching a relative snacking on live crickets. And she had relatives who did.

“What’s in this?” I finally got enough down to tear my lips from the straw. “It’s really good.”

“It’s a mixed-berry smoothie with lots of au jus. I asked the guy at the Chinese place to cook my beef slightly and pour the bloody broth in there before adding the stir-fry spices. Glad you like it.”

The look on my face as I regarded the cup made both men laugh. Edgar used the back of his arm to wipe blood from his lips before he said, “At least your friends have common sense, Graves.” His fangs weren’t showing, and he seemed once again like a collected, albeit amused, businessman, instead of the evil bloodsucker we’d just seen. I refused to dignify the comment and went back to drinking my shake. “I think you’ll find that eventually beef won’t be enough. There’s a reason why we instinctively seek out humans to feed from.”

“I’m doing just fine.” And I was. I was treating my vampirism like a food allergy. Adapt, but never give up your sense of self and humanity.

They were both still chuckling while they got in the car. Edgar took the wheel while Jones opened his food container and dug in as the twin holes in his wrist dripped down his arm. Crap. I so didn’t want to work with these guys. Yeah, they’re professionals, and powerful. But they seriously creeped me out.

“So what’s the scoop?” Dawna was looking pretty green and hadn’t touched her food. I could tell she was hanging on by teeth and toenails. It didn’t surprise me that this bothered her, given that she’d been attacked just a couple of weeks ago. The question was, would she collapse later? I’d have to make sure Emma stayed with her.

“Are you okay? I’m sorry you had to see that.”

“Me, too.” A shudder overtook her. “I have the feeling I’ll have a lot to talk about with the therapist this week.”

I hoped I wouldn’t be needing to join her in the session room by the time we got Kevin out.


CAT ADAMS—Cie Adams and Cathy Clamp—is the author of the Tales of the Sazi, including Hunter’s Moon and Howling Moon. Demon Song is the third in the Blood Singer series, which began with Blood Song and Siren Song. Adams lives in Denver, Colorado; Clamp lives in Texas.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
3 comments
Natasha Carty
2. WickedLilPixie
I adore Celia! One of the best new series out there, this one was an amazing read!
LL S
3. scepter
I love the cover art, especially her eyes.
Thanks for posting the chapters!
Post a comment