DEMON CHAINED

A Shadowfae novel
Out on 15 September 2013


Chapter One


The worst thing about being dead? Low blood pressure. Getting a hard-on is just about impossible.

But I've sure as hell got one now. Squeezing a smug murdering asshole's throat between my thighs does it for me every time. I jam my pistol harder into his forehead, banging his blond head into the metal floor, and I can't deny that adds a certain something, too.

Spit leaks in my mouth, thick and tasty, and I savor it. He can't move his arms, and his cool sweat soaks into my jeans. Bitch of a chafe there tonight. I remember to breathe, and the warm nightclub air tastes good, gritty with smoke and fear. "Tell me what you did wrong, bug guts."

My friend Gavain giggles. He's still lounging in the corner, shirt off, dark hair in tangles, blood-tinged fae sweat glistening on muscles stretched tight like wire. Gavain thinks all kinds of weird shit is funny. That's why he helped me lure this dog to his death. But I don't want to think about Gavain right now. I'm having too much fun.

The gangster grits broken teeth, his hair plastering in splashes of his own blood. "Don't know what you're on about."

Bzzt! Wrong answer. First rule of dealing with a reanimated psycho bent on revenge: tell him what he wants to hear.

I squeeze tighter, lean closer. My oily breath wets his face. "You killed me, motherfucker. You blew my goddamn brains out in front of my little girl. I'm still picking out bone splinters. Ringing any bells?"

Vertebrae pop as I twist my neck to show him the hole, black and sticky with rot beneath my long hair. I was going for a haircut that day, too, before the ambush. If they'd waited half an hour, kids would be running from me in the street. As it is, I can pass for living, just, so long as no one gets too close.

He chokes, either the smell or the pressure, and struggles, bare skin sticking on the metal floor. But he can't shift me. Not with the added weight of anticipation. I've waited a long time for this.

"Jesus, Tam, Joey pulled the goddamn trigger, you know that, I never knew he was gonna—"

"Do I look like I give a shit?" My finger jerks tighter on the trigger, and my teeth clamp together, gums crunching. Joey DiLuca's already top of my face-down-in-a-garbage-skip list. This asshole was just easier to catch. Fury dizzies me, and now my dick's so hard, it hurts. "Blood on my little girl's dress. Bits of my brains in her hair, you shit-eating little worm."

I'm trying to be cool and bad-ass, but my vision smears, black blood staining my tears.

Dying's nothing like they say. I remember everything, and I didn't see white light, or my grandmother strumming a harp, or any shit like that. Everything just stops, like you've pulled the plug on a movie projector. Hell's nothing like people say, either, except for one thing: it's full of snot-faced bureaucrats. Deals with demons take time, and I slammed back into my body too late. My daughter's corpse, flowering scarlet in her dead mother's arms, her murderers long gone. I hadn't spoken to my ex for eighteen months, and I wasn't allowed to see Katie, but it didn't mean she wasn't my sunshine.

My enemies kidnapped her to get to me, and when they had me, they killed her anyway, just for spite. She died because I was too slow. I can't bring her back. But I'll make this slick pretty-boy gangbanger regret ever laying his sleazy hands on her.

His chest heaves under my ass as he struggles to breathe. "Jesus, don't shoot. Crazy motherfucker, get off me—"

"Shut the fuck up." I drag his head back, and my fingers smear his hair. His wet blue eyes lock with mine. He sees his death, and pisses himself. I breathe again, and the warm salt tweaks my sluggish sense of smell. Jesus. The stink feels so good, a shudder rips through me, my balls tight and burning. Sensation plays hard to get when you're dead. If I come when I shoot him, I'm not responsible.

Mouth or jugular? I tap my pistol against his teeth, but he squirms and squeezes his lips shut. I trace the barrel down to his throat, where his pulse flutters, and shove it in tight. "See you in hell."

And that's when she walks in, and everything turns to shit.

~

You might ask what a newly escaped djinni like me was doing in the ladies' room of a wild fairy nightclub at one in the morning. Surely the sensible thing to do was hide, right? Make myself inconspicuous, boring, unwantable?

Unfortunately, sensible wasn't high on my list right now. Believe me, when you've just spent half a century trapped inside a tiny brass lamp, the last thing you want is a quiet night in.

I rinsed my hands. The hot water tingled, glorious on my new-formed skin. The steel tap sparkled, and I stared, enraptured, as my optic nerves sizzled with sensation. I'd missed this. Just the feel of air passing over my skin, in my lungs; the taste of cigarettes and sweat, the rich, intimate flavor of people. Wild, reckless music shuddered the floor beneath my feet, and I longed to drown myself. To taste food again, to run, dance, laugh, touch someone, come back to life.

But I'd have to do something about these clothes first.

I glanced at the girl next to me, who wore a tight black shiny number that pushed her boobs up and ended only a few inches shy of her knickers, with a studded leather collar and high boots with cruel fanglike heels.

Clearly, things had changed since the fifties. The white satin party dress I'd reappeared in glared like an iced wedding cake under the buzzing purple lights, and my choker of plastic pearls looked like what they were, cheap and old-fashioned now. Apparently, my hair was all wrong, too, soft and curled where hers was stiff and spiky with some kind of goo.

I twisted the water off, the metal smooth and warm on my palm. "That's a cool outfit."

She bent towards the cracked mirror, plastering on sparkly blueberry lipstick. Her nails were painted the same color. "Thanks."

I unfurled my compulsion, a sweet silvery shimmer that laced my words with do-as-I-say. Damn, it felt good to use my magic for myself for once. "Give it to me."

She rolled her lips together and popped the makeup away. "Okay."

Yes. My blood thrummed, the sensation snatching my breath away. For a instant, cool air feathered my body. Then the warm embrace of nylon, tight on my torso like a glove, and a sharp stab in my ankles where leather cinched too tight.

The girl smoothed her new white satin skirts, and walked out, oblivious.

This is all I'm good for, really. I'm just a collector, a wheedler, a fetcher of baubles. I swap one thing for another when people aren't looking. Creating something out of nothing? Can't be done, on the whole. But try telling people that. They get hold of my lamp and they start thinking three wishes, untold wealth, cosmic power. Fetch me the moon, Jewel, and french fries on the side while you're at it. They're always disappointed when I tell them I can't.

Well, probably I could do the french fries. But no more taking orders for me. I'm my own djinni now.

I pushed my boobs up a little higher, and adjusted the dog collar at my throat. A swipe of that blue lippy, and I couldn't help the satisfied grin that plastered itself on my face. I dropped the makeup back in my new bag. Perfume in there, too, amber liquid in a cute glass bottle. I squirted it on and staggered, blood gushing to my brain. Whoa. The rich fragrance dizzied me like opium, my nostrils orgasming, and I fumbled as I searched further. Tissues, condoms, a couple of pink pills—medicine?—in a transparent bag, some crumpled rainbow slips of plastic that from the numbers on them I figured must be money, and a shining steel switchblade knife.

Too tempting. I popped the blade and with a couple of satisfying slashes, piles of long black hair dropped limp to the tiles. I tugged jagged ends around my chin, and grinned again. Too cool for school, baby.

I picked up the shiny clear plastic bag I'd brought with me, glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one watched. It was a police evidence bag, tagged with serial numbers. My master was murdered—so sad; no doubt the crazy asshole was asking for it—and along with everything else in his apartment, the cops had collected me.

Inside, my lamp gleamed, the etched brass warm and smooth, tarnish-free. My home. My prison, dark and empty, endless decades with no light, no sound, no sensation to remind me I was alive. Nothing but nightmares and tears, the hungry darkness swallowing my screams.

I swallowed. My master was dead at last, and I'd escaped before anyone new could claim me. What if I squashed the lamp flat? Welded the lid on tight, so no one could ever open it and enslave me? Dropped it deep in the ocean, buried it in some skyscraper's concrete foundations?

I didn't know. To tell the truth, I'd always been too scared to find out.

The girl's handbag was just big enough. I stuffed the lamp inside and forced the metal clip shut. I clutched the bag close over my shoulder. The creep who imprisoned me was dead. The lamp was mine. I was free. And I was never letting it out of my sight again.

I pushed the swing door open, stumbling on my new heels, and sensation washed over me like a burning tide. Flashing lights, so dazzling my eyes watered, the glorious stink of sweat and spit and breath. Glowing snapshots of movement, muscles, limbs, sweat-slick skin, glinting metal, shining leather, bright rainbow hair. Sound assaulted me, throbbing deep inside my body, thuds and electric screeches and a voice stretched raw with pain and rage. Music, so wild and free and gorgeous it stabbed a sweet ache through my guts.

Things had definitely improved while I'd been gone.

I laughed, and my blood sang with the feel of muscles working in my guts, air buzzing in my larynx, freshly made sound rolling over my tongue. Magnificent.

"Dance, smoky girl?"

I nearly walked into him before I realized he was talking to me, and when I recovered I started wishing I had. Glistening silvery skin, inky blue dreadlocks, translucent fairy wings frosty with glitter. Hard grey eyes, insistent, definitely not shy. The hint of razor teeth behind supple white lips that begged to be sucked on. And oh my, muscles everywhere, fragrant silver sweat shining in smoky rainbow lights. He twitched his wings, and sinew rippled across his perfect chest.

I goggled, transfixed. Men were a lot . . . umm . . . bigger than I remembered. And they wore a whole lot less. Shirts were apparently optional, and the only thing stopping those pants from sliding off his oh-so-lickable hips was surface tension. I hadn't seen that much of a man who wasn't naked since . . . well, since forever.

My pulse thudded, heat swelling my veins. Something about the sharp steel spike through his earlobe and the barbed chain circling his neck in tiny beads of blood suggested he wasn't all that nice, and I chewed my lip, wicked delight prickling my spine.

Bad men are my weakness. I've got fifty-odd years spent crammed inside my lamp to show for that. I should know better.

But my gaze draped itself over him, and I swallowed a mouthful of greedy spit. Gimme, oh yes. I want one.

Jewel, are you mad? Inconspicuous, remember? Keep it in your pants, for heaven's sake.

Oh, yeah. Sure. After all these years with nothing else to think about. Just you try.

Bits of me I'd forgotten I had sprang to life, urging and aching. What was freedom for, if not this? I smiled. "Beautiful, you can do whatever you want to me."

He pulled me close, crushing his hips into mine with long bony fingers, and my knees weakened so fast I thought I'd dissolved by accident. His body burned me, hard, slick with fragrant sweat. I savored every gorgeous curve and . . . umm . . . bulge. Blood rushed to my sex, swelling my flesh until it hurt. I hadn't touched anyone for half a century, so it wasn't understating things to say that rubbing up against Mr. Bad-gorgeous-and-so-clearly-in-the-mood was a bit more than I could handle. And he smelled amazing, too, male skin and leather and sex, pine-scented glitter from his wings tingling over my face.

I slid my arms around his neck, skin rasping on skin. His knotted blue hair slithered on my wrists, and a delicious shudder wracked me. I inhaled, dizzy, his raw fae scent sparkling on my tongue. Angry tension twisted me deep inside. I wanted to taste him, swallow his sweat, drag my tongue over his satiny white lips, delve inside and remember what it felt like to be touched, ravished, hurt.

He bunched my newly cropped hair in his fist, sharp knuckles grazing my scalp. "Sweet cherry girl. So hot."

His voice caressed inside my ear, throaty with promise. I was still picking up on modern phraseology: I'm really into that, or bitchin!, or it's so, like, awesome. Somehow, I didn't think he meant the opposite of cool. "Baby, you're hot enough to eat."

"Wanna go?"

"Love to." I wasn't sure why we needed to go anywhere to make out, though. People seemed more daring in public these days. The two guys next to us were kissing and no one cared. Couples and threesomes were all over each other everywhere, limbs entwining, lips shining wet, clothing tugged awry by grasping fingers. Over on the couches, a green-haired banshee and her boyfriend were actually at it in front of everyone, her sinewy thighs clutched around his naked hips. God, I loved this place.

My fairy sex god wrapped sinfully flexible fingers around my wrist and dragged me away, fluttering up a few metal steps into the dark. My senses crackled, electric. Sighs and cries of pain or pleasure brushed my ears, haunting, and I strained to see but the limpid green glow was too dim.

In the rich stink of flesh he pushed me into a wall, face first. My bag bumped on a doorframe beside me. The cold steel bruised my hipbones, torturing my breasts until my nipples swelled and ached to be twisted. Pain, pleasure, I didn't care. I couldn't restrain a groan of delight as he rubbed against me, big and hard and ready. Apparently, horny fae boys hadn't changed too much there. Heat welled between my legs, and it felt so damn good I whimpered. I didn't know what kind of underwear I had on, but I hoped it came off easily. I wanted him on me, all over me, inside me, and I didn't think anyone would care if he did me right here and now.

Something heavy crashed into the opposite side of my wall, cracking my teeth together. But I wasn't in any shape to care, not with this guy's fingers spidering deftly up my thigh, his exquisitely sharp teeth tantalizing my shoulder, his warm breath sugary like apples.

My nerves stretched taut, tension flavoring my skin so his every movement was sweet agony. God, it felt so good to be touched. I kind of wished he'd slow up a little, let me savor it, but if he was in a hurry I wasn't about to tell him to stop.

Then someone yelled from just beyond the doorway, and I had to take notice.

—Don't shoot, crazy motherfucker, get off me.

A man's voice, brittle with fear. Was he being attacked?

"Wait." I gasped as the fairy pierced me, his sharp nail grazing. It stung, but any sensation was sexual after so long. My muscles jerked around him, already quivering for release. "What was that?"

"Cherries and smoke," he whispered, and tasted my ear with his sharp tongue. Another claw, digging, probing, his fingers impossibly, gloriously long, sinking effortlessly into me and he knew exactly where to stroke to make me shudder. My breath shortened, spasms building deep inside me. Oh, my God, yes. Touch me. More. Harder . . .

—Shut the fuck up. A different voice, determined. Shaking with emotion.

Damn it. So close. But I couldn't ignore this. I wriggled, panting. "Stop it. We can't just—"

The crisp, unmistakable click of a bullet in the chamber. —See you in hell.

The fairy stiffened—the rest of him, I mean—and snarled, razor teeth nipping my ear. His fingers curled inside me, claws teasing, but it wasn't enough. "Bullets. Taste like landfill. Later, sundae girl." And in a rain of sweet silver glitter, he was gone.

I stumbled, off balance, wrenching my ankle. Before I could right myself, I'd fallen into the open doorway.

A dark-haired fairy with reddish skin, slouching in the corner, his ruby eyes glinting. A blond guy, half-naked, pinned to the floor by something that looked like a quivering chunk of fury brandishing a pistol.

I'm still not too sure what happened then.

The madman with the pistol looked up. The blond one under him flexed like a whiplash, breaking free, and next thing I knew a fist dragged my hair back and an icy steel blade stung my throat. Holy cow, Blondie was fast.

"Go on, shoot me, you fucking psycho." Blondie's wet jeans stuck to the backs of my legs. His hot breath hissed in my ear. "Put it down or this pretty girl bleeds. You want that?"

The fucking psycho twisted to his feet. Lank dark hair fell in his face. His up-tilted eyes glinted black, his bare arms slick with dirty sweat as he sighted down the barrel at the guy's head.

Which happened to be directly behind my right eyeball.


Chapter Two


My pulse sprinted, and sweat dripped a cold trail between my breasts.

"I said, drop it." Blondie dug his blade deeper into my skin. The sting caressed, like a warm feather, and a hot trickle of blood fingered my collarbone.

The red-eyed fairy sidled closer against the wall, his long padded fingers stretching like a frog's, but Blondie jerked the knife, making me yelp. "Stay put, fairyshit."

Crap. I was already on edge, and my body just went right on reacting, blood pumping to all the wrong places. My nipples strained against the tight nylon, but I didn't dare move. Maybe I could play the helpless female, defuse the situation.

I sprinkled the air with sweet djinni persuasion. "Let me go. Please. This has nothing to do with me—"

"Shut the f . . . just shut up." The dark guy with the gun clenched his jaw so hard it popped, muscles standing out along his dirt-smeared cheek. His finger jerked on the trigger, tightening.

My guts clenched, watery. Guess I was out of practice. Enough with this heroic stuff. I sucked in a hot breath to scream for help.

But his grimy forearms quivered, and at last he ripped one hand away from the gun. "Goddamn it. Before I change my mind."

Blondie chuckled in delight, and let go. "Be seeing you, loser." His warmth vanished from my skin as swiftly as it had arrived. The red-eyed fairy bolted after him, a dark blur.

Leaving me alone with an armed madman.

Cautiously, I wiped blood from my throat, smearing my choker. My pulse thrummed under my fingers. My throat swelled, tense. I didn't know what to say, how to calm him down. "Are you—"

"That asshole murdered my daughter." His voice was toneless, soft, and on the last word it cracked, but he didn't lower his pistol.

Great. I'd stumbled into a personal vendetta. Still, my heart melted. I knew how much it hurt to lose the one you loved. I'd even have felt sorry for this guy, if he wasn't aiming a gun at my face.

He stepped closer. I backed off, only to bruise my shoulder blades against the wall. I smelled sweat, piss, something else not quite fresh, and my mouth watered. A ripe smell, but any smell was chocolate cake tonight.

I swallowed. "Put the gun away, all right? I didn't mean anything."

Very smooth, Jewel. For a girl who persuades for a living, you've got a rotten line in wheedle-the-crazyman. I tried to spark my magic again, searching for a glimmer of persuasion to ward him off.

But nothing ignited. My blood slithered cold like a snake in my veins. So many years in my lamp, not casting a single spell. What if I was broken?

What if I couldn't survive alone?

He slapped his palm into the wall beside my head. His gun hovered inches from my face. I jerked back. My skull smacked the metal. I didn't want him to touch me, not with a weapon in his hand and that unsettling smell so strong. But I couldn't help noticing he'd be damn fine, if he'd only take a shower. Exotic. Strong cheekbones, curvy lips, hot dark eyes with a hint of oriental mystery, acres of long straight hair just perfect for trailing over me if it wasn't thick with dirt.

His body wasn't half bad either, despite the weird pearlescent sheen on his skin. Lickable body art, inked black thorns curling over his bunched biceps and down the inside of his forearm. Strip him off, soap him up, rinse him off . . . mmm. My skin puckered into stinging goose bumps, and delicious remnants of my arousal sparked.

Did I mention that bad men are my weakness?

I could have smoked out of there, left him to his dark revenge games. But something about his steely determination stopped me. I felt like he deserved more than my cowardice. More than just some broad who waltzes in, ruins his day and vanishes in a puff of screw-you.

I tried again. "Look, I know how you feel. I'm sorry."

"You know nothing." He leaned closer, muscles straining, and the fleshy smell intensified. Not perfume, nothing artificial or tacky. Just him, hot and male and delicious. I gritted my teeth as he prodded the cold metal barrel into my chin. I wanted him to do it harder, to feel my soft skin bruise. I wanted to kick him in the face for threatening me.

His chest hitched, like he gulped a breath, and his black gaze burned sweet acid trails over my cheekbone, my jaw, my mouth.

I shivered, and tried not to let him see it, clenching my thighs immobile. I'd expected rage, sarcasm, violence. Not this.

He looked like I felt. Deprived. Ravenous. Desperate.

Oh, no. No way, Jewel. You are not intrigued. Not sympathetic. Definitely not interested.

He stared at me, dark blood flowering in one eyeball. Dirt seeped in his hair, staining his cheek with little flecks of . . .

My mouth dried. Bone. They were bone splinters. Psychotic male model had a hole in the side of his head. And that grime . . . it wasn't dirt. It crawled beneath his skin, like a mottled black shadow.

Or . . . death.

Holy cow. He'd bigger problems than one too many bullets in that pistol.

I fought not to rip my gaze away, hide my face, do anything but look at him. Who'd made him like this? No one chose what he was. I knew what it felt like to be a prisoner of cruel whims, but Jesus.

His mouth twisted, like he knew what I was thinking. He cocked his wrist to the ceiling, releasing me from the pistol's arc. "Go on, then. Run."

I ran, clutching my precious bag to my hip. Wouldn't have done me any good to smoke out anyway. Straight into the lamp I'd go, leaving it there on the floor for anyone to take. For him to take, and claim me. Not on your life.

I skidded around the doorframe, sharp heels tipping under me, and too late, I smelled blood.

Strong fingers wrapped my wrist, pulling me upright into a slender fae body. I stared up at glowing ruby eyes, wet cinnamon-brown hair plastered around a sharp face and lean bare shoulders. His dusky skin glistened, blotted with reddish sweat. A blood fairy. The dead guy's accomplice.

"Bauble girl?" His voice caressed, husky. Pastel purple lips curled, a sweet crooked smile made cruel by jagged fae teeth.

Dirty-handsome-crazy number two. Spare me. At least this one didn't have a gun, not that I could feel. His body heat seared, like he was feverish, and fragrant sanguine moisture seeped from under his fingers onto my wrist.

Memory seared my bones, the same spicy scent of a fairy I once knew and loved. But this wasn't my Javier, no matter the resemblance. It was some murdering corpse's best friend.

I twisted my arm, but he held me, double-jointed knuckles bending impossibly backwards. "Pearls," he insisted, shaking me like he knew he wasn't getting through to me. "Gems, glass, diamonds, something, damn it . . ."

Jewel. He meant Jewel.

My chest constricted. How did he know my name? Some weird fairy mind-reading mojo? I didn't want anyone knowing me, or remembering me. I wanted to be free.

"Let me go, you freak." I wriggled harder, and he jittered backwards, his skinny shoulders twitching like he wanted to flutter away but couldn't.

And he really couldn't.

I stared, swallowing. I hadn't noticed until now. Mind-reading bloodfae boy had no wings.

Suddenly, I regretted calling him a freak.

He stared back at me, black pupils swelling. His grip gentled on my wrist, blood smearing. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to weird you out. I just—"

"It's okay." I didn't pull away. I don't tell anyone my name. It's too dangerous. It gives them power over me. But he'd apologized for my insensitivity. I owed him something. "You were right. It's something like that."

He licked pretty lips, a flicker of his sharp-pointed tongue, and he turned my hand over in his, studying it like a marvel. "Brass walls. Smells of dust and flowers. It's dark and cold . . . but . . ." As if on impulse, he leaned forward and exhaled.

His breath scorched my knuckles. My fingers numbed. Faded. Dissolved into spiraling grey smoke.

My pulse galloped, and I jerked back. My hand recrystallized, smoky wisps coalescing with a hiss. My fresh skin tingled. Blood rushed into newly formed veins, pins and needles that sparkled my nerves with threat.

No way. Not happening. The only one who turns me to smoke is me.

I wanted to smash his handsome face to pulp, to grab him by that pretty hair and force his face into the wall and ask him how the hell he'd done that. "Just stay away from me, okay?"

He flitted a few steps after me. "I didn't mean—"

But I didn't wait for another apology. This fae-crazy half-caste knew way too much, and had too much to do with dirty-but-weirdly-sexy-murderer for my taste.

Out of my depth? Sister, you're practically underwater.

I stumbled down the stairs, grabbing the cold steel handrail to keep my feet, and pushed into the crowd. The liquid in my ears thumped in time with the music. I hugged my bag close, safe in the crush. The comforting smells of hundreds of people crashed over me like a salty avalanche, and I sucked them in, filling my lungs over and over to erase the dark taste of fairy blood and the rich, maddening smell of weird. The oxygen rush made my head float and spin, and I squeezed my eyes shut, safe in the press of warm bodies, and let the drunken sway of dancers support me, move me, wash me along.

Bad men. It's always the bad men who want me, the ones who crave excitement and hot blood and the breathless chemical mindfuck of the unknown. Who chase my lamp to the ends of the earth for a chance to test my power, just because they can. The kind for whom giving orders just isn't enough. They have to possess me, dominate me, be my magical master.

The kind who shove guns under my chin with undead fingers, or turn my flesh to smoke with a breath. I mean, hello? How's that for shiver-up-the-spine fascinating?

Why is it always the dangerous ones who turn me on?

I squeezed my bag tightly, the lamp's hard curves pressing into my sweaty palms. Tension cramped in my back and along my arms. Inside me, swollen flesh still ached from the deft stroke of that silvery fae boy's claws. I burned for contact, touching, sensory overload, the electric thrust of sensation along my nerves. Bodies bumped me in the crush, tempting me to open my eyes, but I hardly dared.

Please, for once an ordinary, nice, boring guy. Someone I can trust not to ask questions, whom I can dump in the morning without regret. No surprises. No kink. No haunting memories. Just nice clean ordinary sex, with a nice clean orgasm or two that I'll forget about as soon as I'm done.

Hell, I'm lonely. Is that such a sin, after fifty-odd years in a dark cramped space with nothing but my thoughts?

I took one more numbing breath, and let my eyelids slide apart. The rainbow-lit darkness befuddled me for a moment, shadows dancing, a hundred vibrant smells globbing into one soothing waterfall. Lithe figures undulated, sinew stretching, skin and wing membranes glowing in neon glory. Flashes of warm wet lips, glimmering metal piercings, smooth leather and satin, the dusty glitter of painted lashes.

There, that one. Messy blond elflocks, soft lips, smooth young face with a hint of wistful confusion. Only a human, with comparatively normal clothes, just jeans and a tight T-shirt and a simple silver ring through one earlobe. Icy blue eyes with curling lashes that made me envious. I sidled closer, relaxing, rolling my hips, letting that heart-ripping music thud its release into my veins. Was that a smear of eyeliner? If he was totally into girls, I was a nun. I glanced downwards at some very strokable male shapes. Beautiful, oh yes. Sexy, in a throw-'em-out-when-you're-finished kind of way.

But not fae. Not dangerous. Not dark or angry or corpse-like in any way.

Just what I needed.

I smiled, and bumped his hip with mine, leaning in so I didn't have to yell too loudly. "You here on your own?"

An improbably radiant smile. "Not exactly."

"You are now." I twirled one of his crisp blond locks around my finger, letting my thumb drift along his collarbone. Ragged ends feathered over my knuckles, tingling them with sweet promise, and magic sparked in my blood, a hint of that old Jewel persuasion. Pity it hadn't worked when I really needed it.

"Okay." He didn't even blink. "Can I dance with you?"

"Honey, I'll tell you exactly what you're gonna do." I slipped my wrists around his neck, inhaling woody cologne and sharp aniseed liqueur. Mmm. His hair trailed over my forearms, coarse and wonderful, and my gaze dragged itself to his mouth and stayed there. I remembered kissing, the visceral taste of a man's mouth, the smooth rub of tongues, the scrape of teeth. Can't imagine it's changed. His ripe lips inched apart, and the sight snatched my breath away. "You live near here?"

"Yep."

"Good. You'll take me there, and we'll, umm, pass a bit of time. When we're finished, you'll go live somewhere else and I'll stay there. That okay with you?"

"Sure."

I leaned in and slid my lips across his, left to right. Soft, hot, skin catching on supple skin, a dizzying mouthful of alcohol-sweet breath. Longing stabbed down my body, straight from my mouth to my sex, and my skin broke out in needy bumps.

Oh, yeah. He'd do just fine.


Chapter Three


Fuck.

I crack my forehead against the steel and crush the pistol barrel into my temple, itching to pull.

I can't believe I let him get away because of a woman.

Some clumsy black-eyed girl in a dog collar, cute ass and sweet breasts, falling over her own stilettos to get away from me. Who I couldn't even shoot, because I kept seeing Katie on the floor drenched in blood and wondering if this girl had someone who'd see her like that, and because her lips were painted blue like a mortuary corpse's and I wanted to kiss them, and because she saw what I am and didn't scream or puke or run away . . . Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Fluid squelches under the pistol's metal, dripping down my cheek, and I grind my wobbly teeth together and remind myself there's no point in pulling the trigger. Just another hole in my head, more mess to clean up on the bathroom floor tonight. But my bones judder like I haven't moved or hurt in an age, and damn it if I'm not still quivering and hot from that hard-on.

Chill, Tam. Go home, shower, jerk off. Got a couple of hours?

I bang my head again, and sweet pain teases my nerves, tickling like some feral dominatrix's feather, never quite enough. Again, spreading that wet black stain, blood running sour into my mouth. Again. More. Until pain hurts like it used to, until I can feel again. Until I can go back to being alive. God, I fucking hate this.

"Tam, stop it."

I hate how Gavain says my name, too, and I grimace at that breathy, spaced-out voice. His long hot fingers slide on my wrist, twisting the weapon from my hand.

I squeeze, my knuckles popping, but he's stronger than he looks and the sticky metal rips from my palm, taking a layer of skin with it. My nerves spark at last, current zapping down my arm, and it's bliss.

Not now, Gavain.

My voice cracks, dry and salty like potato chips in my throat. "Don't."

But he does. He always does. Soft hands on my shoulders, sliding beneath my hair, the spice of faeblood sluggish in my nostrils. My tongue stings, foul with stupid rage. I want to twist those goddamn gentle hands behind his back and throw him on the floor. I want to bruise that fragile faeborn face, teach him what it is to rely on me.

I spin around and slam my palms into his chest. "I said, don't touch me."

Gavain's fairy-light, and he stumbles backwards, but his uncanny balance changes it into a graceful tilt-and-straighten. His lips tremble, velvety like raspberries, and wordlessly he tosses my pistol on the bench, scoops his shirt up from the floor and tugs it over his head. A steel-grey T-shirt, slashed off ragged at the shoulders. It suits him.

I wipe his red sweat from my wrist, rubbing it so I don't have to look at him. I might be dead and determined but I'm not beyond a twinge of remorse, and besides, he's . . . well, he's him. Dark chocolate hair, always in slutty wet tangles you want to yank around your fists. Haunted ruby eyes that beseech you for a moment of your regard, that exotic fae-slim body just begging to be dragged to its knees and punished. Half human, half blood fairy, all beautiful.

He looked like strange candy to me even before I died. He has no idea how he looks to me now. Exquisite. Precious. Breakable. Delicate things get broken when I'm around. Just look at Katie and her mother.

Gavain tugs hair from his collar and taps curved claws on his teeth, his knobbly knuckles shining. "I'm sorry, Tam. I fucked up. Couldn't catch the whippy little turd."

"Forget it." I retrieve my pistol and empty the chamber, thankful that he's lucid, at least for now.

"Your lady turned to smoke."

Not lucid for long, evidently. "Uh-huh." I pop the ejected round back into the magazine. Oh, look, it's still got Mr. Whippy Turd's name on it. Later, shitball.

Gavain slides crafty fingers over my shoulder, scarlet fae weirdness glinting from his eyes. "The black-eyed diamond lady. She's made of smoke."

"Whatever you say, man. Let go." His touch crawls, too much and at the same time nowhere near enough. I shrug to get him off, my unease taking a serious shit-kicking from sensation-lust just beneath my brittle skin.

"You going home?" He digs insistent claws into my forearm, piercing, and mottled blood seeps under them, flecked with bits of my flesh. A wicked, glorious stab of real pain goes straight to my balls. And then he wets his lips, slowly.

Aw, shit no. Don't think it, Tam. Not going there . . . too late. Already I can see it. Blood, sweat, his crushed-berry mouth, his tongue . . . Sweet Jesus.

I shake him off, my blood stinging. His claws rip, and fluid oozes from four parallel scratches, but I don't care. I can't pretend he means nothing to me—hell, these days he's the closest thing I've got to a friend. But Gavain's like a lost fairy child, needy and helpless, and I'm not his goddamn mother. He couldn't assert his way out of a soggy paper bag. I'm just not going there. "Yeah. Alone. Go screw with someone else's head, Gavain. It's what you're good at."

I don't wait for his expression. I'm not interested in guilt tonight. I jam the pistol barrel down my jeans and walk out.

Outside, music drenches my ears like acid, and I drag it in, letting it fill me, vibrate me, scour away the shock. My knee pops out as I descend the stairs, but I'm used to that and I kick it back in without breaking stride. I forge into the undulating crowd. People move away from me as I push past, but I'm used to that too.

Around me the usual late night shit is going down—at Unseelie Court, that means fucking, mostly, if you're not still dancing or snorting vampire blood or wheedling a hit of fuck-me-over from some greedy fairy—and it isn't helping my mood. The sting of Gavain's claw marks already fades, the immediacy lost, but my cock still twitches, impatient. Feeling neglected? No sympathy.

I crunch my elbows onto the glass bar, leaving a satisfying smear. I ask for a triple bourbon straight up, and drop it in a single fat swallow. Slow fire spreads in my gut, the aftertaste barely making a dent.

Getting drunk is dangerous when you're dead, and I tell myself I want only one. Any more than that and I'll be drunk for a week while it works out of my blood. My metabolism isn't exactly on top of things these days. I really want a cigarette, too, something black and strong, just to feel rough smoke sear my lungs, but nicotine just makes me glassy and paranoid like bad meth.

Can't drink, can't smoke, can't take a pill. Being dead sucks.

I slide the glass back onto the bar and turn away. Home. Shower. And as far as jerking off goes, hell, I've got all night.

"She is made of smoke, you know."

I halt, and close my gritty eyes. Knew I shouldn't have said 'hell'. But demonic compulsion hacks like dull razors in my veins, and I have to turn or I'll cramp. "What the fuck do you want?"

Kane sips his vodka cruiser, lime green liquid slipping into his mouth through a straw. He leans his elbow on the bar, casual, and blue sparks jump from his fluffy golden hair. "Your pretty black-eyed jewel. She turns to smoke. Fascinating."

I know better than to take his bait. "Yeah, well, I'm all fascinated out, mate. Can it wait?" The demon lord of Melbourne and he's wearing a fucking suit, for God's sake, with a shiny purple tie and golden cufflinks, like he works in a bank, or something. And he's drinking alcopops again. He has a thing about green drinks, the more sickly-sweet the better.

But he doesn't fool me with his naïve metrosexual act. Fact is, he doesn't need to wear leather and bike chains or drink double scotch neat to make his point. The Kane I know has flaming blue hair to his waist, skin like burnt toast and long pincushion teeth, and believe me when I tell you he has all the vile horrors of hell at his fingertips.

Wake-up call to self: the teeth should have been a giveaway. Next time, don't promise your soul to a guy with teeth like a blackwater eel.

He lifts a soft blond eyebrow at my attitude, and humidity shimmers with his mood, dampening my skin. Condensation beads on the glass bar, and he shifts his elbow in distaste. "I've a job for you, Tam. Are you busy?"

A fist of dismay squeezes my lethargic heart into spasm. I don't know for sure how long this crumbling body of mine will last. Whippy Turd still isn't dead, and you don't just walk up and whack a weird-ass crime boss like Joey DiLuca. It takes planning, deviant thinking, weeks of wicked sly fuckery. I don't have time for Kane's shit.

Besides, I've got my night all planned out. Whatever Kane wants, I'm not in the mood.

But he fixes me in that mild black stare, and I should just walk away, but somehow I can't, and my limbs judder with dread. I sigh, my mouth sticky with salt. "What? Just say it, okay?"

Kane smiles, revealing perfect white human teeth. Liar. "In the smoke girl's bag, there's a lamp. A brass one. With a lid."

I knew it'd be something petty and humiliating. He's playing with me, like he has all along. I think it amuses him to watch me rot. "You're shitting me. Lamp? As in, Aladdin-and-his-magic? Come off it, Kane, you can do better than that."

His fingernails gouge the label on his bottle, sharpening into mottled claws. "She has a lamp. I want it. Don't ask questions."

Like why don't you get it yourself, you smug asshole?

I follow his gaze into the dim crowd, and there she is. Slender neck, tight limbs, a cute pointy chin, locking those sexy blue lips with some hot blond kid. He's got a great ass, legs long and lean in torn jeans, but it's she who seduces my eye. She shimmies her lithe body like a black-sheathed serpent. Now I'm staring, and not just at her legs. There's perfect abandon in the way she tosses her inky hair, stretches those supple white arms and moves her body to feel his skin on hers. Even her breathing is deliberate, like she's feeling every muscle fiber separately. She smiles into their kiss, enjoying every second of it, and warmth ripples under my skin, slow but definite. Something pricks at my stomach, too, soft little claws of discomfort.

Just a sec . . . yep. That's envy, all right. When I was alive, I could have had a woman like that. Maybe. If I got really lucky.

I search for this bag Kane's on about, and there it is, black and square behind her hip, the thick strap slung over the opposite shoulder.

I used to be a thief, among other things, before I died and got clumsy. B & E was more my style, but in this crowd I can snatch her no problem. Could be a lamp in there, I suppose, the bag looks big enough.

Whatever. Screw it. I'll do it right now, and then maybe Kane will leave me alone for a few days and I can get back to Whippy Turd and his kidnap-happy mates. Besides, look where that bag is. Maybe I can cop a feel.

Did I really just think that? You're a fucking class act, Tam. "Okay. When ya want it?"

Kane slurps his drink, deliberate. "Tomorrow will do."

Heh. Fooled ya. "It's after midnight already. Gives me an extra day."

But she's already leaving, shoving people aside and practically dragging the new love of her life towards the exit. I stumble a few steps, that bourbon already blurring my vision, but it's too late. She's gone.

Shit.

Kane smiles faintly, ash drifting from his hair. "You'll need it. Dawn tomorrow, Tam."

As always, sick terror scrapes my nerves. Blunt but effective. He doesn't need to add or else, or anything crude like that. I already know what'll happen if I don't jump to his whims, and anyone who says they're not afraid of hell hasn't been there.

I swallow salty phlegm, and follow her.



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