Pleasure Unbound (Demonica #1)(36) by Larissa Ione

“My name’s Gem.”

“Well, Gem, now that we’re all buddy-buddy and on a first-name basis, you want to tell me why you introduced me to your knuckles?”

“So many ways to answer that.” Gem studied her black-painted nails. “How’s life in The Aegis treating you?”

“You must be a demon.” Something struck Tayla as being familiar. Gem’s eyes . . . so green. Tayla had seen them before.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because demons seem to lack the switch in the brain that warns them when they are about to say something stupid.”

“I knew you’d have a sense of humor.”

“Enough of the cryptic shit. How do you know me?”

“I’ve always known you.”

“Jesus Christ,” Tayla muttered. “I don’t have time to play games.” She turned on her heel, not sure where she was going but desperate to get away from Cryptic Goth Chick.

“You have very little time for anything, slayer. You’re dying. And not slowly.”

Tayla snorted and kept walking. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

A hand closed on her elbow and jerked her around. “Fool!”

Tayla had Gem flat on her back and was straddling her waist in a flash. “What the hell is your problem?”

“My problem?”

The sound of approaching footsteps barely registered, but the low, controlled drawl drew a groan from them both.

“That is so hot. E, do you think we can talk them into getting naked, too?”

Eidolon stood next to Wraith and Shade, arms crossed, watching Gem and Tayla like a stern father, which was appropriate, because fighting with Gem seemed unnaturally . . . natural.

“She started it,” Gem said, and Tayla snorted.

“What’s your issue with me?”

Gem shrugged off Tayla’s grip on her upper arm, but didn’t try to dislodge her. “My issue is how you’ve wasted your life. You could have been so much more than an Aegis slayer.”

“Guardian,” Tay growled. “And how do you know what I’ve done with my life or what I could have been?”

“Because,” Gem said, “we’re sisters, and look what I became.”

Tayla narrowed her eyes at the other woman. “Sisters in what? Half-humanhood?”

“Blah, blah.” Wraith yawned. “Can you guys start fighting again?”

Gem shoved Tayla off her. They sat in the light from street lamps that streaked through a broken window, staring like rival cats. “I’m half Soulshredder. Just like you.”

Tayla’s breath left her in a rush. “We have the same father?”

Eidolon moved in, as if he knew she was going to need him, which was good, because she had a nasty feeling he was right.

Deep grooves furrowed Gem’s brow as she grasped Tayla’s hand. “We have the same father,” she confirmed. Her gaze locked with Tay’s. “And the same mother. We’re fraternal twins.”

The world fell away. “That . . . that’s impossible,” Tayla whispered. There was a pause. A long one in which she began to tremble. “My mom—”

“She didn’t know. I was born first. Delivered by demons right here on the warehouse floor while our mother was in a drugged stupor. The demons took me because they sensed demon in me. They didn’t sense it in the unborn baby. You.”

And suddenly, Tayla realized why Gem’s eyes had seemed so familiar. They were her mother’s eyes.

Eidolon was just as stunned by Gem’s news as Tayla was, and as they all headed back to his apartment, he wondered why he was so surprised. With the exception of the dyed hair and Goth-style makeup, Gem was very nearly the spitting image of Tayla.

And now, the reason he’d been so aggressive in the car with Gem became clear. He’d seen Tayla in her.

“I don’t understand this,” Tayla said, as they exited the Harrowgate in an alley near his building. Like all of the gates, it was invisible to human eyes and wouldn’t open if humans were within visual range, but Tayla lowered her voice anyway. “How long have you known?”

Gem picked up her pace, walking slightly ahead of the group. “My parents told me years ago so I would have the choice about whether I wanted to know you.”

“How special. And what, you just spied on me all this time?”

“I wanted to tell you.” Gem sighed, slowing. “I went to your apartment once, but you were leaving. I followed you, saw you meet up with some delinquent-looking friends. Figured you’d be drunk in an hour. Turned out you did your partying in the sewers.”

“You followed us down there?”

“Yep. I saw you hunting. Telling you who—and what—I was, didn’t seem like a great plan at that point.”

They arrived at Eidolon’s building, and inside the elevator, Tayla turned on Gem, though she kept her hand in his. “Your parents left me and my mom to die on the warehouse floor.”

“My mother called an ambulance, but she couldn’t risk being seen with me. Please, Tayla,” Gem said softly. “Stop fighting what you are. Who you are.”

“Easy for you to say.” Tayla’s voice was sharp, cutting, and he knew she wasn’t going to accept anything without drawing blood first. “You’ve known since you were born. You didn’t have a choice about what you are. I do.”

They exited the elevator on Eidolon’s floor, and as he unlocked his door, he said quietly, so as not to freak out any neighbors, “You are half-demon, Tayla. There’s no choice about that.”

“True.” She didn’t look at him, her eyes focused on the door. “But I don’t have to integrate that half.”

“You’d rather die? Because that’s your choice, slayer,” Shade said as they entered.

Wraith rubbed his hands together in cheesy horror-movie glee. “Join us or die.” He grinned. “I’ve always wanted to say that.”

“Wraith’s demented,” Gem said, “but he’s right. Tayla, let us—”

Tayla whirled, stopping them all in the foyer. “No.”

“You agreed earlier,” Eidolon reminded her, hoping his voice didn’t betray his fear that she’d truly changed her mind.

“That was before I found out what my father was. Before I learned I’m a monster.” Tears welled in her eyes as she looked down at her hands, her arms. “That . . . that thing, is inside me. In my blood. Under my skin.” She began to scratch, and then claw, as though trying to rip off her skin.

“Stop.” Eidolon grabbed her by the shoulders. “Calm down—”

“Let me go.” She jerked wildly in his grip until he pulled her against him.

Gods, she felt good in his arms. Her struggles had triggered his libido, of course, but as she settled down and just held him, rubbing her face against his chest, something else triggered, something more powerful than an urge to mate—an urge to save her life so he could keep her as his own.

“Listen to me, Tayla. Look at Gem. Look at your sister.” Tayla lifted her head as Eidolon gently stroked her wet hair. “See the tattoo bands around her wrists and neck?”

Gem pulled down her inch-wide dog collar to reveal the Celtic knots that circled her throat. “They’re on my ankles, as well. They contain the demon side of me. Without them, it comes out when I’m upset or angry. Tayla, you can contain yours, too. Being a demon doesn’t automatically make you evil.”

She pulled out of his arms, and he felt the loss in his soul. “You guys are broken records. Demons aren’t all evil. The Aegis is selling our body parts—”

“Ah . . . well . . .”

She dabbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. “Well, what?”

Shade popped a stick of gum in his mouth. “While Wraith and Gem were looking for you, we went to the hospital to have a chat with one of our nurses who was injured in the explosion. It was . . . enlightening. Seems The Aegis isn’t involved.”

“Then who is?” Tayla asked.

Fury washed through him at the memory of standing at Paige’s bedside, her hatred of demons becoming clearer with every vile word. “Paige wasn’t sure. She was human, but not Aegis.”

“Was?”

“She was disposed of.” And unfortunately, she’d known nothing about the status of Gem’s parents.

Tayla crossed her arms over her chest and stared toward the kitchen, her gaze distant. Scents swirled around her, confusion, suspicion, and anger. “Why did she do it?”

“She was addicted to black magic,” he said grimly. The dark arts seduced humans, gave them powerful highs and the belief that they were damned near gods. Paige had considered demons to be nothing more than insects, minions for her to abuse as she wished, and she’d gone willingly into the organ ring not for money, but to harvest parts for her personal use. “Apparently, she’d receive a message from the Ghouls to meet somewhere. A different location every time. She’d be met by various demons who would take her to a facility outfitted for surgery.”

“She was a doctor?”

“Nurse. But she learned enough working at UG to perform the duties required. It wasn’t as though she was removing organs for transplants.”

“Now they want me,” Gem said. “They took my parents and threatened to kill them if I don’t cooperate.”

Realization sparked in Tayla’s eyes, flickering like green fire. “That’s why you’re here. It has nothing to do with wanting to know me.”

“I’ll admit, the kidnapping pushed up my timetable, but I always wanted to know you, Tayla.”

“Yeah. Whatever.” Tayla’s self-defense mechanism, disbelief that anyone might want to get close, reminded Eidolon so much of Wraith.

“What’s next for your parents?” Eidolon glanced at Gem. “Are you supposed to contact the Ghouls?”

Gem nodded. “I’m supposed to meet them at the old zoo tomorrow night.”

“The zoo?” Tayla frowned, turning to Shade. “Didn’t you say your paramedic werewolf was attacked by Guardians?”

“Bastards.”

“So that’s a yes.” She twirled a strand of hair around her finger and tugged, thinking. “And he said they smelled like . . . what was it? Apes?”

“Yeah? So? Humans stink.”

Eidolon would have argued that, but he knew Shade was being obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious.

“It’s just . . . someone is lying. Luc said he was surprised in his house. The Guardians who survived the battle told our leaders that they chased him into the house. Just for shits and grins, let’s say they’re lying. Why? Why would they lie to the leaders of our cell? The only answer is that the leaders don’t know what’s going on. And if your were is telling the truth . . . if they smell like apes . . .”

Eidolon cursed. “The abandoned zoo.”

“Yeah.” Despite the fact that she now suspected Guardians were involved, she sounded relieved to know that at least the leaders she’d trusted might be clueless. “It would be the perfect place to keep demons they caught.”

“But we know demons are involved,” Shade said.

Tayla nodded grimly. “Sounds to me like they might be working together.”

“There’s a nightmare scenario. Oh, hey, a weasel!” Wraith swept up Mickey, who had been circling at his feet.

“I need to contact Kynan,” Tayla said, though she seemed to be talking to herself.

“Kynan? Kynan Morgan?”

Tayla spun around to Gem, who had gone utterly pale. “You know him? How?”

“He’s a slayer?” Gem’s mouth worked silently for a moment, as though she couldn’t process her own question. “He’s one of them?”

“How do you know him?” Tayla repeated.

“He’s a regular at the hospital. Comes in every Tuesday to see a friend.” Gem exhaled slowly, the way Tayla did sometimes, when she was trying to keep it together. “Oh, my God . . . Holy shit.”

Tayla hugged herself, shivering even though the heat was on in the apartment. “Dennis. He’s known Dennis for years.” She heaved a grateful sigh as Eidolon wrapped her in his jacket.

Gem moved like a snake, her desperation obvious in the way she clamped her hand down on Tayla’s forearm. “You’ve got to talk to him. Tayla, you’ve got to go now. Ask about my parents.”

“I can’t. The Aegis either thinks I’m dead or wants me dead. I can’t go waltzing into headquarters right now. It’d be a suicide mission.”

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