I’d watched him follow her around the corner of the building, the sweet china doll I’d been trying all night to figure out. She was curled into a little ball a few feet away from me, maybe torn on what was more traumatizing—being manhandled by this druggie street scum or watching me take him apart a piece at a time.
His mouth shattered against my knuckles, spit and teeth fragments embedding into the torn flesh of my fist. I yanked him upright and rammed my forehead into his nose, finally letting him collapse to the ground.
I growled with the demon’s rage. It was like an injection of lava as it hit my bloodstream. I braced as muscles and tendons expanded with his otherworldly energy. It always felt like the demon was literally coming through my skin, and I half expected people to see it and run. They never did. But before it was over, they knew, and they wished they’d run.
I straddled the dude, eager to finish fixing his pretty face. Then I’d shatter his hands. No more jacking off or primping in mirrors for Blondie.
Many crushing blows later, something changed—bones stopped crunching beneath my fist. I channeled demonic filth into my arm, but no matter how I pounded the man, an airy obstacle seemed to stand between bone and bone.
Stop. Stop. Stop. The sound pumped like a heartbeat, blending with the tempo of insanity that played me like an evil instrument.
“Stop this!” The girl’s scream shattered the demon’s hold.
The invisible barrier became a brick wall and sent a mind-numbing jolt through my arm and head. A lavender aura surrounded me, chasing hell’s heat right out of my body. It embraced me, and her voice whispered inside me, “Shhh, stop. Stop hurting. Stop hurting.”
I gulped down this heaven wrapped in silk, never having tasted any aura like it. Dazed, I stumbled off the dude and breathed in the icy night air. Opposing forces warred within me with orgasmic intensity, and I bent over and gagged on the demon’s essence.
I trembled from the struggle to keep possession of my body, to shove the demon back into the fragile cell I’d worked so hard to build around it. Pain lanced through my core as if I had been gutted from the inside. It was always this way when I used his power; he wanted my body for his own and would use any break in my control to steal it.
The next thing I knew, she was touching me. I held my breath, eyes clenched shut, trying to resist the honeyed bubbles she poured over me. I waited for it. Waited for my psychic shield to kick back in, waited for her to taste it, to smell it, to be slammed with its stench.
Fuck. It really needed to kick in for her sake. Recoil—jerk away. Run. Please.
She stepped closer.
I opened my eyes as her aura embraced me tighter. I remained frozen. She slid those fingers up my bare arm. I needed to stop her, but I wanted to let her.
“You…protected me.” Her words feathered through my stomach, then raced like electric butterflies down to the soles of my feet.
I tore my gaze from her hand and locked it on her face. The questions I’d been having all night were there again. Why was she wearing strange, neon-green swimming goggles? Who the fuck put those bruises on that beautiful face? What was that secret joy in her step? And especially, how was she bypassing the repulsive power of my shield? I stared at her lips—so full and perfect they looked airbrushed on. And that small yet strong jawbone. It all whispered noble character.
The guilt that normally choked me after I used the demon’s rage rammed her aura, wanting to devour me.
Without the least effort, she refused all of it and stroked me with her warmth. There was no demonic lure, she wasn’t ripping her clothes off to fuck me, wasn’t insane with need to have the demon’s seed. How was she immune to my power and the demon’s?
The question brought me to my full height, heart thundering. I stepped closer, feeling as if I were floating. I reached to touch her face, wanting to hurry and make a connection with another human. No, with a woman.
She jerked her fingers off me and backed up. The window of heaven slammed shut, and her aura recoiled as it should’ve all along.
I stood mute, hand frozen in midair. Confusion roiled through me at the violent disconnect, at feeling heaven slip away and loneliness resume its icy choke hold on my soul.
You’re not meant to be a man.
I swallowed it all down, almost gagging on the smell of her fear. The scent usually relieved me, but what her touch promised made it almost impossible to play dead. To not reach out and beg for what couldn’t be.
I regarded her with new eyes. Wary eyes. What was that power she had? That she was oblivious to it was no excuse. She couldn’t be that unknowing. What the hell was she doing? And why?
Maybe I should try to use my power, to touch her and find out.
Fuck no. Not touching a woman who is scared of me.
I heard the shatter of glass as sharp pain bit the back of my head. The girl’s hand flew over her mouth, and darkness stole her from my vision.
* * * *
Strange whispers. Gentle stroking on my face. It felt so good; all I could think was more. Give me more. Give me all of it, all at once. I realized the whispers were foreign…feminine. Silky.
It was her.
I tried to talk but groaned.
“Shhh, so sorry. So sorry.”
Sorry? For what?
She helped sit me up and carefully touched my forehead. “You need a doctor,” she whispered.
I looked around, trying to remember what I was doing in an alley. Muffled music thumped from the building just behind me as I dizzily swiped the air to grab her arm. I slid my fingers right over her breasts. “Oh shit, sorry.”
Aside from a startled squeak, she didn’t say a word as she helped steady me, then wiped my brow with her sleeve, all while my mind drew pictures of what I’d felt—no bra. Damn.
I slid my hand on gravelly asphalt, and I felt as if I’d drunk a gallon of whiskey. Wait…I think I had. “Oh wow.” Forgot about those goggles she wore.
“Why”—I pointed to my eyes—“are you wearing goggles?” The effort to focus more than five seconds and speak coherently wore me out. I lowered my head. “They’re kinda cute actually.”
“So sorry,” she whispered again, still dabbing.
Sorry? I looked at her, amazed and confused. “Have we…met before?”
She inspected the back of my skull with gentle fingers. “You protect me earlier. I will help you. Need to clean these.” She nodded and tugged on my arm, like she wanted to take me somewhere and doctor me.
I wanted her to doctor me too. Wait, I’d protected her?
Terror A-bombed the alcohol out of my veins, and I clenched my eyes shut, remembering how she was immune to my shield’s repulsive power. I steadied myself and focused inward. The demon was still safely in its cage in the dead center of what I called the “safe place” in my mind. Relief sighed through me, followed by mental exhaustion. I had to use all my psychic ability to quarantine the fucker. All thanks to my loving coven family, who had crammed his dirty ass inside me. Manipulating the prison I’d formed around him to tap into his rage was a mammoth-sized energy sucker.
I remembered that dickhead from earlier I’d stopped from raping her, and I scanned the alley for him. Everything spun.
“Shhh, no trouble. No trouble.” Like she knew my intentions to kill that fuck. Her warm hands steadied me, one on my chest, the other on my back, making me forget the guy and reminding me of her power over me. And how damn good that felt.
I needed to figure out how this was happening. I gazed beyond her at the empty street that ran between the strip of bars, no longer teeming with Saturday nightlife. It must’ve been late. Maybe I could find answers by reading her eyes. “How can you even see with those goggles? Take them off. Please.”
She aimed them at me, then gave a panicked head shake. “I cannot.”
She hugged herself and glanced around. “It is…not safe.”
“What, do you have like…laser eyes or something?” Maybe she was blind. That would make her handicapped and explain why the shield didn’t work. Maybe she was cross-eyed. Or maybe she didn’t have any eyes at all. She didn’t act blind, though.
Then I thought, how about you slow down before you scare her away and don’t find out shit?
I regarded that long braid hanging down her front, black as her threadbare kung fu outfit. I took the end of her braid and pulled the shiny onyx toward me. “Your hair’s like…crazy long.” I wagged the heavy rope, then stroked the thick bumps, hoping for a transfer of information via hair follicles. It was a long shot, but my options were limited at this point. Wow, tight silk. Wonder what it feels like loose.
She tugged gently on the braid.
I focused on the knots of hair passing between my fingers as I studied her.
She wrapped her wrist with the ebony hair rope. “Where you live? You want me to call taxi for you?”
Holy shit. Whatever power she had came through her voice too. Each honeyed word dug deeper under my skin. “Taxi,” I murmured, closing my eyes briefly. There it was, that aura, shimmering and floating in a mist around her. “Can you…help me to my car?”
She stood, seeming eager to do something besides nurse a drunk in the alley.
“I got it.” I pushed away her hand.
“Need to help you.” She took hold of my upper arm, and the firm touch on my bare skin sent tendrils of shock through me. I rode the sensation, fighting not to show how much that affected me.
“You lead the way,” she encouraged. “It is not so far? Have to finish cleaning when these place close.”
“Yeah, it’s around the corner.” I regarded her a few seconds.
“I will help you,” she said, like I had nothing to fear, nothing to be ashamed of.
I looked down, trying to remember how to act around a friendly woman. Shit, not much to go on there. “Thanks.”
“Where is your coat?” She rubbed my forearm, and I couldn’t stop the groan of ecstasy. She peered into my face. “Your injury hurts?”
“Yeah, a little.” Not a lie. But my power was already healing whatever damage the demon had done. I wished I could figure out how she bypassed my shield with no obvious effort. Maybe even make it so I could have her without worrying about brutally raping or killing her in some unthinkable way.
“This first time here? I do not see you before.” Slender fingers brushed stray ebony hairs behind an ear before she goggled me and tightened her grip on my bicep.
“No, not really. How long have you been working here?”
“Not so long. A few weeks.”
I put my hand in my pocket to keep it from going around her waist. Those bruises on her face could’ve been a few weeks old. “People don’t give you hell about those goggles?”
She looked somewhere in the vicinity of my face. “At first they liked to make fun.” She gave a shrug and a half smile. “Then not so much. I think they get used to me.”
I studied the sweet tilt of those lips, keeping my steps small while she walked me like an invalid. I looked around for signs of that dude or other trouble. Then I remembered. “That fucker hit me with something.”
“No trouble,” she said, almost scolding.
“What’d he hit me with?” I reached up and felt my head. “Fuck.” Huge gash. No wonder I was dizzy. “Where’d he go? What happened?” My anger shot up, and I turned to her. “Did he do anything to you?”
“Shhh, it is okay. He leaves. No more trouble, please.”
I considered her words. Giant angry guys didn’t walk away ’cause you asked nicely, especially after you tried to beat them to death. Could her powers influence people? Not difficult to imagine with what she was doing to me.
She regarded me. “You need to take a hot shower. Rest. You drink so much poison. This is very bad for you.”
What a sweet rebuke. “Poison, huh?” I resumed walking, looking at the road. “How would you like to work at a diner? During the day. I know one not far from here that’s looking for help.”
“Diner.” She cleared her throat. “You mean like a restaurant?”
“Yeah, like a restaurant.”
“What kind of work is this?”
“Cleaning, doing dishes.” I shrugged a little. “That kind of stuff.”
She tilted her head, and my gaze zeroed in on her thoughtful pout. So perfect. “This is much better than here, you think?” Like my opinion mattered to her.
“Yes, much better.”
“What is the pay?”
“Well, what do you get now?”
“This man pays four dollars per hour to clean. And eat.”
Okay, that was illegal. “Well, the diner will pay you ten dollars an hour, plus free meals.”
Her breath sucked in. “This is so much more!”
My boss would only pay her seven fifty, but I’d make up the difference. And I’d get her jackass boss to reimburse her. “Is that a yes? They really need help as soon as possible.”
“You know these people?”
I smiled at how that seemed important to her. “Yes, I do. I cook there.”
Those alien eyes jerked to me. “You cook?”
I barked a laugh, loving her open shock. “Yeah, big surprise, huh?”
“Yes, very much. You do not look like a man who cooks.”
I gave her a grin. “I like your honesty.”
She glanced down, then off to the left. “Honesty—is very good, yes.”
I stopped walking and looked at her. Wow. In twenty steps I had discovered all I needed to know. This strange phenomena before me wasn’t only obliviously powerful, she had no guile either. Maybe her power was goodness. So good my demon couldn’t touch her. A shiver of excitement ran through me at the idea.
“You so dizzy again?” Her hand pressed firmer against the middle of my back.
“No, I’m fine.” I digested her effect on me, staring at the road. Her touch was overstimulating to the point of absurd.
I resumed our shuffle, wondering what she was hiding. It was more than her eyes, but whatever it was, she was flat-out innocent, that was for sure. The demon rammed his cell, and I focused inward. I snarled at how he salivated for her. Sick bastard. I just bet he wanted her. I considered the scars along the sapphire blue walls of the psychic prison. I was pretty sure there was a nick and dent for every time I’d used the demon’s power, and each incident helped weaken the walls.
“This is it.” I nodded at the black muscle car before us and unlocked it with the remote key.
“Ahh, very nice car.” She sounded like she was not only impressed but proud of me.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, amazed with how good it felt. I leaned against the driver’s side, not wanting her to let me go.
But she did. And stepped back.
“You know”—I crossed my arms over my chest— “if it makes you feel better, I happen to have dangerous eyes too.”
She stepped forward as if eager to see.
“Not anything you would notice with those tinted goggles. I have…two different-colored eyes.”
Instead of removing the goggles, she stepped right up to me, captured my face between her hands, and pulled it down. I braced my palms against the side of the car as she stared intently.
Ten eternal seconds of that and I trembled with the need to rip her goggles off and drown in her hidden gaze, demanding those fingers warm me everywhere. Fuck.
She sucked her breath in and exhaled foreign syllables. At first she sounded amazed; then the words turned angry as she slid a fingertip over the lower portion of the musical-note-shaped scar.
Fire ignited in my bones, and I captured her wrist.
We both stood frozen for several seconds. I forgot everything except the need to pull her against me, to feel what that was like, to let my mind carve her body onto my soul. Would it be so wrong since—