Aila yanked at the seat belt, locking it into place as Matt accelerated toward the red light with no sign of slowing. “Shouldn't you”--her little car screamed across the junction. She whipped her head back--“have stopped?”
“Would you want Nathan to catch up with us?”
The image of the man she had just run from, all gleaming eyes and shadowy wings, burned across her thoughts. The buzzing burst back across her head and she pressed her fingertips into her skull. She would also not faint in the car. The white noise faded and she shuddered. “What the hell is going on?” She ran her fingers through her loose hair and fisted them. But the sudden pain didn't bring her any answers. “And who are you?” She focused on him, the flash of street lighting cutting across his sharp features. He was as dark as Nathan had been fair, and something about Matt reminded her of that man. Maybe the smooth profile, the leanness of his body, but there was a hardness to Matt, a darkness she couldn't explain. Her gut said it. She was listening to that right now. Her eyes narrowed. “Were you following me?”
He flexed long fingers around the wheel. “Him.”
He flicked her a glance and his dark gaze gripped her. “He's not human.”
Disbelief hit her in a hot rush and she stopped, her jaw falling open. All right, that was not what she thought he was going to say. That she'd had the exact same thought didn't offer her any comfort. They could both be crazy. “Not human?”
Matt snorted. “The glowing eyes, the wings? Something you look for in a date?”
Aila eased her hand from her hair and let out a heavy breath. A smile pulled at her lips. “Yes, they're up there, right after good sense of humor.” She clenched her jaw, her mind replaying the rise of shadow behind Nathan and his demand for her blood. “I'm not crazy, am I?”
“It would be easier.” Matt took the corner, the small car protesting and she grabbed the door handle. “But no, you're not crazy.”
“Where are we going?”
“Somewhere safe.” He thrashed the engine down the empty road, unconcerned by numerous red lights.
“You mean out of this car?” Aila gripped her seat as he shot around a slow moving bus. He wove with terrifying speed through the increasing traffic. Aila found it easier to shut her eyes and simply believe
that she would get out of the car alive and in one piece. “Do you have to drive this fast?”
“Nathan can't catch us.” He snorted. “Even in this thing.”
She glared at him, forgetting her fear in a moment of anger. “There is nothing wrong with my car.”
“Of course not.” He swerved around a van and careered into the inside lane. The rain thickened and the windscreen wipers fought to keep the view of the road clear. Old, converted warehouses loomed out of the darkness, golden light glistening from iron-rimmed windows. The wide stretch of riverside road led to her building. Was that her place of safety? Matt's knuckles whitened around the wheel. “Your car is...practical.”
. He made it sound the worst sort of insult. “It's doing the job.” She winced at the uncharacteristic roar of the engine. “Though it might not again.”
He tore past the long stretch of empty dock, the gleam of her building a wash of light through the windscreen...but Matt wasn't slowing. The car ripped through another set of lights. The darkness of the old dock road swallowed them.
“Don't you worry about the police?”
He took a left, the engine screaming. Lights edged the arched entrance to a ground level car park, heavy barriers in place. Aila's stomach turned over. She gripped her seat. Again, he wasn't slowing. “Matt...?”
Headlights flashed over the high metal barriers as he charged toward the archway. Aila's heart pounded, and a shriek burst from her--as the car drove through
the metal. Matt slammed on the brakes. The car jerked to a halt in a bay opposite to the entrance.
Aila practiced breathing, her heart somewhere in her throat, her fingers locked on her seat. “You're insane
Matt turned off the engine and unclipped his seat belt. “No, I have skills.”
?” She willed herself to sit back in the narrow seat, the belt still tight across her chest. Aila closed her eyes and listened to the fast, heavy thud of her heart. What the hell had happened to her life? First Nathan had turned out to be some sort of winged...monster...and now she was putting her faith in a man who drove like a maniac and could drive through
metal bars. A weak laugh burst from her. Maybe she was still hallucinating. “You make a habit of driving through barriers while they're still down?”
Matt released a heavy breath. “The tech-wards--technology I use to protect myself--in this bay are meant for the vehicle. We need to move.” He unbuckled her belt and the strap rolled back across her chest. “Now.”
Aila opened the car door. A chill wind blew off the river and forced a shiver, clearing some of the fear from her brain. Matt clunked the driver's door shut. Her attention jerked to him. “None of this makes any sense.”
He took her arm and tugged her forward toward a heavy metal door. He ran quick fingers over the keypad built into the frame and locks disengaged. Yanking it open, he pushed her through to the tiled staircase beyond. The hollow thump
of the closing door echoed over the enclosed, brick-lined stairwell.
He urged her up the stairs, his hand at the base of her spine. “It may never make sense.”
“That is not encouraging.”
He shrugged and turned her up the next flight of stairs, the thud of their boots echoing over the brick walls. “It's the truth. Nathan dragged you into this. I can get you out of it. Then it's best that you forget all about us.”
“Forget that Nathan's eyes glowed?” His fingertips pressed to her spine and urged her up the next flight of stairs. “That's not going to happen.”
Matt was silent. After another run of stairs, he keyed open a door that led onto a narrow, starkly lit corridor. He stopped at the second door and pressed his palm to the lock. Tumblers rolled, hinges creaked, and the door swung inward. Matt urged her inside.
She turned and watched him as he closed the door and relocked it with a press of his palm to the lock. The lamps hanging from the central beam cast warm light over him and Aila got her first clear look at the man who had pulled her away from Nathan. Tall, lean, dressed in black jeans and a leather jacket, he had the looks of a dark angel...and the grim attitude to match. His angled beauty reminded her of Nathan, but that man had an openness, something that drew her to him almost against her will. Matt did not.
Matt lifted his eyebrow. “Stared enough?”
“Who are you?”
“Matt Kinnon.” He shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on a hook fixed to the exposed brick wall. He rolled his neck, digging his long fingers into his shoulder. “That's all you need to know.”
Laughter broke from her. “I don't think so.”
But he walked past her, down the short corridor with its large, square-framed windows, the lights from across the river flickering over him. She could only follow him into the living room, lined with more windows, offering the darkness of the night, the river, and the rain. The room was industrial, all exposed brick, metal window frames, steel supports and girders. She hugged her coat around her body. His flat's construction only made the vast open space feel colder. It was the beginning of December. Didn't he believe in heating? She pressed her hand to a Victorian radiator, one of many set below the wide windows. The metal chilled her fingertips. Obviously not.
Pendant lamps illuminated the stark steel of the kitchen set in the far corner. There was a small table, a couple of chairs beside the units, and a black leather couch squatted in the center of the open room. There was no other furniture. “You're really doing well with the whole 'mysterious loner' thing.”
Matt snorted as he slammed his way through kitchen cupboards. “I am
a mysterious loner.”
A smile lifted her lips. “Seems that way.” She shivered again, the cold almost painful under her skin. She watched him. He wore only a thin, long sleeved sweater and seemed blissfully unaware that ice crystals formed in the corner of his flat's windows. “Though a cold
He glanced back at her and his brow furrowed. “You're cold?”
“When did you last turn these things on?” She patted the radiator she stood beside. “Is one of your skills not feeling how bloody freezing it is in here?”
He straightened. “Yes,” he said, and disappeared around the curve of the room.
Aila caught her fingers in her tangled hair. “Seriously, what is going on here?” Her raised voice echoed around the empty room. “Matt?”
The radiator behind her rattled and she jumped before letting out a slow breath. Her nerves were shot. “You said you'd be getting me out of whatever this is.” Anger balled in her stomach, her emotions rising too quickly. She was tired and most of all, scared. “Am I going to spend the whole night having a conversation with myself?”
Matt strode across the wide wooden floor and handed her a mug. The soothing scent of hot tea tickled her nose. She drew in a heavy breath. Aila wrapped her fingers around the plain mug and sipped. Already, the heat from the radiator warmed the back of her legs, easing away a little of her tension.
She looked at him over the rim of her mug, watching him drink. “Mysterious loners drink tea, too?”
Matt lifted a dark eyebrow and the gleam in his eyes was unexpected, warming her as much as the hot liquid in her belly. “Breaking the stereotype for you?”
“Maybe.” She leaned back against a thin column of brick wall, radiators on either side washing heat over her. Tea and warmth, better to dwell on those rather than her unexpected reaction to Matt. “What do I do to avoid Nathan? I work in his office--”
“You change jobs. You move. It would be better for you to leave the city altogether.”
Aila stared at him. “What?”
“I can remove the mark he's set on you, but if you're...tasty...to this demon, you need to remove yourself from his reach completely.”
. The word jumped out her. “Demon?” She repeated it because she had to have misheard him. “Demon as in minion of hell? Forked tail, corrupter of souls--”
“Demon as in sem-tolnar
. Nathan's true name is Asberon, the Cruel.” He shrugged, no doubt at her look of disbelief. “They come from another place, another time, and they're in our world to play.” He took a gulp of tea and pointed his mug at her. “This month it's you.”
“Play as in want to spill my blood?”
“That's new. Mostly he likes to...” He waved his mug again. Aila had the feeling he was trying to find a polite word for “fuck.” “Have his way...with a woman. A demon's biological engineering makes sexual energy sweet.” He paused. “Each demon prefers a particular flavor.”
Aila shook her head. “We're chocolate?”
“I suppose.” He drained his mug. “He's marked you. Which is the basis of his attraction. He sets the mark and suddenly he's irresistible. I remove that mark, sour you, and you leave the city.”
Aila held up her hand. “I'm flat-sitting for my brother, rent-free. I temp. I have no money to go any
where else. Won't this”--her fingers waggled--“souring
me be enough?” She wanted to convince herself. She really did have nowhere else to go. Hell, she thought she'd finally found some luck with a job, a nice place to live, and an insanely attractive man asking her out. Turns out her luck in life sucked yet again. “I don't believe anything about tonight is even real.”
“Oh, it's real.” He strode back to the steel kitchen counter that followed the far curve of the room. “Nathan Ahern had a special plan for you. Not just the usual 'screw 'em dry' first and last date.”
Aila winced. What else had she escaped by running from Nathan that night? “Dry?”
“It can take weeks or months to recover from sex with a demon.”
“Look, Aila. I'm not delusional, and neither are you. Nathan's found something of unusual interest in you. He won't give up easily.”
Her fingers tightened around her mug as her heart jumped. “You know my name.”
Matt shrugged and dumped his mug in the sink. “I know all of Nathan's targets.” He paused, and dark eyes narrowed on her. “But he did move quickly on you. You've been at his firm, what...six weeks? He has his treats lined up longer, really lets the mark settle in the body.”
Her mouth thinned. “We're not confectionery.”
Matt laughed, something cold, jaded. “I've been at this a long time. You're all truffles to me.”
“This is not funny.” Her skin flushed. She risked opening the first few buttons of her jacket, letting the cooler air touch her skin. “I just got my life sorted.” She put her empty mug on the shallow windowsill. “Now it's shit again.”
Matt walked back across the empty room toward her. He held a lithe grace in his movements that sparked interest in her flesh. Well, if her life was going to hell, she had a dark angel to keep her company. She rubbed at her jaw. What was the mark? Was it a “get hot for any man” thing? It suddenly felt that way.
He seemed oblivious to the knot of tension he caused in her belly. “I'll wake you at sunrise for the ceremony.”
Aila kicked her brain out of the gutter. “Ceremony?”
“I need to remove the mark. I need the touch of morning light to do it.”
She lifted her eyebrows. “A spell
Matt shrugged. “If you want to call it that?”
“But what would you
want to call it?”
He didn't answer but pointed to the constructed internal wall, and the heavy wooden door cut into it. “Sleep.” He took her arm and walked her toward it. Opening the door, he revealed a small square room, with the same huge windows as the living room and a glass door leading onto the balcony. A large bed sat between them. Matt flicked on the wall lights. He pushed her toward the bed, before he slid back one of the wide doors of a built-in wardrobe, exposing racks of wire baskets and rails. He threw a T-shirt onto the bed. “You can wear this.”
“I won't be able to sleep.”
Matt pushed out a tight breath. A frown creased his forehead. “Did Nathan not touch you at all?”
Aila thought she was too old to blush. Turned out she was wrong. Her mouth thinned. She rubbed at the nape of her neck, wanting to ease the tension from her shoulders. What did it say about her that a man who ravaged women for sexual energy had done no more than hold her hand to help her climb a muddy slope? “Not really.”
His frown deepened. “This makes no sense.” He focused on her and the hard intensity of his gaze burned her. “Did he say what he was doing at the war memorial?”
“He said something about a family tradition.” She shrugged. “That the obelisk was old. There were marks under the carved names, marks he may have found interesting.” She let out a slow breath, still unnerved by the memory of Nathan demanding her blood. “I don't know...”
Matt rubbed at his jaw. “As I said, it makes no sense.” He waved a hand at the T-shirt on the smooth covers of the bed. “Get changed.” His thumb jabbed to the right, to a closed door. “Cross the corridor and there's a shower room.” He paused. “You need to sleep, Aila.”
He gave a sour laugh. “I find most of you only after he's had his fun. I bring you back here and you're too exhausted to do little more than fall facedown onto this mattress.”
“Nice not to belong to such an exclusive club.” Her words were little more than a mutter, but she knew she should at least try
to find some rest. She tugged at the buttons on her coat and shrugged it down over her arms. “Why do you do this? Trail Nathan and...rescue...us?”
“I have no choice. It's my job.”
She watched him close the door, the heavy wood banging into the frame. She sank onto the mattress and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes. Nothing made sense. To her or him.
Aila shook her head. She needed to pull herself together. Whatever was going on was real, she couldn't deny it and she needed to lose herself in hopefully dreamless sleep. She stripped down to her underwear and pulled on the black T-shirt. The familiar aroma of detergent mixed with a subtle male scent slid too easily into her lungs.
She stood before she gave into the urge she had to press the smooth fabric to her face and inhale. Yes, the sooner Matt removed the mark, the sooner she wouldn't feel like some mad woman in heat.