She never knew this demon world existed. Now she just wants to survive it.
Genevieve Drake never needed a man to come to her rescue. Not until the night of her twentieth birthday, when some dude nearly chokes her to death in an alley behind a New Orleans Goth club. And a hot stranger splits the guy in half, rips a monster from inside, and incinerates it into ash.
The hunky rescuer? Jude Delacroix—Dominus Daemonum, Master of Demons, now her guardian, whether she likes it or not. But she’s seriously beginning to like it.
Her would-be murderer turns out to be only the first of many minions of the demon prince, Danté, who has all kinds of lascivious and sadistic plans. Which means when the formidably beautiful Jude offers his protection, Genevieve has no problem accepting it.
For Jude and his fellow demon hunters tell her she is a Vessel, one who is born to serve the Light, but can be corrupted into a weapon of darkness. And to survive, she must trust a man whose unearthly eyes promise heaven…but whose powers unleash hell.
Warning: Contains a dark and brooding demon hunter who harbors even darker secrets, a snarky heroine who’s being hunted by every demon in the underworld, and a sadistic demon prince with a fancy for violent sexual encounters.
To say I wasn’t terrified, as well as mortified for spying, would be a complete and total lie. Still, I held my ground, moving out of Malcolm’s arms and pushing my chin up a notch. I was getting good at acting. I fleetingly wondered if I should switch my major to Drama, or maybe Politics.
Then he was there. Whoa. Way inside my personal space. And Malcolm’s. Jet eyes staked me to the spot.
“Do you have a death wish?” His voice grated against my skin like sandpaper.
Malcolm pushed himself into the conversation. “Dude, excuse me. What are you doing?”
Malcolm made a hands-off gesture. He went to push Jude away but caught the look of death in Jude’s eyes and stopped himself. Holy hell! What was I thinking? I’d brought Malcolm up here based on my own selfish desire to get some answers and now I might be responsible for his untimely demise. I could see the headlines now in the Times Picayune: Twenty-year-old Student Spontaneously Combusts into Pile of Ash, Source of Death Unknown.
“Answer me, Genevieve. Why are you here?”
“You know this guy?” asked Malcolm, trying to cut in on the staring contest passing between us.
“We were just taking a walk,” I said, trying to keep my voice from quivering. “This is—”
“Jude, seriously, I was just—”
“Do you have any idea how dangerous this place is for you?” He made a sound in the back of his throat that could’ve been a laugh if it weren’t for the expression of rage warring across his face. He glanced at my jacket with a shake of his head. “Little Red comes wandering in the woods infested with wolves.”
He was so close now our toes were touching. I inched back a step.
“Hey, dude! I don’t know who you are,” began Malcolm, putting an arm between us, “but you better back off.”
Jude fixed a glacier-melting gaze on Malcolm, standing at least a head taller. I swallowed, but there was no moisture in my throat. How had I gotten Malcolm into this?
“Kid,” Jude annunciated softly and slowly, a sure sign all hell was about to break loose, no pun intended. “You may remove yourself and go back home now. Alone.”
He sounded as if he’d just dismissed Malcolm back to his playpen, an errant child being put in timeout.
“What?” Malcolm lowered his arm and turned to me. “You know this asshole?”
“Yes. Malcolm, um, this is a friend of, um, my dad’s. A work associate. From the dojo.”
I was stammering like an idiot. To say he was a friend of mine would’ve been laughable. Though he only appeared to be in his late twenties, he exuded maturity on so many levels. He in no way looked like a friend I might know from school, and for being a good liar, my brain was misfiring at the moment and not helping me come up with anything better.
Jude did not extend his hand in greeting. He did not welcome the introduction. He did not move an inch. As a matter of fact, I felt his presence swelling beyond the miniscule area where we stood, like a colossus breathing down on the pitiful people beneath his feet. He in no way appeared cordial or polite or even remotely human, for that matter. I had to get rid of Malcolm before this became seriously ugly. I put myself between them, pushing Malcolm gently back.
“Thank you for the beignets and the company, but Jude can give me a ride home.”
“I’m not letting you go anywhere with this guy,” he protested.
Wrong answer. I heard another scoff behind me that was supposed to be a sort of laugh but wasn’t.
“I’m sorry, Malcolm. This is my fault. My dad is kind of strict. There’s been trouble with the family business and stuff. I’ll let Jude take me back home.”
When did I become such a huge liar? Trouble with the family business? Was I embroiled in the mafia now? Malcolm didn’t know my dad, except from a distance. For all he knew, he could’ve been in the mafia. And Jude more than looked the part of the assassin. I insinuated in my tone there were things I couldn’t say, because of course there were.
“I’ll explain to you later, I promise. I’ll call you tomorrow?” I added lower, squeezing his hand.
Malcolm put his hands on my shoulders. I swear I felt two points of heat boring into the back of my skull. I wondered then about my “sixth sense.”
“Are you sure, Drake?”
I nodded. He pulled me into a brisk hug, then let go, giving the man over my shoulder a hard stare. I watched as he marched back toward Jackson Square, descending the stairs with one last scowling glance over his shoulder.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, I turned to face the executioner. I didn’t speak. Just waited. He was doing that thing where he appeared to be dissecting my thoughts, observing every line on my face, trying to solve a riddle that perplexed him. Flinty shards of gold sparked in his eyes. A shot of relief washed over me. Any fraction of light in those obsidian depths was a good sign. Or so I thought.
“Why are you here?”
His voice had lost its edge. Well, let me clarify, the razor-sharp edge that could slice an oak into splinters. There was still the blunt steel swinging in slow, even strokes, threatening to cut me if I made a wrong move. I glanced toward the sculpture. She was gone.
“Who’s Goth Barbie?”
His head tilted slightly to the left. His eyes narrowed, still glinting with golden stars.
“She’s a friend,” he finally responded. “Who’s Schoolboy Ken?”
He evaded, a special talent he possessed by the butt load. Two can play that little game.
“He’s a friend.”
Jude smiled. A genuine smile with teeth and everything. My heart stuttered with the sudden shift in mood. His gaze traced the contours of my face, hair, shoulders, lower.
“At least you had the presence of mind to cast illusion. When did you discover you could use your ability?”
Oh. I was pretty sure that was what the “warm blanket” was, but now I knew for certain. I felt it skimming along my skin, draping me from the inside out.
“Just now. It happened automatically, actually.”
“Not automatically. Subconsciously. Your Vessel instincts are kicking in to protect you since your brain has apparently taken a leave of absence.”
“Excuse me? Did you just call me stupid?”
“Stupid would imply you have no intelligence whatsoever. I am well aware that you are quite clever, so I would define this as either rebellious or apathetic behavior. Which is it?”
I made a disgusted sound, while smiling inside at his backhanded compliment.
“What is it exactly I’ve done to warrant the label of rebellious or apathetic?”
“You’re standing in the middle of demon hunting ground. This den of debauchery lures demons for hundreds and hundreds of miles. You are a Vessel, a prize above all prizes for a high demon. The illusion you cast would certainly fool a lower creature, but not one in the upper hierarchy. So either you are being rebellious in disobeying me, or you are simply indifferent to keeping your soul intact. Which is it?”
I felt the blood drain from my face. Maybe I was stupid. No. But I wasn’t being rebellious or apathetic about my well-being. My green-eyed feline lifted her head with wide eyes to remind me why I came, but I glared at her to keep her hissy mouth shut.
“Okay, you said to not go out alone. I wasn’t alone. Malcolm was with me.”
Did he really just roll his eyes at me?
“You might as well have been stripped naked, hanging from a balcony on Bourbon Street and screaming ‘Come and get it.’ That boy could have done nothing if you were spotted by any form of Flamma.”
Now that was an image I didn’t want in my head. I was slightly disturbed it was in Jude’s. Switching gears quickly, thank you very much.
“Well, you didn’t explain any of this to me. Perhaps if you were more forthcoming in explaining all of these rules I’d make better decisions,” I said, feeling the color coming back into my cheeks.
“You are right about that. I will certainly be outlining the rules more clearly so you’ll not misbehave in the future.”
“Misbehave? Who do you think you are? My overprotective brother? Never had one. And I don’t need one now.”
He moved even closer. I started to step back. A strong arm shot out, gripping the top of my shoulder. His thumb pressed gently along the side of my neck over the cuff of my denim jacket. Surely he felt the quickening speed of my pulse. Was that his intention?
“No. I am not your brother. Nor do I want to be. However, I am your protector, whether you would choose me or not. If you value your life, or at the very least, your eternal soul, then you must trust me and do as I say.”
Speechless, I nodded, unable to think clearly for the moment. His thumb continued to stroke my skin. I can’t begin to describe how distracting that was.
“Good.” His gaze slid to my lips. I wished he wouldn’t do that. Or maybe I wished he would. Often. My thoughts spiraled in a million directions, unable to move in any coherent way. I tried to cut the tension crackling between us.
“Demons have a hierarchy? Like a class system?” I was aware I was nearly whispering, my questions sounding feeble and irrelevant.
“Yes. There is a hierarchy in heaven. There is a hierarchy on earth. There is a hierarchy in hell. That is the way of the world—every world.”
“I don’t know the difference between a lower and a high demon. You’ve told me little about them, except for the fusing thing.”
He nodded in agreement. Small victory, but victory nonetheless. He still hadn’t pulled away. His thumb trailed down over my collarbone. Since the moment he touched me, a pervasive warmth had slipped in over my own protective blanket, draping down over my chest and limbs.
“So, Little Red wants to play in the deep, dark woods,” he mumbled almost to himself. Creepy metaphor. “Let us go straight to the wolf ’s den, then.”
His hand dropped to mine, swallowing it whole. The mantle of electric warmth continued to spread, sealing to my body like a glove. It didn’t feel suffocating. On the contrary, the sensation comforted me like a cozy fire in the dead of winter.
Jude pulled me toward the stairs. I took two steps to his one. “Wait, where are we going?”
“I had an appointment tonight. You might as well come with me. Actually, this turn of events will be quite enlightening.”
He gave me a wicked grin. The sudden image of a mischievous child dangling a minnow over a shark tank popped into my head.
“What kind of an appointment?” I didn’t like the sound of this.
“As you said, I have not been as forthcoming as I should’ve been,” he said in an obvious tone of mockery, leading me across Decatur along the left side of the Square.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Smile. You are about to get many answers to many questions. I am going to introduce you to a high demon.”