Authors: Jordan L. Hawk
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Genre Fiction, #Gay Romance, #Demons & Devils, #Psychics, #Vampires
“All right,” he said. Rising to his feet, he put on his coat, picked up his bag, and turned back to Caleb.
“I’m sealing the door,” he said. “If you leave this time, it will be your last.”
Caleb glanced at him, before dropping his gaze back to his oatmeal. “Yeah. Got it.”
John shut the door between them.
Caleb sat on the stairs leading up to the second floor, his face buried in his hands.
How had everything gone so wrong? When had it gone wrong? Was it when Ben and Melanie got involved with Fist? Ben’s death? Starkweather’s failure to catch the demon? His own decision to set foot in the abandoned house where Gray had been lurking?
Caleb wanted to blame him. Needed to blame him, because it had to be somebody’s fault, right? Had to be SPECTR’s fault, because…
Because God forbid they be real human beings, who did their best but weren’t omniscient. John—Starkweather, damn it, not John—would have done everything he could, because he cared about people. No matter what else, Caleb knew that to be true.
Caleb let out a long sigh. The truth was, he should have known his own limits. He should never have gone to the abandoned house. If there were some way to travel back through time, he’d stuff his past self in a closet, put in a call to SPECTR, and run as fast as he could in the opposite direction.
Or, hell, just leave it to Melanie and her friends. The Fist. Whoever. If he hadn’t fallen through the fucking floor, they would have put Ben to rest and sent Gray along to whatever poor bastard would become his next host. A corpse that would’ve stayed dead, presumably.
Of course, a whole new family would have been stuck wondering what happened to their loved one’s body. Was he selfish enough to just keep passing the misery along to someone else?
“I did not mean to hurt you.”
Caleb blinked. The words were reluctant and laced with an uncertainty he’d never sensed from Gray before. “What are you talking about?” No sense in keeping the conversation entirely in his head, since they were alone.
“Taking your brother’s body. This hurt you. I did not choose to do it. He was dead, gone, not like you. I do not understand the reason for your pain. But…I am sorry.”
How many others had there been before him? How many had seen their loved one’s corpse up and shambling around?
“I do not shamble.”
Caleb surprised them both by laughing. “No. No, you do not shamble. Heaven forbid.”
The phone rang.
The unexpected sound made Caleb jump. Until now, Starkweather had received all of his calls on his cell phone. From Caleb’s experience over the last few days, and the more telling lack of photos anywhere in the condo, it didn’t seem like the agent had any life outside of his work. Who did he have to call him?
The machine picked up; the outgoing message wasn’t even personalized. The pre-recorded robotic voice directed the caller to reply at the beep.
“C-Caleb?” Melanie’s voice, and the shock of it froze him to the stairs. “Are you there? I-I think something’s after me. I think it wants to kill me.”
* * *
Caleb leapt off the stairs, the inhuman jump carrying him halfway to the phone. Snatching it out of its cradle, he gasped, “Melanie?”
“Caleb!” It was her voice all right, but high and thin with fear. “Oh, thank God I reached you!”
“How did you even get this number?”
“I had the address—did a reverse lookup. I’m in trouble, Caleb, real trouble. You’ve got to help me!”
His head pounded in time to his heartbeat. “Where are you? Can you make it here?” He’d call Starkweather, tell him Melanie was on her way, get her a fucking police escort if he had to. Nothing mattered but keeping her safe.
“I don’t know. Dave died. We were wrong—it wasn’t the…wasn’t your…”
“Gray; yeah, I know. The same demon killed Ben and Dave. Starkweather thinks you’re with the Fist of God and it’s after your cell. Is…is he right?”
Her voice faltered. “I…oh. I think so. It’s been hunting us the whole time we thought we were hunting it. And now it’s after me.”
. The plastic of the phone snapped under the pressure of his hand. With a gasp, he let up; fortunately, he didn’t seem to have damaged anything inside, because he could still hear Melanie’s trembling breath over the line.
All right. She might be with Fist, but she was still his sister-in-law. She’d still turned to him for help, even knowing he was possessed. He couldn’t abandon her now. “Tell me where you are. I’ll call Starkweather and have him over there with a team ASAP.”
“No! I’m at a Fist safe house. I’ve been here ever since your…accident. You can’t give it up to them, Caleb. What we’ve been doing isn’t really legal.”
He didn’t care, not now. “Fine. Just tell me where you are.”
She rattled off the address. At least the street sounded familiar. “Okay. I can’t—I can’t come over there by myself. Don’t argue, all right? Just listen. If I leave the condo, Starkweather will know. SPECTR will come after me, just like any demon. You sit tight, and I’ll call him and convince him to let me leave for a little while.”
“All right, but I…wait, what was that?”
Silence, except for her breathing. “Melanie? What’s going on?”
“Oh God,” she whispered. “I think it’s here. I—”
The call cut off in a scream, just before the line went dead.
* * *
Nothing. Silence. Dead air.
No. No, this wasn’t happening. Melanie wasn’t dead in a pool of her own blood like Ben and Dave—
Caleb took a deep breath, fighting for calm. Think. He had to think.
All right—he had an address. Melanie knew how to fight demons. If she could just hold out long enough, Starkweather could get a Spec squad over there.
He wasted precious seconds searching for the piece of paper with Starkweather’s cell number on it. Locating it behind the couch, he hastily dialed the number and waited through what seemed an interminable number of rings.
“Hello,” said a slightly tinny version of the agent’s voice, “you have reached the phone of Special Agent John Starkweather. Please leave your name, number, and…”
Caleb closed his eyes, the rest of the message drifting past him.
Melanie was in danger, might be dead already. And Starkweather was either out of reach or not taking any calls from him.
Gray stirred, an alien hunger slithering along Caleb’s veins.
“The demon is near.”
Caleb wasn’t a monster slayer. Not like Melanie. Not like Starkweather. Hell, look at what his one attempt had come to: himself possessed, probably doomed, and the demon he’d been trying to stop still out there killing people. How could he possibly think he could save anyone?
But if he didn’t help her…who would?
“Starkweather,” he said into the phone, and wished there had been some other way, any other way, to do this. “Melanie just called. She’s in trouble, and of course you aren’t answering your damn phone. I’m not leaving her to die, understand? And yeah, I get what you said. When I leave, I’m rogue, and you’ll have to hunt me down. But I don’t have a choice. I’m sorry.”
And fuck, why had he apologized? He was doing the right thing, the only thing, wasn’t he? What did he care if some Spec puppet was disappointed in him?
But he did care. More than he’d ever wanted to.
He left the address of the safe house, because if the demon killed him, someone needed to know where to find his body. Or Melanie’s…but no. He had to believe she was still alive.
Gray prodded him.
“What are we waiting for?”
Caleb put the phone back on its base and walked to the door. He wished he had some kind of weapon: a gun, or a knife, or something.
“We need no weapon.”
Not comforting, exactly. Caleb reached for the doorknob, then paused.
Once we leave, we’ll be hunted. SPECTR won’t let us get away.
“I have been hunted many times before,”
Gray assured him.
Right. Except, going by the flickers of memory Caleb had glimpsed, being hunted had resulted in Gray possessing a long string of corpses. He didn’t have the same luxury. This was the only body he was going to get.
Pressing his lips into a firm line, Caleb opened the door.
* * *
Sean clung to the dashboard as John blew through a red light, siren howling and emergency lights flashing. “Are you sure about this?”
“I’m sure,” John said, even though he wasn’t. Damn Caleb: couldn’t he have picked a better time to come clean?
Not that Caleb had much choice, given his voice mail. John had been in a meeting with his phone turned off, when the ward on his condo door broke again. Excusing himself hurriedly, he’d found Caleb’s message waiting for him.
Which left him with two choices. Call out a manhunt, which might end with Caleb dead or in a cell, or go in with backup he could trust and hope it didn’t come back to bite him on the ass.
The decision should have been harder.
Caleb slowed as they approached the safe house.
They’d run all the way; heart pumping and muscles burning with Gray’s wild energy, scaring horse-drawn trolleys full of tourists. Even if he hadn’t left the address on the voice mail, Starkweather would be able to track them just by the traffic disruptions.
The house was a stately old mansion, turned side-on to the street, with a walled garden in front. It had the upper-and-lower porches typical of the style, with a spiral iron staircase leading from the first floor porch to the second. A fountain played quietly in the garden, and birds sang in the thick hedges.
The demon’s psychic stench, of matted fur and old blood, formed a trail from the curb to the garden gate. They were too late.
Caleb eased through the unlocked gate and into the garden. The ornate oak door stood open.
Not knowing what else to do, he went up the stairs. The porch creaked under his weight as he crossed to the doorway and stepped inside.
A high foyer, designed to let the ocean breezes circulate and cool the house, greeted him. Doorways to either side showed dining and living rooms, both deserted. Directly in front of him, a staircase ran up to the second floor.
The air was thick with the demon’s reek. Caleb wanted to gag, but Gray’s hunger made his mouth water instead.
He swallowed hard. “Melanie?” he called into the heavy silence of the house.
A floorboard creaked overhead, and a moment later, Melanie appeared on the landing above.
Relief poured through him, like water through a breach in the seawall. “Hurry! We have to get you out of here!”
“Come here,” she called down; her voice trembled. “There’s something I have to show you.”
Had she killed the demon?
The drakul twisted inside him.
“It is here.”
Hunger sharpened his teeth, and a shudder ran through him.
No—stop. We can’t scare Melanie, damn it!
Caleb climbed the stairs quickly. “Are you all right?” he asked.
She backed away as he approached, and the flicker of fear in her eyes brought him to a halt a few steps below her. “Melanie?”
Two doors opened off the top of the stairs, both closed. As he watched, the one on the left slowly swung open, and a figure stepped out behind her.
The man was older, his iron gray hair carefully styled, his suit expensive. A slow smile curled his lips as his eyes locked on Caleb.
Shit. He knew this guy. He’d forgotten, what with the dying and getting possessed that had come after, but this man had stood in the shadows of the abandoned house.
“He is food!”
Gray writhed under his skin, fighting to get out, and Caleb staggered under the onslaught even as he realized what Gray meant.
They’d found the demon.
“Melanie, quick—get out of here!” Caleb shouted, even as he fought for control.
“You see, Melanie?” the demon asked. “He has been overcome by evil. Caleb is gone.”
She nodded, her face wet with tears. “You were right, Leland. I should never have doubted you.”
“Get away from him!” God, how could he make her understand? “Melanie, run, he’s the demon! He killed Ben!”
She shook her head. “You can’t fool me with your lies,” she said, her voice shaking. And raised the gun she’d held concealed at her side.
Caleb froze, transfixed by the black bore pointed directly at him. This wasn’t happening. This was a nightmare. “Melanie, no. Please don’t do this. I’m still me, I swear.”
Tears streaked her face as she braced the gun with both hands. “No, you’re not. You’re just a monster to put down.”
Then she emptied all six rounds into his chest.
* * *
Gray has had enough.
The pain is huge and all-encompassing, just as everything is in this living body. The taste and smell of blood wash through their throat, up from ruptured lungs. Bones shatter and flesh bruises, the impact of the bullets hurling them down the stairs to sprawl on the landing below. Their heart clenches without rhythm, another agony layered atop the rest.
And yet, somehow, the mortal woman’s betrayal hurts worse than everything else combined, Caleb’s shock and horror an anguished scream in their head.
The woman is crying: deep, wrenching sobs, as if she feels some remorse. Or perhaps she is merely mourning the Caleb she knew before, the one she brought into the abandoned house with her. When Gray lunges to their knees, she falls back with a scream, the gun brought to bear once again, hammer clicking on an empty chamber.
Shattered ribs snap back into place, giving lungs room to expand again as the blood in them is absorbed. The hole in their heart seals shut, its rhythm settling back into place at the same time. Some of the bullet fragments fall free through the holes in their shirt; he coughs once, expelling the rest onto the floor.
He rises to his feet. The woman scrambles back, eyes wide, but she is no threat.
The demon stands in the hall behind her, shock on its face. Perhaps it didn’t truly realize the nature of its hunter. Perhaps it believed the frail shield of mortals would keep him away, destroy him, or at least force him into another body and buy it time to escape.