Read Demon Hunter (The Collegium Book 1) Online
Authors: Jenny Schwartz
You can bleed and die banishing a demon, but Fay Olwen discovers there are worse hurts. Betrayed by the Collegium and by her father, she must build a new life away from New York. Leopard-shifter Steve Jekyll would have her build it with him. But loyalties are never simple and new love never easy. When demons are unleashed, Fay tracks the evil back to the Collegium, and now all hell will break loose because Fay fights for the innocent, and Steve will protect what is his.
For fans of kick-ass heroines and shifter heroes who are alpha-male and sinfully sexy.
is a paranormal romance novella.
Table of Contents
Fay Olwen walked cautiously through LaGuardia Airport. Security checks and luggage collection had been negotiated successfully, but her tiredness, the confusion of people and the knowledge that some magic users saw weakness as opportunity kept her scanning the crowd. With a demon in her pocket, she couldn’t afford to be challenged.
“If you continue ignoring me, people will guess I’m a bodyguard,” Steve Jekyll said.
He walked beside her with the deceptive slouch of a hunting cat, aware of everything and waiting for prey. The slouch matched his height to hers, six feet of daunting strength and speed. His dark hair and skin carried a hint of the Arabian deserts where his ancestors had hunted. He was a were-leopard, a mercenary and currently, her self-appointed guardian.
She hitched her bag higher on her shoulder. “I told you I’d manage.”
“Yeah, but I watched you crawl out of the grave two days ago.”
“Damn near.” He met her eyes for a second, the dark brown lightening to aroused leopard.
She dropped her gaze. Magic had healed the broken bones and vicious wounds inflicted by the demon, but her mind remembered. Two days ago she had touched death in the jungle. A lesser magic user would have died.
The silver disk in her pocket heated and burned with the memory. She knew it was a sensation created by her damaged mind and spirit, but she strengthened the amulet’s warding anyway. LaGuardia didn’t need a demon loose in its environs. She flinched at the thought.
“You should have banished it,” Steve growled.
“My orders are that the researchers at the Collegium need to study the demon.” They’d had this conversation before the demon fight and after.
Steve regularly ventured onto battlefields, but it seemed demons were an unacceptable risk. “If they want it so badly, why aren’t they here to collect it?”
Apparently, she was demon fighter and courier. “Who better than a proven fighter to carry the disc?” She attempted a shrug.
He wasn’t buying. “Did you tell them it tore you up?”
“Yeah.” Some of her tension relaxed as she released a sigh of wry acceptance. “I’m an idiot on so many levels.”
His shoulder bumped hers.
Touch was rare in her life and it took a couple of seconds for her to recognize the intent: comfort. She smiled. The bump would have staggered a lesser woman.
The doors of the airport opened, releasing them into the cold air of a New York spring day.
“Frigging weather. I hate this city.” Steve zipped his jacket. The well-worn leather emphasized his masculine presence and the aura of menace that clung to him. A person would have to be crazy to attack him.
The thought failed to cheer Fay. There were too many crazy magic users out there, men and women who’d abandoned both honor and commonsense. They kept the Collegium busy, neutralizing their threat. And the Collegium kept her busy. Automatically, she assessed the environment for danger, letting her senses test for the tug of magic.
“Cab or car? Did you drive to the airport, Fay?”
“No, I never do. We’ll need a cab.”
He grinned, and she realized what she’d said, “we”. She slowed and stopped a couple of feet from a cab. “No.”
“Glad to see you’ve accepted reality.” He slung her bag and his into the trunk of the cab. “Until that damned amulet is the Collegium’s problem, you’re stuck with me.”
And despite her “no”, she was glad for his presence. She was the demon hunter, but Steve had his own kind of power. Still, she had no claim on him. “It’s not your problem.”
“I’m the one who asked for you to deal with the demon. After last year, I knew you’d cope.” He frowned at her. “I didn’t know the Collegium would insist on binding not banishing it. You’re in this mess because of my request.”
“Like you said, you didn’t know what the Collegium would order.” She tried humor. “Apparently, they feel exorcism is wasteful.”
He grumbled low in his throat. It was the warning of a big cat. In leopard form he’d have lashed his tail.
She ignored the threat. “Demons channel a great deal of magic and it’s not limited by the form they possess. The Collegium wants to know how they do it.”
“Demons are evil.” His tone of voice said that sum of knowledge was all a sensible person needed to know about demons.
Fay shrugged. She more than half agreed with him. She opened the cab door and slid in.
He followed, his big body nudging and pushing at her, insisting that she make room for him. Like in the plane, where he’d been too big for his economy class seat, but having him between her and the aisle, between her and the world, had helped her feel safe. Well, as safe as a woman could feel with a demon in her pocket.
“Where to?” the cab driver demanded.
She gave the Collegium’s address while she scanned for magic or its residue in the cab. Some magic users left behind them traces of spells they carried, or actively planted watch-spells, trawling for information they could use or trade. Fay was in no mood to have others’ magic around her. A neutral environment was best for containing demons.
Thankfully, the vehicle came up completely mundane—except for Steve.
His presence filled the small space. Anger against the Collegium vibrated from him and infected the driver.
The man’s shoulders hunched and he drove the cab like a rabbit darting for safety.
It added to the thrill of New York traffic, but Fay’s plan was to live. She put a hand on Steve’s knee.
. Her shoulders relaxed as he responded to her unspoken warning. His shoulder bump in the airport had reminded her that weres used touch to communicate. In the circumstances, it seemed preferable than using magic or saying something the driver might overhear.
She left her hand a moment on his knee. The rare indulgence of human contact made her absurdly aware of the smooth weave of his jeans against her fingers, and the warmth of his skin heating the fabric. When she inhaled, his scent pushed against the stale cab odor.
Her whole body relaxed, losing the hyper-vigilance of the airport. That wouldn’t do. She withdrew her hand. She was tired, and therefore, susceptible to the innate power of an alpha were. Steve felt protective and she was tempted to allow herself the luxury of leaning on another’s strength. Her hand curled in her lap, wanting to reach out and touch him again.
“If you want to calm me, I respond well to stroking.”
The low, near soundless purr whispered against her ear. Steve leaned in close, his body angling protective and dominant, shutting out the driver.
A shiver danced down her spine. Men had whispered in her ear before, on Collegium-ordered missions. They’d whispered intel and commands.
But this was different. “You’re flirting?” No one flirted with her. No one touched her. No one teased and tantalized her senses.
His fingers traced her throat as she swallowed. “I’ve watched you fight and heal, face fear and win. I’ve sat beside you for hours inhaling your scent, ylang-ylang and rose. And then you touched me.”
“All weres touch.” Her voice was as low as his, as intimate as their breaths mingling.
“You’re not a were.”
For a second, the old sense of exclusion, of not being wanted, claimed her.
He nuzzled her throat. “For you to touch, you must trust. You trust me.”
She shivered, simultaneously excited and afraid that he’d understood her so well—and that he was right. She did trust him. “Steve.”
His eyes blazed. “If we were anywhere else…”
“Without an audience.” She could see the driver’s eyes in the mirror. He couldn’t hear them, but he could see, and he was curious.
“I’m coming home with you.”
“Yes.” Her agreement came without thought.
Steve’s power surged. Triumph, satisfaction, relief, anticipation. He gripped her hand and sat back. “Yes.”
Energy that was sheer sexual chemistry flowed between them. Fay shuddered at the raw, rare sensation. Second thoughts bit at her, reminding her of her usual caution. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea.”
His grip tightened.
One heartbeat, two. The driver muttered a rude assessment of other road users. He seemed to have a problem with cyclists.
Steve’s grip relaxed and he ran a thumb over her knuckles. “We’ll talk.”
She turned her head against the headrest and looked at him.
Lounging in the back seat he was big, tough and intent. She had seen him kill a man and cuddle a toddler too terrified for tears. She had trusted him with her knife, the blade enchanted to kill anything and to banish demons. If she’d failed to contain the demon, she’d trusted him to exorcise it.
He had returned the knife to her and waited in the ruins of the jungle village while her bones knit and her skin crawled together. Then he’d torched the clearing—and the “Village of the Dead”, as the locals called it, ceased to exist.
The cab stopped in front of a familiar building; one that was all steel, glass, and pretension: the Collegium.
Fay’s memories stopped, too. As did her sense of comfort and connection to Steve. Habit wound her in protective attitude and magic. She’d fought and survived demons, but inside the Collegium were far less predictable and far more numerous opponents.
The Collegium maintained a low profile. It blended in. To the mundane world it was one of numerous think-tanks specializing in analysis of international affairs. In reality, the Collegium had an active role in protecting the world.
Only a tiny percentage of the population were magic users. In earlier centuries Western magic users put their magic to the service of God and kept a low profile. Werewolves were Knights Templar, mages were priests and exorcists, and witches wove the cloths and tapestries that made churches sanctuaries. Then with the rise of Modernism in the late Nineteenth Century, magic users pulled away from both the Church and from an increasingly aggressive scientific society. They existed in secret and apart from humanity
But the First World War destroyed the illusion that they could exist alone. If they ignored the blood, violence and suffering of millions, then they denied their own humanity. Hundreds of magic users fought and died in the trenches of that horrible war, but they should have fought earlier and smarter. They should have stood against the magic users who’d allied themselves with evil and fed on the violence.
Theodore Coomb, Fay’s great-grandfather, survived the trenches, and so did the men under his command. The experience formed him as a protector of humanity. He’d faced evil unprepared, and swore he’d never do so again. He created the Collegium and brought together like-minded magic users to track evil, fight it and heal its effects.
The Second World War showed how frail the Collegium’s efforts were against magic users and mundanes who allied with evil to rule as demon kings. To serve the Collegium required total dedication. The scroll above the Collegium doors read,
Serviam. I will serve
Fay shuddered and tugged her hand free of Steve’s hold. Cold replaced the warm excitement of arousal.
I will serve.
How could she forget? How could she think about herself or waste time dreaming dreams? This wasn’t about her life or her needs. She had a demon in her pocket, its scars on her spirit and a duty to complete.
“I’ve got it,” she said, forestalling Steve’s reach for his wallet. She magicked her credit card into her hand and paid the driver, aware that Steve watched with narrowed eyes before sliding out to retrieve their luggage from the trunk. She waited long enough that he had time to place her bag on the sidewalk, but he didn’t.
The cab departed and Steve stood, holding her bag.
“I have to deliver a verbal report,” she said carefully.
His brief nod acknowledged the statement.
“I don’t know how long it’ll take.” She would have to report to Captain Lewis Bennett who ran the guardian forces, and perhaps to her father, the President. Collegium research staff might have questions about the wardings she’d added to the amulet, double-binding the demon.
“You’ve changed your mind.” He put her bag down on the sidewalk between them and folded his arms.
Out in the cold air with the smell of car fumes and the noise of the city, his impact on her senses should have lessened. Instead she was intensely aware of the life in him, of his vital warmth. She had the disconcerting, oddly whimsical thought that he was a fire-lit cabin in the heart of a blizzard, and she was outside, freezing, as she looked in, with the door forever barred to her.
He touched her face, his calloused fingers gentle. “Why?”
Tears lodged achingly in her throat. “I can’t.” Her gaze slid betrayingly from his hard face to the Collegium behind them.
“I would wait for you.”
His fingers were warm against her skin. His low, rough voice soothed and coaxed. He was offering casual sex and caring, and either, in their own way, would destroy her. They would open her to wanting more.