Authors: Jordan L. Hawk
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Genre Fiction, #Gay Romance, #Demons & Devils, #Psychics, #Vampires
Fuck. John took an instinctive step back, his hand tightening on his athame. How the hell had things gone wrong so fast, from no physical symptoms to a full-blown possession in a matter of seconds?
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,”
Sean had said, and damn it, he should have listened. Because, however the NHE had reacted to Sean’s weaker talent, John certainly had its attention.
The entity wearing Caleb’s body took a step toward him, and damn, the way it moved, all animal strength and grace. Backed up with such energy, it was like being trapped in a cage with a hungry tiger.
John took another step back himself, instinct warring with intellect.
Predator! Run! Hide!
screamed his hindbrain, and it was everything he could do to lock his knees and hold firm, because breaking the circle would let it out where it could get at the rest of the team.
Kaniyar was back there with her gun, somewhere. If things got truly out of hand, she’d fill it with silver-jacketed lead. And if John was lucky, she’d drop it before his head was ripped clean off his shoulders.
Etheric energy swirled over and around him. In response, his cock swelled and strained against the zipper of his slacks.
What the hell?
He’d done dozens of exorcisms, and the only one to get a rise out of him had been an incubus—and not even it had affected him like this display of pure, raw, power.
“What are you doing?” the NHE asked. Its voice was Caleb’s, but underlain with a bass roar, like the roll of thunder.
John’s mind froze, torn between his training, which said he should stab it with his athame and throw every bit of energy he could summon into forcing it out of Caleb’s dying body, and the fact it sounded…well, annoyed.
Not angry. Not raging. Not groveling or conciliatory, as if it wanted to trick him into letting it go. Just irritated, as if he posed a minor inconvenience.
The sheer amount of etheric energy bleeding out of it staggered him. There was no way he could make this entity leave Caleb’s body if it didn’t want to go, not without killing Caleb. And he wasn’t ready to do that yet, not when it didn’t seem to pose an immediate danger.
“What’s your name?” John asked cautiously. Some NHEs had them, or took them, and it was as good a stalling tactic as any while he figured out what to do next.
The NHE stared at him unblinking. “Gray,” it said, and this time there came the flash of fangs behind its lips.
Fucking hell. Of all the times for Sean to be right. Drakul indeed.
“Gray?” he repeated stupidly.
“Everything was gray.” Oh. Not a name, then. “Muted. Even the memories of the dead were faded and ghostly. Now there is color. And smells. So many. I never knew there was any scent except for demons.”
Stranger and stranger. “You mean NHEs? Non-Human Entities? We, er, don’t call your kind demons anymore.”
The drakul—Gray, he couldn’t help but think of it now—shot him an annoyed glare. Apparently, John had a talent for pissing it off. “They are not my kind. Demons are food. I am not food. Therefore, I am not a demon.”
“Demons—I mean, other NHEs—are…food?” Goddess, he sounded like an idiot, just repeating things back, but this entire conversation was crazy. Maybe this was a dream. Maybe he’d wake up in bed, and Caleb would turn out to be some completely normal, non-possessed hottie he’d picked up in a bar.
Except the crackle of energy rolling off Gray, vast and dangerous as a thunderstorm, was too real to be part of any dream. Let alone the hard-on John was still sporting.
“Of course.” Irritation again, as if John were a particularly stupid child. “I hunt them. I eat them.” Gray raised one hand, fingers curling, each one tipped with a retractable claw, like a cat’s. “There was one here. I have been tracking it, but it found me first. The mortals got in my way. They destroyed the body I inhabited. So I took the nearest one.” Confusion crossed over the impassive features. “But he did not remain dead.”
Ah. Was this why it bothered to talk to him in the first place? Was he—it—whatever—looking for answers?
“Someone gave him CPR.” John hesitated, but what else was he going to do? “Leave him. If you truly only hunt, uh, demons, then leave Caleb’s body and find another.”
A low growl issued from Gray’s throat, like a rumble of thunder. Then he was only inches from John’s face, and oh fuck how had he moved so fast? His black hair whipped around his head like angry snakes, snapping in the wind, and his lips drew back to expose the jut of fangs. Adrenaline sent John’s heart into overdrive, but he forced himself not to flinch, not to even blink.
“I cannot.” Anger in the words now, and fear. “I leave when one body is destroyed, to the nearest suitable. But I do not choose. I did not intend for this to happen, but it has, so—”
A shudder ran through the drakul suddenly. The storm front of energy beating against John’s skin shivered—and vanished, collapsing inward.
Caleb staggered, his brown eyes blinking in terror. His hair hung tangled around his face, and the hand he lifted to brush it away had no trace of claws.
“Oh God,” he whispered, in an ordinary voice without fangs or a bass roll of thunder beneath it. “It didn’t work, did it? It didn’t fucking work!”
* * *
John stood on the half-collapsed porch, wishing he had a stiff drink. Maybe he could take up smoking; at least he’d have something to do other than stand there shivering from a chill which had nothing to do with the pre-dawn air.
“Your assessment, Agent Starkweather?” Kaniyar asked, calm and collected. As if she hadn’t been standing in the shadows just behind him during the attempted exorcism. As if she hadn’t felt the incredible storm of etheric energy boiling out of Caleb’s slight frame.
He forced his back straight and met her gaze. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Told you,” Sean muttered.
Kaniyar arched a brow. “I need more to go on.”
“I don’t have any more!” He caught himself, then went on more calmly. “Gray—the NHE—is powerful. Beyond anything I’ve ever seen or read about. Right now I don’t have anything to call it other than what Sean did. A vampire. Drakul.”
“You think it has enough energy to inhabit a corpse?” Kaniyar asked.
Too bad empaths could only sense primate emotions; otherwise, Pittman could have told them if Gray had been lying or not. “I don’t know. If any NHE does, he would.”
“It isn’t a he,” Sean reminded him sharply. “And you shouldn’t be naming it like a fucking pet. It’s dangerous, and we need to get rid of it before it seizes control and kills every last one of us.”
“I disagree.” The shaking had stopped, so he turned to face Sean. “I never got the sense Gray was trying to trick me or be…dishonest.”
“It said it eats other NHEs. You don’t believe it’s telling the truth, do you?” Sean asked, his eyes bulging.
“Why not? Maybe…maybe they do have some sort of ecology.” Because the truth was, no one really knew much about etheric entities. For centuries—millennia—they’d been explained away by stories of gods, angels, and demons, interpreted through the lens of whatever culture encountered them and passed down the memory in story. “Think about it—we only know anything about them because some interact with humans. Maybe all of them don’t. Maybe most of them don’t.”
“You think this is, what, some kind of apex predator?” Kaniyar asked, but she sounded as if she was considering the possibility, at least.
“Why not? Even great white sharks get eaten by orcas.”
Sean pulled yet another cigarette out of his pack. “Who cares what it is, besides dangerous?”
“McNamara, I need to speak with Starkweather alone.” Kaniyar said.
“Fine.” Sean dug out his lighter. “I’m going to wait by the van.”
“Take the rest of the night off.”
For a moment, John thought Sean would argue—but no one argued with Kaniyar. At least, no one who didn’t want her boot up his ass, figuratively speaking. Apparently realizing he’d been dismissed, Sean trudged back to the street without so much as a “good-night.”
John wanted to put in a good word for his friend, but he wasn’t sure how to go about it. If he tried to assure Kaniyar that Sean hadn’t gotten spooked, she’d want to know why he thought it was even a concern. And if he tried to tell her Sean was a good exorcist, she’d only reply she knew his service record just fine, thank you very much.
Maybe it was best not to draw attention to Sean at all. Nodding in the direction of the house, where Caleb sat hunched miserably inside the chalk circle, he said, “Look, Mr. Jansen is still in control, for now. Once he’s secured, we’ll start researching, see if anyone else has encountered a similar NHE.”
“About that,” Kaniyar said. “I want you to take him home with you.”
John replayed her words. Then replayed them again. They didn’t make any more sense the third time.
“Ma’am?” he asked helplessly.
“Can you keep Mr. Jansen at your condominium?”
What the fuck? “Regs state NHEs have to be properly contained.” He was fine with breaking the rules when needed, or at least bending them out of shape. But what she was suggesting was a federal crime. Not to mention insanely dangerous, should Gray decide to go on a rampage after all.
Kaniyar’s expression betrayed nothing. Office legend claimed empaths couldn’t get a hit off her, either because she was so collected, or so heartless. Or a robot, according to a few jokesters. “You heard McNamara’s report. Mr. Jansen claims he came here with his sister-in-law and some of her friends to find his brother’s body. After it had walked out of the funeral home.”
Why was she telling him something he already knew? “Right. It should have been shunted to me, since I’m the investigating agent on record for Ben Jansen’s murder. I take it the funeral director didn’t file a report?”
Which meant the funeral home would be shut down—probably already had been—and the owners might be looking at jail time on top of it. Served them right; if he’d known about it earlier, he might have been able to do something before Caleb ended up possessed.
“Wrong. She did file a report.” Kaniyar’s gaze was cold and sharp as a knife. “The second someone in SPECTR reviewed the footage, it should have been priority flagged and sent straight to my desk. Even if the video wasn’t reviewed properly, the report should have gone to you. Instead, it disappeared.”
Okay, yes, he was pissed things had gotten mishandled. Caleb’s life was on the line here, and it wouldn’t have been if everything had gone according to procedure. But to suggest someone had deliberately suppressed it was beyond the pale. “I’m not sure what you’re saying, chief.”
“Don’t play coy with me, Starkweather. You know damn well what I’m saying. There should have been some trace, some point where the ball was dropped. There isn’t, which tells me someone is covering their tracks. I need time to look into this. For the next few days, I don’t want the drakul anywhere near HQ.”
He didn’t believe it. No one inside SPECTR would deliberately sabotage an investigation. Let people say what they would about governmental incompetence, but the paranormal programs were the real deal. They were all about helping people, paranormally-abled and norm alike.
“These people Mr. Jansen came with—what happened to them?” he asked slowly.
Kaniyar frowned out into the barren yard. “They disappeared. We’ve got an alert out to every local hospital, asking them to report anyone admitted with bite marks. Nothing has turned up yet. I sent agents around to Melanie Jansen’s apartment, but no one was home.”
“What about the others?”
“Mr. Jansen claims he didn’t know them; they were supposedly all friends of his sister-in-law and brother. Says he doesn’t know how they tracked the NHE here. According to Pittman, Mr. Jansen isn’t lying, but there’s something he isn’t telling us. It will give you something to talk about over dinner.”
John wished he had even a touch of precognition to tell him what to do. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he glanced through the uneven doorway. He could just make out Caleb sitting in the chalk circle, his arms locked around his bony legs, chin resting on his knees, brown eyes blazing with anger and frustration.
Ben’s death had been his case. True, he was sure he’d done everything he could…but still. If he’d solved the murder, none of this would have happened.
“One more thing,” Kaniyar added. “It seems Mr. Jansen is an unregistered paranormal.”
“At least something good will come of this, then,” John said, although it only made him feel a little better. Poor Caleb: his parents had probably listened to all the misinformation about SPECTR, or else were anti-government types, and kept their son away from the help he needed. No wonder he’d glared and snarked. “What’s his talent?”
“Agent Pittman didn’t continue the line of questioning, considering the urgency of other matters,” she said dryly. “I think we can rule out pyrokinesis, at least—that one tends to give itself away no matter what people do to hide it. The point is, he already has more than the usual distrust of the government. Things will go much more smoothly if we can get him to cooperate with us instead of with the NHE.”
If Caleb believed SPECTR meant him harm, would he give into Gray just to save himself? Kaniyar was right; this was going to be hard enough with Caleb an unwilling host.
Of course, it wouldn’t be any easier if Gray decided to suck out John’s blood in the middle of the night.
“Well, Starkweather?” Kaniyar asked, arching a brow. “Can you handle this assignment?”
He took a centering breath and let it out slowly. Ben Jansen was his case. His case, his responsibility.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m up for it.”
“Excellent.” She paused, then added, “By the way, all of this is classified as of this moment. No discussing it with anyone who wasn’t actually present at the scene. Now, go give Mr. Jansen the good news.”
* * *
Caleb sat on the floor, trying not to think, trying not to feel.
The exorcism hadn’t worked. Of course it hadn’t; what had he expected from a bunch of Specs? Maybe it had all just been a show, trying to punish him for going unregistered.