Demonica: Overkill

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DEMONICA: OVERKILL
Snippets of Demonica Life

Cover by Tricia Schmitt a.k.a. Pickyme

Wraith and Serena — available now
Tayla and Eidolon — available now
Luc and Kar — available now
Kaden and Andrea — available now
Shade and Runa — (Christmas 2013 Part 1) available now
Reaver — (Christmas 2013 Part 2) available now

As a reader, do you ever wonder what happens after “The End?”

Yeah, me too.

So I’m working on writing short stories to update readers on the lives of the Demonica characters. The idea came to me when Ecstasy Unveiled was a finalist in the annual DABWAHA contest. It won…after getting hundreds of votes. The response from my readers was absolutely amazing.

So I want to give back to my awesome readers. These little free updates are for you. I can’t thank you enough for all your enthusiasm for this series. You’ve put it on top in contests and put it on several bestseller lists. THANK YOU! And be sure to check back now and then for new stories.

I hope you enjoy!

 

 


Wraith And Serena

Serena Kelley loved hunting. The hunt – for archaeological treasure — had been the highlight of her life when she’d been human. Now that she was a vampire, the hunts were for food, and somehow, it was a million times more exciting.

The best part was watching Wraith take down their prey.

Total. Shivers.

They’d tracked a group of gang-bangers through the streets of LA, waiting for one or two to break off. Two males eventually stepped into the doorway of a building, their own predatory gazes waiting for something. A drug deal, a victim to rob.

Oh, how Serena liked to hunt scumbags. Last week, they’d scared the ever-living crap out of some Russian flesh-traders. The week before, Colombian drug cartel assholes. Toying with them, watching them piss their macho selves, it was great entertainment.

“You want those two?” Wraith asked, his lips grazing her ear.

Electricity sparked in his touch – the buildup to the finale always had them so hot that if it weren’t for the fact that they needed to feed, they’d be ripping at each others’ clothes at this point in every hunt.

“Take them,” she whispered.

She was fully capable of doing it herself – she was stronger than humans, and Wraith had taught her well. But she’d rather watch her mate do it, because the rewards…God, she was actually panting as he slipped silently into the shadows.

With embarrassing ease, he grabbed both of the large males and whipped them into the dark alley between the buildings. Serena shifted so she could watch, and her mouth watered as he pinned one to the brick and sank his fangs into the struggling male’s throat, and held the other effortlessly in the air with one hand around his neck.

He wouldn’t kill them – as vampires, they were allowed only one human kill a month, and Wraith saved it for serious scumbags, like one of the Russian guys from last week. So far, she’d controlled herself and hadn’t killed anyone except a few demons that had attacked her when they’d been out hunting demonic artifacts. For her, those were the rules: Attack me, and die. And when humans attacked, they weren’t subject to the one-per-month rule. Defending and feeding were two different things.

The male in the air kicked for a moment, but Wraith’s hold rendered him unconscious quickly.

They didn’t do this every night – they only imposed on their family to babysit about once a week. Usually Serena stayed home with Stewie and waited for Wraith to come home from the hunt. She’d pounce on him when he came through the door, and they rarely made it to the bedroom before she had her fangs in his throat and he was sheathed inside her.

As though Wraith knew where her thoughts had gone, he shifted so he could see her, his golden gaze slicing right through her. The air between them thickened, shimmered with hunger, and with a snarl, he released the first male to bite into the second, taking extra blood so he could feed her.

Sometimes he teased her, drinking slowly, with long, lingering pulls. Other times, like now, he practically inhaled his food, swallowing greedily, so fast he probably tasted nothing.

Her boy was impatient to finish…so he could start with her.

Serena shivered with delicious anticipation.

Wraith dropped the second male to the ground and swung around to fully face her. His eyes were molten with lust, his gaze a laser, and it was targeted on her.

Sometimes she waited for him to come at her, take her right where she stood. Sometimes she ran, made him give chase and work for it.

Tonight was one of those nights, and he knew it. His nostrils flared, his muscles twitched, and he lowered his head, let out a roar, and launched himself at her.

With a delighted scream, Serena ran.

Wraith’s heavy footsteps pounded the pavement behind her. She ran faster. He hissed, kicked himself into the next gear, and gained on her. Oh, she was tempted to slow down and let him catch her, but the longer the chase, the harder he worked for it, the fiercer the lovemaking.

And tonight she wanted everything he had to give.

She darted down an alley, zigzagged between buildings, leaped onto a stairwell and dashed across a rooftop. When she reached the edge, she jumped, hit the next roof in a crouch.

She couldn’t hear Wraith behind her anymore.

Cautiously, she unfurled to her full height and peered into the night. In the distance, she heard vehicles honking, people partying, dogs barking. A gunshot rang out somewhere nearby.

But there was no sign of her mate.

She knew better than to think she’d lost him. Most likely, he was circling the building, waiting for her to either come down the rickety external fire escape or leap to the next building. But she’d have the last laugh, because she wasn’t going to do either.

She’d take the inside stairwell and sneak out the front door of the apartment building, where he wouldn’t expect her to exit.

Silently, she crept to the doorway. It was locked, but with a hard twist, she broke the knob and pushed it open.

The next thing she knew, she was yanked inside the stairwell, slammed against the wall, and Wraith’s hands were tearing at her jeans. She strained against him, giving as good as she got to rip open his fly. When she wrapped her palm around his shaft, he let out an erotic growl low in his throat, a sound that always made her go utterly wet.

In five seconds flat, her pants were off and Wraith’s sex was poised at her entrance. He tangled one hand in her hair to hold her for his kiss, dropped his other hand to lift her thigh so her core was firmly against him.

“Now,” she murmured against his lips, but damn him, he merely rotated his hips, grinding against her so her pelvis was chasing him for just the right pressure. The right touch.

He was teasing her, but she had a trick up her sleeve. Lifting her face, she flicked out her tongue and ran it up and down one of his fangs. He hissed deep in his throat, but he didn’t move. The action always had the effect of soothing the savage beast, and whenever she touched those massive teeth, he stilled, began to pant, and she would take the upper hand.

Oh, how she loved that power.

Slowly, she stroked, up and down, circling the sharp tip. A little pressure…and a drop of blood welled on her tongue. Wraith jerked, growled, and sliced his hips forward to fill her core with a single, powerful thrust.

Ripples of pleasure shot through her as the first orgasm hit. Wraith licked at her mouth as he pumped into her, but when the climax faded, another hunger surfaced, and with her own animal rumble, she bared her fangs. Wraith tilted his head, exposing his neck for her, and she didn’t wait.

Serena struck, and the taste of his skin, his blood, flooded her mouth. His moan rose up, going even deeper when she dug her nails into his back.

“Oh, yeah,” he rasped. “Fuck, yeah. Harder, baby.”

She sucked at him, reveling in the power of his body rocking into hers, the power of his life-essence flowing past her teeth, tongue, and into her veins. Another orgasm took her, and Wraith joined her for two or three of his own. Their sensations went on and on, and even after he’d stopped moving, she continued to come, thanks to his unique Seminus gift.

He held her through it, watching her with a heavy-lidded gaze. He often told her that this was the best part of sex with her – watching her come until she was quivering with exhaustion. He loved to scoop her up and take care of her during those few minutes when she was nothing but a melted pool of mush.

And, like usual, it took forever to recover. Vampires got tired and breathless, just like everyone else. Oh, sure, Eidolon said that the breathing thing was some sort of reflex leftover from human life, but Serena didn’t believe it. Not when, after a dozen orgasms, she was panting as hard as Wraith was.

Resting his forehead against hers, he smoothed his hands up to frame her face in his palms. “I love you, lirsha.”

“I love you too,” she whispered.

Now that her physical hungers had been sated, another need began to pound in her chest. She was a mother, and her son and mate were her world. She needed to get back to Stewie.

Didn’t matter that she hadn’t given birth to the beautiful, dark-haired, brown-eyed toddler. He was hers, and every day she thanked God that Wraith had been the demon he was before she’d met him. His past was tragic, frightening, and at times, wild. But it had brought him to her, and it had brought Stewie into existence.

Wraith had given her everything she’d only dreamed of.

 

 


Tayla and Eidolon

***Note: this scene takes place between Sin Undone and Eternal Rider in the Demonica world***

Need shot through Eidolon’s veins like an electric current, the buzz increasing in intensity until now, as he walked through the front door of his Manhattan apartment, it had turned into almost crippling pain.

He’d managed to work almost a full shift at the hospital without taking a break — UG had been so busy that incubus lust had taken a backseat to the physician desire to heal. That was a rarity for sure, but it seemed as though the world’s escalating problems had changed the rules and laws of nature. Every demon was feeling the effects of an impending Apocalypse, thanks to Eidolon’s sister, Sin, and her unintentional role in breaking the first Horseman’s Seal.

Still, Eidolon had toughed it out a little too long on his shift, had taken himself to the edge before his need to bed Tayla had finally driven him home. She could have come to him — hell, his office had become a second bedroom — but she’d been sleeping when he’d called, and the thought of slipping under the covers with her was too tempting.

He stripped as he strode down the hall toward the bedroom, leaving a trail of scrubs in his wake. Mickey, Tayla’s ferret, and Mange, their dog, greeted him halfway to the bedroom, and he paused for a second to give each a quick pat and a promise that he’d play later.

Much, much later.

The rustle of sheets was an erotic siren call, and that was enough time with the pets. Straightening, his senses heightened and tuned in to sex, he inhaled, tracking his mate even though he knew where she was. Every muscle in his body hardened when he caught her scent; vanilla body wash and shampoo, and beneath it, the heady tang of battle. She’d been fighting again.

The knowledge both excited and infuriated him. She was the head of a local Aegis cell, but she was supposed to be managing her crew, not fighting demons. He needed her to be safe, dammit.

He’d looked for a mate for so long, and now that he’d found the most perfect female he could imagine, he couldn’t lose her. Wouldn’t lose her. Tayla was his life.

A growl rose up in his chest as he stalked into the bedroom, the need to lay his claim on her, to show her she was his and that she had better keep herself safe, turning him into a creature of pure instinct. They were trying to get pregnant, and though he’d promised her that he wouldn’t use his gift to make it happen, his dermoire lit up without his consent, ready to pump power into her womb as he pumped his seed into her core. She wanted to do this naturally, but every time they had sex, he had to fight his nature, and today might be the first time he failed.

She was curled up in a ball under the covers, her burgundy hair spilling over the pillow, her long, delicate eyelashes throwing shadows on her pale skin. She looked sweet, innocent, and nothing could be further from the truth.

He loved that about her.

It occurred to him that it was odd for her to be sleeping, given that they were bonded in a way that not only allowed her to sense his desire, but that fed into her own, but he’d worry about that later. Right now he needed her so badly he was coming out of his skin.

Cock aching like a sonofabitch, he slipped under the sheets behind her, caught her around the waist, and tugged her against him. Her sharp inhale told him she’d awakened, and when the put his mouth to her ear and said roughly, “I’m going to mount you like an animal,” she sucked air again, the noise accompanied by a bloom of arousal that made his nostrils flare and his body throb.

Before she could reply, he flipped her up onto her knees and drove into her wet heat, no foreplay, no tenderness. He was too far gone, and this first time would be all about getting them there as fast as possible. Maybe the second time would be that way too.

Tayla cried out, but she pushed back against him, meeting every powerful thrust with one of her own. The erotic sounds of their lovemaking filled the room, ramping him up even more. He loved the slap of their bodies, the delicate little panting breaths from Tayla that always built to whimpers, then growls, and then, finally, shouts.

His fingers dug into her hips as he held her…oh, yeah, he’d leave marks. She didn’t complain, though. In fact, she braced her weight on one arm and reached behind to grab his wrist and tug him forward.

“More,” she groaned, and damn, he loved it when she wanted it like this. When she wanted him to completely dominate her, possess her, and mark her.

He always gave her what she wanted.

Wrapping his fingers around the back of her neck, he pushed her down into the pillow and surged forward so his chest covered her muscular back. Pleasure became a liquid, white heat as he thrust into her, every pump of his hips shoving them forward on the mattress. Sweat broke on his fevered skin, and in no time, Tayla was just as hot, her body on fire, her moans smoky with desire.

“So good,” he said into her ear. “Always…so…good.”

Her reaction to his voice was instantaneous, and she bucked, shouted as he sank his teeth into her shoulder. Her contractions around his shaft put him over the edge, the orgasm exploding up his spine and blowing right through his skull.

Delicious, bone-shattering agony.

“Eidolon…stop.”

A tremor wracked his body, and he swore his brain melted.

No…Eidolon!”

Tayla’s voice broke into his haze of pleasure, blasting into his second orgasm. She kept saying no, even through her own climaxes. What the hell…

Peeling his eyes open, he looked down at his arm, the symbols that ran from fingertip to shoulder glowing as he channeled his power into her.

“Damn…sorry…Tay…” He shuddered through another orgasm, coming aware that his power was deep in her womb, probing, trying to find an egg to connect with his sperm–

He jerked as if he’d been shocked, yanking his arm away and disconnecting his power in a rush.

Gods…oh…gods. He knew why she was so tired now.

“Hellboy,” Tayla breathed, and then she cried out as she came again.

Though he was still hard, would normally be starting another round, he pulled out of her and eased her onto her back, settling himself over her, propped on his knees and fists. Her sleepy eyes were half-lidded, glazed with pleasure as she panted through yet another climax.

He loved to watch her react to his semen, often lying next to her and doing nothing but pet her hair as she spent half an hour coming over and over. But for once, he wanted her to be finished.

When she eased, even if it would only be temporary, she swallowed, licked her lips. “You better not have done it,” she rasped. “If you used your gift to make me pregnant–”

“I didn’t need to,” he said softly.

“Mmm…good.” Her lazy drawl accompanied a long, sinuous stretch of her body. And then she froze, her eyes popping wide. “Wait. What did you just say?”

A trembling began in his muscles, a soul-deep earthquake like he’d never felt before. His throat tightened and his lungs burned, and his heart beat wildly. Gods, he felt like he’d run a fifty mile marathon.

And won.

Unable to support himself any longer, he lowered his body on top of Tay, using his elbows to keep from crushing her as he brushed his lips across hers.

“You’re pregnant,” he said. “A couple of weeks along. We’re going to have a baby.”

She squealed and threw her arms around him, hugging him so tight he had to struggle to take a breath. “I love you,” she said into his neck. “I love you so much…” A moan finished her sentence as she succumbed to pleasure again, arching her back and tilting her hips to meet his erection.

He slipped inside her easily, and this time, despite what he’d thought earlier, he took it slow and easy, making sure every touch, every kiss, every slide in and out of her body was a declaration of his feelings for her. He told her too, over and over, to be certain she understood.

An hour later, while she drifted off in a contented, exhausted sleep, he held her, his hand lying protectively over her belly, his eyes stinging a little.

The single-minded desire to make little Sems was in Eidolon’s DNA. It was a biological imperative that had driven him mad since taking Tayla as a mate. He’d wanted to wait to have children, his brain telling him it wasn’t time. But his body had raged, and his love for Tay had been so encompassing that the desire to create something together had finally won the battle.

He was going to be a father. His world had just gotten larger. And scarier. But as Tay sighed softly and snuggled more closely against him, he knew they’d handle it together. She’d keep him sane, and he’d keep her safe.

The baby would keep them busy.

Life was good.

 

 


Luc and Kar

***Note: this scene takes place eight months after the events of Sin Undone***

Luc was going to be a father.

That was some scary shit. Kar didn’t think so, but then, she tended to put way too much faith in him. Like that time she’d been sure he wouldn’t make one of Shade and Runa’s triplets cry. But shit, how the hell was he supposed to know that little kids didn’t like it when you roared at them? The tots were demons, after all.

Shade had put Luc on his ass for that. Not that Luc hadn’t gotten in a few licks of his own. But Shade had pent-up fury on his side, had been gunning for Luc ever since the demon learned that Luc had been the one to turn Runa into a werewolf. And had almost killed her.

Demons were so fucking sensitive.

Luc definitely didn’t have that problem. Hell, half the reason he was afraid of parenthood was that he didn’t know if he could love anyone besides Kar. What if he felt nothing for this child? What if he couldn’t love it? That had been his fear from the beginning, and nothing had changed.

“Luc?”

Kar stood at the foot of the bed, naked, her hands on her swollen belly as she stared at him. Not in a million years had he ever thought he’d think anyone or anything was cute, but she was. She’d grown out her strawberry-blonde hair so it now hung around milky, lightly-freckled shoulders, and she’d plumped up from pregnancy, giving her a rounded, softer look that suited her. She’d be a beautiful mother.

He shifted his own naked body on the bed, barely able to move. Kar had been raging with pregnancy hormones and Feast moon twitchiness, and the two combined had given her one hell of a sexual appetite. Her excuse for attacking him every couple of hours was that sex could trigger labor. He could state for the record that it wasn’t true, or she’d have dropped the cub two weeks ago.

But hell if he was going to contradict her. In her state, she’d flay him alive. And then make him have more sex. Not that he was complaining, but he’d like to get more than two hours of sleep at a time.

“Yeah, babe?”

“It’s time.”

He yawned. “Time? For more sex? Because it’s only been half an hour.”

She whacked him on the foot. “For the baby.”

For a dozen heartbeats, he lay there, fuzzy-brained and uncomprehending. Then he sat up so fast he thought he might have pulled a muscle in his back.

“I’m not ready,” he said, as if saying it would make the baby behave and just stay put. For another ten years.

Kar smiled, the warm one that always reminded him that as hard as they could both be, they could also let down their walls with each other.

“You’re ready.”

If ready meant hyperventilating, then he was so ready. “You’re sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?” He swung his legs over the side of the mattress and threw on his jeans.

“I’m sure.” She shuffled out of the bedroom without waiting for him, heading to the hidden door in the living room floor. He caught up to her as she opened it.

“Wait. Let me go down first. I want to be able to catch you if you fall.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Are you suggesting that I’m fat and awkward?”

“Yep.”

She punched him in the shoulder hard enough to make him yelp, which made her grin. The grin only lasted a second though, because then she was wincing, and a trickle of blood dripped down her thigh.

Fear twisted his insides into a pretzel. Yeah, he was a paramedic, and he knew how a werewolf’s labor worked. But he didn’t like seeing his mate bleeding, even if it was supposed to happen that way. He didn’t like her to be in pain, either, and he wished he could do this for her.

“Come on,” he said softly. “Let’s get you down there.”

Before he started down the ladder into the secret den where they could either hide from enemies or chain themselves for their shifts, he kissed her. Framed her face in his palms and put every ounce of what he felt for her into it. He didn’t get mushy often, and he didn’t plan on it now. But this was the last time they’d have a chance to be alone for a long time, and he was going to make it count.

When he pulled back, Kar’s pale blue eyes were misty and her voice gravelly. “I love you, Luc.”

It still stunned him every time she said that. He’d been such an asshole when they’d met, and then again when she’d come to him for help a month later. He was so fucking lucky she hadn’t just shot him and called it good, because he’d have deserved a bullet in the head.

“Love you too.” He stepped onto the first ladder rung. “Now let’s get you settled in.”

Luc helped her down into the dark space beneath the cabin, and while she poured a bowl of water from the jug he’d brought down last week, he got a fire going in the wood stove to combat the ever-present chill.

“Seriously,” he said, turning to watch her arrange blankets and soft towels into a giant nest. “You’re really sure you want to do this?”

“Yes,” she groaned, and he felt his gut twist tighter.

She was a turned warg, but she had the instinct of born werewolf, maybe because she belonged to a rare subspecies that turned on the new moon instead of the full one. Whatever the reason, her instinct was to go underground and give birth by herself. She didn’t even want him there.

Which sucked, because his instinct was to be at her side, helping, watching over her, doing what he could to ease her pain and ensure the safety of both her and his cub.

Once the fire was going, she started pacing and gestured to the hatch door.

“Kar–”

“Go.” She panted through a contraction, her eyes glittering with pain. “Please, Luc. We’ll be fine.”

Dammit. “I’ll be at the top of the ladder if you need me, and I’ll call Eidolon, have him on standby.”

She cried out, then snarled when he moved toward her. Right. Go. Today probably wouldn’t be a good day to lose a hand…or worse, his life. There was a high probability that she’d shift during the birth, and the bite of a Feast warg was death to a regular werewolf like him. Which was another reason she wanted to do this alone. In her beast form, she was likely to eat anyone who came within snapping distance of her massive jaws.

He scaled the ladder, closed the hatch, and called Doc E, who he hoped to hell wouldn’t be needed. Not only would that mean Kar was in trouble, but the hospital couldn’t afford for him to be gone long. Not with the way he underworld was going crazy with the impending apocalypse.

So, now what? Every cell in his body was screaming for him to be downstairs with Kar, and when he heard her cry out, he had to forcefully peel his hand off the hatch with his other hand. It was as if part of his body wasn’t paying attention to his brain, and damn, but this could end badly.

Sweating, jamming his fingers through his hair, he paced. And listened to her moans and cries, every one of which was a spear to the heart. He hated this. Hated it. No more kids for them. No way. He couldn’t go through this again. And if anything happened to her…

He forced his thoughts away from worst-case scenarios and back to the present. And in the present, it was clear that Kar had turned. The whimpers and yelps coming up through the wood slats in the floor were punctuated by panting breaths, some of which were his. He kept forgetting to breathe.

“Kar,” he rasped. “I’m right here, baby.”

He didn’t know if she could hear him through her cries, but he was sure she could feel him. They’d grown so close over the last nine months that he swore they could sense each others’ emotions even when he was at work at Underworld General and she was here at home.

A pained scream nearly ripped him in half, and he dropped to his knees, jamming the heels of his palms into his eyes as he let out a scream of his own. God, he hurt for her. He hurt so…fucking…bad.

There was a knock at the front door, and then it swung open, and Con sauntered inside, followed by Runa. Both were loaded down with giant baskets full of food and baby stuff.

“Hey, man,” Con said. “We brought you guys a couple of meals and a ton of shit Runa and Serena said you’d need for the baby.”

Luc thought they already had everything the baby would need, but whatever. He hadn’t even known what Onesies were, so he was pretty clueless.

Runa started toward the kitchen. “Plus, I wanted to be here for Kar, in case she needed help.” Runa, being a warg who had gone through the birth of three babies, was probably the best person who could be here.

“Thank you,” he croaked.

She gave him a “duh” look that females were so good at. “You didn’t really think we’d let you go through this alone, did you? How long have you been working at UG? Silly wolf.”

Con waited until Runa was gone to plop down on the floor beside Luc. “And I wanted to make sure you were okay.” He cracked a smile. “Silly wolf.”

The vampire was the closest thing Luc had ever had to a friend, and though he couldn’t say it, he was glad Con had come.

Kar made another bloodcurdling noise, and Luc started to tremble. “She’s in so much pain.” He blinked back humiliating wetness in his eyes. “She’s alone, and I’m fucking stuck up here.”

“I can’t say I understand what you’re going through,” Con said. “But dhampire females do the same thing, and it all works out. Kar and the baby will be fine.”

Luc sat there with Con for what felt like hours, and it probably was. Runa brought him a shot of whiskey, and the two of them did their best to keep Luc occupied. For the most part, it worked.

Until he heard the sound of a baby’s cry.

Heart slamming into his throat, he ripped open the hatch door so hard it tore off its hinges, and then he hit the ground floor without taking a single step on the ladder.

His mouth went dry and his eyes went wet when he saw Kar lying in her little nest, a squirming bundle of baby tucked protectively to her breast.

“It’s a girl,” she whispered. “We have a beautiful daughter with your black hair.”

Luc dampened one of the folded cloths with the jug of water and eased down next to them.

“You’re both beautiful,” he said, as he wiped sweat from Kar’s forehead. “Are you okay? Can I get you anything?”

Her smile was tired but as happy as he’d ever seen it, and his heart gave a great thump. “I’m perfect.” She glanced down at their daughter, who Kar had insisted they name Luca if it was a girl. “Do you want to hold her?”

Anxiety wracked him, and he broke out in a sweat. He’d held a million babies, had delivered several in his ambulance, and while the miracle of birth was nice and all that, he’d never felt anything beyond a professional obligation to a patient.

Now he was under obligation as a father. What if he experienced the same non-emotion he felt when he was holding a patient?

“Luc? She won’t bite.” Kar stroked Luca’s wispy hair and grinned. “Not yet, anyway.”

He puffed up a little with pride. As a born warg, his daughter would have one hell of a bite.

Inhaling a shaky, deep breath, he gently wrapped the infant in one of the clean blankets and lifted her into his arms.

Her blue eyes met his, and instantly, she was a part of him. Instantly, he was in love. Gods, he was nearly knocked on his ass by the intensity of it.

“I told you,” Kar murmured.

Yeah. Yeah, she had. She’d been certain that he had room in his heart for a baby, and she was right.

He leaned over and kissed her, taking care to cradle their daughter between them.

“For once,” he said, “I don’t mind the I-told-you-so.”

“Good.” She reached up and cupped his cheek, the glint in her eye warning him to duck for cover. “Then you’ll remember this when we have our next baby.”

“Oh, hell, no,” he growled, but even as he said it, he knew he was talking out of his ass. What Kar wanted, she’d get. And, as he looked down into his daughter’s gorgeous eyes, he realized he wouldn’t mind more I-told-you-sos.

Bring ‘em on.

 

 


Kaden and Andrea

***Note: these two chapters are included in the ebook version of Eternity Embraced, but are not in the print short story found in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance.***

* ~ * CHAPTER FIVE * ~ *

Tayla Mancuso hadn’t been sure what to think when she’d gotten the call from the head of The Aegis’s Portland cell. Sure, Guardians transferred all the time, but the Regent, Shawn, said that this was a special case, and he wouldn’t elaborate.

Then, when one of the Guardians he’d called about, Andrea, contacted Tayla and asked to meet at the apartment Tay shared with her husband, Eidolon, instead of at the New York City cell’s headquarters, Tay had gotten real suspicious. There were very few reasons a Guardian wouldn’t want to meet at a cell’s highly fortified headquarters, and topping the list would be if said Guardian couldn’t make it past the wards that prevented underworld beings from entering. Or if the Guardian was worried about being recognized by cell members for some reason.

Or if the Guardian wanted to get Tayla alone, somewhere unprotected.

Tayla went through all of the scenarios, and though she was suspicious, her internal danger alarm hadn’t triggered. She’d meet Andrea, but she’d make sure Eidolon was safe.

Tayla never lied to E, but before she agreed to see Andrea, she’d made sure he was working a shift at Underworld General, the hospital he and his brothers ran for anyone who couldn’t be seen at a human medical facility.
Eidolon was a demon, a rare breed of incubus, and there was no way Tayla was allowing a demon slayer into the apartment with him there.

Granted, Tayla was half-demon herself, and no doubt rumors were already spreading since she’d revealed the fact to some Aegis bigwigs in Egypt last month, but she was also a Guardian, and she was fully prepared to take on Andrea if this was some sort of trick.

Or assassination attempt.

So yes, she’d agreed to meet Andrea while Eidolon was at work. Not that he couldn’t defend himself — he was a powerful fighter. But Tayla wasn’t taking any chances.

Funny how protective she’d gotten. When they’d first met, she’d tried to kill him.

Now she was walking down the hallway of the expensive Manhattan apartment they shared, her fingers flexing over the stang at her hip. The double-bladed S-shaped weapon was an Aegis special, the first weapon she’d been trained on, and she wanted it at hand if there was trouble.

Because she suddenly had a hinky feeling, and she sensed that behind the door was more than just a woman wanting to transfer from the City of Roses to the Big Apple.

She opened the door, and her hand flew to the stang at the sight of a black-haired woman Tay assumed was Andrea…and a blond male who Tayla had no doubt was a vampire.

Neither Andrea nor the vamp missed Tay’s hand action, and though they stiffened, they didn’t make any aggressive or defensive moves. Wise, since Tayla also had a wooden stake at her ankle, and the ability to turn into an unstoppable monster if the situation called for it. Which she hoped didn’t happen. Shifting into her Soulshredder form, with her veiny black wings and six-inch claws, stung like hell and made her cranky for hours afterward.

“I’m Andrea.” The female, dressed in jeans and a bulky sweatshirt that no doubt concealed a buttload of weapons, took the vamp’s hand, and he tugged her protectively against him. “And this is Kaden.”

Suddenly, Tayla got what was going on. A slayer had fallen for a vampire. How very Buffy.

As if Tayla had room to talk, given that she’d slept with Eidolon before she’d learned that she was also a demon.

“So,” Tayla said, “I’m guessing that you know about me and my situation, and you’re hoping that by coming to me, you’ll find a cell sympathetic to your situation.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Kaden said, his voice as dark as his leather pants and jacket.

Still wary, Tayla gestured for the couple to enter, and then she followed them to Eidolon’s study, where they took seats on the leather couch. Kaden sat stiffly, his body language making clear that he was ready to throw down if Tayla made a move against Andrea. Having an overprotective mate herself, Tayla understood his precaution. Having dealt with prejudice inside The Aegis on a daily basis, she also got his paranoia, so she’d give him a break. She wasn’t however, stupid, and she took a casual stance near the door.

“Okay,” she began. “So how is your situation more complicated?”

“I’d like to know the answer to that, as well.” Eidolon’s deep voice made Tayla jump, and she whirled around to see him moving toward her in that smooth, confident gait that always made her hot. “What, you think I didn’t know you were hiding something from me? We’re bonded, remember?”

She sighed. Yeah, they were bonded. Linked by a blood ritual and the matching glyphs on their arms. They could sense each others’ emotions and needs…especially the sexual needs, given that he was an incubus.

“Look,” Kaden said, coming to his feet. “We didn’t mean to cause trouble. But we couldn’t go to Tayla’s Aegis headquarters because I can’t enter, and even if I could, I’d be slaughtered before I made it past the threshold.”

Tayla folded her arms over her chest. “So explain what you two need.”

“Kaden’s not just a vampire,” Andrea said, coming to stand beside said vamp. “He’s a Guardian.”

Jesus. Okay, Tayla hadn’t expected that. “You were turned while you were an active Aegi?”

“My little accident happened while on the job, in fact,” he said wryly. “Crazily, The Aegis has no workman’s comp program for people who get turned into vampires during work hours.”

So the guy had a sense of humor. Tayla had to offer up thanks for that. There was nothing worse than a broody freaking vampire. “How long ago?”

“A couple of weeks,” Kaden said. “I’m a newbie vamp.”

Cocking her head, Tayla studied the couple. “I’m guessing you were together before this happened?” At their mutual nods, Tayla whistled, long and low. It couldn’t have been an easy thing for them to go through, but they seemed solid and happy.

Andrea ran her hand up and down his back in an affectionate gesture. “He’s been working undercover with vampires to feed us information. Thanks to him, our cell wiped out a really nasty nest, but now that they’re gone…”

“Your cell isn’t playing nice,” Tay finished.

“Exactly.”

“I get that,” Tayla sighed. “So what is it you want? What makes you think my cell is any different from the Portland one.”

“We heard…” Andrea cleared her throat. “We heard that you are, ah…”

Tayla didn’t put the poor girl through more discomfort. “You heard I’m half demon. And that I’m mated to one.”

“Yes,” Kaden said gruffly, shooting Eidolon a wary glance.

“Well, you’re right,” Tayla said. “I didn’t know about my demon half until I met Eidolon.” She smiled at him, and he returned it. He was just so cute. “He’s a Seminus demon, a rare species of incubus. He runs Underworld General Hospital, which you might have heard of.”

Kaden nodded. “The rumor has filtered down through The Aegis, but it’s definitely known among underworld beings.”

“Okay,” Tayla said. “Here’s the thing. You’re Guardians, which means you think all underworld creatures are evil. Except now that Kaden is a vampire, you have doubts. I’m here to tell you that underworlders run the gamut from good to evil the same as humans do. I’ve got my Aegis cell working with some, because demons can provide awesome intel. If you join up with us, you’ll catch shit, because Guardians don’t change their minds easily. And it also means that you have to have respect for the demons I call friend and family. Understood?”

Andrea and Kaden exchanged glances and then inclined their heads.

“Good,” Tay said brightly. “Now, want a beer?”

* ~ * CHAPTER SIX * ~ *

Turned out that being a vampire Guardian instead of merely an outside “informant” as Kaden had been in Portland was pretty cool.

He hadn’t exactly been welcomed with open arms into the New York City cell, more like with wary looks and a few snide remarks, but once he started working and got into places human Guardians couldn’t, he earned a lot of respect in very little time. And when he got his arm nearly hacked off by an orc-like demon twice his size, Eidolon treated him at Underworld General as if he were part of the family.

Three months after moving to the New York City Aegis cell, he and Andrea married beneath the full moon on the lawn at headquarters, with all their cellmates attending.

Now he and Andrea were spending their first night in their new home, a house they’d bought in the country near the cell’s headquarters and had altered to seal out light during the day and to provide an escape tunnel from the basement. Yeah, Kaden was a little paranoid, but more than one Aegi had been targeted by demons and dragged out of their homes, and Kaden wasn’t going to let Andrea become one of those.

“Hey.” Her hand came down on his bare chest as she climbed into bed, where he’d been waiting for her for what seemed like an hour, but was really only about five minutes while she’d washed her face. “You seem distracted.”

“Nah.” He reached for her, snared her around the waist, and dragged her on top of him so she straddled his waist. His cock was already hard, and she was wet, and now they were in perfect position to do what he’d been wanting to do since he’d awakened from his day-sleep. “Just thinking about how lucky we are.”

She rotated her hips, rubbing her slick sex over his shaft as she playfully trailed a finger down his torso. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he said, his voice lower and rougher than it had been a moment before.

A teasing smile lifted one corner of her mouth as she dragged her finger back up his chest, over his neck, and to his mouth. “Are you hungry?”

Her sultry voice kicked his pulse up a notch. Yes, vampires still had pulses…according to Eidolon, their stomachs took over the work of their hearts, moving blood through their system.

“Very.” He only fed from Andrea every three days or so, supplementing between feedings with pig or cow blood from the butcher. Well, there had been a few humans now and then, scumbags who had been dumb enough to try to rob him on the streets while he’d been hunting demons. And he’d eaten a shapeshifter or two that had tried to kill him.

Her finger penetrated his lips and began to stroke one of his fangs, which lengthened in response. He freaking loved it when she did that. His canines had become erogenous zones, and last week they’d discovered that he could come if she played with them for long enough.

They’d also discovered that as a vampire, he could have multiple orgasms and maintain an erection for as long as Andrea could stand it.

And his wife had a lot of stamina.

So. Damned. Lucky.

“And where,” she purred, “would you like to feed from tonight?”

Odd question. He always took her vein in the neck so he could make love to her as he fed. Even now, he was eyeing her slim throat as she rocked on top of him, coating his erection with her silky juices. The friction was amazing, almost too much, and he lifted his hips, seeking entrance, but she shifted, denying him.

“Vixen,” he murmured. “Why are you asking about feeding?”

Her naughty smile got his blood pumping even faster. “Because I do have other veins that might interest you.”

His cock jerked, as if agreeing. It had always been on her side, the little bastard.

She lowered her mouth to his chest and kissed him right over his heart. Her tongue slipped out to lick a lazy circle there before she nipped him and then laved the spot again, soothing the erotic pinch. Then, slowly, sensually, she crawled up his body as she kissed his chest, his shoulders, his neck. Her lips were soft as satin as she nibbled her way along his jaw to his mouth.

His entire body undulated, his cock seeking her but not finding her warm heat. A growl of need escaped him, and he felt her lips stretch into a smile on his.

“Impatient, are we?”

The soft swells of her breasts brushing over his chest made him groan. “I only have so much control when it comes to you.”

“I know,” she whispered against his lips. “And I love that.”

He growled again, but she cut it off with the slide of her tongue against his. The deep, hot kiss had him reaching for her, digging his fingers into her hips as he tried to pull her down onto him, but she was strong, and she held on, practically daring him to hurt her in order to get what he wanted.

He would never do that.

Her tongue flicked over one of his fangs, and he shuddered with pleasure, unsure how much more he could take. When she stroked it, running her tongue up and down and then scraping the sharp tip, the first spasms of release shot up his spine.

Andrea knew, and she stopped with the “fang-job,” as he’d discovered vamps called it. Before he had time to guess what she was doing, she scooted up his body even more, placing one knee next to his head and leaving the other propped on his chest so she was straddling his face.

“Oh…fuck…yeah.” The erotic sight nearly detonated him, and he had to avert his gaze before he embarrassed himself. Flipping his eyes up, he met Andrea’s smoldering gaze.

“The vein there, in my groin. Take that one.”

She didn’t have to ask twice. Gripping her leg, he tugged her down as he raised his head and sank his fangs into the sweet, firm flesh of her inner thigh. Her moan of pleasure ramped him up more, and he slid one hand along her smooth skin to her sex. Her slick heat welcomed the penetration of his finger, and as he swallowed her powerful lifeblood, he swirled his finger inside her, drawing little gasps and mewls from her lips.

Her channel pulsed and clenched as the beginnings of orgasm took her, but it wasn’t enough for him. He needed more. He wanted to taste her climax. Hastily, he withdrew his fangs, licking quickly to seal the wound, and then he latched onto her core with his mouth, replacing his finger with his tongue. She cried out, bucking against him as she came.

When her spasms weakened, he hauled her around and flipped her so she was on her back and he was on top, mounting her with desperation. He drove into her so hard they both gasped, and then his body took over, his control shattered. His hips surged, sawing back and forth as he pumped into her. The wet slap of their flesh striking together filled the room, combining with the sensual noises of the bed creaking and the sheets rasping.

“So…good…” She broke off in a series of whimpers, and son of a bitch, she was beautiful. Her hair was a shiny curtain spread out on the pillow as her head kicked back in ecstasy. Her toned muscles flexed in powerful ripples beneath skin that was flushed and glistening with sweat.

The sight undid him. Heat shot like flame through his balls and up his shaft as his release blasted through him. They both cried out as she joined him, her thighs crushing his waist in that primal way every male loved, and he came again, his cock pulsing against her tight walls.

He sank bonelessly on top of her when it was over, his limbs trembling, his vision blurred. When he could move again, he rolled off her and brought her with him so they were tangled together and facing each other. He liked holding her like this, liked watching her as she drifted off with a satisfied smile on her kiss-swollen lips.

“Kaden?” She opened her eyes, which were bright and not sleepy at all.

“Yeah.”

She propped herself up on one elbow. “Turn me.”

He sat up with a start, unable to believe he’d just heard that. They’d never talked about their future, not even when he’d asked her to marry him. The fact that she was human and would grow old and die while he lived on had been a sleeping werebear in their relationship, and he’d carefully tiptoed around it.

He hadn’t wanted to hear that she was okay with dying, but at the same time, he didn’t want to hear that she would be willing to give up her humanity.

So yes, he’d been fully engaged in avoidance mode.

“Turn you?” he rasped. “Andrea–”

“Not right this minute,” she said, sitting up and taking his hand. “Not even this month or this year. But eventually. I don’t want to get old and force you to watch me die.” She nibbled on her lower lip for a moment, as though trying to come up with her next words. “I’ve learned so much about the underworld in these last few months. About vampires and the demons we call our friends.”

That still blew him away, that he could actually be friends with demons. But Tayla and Eidolon regularly invited them to dinner and hospital events, and Kaden and Andrea had spent a lot of time at Eidolon’s brother Lore’s Italian house he shared with his mate, an ex-angel named Idess.

Kaden reached out and tucked her hair behind one ear, more of an excuse to touch her than anything. “So hanging out with these people has you jonesing to become one of them?”

“It’s made me realize that I can do a lot of good if I’m stronger and harder to kill. It also means I can spend more time with you.” She cupped his cheek and brushed her thumb lightly over his skin. “Well, what do you think?”

“I think I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. So yeah, I’ll make sure we have really long lives.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Though you might come to regret that.”

Her laughter buzzed through him, all the way to his soul. “I told you I’m through with being a quitter. You’re stuck with me, buddy. For eternity.”

He wrapped his arms around her and sealed his lips to hers. “I’m ready for eternity, Andrea,” he whispered. “Ready when you are.”

 

 


Shade and Runa

***Note: this scene (and the Reaver scene that follows) takes place between Rogue Rider and REAVER in the Demonica/LOD world***

Oh, Christmas Hells, Oh Christmas Hells…

“Shade!” Runa strode into the master bedroom of the cave Shade had lived in before they were mated. Now it was their romantic jungle getaway. Usually. “Your children are impossible.”

Shade shrugged into a sweater — forest green, which was as Christmas-y as he got. Even then, it was under protest. But damn, the green played up his tan skin and black hair, and if the boys weren’t wound up in anticipation of the Underworld General Christmas party, Runa would have Shade up against the wall in a heartbeat.

“They take after you,” Shade said, his voice gruff, but the twinkle of amusement in his dark eyes gave him away. He loved being a father, even when things got hairy.

He brushed past, slowing to kiss her on the cheek. Heat flushed her face, and her knees actually went a little wobbly. They’d been mated for four years, and still his touch made her skin tingle and her heart beat faster. Every. Single. Time.

Oh, yes, she couldn’t wait to get him alone. Here in the cave or in a supply closet at UG, it didn’t matter. As a Seminus demon, he needed frequent sex to survive, but things had changed in the last three years. When a Sem mated and had children, his needs, both sexual and reproductive, adjusted to what his mate could handle.

Fortunately for Shade, Runa could handle a lot.

She kept her gaze firmly on his jeans-clad butt as she followed him into the living room, where the triplets were fighting over a Spiderman action figure. Rade, who, with his black hair and dark brown eyes was the spitting image of his father, held Spiderman over his head and shoved at his brothers as they tried to grab for the toy.

“Hey!” Shade’s booming voice froze the three boys instantly. “Knock it off.”

“But Daddy…” Tears filled Stryke’s champagne eyes. He’d gotten Shade’s hair but Runa’s eyes, and he was the best at using them to manipulate his father.

“Don’t even start,” Shade said in his best stern dad tone. Then, just as the other two boys started getting teary, he grinned. “But what do you say we wrestle?”

He dove onto the carpet, and a moment later, he was covered in giggling kids.

Runa sighed. So much for discipline. But she couldn’t be angry, not on Christmas Eve, and not when she was trying to get Shade to enjoy the uniquely human holiday. Heck, she’d be happy if he only pretended to like it for the kids’ sake.

A flash of light signaled a heavenly arrival, and Reaver materialized, decked out in black slacks and a sapphire button-down that was only a little less blue than his eyes. Blade, usually the quietest of the triplets, squealed as he threw himself into the angel’s arms. Stryke and Rade joined their brother, turning poor Reaver into a jungle gym.

“Thanks for doing this,” Runa said. “We didn’t want to haul them through the jungle to the Harrowgate.” And she wanted to have a little chat with Shade.

“No problem.” Reaver popped Stryke onto his shoulders. “I was thinking of starting an angelic taxi service.”

“Well, we appreciate it.” She caught Rade as he dashed toward the couch, and tucked him into one of Reaver’s arms. “Are you flashing to the parking lot?”

“Yep.” Reaver hauled Blade against his chest so he had all three kids together. “Jillian and Idess will be waiting to help corral them to the party.”

“Are all of the Horsemen going?” Shade shoved to his feet, kicking aside a minefield of toys. “Because Ares owes me a drink.”

Rade grabbed a fistful of Reaver’s blond hair, but he didn’t so much as blink. “There’ll be too many humans at the party, and they react badly to him. We’ll all be together for Christmas, though.”

A smile played at the corners of Reaver’s lips, but it never went further than that. She knew he was happier than he’d ever been now that he had children and grandchildren in his life, but still, there was a lingering sadness about him. It wasn’t always there, but she caught glimpses now and then, as if he sometimes realized that there was something missing in his life.

She’d have to ask Shade if he knew any females who might like an angel with a mysterious past and four children who were Biblical legends. Then again, those might not be selling points.

“We’ll see you in a little while.” She blew kisses at the boys, who waved as Reaver flashed them out of there.

“It’s pretty cool having an angel as a babysitter.” Shade slipped his arm around her waist and tugged her close. “No one is going to fuck with him. Plus, he kind of fits in with all this Christmas crap.”

Damn, him. He wasn’t even trying. “Shade. What did you say to the kids? Knock it off? Well, take your own advice and knock it off.”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. This isn’t a demon holiday. It’s a human one.”

“And I used to be human, remember? We agreed to raise them to understand both our worlds.”

His teasing grin said he wasn’t taking this seriously. “Then I can take them to a traditional Seminus orgy on Samhain?”

With a huff, she stepped back, hating the cold space that bloomed between them. “Seriously? You’re going to compare a demon orgy to a holiday where kids sing songs and get presents and candy?”

“You can get presents and candy at an orgy.”

She glared. “Why are you being so stubborn? It’s not like you haven’t lived among humans for decades. And Wraith made you guys exchange gifts. On our first Christmas, it was you who decorated the tree.”

“So?”

“So what’s wrong with you? Ever since the boys were born, you’ve been all Grinchy. Why?” When he said nothing, she pressed harder. “Shade, you need to talk to me. Something’s going on. What is it?”

Silence stretched. Shade turned away, and just as she thought he was going to walk out, he spun back around and blurted, “It’s the lie.”

Baffled, she searched her brain for any hint as to what he was talking about, but nope, still baffled. “What lie?”

“The one about Santa,” he growled. “I don’t want to lie to my sons.”

She blinked. “That’s what this has been about? For three years, you’ve been afraid to pretend there’s a Santa?”

He patted his chest and his jeans in what she knew was a search for gum. A futile one, at that. “My parents told us they’d keep us safe, and they didn’t. It was the first and last lie they ever told. I don’t want our sons to one day realize that the first thing they truly believed in was a lie we told them.”

Runa’s heart melted right into her feet. “Oh, Shade,” she whispered. “If it means that much to you, we can be honest with them about Santa. But first, just listen to me, okay?” He nodded, and she took a deep, bracing breath. “I had a crappy childhood. You know that. Almost all of my memories are horrible. But the good ones? They’re all about Christmas.”

She thought back to the bottles of alcohol that were strewn around the house, and how sometimes her brother, Arik, would stuff Christmas lights inside them to decorate the house. Their mother always made sure there was at least one present for each of them under the crooked plastic tree on Christmas morning, and twice she even took them caroling.

“The thing I remember most was when my mom took us to see Santa. We always did it without our dad, and we’d spend the whole day out. She’d buy us ice cream, and then she’d get us hot cocoa to warm up. When we finished we’d go see Santa, and for a full year after that, when all the bad shit happened, I’d remember that Christmas was coming. It was the one day when my parents got along, and the one day nothing bad ever happened.”

Shade moved to her, all grace and rolling shoulders, and hugged her to him. “All our days are like that, Runa,” he said into her hair. “Our boys don’t need a special day set aside to feel safe and loved.”

“No, they don’t. But maybe we do.” Pulling back just a little, she palmed his chest, right over his heart. “Someday the boys are going to grow up and leave, and you know how dangerous it is out there, and how strong the crazy Seminus instincts are. Christmas needs to be an anchor, the one time of year that we can count on everyone being together. A little white lie about a jolly man in a red suit is going to be the least of their worries someday.” Beneath her hand, Shade’s pulse pounded, and the mate-mark on her arm began to throb in time with his heart. “Give them that. Give us that.”

“You’re right,” he rasped. “I’m sorry, Runa.”

“No,” she said softly. “You don’t need to be. We come from different worlds, and we’re going to clash. It’s why we have to talk. Instead of, you know, being grumpy for three years on Christmas.” She playfully pinched his biceps to punctuate that last part.

“I’ll make it up to you, I swear.” His hand dropped to her butt, and he hauled her even harder against him. She growled in approval and nipped the skin over his collarbone. His hiss — and the insta-erection behind his fly — told her he’d liked it. “What do you say we go grab the boys and take them to see Santa?”

She grinned. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Now?”

A naughty smile spread across his face as his fingers delved between her thighs. “What do you think?”

“I think I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you too, baby,” Shade whispered back. “Merry Christmas.”

 

 


Reaver

***Note: this scene takes place between Rogue Rider and REAVER in the Demonica/LOD world***

O Come, All Ye Horsemen (and Angels)

Reaver had watched every modern holiday evolve from their very beginnings in primitive times to their current traditions and peculiarities, but he’d never celebrated the one known as Christmas.

Oh, he’d been to holiday parties and he’d been invited to gatherings held by his friends, but he’d always felt like an intruder. Even last year, after learning that the legendary beings known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were his offspring, he’d avoided spending much time with them at Christmas. He didn’t have a clue how he was supposed to act. What he was supposed to do.

How he could make up for five thousand years of being absent on every birthday, every holiday, every freaking important event in their lives?

But this year something inside him craved closeness. And forgiveness.

Because what if he never had the chance to celebrate with his children — and grandchildren — again?

He strode through the fourth insanely chaotic shopping mall of the day, his head spinning at the noise, the lights, the crowds of people who wouldn’t get out of his way. It was as if they were intentionally running into him and blocking his path.

This was just stupid. He had no idea what to buy people who had everything — or, at least, access to everything. Ares, Limos, Thanatos, and Reseph were all wealthy beyond wealthy, so what could Reaver possibly buy them that they didn’t already have?

Shit.

He entered a clothing store, ducked behind a rack of coats, and flashed to Eidolon’s apartment. Which was almost as bad as the malls.

Holiday music played from inside the living room, and the scent of pine trees and gingerbread wafted through the air. Stockings, garland, and various cheery decor took up nearly every inch of wall and floor space.

Reaver figured that if Santa Clause exploded, the result would look like…this.

Not that Reaver could blame Tayla for her enthusiastic decorating style; she’d grown up in foster homes and had never truly had a Christmas until she mated Eidolon. Now she made sure their son would never have anything but a happy, fun-filled holiday.

The Seminus demon was in the kitchen, his hands encased by medical gloves as he carefully put together a ham and cheese sandwich with surgical precision. The doctor performed every task as if it were a vital operation.

“You going to cut that with a scalpel?” Reaver asked.

Startled, Eidolon fumbled the mayonnaise lid. “Damn you, Reaver,” he muttered. “Stop doing that. We have a door. With a knocker and everything.”

“Angels don’t use doors.” Sure, he could have knocked, but…nah. “And why are you wearing gloves?”

“Because I love horseradish, but it melts my fingernails.” He smashed a piece of wheat bread on top of his sandwich.

Huh. He learned something new about Eidolon’s species every day. “Where’s Tayla?”

“She took Sabre to do some last minute shopping. Apparently, toddlers need elf suits for pictures.”

Reaver wished her luck with that. The malls were like corrals, the shoppers like stampeding bulls. “That’s sort of why I’m here. The shopping.”

Eidolon plucked a beer from the fridge and offered one to Reaver, which he refused. “Let me guess. You’re clueless what to get people who have everything.”

Reaver didn’t bother asking E how he’d known that. The doctor had always been freakishly astute. “Yep.”

“Then give them something only you can give them.”

Okay, he supposed he could bring them something from the Heavenly realm, but that seemed too easy. After five thousand years of being an absentee parent, his kids deserved something better. Something more meaningful.
Something they could keep to remember him if someday he was no longer around. Not that he was planning to leave.

But he had a grim feeling that soon, leaving might be out of his control. He had unfinished business, and her name was Harvester.

The fact that Harvester was being held for eternity in Satan’s dungeons complicated that business and left Reaver unsure about his future.

So for now, in the immediate present, he had to dedicate every moment to his family. A family he wished he could have gotten to know a long time ago.

A long time ago…the answer to his gifting problem knocked him upside the head. Grinning, he thanked Eidolon, who just shrugged and bit into his sandwich as Reaver flashed to the one person who could help him.

The next morning, he filled a duffel with wrapped presents — most of them for Thanatos’s son, Logan, and Cara and Ares’ adopted Ramreel son, Rath — and popped over to Thanatos’s Greenland castle. Like Eidolon’s apartment, the massive keep was a winter wonderland, complete with a twenty-foot tall blue spruce loaded with ornaments and lights.

Limos, Cara, and Regan were on the floor with the kids, Jillian and Reseph were feeding a two-hundred-pound hellhound puppy a cookie, and Ares, Thanatos, and Arik were standing around a bowl of eggnog, their glasses overflowing.

“Aw, Reavie-weavie brought presents!” Limos scrambled to her feet — as well as she could, considering she was pregnant — and threw her arms around him. He’d always loved when she called him that, even if he rolled his eyes and muttered obscenities.

“Whatcha got in the bag?” Reseph asked.

“You’ll see in a second.” Reaver waited until Limos detached herself from him, and then he dumped the contents of his bag into a pile on the floor near the tree. He gave Logan and Rath each a package, and then dug through the rest of the gifts until he found the four boxes he’d been looking for.

While the two little ones ripped enthusiastically into the paper, Reaver passed out a present to each of the Horsemen.

Just like the children, Limos, Ares, Reseph, and Thanatos tore into their packages. And then they looked as confused as hell.

Limos looked down at her crudely-made gold pendant, while Ares stared, baffled, at the primitive copper-bladed dagger lying in the box he held. Thanatos ran a finger along the edge of his flintstone spearhead, and just as Reaver anticipated, it was Reseph who spoke first.

“Cool. I got a cereal bowl made out of mud.” He glanced over at Reaver. “Ah…thank you?”

Reaver inclined his head. “You’re welcome.”

“This is—” Limos broke off with a strangled wheeze. “Oh my God,” she breathed. “These are ancient, but they’re not…old. They’re new.”

Thanatos frowned. “Wait. What? They’re replicas?” He held his arrowhead up to the light. “This looks like something my clan would have used when I was a kid.”

“It is,” Reaver said softly. “They’re not replicas.” Every pair of eyes in the room locked onto him, and he suddenly wondered if he’d screwed up. His gifts were lame, weren’t they? Shit. Feeling like a fool, he sighed. “I didn’t know what to get you, so I went to a friend named Lilliana. She’s one of only a handful of angels who can — and is allowed to — time travel. I asked her to get you the kinds of things I would have given you if I’d known you back when you were young.” Regret sat in his belly like a lump of fruitcake. “It was dumb, I know.”

“No,” Limos whispered, her amethyst eyes glistening. “It’s amazing.”

Ares whistled. “No shit. I haven’t seen one of these in, well, eons.”

Duuuuude.” Reseph looked down at his bowl with new appreciation, and Reaver swore he cradled it more carefully.

A moment later, Thanatos, who rarely expressed affection, strode over and embraced Reaver hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. As he pulled away, he was replaced by Ares, and then Reseph, and finally, Limos.

“Best present ever,” she murmured against his chest. “Thank you. I’m so glad it was you. Of everyone in the universe, we got you for a dad.”

Reaver’s eyes burned and his throat clogged solid with emotion. So this…this was Christmas.
He’d never celebrated before, but now he knew he didn’t want to miss another one.

And if he could help it, he never would.

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