Simone was still trying to get her bearings as she moved back to her bedroom, but it was hard. Everything seemed so amplified now. Every noise pierced her head. The lights were incredibly bright, and she could hear Xypher's heartbeat competing with hers. It was all very disconcerting.
Xypher was by her side, and she was holding on to him. She needed his strong arm to steady herself. But the smell of his skin was haunting. It also made her hungry for a taste of him in a way she'd never wanted a man before. It was almost like there was another part of herself. One that was braver, more seductive...
She looked up as Jesse came running into the room through the wall.
"You're up! You're up!" He ran at her like an exuberant puppy.
In the past when he did that, he'd run right through her. Today, he slammed into her so hard, she stumbled.
"What the . . . ?"
Xypher gave her a look that was half amused, half evil. "Bonus round for your new powers. Now you can bitch-slap him when he gets on your nerves."
"I can touch Jesse?" She breathed the words, trying to fully understand them.
Turning, she met Jesse's shocked gaze. In all these years, they'd never been able to touch. Her hand trembling she lifted it to place her fingers against his cold cheek.
It was solid.
Jesse was real to her. She could touch him. . .
Tears welled in his eyes as he laid his hand over hers. Gasping as her own emotions overwhelmed her, Simone pulled him into her arms and held him close. "I can touch you!"
Xypher crossed his anus over his chest as emotion pierced his heart like a knife. He had no reason to be jealous of a punk kid ghost and yet the way she held onto him. . .
He wanted to rip Jesse's head off.
"I wish I could have held you like this when you were little," Jesse breathed. "All those times you cried, all I could do was watch and try to cheer you up by making faces."
"I know, Jesse. I know."
Xypher hated to admit it, but it was actually touching the way they embraced each other, and he realized that the jealousy he felt wasn't because another man was holding Simone. It was the love the two of them had for each other.
They were a family.
Through thick and thin. No matter what, these two had stood by each other and would do so for eternity. There would never be betrayal. No treachery. They only wanted to love and help one another.
No one had ever loved him like that. And they never would.
Not once had he been touched by a loving hand. Suddenly, he felt like an intruder. Worse, he didn't feel worthy to witness something this pristine.
Aching inside, he turned away and headed for the kitchen.
Simone felt the air stirring. She looked past Jesse to see Xypher leaving the room. There was an aura of such sadness around him that it made her hurt for him. She pulled back from Jesse.
"Is something wrong?" Jesse asked.
"I'm not sure." She let go of his hand to follow Xypher and see what had happened.
He paused by the counter to look at her. His handsome Features were stoic, but she could feel His turmoil inside.
"Are you all right?"
He nodded. "Fine. I just didn't want to watch the two of you slobbering all over each other. It was ruining my appetite."
If only she believed that. Now she understood what he'd meant earlier about her powers. Such incongruity between what she felt and saw was extremely disconcerting.
She moved closer to him. "Why are you hurting inside?"
"I'm not hurt, I'm hungry. You really should learn to tell the difference." He indicated the fridge over his shoulder with his thumb. "Isn't it lunchtime?"
She shook her head as she realized he was changing the subject. Something had made him uncomfortable, and rather than deal with it, he wanted food. Fine, she could cope with that. But she wasn't fooled by his actions.
"I have some tuna salad left. We could make sandwiches." "That'll work."
Simone pulled out the bread. "Why don't you grab the tub out of the fridge for me? It's in the clear container with the white lid."
Jesse joined them while she counted out the slices of bread. "Did you know Gloria was studying to become a psychologist?"
Simone smiled. "Nope, how would I know that?"
"True, you've been off doing stuff with Xypher . . . getting turned into a demon and all. Gloria's actually a really neat person once she quits mocking my music."
Simone was bemused by his sudden change of heart toward Gloria. "I mock your music, too, Jesse."
"Yeah, but you'll also dance to it with me." He struck a Michael Jackson pose. '"Just beat it, beat it, beat it.'" Without flunking, he bumped into her.
"Jesse!" she said playfully, "I'm trying to make lunch."
"All right, but later, 'we gonna wake me up before you go go' and 'walk like an Egyptian.' "
Simone groaned and smiled at the same time.
Jesse blew her a kiss, "Now I'm off to see my woman." He drifted to the back of the house.
Simone laughed at him, especially since Gloria had now become his 'woman.' "Jesse," she said playfully. "You're not old chough to date, boy!"
"I'm older than you. And at least I'm not dating a cradle robber who outdates me by countless centuries." The disembodied voice echoed in the kitchen.
"But remember that now I can smack your head ..."
"Point taken, now leave me alone. We're comparing ectoplasm."
She didn't want to touch that one with a thirty-foot cattle prod. Shaking her head, she went back to making sandwiches.
Xypher handed her the tuna salad. "What's it like?"
"To have someone who knows you that well? Someone you can tease around with and share inside jokes. I've seen people do it in dreams, but newer up close before. There's a warmth inside you whenever Jesse's around. Even when he annoys you, it pleases you on another level."
Simone paused to look up at him. Poor Xypher, to have no idea what friendship meant. "It's good. There's a lot to be said for having people around you who aren't faying to tear you down. People who know how to laugh and who aren't jealous. Unfortunately, those relationships are sometimes hard to find."
"Sometimes they're impossible."
She nodded. "People are complicated. Emotions are complicated. Explain to me how you can both love and hate someone at the same time."
"Odi et Amo."
She frowned. "What?"
"It's an ancient Latin poem written by Catullus. 'I Love and I Hate.' It talks about that very thing. He wrote it for a woman he both adored and despised."
"Yeah, see? That's just wrong, isn't it? Shouldn't you love or hate, but not both at the same time?"
"But you and Jesse don't hate each other."
"No, we never have. And for that I'm grate fill. It's not easy living with someone day in and day out without wanting to strangle them. But Jesse, he never really annoys me." She sliced the sandwiches and put them on plates.
Xypher watched the way her hands moved while she worked. There was so much grace to her. So much beauty. He'd always been clumsy. But not her.
As she reached for a bag of potato chips, her phone rang. She glanced at it before she answered. "Hey, Tate. What's up?" She handed the potato chips to Xypher. "All right, we'll be right there." She shut the phone,
"Another murder?" He didn't really have to ask since he'd heard their discussion through the phone.
She nodded. "How many people will a Dimme kill?"
"Honestly? She's been remarkably circumspect."
Simone was aghast. "How can you say that? This is the third body."
Xypher shrugged. "They were created to be indiscriminate killers. The fact that there're not bodies piling up everywhere is a miracle."
"Are you sure it's a Dimme, then?"
"The guy who died-I'd bet my life on it. Gloria . . . maybe, maybe not."
Simone considered that. If the Dimme hadn't killed Gloria, then who did? No, it had to be the same killer. She didn't want to even consider the fact that there might be more of them out there. "We need to get to the latest victim. Grab the sandwiches and we'll eat them in the car."
He did, and they quickly grabbed their coats and left the house.
Simone cursed as she realized she didn't have a car . . .
They'd left it on Toulouse when they'd gone to Liza's store.
She was turning toward Xypher when she caught something strange on the wind. It was a light musky scent . . . Unfamiliar to her. Lifting her head, she inhaled deeply trying to identify it, then cringed at what she'd done. "I'm not part dog now, am I?"
Xypher laughed. "No, but your olfactory glands, like everything else, are more sensitive. You can smell in a wider spectrum than you've ever known before. For that reason, you might want to avoid Bourbon Street."
"Thanks. There for a minute, I was aft aid I was going to turn into some land of crotch-sniffing lunatic."
He slicked his breath in sharply. "You know that's the quickest hard-on I think I've ever gotten."
Simone paused as she realized that she could actually feel that painful heaviness in his groin.
"Yes," he said, his voice an octave deeper, "That's normal, too."
"I'm not sure I'm liking this newfound me."
"Trust me, baby. You're going to like demon sex a whole lot more than human. I can show you things that will make your head spin like Linda Blair."
She gave him an indignant look. "That's not the way to get into my pants, Xypher, Ew! Bad imagery,"
Before Xypher could answer, the scent intensified. Simone turned to see a tall, blond man in his early twenties coming toward them. Something about his features reminded her of Dev from Sanctuary.
"Lycanthrope." The word came out as a low growl.
Xypher nodded. "Demons have an unnatural dislike for each other. It can be overcome, but it's not easy. Were-Hunters are an offshoot from their Daimon cousins, which is why you're feeling that burst of adrenaline mat makes you want to attack him. It's your instinct providing you with an extra boost in the event you have to fight."
The man stopped as he caught sight of them. He cocked his head as if he could sense them the same way they could sense him.
"Peltier?" Xypher called.
He came over to them slowly, sizing them up with each step. "Kyle. I'm their youngest."
Xypher narrowed his gaze on him. "What are you doing here?"
"I was visiting a friend."
Xypher wasn't so sure about that. But then, suspicion was his middle name. "You're a Katagari in human form during daylight hours . . . how is that-" He stopped as he understood.
The Katagaria were animals who could take human form, During the daylight, they, especially while they were as young as this whelp, were relegated to their animal forms until the sun set.
Kyle Peltier was more than what he seemed.
"It was nice meeting you, Kyle," Xypher said curtly. "Give Carson our best."
"Will do," Kyle said before he headed across the street to where a Ninja motorcycle waited. He hopped on and took off without looking back.
"What aren't you telling me?" Simone asked.
"I'm not sure. It's a strange feeling ..." But he couldn't place it. Truthfully, it felt like the Dimme, but that didn't make sense. If the Dimme was anything like her gallu cousins, she'd be looking for a dark place to rest during daylight hours. Not out here in open housing and she definitely wouldn't be near a Katagari.
As soon as the Dimme caught that scent, she'd be Funning. He shook his head to clear it. He had to be imagining things.
Pushing those thoughts aside, he turned to Simone. "Okay, I have all my powers intact. I don't know where we're going, but you do, right?"
Good. He was about to show her how to transport through the cosmos with her powers. Hopefully, they wouldn't end up in Alaska. "Think of the place we're going. Picture it perfectly in your mind."
Xypher wrapped his arms around her and closed his eyes. An instant later, they were in the shadows of an alleyway. He heard the police talking among themselves, saw the photographer and Tate moving around a covered body.
He glanced around to make sure they wouldn't be seen before he solidified them.
A slow smile spread over her face. "Will I be able to do that on my own?"
"Most of it you'll be able to do. But it will take a lot of practice. And be careful doing it. Sometimes your clothes don't follow with you."
Her face paled. "That would be unbelievably bad."
"For you, yes. For me? I'm all for skinny-flashing." He raked her with a hot stare that actually lit her blood.
But she wouldn't let him know that.
Grinning wickedly, he handed her a sandwich, then headed toward Tate who looked up at them from the body.
Tate frowned at their food. "Eating at a crime scene?"
Grimacing at the blood spatter on the walls around them and the gore on the street, she handed her sandwich back to Xypher. "I'm not."
Tate gaped. "Wow, you're finally squeamish. I never knew you had it in you."
Simone was surprised, too. She'd always prided herself on not getting sick at a crime scene. But the smell of dried blood was rank in her nostrils. The color of it was a deeper shade than normal. It was almost like she could taste the blood and that made her extremely queasy.
Xypher on the other hand appeared completely unaffected.
"So what do we have?" she asked, taking deep breaths so that she wouldn't undignify herself.
Tate let out a long, tired breath. "Well, his head is missing so I don't think we have to worry about him getting up and walking around again. This isn't Sleepy Hollow."
Xypher frowned. "Sleepy Hollow?"
Simone shook her head. "A famous story about a headless horseman who chased victims."
Simone arched a brow at him. "This from a demon who's eating at a crime scene?"
"I'm hungry. You should be grate fill I'm eating the sandwich and not chowing down on someone's blood. I can do that, you know."
"Yeah," Tate said slowly. "Let's try to avoid freaking out any more civil servants."
Simone tried to focus. "What are the deets?"
"We're not sure. It looks like a fight of some kind ensued and obviously our guy here lost."
Xypher moved around the scene while they spoke.
Simorne watched the way Xypher studied the blood patterns as if he could picture the exact way the fight had played out. When he neared the body, one of the officers shooed him away.
She approached slowly. "What are you thinking?"
"I want to see die body."
She went over and uncovered it, then flinched as the smell hit her full force. Damn, she was never going to get used to these new senses.
Xypher nodded before he finished off the sandwich. "It's what I thought."
He was so nonchalant. The least he could do was share what he blew. "Which is?"
Simone exchanged a puzzled look with Tate. She didn't like the Sound of that in the least, "What do you mean, 'trophy kill'?"
"The body is a message from one demon clan to another. 'Don't fuck with us.' "
Tate shook his head in denial. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, what are you talking about?"
Xypher indicated the body with his thumb. "You better autopsy him yourself, Tate, 'cause he isn't human and a regular human is going to freak when they open up his body and find that his internal organs aren't where and what they're supposed to be. He's a Charonte . . ."He glanced back at the body. "Or was a Charonte."
Tate held his hands up in frustration. "What the hell's a Charonte?"
"A. Demon," Xypher said as if lie were talking to an imbecile.
"Are you sure?" Tate asked.
"Yes. Gallu don't die like that. When a gallu demon dies, it disintegrates like a Daimon. Daimons disintegrate like a Daimon. Humans who are killed by gallu become zombielike creatures." He pointed back to the body under the tarp. "And Charontes die like humans. Their bodies stay intact for burial."
Tate scowled. "But how do you know he's Charonte and not a human?"
"His skin is blue."
This time Tate scoffed out loud. "Humans turn blue when they die."
"Their skin doesn't marble when it goes blue."
That took some of the steam out of Tate. "I assumed it was body paint."
"No, it's genetic paint that he was born with and runs all the way through his entire epidermal layer. Mr. Charonte obviously strayed into the wrong place." He pointed up to the walls around them where blood was splattered as high as twenty feet from the ground. "I give him credit, he fought well. You can smell his blood and those of his attackers."
"Plural?" Tate asked.
Xypher nodded. "Three of them. I'd say they ambushed him and left him so that he'd be found and the rest of his clan would see the body and be afraid. Or depending on what breed of Charonte, his clan will attack and start an all-out war between them."
Tate let out a long breath before he glanced at Simone. "Man, he's like having one of those trackers from the Old West movies in the thirties. What else do you know, Tonto?"
"Well, let me tell you what I didn't know."
"And that is?"
"That there were any Charontes left in the human world. So going back to the trophy kill... Why? Who did the gallu want to see this?"
A chill went down Simone's spine. "Maybe it's a message to us."
"No. They'd be terrorizing us. This"-he again gestured to the large amount of blood-"was over territory." He looked back at Tate. "You guys have a Charonte clan living here and now you have a gallu one. And if something isn't done. New Orleans is about to get caught in the crossfire."
"And it's not even three yet," Tate said bitterly. "Makes me want to go home, crawl into bed with my wife, and just wait it out, doesn't it?"
"Not really," Xypher said. "Makes me wish I'd been here to fight it out with them. I'd like to tear into some gallu hide."
Simone ignored that. "So we're looking for a hungry Dimme and a clan of Charontes."
Even though she didn't like the concept of it, Simone nodded. "Any idea where the Charontes might be hanging out?"
"Offhand, I'd say someplace not too far away."
Tate cocked his head. "Why would you say that?"
"Well, if you're going to send a message to someone, you don't leave the message in a place where they won't see it. You put it somewhere obvious." He looked around at the buildings surrounding them. "Which means the Charontes would be near here."
Another chill crawled down Simone's spine. "How dangerous are these Charoutes?"
Xypher shrugged. "Depends on how socialized they've become and how angry they are. Obviously, they've been hiding here under your noses without anyone knowing it."
Tate scoffed. "Well, it is New Orleans. Lot of freaky shit happens here."
An officer approached them. "We've looked everywhere for the poor guy's head. We think whoever killed him must have taken it. You thinking voodoo. Doc?"
"I'm thinking something, Sam. I'm done with the body. Wrap it up as soon as you guys have what you need and I'll finish up at the lab."
Tate walked over to them. "Thanks for the help. I'm going to fabricate paperwork as usual. If you guys come up with something else, let me know."
Simone turned toward Xypher, who was pacing around. The wind whipped at his hair, dragging it down into his eyes. The demon inside her was now even more attracted to him than the woman in her had been. There was a new sensual side to her that hadn't been there before.
It allowed her to understand him so much better. The power inside her was hungry, but she didn't know for what. It was like a physical ache.
As if he sensed her thoughts, he turned in her direction. The intensity of his gaze scorched her.
And it was then she smelled the same thing he did . . .
Before she could move, Xypher was there, moving faster than anyone could see. "Your eyes are red," he whispered, putting himself between her and the officers who were still investigating the scene.
She went cold at his words. "What?"
"Your eyes have changed. You need to recognize when it happens so that you can prevent it."
"How bad do they look?"
He looked down at her. Instead of blue, his hides were white, rimmed in red. "They look like this."
She cringed. "What can I do?"
His eyes went back to blue. "Act like you have something in one eye, and I'll walk you away from the humans."
Bowing her head, she closed her eyes and rubbed the right one. "I don't like this, Xypher."
"I know. But you'll get used to the physical cues and then you'll have more control over the demon part of yourself."
She winced at that. "I don't want to be a demon."
"Neither did I, but we can't help who or what our fathers impregnate, can we?"
His words were harsh and they stung her. "My father loved my mother," she said defensively.
He scoffed at her. "You've seen what the gallu look like in their demon form. It makes you wonder what land of woman could be attracted to that."
Still Simone wanted to defend her parents. She'd loved them completely. "They met at a bar when my mom was in college."
He frowned. "What?"
"That's what my mom told me once. She was working as a waitress when my dad came in and they started talking."
Xypher paused as he remembered what Jaden had told him about her parents. "He must have been there scoping out his victim. It's a wonder he didn't kill your mother while he was at it."
"My mother said it was love at first sight. As soon as she saw him, she knew he was different from other men ... It makes me wonder if she ever knew exactly how different he was. Do you think he told her he was part demon?"
"I don't know, Simone. You would think, but that was one hell of a secret. I can easily see why he wouldn't tell her."
So could she. For that matter, how would she ever tell someone what she was? Who, other than Tate and Xypher, would ever believe her?
He stopped her on the sidewalk. "Look at me."
"Are my eyes better?"
He nodded. "Just stay on top of your emotions, and that'll help."
She swallowed. He made that sound so much easier than it was. Dear Lord, what if she did this during class? They'd never believe it was instantaneous special effects. "I'm scared of this, Xypher. If anyone finds out I'm a demon, I'll lose everything."
He put his hands on her anus and squeezed them comfortingly. "You'll be okay. I promise. But can you imagine the fear your father must have had when he decided to be with your mother? He had to abandon everything and everyone he knew. To throw off his shackles like he did . . . That must have been strong love indeed."
"What do you mean?"
"Your father was a bound demon, Simone, with a master he served. When that happens, your master owns you completely until you fulfill whatever indenture contract he holds over you. If you escape that bond before you fulfill that contract, it's a death sentence. Your father knew that and still he ran."
"To be with my mother."
Xypher nodded. He couldn't imagine what her father had been thinking or what kind of contract he'd run from. It was . . .
He paused as a scent filled His nostrils. He inhaled deeply before his eyes flashed to red.
"What is it, Xypher?"