Simone woke up with an awful headache. She pulled the pillow off her head to find bright sunlight streaming in through her bedroom window. When had the blinds been opened?
"What time is it?" she whispered, rolling over to stare at her alarm clock. Seven twenty-five. Why did it feel so much later?
Yawning, she paused as she caught sight of Xypher sleeping on die floor-he'd completely refused to sleep on Jesse's mattress, saying he was too used to hardness to want die comfort of it. Not to mention he'd pointed out that since his arrival in New Orleans, he'd been sleeping sitting up in alleyways with his back against die wall. Her floor was a step up for him. At least here he could stretch out.
The blanket she'd given him last night was still lying folded beneath the pillow. He hadn't touched diem. Instead, he was lying on his side with one hand stretched out over his head and the other curled just under his chin.
A day's growth of beard dusted his cheeks. There was something so manly and yet boyish about him lying there like that . . . But as she stared at his lips and remembered the hot kiss he'd given her last night, it chased away any thought of him being boyish.
She jumped as Jesse came running into the room. A slice of fear went through her. Had the demon found a way in? "What's wrong?"
He stopped beside the bed and stomped his foot. "Would you tell Gloria to stop whining about my music? I like Culture Club and Prince."
Simone frowned in confusion. "Gloria?"
"Yeah. She came back last night."
He shrugged. "She said Xypher brought her back."
"How?" she repeated.
"I don't know, but could you have a talk with her? There's a reason I'm an only ghost in this house. I don't like sharing."
"Okay, tell her to come here."
"Gloria!" he shouted so loudly that Xypher jerked awake on the floor.
Gloria manifested in front of Simone. "If I hear 'Karma Chameleon' one more time, I swear I'm going to find Boy George and make him eat Jesse's record. What does red, gold, and green have to do with anything anyway?"
Jesse was offended. "It's a brilliant song! C'mon . . . 'Every day is like survival. You're my lover, not my rival.' What could be more meaningful than that?"
Xypher groaned as he lifted his head up from the floor to glare at the ghosts. "Someone please tell me that we're not seriously having a friggin' debate over the genius of 'Karma Chameleon' at seven o'clock in the morning?"
Simone laughed. "Afraid so, sweetie." Xypher glared hostilely at the ghosts.
"How do you know about Boy George?" Jesse asked.
"I was in hell, Jesse. What do you think they used to torture me with? Bad pop songs."
Gloria gave Jesse a smug look, "Told you."
"It's a great song."
Xypher groveled low in his throat. "Yeah, the first nine thousand times you hear it. After a while it gets trapped in your head until it makes you crazy . . . now you know why I'm so effing nasty all the time. For that alone, I take Gloria's side. Now if you both don't go be quiet, I swear by the river Styx that I'm going to feed you to Daimons as soon as the sun sets."
The ghosts vanished instantly. "Thank you," Simone said.
His response was to roll over onto His back and drape one muscular arm over his eyes.
Simone got up and knelt on the floor beside him. Lifting his arm, she waited until he opened his eyes and gave her a quizzical look. "Seriously, thank you. How did you find Gloria?"
"I'm not sure you want me to answer that. Remember not to look a gift horse in the mouth."
"Why did you do it?"
He shrugged. "You were worried about her."
"Is that the only reason?"
"What do you think? God knows I didn't want her here aggravating Jesse and waking my ass up at dawn."
She smiled at his surliness. "You're not a morning person, are you?"
"I'm a Dream-Hunter demon. By my very nature I'm nocturnal. That big yellow ball in the sky offends me to the very core of my being."
Leaning over him, she gave him a hug. "Well, I personally like the mornings. Every one is a fresh start. My father always said that you should begin each day with purpose."
"My father always said that someone should run Apollo and Helios over with their chariots . . . and throw Phaeton under them for good measure."
She laughed. "Your father wasn't a positive influence on you, was he?"
"Being the god of nightmares, he wasn't a warm fuzzy bunny. Unless you count Happy Bunny, Amazingly the two of them have a lot in
"How do you know about Happy Bunny?"
"What? You never walk around the French Quarter? There are Happy Bunny shirts hanging in almost every store. And I have to say that I've developed a fondness for that pissy rodent."
"Oh." He was right. Happy Bunny was everywhere.
His eyes darkened as he locked gazes with her. "And if you don't stop rubbing on me right now, Simone, I'm going to take that as an open invitation to go Skoti on you."
He rolled over with her, pinning her to the hard floor. Simone bit back a moan at how good he felt lying on top of her, and there was no denying what the hefty bulge against her hip was.
When he spoke, his voice was ragged and hoarse. "It's when Skoti slip into humans and have their way with them." He nuzzled her neck.
"I thought you were a nightmare Skotos."
Simone ran her hand over his muscular back, delighting in the feel of it and the weight of him.
It would be so easy to let him strip her bare . . . She could just imagine him inside her. The very thought made her wet.
"So I take it you had good dreams last night?" she whispered. He jerked back from her. "I didn't dream ..." "I don't always dream, either."
"No. I'm a Dream-Hunter, Simone. It's what we do. Always." He looked dazed. "Why didn't I dream?"
"Maybe you didn't sleep deeply enough,"
Xypher started to respond until she moved and brushed against his erection. All rational thought left him as he became totally focused on the fact he was lying on top of her.
And she wasn't wearing a bra . . .
Oh, this was torture. It'd been so many centuries since he'd last felt a woman like this. He could just imagine sliding himself into her body. See her head tilted back while he tongued her neck. He burned from wanting her . . .
Simone couldn't move as she caught the hot look in his eyes. This was it and she knew it. She was lost to him. How could she deny him after all he'd done to protect her?
She jumped at Jesse's shrill call.
He popped into the room, then screamed like a girl. "I'm sorry. You two continue."
Xypher let out a low, evil growl as he hung his head down and shook it over her. "I don't know about you, but that just killed my mood. The only thing to do more damage would be to see Jesse naked. That would probably make me impotent for eternity. I think we just found the perfect birth control."
Laughing, Simone rolled out from under him stood up, and cocked her head as she saw her goblet on the nightstand. How had that happened? It was always on the dresser.
She went to move it back, then froze as she caught sight of what appeared to be dried blood in it.
"What on earth?" She glanced to Xypher who quickly looked away. "Is this yours?" He didn't answer.
Before she could pursue it, her phone rang. She picked it up and saw it was Tate. Flipping it open, she answered.
"We found Gloria's body."
She couldn't believe it. "Where?"
"In the alley where she died."
"Nope. It was really weird. The police called a few minutes ago to let me know."
That was great, except for one tiny detail that made her stomach shrink. "Is she . . . turning?"
"Not at all. It's very strange, but I thought you'd like to know."
"Yeah, thanks. I know you're relieved." Simone hung up and turned to face Xypher. "They found Gloria's body again."
There was something extremely guarded about him. "You knew about it, didn't you?" She looked back at the goblet and wondered why someone would put blood in it. Besides her, there was only one other person in this house who could bleed. . . . "What did you do after I went to sleep?"
"Xypher," she snapped from between clenched teeth, "Don't lie to me. I'm not stupid. I know blood when I see it. For Saint Peter's sake, I'm a pathologist. You know I can take that to my lab and get a DNA sample off it."
An angry tic beat against his jaw. "What do you want me to say, Simone? I summoned a demon lord and made a bargain with him?"
Yeah, right. "Would you be serious?"
"I am serious." His tone and face confirmed it even though she didn't want to believe it. "I had to feed him my blood to get Gloria and her body back for you-that was the price he demanded."
Simone was stunned by his words. No, it couldn't be, could it? "You're not kidding."
"Why else would there be blood in your goblet?"
Why else, indeed? After all, people waking up to find blood in a cup nest to their bed had to be a daily occurrence.
In the Twilight Zone.
"This can't be my life ..." And yet why was she so surprised? One of her best friends was a ghost and the other worked for a group of immortal vampire slayers. So why wouldn't her pseudoboyfriend be able to conjure a demon lord and feed it blood?
"What next? You gonna tell me my new neighbor is a demon, and the dog down the street is a lycanthrope?"
He shook his head. "Now you know why I didn't want to tell you what happened. I knew it would only upset you."
"Yes, yes, it did. How would you feel if someone invited a demon lord into your bedroom while you slept and fed it blood from your favorite cup? I don't think you'd be all happy over that, do you?"
She glanced at her clock. It was just after eight. "And now I need to shower and get ready for work. Guess you have to follow me since I'll die if you don't and please try not to summon any more demon lords into my house while I'm naked, okay?" Damn, the ludicrousness of her life was beginning to know no boundaries.
Xypher's expression turned sullen. "Yeah, but I'll die if I do follow you and hear you naked in the shower."
Simone didn't know why, but that took a lot of the anger out of her. Probably because she was enjoying the idea of torturing him.
She patted His cheek affectionately. "There, mere, baby, it'll be okay."
He looked down at where his erection made an impressive bulge in his pants. "Not really, it won't. You only say that 'cause you're not the one in pain. And here I thought I had a few weeks' reprieve from torture. You're working with Hades, aren't you? Go ahead. Admit it."
Simone gathered her clothes, then paused as something he'd said a minute ago seeped into her mind-I had to feed him my blood to get Gloria and her body back for you. Why would he do that? "Why did you get Gloria back?"
He turned around as if looking for something.
"Xypher?" She closed the distance between them. "Why?"
His expression sheepish, he shrugged. "You were upset over her. I didn't want you to be worried or blame yourself for her loss."
For the first time, she understood his incessant need to find out what her motivations had been for helping him. There were some acts of kindness that were so altruistic, they defied logic. To him, the simplest act was baffling.
To her, this one was. "Why did you care?"
"I don't know."
Xypher ground his teeth. It wasn't true. He knew exactly why he'd done it. For once he'd put her feelings above his own, but to admit that... It was most likely more than he could do right now.
Even so, he'd sacrificed a part of himself to make her happy.
She lifted herself Up to kiss him lightly on the lips. "Now you understand that kindness doesn't have to be motivated by anything except a desire to help someone else and make them feel better."
Xypher blinked as she withdrew. She was right. Never in his life had he done something to help someone just because. Even with Satara, he'd been out to get something. She'd send him to do her bidding, then would reward him, and he'd done what she asked purely to get those rewards from her. It was all done for selfishness.
But not this.
He hadn't expected Simone to even thank him for saving Gloria. For that matter, he hadn't intended to tell her what he'd done for her. Why had he done it?
He glanced up to see her standing in the doorway.
"I need to shower. You have to follow so that I can."
"Sorry." He dutifully walked to the hallway.
She gave him a warm smile that his heart before she shut the door and left him to stand outside while she went about her business inside. He listened to her moving around and imagined what she'd look like naked with the water sliding over her body . . .
He shifted, trying to get some relief from his swollen cock, but it wasn't happening. Closing his eyes, he pictured himself in the shower with her. He could feel the heat of the water against his bare skin, see the contour of her back as she faced the spigot and washed her hair. Her eyes closed, she dipped her head to make sure her hair was completely wet. Gods, she was beautiful.
Needing to feel her, he leaned his front against her back and wrapped one arm around her waist.
The shriek of outrage jerked him away from his fantasy.
An instant later, the door was snatched open to reveal Simone in a clinging towel, glaring furiously at him. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I was just standing here."
"No you weren't. You were in the shower with me."
"No, I wa. . ."
He barely bit back the smile before he made her angrier. Yes! His powers had been working. But that thought was followed by a sick feeling.
All, damn, had he known he was really in the shower with her, he'd have a copped a better feel.
She frowned at him. "You're not wet."
" 'Cause I was standing right here the entire time."
She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Are you sure about that?"
Doubt was heavy in her expression. "You're lying to me, aren't you?"
He sputtered as he tried to find some way to calm her down. "I didn't know I could do that. I mean I knew I could do that before, but I didn't know it was actually working now until you screamed. I thought I was just imagining it. And don't give me that look . . . sorry?"
She growled at him before she slammed the door in his face. Two seconds later, she snatched it open again. "Stay out there! Don't you dare come back in here with those evil mind tricks." She shut the door.
Xypher wanted to whimper he was in so much pain from his erection. "Does it buy me any bonus points to note that you have a really nice-looking ass?"
She shrieked again.
"Dude! What are you doing?"
He turned to find Jesse behind him. His face was an expression of ultimate horror.
"I was just standing here."
Jesse let out a sound of disgust. "Let me explain something to you. When you've made a woman mad by spying on her, you don't fix it by telling her she has a nice backside. That'll just get you bitch-slapped."
Well, when it came to being bitch-slapped for something, he was sure Jesse was an expert. Maybe he should listen to him for once. "Then what do you do?"
"Simple, my brother. I am about to impart to you the sacred words my father gave to me. It's the five responses that will get you out of any female problem."
Yeah, right. This he had to hear. "And they are?"
Jesse held his hand Up and ticked each one off on his fingers, "I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't do it. Baby, there's no one else in my world but you. Oops. And Jesus is Lord."
He understood the first four, but the last one seriously confused him. "Jesus is Lord?"
Jesse nodded. "A little sacrilegious, I know, but trust me. If a woman thinks you've found religion, it can get you out of all lands of trouble. Not to mention, you can combine them. Such as-I don't know what you're talking about, I didn't do it, or Jesus is Lord, baby, you know there's no one else in my world but you. See, easy."
The door opened to show Simone glaring at both of them as if they deserved only to be mowed over and buried in the lawn.
Wanting to dispel her anger, Xypher decided to try Jesse's advice. "Oops, Jesus is Lord."
Jesse groaned out loud. "Oh, you're hopeless, and I'm out of here."
Simone scowled at him. "What on earth are you talking about?" Shaking her head, she mumbled a condemnation of all men before she headed to her room.
Completely baffled by the fact that it didn't work, Xypher followed her. "Why are you still angry at me?"
"You groped me in the shower."
"That wasn't a grope, trust me. Had I known I was in there with you, I'd have made it count"
She spun on him then with fury in her eyes. "You . . . you . . . ugh!"
"I didn't do ..." He couldn't use that one because he had. "I don't know ..." No, moron, you do know what she's talking about. Telling her you don't will only make her angrier. "Oops?"
"Oops? Is that your answer?"
"Baby, there's no one else in die world for me but you?"
"Yeah, right. I don't believe that one for a minute. What do you think? I fell off a turnip truck?"
"Honestly? All I was thinking about was how beautiful you are. How much I wanted to feel your skin against mine and how I've never been this attracted to a woman before."
She paused while brushing her hair. "Really?"
"Yes. Last night, I made a deal with a demon to make you happy. Do you think I did that lightly?"
Simone swallowed as she glanced at the goblet. And he'd done it to keep her from worrying- he'd helped her and Gloria and had expected no payment or reward for it whatsoever. "You bled for me." How many women could say that about the men in their lives? "I guess that's worth a little embarrassment on my end. Sorry I overreacted."
Smiling, he cupped her face in his hands before he kissed her. He pulled back and gave her a wicked grin. "Is it worth a little something more?"
She tilted her head. "You keep playing your cards right and it might be. But don't get any ideas and come prancing into my dreams. If you do, I might geld you there."
Grinding his teeth in unsated frustration, Xypher rubbed himself against her and took one long, deep breath in her hair. "Just remember that you're slowly killing me."
"There are cures for that."
"Yeah, you naked on the bed."
She gave him a play fill grin. "Or you could take matters into your own hands."
He cupped her hand in his and pressed it against his swollen groin. "I'd much rather you take me into yours."
Simone swallowed at the large feel of him against her palm. He'd left the button on his jeans open and her thumb brushed up against the dark hairs that ran from his navel downward to vanish under his waistband. His breath fell against her face as his eyes pleaded with her for mercy. He rubbed himself ever so slightly against her hand and shuddered. "When was the last time you were with someone?" she asked.
Her heart pounded at the thought. . .
The loneliness of that single statement tore through her. Centuries of not being touched. Centuries of abuse.
She looked down at the floor where he'd slept last night. He asked for nothing, and he expected to be rejected at every turn. To be abused and hurt.
This was a man who knew so little of kindness that even the simplest act of it baffled him. She remembered the torture he'd shown her, and it broke her heart to think of him having no comfort what so ever.
She didn't want to be another person who took from him without giving. It was time that he saw that people didn't have to hurt him.
And before she could stop herself, she unzipped his pants.
Xypher cursed in pleasure as she took him into her hand. Her cool fingers slid from the tip of his cock, all the way down to the base before she cupped him. His head spinning, he tilted her head back to taste her mouth.
This was what he needed more than anything else. No woman had ever touched him so tenderly. His lovers in the past had always been demanding. His needs and pleasure were secondary to theirs.
But Simone didn't demand. She gave. Always.
Simone burned as her desire tore through her, but this wasn't about her. Xypher had protected her, and she wanted to please him.
She pushed his jeans down his hips before she pulled back from his lips and knelt in front of him.
Xypher expected her to ship him, so when she took him into her mouth, it was all he could do not to cry out. Chills exploded all over his body as she gently tongued him. He ground his teeth against the exquisite torture as he remained perfectly still for her.
Her tongue licked and swilled while her hand stroked his sac. Nothing had ever felt better. He leaned forward to brace one arm against the bureau behind her and stared down at her while she pleasured him. Her dark brown curls bounced with each movement of her head.
But what struck him most was the relish on her face . . .
Simone moaned at how good he tasted. She could feel his muscles jerking and tightening as he fought himself His breathing came in ragged gasps while he gently stroked her hair with one hand.
She could literally feel how much this meant to him. How much bliss she was giving him by doing this one simple act.
Then with one feral growl he came in her mouth.
Xypher went temporarily blind as unimagined pleasure ripped through him. He had to lean with both anus; against the bureau to keep from falling. Staling down, he saw Simone look up at him with a hint of a smile on her lips.
"Are you okay?"
"No," he said raggedly. "I'm in ecstasy. I blew straight past okay the minute you touched me."
Laughing, she rose up in front of him, forcing him to push away from the bureau.
He gathered her into his arms and laid his forehead against the crook of her neck so that he could inhale the sweetness of her skin.
Simone closed her eyes as she wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders and held him close. He was so calm and gentle like this ... a complete reversal of the snarling beast who'd shaved her into her car and then threatened her life.
She felt his hands on her thighs, lifting her skirt to her waist. His tongue toyed with her skin as he dipped one hand under the elastic of her panties to gently separate the folds of her body. The moment his fingers brushed her, she moaned and shivered.
Clinging to him, she leaned her head back as his fingers swept and teased. When he slid one inside her, it was all she could do to remain standing.
He was extremely talented with this hands. Honestly, it'd been at least a year since she'd been with a man. She'd forgotten how good this felt.
"Come for me, Simone," Xypher whispered in her ear. "I want to see your pleasure."
Those words sent her over the edge. Unable to stand it, she bit her lip and cried out. Still, he continued to stroke and tease until he'd wrung die last bit of joy from her. Her breathing ragged, she wasn't sure how her shaking legs were supporting her.
"Thank you," he breathed in her ear.
"You don't have to thank me, Xypher."
"Trust me, for that, I do." He stroked her cheek with his fingers. "No one has ever taken mercy on me before. Why did you?"
"I know you're going to find this hard to believe, but for some reason I don't understand, I actually like you . . . most of the time."
He shook his head as if the mere thought were incomprehensible. "Well, you also love Jesse. Obviously your taste in men leaves a lot to be desired."
"Obviously." She smiled at him until her hall clock chimed the hour. That jolted her back to reality. "Now, if you don't mind, I have a class to teach in less than an hour so I need you to get ready to come with me."
He laughed deep in his throat "Lady, right now you could tell me to throw myself under a bus to make you happy and I'd oblige you."
She joined his laughter. "Then it's a good thing I don't use my newfound powers for evil, huh?"
"For me, it is." He kissed her on the up of her nose before he pulled his pants up and zipped them. He paused at the door to look back at her with a tender expression on his face that absolutely seared her. "You following?"
She nodded before she went with him to the bathroom.
"You know," he said, indicating the tub with his thumb. "I'm not bashful. If you want to come in, feel free."
Simone could still taste him on her lips as she considered his invitation. Don't do it. You have a class to teach. But before she could stop herself, she was in the bathroom with him, watching as he shipped himself bare.
She let her breath out slowly at the sight of all that tawny, muscular skin. It made her salivate.
He flashed her a devilish smile before he got into the tub. "You can join me anytime you want to."
And she did want to, that was the problem. "It's all right, I actually need you to hurry so that I won't be late." She turned her back away from the silhouette of him against the curtain and brushed her teeth. As she did so, a weird sensation went through her.
Again she felt as if something were watching her. Rinsing her mouth, she turned around. Xypher was busy showering, and there was no one else in the room. "What is happening to me?"
"Simone?" Xypher asked.
She raised her voice to respond, "Nothing. I was just talking to myself."
He leaned out of the shower to check on her. "You sure?"
"Yeah. I just... do you have a feeling like we're being watched?"
"A feeling like how?" She shrugged. "I don't know. It's like there's something else here."
He tinned the water off. Opening the curtain, he reached for a towel. As nice a picture as he made, her concern was such that she barely noticed his wet body and that said it all for how creepy the sensation was. He wrapped the towel around his lean hips.
"When did it start?"
"A couple days ago. It's like something is crawling over my skin, and I don't know what it is." She let out a tiled sigh. "Demons can't come out in daylight, right?"
"Daimons can't, but a demon can. They're just not as strong in the daylight."
"Oh, that sticks. What about you? Are you weaker?"
"Not like a typical demon. It's good sometimes to be a hybrid god."
Good for him, but not for her sanity. "Fine, then. Whatever it is, it's just watching me. It hasn't done anything so let's ignore it."
Xypher watched as she headed back to die bedroom. He followed after her, but he wasn't so quick to let it go. One thing he knew which he hadn't mentioned was that when something watched someone, it was seldom benign.
Rather, it was waiting to find the perfect time to pounce.