It took me a moment to collect myself. “I could do a Happy Meal.”

He laughed as we headed outside. “A Happy Meal?”

“What’s wrong with that?” I tugged my sweater coat on. “It’s perfect.”

“It’s the toy, isn’t it?”

I grinned as I stopped at the passenger side. “The boys get better toys.”

Daemon turned suddenly, placing his hands on my hips and lifting me against him. Startled, I dropped my purse as I groped his arms.

“What—?”

He silenced me with a kiss that reached a deep place inside that both thrilled and frightened me. When he kissed me, it was like he was reaching for my soul.

Funny thing was, he already had that and my heart in his hands.

Slowly, he let me slide down him and placed me on my feet. Dazed, I stared up at him. “What was that for?”

“You smiled.” His fingers trailed along my cheek, then down my throat. He buttoned up my sweater quickly. “You haven’t been smiling much. I missed it, so I decided to reward you for doing it.”

“Reward me?” I laughed. “God, only you would think kissing someone is a reward.”

“You know it is. My lips change lives, baby.” Daemon bent, grabbing my purse off the ground. “Ready?”

Taking the purse, I hopped into his car on wobbly knees. Once beside me, he revved the engine, and we were heading into town, stopping by the local fast-food joint so I could get my Happy Meal.

He got me a boy one, too.

His dinner included three hamburgers and two orders of fries. I had no idea where those calories went. To his ego, maybe? It seemed likely after that last comment about his lips. I was hungry more often after the mutation, but not like Daemon.

On the way to Martinsburg, we started out with a game of I Spy, but Daemon cheated and I didn’t want to play anymore.

He laughed deeply, the sound pleasing. “How can I cheat at I Spy?”

“You keep picking things that no human in this world can see!” I fought back a grin at his offended expression. “Or you pick c—you keep picking c. I spy with my little eye, something that starts with a c!”

“Car,” he said, smiling. “Cat. Coat. Church.” He paused, casting me a wicked sidelong glance. “Chest.”

“Shut up.” I smacked him on the arm. A few moments of silence later, and I was desperate to find another game. This nonsense was keeping my mind blank. We moved onto the license plate game, and I swear he pulled up on cars so I couldn’t see the plates. He had a mean competitive streak.

Before we knew it, we were heading off the exit and neither of us was in the playing mood anymore. “Do you think we’ll get in?”

“Yes.”

I shot him a look. “That bouncer was really big.”

His lips quirked. “Oh, Kitten, see, I try to not say bad things.”

“What?”

The grin spread. “I would say size doesn’t matter, but it does. I would know.” He winked, and I let out a disgusted groan. He laughed. “Sorry, you walked into that one. Seriously, though, the bouncer won’t be a problem. I think he liked me.”

“W-w-what?”

He eased the SUV around the curves. “I think he liked me, like, really liked me.”

“Your ego knows no limit, you know that?”

“You’ll see. I know these kinds of things.”

From what I recalled, the bouncer looked like he wanted to kill Daemon. Shaking my head, I sat back and started nibbling on my thumbnail. Gross habit, but nerves were getting the best of me.

The abandoned gas station loomed up ahead. The SUV bumped over the uneven road and I gripped the door handle. Cars lined the field in front of the club, as expected. Once again, Daemon parked Dolly far away from other cars.

I knew to get rid of my sweater this time around. I wrapped it around my purse and sat it on the floorboard. We made our way around the cars. Stopping at the first row, I bent over and tossed my hair over my head, shaking it out.

“This reminds me of a Whitesnake video,” Daemon said.

“Huh?” I ran my hands through my hair, hoping for the sexy look and not the “I had my head out of the car” look.

“If you start climbing on car hoods, I think I might marry you.”

I rolled my eyes and straightened, giving my head one more shake. “Done.”

He stared at me. “You’re cute.”

“You’re weird.” I rose up and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before I teetered through the knee-high grass. Heels—so not a good idea.

The lumberjack bouncer appeared out of nowhere, still in those overalls. Barrel-sized arms folded across his chest. “I thought I told ya two to forget this place?”

Daemon moved in front of me. “We need to see Luc.”

“I need a lot of things in life. Like I wish I could find a decent stock trader who wouldn’t lose half of my money.”


Oookay. I cleared my throat. “We won’t be here long, but please, we really need to see him.”

“Sorry,” the bouncer said.

Daemon tipped his head to the side. “There’s got to be something we can do to convince you.”

Oh, man, please tell me he wasn’t…

The bouncer raised a brow and waited.

Daemon smiled—that sexy quirk of his lips that had every girl at school stumbling over themselves, and I…I wanted to crawl under a car.

Before I could die from embarrassment, the bouncer’s cell went off, and he pulled it out of his front pocket. “What’s up?”

I took the moment to elbow Daemon.

“What?” he said. “It was working.”

The bouncer laughed. “I ain’t doin’ much. Just talkin’ to a douche and a pretty lady.”

“Excuse me?” Daemon said, surprised.

I choked on my laugh.

There was a toothy grin, and then the bouncer sighed. “Yep, they’re here for ya.” There was a pause. “Sure.”

He clicked the phone shut. “Luc will see you. Go in and head straight to him. No dancing tonight, or whatever it was the two of ya did last time.”

Awkward. I lowered my head and slipped past the bouncer. At the door, he stopped Daemon. I looked over my shoulder.

The bouncer winked at Daemon as he handed him what looked like a business card. “Ya not normally my type, but I can make an exception.”

My mouth dropped open.

Daemon took the card with a smile and then opened the door. “Told you,” he said to me.

I refused to give him the benefit of a response, instead focusing on the club. Nothing had changed from the last time. The dance floor was packed. Accompanied cages hung from the ceiling, swaying from the movements inside. People grinded to the heavy beat. A different, strange world tucked away in the epicenter of normalcy.

And the place was still alluring to me in a weird way.

Down the shadowy hallway, a tall man waited at the door for us. Paris—the blond Luxen we’d met last time. He nodded at Daemon, opened the door, and then stepped aside.

I expected to see Luc sprawled on the couch, playing DS like last time, so I was shocked when I discovered him at the desk, pecking away at a laptop, his face screwed in concentration.

The stacks of hundreds were gone.

Luc didn’t look up. “Please sit.” He waved at the nearby couch, all businesslike.

Glancing at Daemon, I moved with him to the couch and sat. In the corner, a tall yellow candle spread a peaches scent throughout the room. That was all the decoration. Did the door behind the desk lead to another room? Did Luc live here?

“Heard you guys didn’t get very far at Mount Weather last time.” He closed the laptop and folded his hands under his chin.

“About that,” Daemon said, leaning forward. “You didn’t know about the onyx shields?”

The boy, the little mini mogul/mafia kingpin/whatever he was became very still. Tension filled the room. I waited for something to blow up. Hopefully not one of us.

“I warned you that there may be things I’m unaware of,” he said. “Even I don’t know everything about Daedalus. But I think Blake’s on the right track. He is right about everything being encased in a shiny blackish-red material. Perhaps we did build a tolerance so we were not affected by the onyx shields.”

“And what if that’s not it?” I asked, hating the icy feeling slushing through my veins.

Luc’s amethyst gaze was concentrated. “What if it’s not? I have a feeling that’s not going to stop you from trying again. It’s a risk and everything has risks. You’re lucky you got out of there last time before anyone realized what happened. You get another chance. Most people don’t.”

Talking to this kid was weird, because he had the mannerisms and speech patterns of a well-educated adult. “You’re right,” I said. “We’re still going to try.”

“But knowing all the perils ahead seems unfair?” He tucked back a strand of brown hair, his angelic face impassive. “Life’s not fair, babe.”

Daemon stiffened beside me. “Why do I have a feeling there’s a lot you’re not telling us?”

Luc’s lips formed a half smile. “Anyway, you came here for a reason other than those onyx shields? Let’s get to the point.”

Annoyance flashed across Daemon’s face. “An unstable hybrid attacked Kat.”

“That’s what unstable people do, hybrid or not.”

I bit back a snappy retort. “Yeah, we figured that much, but she was my friend. She gave no indication that she knew anything about the Luxen. She was fine, got sick, and then came to my house and went nuts.”

“You didn’t give any indication you know ET didn’t phone home.”

What a little brat. I took a deep breath. “I get that, but this was out of the blue.”

Luc leaned back in his chair, kicking his legs onto the desk. He crossed them at the ankles. “I don’t know what to tell you about that. She may’ve known about the Luxen, gotten hurt, and some poor sap tried and failed to heal her. Or the Man pulled her off the street like they do at times. And unless you know some darn good torture techniques and are willing to employ them on an Officer of Daedalus, I don’t see how you’ll ever know.”

“I refuse to accept that,” I whispered. Knowing would bring some kind of closure and justice.

He shrugged. “What happened to her?” Curiosity colored his tone.

My breath caught in my throat as I balled my hands into fists. “She’s no longer…”

“Ah,” Luc murmured. “She did the whole spontaneous combustion thing?” The look on my face must’ve been answer enough because he sighed sadly. “Sick. Sorry about that. A twisted history lesson for you—you know all those unexplained cases of spontaneous combustion throughout history?”

Daemon grimaced. “I’m afraid to ask.”

“Funny how there’s not many cases known, but they do happen out in the noob world.” He spread his arms wide to indicate the world outside this office. “Hybrids—my theory at least, and it makes sense if you think about it—most do the self-destruction thing in the facilities, but a few do it outside. That’s why the occurrence is rare to humans.”