Oh, well, Rome wasn't built in a day, she thought breezily, delighted to see his interest was as marked as ever. He definitely still wanted her. "Fish on," she called. As she sauntered back to the cabin, she felt his eyes return to her, burning like a brand.

Chapter 38

The witch, naked to all the world. Her face pinkened from her bath. Tendrils of black hair clinging to supple skin. And the brush she'd hidden behind had revealed as much as it'd covered....

If Malkom could get that image out of his head, he thought he might find this night enjoyable, relaxing even.

After he and the witches had eaten fish, he'd sat in front of the fire, watching Carrow and Ruby playing cards on the rug, a game called blackjack. They were wagering seashells. Either Carrow was letting the child win or she was a poor player indeed.

They'd asked him to join them, but even if he'd been inclined, he couldn't read the symbols.

So he'd reflected on his day, realizing it hadn't been miserable. The girl was bright and had proved to be agreeable company. This island was a paradise, filled with all the things they needed to survive and even to thrive. The air was clean, the water from the cloudy sky sweet.

Which meant he couldn't hate the witch for where he'd ended up. However, for her deceit ... that was another matter.

And still he wanted her just as much as before. Hell, more so.

Now he regarded her expressions, watched the firelight on her shining hair. He missed touching her, missed taking her neck. Or breast. He missed merely sleeping with her against him -

"So, you two were busy today," she said.


Ruby answered, "We put traps out, and now nobody can get here. And tomorrow, we're going to string pots that will make a lot of noise if anybody gets too close to our ter'tory."

At that, Carrow grinned in his direction, as if she wanted to share her amusement with him.

"The peninsula is closed off," he said stonily. Preparing for an attack was normal for him. Relaxing with others like this, hearing their laughter, was foreign. "You should be safe." And if anything approached by air, he would hear its wings from a mile away.

"Then, Malkom, I have a favor to ask you," Carrow said, taking another card. "I need you to search for a way to get us off this island."

To get them to the home she spoke of. Malkom knew it surely couldn't trump this place of plenty, with food all around. He'd scooped the night's meal straight from the water! "What do I know of that, witch? 'Tis not my world."

"You could venture out and try to find any of our allies, or maybe a boat. Perhaps there's another island nearby - this could be one of a chain. And as you said, we should be secure here until you return."

"I will consider it." He would never consider it.

The child asked, "Why can't you just trace us away? Demons can trace, can't they?"

"I could, long ago. But I no longer have that talent."


"Because I am not truly a demon anymore."

"Then what are you?"

"Ruby, I'm sure he doesn't want to talk about this," Carrow said, clearly growing nervous.

The witch had all but signed Malkom up to be a protector for the child but hadn't revealed what he was? Out of shame?

The old anger simmered up, that rage he'd felt at being turned into an abomination against his will. Made into something hated.

Carrow acted as if she could accept it, but she didn't want others to know.

"I became a Scarba," he said.

"What does that mean?"

Something that must not be. Neither a true vampire nor a demon. "A vampire demon."

"V-vampire?" Ruby's eyes went round. "You drink blood?"

"I do," he said. "I have drunk Carrow before."

Ruby swung her gaze to Carrow, who looked like she wanted to throttle him.

"Did it hurt, Crow?"

"Yes, witch, did it hurt?"

She faced him with a determined glint in her eyes, then turned to the girl. "No, honey. It's like a hug. It's what Malkom and I do when we want to feel close to each other." She turned to him once more. "Isn't that right, demon?"

His lips parted.

"In fact, I could use a bite right about now."

Woman, I would kill for another taste of you!

Their gazes held.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Ruby demanded. "I'm not supposed to talk to vampires. Unless they're married to Valkyrie."

After a laden moment, Carrow dragged her gaze away to answer Ruby. "Because I wasn't sure that Malkom wanted you to know. Besides, he's not a vampire."

"He's not?"

I'm not?

"Nope. You remember how Peter Parker got bitten by a spider and had superpowers?" The girl nodded. "But he's not a spider, is he?"

"Of course not!"

Who is Peter Parker?

"Malkom got some superpowers from a vampire, but he's still a demon," Carrow said decidedly.

"Ohhh, so he's like a superdemon."

Carrow's lips curled at him. "The stuff of legend, honey."

Malkom sat there, wound up with tension, grappling with what Carrow had said. Was that truly how she saw him? Not as something less but somehow as something more?

In that cell with Kallen ages ago, Malkom had vowed to find a way to become fully demon again. In Oblivion, he'd even briefly considered asking the witch to help him. Now I do not know....

"So, are you going to let me win back my shells?" she asked the girl.

"But I want Malkom to play," Ruby said with a pout.

He and Carrow shared a look. Would she tell the child he couldn't read the symbols?

"They might not have cards where he comes from. Maybe he could team up - "

"With me!" Ruby bounded over to him, dropping her cards all over to grab his arm. "You can be on my team." She pulled him until he relented and joined them on the floor.

Carrow looked surprised. "Okay, then. The object of the game is to get to twenty-one points without going over."

"The cards with people on them are worth ten." Ruby displayed a card that depicted a crowned man.

Carrow said, "And aces can be one or eleven."

Ruby showed him a card that looked like all the rest. "This is an ace. It's got an A on it."

Reading and ciphering. Any remnants of his relaxation disappeared.

"Ruby, since you're on vacation from school, why don't you do all the adding? Ask Malkom if you can."

"Can I, Malkom?"

He gruffly replied, "As you will ..."

The next hour flew by in a haze of numbers and even some amusement. Additional rules to the game were revealed, which made it even more interesting. Soon he could recognize aces, and he'd even learned some of the number symbols - easy enough to deduce when Ruby counted on her fingers with many of the cards.

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