I'd always been able to relax inside my home,protected by two deadbolts and an ace security system, not to mention that I lived on the tenth floor.
With Chavez taking up too much space in my winter white living room, I doubted I'd calm down anytime soon.
"You want a drink?" I blurted.
His dark brows lifted, and I wanted to take the question back. This wasn't a social occasion.
"I don't drink," he said.
It was my turn to look surprised. Chavez definitely seemed the drinking type. Of course, appearances were never reliable.
Eric had seemed like a gentleman, but he'd taken off and left me in an alley with a gun-wielding maniac.
Guess he hadn't been "the one" after all.
You think?asked my increasingly sarcastic inner critic.
My eyes, scratchy from wearing contacts, ached. I only wore the lenses on dates – in other words, once in a blue moon – preferring my glasses for everyday use.
"I'm going to the bathroom," I announced, pausing when he followed me. "I haven't needed help since I was two."
"Tough. I don't plan to let you disappear."
"There's only one way out."
"What about these?" He indicated the French doors that led to my balcony. I had another set in the bedroom.
"Ten floors down. Spider Woman, I'm not."
He almost smiled, caught himself, and scowled. "I'll be right here."
"I just bet you will," I muttered, and slammed the bathroom door.
While I was at it, I washed my face, changed into my sweats, then grabbed my glasses. I might as well be comfortable and kidnapped.
When I stepped into the front room, Chavez contemplated me for several ticks of the clock. I hated being stared at. Probably went back to those days in junior high, when being stared at was never a good thing.
"What?" I snapped.
"You wear glasses."
"I'm a short, dumpy, plain girl who reads books for a living. Of course I wear glasses."
He tilted his head. "You read books for a living?"
Of all the things he could have focused on in my statement he chose that one? I rolled my eyes. "Never mind. You said you'd answer my questions."
"Sure. But first, show me all the e-mails you got from this guy."
"So you admit he was there? I'm not nuts."
Chavez slid his weapon into a holster tucked under one arm. "He was there."
I'd known that, but I felt better having him say it. I also felt better now that he'd put away the gun.
"It wasn't very nice of you to try and make me think I was crazy."
"I'm not nice." He flicked a finger at the computer in the corner of my dining room. "The e-mails?"
He'd kidnapped me to look at e-mails? Who was this guy? And who was Eric? I started to concoct all kinds of conspiracy theories.
"Huh," he said when he'd read all of the messages. "Nothing weird."
"Should there be?"
"Considering what this guy is, yeah."
"Is Eric some sort of secret agent?"
And if so, what did he want with me? Besides the obvious.
"Agent of the devil," Chavez murmured, still staring at the computer screen. "Not much of a secret."
I frowned. "Is that code for terrorist?"
"Terrorist?" He glanced at me, amusement in his eyes, though nothing so lighthearted showed on his face. "You think I'm Homeland Security? FBI? CIA?"
"Got that right."
Considering his accent, his appearance, his innate foreignness, maybehe was the terrorist. Except we hadn't been at war – even a cold one – with any Hispanic countries for a long, long time. Of course, pretty much everyone hated us lately.
"DEA?" I blurted.
"You think the guy was a drug dealer? You've got quite an imagination, but you're way off base."
"Get me on base then."
"He's a demon, and for some reason he wants you."
"Fallen angel. Spawn of Satan. Minion of hell. Soulless, evil, creepy thing."
For the first time tonight, I was speechless.
I'd started to believe that maybe Chavez wasn't crazy. Maybe he was just a gung-ho member of one of the many law enforcement agencies in a country that had gone a little overboard on security after September eleventh. Who could blame us?
"If Eric's a demon," I said slowly, "that makes you a – "
"Rogue demon hunter."
I blinked. "Lost in the Buffyverse, are we?"
"That show was a real pain in my ass," he muttered.
I wasnot having this conversation. Except I was.
"Not sure what kind of demon he is," Chavez continued, as if he hadn'tjust said something weirder than weird. "Salt didn't work. Neither did a silver bullet."
"Maybe because there's no such thing as demons?"
He turned a dark, placid stare in my direction. "Then what do you call your date?"
"A jerk. But that doesn't mean he's the devil in disguise."
"You didn't think he was such a jerk when you were letting him stick his tongue down your throat."
I stiffened, even as my face flooded with heat. "You shouldn't have been watching."
"If I hadn't, you'd be dead now." He tilted his head. "You don't seem the kind of girl who'd let a guy screw her against the wall of an alley."
"Gee, thanks. I think." I took a deep breath and admitted the truth, though I'm not sure why. "I don't know what got into me."
"It was almost Eric."
I ignored that. "I don't sleep with men on a first date. I just felt – "
"What?" He leaned forward, face intense.
I searched for the word to describe my bizarre lapse of character.
"Consumed," I said. "I couldn't seem to stop what was happening. I didn't want to."
Chavez jumped to his feet and began to pace. "He's some kind of incubus."
He paused, surprised. "You've never heard of an incubus?"
"Of course. I'm just a little rusty on my demonology. Haven't had to use it in, oh…my entire life."
A slight narrowing of his eyes was the only indication that he didn't find me half as funny as I found myself. "An incubus uses sex the way the rest of us use hamburger."
I got some bizarre images on that one and made a face.
"I meant an incubus feeds on sex," Chavez muttered. "If he goes too long without it, he dies."
"So actually he'sjust like a regular guy?"
"Ha, ha. An incubus can also compel people to do what they normally wouldn't. Hence your humping him in the alley."
"You were going to."
Yeah, I was. That Eric had been a demon capable of influencing me to have sex with him explained a lot.
If I could only get past the demon part.
But I couldn't.
"I don't believe any of this."
"You'd rather believe you were so overcome with lust for a guy you'd just met that you were not only going to bring him back to your apartment after an hour in his company, but you were perfectly willing to do him in an alley with me watching?"
When he put it like that… I still didn't believe Eric was an incubus.
"Why didyou ?" I blurted.
"Why did you think Eric was a demon? He seemed normal to me. Does he have a tail I'm not aware of?"
"That's a myth. Tails on demons. Some have them, true. But not all. And not Eric."
"Then why him?"
He turned away. "Trade secret."
I stared at his back as he studied my collection of books on ancient civilizations. Most guys took one look at them and headed for the door. I hoped he'd do the same, but no such luck.
"Trade secret?" I repeated. "That's convincing. Shouldn't there be nice men in white coats searching for you somewhere?"
He faced me again. "Are you a librarian?"
My back stiffened as if I'd been slapped on the butt. "What?"
I wasn't even sure why I was insulted, except that I'd spent the better part of my afternoon off getting ready for the date from hell.
Literally, according to Chavez.
"You said you read books for a living."
"I'm an agent. I sell books to publishers."
Yeah, I kind of felt that way about it, too.
"I don't suppose you have any books on demons?"
"What do you need a book for?"
"Unless I know exactly what's necessary to kill a particular type of demon, they won't die."
A convenient excuse to explain why his methods didn't produce results. I recalled reading somewhere that the insane often constructed elaborate delusions with rules that actually made sense to the not so crazy.
"You're the demon hunter, why don't you have a book?"
"There are way too many demons to fit in a single book, and I can't exactly carry twenty or thirty books with me everywhere I go, nor memorizeall the types and the methods."
"What are the chances that the demon you're searching for would be listed in a book I might have?"
"You kidnapped me because you thought I was a librarian?"
"I kidnapped you because you had info from the demon."
"Now that you've seen it, you can leave."
"The book?" He gestured at the case.
"I don't have anything on demons. Never studied them. Wasn't interested."
Disappointment trickled over his face like water down a windowpane. "You can't help me then."
"You need a different kind of help than I can give you."
"You think I'm insane."
His smile was as sad as his eyes. "I hope you never have a reason to change your mind.
He left without any further attempt to convince me that there were demons in the world. He also left without a good-bye, going straight to the front door, then closing it quietly behind him.
After that, the night got boring.
I certainly couldn't sleep. So I made myself some tea and settled down to work. I had a stack of manuscripts with my name on them. I always did.
Reading was how I spent my free time, and that wasn't so bad. I loved books; I just hated selling them.
I'd been an agent for two years, and I was beginning to get the drift that I wasn't any good at it. Another depressing tidbit to add to a long list of them. What was I going to do if I didn't do this?
I'd come to believe that selling books was like selling a sunset or a lake or the bluest blue sky. How do you put a price on perfection?
Whenever I found a really great story, all I wanted to do was share it with the world – at any price.
Which made me a shitty agent.
I was no good at my chosen profession. I felt as if I were letting my mother down. The only time I was happy was when I lost myself in another reality, one of adventure and romance, a life I craved but would never have.
I turned to the stack of manuscripts I'd brought home from work. Unfortunately, the first one was more boring than peeling paint with my fingernails and did nothing to get my mind off Chavez. Interesting that I found myself unable to stop thinking about him instead of Eric.
"Tattooed homicidal maniacs are always more fascinating than slim, blond surgeons," I muttered.
And why was that?
I forced myself back to the book. One good thing, it made me sleepy. Just after midnight I gave up and went to bed.
All the excitement had revved me up, and now I was crashing hard. Everything went black not more than an instant after my head hit the pillow.
I had a doozy of a dream.
The French doors opened. A breeze fluttered the curtains. The quilt waved like wind across water as it slithered off my bed. The sheets soon followed.
My body was hot, almost feverish. I yanked off my sweat suit and lay naked to the night.
A shadow slid from the balcony and into my room; like a spreading stain the gray darkness crept across the carpet, up the side of the bed, and spilled over me.
I was no longer hot, but pleasantly cool, the rapidly chilling sweat causing goose bumps to rise on my skin.
My sigh was arousal, desperation, need. Writhing, I cried out, and the shadow took the shape of a man.
No more than a shade really, impossible to see who he was, or evenif he was.
The wind was a whisper all around me, a language I didn't understand, yet words that encouraged me nonetheless. The air touched me everywhere, a caress that I welcomed.
I'd been waiting for this all of my life. Did I mention that I was a virgin?
The feather-light stroke of lips to the pulse at my throat, a tongue trailing over one breast, then the other, teeth grazing my nipple, then my stomach, then my thigh. Heated breath brushed the curls between my legs as a clever tongue did things that made me both limp and tense, tantalized and tortured.
I came awake, panting and gasping, my dream orgasm still rocketing through my body. I glanced around my room and stifled a scream.
The balcony doors were open, and a man stood on the other side.