"You believe me now?" Chavez asked as wedripped all over the carpet from the kitchen into the living room.
He'd turned off the alarm, which had shut down the sprinklers, while I called security and lied. "I burned some toast."
No one asked why I was making toast at 3A.M. One of the perks of living in a building like this – money not only got you attention, it got you left alone.
"The guy disappeared." My voice sounded as dazed as I felt. "Poof."
Chavez gave me a slight push, and I collapsed onto the couch. Water darkened his hair, ran down his cheekbones, dotted his eyelashes. "Towels?"
He retrieved a stack, divided them, and sat in a chair as he began to dry his hair.
"That wasn't Eric," I said.
"He also wasn't human."
"No. Shape-shifter most likely."
I tried not to gape, but failed.
"Like a werewolf?"
"In a way. Demons shift into different people. Werewolves change from a man, or a woman, into a wolf, then back again."
"You say that as if they exist."
He lifted a brow.
I lifted my hand. "I don't want to know."
Chavez went silent for a moment, then said slowly, "Why did he come back?"
"Sure, but…" He trailed off.
I was still stuck onsure . Was he being a smart-ass? And why did I care? Why did my chest, which had felt like a cow was sitting on it, suddenly feel like butterflies were twirling merrily inside?
Because of that damn kiss. I couldn't stop thinking about it.
But I had to. Maybe he wasn't crazy anymore, actually he never had been, but that only meant he was a demon hunter. He wasso not for me.
"He's an incubus," Chavez murmured, thinking out loud. I yanked my eyes and my mind from his mouth and listened. "He needs sex to live. But there are a million plus women in this city. Why not get it somewhere else?"
"Yeah, why not?"
His head tilted. "Whatdid he say to you?"
"That we weren't finished. He needed something only I could give."
I was new at the whole sexual demon gig.
"If I can discover why he's obsessed with you, I might be able to figure out exactly what kind of incubus he is."
"There's more than one kind?"
Chavez nodded. "The headingincubuscovers a wide range of sex-feeding demons. Each one of those has its own particular method of death."
"Terrific," I muttered.
"As soon as I know exactly what he is, I can find out how to kill him." His dark eyes met mine. "You'll be safe as soon as I kill him."
Funny, I felt safe now.
An hour later we'd cleaned up the apartment, cleaned up ourselves. I was dry and dressed.
Unfortunately, so was Chavez. I'd kind of enjoyed the short period when he'd worn nothing but a towel around his waist and another looped around his neck as his clothes tumbled around the dryer with mine.
We sat in the living room, lights blaring against the remnants of the night. I'd made the promised coffee, and we both sipped from the largest travel mugs I had in my cupboard. I needed more sleep, but since I wasn't going to get it, I'd have more coffee.
"What do we do now?" I asked.
He glanced up. "We?"
"We," I said firmly. "I don't plan to sit around waiting to be demon raped."
His hands jerked, sloshing hot liquid very near the rim. "He won't rape you; he'll make you want him."
"Makebeing the operative word. Even if I think I want him, I really don't. Which means he's raping my mind as well as my body."
I set down the cup. My hands had begun to shake at the thought of what was after me, of my complete lack of control whenever it came near.
"I want him dead." I lifted my chin. "Preferably last week."
"Okay," Chavez murmured, staring at me with newfound respect. "I guess it's we."
"What do we do now?" I repeated.
"You know where Eric lives?"
"No. And he wasn't supposed to know where I lived, either. That's the beauty of Internet dating."
"Not exactly. If you know what you're doing, an address is pretty easy to find. Can I use the computer?"
Moments later, we had Eric Leaventhall's address on the Upper East Side.
"Let's pay him a visit." Chavez glanced at the window. The sun was just coming up. "We've got only so many hours of daylight."
"What difference does daylight make?"
"Dark spirits arise at sunset."
"Seems like there's too much evil in the world all day to have demons only available at night."
"Just because the demon is sleeping doesn't mean it isn't still whispering."
Which actually explained quite a lot.
Not too long afterward, we paused on the sidewalk opposite Eric's building. He had a doorman, too.
"Now what?" I asked, but Chavez was already cutting across the street.
I hurried after him, catching up as he slippedaround the corner and headed for the service entrance.
Chavez stopped and handed me a pair of plastic gloves. After donning a pair himself, he withdrew a long, thin strip of wire from his pocket.
"Done this before?" I asked.
Chavez didn't botherto answer as he jimmied the lock. At Eric's door he used what appeared to be a pocket calculator and a squiggly power cord to disable the security system. My feeling of safety was rapidly disintegrating.
"Where did you learn this stuff?" I asked. "Rogue demon hunter school?"
He shook his head and used the wire again, popping the lock as if it were a toy. "On the streets like everyone else."
Chavez glanced over his shoulder and smiled. His teeth were so white they blinded me. Or maybe I was dazzled by the excitement in his eyes. He was having fun, and at the moment so was I. I couldn't recall the last time I'd felt this alive.
Was it because I might be dead soon? Or was it because I was with him?
"EveryoneI knew," Chavez answered. "In Mexico City there were way too many people, not enough houses or jobs."
Mexico City explained the accent. I doubt Chavez would ever be able to completely explain his occupation. How did one become a rogue demon hunter?
Chavez pushed open the door, motioned for me to stay in the hall. I was about to argue, but did I really want to be caught breaking and entering? Of course just being here was probably enough to get me arrested. Nevertheless, I stayed behind. For about thirty seconds.
When Ricky Ricardo – like cursing erupted, I trailed the sound to where Chavez knelt next to Eric's dead body.
"Oh-oh," I muttered.
I was suddenlynot having fun.
Chavez glanced up. "He was dead when I got here."
"The cops arenot going to believe that."
"Which is why we won't tell them."
I blinked. "But – but – we have to."
Chavez examined Eric, hands still covered in the plastic gloves. "Where is that written?"
"In the code of common decency."
"Never read it."
Why wasn't I surprised?
Chavez went on with the examination. Pushing at Eric's skin, turning him this way and that, ruffling through his hair before leaning back. "There's no visible means of death."
"What difference does that make?"
"Could help to reveal what kind of demon this is. For instance, if the demon killed Eric, then inhabited the body, he'd want to kill him so as not to leave a mark."
"But if he inhabited him, then killed him when he was finished, no reason not to cause graphic bloody death." At my sharp glance he shrugged. "Demons are evil. They like to make a mess."
"Wait a second." I was suddenly so dizzy, I had to sit and I didn't want to do so next to the body. With no convenient chair nearby, I made do with leaning against the nearest wall. "Are you saying I had a date with a dead guy? Ikissed a dead guy?"
"Not as sorry as I am."
I dragged the back of myhand across my mouth and got a good taste of plastic glove. At least it made me stop tasting Eric.
"Look at the bright side," Chavez said. "At least you didn't screw a dead guy."
Hey, there was a silver lining to every cloud.
"If Eric was dead on our date, how could he seem so alive?"
"When demons animate a body, the postmortemchanges are frozen. Once the demon exits, the decomposition begins."
He lifted Eric's arm, or tried to. Eric was stiff as a…corpse.
"By the state of rigor mortis, the demon has been gone less than eight hours."
"Why bother to exit at all? He'd found a perfectly good body."
"Several reasons. One – I'd seen his face, and he knew I'd be searching for it. Two – decomposition can only be stopped for a few days. Demon reanimation or not, dead is dead."
Chavez stood, but continued to stare at Eric, thinking out loud. "A demon inhabiting the newly dead makes me think night wanderer – a Rakshasas."
"Hindu," I said.
His gaze flicked to mine. "How do you know that?"
"I have a degree in ancient civilizations."
A question I'd often asked myself.
"I was interested."
"So am I. What else do you know about Rakshasas?"
"Squat. I remember the name, but Ididn't spend too much time on ancient religions. I was more concerned with the rise and fall. Weapons and wars."
"I wouldn't think that would be up your alley at all."
I shrugged. "I do recall that one thing most civilizations have in common is a belief in a greater good, as well as a greater evil."
His gaze sharpened. "Exactly. Demons by any name are still demons."
"And God is still God. If you search long enough you can find a similarity even in the most disparate societies."
"Too bad no one ever takes the time to look."
"Too bad," I echoed. "Now tell me about the Rakshasas."
"A Hindu demon that reanimates corpses. Except the Rakshasas isn't interested in sex. Unless it's with the dead. Or maybe they eat the dead." His lips tightened. "I can't remember. Either way, fire is how you kill them, and it didn't work on this one."
"You didn't use fire on Eric, that was on the other guy." I frowned. "Whoever he was."
"Has to be the same demon inhabiting different men. Otherwise why did he come back for you? Why did he say, 'We aren't finished'? Why did he know me?"
I shrugged since I didn't have a clue. "Why do demons inhabit people anyway? Why don't they just come to earth and do their thing?"
"Demons in their natural form are so hideous, humans can go mad from the sight. Their voices are so god-awful, eardrums rupture. People can die from the shock before a demon ever gets its jollies. As terrible as possession is, the alternative is worse."
We went silent for several moments just contemplating it.
"Any other ideas on what kind of demon we're dealing with?" I asked.
"No. Every one that I know of would turn to dust at the touch of salt, fire, or silver."
Chavez lifted his gaze to mine. "We've got a demon I've never heard about."
"Does that happen a lot?"
He lit a cigarette and took a drag.
"Never?" My voice rose so high, he flinched.
"Here." He held the cigarette to my lips.
I jerked back. "I'm not so hysterical that I need to start smoking. But thanks anyway."
"Smoke keeps the demon from possessing you." He glanced at the body. "I think this one's gone, but it never hurts to be cautious."
He stuffed the unlit end between my lips with a little too much force. The filter smashed against my teeth.
I shoved him away, then took a drag. I wanted to avoid demon possession as much as the next person.
"There." I let the smoke trail out through my nose – hey, I'd gone to college. "I thought this demon only inhabited dead people."
"Since I don't know for sure what type of demon this is, it could do just about anything."
"Terrific," I muttered.
My curiosity was piqued by something else he'd said. "Possession really happens? That isn't just in the movies?"
His face went still, his eyes hard. "Demons inhabit anything and anyone they damn well please."
I'd been curious, but suddenly I didn't want to know what he'd seen, what he'd done, what he'd killed.
His eyes were haunted for a reason.
Chavez stared at me for several seconds, as if he planned to say something else. Then he took the cigarette, pinched the lit end between his fingers in a macho display that I refused to acknowledge, and placed the butt into one of his pockets.
Without another word, Chavez trailed around the apartment, picking through the mail, then moving on to the phone messages. Not wanting to be left alone with dead Eric – I had the nasty suspicion he'd open his eyes and try to seduce me again – I tagged along.
"We need to find the other guy," Chavez murmured.
"According to you, he's already dead. What's the rush?"
"Maybe the demon is still inside him. We could save the next poor sap on the dead dating parade."
I hadn't thought of that. Which was why he was the demon hunter and I was the one being hunted by the demon.
We left the apartment, and Chavez glanced at the security camera on the wall.
"We may as well call the police," I muttered. "They'll be calling me soon enough."
"I checked it when we came in. The light's not on. Whoever was here before us disabled the camera."
"That was nice of him. I think."
"I doubtnice had anything to do with it." Chavez headed for the service entrance. "This demon's a lot smarter than most."
"Are they usually stupid?"
"No. But they're not exactly savvy with the ways of the world. Kind of like a bull in a china shop – flailing around, obsessed with getting whatever it is they came here for. They don't worry about security cameras, police, or demon hunters. They think they're invincible."
"But they aren't."
"Not invincible, no, but hard to kill. Only one, maybe two, methods will work, and the trick is to figure out what before the thing kills you."
The trill of excitement returned. Life and death. Good versus evil. The stuff of really great books – and Chavez was living it. Too bad I might be dying from it.
"You must be very good at your job," I said.
"I'm the best."
"How did I get so lucky?"
Chavez checked the alley, then motioned for me to follow him. "Lucky?"
"How did you find me?" I paused. "Actually, I guess you found Eric. Is there a demon hunter hotline?"
He didn't elaborate, just stalked off so fast I had to move double time on my short legs to catch up. His face, when I reached him, was stonelike, unwelcoming. Wrong question, I guess, so I tried another.
"Are there a lot of demon hunters? You have a club or something?"
The look he shot my way would have scared me several hours ago. Now it intrigued me. There was a whole world out here I'd never known about. No one did.
"Roguemeans I don't play well with others," he said. "I don't like rules."
"There are rules?"
"I've heard there's a society of monster hunters. Had a few approach me about a demon-hunting unit. I guess they've got government funding."
"Hardto believe, isn't it?"
"After being kissed by a dead man dating, not really."
"Funny how a little thing like that changes your whole perspective."
"I wouldn't call it funny. Why didn't you throw in with the monster hunters?"
"Even though getting paid would be nice – " he began.
"You don't get paid?"
"Chica," he said with infinite patience, "who would pay me?"
"How do you live?"
"Very carefully." At my frown, he lifted one hand. "I do odd jobs for cash."
"Are you an illegal alien?"
"Oh." I couldn't think of anything to say to that. "Wouldn't it be easier to get paid for what you're already doing for free?"
"The money would be nice," he repeated, "but the government would want to know where I'm from.
How I got here. What I've been up to for half my life. I don't want to tell them. And I don't like being told what to do. I ask no one's permission. I never will. I eliminate evil from this world no matter the cost."
"Sounds like a good policy to me."
"I doubt you'd think so if you were part of that cost."
I stopped and stared at him. "You'd sacrifice an innocent person to eliminate a demon?"
He kept walking, but his answer drifted back on the early morning breeze.
"I'd sacrifice anything and anyone."