Make Me, page 18
“Wait,” Austin said quietly to Dan.
Dan’s mouth formed in a grim line but he kept his mouth shut. He had to know he could trust me to do what was best for Micah and his sister.
“I don’t have any reason to hurt them,” the demon assured me. “I don’t care about them or you. All I want is the books. But I will hurt them if I don’t get what I want.”
I sighed heavily so he’d think I was resigned to the situation. “Okay. Where and when?”
I listened to his instructions but didn’t plan on following them. “I’ll be there,” I said finally and hung up.
“Give me the number,” Dan said. I handed him the phone and he punched some information in on his, asking, “Where does he want to meet?”
“It doesn’t matter. We’re not going there.” I opened the glowing book and it flipped open to the spell for finding mage demons. “The spell will tell me where Asmodeus is at this moment, but if he moves, it won’t follow him. So, we’re going to where he is right now. That’s where Gwen is.” And Micah and Princess.
“Good thinking,” Dan said.
A COMPLIMENT FROM DAN? Fang said. YOU’VE COME UP IN THE WORLD.
Ignoring him, I read the spell silently first. The words burned in a glowing script across the page, visible even in the dark interior of the car.
Austin glanced in the rearview mirror. “What’s the limit on this one?”
I hadn’t really paid attention before. “The spell will only work once every twenty-four hours, and only within a hundred miles.”
“That doesn’t sound real useful,” Austin said.
“Well, it’ll work now to find Gwen,” Dan said. “The phone number is a dead end. It’s a disposable cell.”
“You should also realize that if I use this spell, the mage demon will be able to sense it and know approximately where I am,” I explained.
Dan made an impatient gesture. “No problem. He’ll think you’re on the way to meet him.”
Right. A small part of me yelled that I should wait, hold back on using the spell until I knew exactly what this would do to my succubus powers. But that was probably Lola, afraid to lose some of her oomph. I had to ignore it. Saving my friends was more important. I took a deep breath and read the spell out loud.
As I read each word, it vanished. When I was done, the spell settled uneasily in my gut alongside the other one. I said the activating words. “Beacon, show me the way.”
My stomach lurched and a wave of dizziness rolled over me, making me nauseous. “Pull over,” I gasped, not sure if my stomach contents would stay where they were. Worse, Lola’s cork had popped and she was like a genie let out of the bottle. My control was disintegrating and she was thirsty for the kind of male energy served up like a free buffet in the front seat.
“Why?” Dan asked.
Fang barked commandingly at Austin, so the vampire did as I asked. He pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store and I stumbled out of the back seat. I ran as far away as I could from them, desperately trying to hold what little shred of control I had over Lola.
They tried to follow me, but Fang jumped in front of them and bared his teeth. As I closed my eyes and doubled over against the side of the building to concentrate on holding it together, I heard Fang say, DAVID, LUDWIG, TELL THEM TO STAY BACK. SHE’S ABOUT TO LOSE IT.
There was a lot of talking, but I ignored it. Damn it, Jack had said I’d lose some of my succubus abilities. I thought he meant I’d lose some power and strength, not lose control as well.
Someone rushed over to me. “You mussst feeed,” a voice said. The Memory Eater.
“No time,” I gasped out. I wasn’t sure which was worse. Her concern for me or the all-consuming lust. She didn’t sound entirely sane right now.
“Make the time,” David snapped. “You’ve waited too long.”
But Shade wasn’t here. “On who?” I snapped. David was an incubus so that wouldn’t work. My ex-boyfriend? No—Dan would never forgive me. Ludwig or some random stranger? I couldn’t do that. That left Austin. He didn’t have a problem with Lola. It wasn’t only Lola who liked that about Austin, which somehow made considering the sexy cowboy as a feeding source infuriating. Not that I had a choice anymore.
AUSTIN, Fang barked at David.
David must have gestured him to come over because he was suddenly there, overwhelming my senses with his powerful male energy, making Lola crave what he had to give.
Still, I fought it. It felt like a betrayal of Shade.
“Do it,” Austin said and wrapped his arms around me.
He was inside my personal energy field and there was nothing I could do to fend him off. Suddenly, I no longer wanted to. Lola took over, enveloping Austin in need and want. My arms crept around his neck and my lips lifted to his as her energy tendrils sank into him, permeating his entire body, making him quiver with longing for everything Lola had to give.
I wasn’t able to maintain any sort of detachment at all, and I jumped up to wrap my legs around his waist. We merged into one being… one big roiling messy… something. Something I didn’t want to name. Not with Austin.
Finally, when Lola was satisfied, our chakras filled, I was able to regain control. I gasped. Good grief, I was wrapped about him like a clinging ivy. I disentangled myself rapidly and pushed away from him. Austin stumbled backward, looking stunned. I wanted to tell him that made two of us, but I didn’t.
The small crowd staring at the two of us looked equally stunned. I closed my eyes briefly. Please tell me I didn’t practically just do the dirty in public with my friends watching.
SORRY, BABE. NO CAN DO.
Crap. Mortified much?
I opened my eyes and saw Austin running his fingers through his hair. He resettled his hat low on his forehead, hiding his eyes. “Well, darlin’,” he drawled. “I think I need a cigarette.”
“I think we all do,” Ludwig said in awe.
I glared at the man mountain, but since he made everyone laugh, I couldn’t be too angry at him.
But Dan could. He glared and stepped forward. “If you’re done enjoying yourself, maybe we can find Gwen now?”
Austin tucked his thumbs in his belt loops and glared down at Dan. “She had no choice. You know that.”
It looked like they were about to take a swing at each other, but the Memory Eater spoke up. “We gooo nooow,” she said in a tone that brooked no argument.
Dan and Austin glanced at her, and she threw back her hood so they could get the full effect of her skeletal appearance. They both recoiled and it seemed to take the fight out of them.
“Yes, we go,” I said firmly and looked for the beacon, but didn’t see it until I turned around. Behind me, a rippling column of green fire appeared against the night sky, reaching about a mile above the city. “Oh, crap. He’ll be able to see that.”
“See what?” Austin asked.
I pointed. “The beacon—that column of green fire.”
“I don’t see anything,” Dan said.
Fang looked in the direction I was pointing. ME EITHER.
Everyone else shook their heads, too. I relaxed. “Good. Maybe only I can see it. Let’s go. I’ll guide you.”
I pointed the way, Dan drove since Austin was feeling a little drained, and Austin used the map on his phone to find where roads intersected and ended. We made our way in fits and starts toward the coruscating beacon of light.
Finally, we arrived at a house where the light was strongest and it vanished. “Stop. This is the place.” Opening the door as Dan abruptly braked, I asked, “Fang, do you hear anyone inside?” Windows were boarded up and it looked dark inside.
I HEAR PRINCESS, he said and pushed the car door the rest of the way open, charging toward the front door.
“Wait,” I called out. “Anyone else?” I wanted to make sure the mage demon hadn’t doubled back.
Fang didn’t answer. His eyes flashed purple and he threw his small body at the front door with all his might.
“Let me,” Austin said. He kicked the door open with inhuman strength, and Fang charged through it, vanishing in an instant.
“Wait,” Dan said, pulling his gun. “The mage demon might not be acting alone.”
Fang was too intent on finding Princess to think coherently. And though he was part hellhound and had a huge heart and enormous will, his body was small. No match for a powerful demon. I couldn’t leave him to face that danger alone, so I plunged after him. Dan cursed, but as I ran through the house, they followed me anyway.
DOWN HERE, Fang yelled.
I located the basement and thundered down the steps, holding Lola at the ready in case I needed her. Fang threw himself at another door, so I hurried forward to try the knob. It was unlocked so I opened it for him.
Princess met him there, and in the harsh glare of the single lightbulb, Princess and Fang rubbed up against each other in the doorway, their necks entwined, looking like a scruffier version of Lady and the Tramp. Cute.
YOU SAVED ME, YOU SAVED ME, Princess repeated over and over.
Fang was occupied with checking out her well-being and that of his unborn puppies, so I stepped over them to check out the rest of the room. Micah lay sprawled on his back on a dirty bare mattress, his wrists chained and bloody, his face bruised and swollen, and his eyes closed.
My heart skipped a beat and I came to an abrupt halt. “Ohmigod. Is he dead?” Had our gamble failed?
“No,” Austin said behind me. “He’s alive but unconscious.”
“Where’s Gwen?” Dan demanded, looking around.
As Ludwig and the others rushed to Micah’s aid, I darted around the room looking for any sign of Gwen. Nothing. Suddenly fearing for my roommate, I glanced at Dan, appalled.
“Maybe she’s upstairs,” he said.
I nodded and we both ran back up the stairs. We split up, each taking half the house. In no time, we were back at the center.
“Find anything?” Dan asked, looking frantic.
He held out the fabric he had clutched in his hand. “I found her scrubs. And more women’s clothing.” His expression was tortured, as if he were imagining all sorts of horrible reasons why Asmodeus would buy her clothes.
“Don’t think about it,” I told him. “Princess might know where she is.”
We rushed back downstairs. Everyone was hovering around Micah, who looked like he was starting to come around. Pia unlocked his cuffs and chains.
“She found the keys on a hook upstairs,” David explained. “Did you find your roommate?”
“No.” I knelt down next to where Fang and Princess looked like they were stuck together with superglue. “Princess, do you know where Gwen is?”
The spaniel turned sad eyes to me. SHE IS NOT GWEN.
“Huh? Who isn’t Gwen?” I asked.
GWEN ISN’T GWEN.
What did that mean? I turned to Fang to ask if he understood, when I saw the Memory Eater kneel next to Micah. “Stop her,” I yelled. I didn’t know what she planned to do to him, but it couldn’t be good.
“It’s okay,” David said soothingly. “Micah’s coming around. She can read his memories to see what happened.”
The woman leaned over Micah and held her bony hands about a foot from Micah’s head, as if cupping an invisible sphere about his head. Everyone else backed away.
“Tell us what Princess means,” David urged.
The rest of us watched the Memory Eater intently, but no one seemed willing to go any closer to the creep show.
“She… isss… Liiilith,” the Memory Eater gasped out.
“Please, concentrate,” I begged her. “Tell us what that means. Our friend’s life is at stake.”
She took a deep breath and seemed to settle down into herself. Bowing her head, she spoke, and her voice came out sounding less crazy. “Asmodeus has the power… to bring spirits… from the other side.”
“You mean he brought one over?” I asked, confused.
“Did he put that spirit inside Gwen?” Ludwig asked, his lips compressed in a line as if he suspected something but didn’t want to say it aloud.
“Gwen is possessed,” Ludwig explained. “And the mage demon controls the spirit inside. Whose name, apparently, is Lilith.”
Ludwig had to be wrong. Gwen couldn’t be possessed, could she?
“But you can get her out again,” Dan said, grabbing my arm. “Right?”
The Memory Eater took a deep breath. “There is mooore.”
“What?” I demanded. It couldn’t get any worse, could it?
“She isss… vampiiire.”
Everyone gasped this time.
“No,” I said, backing away. “That can’t be true. That’s not true, is it?” I asked Micah, pleading with him to deny this horrible thing.
“Yes,” Micah said weakly from the mattress. “Gwen is possessed by an evil spirit who turned her into a vampire.”
My knees gave way and I collapsed onto the floor. “No.”
Ohmigod. How could this happen to Gwen? She was the nicest, most generous person I knew. And the most innocent. She didn’t deserve this. Nausea churned through me, along with searing guilt. This was my fault. If she hadn’t been associated with me, none of this would have happened. I turned my face toward Dan, looking for… something. Forgiveness, understanding?
His face was pale with shock and his mouth opened and closed several times before he finally came out with, “Can she be changed back?”
“I’m afraid not,” Austin said. “We’ve been looking for a way to reverse the effects of vampirism for a very long time, but our efforts have only led to the person becoming permanently dead. Or worse.”
“What’s worse?” Dan asked, looking incredulous.
Austin grimaced. “Half-dead, half-alive. Mindless. Zombielike.”
I gulped, swallowing hard. Being a vampire suddenly sounded like it wasn’t so bad.
“Are you sure—” Dan began.
Ludwig cut him off. “Even if we could, don’t forget she’s possessed by an evil spirit. She’s no longer the Gwen you knew.”
Dan turned to me. “But you talked to her on the phone.”
“That was Lilith,” Micah said, rising from the mattress, looking a little shaky. “Asmodeus wanted you to believe it was Gwen so you’d rush in to exchange the books without thinking.”
The Memory Eater pointed at Austin. “Dawn… comes.”
Austin looked a little creeped out, but nodded. “I need to find a safe place soon.”
With fists clenched and mouth set in a grim line, Dan said, “I don’t give a damn about your needs. I’m going to wait right here for her to come back. I’ll take Gwen home and figure something out.”
Micah shook his head. “You won’t be able to. Lilith will fight you.”
Austin added, “They won’t come back here. This place is obviously either rented or abandoned. Once Val doesn’t show up to the rendezvous, he’ll figure out what happened.”
Dan’s face scrunched in a kind of agony and he grabbed the discarded chains, hauled the heavy things up and swung them at the wall. The crashing, clanking sound of metal against wood was horrendous and the chain left huge dents in the studs.
WELL, THAT’S ONE WAY TO LET YOUR AGGRESSIONS OUT, Fang said. It wasn’t so much snarky as sad. Fang liked Gwen, too.
Dan reared back to swing them again, but Austin stopped him with a hand on his. “Why don’t you all come to my rooms at the blood bank?”
I nodded. “Yes, let’s go. Asmodeus will be able to sense the books if he gets within five hundred feet of them. Your building isn’t that tall, but your room is almost on the top floor and it’ll make it harder to sense them there. Besides, the security is excellent.”
Austin didn’t take his eyes off Dan. “We’ll be able to see anyone coming up the stairs
Dan stood for a moment, his head bowed, then nodded. He dropped the chains and ran a hand over his face, looking resigned and defeated. “I’m out of my depth here,” he admitted. “I don’t understand your world.”
“It’s okay. We’ll find a way to bring her back,” I told him. I hoped. “Come on.”
He gave one decisive nod of his head, and we all headed for the cars, David promising to follow us back to the blood bank.
Micah and Princess rode in the backseat with Fang and me. As the two hellhounds snuggled together, I said to Micah, “Can you tell us what happened? What made him kidnap the two of you?” Hearing the story would help us focus and we might learn something useful.
Micah told us the story, obviously blaming himself for everything that had happened to Gwen. Dan didn’t disagree, just remained stoic and silent. Maybe he needed someone to blame.
DON’T WORRY, Fang said. KNOWING DAN, HE’S FOUND REASONS TO LAY THIS ON EVERYONE.
In my case, it was true. Why hadn’t I anticipated something like this? Why hadn’t I taken the mage demon–locator spell the first time the books offered it? Why hadn’t I warned Dan that Gwen might need more protection?
STOP IT, Fang said. YOU DID WHAT YOU COULD. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT SOME IDIOT MAGE DEMON IS LUSTING FOR POWER. DON’T USE YOUR ENERGY TO BEAT YOURSELF UP. FUNNEL IT INTO FINDING GWEN.
Good advice, though not all that easy to put into practice.
When Micah finished his story, Dan said, “Tell us everything you know about this guy who calls himself Asmodeus.”
Micah did so, thoroughly, finishing as we arrived back at the blood bank.
Dan twisted around in the front seat to give Micah a piercing glare. “Tell me the truth. Will he hurt her?”
Micah shook his head. “I don’t know for sure, but I can’t think of any reason why he would. She’s his slave and will do his bidding. She’s more valuable to him unharmed.”
Dan nodded and returned to his thoughts, that grim look on his face.
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