Make Me, page 20
Heck, who was I kidding? I was more of a doer than a thinker. The problem was that lately it seemed like I was in constant react mode, always responding to other people’s agendas, other people’s wants and needs. When had that started? Oh yeah, when my parents kicked me out of the house a couple of months ago.
And that was why I didn’t like to do much thinking. That memory still hurt. No matter that I finally understood why they had done it, no matter that our relationship was getting back on an even keel. I still craved my old life. It seemed so simple, so uncomplicated compared to this existence. No responsibilities, no contracts with bloodsuckers, no touchy ex-boyfriends, no—
NO FAITHFUL HELLHOUNDS, Fang put in sleepily.
I chuckled. “You’re the best part of my new life,” I whispered. Fang and Shade. At least, Shade used to be. Plus having found the Demon Underground and learning there were other freaks like me didn’t suck either.
Fang moved over to snuggle against my side. YOU CAN’T GO BACK.
“I know,” I said regretfully, stroking his wispy ears. But I wished I could. Back to before Shade met Dina, before he had turned so cold. What had happened there? It seemed out of character, but I had to admit I really didn’t understand men. “I wish I could combine the best of the past and the present.”
Then again, maybe I could. The Memory Eater’s offer came back to me. She could make my parents forget they’d ever kicked me out, make my half sister forget she was ever stupid enough to want to be just like me, make me forget the pain of their rejection. Everything would be like it was. Almost.
IS THAT WHAT YOU REALLY WANT? Fang asked.
“It’s tempting.” Very, very tempting.
AND ALL YOU HAVE TO DO TO GET IT IS AGREE TO KILL THE WOMAN.
I sighed. Yeah, that was the problem. “After hundreds of years of being half-sane, wouldn’t you want to end your life?”
I DO JUST FINE.
I stared at him. “You couldn’t be hundreds of years old. Though the half-sane part I’ll grant you.”
I noticed he hadn’t answered my unspoken question. “You’re not that old, are you?” How long did hellhounds live, anyway? The encyclopedia didn’t say.
NOPE, he said lazily. JUST TRYING TO DISTRACT YOU.
It worked, too. I checked the clock. About three hours until sundown. Maybe I could make good use of it. I rolled over and got out of bed.
Fang raised his head to look at me. WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
“To take a shower. After that, I’m not sure,” I hedged.
He laid his head back down. LET ME KNOW IF YOU NEED BACKUP TO RESCUE SHADE.
“I wasn’t thinking that,” I protested.
WELL, YOU WERE GOING TO, REAL SOON. AND EVEN THOUGH WE BOTH KNOW IT WOULD BE A STUPID MISTAKE, YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO TRY IT ANYWAY.
Okay, maybe I was thinking about sneaking out and rescuing Shade before I had to meet everyone back here. But how could that be a mistake? Just because I rescued him didn’t mean Dina would know we were on to her. And maybe Shade would even be grateful.
Fang snorted. SELF-DELUSION IS THE WORST KIND.
“Oh, shut up,” I said. I didn’t need a puny hellhound acting as my conscience.
PUNY? Fang said. PUNY? ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO GO THERE?
I ignored him and took a long, hot shower in the adjoining bath, enjoying the hell out of it. When I was done, I dressed and returned to the darkened bedroom.
HAVE YOU COME TO YOUR SENSES YET? Fang asked. When I didn’t answer, he said, GUESS NOT. WELL, IN THAT CASE, I’M COMING WITH YOU.
“You don’t have to,” I protested. I didn’t want to hear his complaining all the way there and back.
SOMEONE HAS TO SAVE YOU FROM YOURSELF, he said and jumped down off the bed.
Well, he was great backup. Not that I’d need a whole lot against a lightweight like Dina. I opened the bedroom door, intending to tiptoe out of the suite. I didn’t want to wake Austin and answer more pointed questions.
Too late. A light came on, blinding me, and Austin’s voice stopped me in my tracks. “Where do you think you’re going?” he drawled.
I held a hand up to block out the glare of the lamp. “Just going to… you know, get something to eat.” Noticing the bedclothes and Austin’s bare chest, I asked, “What are you doing sleeping on the couch?”
“Keepin’ an eye on you.” He stretched lazily. “I thought you might try to sneak out and play hero to Shade’s damsel in distress.”
Annoyed by his attempt to make Shade appear a wuss, I snapped, “It’s none of your business.”
“Actually, it is.” He stood up, and I was glad to see he was still wearing his jeans. “It’s just as much my business as yours. And I promised Micah I’d call him if you tried anything stupid.”
Fang chuckled in my mind. EVERYONE HAS YOUR NUMBER.
Crap. I hated being that transparent. “Okay, fine,” I spat out. “I won’t go to Dina’s. But I can’t just sit around here and wait for something to happen. I need to do something.” I flopped down in a side chair, feeling sulky.
Austin sighed and sat down again. “Darlin’, I know you’re chafing at the bit, but the plan we came up with is a good one. You need to have patience, let it play out.”
“Do Lisette’s vampires know Dina’s a succubus?”
“They do,” he confirmed. “And Lisette is bringing only women to confront her.”
“They know not to hurt Shade, don’t they?”
“Of course,” he said soothingly. “Don’t worry so much. Everything will be fine.”
I shook my head then rose to pace. “I don’t know. There’s something wrong. Something else that’s bugging me, about how her men act. If I go there, confront her, maybe I’ll be able to figure it out.” I turned to Fang. “You said it yourself at the club, there’s something odd with Dina.”
I SAID SHE WAS HIDING SOMETHING. NOW WE KNOW WHAT THAT WAS.
“Not necessarily. There’s something else. How can she keep so many men on a string?” I guess I could if I wanted, but it seemed like a heck of a lot of work.
Austin grinned. “Well, obviously, she keeps them all very happy. I reckon I understand why.”
“Wait. That’s it.”
IT IS? Fang said. WHAT’D HE SAY?
I pointed at Austin. “You just said she keeps them all very happy. But, what about when she sleeps? When they’re not in her vicinity? How is she keeping the men all silent about this? Surely some of them object to her control and would complain or get the hell out of there when she sleeps. Wouldn’t you?” Wouldn’t Shade?
He nodded slowly. “I would. What do you think is happening? Do you think she’s threatening them?”
“I don’t know. But she shouldn’t be able to do what she’s doing. The question is, how is she doing it?” I continued pacing, hoping it would help me think. “I need more information.”
“If this is an excuse to show up on Dina’s doorstep—”
“It’s not. I think I need to talk to someone else. Someone who knows Dina but has no reason to love her.”
“A female demon?” Austin ventured.
“Got it in one. Remember, Beth didn’t like Dina at all. Maybe I can probe a little, ask more questions, see if she can tell me what’s different.” I glanced at the clock. “I still have time to get there and back before we head out to the ritual.”
“Are you sure that’s the only place you’re going?” Austin asked.
Damn it, why was he bugging me about this? “That’s what I said,” I snapped, more harshly than I intended.
WHOA, BABE, DIAL IT BACK A BIT.
I stopped and ran a hand over my face. “Sorry, I’m just antsy. I need to do something, not sit and wait for something else horrible to happen to my friends. Look, if you don’t believe me, you can come with me.”
Fang chuckled in my mind. NOW THERE’S A SAFE OFFER.
Austin raised an eyebrow. “A little matter of some sunshine.”
“Okay, then I’ll take Micah along.”
“Good enough. And good luck.” Austin tossed me the keys to one of the cars.
“Thanks. I’ll be back in time. Don’t worry.”
He crossed to open the door for me. He leaned one arm up against the jamb and grinned down at me. “I never worry about you, darlin’. Whenever you fall in manure, you always manage to come out smelling fresh as a daisy.”
I didn’t know how to take that, but Lola kind of wanted to get a little closer, question him some more, fall into that seductive cowboy charm.
Nope. Didn’t want to fall into that manure pile. I backed off hastily and, feeling foolish, made some kind of lame wave and got the heck out of there.
Fang poked me in the calf. HE’S FLIRTING WITH YOU.
So? That didn’t mean I planned to flirt back. Talk about an age difference. Couple hundred years, at least. Shade was the guy for me… if he still wanted me.
This time, Fang and I took the elevator. I glanced down at him. “Aren’t you worried about Princess waking and finding you gone?”
NOPE. SHE ALREADY WOKE AND I TOLD HER WHAT WAS GOING ON AND TO STAY IN BED.
I grinned. Fang was going to be an overprotective father, too, I bet.
He snorted. OVERPROTECTIVE? LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENED TO PRINCESS ALREADY. I CAN’T BE TOO PROTECTIVE.
As promised, I stopped by Micah’s room, but tapped quietly on the door so I wouldn’t wake him if he was still asleep.
YEAH, KEEP TELLING YOURSELF THAT, Fang said with a snort. BUT WE BOTH KNOW YOU HOPE HE DOESN’T ANSWER THE DOOR.
Sheesh. Sometimes hellhounds were a pain in the butt.
BESIDES, I CAN HEAR WHAT HE’S THINKING. AUSTIN CALLED HIM. MICAH IS ALREADY UP AND DRESSED, AND HE’S COMING OUT TO MEET YOU NOW.
Make that always a pain in the butt.
Micah opened the door and had evidently borrowed some clothes because he wore black jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt. Very vampish. I totally understood why he wouldn’t want to wear the clothes he’d been kidnapped in for a second longer than necessary. His face still looked battered, but freedom made him look a hundred times better.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“To the house of a fire demon I met the other day, Beth Williamson. She doesn’t like Dina much so she might be able to tell us a few things.”
Micah nodded. “I’ve met Beth. I’ll call her, make sure she’s there and let her know that we’re coming to see her.”
“Why wouldn’t she be there? It’s Christmas Eve. Most people aren’t working.”
“Some people spend time with family and friends this time of year,” he said drily. “Besides, it’s polite.”
I just shook my head as Micah made the call. When he finished, he said, “She’s there, but she’s having a tea at her house in about half an hour. When I explained the importance of it, she agreed to see us.”
Good, ’cause I was going to see her whether she liked it or not.
We arrived at the same time as a guest did. Beth welcomed us and showed us into the living room where two ladies were already seated. This time, the seventies-decorated room was crowded with chairs, and a coffee table sat in the center loaded with lace, fussy ribbons and bows, as well as a pink floral-patterned china tea set. All four tea ladies looked so elegant and feminine, they made me feel kinda grungy in my T-shirt, jeans and vest.
“Can we speak to you privately?” I asked as Beth gestured Micah and me to join them.
“No need. We’re all members of the Underground,” she said with a tight smile.
The other three ladies nodded. But they all looked as stressed out as Beth sounded. What was going on here?
RELAX, Fang said. THEY’LL EXPLAIN WHEN THE REST ARRIVE.
Well, if Fang said it was okay, I’d wait for an explanation.
Beth introduced us, and the women were coolly polite to Micah and me, but friendly with Fang. At least he kept the silence from being too awkward while Beth welcomed two other women.
“You wanted to talk to me about something important?” Beth prompted after everyone was seated and all six women sat staring at us.
“Yes,” Micah said, taking charge. “We’re sorry to interrupt your celebration, but we have some questions we’d like to ask you.”
They said nothing. Weird. Some even had hostility and distrust in their expressions as they stared at Micah. Was it his battered face? He did kind of look like a hoodlum.
IT’S OKAY, Fang broadcast to everyone. HE’S AN INCUBUS. A SUCCUBUS CAN’T CONTROL HIM.
Oh, they were worried about him being under Dina’s control. A sigh of relief went through the group, though a couple of them looked startled at Fang’s voice in their heads.
Beth gave a wry smile. “This isn’t really a celebration. It’s the only way we can get together without the men of the Underground wanting to come. The few who are left, anyway.” She cut her eyes toward the explosion of femininity on the table. “The tea party theme wards them off.”
Yeah, I could see how that would work. “I take it Dina wasn’t invited,” I said carefully.
“That bitch,” one dark-haired woman said, twisting a tissue in her hands. “She has hold of our men and won’t let them go. That’s why we’re meeting here today. We can’t take it anymore, and we want to find a way to stop her.”
I smiled. “Then we have the same goal. She has my boyfriend in her clutches, too.”
Beth nodded. “We all have husbands, brothers, sons who have either turned against us or gone missing. Micah said you know something about that?”
“I’m afraid we have bad news,” I said and glanced at Micah.
He told them what we’d figured out about Dina trying to make male demons into Memory Eaters, and the horrible consequences.
All the color drained from Beth’s face. “You mean my brother—” She stopped herself, then said, “The missing men… they’re all… dead?”
The rest looked as shocked as she, if not more so. “That’s one possibility,” I said gently.
An older woman glared at me through tear-filled eyes. “The only other possibility is madness. How is that better?”
I hadn’t said it was better or worse, but the poor woman needed to vent, and I was a convenient target, so I let it slide.
“Will they be able to recover?” another woman asked.
Micah shook his head. “I don’t know. But, to be completely honest, I doubt it.”
Blunt, but I had to admit that if I were in their place right now, I’d want to know the truth, too. Not listen to namby-pamby platitudes.
THEY NEEDED TO KNOW, Fang confirmed. AND THEY TRUST MICAH EVEN MORE NOW FOR TELLING THEM THE TRUTH.
That was good, at least.
“I knew it,” one woman said—Annie, I think her name was. Petite and fragile looking, she didn’t look old enough to have come into any powers. But I knew all too well that appearances could be deceiving. “When Dina wouldn’t let any women but her and me into the Naming Ritual which produced her name as leader, I knew something hinky was going on.”
“You’re a soothsayer?” I asked. At her nod, I added, “Of course. You wouldn’t remember what you said while in a prophetic trance. She could have lied about whatever you said.”
“Right. And the men present all swear I chose Dina.” Annie shook her head. “It just doesn’t feel right.”
Which led to my next question. “That’s true,” I said. “But a succubus or incubus can control the opposite sex only while in their proximity, not while they’re unconscious or sleeping. Dina should have lost control of them then, and they’d have regained their senses.”
“Wrong,” the older woman said. “Once she got her hooks into the men who were at the ritual, she had them twenty-four/seven.”
“That’s not possible,” I protested. I mean, I wasn’t Super Succubus or anything, but if I couldn’t do it, I didn’t kno
“It’s true,” she insisted. The rest nodded to confirm she was telling the truth.
Were they all deliberately deluding themselves? I glanced at Micah for help.
He frowned. “Has she always had this ability?”
Annie shook her head. “Just for a few months. After our former leader died—under suspicious circumstances, I might add—Dina arranged for the secret Naming Ritual. It’s just too convenient that she was named leader.”
“I’ve heard of a way an incubus or succubus could extend their power,” Micah said thoughtfully. “But I always thought it was a myth.”
“What?” we asked in unison.
“My father used to tell me stories about an amulet, a stone, that would extend our powers. He said all you had to do was concentrate on the person you wanted to control and you could implant commands they would obey even beyond your normal range. Kind of like hypnosis, and it would work for a very long time.” He grimaced. “Of course, in the bedtime stories he told me, the succubi and incubi only used it for good.”
DINA PROBABLY HEARD IT AS A BEDTIME STORY, TOO, Fang said to everyone.
“But how would she have found such a thing?” I asked, bewildered. I wouldn’t know where to start to look.
“I think I know,” the older woman said. “Dina and her father were estranged. He was in another state—Montana, I think. She didn’t even attend the funeral when he died. But a couple of weeks after that, she got something in the mail from him. I remember hearing her say it was the only good thing he ever gave her.”
I leaned forward, intent. If Dina had this thing, I had to get it away from her. “Do you know what it was?”
“She didn’t say.”
“What else do you remember?” I asked Micah. “Did the story say what it looked like?”
He shrugged. “No, but an amulet is usually worn as a piece of jewelry, something held close to the body. She’d probably wear it all the time.”
“The crystal,” I exclaimed. “Every time I saw her, she was fondling that crystal teardrop.” I thought she’d been trying to draw attention to her boobs, but instead, she was controlling male boobs. “How long has she been wearing it?”
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