The Jiffy Lube station had closed months ago, judging from the layer of dust on the concrete and metal fixtures. But after a few modifications, its underground work area with reinforced walls and thick beams was the perfect place to restrain a vampire. I'd had to shoot Bones in the head again after he healed from the first wound and woke up in another murderous mood, but now he was safely tucked away in what used to be the oil-change undercarriage of the facility, enough weighty chains wound around him to force an average vampire to his knees.
Bones wasn't close to average, though. He stood ramrod-straight and glared at me, his bright green gaze vowing revenge. Whatever flicker of emotion had led him to stop before twisting that knife in me was long gone, much to my regret. But as soon as Ian - who'd survived the fight in one piece, to my relief - was done drawing those bloody symbols on the ground, we'd know what sort of demon we had to chase to reverse the spell Bones was under.
"You were gone less than thirty minutes. How'd you get a couple pints of that type of blood so fast?" I wondered. Then my gaze narrowed. "You didn't kill anyone, did you?"
He sat back on his haunches to give me a sardonic look. "I'd never let a perfectly good virgin go to waste that way. Swung by a middle school and collected from a few students. They'll never remember it. Neither will their teacher."
I hated the idea of stealing blood from preadolescents, but we were too pressed for time.
"There," Ian said, drawing the last of the symbols.
"What do you think you're doing?" Bones asked, speaking his first words since he told me to let him die.
Ian didn't reply. He stepped outside the circle and glanced at me.
"Let's hope none of the students I picked were the experimental type." Then he said "Balchezek" three times.
"Stop!" Bones snapped, straining against his chains. The metal creaked but they held. That was why Ian and I had spent most of the night setting up this place.
Nothing stirred in the circle with the bloody symbols, but a brunet man stepped out from behind one of the support beams as casually as if he'd been there all along.
"You called?" Balchezek said.
I let out a sigh of relief. Part of me had wondered if the demon made up the whole summoning ritual and we'd be wasting our time attempting it. Good to know that avarice still meant something to members of the netherworld.
But just in case the demon tried to pull anything, like bringing uninvited friends with him, I had the bone knife within easy reach.
Ian had something else within reach. He drew his thumb along the side of a thick pile of hundred-dollar bills like he was shuffling cards.
"Hallo, Balchezek. If you want these, then look over our mate here and tell us what level of beastie we're going after."
"You shouldn't be here," Bones said, spitting the words in the demon's direction.
"I take it this is the vamp you want me to check out?"
Balchezek walked over to Bones, whistling through his teeth as he got closer. "I can tell you one thing right off. He isn't under a spell like you're thinking. He's possessed."
"Shut up," Bones hissed.
I blinked in disbelief at the statement and the sound of Bones's voice. It was higher, and sounded like he'd lost his English accent all of a sudden.
"I thought it was impossible for vampires to be possessed. That they have too much inherent power for a disembodied demon to break in and set up shop."
"Normally, yes." Balchezek wagged his finger at Bones, who snarled at him. "But like all rules, that one has an exception. It's a pain-in-the-ass exception, which is one of the reasons why demons avoid possessing vampires, so I'm not surprised you didn't think it was possible."
"What are the reasons demons avoid possession with vampires?" Ian asked.
Bones cursed in that unfamiliar, higher voice and swore terrible punishment if Balchezek continued. The demon ignored that and gave Ian a patient look.
"You're a lot harder to break into, for one. Only a medium- or upper-level demon can do that, and only under very specific circumstances. For another, we like keeping the status quo. If demons started possessing a bunch of vampires, it wouldn't take your kind long to amass and fight back. If our numbers get thinned taking you on, then we'd have a harder time fighting our main opponents."
I inhaled to make sure I hadn't missed anything from Bones before. "He doesn't smell like sulfur. Are you sure he's possessed?"
It would explain how I'd felt like I was dealing with a stranger in Bones's skin ever since that first morning after Wraith's appearance, plus his oddly amateur fighting skills and the abrupt reversal in personality when he'd stabbed himself. But I remembered with a spurt of fear the other thing Bones had told me years ago when we'd encountered a possessed human. The only way to get rid of a demon is to kill the host.
"Humans don't have the power to conceal the sulfur smell when a demon takes over. A demon-possessed vamp would. Besides," Balchezek made a circular motion from Bones's face down to his chest. "I can see the demon. She's right here."
She? I stared, but all I saw in the area indicated were my husband's furious features and inches of chains writhing with Bones's efforts to break his bonds.
"Of course you can't see her," Balchezek went on. "Consider it demon glamour. But just like vampire glamour works on humans but not other vamps, I can see through it."
My head felt like it was spinning. Reversing a demonic spell had seemed hard enough, but this was so much worse. We couldn't catch a break no matter how hard we tried.
"So several demons decided to pitch their tents in my husband and his best friends." A mirthless laugh escaped me. "That's what you're saying?"
"Nope," Balchezek stated. "Just one."
"One?" Ian repeated with the same incredulity I felt.
" 'My name is Legion, for we are many,' " Balchezek quoted with an arch smile. "In that case, it was several demons inside one person, but the reverse can happen, too. One demon splits him or herself into several parts and simultaneously possesses different people. It's tricky to do, though, because - "
"Be quiet or I will kill you!" Bones roared, his voice now totally feminine and unrecognizable.
" - you can only branch off into members of your anchor's family," Balchezek went on, flipping Bones the bird. "First you have to be lodged into one person good and tight. That's your anchor. Then you perform a ritual on yourself to split off into members of their family and remote-control them, but as a split, it'll make you appear like a blurry facsimile to other demons. And if all that sounds labor-intensive, it's even harder to do with vampires."
"How so?" I asked almost numbly.
"For starters, you can only possess a vampire if you were already in him when he was human, then hung on through the transformation into becoming undead. You need to be crazy strong to do that, but even stronger to attempt simultaneous possessions of other vampires. The upside is that if you pull it off, you're not limited to only possessing your anchor's human family. You could also go up to the third or fourth generation of your anchor's siring bloodline. You'd need to stay within close proximity to your undead flesh puppets, though, and keep their attention focused on you, or a vampire might grab the reins back."
All those stories Wraith kept telling. Was that his way of keeping everyone's attention on him so he could stay demonically implanted? This sounded too unbelievable even for me, and I'd seen - and done - a lot of freaky stuff in my day. Some of that must have showed on my face, because Balchezek sighed.
"You want me to prove it, don't you? All right. Let's get your boy on top again. He's far enough away from the demon's main anchor that it should be easier for him to pop up. Now, what would really, really upset him?"
I wished I could call a time-out to assimilate all the different pieces of information being thrown at me, but I mumbled my reply without pause.
"Bones briefly grabbed control when we were flying. He stabbed me, but instead of twisting the knife, he yanked it out and stuck it in himself."
And said he had to die while he still had her contained. Oh God, Balchezek was right. Bones wasn't under a spell; he was possessed, and I didn't know of any way to get the demon out without killing him.
I swiped away a tear that escaped from my eye. Crying wouldn't do a damn bit of good, and there was no time for it, anyway.
"So stab me," I finished, squaring my shoulders. "In the heart."
Ian walked over, but instead of pulling out one of the silver blades I knew he had on him, he yanked me to him.
"I have another idea," he muttered right before his mouth slanted over mine.
I was so stunned that I didn't move for a few seconds. That was long enough for Ian to grab my ass and plaster my h*ps to his. His mouth opened, tongue seeking entry, but I wrenched my head away.
"Have you lost your mind?" I demanded, slapping him.
Ian grinned. "Reminds me of the day we met. As you recall, I didn't mind you getting rough. Turned me on, in fact."
Then he gripped my hair hard enough to pull off several strands, using that as leverage to latch his mouth onto my neck. I closed my fist and prepared to punch him into next week. "If Crispin's in there, this will enrage him into appearing," Ian whispered near my ear.
Few things were ingrained as deeply into vampires as territoriality. It was strong enough toward anyone a vampire considered to be his, but practically rabid if you threw love into the mix. Plus, I might not luck out and live the next time someone plugged my ticker with silver. A few wrong twitches and it was hello, dirt nap.
I didn't really need proof to know that Bones was possessed, but if making out with Ian gave Bones the chance to stomp on top of the demonic bitch inside him, then I'd do it with gusto.
"Oh, yes, that feels so good," I moaned, and instead of punching Ian, pulled him closer.
Breath tickled my neck as he laughed. "I know. I'm truly gifted."
You're truly narcissistic, I thought, but ground against him and raked my hands through his auburn hair, pulling it hard enough to elicit an approving growl. This wasn't the first time I'd had to make out on command; my old day job playing bait to hunt vampires had practically required it. But it felt beyond weird to have Ian nipping and licking my skin while I let out some groans and calls for more.
And though I'd never admit it, not all of my moans were faked. Ian had put his promiscuity to effective use because the bastard was good at what he did.
"Ooh, a sex show." It sounded like Balchezek plunked onto the floor for more comfortable viewing. "Nice. And I thought coming here would be boring."
To better access my neck, Ian yanked my collar away from my shoulder, ripping some buttons loose in the process. Not to be outdone, I tore his shirt all the way open, biting some of the skin it revealed before slapping him across the face twice more. Hard.
"I'm glad you like it rough, because I am going to tear your ass up."
Ian turned his face away from Bones, but I caught his lips twitching. His eyes held a definite sparkle as he yanked the remains of my shirt from me, leaving me only in my bra and jeans. A dried blood stain near the center of my chest was the leftover evidence of how close to death I'd come. Ian bent his head there, licking it.
A low growl came from our left. Chains creaked and rattled. I didn't look in the direction, but pressed Ian's head closer.
"That's right, drink my blood," I said, my voice low and throaty. "Now I'm going to taste yours."
Power crackled through the air, growing stronger and yet also feeling ragged, like edges of broken glass trying to piece back together. I didn't turn toward Bones, but fisted Ian's hair and yanked his head to the side, exposing his pale, taut neck.
More rattling of chains, followed by a feminine hiss. I ignored that, too, licking my lips as if in anticipation of Ian's blood. Then I slowly brought my head down. Angled my face so that the vampire chained to the wall would have the best view of me sinking my fangs into his sire's neck, and then sucked in a mouthful of blood.
But when I swallowed that rich liquid, my moan really wasn't faked. It reminded me that I hadn't eaten in over a week, and though I might have been too distracted to think about food, my body clearly hadn't forgotten what it craved. My control cracked and I bit into him again, tearing his flesh in my haste to swallow more of that delicious crimson liquid.
"That's right, you nasty little vixen, bite me harder," Ian urged. He raked his nails down my back and pulled my legs around his waist, supporting me with a firm grip on my ass.
Chains crashed together while that feminine hiss turned into a full-throated, masculine roar.
"Get your bloody hands off my wife!"
I jumped off Ian like he'd burned me, even the lure of more blood unable to keep me from responding to the true sound of my husband's voice. Bones's eyes were glowing emerald-green, the rage in them aimed at Ian, and the currents rippling off him made me nervous that the chains wouldn't hold.
Then Bones looked at me, and that seething rage changed to something else. Pain sliced across my subconscious, so sharp and poignant that I ran those last few steps to him.
"Welcome back," I said, touching his face, one of the few places on him that wasn't weighted down with chains.
He closed his eyes and inhaled near my palm, a spasm crossing his features. "You smell like Ian. Tell me you were only pretending, Kitten, or I'll have to kill him."