“I hear the missing persons rate is high in Necro.”
I felt sick.
“A Dread killed Peiter’s twin brother, our fifth Dominus,” Conah continued. “His scythe went dark. We lost it completely. We’ve been managing on four Dominus ever since. Peiter was hunting the coven responsible for his brother’s death.”
So, Nera lost her brother-in-law and her life-mate? That poor woman.
“The Dread travel in hives of seven, and up until tonight, the kiss of a Dread was the only thing that could kill a Dominus. Mouths and vampires can maim, but in those events, our connection to our scythe slows down the blood loss and heals us. If a Dread gets its hands on us while we’re weakened, though, it’s endgame.” He picked up Nera’s abandoned glass and drained it. “Things seem to have changed.” He poured more into the glass from a decanter and took another gulp.
The dark material of his shirt stretched taut at the bicep from the action, and the hem rode up a little to flash a peek of defined abdominals.
My pulse jumped at the sight, and I looked away. Someone had just died. I had no right to ogle abs.
I cleared my throat. “The hooded figures used a dagger,” I reminded him.
“Yes.” He pouted his full lips in thought. “A dagger that was somehow able to kill Peiter. Did you get a good look at it? The hilt, the design?”
I shook my head. “No. Sorry, it all happened so fast.”
He sighed. “Yes, of course.”
But he’d gotten me thinking, and something didn’t sit right. “So, Peiter went after these Dread alone and ended up getting cornered by another group of creatures that just happened to have a weapon that could kill him? It doesn’t sound like a coincidence. It sounds like a setup.”
“Yes, it does. Peiter was lured and killed, but you …” He studied me intensely for a minute. “I have no idea how you fit into this.”
“Neither do I.”
“But you have reaper blood. Demon blood, which means you’re one of us.”
“And what does that mean? What does it mean to be one of you?”
“It means there’s a demon somewhere in your bloodline.”
An image of a demon dropping me off at an orphanage popped into my head, complete with black wings and horns, even though the reapers didn’t have horns as far as I could see. It was also unlikely my mother was an actual demon. Just a human with demon blood, like me.
“It’s not unheard of for demons to procreate with humans,” Conah continued. “Offspring are rare, though, and most don’t inherit any demonic traits. Rare but not unheard of, and it means you belong here.”
His words nudged the panic button in my head. “But the scythes … Don’t they go to Lilith’s bloodlines? I read about you guys, the Dominus, you’re all her children, right? I’m not. There has to be some kind of mistake.”
“Yes, the Dominus are her children, not directly, but descended from her unions with various lovers. Demons don’t live forever. Although we do live for a very long time, we eventually get old and die. Azazel is an exception. He’s one of Lilith’s firstborn, and he’s been alive a very long time. Peiter was next in line for the longest stretch. They may not be directly related to me, but we stem from Lilith, and that makes us brothers.”
Okay, that made sense, but he hadn’t answered my question. “But I don’t stem from Lilith’s bloodline.”
“No. I don’t believe you do. Lilith keeps tabs on her descendants. If you were one of hers, we would know. However, the scythes choose their wielders, not the other way around, and there is no law saying the chosen must be descended from Lilith’s direct bloodlines, even though that has always been the case. So, your being chosen isn’t a mistake. You have demon blood, and the scythe deemed you worthy.”
Demon blood. I had demon blood. Reaper blood. I was a demon.
His smile was weary. “I just realized I don’t know your name.”
Shit, of course he didn’t. “Seraphina, but everyone calls me Fee.”
“Even your parents and family?”
I waved a dismissive hand, not wanting the sympathy that usually came with my short backstory. “I was adopted. I have no idea who my parents are. Seraphina was stitched onto the blanket I was left with, so it’s what they called me.”
His blue eyes warmed with compassion.
“Don’t look at me like that. I was fine. I got lucky, and I’m fine.”
“Yes. You are. And we’re your family now. This will be your home. You’ll need to train and—”
Whoa, this was moving too fast. “I have a home. I have a life, and I have friends. I can’t stay here.” The panic button was truly pressed now, and a fresh rush of adrenaline flooded my system.
What was I thinking, meekly allowing Uri to bring me here and then going with Conah? I was insane. I didn’t belong in this world.
He took my hands in his beautiful ones and peered deep into my eyes. “The scythe chose you, Seraphina. You have a duty to it.”
I had a duty to Aunt Lara, to Cyril and Cora, not to a stick with a blade on top. A stick that was bonded to me, inside me somewhere.
Urgh. I needed it out. “You need to take it back. Let it choose someone else. Trust me, I can’t do this. I have a life to get back to. A snake and a ghost and a house to save.” Part of me recognized that I sounded insane, but my mouth wouldn’t stop working. “I start at Deadside in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been waiting for that promotion forever.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose, and I noted the slump of his shoulders for the first time. He’d just lost his friend, his brother, and was having to deal with a semi-hysterical newbie reaper. Guilt slammed me in the chest, and my issues suddenly seemed mundane. What was I babbling about? Pull it together. There had to be a compromise here somewhere.
I took a steadying breath. “Look, I’m sorry. This is all a bit much, and I get it, you’re doing your best to acclimatize me. It’s just that … I’m not a reaper, I’m an allocation agent for Soul Savers Inc. I process ghosts in admin.” I widened my eyes. “Admin is my jam. Not kick-assery.” I waved my hands in the air in what I hoped passed for ninja moves.
“You’re more than that, Seraphina.” His voice was a delicious rumble that made my nape tingle and the panic ebb a little.
“Look, please, call me Fee.”
He smiled, and his eyes lit up with warmth. “Fee, I know this is frightening, overwhelming, crazy, but it’s happening, and you can’t run away from it.” He canted his head. “In fact, if you stop and feel, if you reach down inside yourself, you’ll realize running is the last thing you want to do.”
I did as he asked and stopped. Just fucking stopped stressing and took a slow breath. The questions, the urgency melted. He was right. Beneath the throw-your-hands-in-the-air panic was a calm acceptance of what had happened and what needed to happen. There was a part of me already coming to terms with my situation.
“It’s why you’re not scared,” Conah continued. “It’s why you didn’t run …” He shrugged. “I would even go as far as to suggest you were drawn to Peiter.” His brows shot up. “Maybe it was why the mouth went after you? Reaper flesh is a delicacy to them. You have the scythe, and you should learn what that means. Let me teach you.”
The fight rushed out of me, and exhaustion made my limbs weak. I slumped into the nearest seat. “Maybe you’re right.”
He crouched in front of me, his huge body still dwarfing mine, and locked gazes with me. His sapphire eyes were pools of understanding, deep and serene and safe. I resisted the urge to lean into him.
“Get some rest,” he said. “I’ve summoned the others, but it could be some time before they get here.”
“My flatmate will worry …” But the words sounded weak to my ears.
“Just a few hours,” he said softly. “I promise I’ll take you home myself once we’ve spoken to the others. You can grab some personal items then.”
I didn’t have the energy to argue with him right now. My eyes were drooping, and I needed to lie down.
“The adrenaline is wearing off,” Conah said.
My eyes fluttered closed, and I felt the light caress of his fingers on my cheek.
“It’s all right, I’ve got you, I’ve—”
But I was already gone.
I opened my eyes to a set of cold emerald ones framed in thick dark lashes set in a face that was coolly detached as it studied me.
“Shit.” I jerked away from the man.
His smirk was cruel and cutting. “So, you’re the new reaper. The one who took Peiter’s scythe.”
He said it like an accusation. Like I’d pried the scythe from a dying Peiter’s hand.
My ire rose. “I didn’t take it. It was given to me.”
He stood and looked down at me, and I noticed his state of partial undress for the first time. His shirt was open, exposing way too much naked taut flesh, and his joggers were hung too low, revealing the tantalizing V at his hips. He had the kind of body that made you want to slip and slide against it. The kind of body you know would fit just right between your thighs.
“Fucking hell, she’s checking me out.” He chuckled softly. “At least we know she has taste.”
I bit the insides of my cheeks and glared up at him. “Not checking you out. Just wondering how your pants are defying gravity.”
He leaned in, and his fresh citrus scent tickled my senses. “You wish they’d fail, don’t you?”
His voice echoed through my head. “You wish you could touch me. Taste me.”
Oh, fuck. Yes. Yes, I wanted to lick that V and—
“Mal!” Conah snapped. “Stop fucking around.”
Mal stood with a snort, and his expression morphed from seductive to icy again. “This is what we have to work with?”