“You don’t know what you’re doing,” growled Officer Dane. “You’ll fry for this.”
Victor smiled quietly. “Not with your help.”
“Why should I help you?”
Victor returned the tape to his mouth, and stood.
“Oh, you shouldn’t.” The hum in the air sharpened, and Officer Dane’s body spasmed, his scream muffled by the tape. “But you will.”
THE ESQUIRE HOTEL
Eli was still staring down at the gridded screen of the police database when he heard the door open behind him. He tapped the screen, closing the profile of a suspected EO named Dominic Rusher just as a pair of slim arms wrapped around his shoulders, and a pair of lips grazed his ear.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“Looking for Sydney.”
He tensed. “And?”
“No luck yet, but I’ve put the word out. At least we’ll have a few more pairs of eyes. How was the bank?”
“I don’t trust Stell,” said Eli for the hundredth time.
Serena sighed. “How was Barry Lynch?”
“Dead again by the time I got there.” He lifted the childlike drawing from the desk, handed it blindly back to her. “But he left this.”
He felt the drawing plucked from his fingers, and a moment later, Serena said, “I didn’t know Victor was so thin.”
“This isn’t a time for joking,” snapped Eli.
Serena spun his chair to face her. Her eyes were cold as ice. “You’re right,” she said. “You told me you killed Sydney.”
“I thought I did.”
Serena leaned down, and slid the prop glasses from Eli’s face. He’d forgotten he was still wearing them. She tucked them into her hair like a makeshift headband, and kissed him, not on the lips, but between the eyes, the place that wrinkled whenever he resisted her.
“Did you really?” she breathed against him.
He forced his skin to smooth beneath her kiss. It was easier to think when she wasn’t looking in his eyes.
He sighed inwardly with relief as he said it. Two small words—half truth at most—and nothing more. It was hard, and it left him drained, but there was no doubt, he was getting better at holding back.
She pulled away enough to hold him with her cold blue eyes. He could see the devil in them, silver-tongued and cunning, and Eli thought, not for the first time, that he should have killed her when he had the chance.
UNIVERSITY OF MERIT
The music was loud enough to shake the pictures on the walls. An angel and a wizard made out on the stairs. Two naughty cats tugged a vampire between them, a guy with yellow contacts howled, and someone spilled a Solo cup of cheap beer near Eli’s feet.
He snagged the horns from a devil by the front door, and set them on top of his head. He’d seen the girl walk in, flanked by a Barbie and a Catholic schoolgirl flaunting numerous uniform infractions, but she was in jeans and a polo, blond hair loose, falling over her shoulders. He’d lost sight of her for only a moment, and now her friends were there, weaving through the crowd with interlocking fingers held over their heads, but she was gone. She should have stood out, the lack of costume conspicuous at a Halloween party, but she was nowhere to be found.
He swept through the house, avoiding the attempts of several pretty undergrads to delay him. It was flattering, and after all, he looked the part—he’d looked the part for ten years—but he was here on business. And then, after several unsuccessful tours of the first floor, she found him. A hand pulled him onto the stairs, into the shadows.
“Hi there,” whispered the girl. All the music, and the shouting, and somehow he could still hear her.
“Hi,” he breathed against her.
Her fingers intertwined with his as she led him up the stairs, away from the deafening party, and into a bedroom that wasn’t hers, judging by the way she glanced around before stepping through. College girls, thought Eli cheerfully. You had to love them. He pulled the door shut behind him and the world in the room became blissfully quiet, the music dulled into a kind of thrum. The lights were off and they left them off, the only illumination pouring in through the window in the form of moonlight and streetlamps.
“A Halloween party and no costume?” teased Eli.
The girl pulled a magnifying glass from her back pocket.
“Sherlock,” she explained. Her movements were slow, almost sleepy. Her eyes were the color of water in winter and he didn’t know what her power was. He hadn’t studied her long enough, hadn’t waited for a demonstration, or rather, had been studying and waiting for weeks, but hadn’t been able to catch sight of the ability, whatever it was, so he’d decided to get a bit closer. It broke his rules and he knew it, and yet here he was.
“And you are?” she asked. Eli realized he was too tall for her to see. He bowed his head and pointed to the horns balanced on top. They were red and sequined, and glittered in the darkened room.
“Mephistopheles,” he said. She laughed. She was an English major. He knew that much. And it was fitting, he thought. One devil to lure another.
“Original,” she said with a bored smile. Serena Clarke. That was the name in his notes. She was beautiful in the most careless way. The little makeup she wore looked like an afterthought, and Eli had a hard time breaking her gaze. He was used to pretty girls, but Serena was different, more. When she pulled him in for a kiss, he nearly forgot the chloroform in his back pocket. Her hands slid down his spine to his jeans and he peeled them away just before her fingers skimmed the bottle and the folded cloth. He guided her hands up the wall and over her head, pinning them there as they kissed. She tasted like cold water.
He’d meant to push her out the window.
Instead he let her push him back onto a stranger’s bed. The chloroform dug into his hip, but when he looked away from her she guided his eyes and his attention back with only a finger and a smile and a whispered command. A thrill ran through him. One he hadn’t felt in years. Longing.
“Kiss me,” she said, and he did. Eli couldn’t, for the life of him, not kiss her, and as his lips found hers, she pinned his hands above him playfully, her blond hair tickling his face.
“Who are you?” she asked. Eli had decided that tonight his name would be Gill, but when he opened his mouth what came out was, “Eli Ever.”
What the hell?
“How alliterative,” said Serena. “What brings you to the party?”
“I came to find you.”
The words came out before Eli even noticed he was talking. He stiffened under her, and somewhere in his mind, he knew that this was bad, knew he needed to get up. But when he went to free himself, the girl cooed, “Don’t go, lie still,” and his body betrayed him, relaxing beneath her fingers even as his heart hammered in his chest.
“You stand out,” she said. “I’ve seen you before. Last week.”
Actually, Eli had been following her for two weeks, hoping to catch a glimpse of her ability. No such luck. Until now. He willed his body to move, but it wanted to lie beneath her. He wanted to lie beneath her.
“Are you following me?”
She said it almost playfully, but Eli answered, “Yes.”
“Why?” she asked, letting go of his hands, but still straddling him.
Eli managed to push himself onto his elbows. He fought the answer down like bile. Don’t say to kill you. Don’t say to kill you. Don’t say to kill you. He felt the words claw their way up his throat.
“To kill you.”
The girl frowned decidedly, but didn’t move. “Why?”
The answer poured out. “You’re an EO,” he said. “You have an ability that goes against nature, and it’s dangerous. You’re dangerous.”
Her mouth quirked. “Says the boy trying to kill me.”
“I don’t expect you to understand—”
“I do, but you’re not going to kill me tonight, Eli.” She said it so casually. He must have frowned, because she added, “Don’t look so disappointed. You can always try again tomorrow.”
The room was dark and the party thudded on beyond the walls. The girl leaned forward and plucked the red sequined horns from his dark hair, nestling them in her own blond waves. She was lovely, and he struggled to think straight, to remember why she had to die.
And then she said, “You’re right, you know.”
“About what?” asked Eli. His thoughts felt slow.
“I’m dangerous. I shouldn’t exist. But what gives you the right to kill me?”
“Because I can.”
“Bad answer,” she said, running her fingers along his jaw. And then she let her body slip down on top of his, jean to jean and hip to hip and skin to skin.
“Kiss me again,” she ordered. And he did.
* * *
Serena Clarke spent half her time wishing she were dead, and the other half telling everyone around her what to do, and wishing someone wouldn’t do it.
She’d asked to leave the hospital, and the sea of staff had practically parted to let her pass before her IV was even out. It had been pleasant, at first, getting her way so easily, if not a little foreign. Serena had always been strong, always ready to fight for something she wanted. But suddenly there was no need, because the fight had gone out of everyone else. The world went limp around her, a complacent glaze filling the eyes of anyone she met and spoke to. The lack of opposition, of tension, became maddening. Her parents simply nodded when she said she wanted to go back to school. Her teachers ceased to be a challenge. Her friends bent and bent and bent to every whim. Boys lost their fire, gave her anything she wanted, and anything she didn’t want, but was bored enough to ask for.