Temptation by Fire(7)

By: Tiffany Allee

“She was attractive,” Thomas said, his voice as interested as a scientist noting a bug’s intriguing color pattern.

I gave him a brief nod and pushed the image of the woman’s shoulder-length blond hair and big green eyes from my mind. But the vision of her slender build and long legs shoved its way in, along with the realization that those legs would wrap around my waist just perfectly.

Hell yeah, she was attractive. In another time and place…well, another time and place didn’t matter. I was here and now. And in the present, she was a liability who could have ruined everything.

But I couldn’t help the bit of admiration she stirred in my chest. Not a lot of men stood up to me, let alone a little slip of a girl like her. I knew exactly what I looked like with the scars and tattoos. Not exactly Prince Charming.

Ava. That’s what the other woman had called her when she’d gone into that trance—or whatever the hell it was. She looked like she was scared of the whole damn world, but she hadn’t backed down when I got in her face.

“And the fire?” Thomas asked.

Damn. He was back to that. “They were trying to scare you. It was probably the worst way to die they could think of.” I kept my voice smooth and even, a trick I’d perfected through the years of living among demons. Hiding lies was a necessity, something I rarely thought about anymore. But the girl had thrown me off my game, and I felt oddly unbalanced. I couldn’t afford to be off-balance, not right now. Not with justice so close. Not with command of my own cell so near my grasp.

“How sweet.” Thomas grinned.

His expression made my hands clench more tightly around the steering wheel, but he started talking about business—shit I needed to oversee to make sure some fucking party he was throwing next weekend went off without a hitch. I only half listened, but I was thankful he dropped the conversation about the woman. Ava.

I left Thomas at his downtown apartment, as planned, then headed for Pulse.

Careful to drive in a way that would make me difficult to follow, I kept one eye on my rearview mirror until I parked safely in the back of the club. Sure, there was next to no chance someone who worked for Thomas—or the demon himself—would happen by and recognize the Navigator I drove, but you never knew. I was alive because I was careful.

And because I was as much of a bastard as the things I hunted.

Of course, I didn’t kill humans for fun and energy. Demons fed off of humans, usually during torture. I’d heard there were other ways for them to get the necessary power they needed from us to survive, but I’d yet to come across one who didn’t get theirs the old-fashioned way. Theories—and that’s all the Venators really had—suggested that the demons’ collection of energy from their victims was necessary to maintain possession of a human body.

But who the hell knew? Venators didn’t spend a lot of time on research. We spent our time hunting them. To eliminate them from this world, but also because their blood ran in the tattoos that gave us our power. Blood that had to be obtained from living, possessed people.

I’d be damned if we weren’t nearly as fucked up as the demons.

I walked around the glass and trash-strewn alleyway that separated Pulse from its neighbor: a “massage parlor” that sure did a lot of business at night. Pulse was a ratty old nightclub and a front for a cell of Daemon Venators—an ancient society of demon hunters.

The Venators were the closest thing I had to family now. Hell, it would be closer to say that Franklin was the closest thing I had to family, because the Venators didn’t exactly have potluck get-togethers.

With the exception of our local sister cell’s leader, a tough fucker named Mateo, whom I could contact in case of emergency, one had to be a cell leader to be given information on how to reach other Venators. Keeping information on a need-to-know basis kept the Venators alive. A captured man could be tortured until he’d offer his soul, but he couldn’t give information he didn’t know.

You couldn’t be too careful when hunting demons.

I knocked—loudly. It was past two o’clock in the morning, and the bar had closed an hour before. With a groan, the heavy door opened, revealing my teacher, Franklin.