Temptation by Fire(8)

By: Tiffany Allee


Gray hair ran along the sides and back of his head, light against his dark skin. The glare from the streetlight overhead glinted off the exposed skin on top, where hair hadn’t grown since long before I’d met him. Crow’s feet crinkled around his eyes during the rare times he smiled. But it was the deep wrinkles that cleaved his mouth when he frowned that I was familiar with.

A hard man, but a good one.

“Franklin.” I nodded to him, and he jerked his head for me to follow him inside.

Franklin hadn’t only taught me the ropes, he’d saved me from aimlessly wandering the streets without a hope of ever getting some payback. After my family was killed, I’d worked for months on my own. A damn waste of time. But Franklin had noticed me one night, pulled me off the street, and into his Venator cell. And he’d taught me how to kill demons.

He gave me my first tattoo with his own hands.

“How are things progressing?” Franklin headed past the small area where, during working hours, patrons would wait in line to pay a cover charge, before he went through an open doorway into the club proper.

I pulled off my jacket and tossed it onto an empty table. It landed with a dull thud. Knives only—I didn’t throw guns. “They’re progressing as they should—mostly.”

“Mostly?”

“There was a girl—”

“Hell, son, I can understand that, but I don’t think right now is the time to be worrying about some pretty thing.”

I barked out a quick laugh. When was the last time I’d thought of a woman for longer than the time it took to get off? Not since I’d become a Venator, that was for sure. Hell, I’d enjoyed myself, burned off some steam with random women when there were no demons around to take out some of my pent-up energy on, but even that never lasted longer than the night. I couldn’t afford to get attached. And that was a reality I always made clear before making so much as a move.

I might be an asshole, but I wasn’t a total dick.

“It’s not like that. A woman we saw today. She had some sort of a fit, then started muttering about Thomas dying in a fire.”

Franklin’s eyes widened slightly, and my stomach tensed. As difficult as it was to get a reaction from the old man, he might as well have shouted or screamed.

“Give me details, son.”

“I went to the hospital with Thomas. He was meeting with the hospital’s director—no doubt going to donate money to build some goodwill there. Give him an excuse to spend a lot of time at the hospital. Get an ‘in’ there.” An “in” he’d no doubt use to hunt victims. People leaving the hospital would be easy marks, especially when Thomas didn’t have the time or inclination to hunt more difficult prey.

By the time I finished describing her trance—or whatever the hell it had been—Franklin was pacing.

“She wasn’t a Venator, then?”

“Not that I could figure.”

“And you’re sure she wasn’t a demon?”

“I’m not sure of anything. But if she was, she’s the best damn actor I’ve ever seen.” Something in my chest constricted at the thought of the brave woman being taken by a demon. That much moxie being distorted into something…else. I shook off the thought.

“This doesn’t feel like a random coincidence, considering your timeline.”

“I know.”

“Maybe we should bring her in. Question her. Find out if she’s a Venator—part of a different cell.” A flash of something lit Franklin’s eye, like he almost relished the idea, but then was gone so quickly I couldn’t be sure I’d even seen it. But I felt every muscle in my body tense in response.

“I’ll see what I can find out,” I lied. I’d had no plans to find Ava again. “But maybe you can look into other possibilities first.”

The request stung my tongue in a way the lie didn’t. Lying didn’t bother me, not anymore. But bending to Franklin’s authority was getting harder to deal with by the day. That was the thing about branding yourself with demon blood. You lost the conscience, but gained an authority complex.

“I’ll ask around. She wouldn’t be the first Venator who’d fucked around with another’s job.” His eyes turned shrewd. “Don’t think I don’t know why you’re doing this, son. You could have cut Thomas’s head off a dozen times by now, but you want to go for the exorcism. See if you can save the human that parasite has latched onto.”