Midnight's Master Page 3


No, she hadn't shed any tears for the dead man.


But she also hadn't taken her story live, either. She hadn't blasted the truth about the killer-the fact that he was a demon, a powerful supernatural-into the homes of thousands of people.


Because after what she'd seen that terrible night, Holly knew that the world wasn't ready for the truth yet.


Monsters are real.


Oh, yeah, they were real. Strong. Dangerous. Evil.


And scary as all hell.


She stopped at the edge of the black markings. The markings that were all that remained of a demon's life.


So many monsters…Her hands clenched.


Some of them, like Carl, weren't bad. Some were almost…normal. Just trying to get by in the big, too-cold world.


Living, as best they could, until the darkness struck them down.


Holly bent, the cold air of the night brushing against her. It was late spring, should have been warmer, but a cold blast was hitting the city.


Her fingers touched the rough pavement, and her nails scraped over the black lines.


He'd been in my head. He took my control away. Made me into a puppet. Even though she'd tried so hard to fight. At night, she could still feel the whispers of her fear.


She'd been so afraid. So sure that she was staring at death.


Was that how Carl had felt? Before he'd been gutted by-


A rustle of sound reached her ears. Soft. Like clothes, fabric brushing against the hard stone walls that all but surrounded her.


In an instant, Holly was on her feet, heart racing so hard the thudding filled her ears. She whirled around, searching the alley with narrowed eyes as she squinted to see in the darkness. "Who's there?" Chill bumps were on her arms, but whether they were from the increasing cold of the air or the sudden fear that pumped through her, she didn't know.


No one answered her call, and she licked her lips.


Not alone. She knew it, with every single fiber of her being.


Someone, or some thing , was in that alley with her. Watching from the too concealing darkness.


Her instincts screamed for her to run. To get the hell out of there as fast as she could…


But she'd come to Paradise, such as it was, for a reason.


So she didn't run. Just stood straighter.


"I know you're there." The air now felt strangely still against her. She took one step forward and hoped that she looked a lot more confident than she felt.


She hated this stinking alley. It scared her, made her realize just how vulnerable she was.


So why the hell are you standing here in the dark, when you know something's watching you?


Her lungs ached as she drew in a deep breath. She'd lured more than her share of sources out of the shadows before. Faced down muggers. Crack-high kids. But this-


Someone watched.


This was different.


Okay, time to run like crazy. Forget dignity, she'd lost that back in the bar.


"Holly! "


The growl of her name had her choking back a startled scream. Jesus. Now she was turning back around, like a spinning top, as she jerked to face the mouth of the alley once more. A man stood waiting there, arms thrust deep into the pockets of his long, black coat.


Niol.


She was almost glad to see him.


Ah, screw that. Holly took off toward him, pretty much at a run.


She was damn glad to see the jerk.


Sometimes, the devil you knew was a hell of a lot better than the monster in the dark.


As she hurried toward him, she saw his dark gaze lift and sweep behind her. He seemed to stiffen.


"Niol, what-"


"Get in the car, Holly."


She saw his black SUV then, idling near the corner. Tendrils of exhaust escaped from the back of the vehicle, drifting up into the night.


Since she'd taken a cab down to Paradise, and she really wasn't feeling the urge to call and wait outside on the street for another one to arrive and pick her up, Holly decided to follow the snapped order.


But she couldn't help glancing back over her shoulder, one more time.


Only shadows stared back at her from the depths of the alley.


Shadows and the memory of death.


He could smell the woman. A sweet scent, light, rising over the decay and vermin of the alley.


For a moment, he'd been so close to her. Close enough to touch. To slide his fingers over her skin.


Close enough to rip that perfect porcelain skin right open.


The slam of a door echoed in the night. Then another. Tires squealed as the demon bastard drove away.


Taking the woman with him.


Interesting.


Niol had a taste for humans. He loved to play with the mortal women. And the immortal ones.


He and the demon had that pleasure in common.


A whistle escaped the man's lips as he strolled from the darkness. He'd been waiting there, biding his time, when the redhead had literally been thrown into his path.


Sometimes, fate could be brilliant.


He stepped over the charred cement and his whistle became louder.


Such a nice night. Pity he'd already made his kill. It really would have been the perfect night for a slaughter.


Ah, well, perhaps it was time he found new prey.


"What the hell were you doing?" Niol demanded, his fingers tightening around the leather steering wheel. "Do you have some kind of death wish or something?"


" What? Look, buddy, you are the one who so kindly had me tossed into the alley. It's not like I wanted to be there and-"


"You weren't alone." The words came from between clenched teeth.


"I was-" She broke off, gasping, and he felt the hot weight of her stare land on him. "How do you know that?"


He turned the wheel hard to the right and heard the harsh squeal of tires. "Hell, lady, have you forgotten what I am?" After his last demonstration, in that same pit-forsaken alley, she shouldn't have forgotten any damn thing.


"Demon." A breath of sound.


Niol nodded. Demon through the skin, through the blood, all the way to the core of his bones.


No, he wasn't some pointy-tailed, horned, red freak who'd escaped from the depths of hell.


Generally demons weren't like that, though most folks, when they closed their eyes at night, sure pictured them as such.


His kind weren't servants of the devil. So, okay, yeah, some had certainly chosen to walk on the trail of the damned, and he'd more than danced on the dark side a few times.


Demons, such as his brethren, were more than human. Stronger, faster, gifted with powers that normal men and women could only dream of in their wild fantasies. Some whispers said that demons came from the Fallen, those angels who'd had the bad luck to get their lily asses tossed out of heaven. Niol wasn't real sure about the origin of his race, and, normally, he didn't give a shit where he'd come from.


He lived. He breathed. He had enough power to knock down a city block. Those were generally the only facts that mattered to him.


The streets were slick with a light coating of rain. The tires flew across the pavement, sending water splashing.


"You know about a demon's power, don't you, Holly?" He knew the reporter had been digging into the lives of the demons in the city. She'd learned about demons when she'd made the mistake of taking a killer on as a source a few months back. The woman had fed Holly information about the Other world, and, in the end, the lady had almost led to the reporter's death.


A near slaughter should have given Holly pause. She should have kept her cute little nose with its faint sprinkle of freckles out of demon business. But, no, she'd been poking and digging, and, from the look of that bloody scene he'd witnessed earlier that day, she was still getting the wrong folks to be her sources.


And still walking straight into trouble.


Just like she'd walked into his bar.


"I know…some things."


Niol glanced at her from the corner of his eye. Streetlights flickered over her, revealing, then concealing, the elegant lines of her face.


Her voice was hesitant, but not afraid. The woman should have been afraid.


"I know," she continued, voice soft but steady, "that the power varies for demons. Some are weak-"


"Like your friend Carl." Dammit. He'd known Carl. Had seen the young demon on the streets, in Paradise. Barely a level-three, Carl hadn't been a threat to anyone.


So there had been no need to slice and dice the poor bastard. If he hadn't known better, he would have thought a shifter's razor-sharp claws had gotten ahold of the kid.


"And some demons…" Speculation coated the words, "are much stronger." A deliberate pause, then, "Like you."


Niol braked at a red light. Turned his head toward her. "Yes, love, like me."


In the demon world, there was a basic power scale. The generally accepted levels were from one to ten. Any demon with powers of one to three, well, that demon was barely stronger than a human.


Gifted psychically, of course, as were all demons, but no real danger to society.


Fours, fives, sixes, and sevens-they had enough power to be a damn nuisance. They could start fires. Control the winds. Even push lightly into the minds of humans, delving just deep enough to pick up thoughts and dreams.


But it was the higher-end demons that humans, if they only knew, would really fear. Level-


eights, or L8s, level-nines, and-


"Just how strong are you, Niol?"


The light turned green. He spared her a brief smile, one that he knew was cold and a little cruel.


He stomped the gas. "Strong enough."


A level-ten. Higher, really, but he wasn't the type to brag.


Level-tens had gotten a reputation…back in the day. They'd been the ones to first make the mortals use words like "possession." Because level-tens didn't just have the ability to pick up a stray thought or two from humans, no, L10s could control humans. Completely.


"I'm not afraid of you." Calm. Cool. But he heard her fingernails scraping over the leather of his passenger-side door.


A demon had slipped into her mind before. No, not slipped-stormed. Forced his way inside and left her helpless.


The SUV began to shake.


"N-Niol?"


He sucked in a sharp breath. The shaking eased. Niol swung the steering wheel to the right and pulled to a stop in front of Holly's tidy house.


A flick of his wrist and the car's engine died. He didn't face her again, not yet.


He let her lie hang in the air between them.


One moment, two and-


"I can hear your heart, you know," he said softly, as his fingers tapped out a matching rhythm on the steering wheel. The beat became faster.


"Shifters have the enhanced senses," Holly said. "Demons just have the scary eyes."


Scary eyes. He turned toward her. They were parked close to a bright streetlight. She'd easily be able to see his eyes.


The darkness of his stare.


Most demons cloaked their true eye color with glamour, even the lower-level ones. They hid the black irises. The scleras. They tried to fit in and not scare the good humans.


Fuck that. Niol didn't really care if the sight of his true eyes made folks nervous. The way he figured it, if folks didn't like his eyes, they didn't have to look at him.


And, well, hell, he liked scaring people. Was that such a bad thing?


"I can hear your heart," he repeated softly and let his eyes drift over her face, down her neck, to the spot where her pulse beat so frantically against her skin. "My senses aren't as good as those animals'." He'd never had much use for the shifters. "But my senses are one hell of a lot stronger than a human's." And that was how he'd known that someone else was in the alley with her. He'd smelled the stale scent of sweat. Heard the brush of a shoe against the side of a garbage can.


And known that Holly Storm was being hunted.


His back teeth locked. If anyone, anyone, was going to hunt the curvy redhead, it would be him.


He lifted his eyes to meet hers, licked his lips, and realized he wanted another taste.


The sample he'd had at Paradise had not been nearly enough to satisfy him. Not by a long shot.


His fingers rose to trace the line of her cheek. Such soft skin. Silky. Delicate.


He leaned toward her and damn if the woman didn't inch toward him, too.


Not what he'd expected.


But then, the lady had been keeping him guessing from the beginning.


His fingers slid down her cheek. Feathered over her lips. Her mouth parted and her breath rasped over his fingertips.


Their eyes were still locked. "Holly Storm," he whispered, "you want me."


She flinched, but made no move to back away.


His cock pushed hard against the back of his zipper. Her fragrance, perfume, woman, that lavender scent he was coming to crave, had his nostrils flaring.


"You want me," he continued, voice lowering, "but you're scared as hell of me."


He waited for another lie. Waited to hear it fall from her lips.


Instead, she smiled at him. Flashed a dimple in her right cheek, and had his heart thumping into his chest. "Course I'm scared, Niol." With a snap, her slender fingers unhooked her seatbelt. But she didn't try to leave the car. Instead, she closed the distance between them, until only an inch separated their mouths. "Knowing what you are, I'd be a fool if I wasn't 'scared as hell.'"


Her lips trembled as she spoke the words, but her voice was steady.


Of course, she feared him. She'd seen him kill. Destroy. She'd seen-


Her hand rose. Touched his cheek.


His cock jerked.


"And I do want you." Her lips brushed over his, just the faintest of touches.


Dammit. Not nearly enough. Not-


She pulled away from him, fumbled with the door handle. "But wanting isn't enough for me."

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