The Shadow Weave by Annette Marie


  “You can’t.” Jessamine hovered in the doorway, her voice soft with concern. “You won’t be able to stop him. He’ll—”

  “If she wants to stay, fine,” Lilith snapped. She flicked Clio’s arm, dissolving the binding spell. “Let’s go, ladies. I have much to explain to you about your reckless lack of due diligence.”

  Rosa, still holding her bleeding mouth, disappeared from the threshold but Jessamine hesitated, her perfect forehead wrinkled.

  “But Lilith, that girl has no idea what—”

  “Go, Jessamine.”

  Jessamine’s throat bobbed as she gulped back another protest, then she vanished as well. Zinnia gave Lyre a final command to hold still, then hastened out with a pitying look at Clio.

  Lilith stepped up to the door. “Last chance, girl. You don’t want to be in this room.” When Clio didn’t move, the succubus snorted softly. “Virgins. Fools, every one of you.”

  She swung the door shut. Golden magic webbed across it, forming a strong lock spell.

  Clio pressed against the sofa as Lyre lifted his head. His black eyes, burning with mindless lust and rage, locked on her—and there was nothing submissive left in his stare.

  Chapter Eight

  “Lyre?” Clio whispered.

  He watched her with terrifying intensity and no sign of recognition. Only heat and fury.

  When a daemon was pushed too far, their instincts could become so overwhelming that it drowned out their higher consciousness—including the part that recognized allies and loved ones. And the way he was watching her, she knew beneath the violence the succubi had spurred in him, Lyre didn’t know her right now.

  But she’d resisted an incubus on the offensive before, and following the advice he had given her, she looked away from his dangerously compelling eyes and focused on his chin instead—except it was almost impossible to hold her attention there. His daemon form was utterly spectacular, so subtle in its inhumanity compared to most daemons, yet so much more than she could have imagined. He was fascinating, enticing, glorious, irresistible. His presence alone was fogging her thoughts.

  A cold wave ran through her, fear countering the warmth of his power, and she wondered if she’d miscalculated. She’d resisted aphrodesia before—but not from an incubus out of glamour.

  Lyre smiled a predator’s smile, vicious and cold and hungry … and so damn sexy.

  Panic shot through her and she lunged to her feet, a binding spell crackling over her fingers. Her hand snapped up, ready to throw the spell.

  “Stop.”

  That voice. Impossibly beautiful, the sound layered with enchanting harmonics that vibrated with soft power. With a single word, he erased all thoughts of self-defense from her head and left her floating in a blissful haze.

  Obediently, she stopped.

  He approached with slow, prowling steps and their eyes met. Conscious thought vanished from her mind, lost in the bottomless darkness of his eyes. Her spell fizzled to nothing.

  Then his hands were on her, and any chance she might have had of resisting him was gone.

  He pulled her off her feet. Her back hit the wall and he pressed into her, his body hot and hard. He caught her hair and yanked her head back, then his mouth was crushing hers.

  He kissed her savagely, his tongue in her mouth, each stroke sending molten heat diving through her. She couldn’t move—her hair in his fist, his body pinning her in place, his other hand gripping her backside. She could scarcely breathe as his mouth relentlessly covered hers and she clutched his shoulders, her fingers digging in.

  Her blood had turned to fire. She was combusting inside. Her head was spinning but she needed more. She had to have more of him or she would die.

  His hand slid down her leg and he pulled her knee over his hip, then he pushed into her even harder, his hips grinding against hers. He lifted his mouth and latched onto her neck. Sucking, biting kisses, more possessive than sensual, sent pleasure and darts of pain shooting down her spine like bolts of electricity. Every nerve in her body screamed with need. She was helpless to his desire—an insatiable fire consuming her from within, his mouth consuming her from without. She could do nothing but hold him, nothing but submit, nothing but drown in his touch.

  He pulled on her hair, forcing her head to the side as his teeth grazed her neck, creating another shot of delicious, fleeting pain. He hummed, his otherworldly voice wreaking more havoc on her mind and body. The sensations and the need and the fire grew stronger, hotter, more overwhelming until she couldn’t breathe at all. Pleasure raced through her like a cocktail of drugs, but with every touch of his hands and mouth, the craving for release burned hotter, dug deeper, twisted tighter, building and building and building. She couldn’t stand it. She couldn’t bear it. The worst hunger, the most parched thirst, didn’t even compare. It was excruciating. It was torture.

  She had to have more, and the need was so powerful, so devastating that tears spilled down her cheeks.

  His hands stopped moving. His mouth lifted from her skin.

  Vaguely, she realized she was openly weeping. She hung in his arms as the searing heat and torturous cravings drilled even deeper. A sob shook her body, but the desperate need for him pushed everything else from her mind.

  Except he had stopped, and without his touch, the hot euphoria he had stirred in her diminished—and pain grew in its place. Her overstimulated nerves ached and burned, and a terrible hollowness filled her—an unbearable emptiness he had to fill. She would go insane if he didn’t.

  He stepped back from the wall, holding her with a gentleness that had been missing from his touch before now. With careful movements, he turned her back to his chest and sank down, pulling her with him until they were sitting on the floor. She shuddered in his grip, gasping and shaking with pain and need. Arms wrapped around her and fistfuls of her shirt in his clenched hands, he pressed his face against her shoulder.

  “I’m sorry, Clio,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

  Over and over, he repeated the words as she trembled in his arms. The heat faded, leaving her aching with a strange, cold emptiness, and when her thoughts eventually cleared, she wept again as she understood what had happened—what he had done to her.

  He held her, whispering apologies against her shoulder. She wondered dully if she should leave. There was nothing stopping her. She could break the spell on the door easily, and if she left now, he wouldn’t follow her. He would let her go.

  If she were smart, she would leave.

  Instead, she let him hold her and listened to his whispering voice, musical and hypnotizing even with its power suppressed. Pain weighed down each word, and she searched out his tight fist. She stroked the back of his hand until his grip on her shirt loosened. After a minute, he trailed into silence, but he didn’t lift his head from her shoulder.

  A long time passed before she felt steady again. Hesitantly, she gave Lyre’s hand a gentle tug. He released her and she clambered to her feet, wobbling on stiff legs. Aches twinged in her muscles as though she were recovering from a bad fever.

  Lyre stood as well, but when she turned to him, he wouldn’t meet her eyes, his face pale and a smear of Rosa’s blood on his chin.

  She dropped her gaze too. “Let’s get out of here.”

  He nodded and crossed to the couch where his gear was piled. As he strapped his weapons into place, she turned her back on him. The magnetic pull he exerted had her shaking again. Only when he’d shifted back into glamour did the feeling of being drawn to him lessen.

  She broke the lock spell, pushed the door open, and waited for Lyre to go ahead of her. He didn’t look at her as he passed, heading for the hall that would take them back into the main club. Clio started after him when she caught a glimpse of movement.

  In a curtained doorway at the room’s opposite end, holding the fabric aside with one hand, Lilith watched her with an unreadable expression.

  Clio stared back. She didn’t know what she felt, only tha
t ice pulsed through her at the sight of the succubus. She turned her back to the woman and hurried to catch up with Lyre.

  Lilith had been wrong about Lyre, but she’d also been right. And Clio didn’t know how much of the ice in her veins was a residual chill from the fading heat of his aphrodesia … and how much was terror of the power he could wield against her.

  The space between her and Lyre had grown far greater than the physical distance that separated them.

  She wrapped her arms around her knees as the cold breeze tugged at her hair. They sat on a rooftop, the dark sky overhead spattered with dim stars and the street below even darker. The only light came from a four-story shopping mall with a few glowing security lights.

  According to the daemon Lyre had questioned at the Consulate, this was where they would find an illicit Overworld conclave—a place where daemons gathered to trade in illegal or taboo goods and services. The problem was she and Lyre didn’t know exactly where the smugglers market was happening. So far, they’d seen four daemons go into the closed mall and not come out. Now she and Lyre were waiting for another daemon to show up so they could follow him to the mystery location.

  The wind gusted and she suppressed a shiver. Lyre glanced at her. They hadn’t talked much since leaving the succubus club. He’d brought up what had happened, but she’d cut him off, assuring him it hadn’t been his fault and she wanted to put it behind them.

  He hadn’t been in control of himself, and it was astounding that he’d come back to his senses at all. She didn’t blame him, but understanding and logic couldn’t erase how she felt. And she felt fear.

  The distance between them hadn’t changed, but she could feel the chasm yawning wider.

  Daemons tended to stick with their own kind, and Earth was the only place where daemons of different realms interacted with any regularity. She and Lyre were beings of opposite worlds. Was it so surprising that irreconcilable differences existed between them?

  Irreconcilable differences. Was that how she wanted to describe his ruthless ability to make her a slave to his desires?

  “Clio?”

  Her head jerked up. He watched her, his brow furrowed and shadows lurking in his eyes.

  “What?” she asked, looking away.

  “Are you all right?”

  “I’m fine.” Why was he suddenly asking? She was fine. She was just sitting here. Just …

  She belatedly noticed she was trembling, and it wasn’t from the cold.

  “I’m fine,” she repeated more firmly.

  “It’s okay if you’re not.” His voice was soft, the words almost inaudible. He lifted his hand, palm up and fingers splayed. She looked blankly at his hand, then she saw the faint quiver in his fingers. He was trembling?

  “That much aphrodesia is a shock to the system,” he mumbled as he tucked his hands under his arms. “It can leave you feeling weak for … a while …”

  He trailed off, his stare fixed on nothing, and her heart constricted. She’d been so wrapped up in her own trauma that she had given no thought to how he was coping with the assault he had experienced at the succubi’s hands.

  “Are you okay?” she asked gently.

  He nodded.

  She hesitated, then murmured, “It’s okay if you’re not.”

  He smiled faintly at his words echoed back at him. “That’s … never happened to me before.”

  “Which part?”

  “That much aphrodesia. Those succubi went way overboard.”

  “You did bite two of them,” she pointed out.

  “Not that I regret it”—a growl crept into his voice—“but that was their own damn fault.”

  “They seemed surprised that you fought back like that.”

  “Probably because the incubi they’ve caught before weren’t prepared for it.”

  “You were prepared?”

  He shifted uncomfortably. “No, not like … I just meant that the first time is the worst because you’ve never experienced it before.”

  She studied his profile, but before she could ask anything else, he straightened sharply and focused on the street. “Someone is coming. Look.”

  A lone figure wearing a dark, casual coat moved swiftly up the street toward the mall, his head turning as though checking for witnesses. This many interlopers in a shopping center that had been closed for hours was too much of a coincidence.

  “He’s a daemon,” she whispered, her asper confirming it. “Let’s go.”

  Lyre led the way back to ground level and they sped down the street. Ahead, the daemon slipped into the building. Lyre slowed, a shimmer of golden light rippling over him as he cast a cloaking spell. He canted a sideways look at her.

  “Do you need …?”

  She grimaced at the wary edge in his voice, then sighed and pressed a hand to her chest. As she cast the same cloaking spell on herself, he watched with uncomfortable concentration.

  “Identical,” he muttered, shaking his head.

  To her relief, he said nothing else. Since he hadn’t guessed she was a mimic, he must not have been familiar with the rare ability.

  They slipped through the doors and into a wide, empty concourse lined on either side with dark storefronts behind metal cages. Harsh security lights cast the scuffs and cracks in the worn linoleum floor into sharp relief.

  “I can see his aura up ahead,” she murmured.

  They hastened after their target, following as closely as they dared. The daemon, his coat wrapped around him, hurried into a spacious center plaza and stopped beside a rectangular opening in the floor where a staircase descended from the ground level. He glanced around, then trotted down the steps.

  When he didn’t reappear, Clio approached the railing and peeked over the edge, Lyre behind her. Partway down, a plywood barrier was nailed to the walls, blocking any passage to the lower level—but the daemon was gone. She focused her asper, scanning the stairs and wood.

  “It isn’t spelled,” she told him.

  “Let’s take a look.” He led the way down and stopped two stairs up from the barricade, hands on his hips as he surveyed it. His pale hair shone in the security lights, reminding her of the iridescent shimmer of his true form beneath his glamour. And that reminded her of his pointed ears and tattooed cheek—a family mark, the succubi had called it. Her memory plucked up more visceral visions: his teeth dragging across Rosa’s bloody lower lip, his predatory smile, his ravenous black eyes fixed on her.

  Fear trickled through her, but her brain wasn’t done tormenting her yet, because behind the fear came a wave of hot desire. She glanced at Lyre to make sure he wasn’t using aphrodesia. He was focused on the wooden barricade, his aura calm.

  Her breath hissed through her clenched teeth. Regardless of how insanely attractive he was, she would never allow him to kiss her again, let alone anything else. All it would take was one slip of his control, and she would no longer have the ability to say “no,” to say “wait,” to say “stop.” His power was too dangerous, too devastating, and she couldn’t trust it. She couldn’t trust him.

  Shoving those thoughts out of her mind, she focused on the plaza. There were no signs of life, not a sound or a whisper of movement, but a faint chill crept over her, raising gooseflesh on the back of her neck.

  “Aha!”

  Clio jumped and almost fell over backward. Lyre stood beside the plywood wall where a panel shaped like a door hung open on hinges.

  Grinning, he gestured grandly at the entrance. “Now we’re in business.”

  How could his grin still make her heart flutter like an overexcited butterfly? She joined him at the doorway and peered into the darkness on the other side. “Where does it go?”

  “A metro station, I think. The city has an underground train system, but it hasn’t been used in decades.”

  She checked it over with her asper—no sign of magic—then looked at him expectantly.

  His eyebrows rose. “I remember you saying you aren’t afraid of the dark.”

/>   “I’m not.”

  “So you’re waiting for me to go first because …?”

  “Because you’re the big, strong male. It’s only proper that you take point.”

  He rolled his eyes and stepped in front of her. “I can’t decide if you’re being sexist or just plain chicken.”

  She followed him down, moving slowly to allow her eyes to adjust to the dark. The damp reek of mold overtook the stuffy mall smell, and the sound of dripping water echoed off concrete walls. The stairs descended two full stories, and at the bottom, the light leaking from the upper level scarcely penetrated the darkness. A long platform ran alongside a pit where rusting train tracks stretched. Nonsensical graffiti layered the slimy walls and a carpet of grime and garbage covered the cracked floor tiles.

  The platform was empty. So were the tracks. There was no sign of the daemon they’d followed or a gathering of Overworld smugglers.

  “Hmm,” Lyre mused. “Which way, do you think?”

  Which way? There was nowhere to go except back up the stairs. Unless he meant …

  She looked toward one end of the station, then the other. Though the platform ended in a blank wall, the tracks continued, vanishing into pitch-black tunnels.

  “Um.” She swallowed, her mouth dry. “Maybe we should wait for someone else to show us the way.”

  “We don’t have time to hang around.” He tapped his chin, by all appearances unfazed by the prospect of venturing into an inky tunnel. “The breeze is flowing out of the south one, so let’s go that way.”

  “You’re picking a direction at random?” she asked, her voice going higher. “And planning to walk in there with no idea where you’re going?”

  “It’s a straight line, Clio. It’s not like we can get lost.” He smirked. “Are you sure you aren’t scared of the dark?”

  “Yes.” The way her voice quavered wasn’t exactly convincing. “Very sure. I just don’t like … underground darkness very much.”

 
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