WICKED PLEASURE

"Castle of Dark Dreams" trilogy, Book 2

February 2007
Berkley

ISBN: 0425203727

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A MAN WHO CAN'T SAY NO

Brynn McNair has spent the last five hundred years of his existence offering his body to any woman who desires him. The evil entity that created him has made sure that if he tries to resist the compulsion to play love slave, he suffers. So it’s no wonder that he thinks of women as his enemy. Until he meets Kimberly Vaughn.

A WOMAN WHO WON'T SAY YES

Kim Vaughn is a demon hunter. It’s a family business and her destiny. But Kim is all about avoiding her destiny. She wants to marry an ordinary guy, have ordinary kids, live in an ordinary house, and work as an architect. No way does she want anything to do with a man who has paranormal connections. Until she meets Brynn McNair.

Kim comes to the Castle of Dark Dreams, the main attraction in a sexy theme park, to plan a few upgrades. She stays to join forces with Brynn and save Galveston from a supernatural takeover. Can a woman who wants to marry Mr. Ordinary and a man who thinks of love as sleeping with the enemy find happiness together? You’d be surprised.

 



 
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CHAPTER ONE

Throbthrobthrob. “You can vibrate all night, Fo, but I don’t feeeeel you.” Kim ignored the frantic pulsing going on in her jacket pocket and concentrated on the Castle of Dark Dreams.

The castle was definitely male. Sensory ripples of overpowering sexuality, danger, and frightening secrets glided over her exposed skin. She smiled. Perfect for a castle, but everything she didn’t want in a man.

Kim still couldn’t believe she’d gotten the job. Her family would go ballistic if they found out she’d broken her promise, but a little sneakiness and lots of creative lying should guarantee they’d never find out. They thought she’d come here to hunt demons. She was really here to live her dream.

Kim pulled the collar of her jacket over her ears. Galveston might not be freezing in March, but a drizzly night could still be miserable and chilly.

“Take me out, Kimmie. I’m your partner, your electronic identifier of all things demonic.”

Kim glanced at her pocket. Fo could express any emotion that suited her annoying little self, and right now she was into an irritating mix of wheedling and whiny.

“Uh-uh. Isn’t going to happen. Your success rate in fingering demons is in single digits, Fo. Remember the White House? The president? Can we say humiliating? Our nation’s Commander and Chief wasn’t amused. Don’t think we’ll be getting an invite to the Oval Office anytime soon.”

Kim continued to admire the castle’s exterior. She had the gut feeling that the Castle of Dark Dreams only came alive when night shadows enveloped it. Words like threatening and brooding came to mind. Even though spotlights bathed it in a brilliant glow, she’d bet its heart still lived in darkness.

Threatening, brooding. Suddenly, she felt uneasy. Nothing physical. Just a faint tap on the door of her consciousness, a warning that anger and desperation waited outside. More disturbing was the darkly erotic flow of something she sensed hiding behind these emotions. An uninvited visitor.

Erotic flow? Okay, so she hadn’t been with a man for a while, but this didn’t feel like a playful gotta-have-some-great-lovin’ moment. This wasn’t ordinary need. It was a compulsion. Not something she’d feel or want to feel. Angry and desperate? Nooo. Sure Dad ticked her off by assuming she’d want to spend the rest of her life in the family business, but that didn’t come anywhere near desperate.

Kim took a deep breath. She was probably way too deep into the castle’s mood. A few in her family were still intuitive to a certain degree, not enough to recognize demons as their ancestors did, but enough to sense things. And yeah, she had a vivid imagination. Still, she’d never experienced this kind of feeling before. For once, she was relieved when Fo spoke.

“Fine, so I made one little mistake. The president forgave you. Besides, all of those cameras and mikes confused my sensors. But this time I’m right. I detect all kinds of supernatural activity here. You need me.” Fo sounded positive about that.

Right. Like she needed a big fat wart on her nose. Kim had passed up the more technologically advanced versions of the Vaughn family’s demon detectors exactly because they, well, detected demons. She hated the family business, so she’d chosen Fo, short for First One, specifically because Fo couldn’t find a demon even if the devil drop-kicked her into hell. This was a good thing. The fewer demons detected, the less demon-destroying Kim had to do. And Kim was all about avoiding her destiny.

A brief pause for conscience-appeasing justifications. Unlike the rest of her family, she hadn’t swallowed whole the belief that every entity identified by her ancestors as evil was a demon. Back when her family used their enhanced sensitivity to root out demonic beings, the Vaughns hadn’t always come down on the side of goodness and light.

She’d found proof in the family’s record books that the accused “demon” was sometimes a very human enemy destroyed under the guise of ridding mankind of evil. Besides, in ancient times all entities painted with the name “demon” weren’t considered wicked or minions of Satan. Her family chose to ignore that fact.

“Kimmie, I sense demons dead ahead. Umm, if you take me out right now I can be ready to destroy the soul-sucking slime-buckets with no muss and no fuss. Then you can just kick their ashes into the grass.”

“Not now, Fo.” Lately, a disturbing trend in the demon-hunting business had further alienated her from her family and relatives. Family heads had decided that the current crop of detectors was behind the curve, that some demons had found a way to circumvent their sensors. The more dedicated hunters hated the safety feature that made it impossible to attempt destruction of anything the detectors didn’t identify as demonic. Fail-safe devices were a pain in the butt.

“The demons are really close, Kimmie. I bet they’re close enough for you to smell their disgusting sulfur breath. What are you going to do?”

“Give them a breath mint.” And so, a few of the far-flung members of the demon-hunting Vaughn family had decided to destroy “evil entities” in the old way, by lopping off their heads with a sword, even if the detectors didn’t agree.

Now, this is where things got sticky. If the demon was manifesting in its true form, no problem. But if the demon had possessed a human, then lopping off a head sort of did permanent damage to the innocent vessel. Some of the Vaughns, though, had no patience with drawn-out exorcisms. What the hey, it was worth some collateral damage to rid the world of evil entities. It was all good to the fanatical few.

“You’ll be sorry you didn’t take me out, Kimmie. While they’re kicking your sorry behind all over the courtyard, I’ll be stuck in your pocket.”

“Uh-huh. Then you’ll be able to lay an I-told-you-so on me as I eat dirt.” Kim wasn’t a destroyer. She was a builder. If she came across something truly evil, and she had proof that it was a malevolent spirit, she’d destroy it. But she wouldn’t make demon-destroying the driving force in her life. There were enough obsessed hunters in her family to more than make up for her lack of enthusiasm. Besides, she intended to have a husband and children someday. She refused to put them in danger from a bunch of ticked off malevolent spirits.

“Just take me out for a minute so I can see everything. How would you like it if someone stuck you in their pocket and forgot about you?” Fo knew how to play the guilt card.

The only flaw in Fo’s reasoning was that she never let Kim forget about her. Surrendering to the inevitable, Kim reached into her pocket, pulled Fo out, and flipped her open. To anyone who didn’t know better, Fo looked like a camera phone. Only Kim knew that Fo’s true function in life was to be a little pain in the butt.

Fo’s small screen lit up, and her huge purple eyes outlined in neon pink blinked open. Fo was not into subtle.

“You know, the whole goal in demon-hunting is to sneak up on the demons. We’re talking low-key here. Cell phones don’t have eyes.” Kim had allowed Fo to have eyes and choose her own eye color. Fine, so she’d said okay to the eyes because she felt conflicted about her demon-detector.

The rest of Kim’s family treated their detectors as necessary pieces of technology like their computers. No angst over the true nature of their demon-hunting tools. But Kim had to constantly hum loudly over an inner voice that tried to whisper AI in her ear.

Everyone in her family had cracked up the one time she’d mentioned the words “artificial intelligence” in relation to Fo. They’d agreed between guffaws that, yeah, Fo was AI all right--Absolutely Ineffectual. Offended for Fo--who of course had no feelings to hurt, who was just the creation of an inept programmer--Kim had never again voiced any doubts about the detector to her family.

“Forget it, Kimmie. I like my eyes.” Fo paused almost as though she was actually...thinking.

Kim rushed to assure herself that Fo wasn’t thinking. Any pause was due to the detector’s flawed innards.

“Look at it from my point of view. I don’t have a body. I don’t have one single physical thing that can express my personality, my individuality. Just my eyes. So purple and pink is who I am.”

Fo was wrong. Her voice was always expressing something. Fo should’ve put a mouth on her screen instead of eyes. Better yet, Kim would feel a lot more comfortable if Fo looked like all of the other demon detectors--no human features, just a screen filled with technical info pertinent to the evil entity in question.

“Be quiet now so I can concentrate on the castle, get a feel for it, absorb its essence.” Okay, so all Kim really wanted to do was wallow in the joy of her first job as an architect.

When Holgarth--not Holgarth Jones or Bob Holgarth, just Holgarth--had written to express the owner’s desire that she be the one to make a few changes to the castle, she’d been thrilled but cautious. When something seemed too good to be true, it often was. So she’d done some investigating and found the offer was legit. Holgarth explained that the owner, whose name he never mentioned, was looking for new and enthusiastic as opposed to experienced and jaded. Well, Kim was certainly new and could out-enthuse anyone. This was a breathtaking opportunity to start her career with a bang.

She turned the screen toward the castle so Fo could see it, too.

As theme park attractions went, this one was awesome. Live the Fantasy Theme Park advertised that it was a place where adults could role-play their fantasies, childhood or otherwise. From the pirate ship to the Wild West street scene, it invited customers to throw away their inhibitions and play.

But the Castle of Dark Dreams was something more. It looked as authentic as everything else in the park--a keep with four square towers, a curtain wall, moat, and drawbridge--but the white walls that imitated the lime-washed color of ancient castles didn’t fool her. This was no Magic Kingdom castle. Its master planner had captured a spirit of danger and mystery in every sharp angle and blunt line. Wonderful. Of course, whatever she did would have to maintain that ominous aura.

“Ooooh! Scary.” Fo was happy again. “I’ll have to do a scan of my systems to make sure I’m ready to off dozens of demons. I like it here.”

Oh, jeez. “Look, Fo, you can’t keep seeing demons behind every bush. I mean, I can’t believe you shouted demon at that woman in the shop we just left. Sparkle Stardust isn’t a demon. She’s just a nice lady who owns a candy store. Sure, her name’s a little strange, but hey, lots of people have unusual names. That doesn’t make them demons.”

She held up her hand to forestall Fo’s interruption. “I know, I know. So my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Ozzlehoot, was a demon. But he was an exception. And Mom took care of him at the first parent-teacher conference. I don’t sense mobs of demons hanging around this castle. Loads of atmosphere but no demons.” Maybe a little too much atmosphere. Kim walked across the drawbridge, through the open gates, and into the courtyard. She paused to look back at the gates. “The castle needs a gatehouse.”

This time when the emotions hit her, they were strong enough to make her gasp--fury, hopelessness, and sexual hunger that wasn’t about pleasure. What the hell...? They weren’t her emotions. And they couldn’t be someone else’s because she was the quintessential ordinary person, other than her job of course. Ordinary people didn’t get slammed with unexplained emotions. Kim gloried in her ordinariness. She had no psychic abilities. Thank God. She pushed the emotions aside to be taken out later and examined from every angle, and then reasoned away.

Fo laughed, a light trill of amusement. “You couldn’t sense a demon even if it tattooed the words malevolent spirit across its forehead.” Pause. “You know, that would be a lot to get on a forehead, but if it had a really wide forehead--”

“Drifting off-topic, Fo.” Kim’s reminder was automatic. Fo jumped from subject to subject like the frenetic zigzagging of a water beetle.

Fo blinked. “Oh, yeah. Anyway, over the centuries, your whole family has lost its ability to sense demons. That’s why you need a demon detector. And Sparkle is a demon, a very old and evil one.”

Kim didn’t bother arguing with Fo. It wouldn’t do any good. Besides, Fo was right about one thing. Kim couldn’t sense demons, didn’t want to sense demons. During her short career as a demon destroyer, she’d used Fo to zap a measly five of the evil entities. And that was only because they’d been really dumb. Even she couldn’t miss a demon when it attacked her in its true disgustingly gross form. Ugh.

Besides, before they’d attacked her, four of them had given her indisputable proof of their demon status. They’d mooned her. Together. And there on all of their repulsive bare butts, she’d seen the imprint of a small bat.

For the last six hundred years or so, demons had taken to imprinting an animal shape somewhere on their bodies, usually on a spot normally covered by clothing. They picked an animal with ambiguous symbolism, one that throughout history had both good and evil connotations, as a representation of their ability to confuse humans. The bat was a sign of good fortune in the East, but it represented demons and spirits in medieval Europe. The animal thing was a stupid affectation because it was just one more way for destroyers to identify them. But then, demons weren’t the brightest sparks in the fire.

“You know, your heart isn’t in this business, Kimmie. Why don’t you quit? You can build big beautiful houses and I can be your interior design consultant.” Fo blinked her large purple eyes. “I’m great with color.”

“Can’t do it.” Kim shuddered at the concept of Fo as interior designer. “I made a deal with Dad. I stay in the family business until I marry. Then I’m gone.” She continued walking toward the massive doors leading into the great hall. Holgarth had overnighted the castle’s blueprints to her, and she’d seen photos on the Web, so she felt she knew every inch of it now. But studying blueprints and looking at photos hadn’t prepared her for the total impact of the place. It was WOW on a gigantic scale.

“Hmmph! At the rate you’re going, you won’t find Mr. Right or even Mr. Sort-of-Okay until you’re a card-carrying AARP member. Not that AARP isn’t a great organization. It gives its members?”

“Floating off-course again.” Kim fixed her attention on the grotesque gargoyles protecting the castle’s doors. Very effective details. But would they really keep evil from entering the castle? Her ancestors thought so.

Only a short distance now and she’d be inside, and hopefully safe from random attacks by weird emotions.

“I knew that. Now what was I talking about...? Oh, I remember. The search for Mr. Right.” Fo narrowed her eyes to indicate her displeasure with Kim’s ongoing, and for the most part futile, hunt for the perfect guy. “What exactly do you want in a man?” Fo’s tone suggested that at the advanced age of twenty-seven, Kim should settle for anything human and male that had the right sexual organs and would marry her. “Just tell me, Kimmie, and I’ll help you find him.”

Kim glanced up at the keep where light streamed from the many arrow slits. “Cool place. Tour the castle, buy stuff in the shops, eat in the restaurant, take part in a fantasy, and then sleep in your cozy chamber for the night. Great view of the Gulf of Mexico, too. Bet this place makes tons of money.”

“I want to talk about Mr. Right.” Fo was in sulky mode.

Kim sighed. “I want an ordinary man so I can have ordinary kids and live an ordinary life.” Qualifications for her perfect mate? He’d never seen a ghost or wanted to see one, never glimpsed a UFO or wondered about alien abductions, and laughed at even the suggestion that vampires, werewolves, or demons existed. And he’d have to have a job that could never ever intersect with the paranormal world.

Chances of her finding and actually settling down with Mr. Ordinary? None. Because he’d be gone as soon as he met her family.

“Sounds sort of boring, but then what do I know about exciting.” Fo’s tone said that if she had a body to go along with her eyes, she’d aim a lot higher than ordinary.

“Forget men. I have to think about the castle. Holgarth wanted me here right away, so I didn’t get a chance to pull together any ideas at home.” She didn’t want to talk about her love life. It gave her a headache. Call her picky, but she couldn’t seem to find a man who rocked her world and fulfilled her perfectly reasonable qualifications. Was she expecting too much? She firmly shut the door in her mind labeled Hunky Normal Husband and concentrated on something more accessible, like getting a quick look at the great hall.

Since Dad had assured Kim that no way was Fo a sentient being, and because Kim had always believed Dad knew everything, it followed that she should put Fo back in her pocket. Kim kept her out. Fo liked to see things.

As she drew nearer to the doors closed against the damp and chill, Kim noticed a corner protected from the spotlight’s glare. Within the shadows lurked a darker shape, massive with no identifiable form. And for the moment it took her to catch her breath, fear rippled through her. Strange emotions, dark shadows--this place was messing with her mind.

Kim glanced around. Castle and surrounding area lit by bright spotlights, people still walking around even in the drizzle. Fear? What was that about? Hello? She was a demon destroyer. Black blobs skulking in the shadows didn’t scare someone who hunted demons. She wasn’t even afraid of a big butt-ugly minion of the Supreme Scumbag. Okay, maybe she was a little afraid. Very little.

Throwing whatever stood in the shadows a casual and totally fearless smile--she was still practicing her totally fearless smile in front of her mirror--Kim reached for the door.

“Do you really want to go inside? You’re not dressed to kill.” The voice was light, female, and amused.

Startled, Kim almost dropped Fo.

The scary blob separated, revealing the shapes of two people, a man and woman. The woman stepped out of the shadows. Short blond hair, a pixie face, and large dark eyes. She looked perky. Kim winced at the description. Ms. Perky’s long black sleeveless dress was slit up the side, plunged low in front, and was set off by the sparkle of diamonds at throat and ears. Silver sandals with four-inch heels helped with the height thing, but Kim figured that she’d barely break five feet two in her bare feet. Wasn’t she freezing to death out here without a coat?

“Dressed to kill?” Kim glanced down. “Well, no, I guess not. Can’t I go in wearing jeans?” Why didn’t the man step out of the shadows?

The woman’s laughter was friendly, her smile contagious. Kim smiled back. Sheesh, how embarrassing. Lucky her family wasn’t here. Kim could see the black-bordered blurb in the family newsletter: Kimberly Vaughn, formerly known as a tiger in the demon-destroying world, has been disowned by her family for the crime of being afraid of her own and other people’s shadows. The Council of Demon Destroyers has reduced her to the rank of scared-rabbit.

Fine, so even on her most ferocious day, Kim would never describe herself as a “tiger of the demon-destroying world.” That title would go to her sister, Lynsay.

“No one will stop you.” The woman inventoried Kim’s outfit. “But you’re still not dressed to kill.”

“Kill?” Kim didn’t get it.

The shadow man hadn’t moved, didn’t seem to even breathe. He certainly wasn’t filled with friendly perkiness. In fact, something about his complete stillness made her shiver. She pulled her jacket more tightly around her.

“Only vampires pass through these doors on a Saturday night.” The woman’s smile widened. “The Castle of Dark Dreams holds a Vampire Ball every Saturday night. Everyone does the basic black clothes and fake fangs thing. Oh, and I’m Liz. I’ve been staying here for a few weeks. Really neat place.” Liz’s expectant pause meant Kim would have to reciprocate with name and trivial info.

“Kim Vaughn, and I’m an architect.” She got an adrenaline rush just saying that out loud. “The owner hired me to plan a few additions to the castle. So we’ll probably run into each other again.”

“I’ll only be here for two more days, but I’ll look for you.” She slid her tongue across her lower lip. Liz sounded really eager, and her smile was really friendly, but Kim decided that something about Liz and Shadow Man was really creeping her out. Probably just a byproduct of the last few minutes’ weirdness and her scared-rabbit syndrome.

Fo’s paranoia must be catching. “Guess I’ll go in and take a peek at the great hall.” Kim reached for the door again.

“Psst, Kimmie.”

Damn, Kim had forgotten she was still holding Fo.

“Uh, she’s a demon.”

Kim glared at Fo.

“I’m whispering. She can’t hear me.” Fo looked aggrieved that Kim didn’t appreciate her attempt to be discreet.

Kim cast Liz a cautious glance. Yep, Liz had heard Fo. “It’s just my cell phone. My brother did some creative programming. He has a warped sense of humor.” She hoped her smile said amused embarrassment.

Kim never found out what Liz thought of her brother’s warped sense of humor because at that moment the man stepped from the shadows.

Oh. My. God. Kim felt frozen in place, not able to close her mouth or blink as she got her first look at him. At the same moment, the emotions struck again with enough force to almost bring her to her knees.

“Umm, Kimmie? Did you hear me? I said she’s a D-E-M-O--”

Kim flipped Fo shut and crammed her back into her pocket, all without taking her gaze from the man. She couldn’t reason away what she’d just felt. Even as she stared at him, she could feel her ordinariness trickling away, and she hated him for that. Because the emotions were coming from him. She knew it, felt it on a primitive level.

He narrowed his gaze on her, through her, to the confused person inside. She tried to rub away a slight pressure between her eyes. Great. A sinus headache would complete the night.

“So your cell phone thinks Liz is a demon?” His voice was a husky murmur that would be right at home on a foggy London street at midnight, quietly menacing with a promise that danger could be deliciously tempting.

Kim forced herself to blink before her eyeballs dried out. “It thinks everyone’s a demon.” True. “My brother programmed it to accuse people of being demons as a joke.” Not true.

“The laws of probability would suggest that it might be right sometimes.” His soft laughter shivered along all of her nerve endings. “If demons existed.”

He leaned closer to her, but she couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. Thankfully, the scary emotions had disappeared. She didn’t question why.

But holy cow, would you look at him. Six feet plus of broad-shouldered hard-muscled body. Fine, so she couldn’t testify to any bare-body specifics because he was wearing a black tux and what looked like a black silk shirt. But only a hard-muscled body would do justice to that face.

Kim drew in a deep breath before she turned as purple as Fo’s eyes. “Sure. If demons existed. They don’t, so the message is a big ha-ha.”

Right now demons weren’t on her personal radar screen. Where did great looking cross the line into spectacular? This guy not only had leaped across the spectacular line but was closing in fast on unbelievable. No one looked this good. If he were a building, he’d be the Chrysler Building in New York City, one of her personal choices for most magnificent building in the world.

Liz moved up to put a proprietary hand on his arm. “We need to get going, Brynn.”

The man, Brynn, deliberately glanced at his watch. “Not yet.” He didn’t look at Liz, and his words were shards of chipped ice. Didn’t sound too lover-like to Kim. In fact, he moved away from Liz’s grasp and closer to Kim.

While Brynn was eyeing the time, Kim was ogling him. Hey, scenery this good came along once in a millennium. She couldn’t tell much about his hair other than it was at least shoulder-length, because he’d pulled it away from his face and secured it with a leather tie. In the uncertain mixture of light and shadow she wasn’t sure about its color. Maybe rain-darkened blond.

He shifted his attention back to Kim. “You don’t believe in demons, but let’s say they existed, in theory of course. And just for the hell of it, let’s say your cell phone could really identify them. Would your cell phone also be able to destroy them?”

There was a dark eagerness to his question that would’ve normally registered on her really-weird scale, but she was still too wrapped up in the glory of his face.

“Yeah, I guess so.” His face. If you just listed each feature--firm jaw, full lower lip, wide-spaced eyes--you might dismiss him as merely another example of yummy maleness in a world loaded with delish guys.

This man had all the intangibles, though. Every woman who ever looked at him would recognize his sensual, dangerous, and primal call. Kim didn’t know many women who wouldn’t answer. He was simply perfect. And since Kim never trusted perfect in an imperfect world, she was instantly suspicious.

Uh-huh. Time for a teeny tiny bit of self-honesty here. If Mr. Sinfully Sexy crooked his perfect finger, she’d probably leap on him, knock him down right here in front of the castle, rip his clothes from his body, and have her wicked way with him. Kim took a deep calming breath. Yeah, she’d still be suspicious, but who said she couldn’t have a good time while she waited for him to do something dastardly, hmm?

“Come on, Brynn. I’m cold and it’ll be time in,” Liz leaned over to glance at his watch. “five minutes.”

She sounded whiny, and the malicious enjoyment Kim got from the thought surprised her. And what exactly would happen in five minutes?

“You may as well go back inside, Liz, because I want to talk to Kim for a few minutes about her cell phone. In fact, I guess I’ve officially been with Kim for the last four minutes. So all bets are off. Enjoy the rest of your night.” More shocking than Brynn’s terse dismissal of Liz, was Liz’s response.

“You’ll pay for this next time.” She didn’t look perky anymore, just royally pissed off. “I’m starved.” Liz speared him with her gaze, and Kim couldn’t remember ever seeing such open sexual hunger on any woman’s face. She cast Kim a speculative glance before turning and striding away from the castle, anger in every click of her heels.

Away from the castle? Didn’t they have food inside? Maybe she didn’t want food. Kim figured Liz had a pretty healthy appetite for Brynn’s body. Say something. “Uh, this is probably none of my business, but I think I missed something.”

He lifted his face to the light breeze that had suddenly kicked up and closed his eyes. “Liz and I play a game each night. She lost this time.” He opened his eyes and then stepped closer.

For the first time she got a good look at his eyes in the full light...and forgot to breathe. The Big Bang theory became real for Kim in that moment, because looking into Brynn’s eyes opened up a whole new personal universe for her.

She was surprised he couldn’t hear the kaboom kaboom of her heartbeat. Kim controlled the need to flatten her hand over the organ in question so it wouldn’t leap from her chest. Chasing your heart down the street would be so not cool.

There were a thousand stories in his eyes, and they were all sexual. Color? Old whiskey held up to candlelight so that the rich gold shone through--potent, ageless, and... Warm should be the next word on her list. It wasn’t. Every emotion she’d felt just a few minutes ago shone in those eyes. Cold. So cold. She exhaled sharply and shivered.

Forcing her gaze away from those eyes, she tried to concentrate on what he was saying.

“You saved me from a night of mindless sex.” He didn’t smile when he said it.

Mindless sex? The men she’d known would salivate like Pavlov’s pooch at the mention of mindless sex. She didn’t understand him, and she certainly didn’t understand his emotions that had sort of wandered off course and found her. “Gotcha. Well, I guess I’ll take a peek into the great hall. Are you coming in, too?”

“No.” His gaze drifted beyond her into the night. “I think I’ll walk for a while. There’s a certain pleasure in aloneness. Don’t you feel it? The quiet. The peace.” His voice was smoke, sex, and warm secret places.

She would’ve believed his voice if she hadn’t looked into his eyes first. Warm wasn’t part of his agenda. Kim finally managed to move. She stepped back. Standing too close to those waves of pheromones couldn’t be good for her sensual well-being. “You’re right. I wouldn’t mind being alone more.” She couldn’t help it if she sounded a little wistful. She was supposed to keep Fo with her all the time, and the detector didn’t have an off button. So essentially Kim was never alone.

She had a feeling that his “alone” meant something else. Could a man ever get too much female adoration? The thought was revolutionary. But Kim could almost imagine what would happen inside the castle if all the women knew he was outside by himself. There’d be a bloody catfight, dozens of women scratching and clawing at each other. The winner would eventually drag her battered body out here to claim her prize. Kim frowned. Something touched her that felt uncomfortably close to envy.

“Would you mind if I took a quick look at your cell phone before you go inside?” He’d shifted closer again, invading her space, bringing with him the scent of wicked joys and dark fantasies.

“Oh, sure.” She reached for her real cell phone in her other pocket and prayed he hadn’t seen which pocket held Fo.

“I don’t think so.” He covered her hand with his larger one, and she swore she felt the heat from his touch all the way to her backbone. “I think this is your talkative little phone.” He dipped his fingers into her other pocket and pulled out Fo.

Damn. Kim snatched Fo from his fingers, flipped the detector open so he could see, and hoped for a miracle. One in which the screen remained blank and Fo remained silent.

It wasn’t her night for miracles. Fo’s huge purple eyes blinked open, and she stared at Brynn. Only the slight widening of Fo’s eyes gave warning, but Kim knew what was coming and was helpless to stop it. Now Kim knew how the Wicked Witch of the East had felt just before Dorothy’s house flattened her.

“Woohoo! DemondemonDEMON!” Fo’s small metal case pulsed with excitement. “Big beeeautiful DEMON. Can we keep him for a while before we destroy him? Huh, can we?”

Kim closed her eyes and wished for an out-of-body experience. Preferably one that would take her at least a mile from this man. “I’m already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth, Fo.” Kim’s hissed threat didn’t seem to slow down Fo’s happy vibrating.

All right, she’d have to open her eyes sometime. He’d either be surprised or amused. Those were the usual responses to one of Fo’s outbursts. Except for the president’s secret service. It took a lot to surprise or amuse them. Fo had barely escaped with her nano-parts intact.

Drawing in a deep breath of courage, Kim opened her eyes. Then blinked. He was fascinated. Really fascinated. He carefully removed Fo from her nerveless fingers.

“It’s a joke. It’s only a cell phone. My brother programmed her, umm, it, to say that. It didn’t mean what it said. I mean, she’s, uh, it’s not real, so it didn’t know...” Shut up. Kim closed her mouth and waited for his response to that bit of hysteria.

He narrowed his eyes as he studied Fo. Fo studied him right back. “What happens if I press this button?” He indicated the red destroy button.

“Not much. A little noise, a little light. Pretty harmless.” Unless you’re a demon. “The whole thing’s a gag. I’ve been trying to tell you that.”

She reached for Fo and then watched in horror as his finger hovered over the red button. The demon-destroying beam would get him right in the face. It wouldn’t kill a human, but it would blind him for about a half hour. She didn’t need to start her new job with him clutching his face and accusing her of trying to kill him.

Kim ripped Fo from his fingers. “It was great meeting you, but it’s chilly standing out here.” She clicked Fo shut and put the detector back into her pocket.

She refused to meet his gaze, but Kim sensed his amusement...and something more, something darker.

“When you’re ready to go in, just press that button and someone will greet you.” He pointed to a button beside the doors. “Welcome to the Castle of Dark Dreams, Kim.” Then he turned and strode away.

Bemused, she watched him until he disappeared in the darkness, and then she reached for the doorbell.

“Would you like a brochure, dearie?” The voice behind her said old and wizened.

Kim gave a startled squeak and leaped away from the door. Okay, so with everything that had happened tonight she had a right to be jumpy. She turned to meet the sharp gaze of a walking stereotype.

The woman looked old. Very old. Her white hair was short with waves that marched across her head in perfect order. Small wire-framed glasses perched on the end of her nose. A round face, faded blue eyes, a small mouth, and many many wrinkles completed the picture of everybody’s grandmother.

Trouble was, Kim’s grandmother didn’t look like this. Grandma was slim, trim, and stylish with great hair. She’d threatened to give all her money to cat charities unless her family promised to make sure when they laid her out that no gray roots showed and that she had fresh highlights. Grandma wasn’t going to knock on the pearly gates looking like a night hag.

Kim glanced down at the brochure the woman held out to her. The grandma image continued. White cardigan, baggy flowered dress that showed the tops of knee-highs when the wind caught the edges of her skirt, and black chunky shoes.

Kim took the brochure because she didn’t want to insult the woman. “Thanks.”

The woman smiled at Kim. It was a prim smile. “I’m Miss Abby. Taught first grade for thirty-five years here in Galveston. Kids’ll either kill you or make you stronger. I got stronger. When I retired, I started my own business. Ye Olde Victorian Wedding Chapel. I’ll marry you in style.”

What to say? “Umm, I don’t think--”

“That’s the trouble today, youngsters don’t think. Keep the brochure. You never know when you might meet the perfect young man and want to hitch up with him in a hurry. In my day, young ladies didn’t just up and marry someone fast unless they were in a family way. But times change.” Her expression said not for the better.

Family way? Who said things like that nowadays? “I guarantee I won’t be needing a wedding chapel.” Not unless Mr. Ordinary popped out of the castle wall.

The woman waved at her. “Keep the brochure. Pass it on if you can’t use it.” She walked past Kim. “I have to leave a pile of them in the lobby. Get a lot of business from the castle.”

Strange. Miss Abby’s walk was a lot more chipper than the rest of her. But a faint squeaking distracted Kim from Miss Abby’s walk. Birds? Not at night. “Do you hear a squeaking noise?”

Miss Abby glanced back at Kim. “That’s my girdle, dearie. Every lady should wear one.” Her gaze said no girdle, no lady. She didn’t give the button a second glance as she pulled the door open and disappeared inside.

Kim was on Miss Abby’s slut list, but somehow she couldn’t drum up the energy to care. She’d take a look at the great hall and then spend the rest of her night trying to reason away Brynn’s very scary emotions that had scraped off on her.

Finally, she noticed the whispering coming from her pocket.

“She’s a demon, Kimmie. I’ve been trying to tell you, but you weren’t paying attention.” Pregnant pause. “Some day a demon is going to get you, and you’ll be dead, dead, dead. And I’ll make sure they put ‘I told you so. Love, Fo,’ on your tombstone.”

Kim sighed. “What a sweetheart.” She pushed the button.

 

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