Demon from the Dark

Chapter 37

Information. He wanted it and thought the girl could give it to him - though he hadn't encountered a child in centuries and had no idea how to deal with one.

But how difficult could it be?

As he strode down a natural trail, she jogged to keep up, out of breath, yet still chattering. She reminded him of the witch in Oblivion, talking to herself as they'd hiked to his mine.

What doesn't remind me of the witch? He'd spent the morning fruitlessly searching for a more defensible position, all the while thinking about Carrow until he'd wondered if he could go mad from it.

In his dank mine, Malkom had stared at her for hours, trying to determine what she reflected on when her eyes had grown soft. He'd found it so damned exciting to be with her. Rewarding.

Now what he felt for her was so raw it frightened him.

"Find a place to sit," he told the girl. "I'm digging here." A pit trap would do nicely on this path.

If not for the concentrated number of immortal enemies, he'd have considered this island a good place to live. Mist cloaked the sun, and even if it emerged as it had the day of his capture, Malkom could keep beneath the cover of trees. The vast forest surrounding them teemed with animals, sluggish creatures that seemed to go out of their way to be seized. Even more jumped in the water, taunting him to catch them.

Already, he'd drunk more blood than he would have over several days in Oblivion....

The child sat on a root that grew above the ground. "Why're you digging there?"

"Good place for a trap. So others cannot get to the ... peninsula."


"Anyone who wants to come to the house will have to walk on either this path or one other."


Ignoring her "uestions, he began shoveling. "So tell me about Carrow - "

"You really can't swim? What's your job? You look like a fireman." Her eyes lit up. "Firemen have deaf dogs." She sighed. "I want a dog."

She must have caught her breath. Malkom tried to keep up with her words, growing more alarmed by her each second. "Ruby," he said, injecting a note of sternness into his tone. "I want you to answer some "uestions about Carrow. Does she have a man?"

"Like a boyfriend? Crow's got tons of boyfriends. They're always coming around the coven."

He clenched the shovel handle, just preventing himself from rendering it to dust. I will put their heads on pikes.

"Crow's one of the most beautiful witches we've got in our coven." Getting a sly look about her, Ruby said, "You think she's pretty, too."

"She is" -??beyond compare - "appealing enough," he said. "Do others think well of her?" Or was she as hated as he'd been?

"Everybody loves her because she's fun. Everybody wants to be friends with her."

Malkom knew how much fun she was. He'd seen her disrobing for hundreds of males, was certain any one of them would want to befriend her.

He stabbed the shovel down. "How long have you known her?"

"I've known Crow forever. She's always bringing me things," she said. "But she's rutterless."

"What does that mean?" he asked, astonished when water began to trickle up from the bottom of his hole. 'Twas everywhere here. Malkom was beginning to love this place of plenty.

When he was young he'd wanted three things. A home that no one could ever force him to leave. As much food and water as he could ever enjoy. To be noble and respected like Kallen.

Here he could satisfy at least two of those desires.

"It means she didn't have anything," the girl said, then added proudly, "Not until me."

Malkom began to put it together. Carrow's own parents had treated her so callously that the idea of mothering a child in need called to her. Could he hate her for this?

For that matter, could Malkom turn his back on this girl? She was seven years old. Roughly my age when I no longer had a mother, my age when fate began punishing me.

"What happens when you return home?" he asked her. "Who will provide for you?" When her brows drew together at the "uestion, he said, "How will you buy things?"

"Carrow makes a fortune off her spells."

A fortune. He'd known she'd come from money, but he hadn't wanted to acknowledge that she had wealth in her world - whereas he would not.

"We're going to get a pad."

"A pad?"

In a singsong tone, she answered, "A house. Like a lily pad. We're going to have parties. It has a pool. She said we can invite you over."

Invite him over. The witch didn't plan to reside with him? On this island, she would be forced to. Here, he could provide for her. He had no guarantee of it in her world.

The girl had collected some insect on her hand, letting it roam as she tilted her hand this way and that. Weren't little females supposed to be scared of such creatures? He thought back, searching his memory, but he could recall only the young demonesses who'd laughed as he'd eaten from their garbage. He remembered being stung with humiliation.

He shoveled harder, wanting to lose himself in his task.

"You really come from a world with no water?" she asked. "Do you miss it?"

Without looking up, he said, "There was little water. And no, I do not miss it."

"I bet you miss your friends. I miss mine."

Digging faster. "I had no friends."

"What? You have to have friends. You don't have a gang? I have a gang of witches. We meet in the attic. Elianna - she's my nanny - she says we're going to take over the world." Ruby took a breath, then said, "Did you have a family?"

"None. I left no one behind." His pit was as deep as his chest, water now past his ankles.

"No parents?"

Exasperated, he ceased digging. "No, Ruby, my mother was killed, and - "

"So was mine," the girl interrupted in a shocked tone. "The humans did it." She gazed away, her bottom lip trembling.

Malkom's eyes went wide; he dreaded her tears more than he would a kick to the teeth.

When Ruby stemmed her tears, wiping her nose on her sleeve, he felt abject relief - and a grudging respect for the girl.

"Did the humans kill your mom, too?"

He exhaled. "No, child, it happened long ago."

His respect for Ruby grew when she murmured, "I'm going to hurt the people who did it."

"I believe you will one day," he said honestly. And who would make sure she was prepared to exact her revenge, skilled and strong enough to punish without being harmed herself? "But you cannot go after them, unless you're ready and know you will win."

She canted her head. "How will I know?"

I could make sure. I could help you get vengeance. "I am sure your coven will teach you. Or Carrow will."

"You know, you're just like me. We both lost our moms and now we both have Crow."

Wanting to change this subject, he asked, "What are your powers?"

"I'm like Crow, in the same three castes as her." When he motioned for her to go on, she said, "Warrior, enchantress, and conjurer. But I can't do anything with this collar on." She glared down at it.

He'd already known Carrow was an enchantress, just hadn't known that was a literal power. He wished he could believe that she'd enthralled him to desire her, but what he felt for her was too consuming to be a mere spell. "Carrow's magic seems to come and go." Last night, she'd told him that her collar had been turned off in Oblivion. So why had her magic been so unpredictable?

"I guess." Ruby shrugged. "If she doesn't have a source."

"A source? Of power?"

"I'm not supposed to tell anyone."

Eking out an awkward smile, he faced her. "But 'tis only me, child."

With a suspicious expression, she said, "Why'd you tell me you were married to Crow?"

His shoulders stiffened, feigned smile gone. "I am."

"I asked her if you were."

In as unconcerned a tone as he could manage, he asked, "And what did she say?"

"She said that even if you were, you wouldn't want to be with her."

So Carrow hadn't denied it. And last night, she'd acted as if she'd wanted him to claim her. When he'd told her to leave him alone, he'd seen her disappointment.

It would be easy to believe she wanted to start a life with him. Easier still to believe that she'd been ready to feign affection for his protection.

Sounds familiar.

"But I think you do want to be with her," Ruby said. "You were sad on the beach last night when she was hurt."

Sad? He was nigh out of his mind with worry, anguished.

Yet there were two issues with the witch. Malkom couldn't bear to lose her; he was definitely going to lose her. Once she found out about his past or returned to her home...

And he didn't know if he could ever believe in another again. It only brought misery.

I will get through this hour by hour, denying myself what I want most.

"We talked about you last night."

"Did you?"

"Yeah, if you're married to Crow and she's adopting me, then you do, too. You're my stepdemon."


"Yeah, like a stepdad who's a demon."

Stepdad was some kind of father? Why had Carrow told the child these things? To put pressure on him? She had a lot of nerve, assuming he'd provide for her and her adopted one. Without even asking him.

Malkom ran his hand over his face. Why would Carrow want him for this role?

Why do you think, fool???She and the child were both defenseless here.

When Ruby's stomach growled, he immediately looked up. "You are hungry."

She grinned sheepishly. "Uh-huh."

He gazed from his half-finished pit back to the child, then exhaled. "What do you usually eat, then?" He would return and complete this later.

"I like dinosaur chicken nuggets, pizza sticks, tangelos, and organic juice boxes."

Puzzled, he asked, "Are those things here?" She shook her head. "We could catch something to eat."

She shot to her feet, eyes wide. "I love catching things! I catch frogs and spiders and green snakes!"

"Very well." He took his shovel, climbing from the pit. As he passed her, she stuck her hand up to him.

He frowned at it. "What? Did you hurt yourself?" Carrow would have his head -

Ruby slipped her tiny hand into his.

He gazed down in consternation, about to draw away. Why would the child do such a thing? I do not understand this.

She peered up at him. "Aren't we going?"

Though he felt a hint of that uncomfortable tightness in his chest, he said, "We are going, deela." And he kept her hand in his grasp.

Carrow was pensive in the wooden tub, and not just because she was afraid of getting splinters in all the wrong places.

Earlier she'd tried yet again to get her tor"ue off, this time using rope and a tourni"uet system. She'd almost asphyxiated, yet the collar hadn't budged. With a bitter curse, she'd accepted that she would be magicless until she returned home.

Now she sat with her knees to her chest, lathering her hair, contemplating how she might get back in the demon's good graces. She was used to being well liked. She didn't go around putting mittens on destitute kittens or saving nuns from a nuclear winter, but she tried to do right. Surely the demon would thaw to her, would recognize that she'd acted out of necessity.

Though he was angry with her, she knew he still cared. She recalled his reaction on the beach, faintly hearing him pleading for her to wake up. Just thinking about that made her toes curl.

But she didn't have time to let things sort themselves out naturally. She'd realized two things today. First, this being powerless and dependent on a male sucked worse than being in the "great outdoors." And second, she needed the demon to be firmly on their side - now - so they could escape this place as soon as possible.

Among all the other threats, La Dorada could still be out there, with her trained Wendigos.

When Carrow was little, she used to have nightmares about those creatures. They were ravenous, eating any living thing they came across, mortal or immortal, falling upon it in a frenzy. And worse than being eaten alive was joining their number. Sustain a single bite or scratch, and within days...

Carrow trusted Malkom to keep her and Ruby safe in the short term, but how long would it be until the contagious members of the Lore overran the entire island?

She scooped water up over her head, beginning to rinse her hair, imagining what would happen once the three of them returned to New Orleans. What would Malkom's life be like? She knew he'd have a job at least. With his strength, speed, and healing ability, he'd be so in demand as a mercenary it wouldn't even be funny.

Would the other demons who lived there accept him as one of their own? The witches would, eventually. Mari and Elianna would adore him once they heard he'd saved Carrow's and Ruby's lives repeatedly -

Ruby's shriek rang out.

Carrow bolted out of the tub, suds dripping down her face as she blindly sprinted out of the cabin and down the stairs. Outside in the sprinkling rain, she heard another shriek.

"Ruby!" She followed the sound through the woods to the calm side of the cape, screaming, "Where are you?" Brush scraped her bare legs. "Ruby! Answer me. ..." Carrow trailed off when she spotted them, her tension fading as she took in the scene.

On the beach, Ruby s"uealed and laughed as she dodged fish flapping all around her feet.

Malkom was shirtless, knee-deep in the water, easily hand-catching them to toss up on the shore. And Carrow could have sworn he'd been sporting a grin until she ran out.

Carrow ran her forearm over her eyes, stepping back behind a waist-high bush. She wrapped her other arm over her chest. "You scared me."

"We're fishing, Crow!"

And I nearly had a heart attack, Ruby. "That's good, honey." Her irritation vanished when she realized this had to be Ruby's first real laugh since her mother had died.

Carrow gazed at Malkom, wanting to thank him again, but his heated look robbed her of breath. Ruby hadn't seemed to notice - or care - that Carrow was naked.

But Malkom...

As he hastily backed into deeper water, his eyes flickered black, his lips parting. And gods, she responded. His tanned skin was damp, the sculpted muscles in his torso flexing with his movements, that tattoo twining up his body. I used to follow it with my mouth.

Once she could pry her eyes upward, even his face made her want to sigh. His blond stubble, those chiseled features, that wicked mouth. But when she bit her bottom lip, he jerked his gaze away, scowling.

Oh, well, Rome wasn't built in a day, she thought breezily, delighted to see his interest was as marked as ever. He definitely still wanted her. "Fish on," she called. As she sauntered back to the cabin, she felt his eyes return to her, burning like a brand.

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