Simone let out an elongated breath as she silently wished him luck on that one. "If anyone can make it work, Tate, you can,"
"Yeah, here’s seeing you at the unemployment office soon." He left them to aid the officers in putting out the flames.
Simone watched them work as the true honor of it all sank in. "So that man really was eaten by a demon."
"You didn’t think I made that up, did you?"
"No." She dragged the word out. "Not exactly, anyway." She frowned as she raked her gaze over that body that was made for sin up to those clear, breathtaking eyes. No one would ever guess Xypher was anything other than human, yet she knew better. "Are you really part demon?"
"Why would I lie?"
"I don’t know. Sometimes people do, for no apparent reason."
"But I’m not human."
His being demonspawn at least explained some of his acerbic personality. It also excused it … almost. Then again with him being a demon, she was lucky he was housebroken and not trying to scare everyone they met on the street.
I am bound to a demon … It sounded like a bad sci-fi movie.
Baffled, befuddled, and just plain confused, she went to get his bags where they’d left them on the ground. Right now, she just wanted to go home and get her bearings.
She led them away from the scene, toward her condo.
"Buck up, Sim," Jesse said cheerfully. "At least the demon didn’t eat you."
"Yet, you mean."
Xypher took the packages from her hands, "Don’t worry. I won’t let you get hurt."
"Not unless it means you get a shot at your enemy, right? Then I’m fair game for death."
He didn’t comment.
"All righty then," she said, trying to lighten the mood and not flunk about the fact that he would most likely sacrifice her to aclueve his goal. "Let’s make our way back safely, shall we?"
Xypher nodded as he tried not to think about the fact that he wasn’t so Sure he wouldn’t protect her even at the expense of his vengeance. While he had demon blood in him, he wasn’t completely heartless. Even at his worst, he had a code of ethics and those ethics would not allow Simone to get hurt in the crossfire.
Damn me for it.
Pausing, Jesse gave him a look that told him the ghost didn’t think much about him. He was used to it. The Greek gods had given him the same look once they realized a Sumerian demon was genetically attached to their pantheon.
The moment Xypher had learned to infiltrate dreams and shown his god powers, Zeus had sent his minions out to drag him to Olympus in chains.
Even though Xypher was barely more than a child, Zeus had tried to kill him. But Poseidon had stopped his brother from making that mistake. "The Sumerians are looking for a reason to call out the Chthonians on us. You kill that boy and we’ll all have to answer for it."
The Chthonians were essentially the gatekeepers of the universe. They made sure that the pantheons didn’t war among each other since such things tended to lead to the ultimate destruction of the earth and everyone who called it home.
Zeus had curled his lip at his brother. "Then what would you have me do with him?"
"Strip his emotions and train him like the rest of Phobetor’s brats. There’s no longer anything to fear in an Oneroi. And once he’s trained, we’ll be able to use him to spy on the Sumerians for us."
And so Xypher’s brutal training had begun.
Young and stupid, Xypher had actually thought his father would come to his rescue.
He hadn’t. In fact, it’d been his father who’d helped to beat him and strip his emotions to prove his loyalty to Zeus, If Xypher had been a full demon, they wouldn’t have been able to subjugate him. Unfortunately, he had too much of his father’s blood in him for that.
They’d broken him on a hot summer’s day when he’d decided it would be easier to give in to the training than to suffer any more abuse. AH of his emotions had bled out of him until he was numb to everything. No taste, no smell. Nothing that could induce an emotion.
Honestly, he’d welcomed it. All the years of pain were gone. And at least the Greeks weren’t quite as bloodthirsty as the demons. They hadn’t made him fight for every morsel. Bleed for every comfort.
To be a demon meant to take and destroy. Food was only given to those who could kill for it.
I should have stayed an Oneroi.
Things had been so much simpler then. All he had to do was monitor the sleep of humans. Make sure other Skoti didn’t fixate on one particular human too long. The gods permitted the Oneroi and Skoti to exist so long as they didn’t disturb the balance of the universe or make the human host insane from their dreams.
Whenever the Skoti came too close to breaking those two laws, the Oneroi were sent in to either drive them away or kill them.
It’d been a cushy life.
Until Satara had come to him. A handmaiden to the goddess Artemis, she’d been as beautiful and alluring as any immortal. She’d summoned him into her dreams and there she’d shown him kindness and the softer emotions he’d never experienced before. They’d made love like they were on fire. Her every breath, every touch, had given him pleasure.
When she was with him, he felt alive . . .
Xypher cursed as he remembered the bitch. Sultry and seductive, she’d made him pay dearly for wanting to be something more than what he was. It was a mistake he’d never make again.
He blinked at Simone’s soft voice that interrupted his thoughts. "Never better."
"Dang," Jesse said, leaning closer to Simone. "If that’s his ‘never better’ it makes you wonder what ‘never worse’ looks like, huh?"
She glanced back over her shoulder. Xypher didn’t know why, but there was something utterly charming about her expression and actions.
"Shh, Jesse, play nice. Remember, he can hurt you."
"Yeah, and I want to know right now who I can complain to about that. It just doesn’t seem right."
Xypher narrowed his eyes on him. "How did you get to be a ghost, anyway? You annoy one person too many and they cut your throat?"
"Ha, ha," he said sarcastically. "No, it was a car wreck on a really rainy night as I was talking my girlfriend home from work. The last thing I heard was her telling me to go left at the light. So when the big bright light came, I went left and next thing I knew, I was trapped here on earth."
Xypher rolled his eyes. "That is the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard."
Jesse snorted. "Really? The most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard was this half demon, half god who-"
"Jesse!" Simone snapped. "Again, I feel compelled to remind you that he can hit you and make it hurt. Bad."
That quelled the ghost a bit.
Xypher frowned as he watched the two of them. They were extremely comfortable together . . . like family. He’d never been that close to anyone or anything and it made him wonder what had happened to cause that bond between them. "How did you end up with Simone?"
Jesse laughed. "See, this is where you’d say something like, none of your damned business. But unlike you, I’m nicer than that."
Xypher narrowed his eyes.
An instant later, Jesse tripped as if someone had shoved him from behind.
He caught himself and turned to glare at Xypher. "Hey, Vader, keep your Jedi mind tricks to yourself. That hurt!"
"Yeah, and next time it’ll hurt a lot worse. Now, how did you end up being the personal nuisance for Simone?"
"It was the night my mother and brother were killed," Simone said, her voice betraying a subtle note of sadness, "I was in the hospital, waiting for my dad to arrive, when Jesse came to me and told me not to cry."
Xypher hated to admit it, but it was a nice thing for Jesse to do. "How did they die? Car wreck?"
She shook her head before she wrapped her arms around herself as if to provide comfort or protection from the bad memory. "It was a robbery gone bad. We were coming back from a school play and Tony wanted one of those stupid candy ring pops for a tie at. My mother pulled in to a convenience store to humor him. Since I was sleepy and didn’t feel good, I stayed in the car while they went in. When they didn’t come right back, I lifted myself up in the backseat to see what was taking so long. As soon as I did, I saw two men gunning them down by the counter. I was so scared, all I could do was cover my ears and crawl down behind the front seat to hide. The police found me there a few minutes later when they came. They had to take the seats out to get to me."
Xypher felt like shit. There was no other description. He saw the tears in her eyes and it made him angry that someone would do that to her.
When her gaze met his, the agony in those hazel eyes tore through him like a dagger, "Tony was only seven years old. How could someone open fire on a baby with his mother?"
Xypher looked away, unable to bear the pain and scrutiny he saw in her eyes. "I don’t know."
"You’re part demon. Can’t you give me some insight into such evil?"
"No. As corrupt as I’ve been, I’ve never hurt a child and I never would."
Shifting the bags to one hand, Xypher pulled her to a stop. He wanted to comfort her, but he wasn’t sure how. What did humans do for comfort? Touch?
He reached out to place his hand on her cold, soft cheek. "I’m sorry for your loss, Simone." What surprised him most was that he actually meant it. He really did care.
Simone saw the hesitancy in Xypher’s eyes. The uncertainty. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he was afraid of touching her. She placed her hand over his and gave a light squeeze. "Thank you."
He inclined his head before he dropped his hand. "I didn’t offend you by touching you, did I?"
Jesse made an odd choking noise. "Yeah, but you’re both offending me with all this lovey-dovey crap. Get a room. No wait, don’t. Separate rooms. Both of you!"
Simone shook her head. "Jesse, stop."
Jesse ignored her as he ran ahead. "Oh, look, we’re home. Goody!"
Xypher stepped back as Simone pulled a set of keys out of her pants pocket. She stopped in front of a green steel door that opened into a short, narrow alley before it led to a large courtyard.
She swung the door open and stood back. "Jesse, lead the way while I lockup."
Xypher followed the ghost into the immaculate courtyard that held a couple of stainless steel barbecue skills and a black fountain.
"My condo is straight back." She passed by them and went to a brown door with the number 23 on it.
Xypher followed her into a small lining room. The building was old, but her furniture was new. Decorated in tans and browns the apartment was neatly kept with nothing out of place.
She indicated the back of the house. "There are two bedrooms. Jesse? Will you sleep on the couch?"
He looked horrified by the mere suggestion. "No way! You’re not giving him my room, are you?"
"You don’t really sleep …"
"Well, yeah, but what if I get bored in the middle of the night?"
"You can haunt around the kitchen and living room."
He let out an aggravated squeak. "You make me do that and I’m going to stack furniture and reset your alarm clock."
"And I’ll find an exorcist."
Jesse narrowed his gaze on her. "That would only work on a demon," He sent a pointed stare to Xypher.
"A psychic, then. I’ll go to Madame Selene’s shop in the Square and have her use a banishing spell on you."
"Oh, you would," Jesse accused. "Fine, Grump can sleep in my room, but he better not drool on my pillows. Or sleep nak*d. The last thing I need is to go blind from it."
"I don’t drool."
Jesse appeared pleased by that. "Good. What about the nak*d part?"
"You’re not my type, Jesse."
Jesse screamed before he took off running to the back of the house.
Simons rolled her eyes at Jesse’s antics. He could be aggravating, but honestly, she couldn’t imagine her life without him.
She pulled her coat off and hung it up, then waited for Xypher to do the same.
Once they were down to their shirts and jeans, she indicated the back of her condo with a tilt of her head. "Follow me and I’ll show you the way." She led him toward the back and through the kitchen to where there were two bedrooms "I’m on the right. Your temporary room is the one on the left."
There was a bathroom between them.
Xypher paused as he took in the small place she called home. It was nice and comfortable. Not overly posh, but the perfect size for a woman who lived alone . . . with a ghost.
She took him into Jesse’s room which was painted blue. Xypher was fine with that, but there were posters of bands and monies from the 1980s plastered all over the walls. Lost Boys. Joan Jett. Ferris Bustler’s Day Off. The Damned. Flash Dance. Wendy O. Williams. The Terminator. The Clash. Go-Go’s. Bananarama. It was like a strange time capsule.
Three wooden crates designed for vinyl albums were stacked against the far wall and filled with LPs. On top was an old Pioneer stereo with a turntable. The dresser was scattered with odds and ends, including a Rubik’s Cube, multisided dice, and Atari cartridges. It looked like a teenager’s bedroom from 1987.
Xypher took a minute to let that seep into his consciousness. Most people who had a ghost force itself into their life wouldn’t go to this much effort to make it feel at home. There was even an antiquated Apple computer on the desk by the crates, and an Atari hooked up to the TV.