Authors: Stacia Kane
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Women Psychics, #Chase; Megan (Fictitious Character), #Paranormal Fiction, #Contemporary, #Murder, #Demonology, #Crime, #Women Psychologists, #Occult & Supernatural, #Paranormal
“You need to have faith in yourself, Ted, you don’t need an exorcism, you just need—”
“Thanks, Dr. Chase, but I have to go. Lily’s waiting for me in the car, and we’re about to head over to see the reverend.” He stood up and held out his hand.
Megan took it and, with it, the visions that came when she lowered her shields: Ted’s wife, Lily, convincing Ted this exorcism thing was the answer to their problems. Why had Ted never told her how deeply religious Lily was becoming over the last six months? The shadowy face of a man—Reverend Walther, she assumed. A face she instinctively disliked, but whether that was because she thought he was a charlatan, because he was lying to one of her patients, or because of some other reason, she didn’t know.
And at that moment she didn’t particularly care. It was barely quarter past two on a beautiful July day, and all she wanted to do was go home, crawl under the covers, and stay there.
“If you ever need anything . . . you can always give me a call.” She dropped his hand. “I’ll still be here.”
“Well, thanks again,” he said.
They stood for an awkward moment, unsure how long to keep shaking hands or if they should do more or what. Rather like greeting a long-lost cousin you’d never really liked. Should you forget the time he locked you in the basement and kiss him anyway because he was family, or did you treat him like any other stranger? How thick was that blood anyway?
Not so thick in this case or, rather, nonexistent. Ted let go of her hand, nodded, and let himself out the little exit door, leaving Megan with an open forty-minute window and plenty to think about during it. Including the FBI.
Her first instinct was to reach for the phone, but she stopped herself before her fingers closed over the receiver and slumped back in her desk chair instead. Greyson wasn’t available today anyway, right? In meetings all day.
Sure, he’d still answer if she called or if she texted and said it was an emergency. But it wasn’t an emergency. Having a shitty day—or a decent day that had suddenly plummeted into the depths of shittiness—wasn’t an emergency. Neither was the FBI agent, although the “We have a deal for you” angle was new.
The information about the Bellreive . . . now, that might be important. Extremely important. Contrary to what she’d told Agent Reid, there was indeed a meeting there the following week, one which Megan was absolutely attending.
She had to. All of the Gretnegs were attending, and that meant her. Taking over the Yezer Ha-Ra family—more technically known as a Meegra in the demon tongue—meant more than simply an unusual and sometimes awkward situation for a psychological counselor to find herself in. It meant learning to work with the other Gretnegs, trying to balance friendly relations with them against the desire to keep herself removed from some of their . . . well, more interesting activities.
What Megan did not enjoy about dealing with demons was exactly what they lived for: fucking with humanity, leading them astray, and in most cases making a damned good living from it. The Meegras were like the Mafia, only with a lot less trouble hiding the bodies; a fire demon could reduce a corpse to ash in less time than it took her to sear a steak.
Which was probably not the best analogy to use, now that she thought about it, especially not as she’d planned to have steaks with
fire demon that very night.
Sort of. Sort of hers.
The less she considered that question, the better.
She rested her head on her forearms on the desk. Only one appointment left; she was closing early on this particular Thursday and taking Friday off. She was off for the next week, although technically her birthday was an excuse rather than the reason. The reason was the meeting, and the meeting was now in jeopardy. Oh, who was she kidding? They wouldn’t cancel it. They certainly wouldn’t change the location. The Bellreive was the most expensive and luxurious hotel in the city, and the other Gretnegs would just as soon slice off their own heads as stay in an inferior hotel.
Seemed rather silly to her, to stay in a hotel for a week when everyone involved had perfectly nice homes right nearby. Well, no.
had a perfectly nice home. The other Gretnegs had mansions.
But the politics behind who hosted what on which day and how many servants and assistants everyone needed and would be allowed or whatever had proved too frustrating, and thus the Bellreive was being used as a compromise. Everyone could make their own arrangements and stay in whatever suites they liked. It had taken almost two months to get everyone to agree and to get everyone booked, and now . . . shit, where would they go?
Maybe they’d cancel the damn thing altogether, which wouldn’t bother her. It wasn’t as if she had a lot to do there, since she refused to get involved in Meegra money schemes. In fact, she’d prefer them to cancel, since she knew one topic of discussion was bound to be the Haiken Kra ritual and why she hadn’t done it yet.
They all wanted her to. Wanted her to allow the piece of demon inside her, nestled by her heart, to grow. Wanted her to magically somehow become demon, or at least more demon than human. A demon majority, as it were, right there in her body.
She didn’t want to do it. She’d come close to it back in December, when she’d had to allow the demon—not just the demon but the part of her that connected to the Yezer—to grow. She’d thought at the time that might have actually been the Haiken Kra and that the decision had been made without her actively having to make it, but no. It had consolidated the demon, had set its power on a direct path, but it hadn’t physically made her a demon.
It had simply defined her. Psyche demon. A demon with mental powers, not physical ones. It had turned her own gifts into something far more intense, but it hadn’t gone farther than that.
A happy medium, in her opinion. Not so in those of the other Gretnegs. Why doing the ritual was so important to them she had no idea. And she liked it that way.
“You don’t look very happy.”
She raised her head, every inch an effort, like hand-winching up a drawbridge. Oh, good. Just what she needed when she was feeling down. “Hi, Roc.”
“I thought you had an appointment with Ted.” The little demon’s eyes darkened for a second, becoming little more than marbles in his dark green face. Rocturnus, who was both her assistant—for lack of a better term—and her own personal demon, liked Ted. Or liked Ted’s problems. For him it was the same thing.
“Ted’s not coming anymore.”
“Oh?” Another little flash in the eyes. Not because of Ted this time but because of her.
“Would you not do that, please? Not while you’re looking right at me. It bugs me.”
Roc shrugged. “We have a deal. I help you, and in exchange I get to feed off you. You’re upset, that’s food for me. I’d think you’d be used to it by now.”
“You think that because you have all the empathy of a piece of newspaper. I mean it, Roc. Feed off me if you must, but do you have to let me see you do it? It’s weird.”
“You feel it anyway. What difference does it make?”
Her arms tightened around her, an unconscious hug that she stopped the moment she realized what she was doing. Yes, she did feel it now. She hadn’t before, but now she did. One of the dubious joys of her new . . . demon-ness? Whatever. “I just wish you didn’t enjoy my personal problems so much.”
“Hey, it’s not like you’ve been awash in misery lately. I take it where I can get it.”
for you the other night! And cried. Which I hate doing. Just because you said you were feeling light-headed.”
“Yeah, that was good. Maybe tonight we can do it again?”
He was impossible. No, he wasn’t; that wasn’t really fair of her. Roc was what he was, and, in a way, so was she. As she looked at him, a little warmth that could only be fondness stole over her heart.
He frowned. “You’re not playing fair. That’s useless to me, you know.”
“Fine. I’ll think about Ted some more, if you promise not to look at me. He’s gotten himself mixed up with one of those exorcists. A faith-healer type.”
Roc giggled. “Really?”
“It’s not funny, Roc. He could get hurt. He honestly believes he’s possessed, that some demon is, I don’t know, stealing his strength or whatever. When I read him, he seemed to think it was dragging him down somehow.”
Roc’s wizened little face wrinkled even further as he fought his grin. “You do realize—”
“Yes, but not like how you guys do it. He thinks of it as something inside him that controls him. He thinks he doesn’t have a choice.”
Roc finally stopped smiling. “But choice is the most important part. If there’s no choice there’s no victory, and if there’s no victory it’s like . . . like cookies without frosting.”
Not exactly the tack she was hoping he would take, but at least he was getting the point. Mostly. “Right. But I’ve seen these guys on TV before. It can be really dangerous, even without the psychological damage it can do. Some of those men tie their subjects down, they don’t feed them or give them water for hours on
end . . . I think people might have died, if I remember correctly.”
She was sure she did. Something else she’d seen on that TV newsmagazine? Perhaps that was why they’d done the story to begin with?
She’d google it later. Thinking about being tied up without food or water made her think of torturous interrogations, which made her think of the FBI. Which didn’t make her happy, which also caused the slight shiver down her spine that told her Roc knew she wasn’t very happy and was having himself a nice little snack. Ugh. The less she thought about that, the better.
Having Roc around was rather like eating nothing but fast-food French fries and ice cream for dinner. Not a problem until she really stopped and considered it. Then it made her want to scour out her insides with steel wool. Which wasn’t appealing either.
“What else are you thinking about?”
“A—an FBI agent came here. Right before Ted. She wanted to ask me about the meeting next week.”
“An FBI agent? Really? Did she have a big shiny badge like the last one? Did you see her gun? I—”
“Yes and no.” Agent Reid had certainly had a gun, but Megan hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t looked. On purpose. “And that’s not the point. The point is, she knows about the meeting. The FBI knows about the meeting.”
Roc tilted his head to the side. One papery ear moved faintly in the current of air from the vent; with temperatures outside approaching one hundred, the air conditioning was working overtime. “What did Lord Dante say?”
“I haven’t told him yet.”
“Because he’s working all day, and I don’t want to bother him. It’s not an emergency. I’m going to see him in a few hours anyway.”
“Oh, right. You’re taking tomorrow off. I forgot. Should I go pack your bag?”
“No. I have to pack for the whole week, so I’ll do that tonight.”
“Suit yourself. Is Erica coming today?”
“Yes, in . . . half an hour.”
“I’ll stick around. I wanted to check in with Altarus anyway.”
She nodded. Altarus was one of Erica’s demons, one Roc seemed to particularly like. Megan had a sneaking suspicion Altarus was female, but frankly, she didn’t want to think too much about how her demons reproduced. It was enough to know they did and that when they did, she had to congratulate them. The mechanics of the process were not her concern, and she was exceedingly glad of that.
Of course, that might not have been the reason Roc wanted to check in with Altarus. He often did hang out during her appointments, pulling her patients’ demons aside to chat with them and see how things were going, then reporting to her later. As much as she hated to admit it, it was a big help, a way to keep track of her demons and make sure they were obeying the rules while still having some freedom and enough to eat. If “eat” was the correct term, which it really wasn’t, but “feed” still gave her the willies. Especially as it related to her patients.
Her cell phone buzzed from the depths of her purse, distracting her from the narrow and pitted little alley of her thoughts. It took her a minute to dig the damned thing out, especially after she banged her forehead on the edge of the desk.
“Oh, hey, Megan. I thought I’d be leaving a message.”
Her spirits rose. A little. “Hi, Brian. No, my patient—my appointment got canceled. What’s up?”
Silence. Hmm, that probably wasn’t good. Brian Stone was an investigative reporter for the city’s largest paper, as well as her friend. As well as someone with a habit of pausing and considering his words very carefully when he had bad news to impart.
“Yeah, sorry. Actually, I don’t really want to talk over the phone. I was thinking maybe we could meet later?”
Okay, definitely not good, then. And she had a sneaking suspicion she knew what it was about too. Brian had plenty of informants and pals in law enforcement, not least of whom was his girlfriend of nine months. “My last appointment ends at four. If you want to be at my house around four-thirty?”
“Will Greyson be there?”
She sighed. “Does it matter?”
“Well . . . not normally. But this time, yeah.”
A lie. It always mattered, and she’d given up. “He won’t be there.”