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Authors: Eleri Stone

Demon Crossings (17 page)

BOOK: Demon Crossings
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She stretched upward to kiss the base of his neck. “So are you.”

He wrapped an arm around her lower back and with his free hand, he cradled her face, thumb sliding beneath her jaw to draw her face up so that he could kiss her, gently, deeply. His pace slowed. She could feel the slick draw of his cock sliding out and feel herself part for him as he pushed back inside, lodging deep. His balls were drawn up tight to his body, pressing against her damp skin with every thrust, but he was still holding on, she thought, waiting for her.

All dutiful courtesy even here. She didn’t want to make him wait. She stopped fighting it and let the wall of pleasure rush up and knock her off her feet. Tipping back her head, she gasped as the first spasm hit her. He dropped his head to catch her lips in a hard kiss, hands clamping on her hips to hold her steady while he let himself go too, pounding into her harder, faster until his whole body went as rigid as the cock pulsing inside her.

He recovered before she did, wrapping his arms around her sagging shoulders and cradling her to his chest, nuzzling at her hair before dropping a kiss to her temple. He didn’t say anything about tomorrow or love and better yet, he didn’t ask her any more questions, just murmured soft words about how good she was, how good they were together like this, about her breasts and her pussy. His big hand stroked her back in long, slow sweeps until she was ready to pull away.

She smiled and though it felt shy on her end, he didn’t seem to notice. He brushed a damp strand of hair from her cheek and smiled back at her. She realized it was the first real smile she’d seen on him. Not that tight reflexive twist of his lips when he was amused but a wide, easy smile full of joy and, maybe, relief. She couldn’t help lifting her hand and tracing that curve with her fingertips. He caught her fingers with his lips and nipped at them before setting her on her feet, sliding her body down his.

“We should get dressed before someone shows up.”

She scowled, gathering her clothes. “Were you expecting company?”

“Well, no.” He grinned. “But the others will want to know how you’re doing. There’s a bonfire tonight if you’re up to it. We have one after every ride that everyone makes it home. If you’re not up to it they’ll understand, but this time around it’s mostly in your honor.”

She straightened slowly. “Why my honor? I didn’t do anything except get grabbed. You were the ones who saved me, fought off the demons and got everybody back across.”

“You risked your life to help us, for Hallie.” His eyes were serious. There wasn’t any kind of mockery there. She shifted her feet, feeling awkward with him looking at her like that, eyes still warm and sated from sex. As if he approved of her, as if he was proud of her. There was a trap in there somewhere.

She shrugged, really not wanting to go. “I’ll go.”

He’d pulled up his jeans but left the button undone so he could lean forward, cup the back of her head and pull her close for another quick kiss. They both heard it at the same time, wheels on the drive. He grinned and let her go. “Run.”

And she darted up the stairs, closing the bathroom door behind her at the same time she heard the back door open and voices drifting up from below.

Chapter Eighteen
 

Aiden watched Grace laugh at something Fen said. Her head tilted back and firelight gilded her dark curls bronze. She didn’t laugh often or smile for that matter. Her hazel eyes wide and solemn, she took in everything from a distance—the good, bad and ugly. He thought she’d seen far too much ugly.

Jealousy twisted in his gut when she leaned over and put her hand on Fen’s arm. Fen’s smile brightened and while he didn’t blame Fen one bit, Aiden still wanted to go over there and stake a claim. His scent on her should have been enough to warn off Fen. But he only tilted his head in closer, eyes gleaming with the reflection from the bonfire as he whispered something in her ear.

Aiden didn’t even realize that he’d started moving until Elin hooked her arm through his and pulled him to a stop. “Easy, there. That’s your best friend and you know he has no designs on her, not really. You
should
know it anyway.”

He forced himself to relax, to turn and face her. She frowned at him, eyes searching over his face with concern. “Maybe I was just going over to say hello.”

“I’ve seen you go after a demon with less determination.” Her expression hardened. “I like Grace.”

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “So do I.”

“As what? A means to an end? A distraction? We’re preparing to cross over to find Hallie and you’re screwing the woman who made that possible.”

“Don’t talk about her like that.”

“You need to keep your focus.”

His focus? All he had was focus. “You think I can forget about Hallie alone in that place? If I could push the entire hunt through the portal right now, we would be there looking for her.”

“You’re still frustrated about last night.” She crossed her arms over her chest and he only half listened to her. Rane had already let him know exactly what she thought about the risks they’d taken. The flares were unpredictable and dangerous, only four of them had been strong enough to cross last night and by the time they’d made it back to the portal, it was surrounded by waiting demons and nearly sealed.

“I thought you’d make a run for it and we’d lose you all.”

He lifted his chin to indicate Grace. “She passed out before we could track Hallie. At least we know now that she’s strong enough to cross.”

“But weak enough that it nearly ripped her apart. Alan said it was more difficult to heal her than it should have been.”

Guilt welled up at the reminder. Alan had said that regardless of how strong her psychic gifts were, her physical body was very human. Aiden didn’t need the warning. The enormity of the risk Grace was taking had sunk in deep at the sight of her lying in a puddle of her own blood, eyes glassed over with pain, body mangled and broken. He’d seen men die, friends and brother riders, but they were all people who’d been raised to this life. Grace was an innocent. “She’s the only one who can help me find Hallie. I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m risking Grace’s life for Hallie’s but don’t fucking accuse me of not caring. Would it make you feel better if I walked around weeping and tearing at my hair?”

A small smile touched Elin’s lips. “Well, no, but I’d understand it.”

“Lois and Bill would be on that in a heartbeat. They’re already whispering in people’s ears about the risk to the hunt, questioning Grace’s abilities and her motives. If I waver, even for a moment, they’ll go in for the kill. I need the full support of the hunt and the town to bring Hallie back.”

“I understand that and it’s as it should be. But you’re not just using Grace’s abilities.”

No, he’d taken her body too. He wanted…needed all of her, everything she would let him have. Grace was brave and good, even after all that she’d been through. She was the only person who didn’t look at him and see Odin. She didn’t expect perfection but he’d never wanted so badly to be perfect for someone. He wanted to give her everything, show her what family really meant, wrap her up in love until the hard shell she wore cracked and the real woman, the remarkable woman he knew was in there, came out to walk in the light. She gave him so much, not just the chance to get Hallie back. And right now with this interminable wait, Grace was the only thing keeping him sane. “She’s an adult. I’m not forcing her into anything. Let her decide what she wants.”

“You’re not usually so careless, Aiden. What’s going on?”

He took a drink from his bottle. Grace’s face was flushed. Christian had come up to join them and sat down on her other side. Aiden forgot Elin’s question, forgot she was even standing there waiting for an answer until she made a noise somewhere between a laugh and a groan. She touched his shoulder and turned him gently. Her expression was kind but merciless. “She’s not for you. I don’t know what happened to that woman but she deserves someone…
needs
someone who can be one hundred percent for her. Someone who can see her value and make her see it too.”

“I could do that.”

“Could you? Maybe. But you have a lot of other people depending on you too, Aiden. Grace can’t be just one of a crowd.”

“I never neglected Bea.”

“Nope. But Bea was raised here. She knew who she was and where she was from. From day one, she knew where she was going with her life. There was never a doubt in her mind that she was loved or that she belonged to all of us.”

“You make it sound like I don’t care about Grace.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “She’s not fragile and I’m not careless.”

Elin was silent and Aiden worked not to grit his teeth and just walk away. But he’d never been one to run from bad news or hard decisions.

“Maybe not,” she said finally.

“And it’s none of your business anyway.”

“I’m a two hundred-year-old woman who’s served as advisor to your father and his father before him. I’ve watched you grow into a man. A good man who’s never flinched from his responsibilities,” she said. “Hopefully, in a few days, we’ll have Hallie back home. Even if it’s like you’re hoping and only a few hours have passed for her, she’s going to need you, all of you. Grace needs someone who will be there for her too. It’s too much even for you.”

“That’s low, Elin,” he growled “Grace would never ask me to choose between her and my daughter, you know that.”

“Yep, I do. I just wanted to be sure you knew it too.”

His stomach knotted. “You think I should just walk away and let Fen have her.”

Elin laughed. She knocked her shoulder against his. “Fen never flirts with the women he’s really interested in. You should know that. But here you are looking like you’d just as soon tear his throat out as embrace him as a brother. Is she worth that?”

Grace was the first woman he’d wanted since he lost his wife. Already he’d crossed too many lines to have her, even knowing she wouldn’t stick around this cursed town once her job was done. She’d already been hurt badly by the people who should have protected her. He should be worrying about keeping her safe now. And not from Fen.

Aiden could stand here all night making a list of reasons why he shouldn’t pursue her. But none of them mattered.

He looked directly at Elin and gave her a curt nod. “She’s worth it.”

 

Grace was only half listening to Fen but it caught her attention when Rane punched him in the arm. Hard. He rubbed at his shoulder. “Just trying to put things in perspective.”

“You’re going to jinx the mission.” Rane glowered at him.

Fen rolled his eyes and looked to Grace for support. “We’ll be here next week with Hallie.”

Grace smiled. “Well, you will be. I’ll be home by then.”

He tipped his head to one side. “Our little town not exciting enough for you? Is it the fire demons?”

She glanced at Aiden and regretted it when Fen grinned behind the bottle he lifted to his mouth. “You’re all family and I don’t belong here. Aiden will have his hands full with Hallie anyway.”

“Maybe,” Fen conceded. “But you’re family now too. Anyone who rides with us is family. There’s no going back even if you want to. And I’m going to make another prediction…”

Rane muttered something under her breath but Fen ignored her, leaning in closer to Grace and lowering his voice. “Aiden will take another mate long before I ever find my first.”

She shook her head and stared into the fire, trying to ignore the bruised feeling in her heart. Fen was pressing too hard against a soft spot in her armor.

“I don’t think Aiden’s looking for a mate,” Rane said.

“I say he is.”

Rane’s voice went hard. “And if you’re wrong?”

His teeth snapped a few inches from her nose. “Then I’ll eat crow.”

She pushed him off the log and Grace couldn’t help but laugh at him sprawled in the dirt, a startled expression on his face. He stood, brushing off his jeans and shaking his head. “Don’t fly too low, woman. All that would be left of you is a few floating feathers.”

Grace was laughing and so she didn’t notice Aiden approach. She just looked up and he was there. He smiled faintly and offered his hand. There was a gentle cast to his eyes.

“Ready to head home?”

Home. She bit her lip and lowered her eyes. But then she took his hand.

Chapter Nineteen
 

Grace didn’t understand why Aiden was being so surly about this. He was the one who’d insisted they buy the darn sword. All she’d done was ask him to show her the basics of how to use it before they went after Hallie. Getting mauled by a fire demon made her want to be able to defend herself if needed. But as soon as she’d asked, Aiden closed down on her.

Motes of dust drifted through the shafts of light dropping down from the high-set windows. Even though the day was sunny, it wasn’t very bright in here. Of course, neither was Asgard. Aiden hadn’t spoken a word since he’d rolled back the door and led her inside. The barn was quiet. They didn’t keep animals in here. It was just an open space with a dirt floor, two rough benches and a length of pegboard on the wall that looked like something a sadist would have hanging over his workbench. She didn’t recognize most of the weapons. That one with the hook? She didn’t even want to try to imagine what you might do with that.

She looked up at Aiden and found him watching her, gray eyes fathomless.

Clearly,
something
was bothering him.

His daughter is missing. This might be his only chance of getting her back. Of course he’s bothered.

He’d taken off his shirt, and he drew his sword and tossed the scabbard onto the bench. Even knowing that he would never hurt her, her stomach flipped when he started toward her with that big sword in his hand.

“Well, I know you’re not overcompensating…”

He didn’t even crack a smile and she couldn’t hold on to hers.

“Your sword is lighter, faster, much more agile than mine. The blade is strong enough that it won’t break even if I hit it with my full strength. It could break your arm though so don’t let me hit you.”

She backed up a step. “Wait a minute.”

He didn’t stop until he was standing right in front of her. With his free hand, he touched her cheek and his expression softened. “I would never hurt you on purpose but if you want me to train you, you are going to get hurt. Breaks are routine. There’s a reason the healer lives next door. And you’re not as strong as we are.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

He cupped the back of her head and pulled her close, dropped a quick kiss to the top of her head and then turned her around. “You’re not going to use a traditional fencer’s guard although you could with that sword. But that’s intended for competition, not battle. Bend your knees. Legs a little wider. Do you feel balanced there?”

She nodded and he knocked her shoulder, making her stumble back. She glared at him and adjusted her stance, the better to absorb the blow next time. He grunted when he was satisfied, circled back around to her front and ran his blade under hers to lift it. The sound of metal scraping metal snaked down her spine.

He adjusted the angle of her arm, the blade, the set of her shoulders until she felt so contorted a stiff breeze would be able to knock her over. Then he said, “Good. Stay there and let that settle in.”

Aiden walked around her slowly, every once in a while making some minute adjustment. She was using muscles in her legs and arms that were clearly telling her they didn’t think this was a good idea. This wasn’t what she’d asked for. She just wanted to learn how to hit something with the sword.

“This is your guard. The object of early training is building muscle strength and memory. I want this guard to become as natural to you as walking. Comfortable?”

She snorted. He had to see her legs shaking, the arm holding the sword starting to droop.

He leaned in so close she felt his breath on the back of her neck. “Ready to give up?”

“No.”

He chuckled. His teeth closed over her earlobe, wet and hot. He stepped back, let her suffer a bit longer and then patted her ass with the flat of his sword. “Didn’t think so. Okay, up. Shake it out.”

Groaning, she straightened. The sword that had felt light as silk dragged at her arm now.

“You’ve made your point. I don’t have the muscle strength to make it through a long fight. I just want to know how to handle this in case I’m cornered.”

“That was three minutes,” he told her.

“You’re lying.”

He hooked a thumb toward the clock. “Three minutes. It just takes time, Grace.”

“I don’t have time.”

He flinched but then turned his back on her and paced a few feet away.

“Guard,” he said and assumed his own. “With that sword, you can hit with either the tip or the edge of the blade. We’ll have to work on your technique later. For now, just do a straight attack.”

“What do you mean?”

“Use the pointy end.”

She hesitated. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

He grinned. “Not a chance in hell.”

That pissed her off, as it was meant to, and she lunged forward. He barely moved his blade but it still hit hers and angled her wide, nearly making her fall over too. Aiden, bless his heart, didn’t even crack a smile. She loved him for that. He nodded for her to try again and she did. This time she kept her feet better.

“You’re leading with your hand. You need to lead with the tip of the blade and let your hand follow.”

She jabbed at him and he knocked it aside.

“Again.”

This time she concentrated on the blade, letting it drop and push forward before she followed with her body. He had to shift his body slightly this time before blocking her. “Better.”

Smiling, he straightened. “I think that’s enough for now. You’ll make a good student, I think. At least you follow direction a lot better than Hallie ever did.”

“Hey,” she said. “We’re just getting started.”

“You need to rest. There isn’t enough time to train you properly with the sword. I don’t want you to get overconfident and forget that we’re there to take care of you.”

She lowered the blade. “I’m not stupid.”

He turned. “I didn’t say that you were.”

“This is you humoring me.”

“Right, and now I need you to humor me. Trust that I know what I’m talking about here. This isn’t a game. You could get killed.”

“I know that.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Do you?”

“What is this about? Why buy me the sword if you didn’t plan to teach me how to use it?”

“I’m rushing you into something you’re not ready for.”

“I know what I’m getting myself into.”

His movements were stiff as he walked over and picked up his scabbard, slamming the sword home and then turning to face her. “I want more time.”

She shook her head, trying to get a read on him. She got the impression he wasn’t talking about training. “We need to get Hallie out. I want more time to prepare too but…I don’t think I’ll ever really be ready. I want this whole nightmare done and over with.”

His eyes bore into hers, searching for what, she didn’t know. After what seemed a long time, he simply nodded and turned away.

She let him go. He needed space. He’d been visiting the members of the hunt all morning, checking to make certain they were ready. And then later, he’d ridden out to the portal with Lois, to check in with the riders he had standing guard and to gauge how close they were to being able to open the gate wide enough to allow the full hunt to pass through. Aiden was frustrated. He thought they’d be able to pry it open a day or two early but Lois was adamant that they had to wait for the new moon.

Grace didn’t understand the mechanics but after having seen Asgard, she understood why it would be impossible for her and Aiden to slip through undetected and find Hallie themselves. They needed to ride in force, ready to fight their way through. She stared down at her sword, slashed it through a shaft of sunlight and watched the dust dance. She was nothing but a compass. It sucked being the weakest link.

There was a training dummy in the corner and she headed over to check it out. A man-shaped torso secured between two wooden support pillars by thick ropes. It was made of wood, straw and layered cowhide. Its body so nicked and scarred, she almost felt sorry for the thing. Not that it would stop her.

Tentatively, she swung her sword and the blade bit into the wood. She pulled it loose and this time, put some muscle into it. She grunted with the contact, fierce satisfaction pulling her lips back from her teeth as she worked her sword free. Everything fell away except for the feeling of each impact shuddering up her arm. The slide of her muscles working together to make the sword land where she wanted it to on the dummy. Flank, shoulder, thigh. She hacked until her arms felt as if they weighed twenty pounds apiece and she’d marked the wood and leather with her own set of scars. Then, she lifted her T-shirt to wipe the sweat from her face and gave it another whack.

A low whistle from behind her brought her up short. She spun to find Christian leaning against a pillar a good distance behind her. He was dressed for practice, a sword similar to Aiden’s held loosely in his hands. “I think it’s dead.”

She scowled and he laughed, holding up a hand. “I’m not here to fight you. Where’s Aiden?”

She dropped one shoulder in a shrug. “Inside? I don’t know.”

She turned back toward the dummy but had lost some of her enthusiasm. She sliced at it halfheartedly before letting her arm fall to her side.

“You’re going to dull your blade on that.” He came up behind her and grabbed her arm so he could examine the sword. “Where did you get this?”

“Aiden,” she said shortly, pulling her arm free of his hold and glancing over her shoulder into his face. “He gave it to me.”

His eyes glinted with amusement but he only shook his head. “You’re fine then. Nothing will dull Skimstrok. Nothing on this world anyway. He decided to train you?”

She snorted, stepped back when Christian walked around to face her. He didn’t frighten her, not exactly, but she didn’t want him too close either. “Aiden didn’t seem to think I was worth training.”

“Oh, I doubt that.” He hooked his sword under hers and pulled it up, turning her around as he did so, placing his back to the open training ground. “Show me. I’m a better target than that poor dummy.”

Her arms ached, sweat ran in a rivulet down her spine but she took one look at the smirk on his face and she dropped her blade under his, circling it up to the other side to go for his side. Christian blocked it easily and stepped back, waiting for her to come again.

Another insultingly small flick of his wrist and she lost her footing, staggering to the side. She swiped a loose strand of hair from her face and forced her body into another attack. “This isn’t something you pick up over the weekend. You’d need strength training and something to get your aerobic endurance up. That’s before we ever get started on blade and footwork. And…aren’t you afraid of horses?”

“No,” she panted. “I just haven’t been around them much before.”

He extended his arm only a few inches but she jerked back, swinging at it wildly. The tip of his blade dipped under hers and came up, a hairsbreadth away from her throat. She froze. When she glanced up at Christian’s face, he wasn’t smiling. The polished veneer was gone and what was left behind was hard and unforgiving. This was the man who’d earned the respect of the hunt. Elin’s love. Aiden’s friendship. She straightened slowly, glaring at him. If he was trying to humiliate her into seeing that she didn’t belong here, he’d made his point.

“A lifetime of training, of dedication and discipline. You’ll be gone in a week.”

She lifted her chin. “Will I?”

His lips thinned. “You seem like a good person, Grace. And Aiden…well, Aiden is a brother to me. If something happens to you when we cross, he’ll be devastated. He doesn’t take it well when people under his command get hurt and you have no business being over there. Cross to the other side, point us in the direction of Hallie and get the hell out.” Finally, he lowered his sword arm. “Go home. Leave Aiden to take care of his daughter. He can’t take care of you both.”

“I don’t need taking care of.”

“Yes,” he said without a trace of malice. “You do. And you’re beautiful enough to lure someone in who won’t care that you’re a little different in the head so long as he can bury his face between your breasts at night. This place isn’t your problem. We aren’t your problem.”

“What about what Aiden wants?” They didn’t own him. She hated that they all thought they owned him. He deserved so much more than that.

“Don’t play games with him, Grace. He has enough on his plate.”

“God, the arrogance of you people.” She took a step forward but Christian stood his ground. “You all think you know what’s best for him. He’s a grown man. Smart, strong and devoted to protecting the lot of you. He grieves for his daughter and you let that witch mock him with her funeral wreaths. He works all day on the farm and then spends his nights making sure your little town stays safe. He’s not a fucking god, he’s only a man but you people pile all of your burdens on him and then wonder why he staggers.
I’m
not his problem.”

She was breathing hard, hands fisted at her sides spoiling for a fight and Christian—
damn him
—Christian was smiling at her.

“Maybe not,” he murmured and then gave a sharp laugh. “Maybe you’re not after all.”

He started to turn away but she wasn’t done fighting yet. “And you’re one to talk, lecturing me about my love life. What about you and Elin?”

He paused, smile fixed. “Careful, Grace.”

“Or Brian’s mate?”

“You’re misreading the situation.”

“Elin’s my friend. I don’t want to see her get hurt.”

His laugh was humorless as he started to walk away. “I’m not hurting Elin.”

She followed him across the barn to the doors. “What about the other one?”

“Julia?” He turned to face her with an incredulous look. “You don’t think she hurt Brian when forever meant forty-two days to her? Look. Nobody’s getting hurt…except Brian and there’s nothing anyone can do to help him.” He tapped her chin. “Not even you. Elin won’t be hurt, or Julia, or any of the others. They all know I have no future to offer them. It was bartered away before I was born.”

He reached down to grab his scabbard from the bench beside the door and she paused just inside the entrance. “What are you talking about?”

BOOK: Demon Crossings
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