SIXSIX

 

 

Prologue

 

Something was coming.

 

He could not sleep. Getting out of bed, he padded naked to the window to stare into the darkness. There was nothing to see. Trees. A field. The house was old, in disrepair, but it did not matter. It was just somewhere to rest until it was time to move again.

 

He cocked his head, listening to the house settle around him. It was almost soothing, sounds of a normal life that he would never again have. He dreamed of his life as it used to be, of his family, his mother and brother. Both were lost to him now.

 

He pressed his forehead against the pane of glass in front of him, feeling its coolness on his heated skin. His memories were restless tonight. He thought of his brother, now dead for twenty years. Of his mother, who had raised them alone, who had given up her own life to protect them both. He was the only one who was spared. Perhaps that was his punishment for not saving them…a lifetime of regret at what he could never get back.

 

His eyes swept the unkempt yard through the bedroom window. He recalled another place, another time. Before he had become what he was now. Another house, not just a house, but a home. It was all lost to him. There was no way to turn back time and erase what had been done.

 

The phone rang. He was not startled. He had been expecting it since getting out of bed. He reached for it, stretching one arm out to pick up the handset.

 

“Yeah?” His voice was tired, resigned. Disinterested. His eyes had fallen on a peculiar shadow in the yard. He watched as it moved from left to right, from tree to tree.

 

“He has chosen.” The female voice said without bothering with a greeting.

 

He lost interest in the shadow. Closing his eyes, he sighed wearily. “Then we have to get to them first.”

 

“Yes.” There was a pause. “There can be no mistakes this time. We cannot take another loss.”

 

“Do you think I don’t know that?” He said softly. Briefly an image of his mother played through his mind. “Leave me to my job. You do yours.”

“Very well…” there was a throaty laugh. “There are four.”

“Only four?” He opened his eyes. The shadow he’d been watching earlier was gone.

 

“Yes.” Another pause. “He has stopped toying. This time he means to finish it.”

 

“Where?”

“There can be no…”

 

“Where?” He interrupted her. He had heard the speech before. He was tired of it.

 

“Patience. We are still searching for the third and fourth.” There was the sound of shuffling. “The first is in New England, Maine. The second…California.”

 

“And you’ve already…”

“Yes.” The word was sharp. “They will be taken care of tonight.”

 

“Why did you not call me earlier?” He couldn’t keep the anger out of his voice.

 

“The others do not trust your nature,” the voice said evenly. “Nor do I. But you will get your chance. To prove yourself. To get what you want. The fourth will be yours to deal with. You must kill her before the mark is complete.”

 

“I know.” He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “Send me what you have. I’ll take care of it.”

 

He hung up the phone without bothering to wait for a reply. So this was it. The uneasiness he felt, the restlessness. It was time.

 

He pressed his fist against the window, rapping it lightly with his knuckles. “This time, Father, you will not win,” he spoke the words into the darkness. “I will have my vengeance.”

 

 

 

 

1

 

“You want another drink?”

Rayne shook her head. She held up her half-full bottle, smiling. “Give me a few more minutes with this one.”

 

The bartender nodded, winking at her, before moving on down the bar to wait on someone else. Sighing, Rayne turned on her stool and looked around the room.

 

The club was two levels, dark and smoky, filled to the rafters with people of mixed age and culture. Music thumped from the sound system, making conversation next to impossible. Not that she really wanted to talk to anyone there. She’d been pulled in by her friend, Wynn, who had disappeared into the moving mass of bodies on the dance floor.

 

She watched, smirking, as two drunken college types began shoving at each other, presumably arguing over the girl who was with them. At least she was going to see something interesting.

 

Something bumped her shoulder. Irritated, she turned her head, ready to glare at the guy who thought he had to have so much room.

And widened her eyes in surprise. This guy really did need the room. He was huge. She watched as he lifted one big hand and gestured to the bartender. Then he turned his head and looked at her.

 

Green eyes met hers. A chill worked its way down her spine. He was…intense. That was the only word that come to her mind. Kind of scary. Who wouldn’t be scared? The guy looked like a Hell’s Angels reject on steroids. He was wearing a pair of black leather pants, black boots, black T-shirt. His arms were covered…literally covered…with tattoos. A bandana was wrapped around his forehead, holding back a fall of long dark red hair.

 

Rayne managed to tear her eyes away. Good grief. The weird ones were always drawn to her. She seemed to put out some kind of vibe that they just couldn’t resist. She knew coming here had been a bad idea. She was going to kill Wynn…if she could ever find her.

 

The guy was still staring at her. She could feel his eyes boring into her. Rayne refused to acknowledge him. She wasn’t going to let him see that he was making her decidedly nervous. That would be like showing fear to a rabid animal. Guys like this lived for that kind of thing.

 

Where the hell was Wynn? She scanned the crowd again, hoping but knowing it was useless. She was going to have to go track her down and drag her kicking and screaming from the club. Without turning, not wanting to risk looking at the big guy who was still staring at her, Rayne slid some money onto the bar and got up, moving off into the crowd with her bottle still clutched in her hand.

 

She got groped. Not once or twice. This place was just a meat market. Guys who were too drunk to see straight were snagging at her clothes, trying to get her to stop and talk to them. One guy went so far as to touch her breast. Rayne shoved him back then moved on through the throng.

 

She saw a familiar flash of hair. It was Wynn’s best distinguishing feature. Long and dark, she’d added one dramatic neon green streak. Sighing in relief, Rayne shoved her way in that direction.

 

And stopped short when she came up against a solid chest. She looked up…and up…into a pair of green eyes. That guy again. Damn it. He’d managed to cut her off. She hadn’t even realized he’d followed her. As soon as she’d left the stool she’d pushed him from her mind.

 

He stared down at her, eyes narrowed. Rayne started to back away, but couldn’t get far; there were too many people around. The guy reached out, grabbing her arms, turning so that her back was to him.

 

“Hey! What the fuck are you doing?” He was shoving her shirt up, tugging down the waistband of her jeans. The guy did not answer. Rayne jerked her body, trying to move away. His hand wrapped around her arm in a tight vise.

 

“You bear the mark.” He had to lean down to say it into her ear. Rayne leaned as far away from him as she could go without falling over.

 

“What the fuck are you talking about? I’ve heard some fucked up lines in my time, but this takes it…” She struggled, yanking her arm. He did not let her go. “Hey asshole, give it a rest. I’m not interested.”

 

“You’ll come with me if you want to live,” His voice, though low, still carried to her over the sound of the thumping music. Rayne stopped struggling and looked at him, now more scared that angry. Had he just threatened her?

 

“Uh…” What the hell was a person supposed to do when something like this happened? She wracked her mind, trying to remember that self-defense course she had taken years before. She wished she’d thought to buy a can of pepper spray. “Look…I don’t know what you want…” Although she’d read about this stuff happening and could harbor a good guess. This guy looked like raping a woman would be just another item to check off his to-do list for the day. “But you’re going to have to find it somewhere else. My…uh…my friend is a cop. She’s over there. You don’t want to do something stupid in front of a cop do you?”

 

She was hoping he wouldn’t pick up the lie. Wynn, a cop? Fat chance. She had dated a cop once. That was close enough for Rayne.

 

The guy did not answer. He began to pull her along behind him. The crowd did not need to be shoved aside; they parted, as if they did not want this man to touch them. Rayne planted her feet, trying to jerk her arm out of his grasp. He was going to leave a damn bruise if she didn’t get free of him. That was the least of her worries though.

 

He turned to stare at her and she froze. Before his expression had been blank, neutral. Now she could see…anger. Rage. Barely controlled but there. She forgot he was holding onto her and tried to step away.

 

He jerked her forward instead, making her yelp in shock and pain. One big arm went around her and he lifted her off of her feet. She couldn’t breath. His grip on her was too tight.

 

“Keep fighting me and we can end this right now,” His voice was edged with anger. Rayne bit back her reply. End it…how? Would he actually kill her in front of all these people? She risked a look into his eyes and saw that yes…he would. Without a second thought. She did not offer resistance as he carried her toward the exit.

 

2

 

He carried the girl through the door, tightening his grip on her ribs as they walked past the bouncer so she would not be able to get the air to ask for help. The guy at the door grinned at them; he’d seen the drunks at this club doing all kinds of strange things.

He rounded the corner of the club, entering an alleyway. Satisfied they were out of site, he unceremoniously dropped the girl. She slipped at the suddenness, falling down on her ass on the hard concrete.

 

He watched as she took a few deep breaths, wincing at the pain in her ribs where he’d squeezed. She finally pushed herself to her feet, swaying unsteadily for a moment before catching her full balance.

 

“All right…Ok…” She brushed at the seat of her jeans, then straightened her shirt. “Look, I’m sure that there are lots of willing women in there who would screw you. You don’t have to try to force yourself on me.” Her eyes met his.

 

He looked her over, smirking. She wasn’t bad as far as humans went. Light brown hair. Dark eyes. Nice body. He’d never ‘forced’ himself on anyone though. And did not plan on starting now.

 

He did not answer her. He slowly walked around her, seeing what her reaction would be. To her credit, she did not try to follow his movements. Just stood there, hands fisted at her sides, waiting.

 

“What is this, general inspection?” She asked hatefully. He raised an eyebrow, returning to stand directly in front of her. She certainly had spirit. That was good. It might make this a hell of a lot easier.

 

He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the chirping ring of his cell phone. He eyed the girl as he pulled it out of the front pocket of his pants. “Don’t even think about moving.”

 

“Yeah. Right.” He could see in her eyes she was going to bolt as soon as his attention was turned.

 

“If you run I will find you. I will chase you down and do to you what you think I am going to do anyway.” He met her eyes, knowing that she could see he was being honest. She slowly nodded. That was good then. Made things simpler.

 

“Yeah?” He finally punched the button on the phone, damning himself for the habit that made him bring it along. The familiar feminine voice made him frown.

 

“We found number three. Four is being a problem. We’ve isolated the state.”

 

“Good.”

 

“Where are you?” The voice was suspicious.

 

“Having a little…fun. Or will be as soon as you leave me to it.”

 

“Mmm…I am positively jealous.” There was a husky laugh. He glanced at the girl, who had turned her eyes up and was looking at the sky, pretending not to listen in.

 

“I would do things to her that would make your head spin,” He said softly. The girl’s eyes flicked to him. He remained blank-faced. Serious. She needed to understand that he meant business.

 

“Then I’ll leave you to it…” He could almost see her smile through the phone. “Perhaps your human side is finally giving in to what you really are…”

 

“Yeah.” With that he hit the button, cutting off the conversation. Then turned the phone off. No more interruptions, at least not until he was ready.

 

He turned his attention back to the girl. And did not like the look on her face. She was hiding something. It was obvious. He would figure out what it was.

 

“We are leaving. You are going to come with me.” It was not a request.

 

“Uh...I don’t think so, bud. I came here with a friend. She’d kinda miss me if I didn’t ride home with her.”

 

“I do not care who you came with. You are leaving with me.” He stepped closer. “You are not being given a choice in the matter. I will drag you if I have to. If you fight me, I will do…something…much…worse…” Each word was punctuated with another step forward. He was barely a foot away, making the girl crane her neck to look up at him.

 

She visibly gulped. But held her ground. That spirit again. No wonder the others were having such a hard time tracking her down.

 

“What…Where are you taking me? Why me?” She asked, refusing to just give up and go.

 

“You will find out soon enough.” He gestured toward the back of the alley, indicating she should start walking. The girl hesitated then turned, leading the way. He could almost hear her thoughts as she scrambled to think of a way out. He smiled with no humor. There was only one way for her to get out of this; his way. Whether she liked it or not.

 

The alley’s back end opened into an employee parking lot. He prodded her shoulder, aiming her toward a gleaming black truck in the corner. Her footsteps faltered a bit, she was hesitating. Willful little thing. He took her upper arm in his hand and guided her forward, ignoring her sputter of protest.

 

He opened the driver side door and pushed her toward it. She reluctantly climbed in, then quickly slid to the far side. Not fast enough though. He was reaching across the seat and gripping her hand before she could even begin to reach for the door handle.

 

 

“Now that would not be nice, after all the trouble I went through to get you here,” He said, voice low. The girl looked at him. She was struggling not to show him how afraid she was. But he also sensed…anger. Resentment at being pushed around. She was going to be a handful.

 

He climbed into the truck and slammed the door, then yanked her arm, pulling her across the seat to sit next to him. “Buckle.”

 

“Huh?” She looked up at him with wide eyes.

 

Sighing in frustration, he reached across her body, grabbing the lap belt. Without a word he snapped it into place, the jerked the cinch tight, hearing her wince as it cut into her stomach. “Buckle.” He said it slow, making it sound as if she were an idiot for not understanding. He was rewarded with a glimmer of hatred in her eyes as she looked at him.

 

He ignored it. He turned the key and started the engine, then buckled his own seatbelt. They were in for a long night of driving. If she tried anything, she was going to be knocked out. He had no qualms about doing it. He’d done worse in his time. Much worse.

 

She seemed to sense this. She folded her hands into her lap and stared down at them, refusing to watch the road as he drove. She tried to hold herself away from him, tried to not touch him. He found it amusing. He made exaggerated movements as he drove, brushing against her arm, her shoulder, her leg. Each time she’d jerk away as if scalded.

 

And still there was that anger, coming from her in waves. Oh, yes, this was definitely going to be interesting. For both of them.

 

3

 

Rayne held her tongue for an hour. Then two. She could be just as close-mouthed as he was. Besides, it was better she not distract him from driving. She’d snuck a glance at the speedometer. They were doing well over a hundred. The scenery went by so fast after they’d left town that she was clueless as to where they were going.

 

She couldn’t take it anymore. Not only had this huge…moron…kidnapped her. She was getting carsick. And he kept…touching her. Bumping her. If she wasn’t so scared, she’d rip him a new asshole.

 

“So where are you taking me?” No answer. She hadn’t really expected one. “What’s your name?” Still nothing. His profile in the dim glow of the dash lights looked as if it were made of stone. “If I puke on you, will you say something?” She seriously wanted to throw up. She hated riding in vehicles on long trips. Especially with the windows up. She wanted...no…needed a cigarette. And something to drink. Her throat was dry.

 

The guy’s only response was a put-upon sigh. Rayne held back a groan as he pushed the pedal down farther. They weren’t on the highway, which was at least flat. This was one of those back country roads, full of curves and hills, dips and turns. Her stomach twisted as they went over a small rise.

Ok. She couldn’t handle this. She leaned over toward the passenger door, reaching for the button that would lower the window. His hand left the wheel, wrapping around her wrist instead in an iron grip. She froze. Good grief, did he think she was stupid enough to try to jump out as they were rocketing down some bumpkin back road?

 

Rayne shot him a stony look. “I am not joking about puking. If I don’t get some air soon…”

The guy muttered a curse and let her go. She hurriedly cracked the window open, breathing in a great gulp of fresh air. Ahh…better. Not great, but not as bad as it had been. She thought about sliding over to the far side of the seat so she could let the air blow in directly on her. The guy would probably throw a fit…he’d…

 

He was reaching down, unbuckling her seat belt. Rayne looked at him, then moved over, getting as far away from him as she could. She buckled herself in with the shoulder restraint, feeling marginally less sick.

 

The night blurred past. If she really wanted to make herself sick, all she had to do was stare out the window at the trees that flew past. Ugh. That was a stupid idea.

 

“Where are we going?” She tried again. He’d eventually have to tell her right? He apparently didn’t think so. Aggravated, she pushed her hair back from her face. “How about at least putting the radio on? Something…anything. Shit.”

 

“No.”

 

Wow. He spoke. She was amazed. Rayne eyed him. He sounded downright irritated. Good. She was still scared, but damn it, she wanted to know why she was scared.

 

“Just one song.”

 

“No.”

 

“Oh…fuck.” She reached for the power button. He grabbed her hand, lowering it to the seat between them.

 

“No.”

“Why the fuck not?”

 

He didn’t answer. He did not let go of her hand either.

 

“Look, if you’re going to drive like a fucking maniac, I’d appreciate it if you held the wheel while you did it,” Rayne said as he took a sharp curve. He didn’t seem to mind it. Did not seem to be having any problems handling the big truck on this tiny little middle of nowhere road.

 

He let go of her hand, returning it to the steering wheel. She sighed in relief, then winced as they went over another one of those dips.

 

“I am in a truck with a fucking psycho asshole and he won’t even humor me and play the fucking radio. Thanks, fate, you stupid whore.” Rayne muttered it under her breath, but she had no doubt that he’d heard her.

 

But there was still no response. Might as well be carved of marble. “Asshole,” she muttered it again, then leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. That was good. She didn’t have to see the road unrolling in front of them, or the speedometer…which her eyes kept drifting to. She was tired. Falling asleep would be a bad thing. Maybe just a doze. The motion of the truck was soothing, at least. Her emotional rollercoaster had left her feeling drained. Ok. Maybe just a little nap. He couldn’t very well decapitate her if he was driving now could he?

 

An unknown amount of time later, she jerked awake, gasping. Weird ass dream. First she’d been kidnapped by some biker wannabe, then she’d fallen asleep in the dream and had dreamed about being in a dark place. On a bed. Tied to a bed. Naked. She shuddered. Scary.

 

Then Rayne realized where she was. Still in the truck. Which had come to a stop. The slamming of the driver side door had been what had pulled her out of the dream. The biker guy was walking around the front, coming toward her door.

 

Rayne was gripped with a moment of panic. Shit. Her eyes took in the sky, lighting in the east, it was almost dawn. That meant he’d driven like a bat out of hell for almost six hours. Maybe more.

 

Her thoughts were cut off as her door opened. He was leaning in, unbuckling her seat belt, then grabbing her arm and hauling her out of the cab. She stumbled, caught her balance, then glanced around. They were…somewhere. A house. Old, disused, huge. A farmhouse. In the middle of what had once been a big yard with a winding gravel driveway. The yard had gone to weeds. The drive was heading the same direction.

 

Rayne saw a few lights blazing in the first floor windows of the house. Obviously they were expected. She felt a chill go down her spine as the front door opened. The biker was pulling her along, heading toward the rickety porch that wrapped around the house.

 

She stumbled again. Her leg was numb from sitting for so long, it didn’t want to support her. Biker guy turned, made a move to pick her up, but Rayne backed away quickly, forcing her leg to work. He quirked an eyebrow, then turned and pulled her again.

 

She got a good look at the door-opener. Young. Good looking. Had dark hair, dark eyes. He looked…soft. Compared to the biker guy, that was a good way of describing him. He looked so damn…nice. He was smiling a little. His eyes were actually twinkling.

 

Oh, no. What, was this asshole biker guy going to hand her over to junior for…for…whatever they had in mind? Or worse…both of them…she shuddered.

 

The guy who’d snatched her stopped, tugging her to stand between the two men.

 

“This her?” The younger one asked. He even sounded friendly. Rayne didn’t know which guy scared her more at this point.

 

“Yes. The mark…” He did not need to finish.

 

The young guy moved to stand behind Rayne, then did the same thing biker man had done earlier in the night, tugging her shirt up and her jeans down a little. What the fuck did they see? She didn’t even have a birthmark as far as she knew. She’d never gotten a tattoo. Her back was smooth, unblemished.

 

“I’ll be damned,” clean cut guy sounded awed. He dropped her shirt and returned to his former position. “Well…what do you want to do now?”

 

“I want you to put her under.” Rayne snapped her eyes toward biker guy. He wasn’t looking at her.

 

“You sure? This close…the dreams…”

 

“She’s already started having them. She won’t dream when she’s under. Only when she’s sleeping.” Biker cocked his head as if listening. “The others will be looking for her. I don’t want them to find her here. At least…not yet.”

 

“Right.” Young guy eyed Rayne, smiling a little. Uh oh. That was a used car salesman look if she’d ever seen one. “Ok. It’s gonna be lights out for a while. Sorry ‘bout this…” He reached out. Rayne flinched back, expecting a blow. Instead, his fingertips brushed her temple. Biker guy put his hands on her shoulders, holding her still. She opened her mouth to protest, but it died before it could fully form in her mind. Everything went dark. She did not feel herself falling, did not feel biker guy lifting her up into his arms. Rayne found the darkness welcoming, warm. Her mind shut down, her thoughts drifting away until she was suspended in the deepest sleep she had ever known.

 

4

 

He carried her up the stairs, heading toward his room at the far end. He deposited her on the black comforter, then stared down at her.

 

“I don’t know how long I can keep her under,” the younger man said from the doorway. “Humans react in different ways…I don’t know how she’ll take being…”

 

“She will be all right Randy. She carries the mark, doesn’t she?”

 

“Yeah. I guess.” Randy shook his head, stepping into the room. “The others…how close are they?”

 

“An hour. Probably less. They were close by anyway.” He shrugged carelessly. “Let them try to find her here. Once they leave, we can wake her and then we’ll wait…for him.”

 

Randy was still eyeing the girl on the bed. She looked so damn…innocent. “I am sick of this life.”

 

“I know.” There was a sigh. “You can only play the hand you are dealt though.”

 

“I was happy being…thinking…I was human,” Randy said softly.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I can never go back to my old life.” This thought had not just occurred. It was something Randy had dealt with every day, many times a day, since the older man had found him, had saved him.

 

“No.” Green eyes met his. “But you can form a new life. Just because you are not one of them does not mean you cannot live among them.”

 

“You make it sound easy,” Randy grinned.

 

“It is easy if you choose it to be.”

 

“And what do you choose?” Randy asked. And wished he could take it back. The green eyes turned hard.

 

“My choices were made for me.”

 

“Sorry…” Randy winced. “I’ll stay with her if you want to rest for a while. I need to be close to her so I can make sure she stays under.”

 

“Yes.” He raised a hand and rubbed it wearily over his eyes. “You will have to stay. But I can’t rest. Not yet.” He wanted to be awake. The others were coming. Faster than he’d at first thought. Their presence was like a hot spark in the periphery of his vision.

 

They were not coming because they suspected he already had the girl. No. They would be coming just so their leader could see him. So she could try to convince him that human ways were not his ways. He already knew that. But he would not become what she was. Never.

 

“I think I hear…” Randy shook his head. His powers were different. He had the touch. Dangerous in itself if not controlled. He could also sense thoughts…which was what he was doing now. “They aren’t blocking themselves. They don’t know about me?” It was a question. He found his own answer. “No. And they won’t.” He was silent for a minute, concentrating. “Ten minutes. Maybe fifteen. They are really flying.”

 

“I’ll be downstairs. Stay with her,” he jerked his head at the girl. “Do not open this door or come out for any reason.”

 

“Right,” Randy’s voice was distracted. This was the first time he’d exercised his power at any length, and in so many different directions. It was taking all of his concentration. He made sure the girl was deep enough. Yes. There was nothing there. She might have been dead except for the shallow rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. He did not notice his friend leave the room, closing the door behind him.

He made his way downstairs, out the front door, to the porch. Tattooed arms crossed, he waited, his expression conveying nothing but boredom. Exactly eleven minutes after he settled into his stance, a car pulled into the driveway.

 

He watched as it rolled to a stop behind the truck. The driver and passenger doors opened, its occupants getting out at exactly the same time. The driver was male, young, rough looking. Still wet behind the ears.

 

The female though…this was not her first go round. She was well seasoned in what she was doing. Short hair barely brushed her shoulders, so black it was nearly blue. Her eyes were black too, the pupils and irises having no breaking lines. She dressed in red, always. Blood red halter top, red pants.

 

She walked forward, her steps gliding, as if her feet never touched the ground. She stopped at the foot of the porch steps, smiling up at him suggestively, pink tongue slipping out to whet her lips.

 

“Mark…” His name was a purr of husky overly-seductive voice. He did not respond to it. Not anymore. Those days were gone.

 

“Pandora.” He nodded.

 

“Still as social as ever, I see,” her voice dropped even lower. Her succubus nature was coming to the front, responding in part to the human blood Mark had in his veins.

 

And he had fallen prey to it. For almost a year, they’d used each other relentlessly, until all he could remember was a blur of pounding flesh, of scratching nails, of frenzied…fucking. That was all it had been. All it would ever be. He’d grown tired of it after a while. His human side craved more…but he did not understand what more there could be.

 

Pandora had not taken his rejection well. She had other…suitors…who were willing to cater to her specific tastes. But she wanted Mark. She wanted to break that side of him that was human. Wanted to revel in being the one who fully turned him into…what she was.

 

“What do you want?” He finally asked, forcing himself to keep his face a mask of neutrality. “Did you find the fourth? I hope that is the reason you came all the way here.”

 

She made a sound in her throat. “Now…what kind of attitude is that to take with your…friends?” Suggestive again. She reached out a hand and lightly traced his jean-clad thigh with a finger. He would not give her the satisfaction of seeing him jerk away from her. Or any other reaction. She sighed, realizing he wasn’t going to bend. “Not yet. But we will. We will...” She smiled.

 

“Well…until you do…” He stood straight. “I have my own things to take care of.” He was dismissing her. Pandora did not like it but there was nothing she could do.

 

“Mark…” She slid her tongue over her lips again. “I have not forgotten us…” She took the first step onto the porch. “How can you act like you did not love every minute of it?” She’d dropped back into purr mode. “That you wouldn’t love to do it again, right here, on this spot…”

 

“Like animals?” He asked. Her eyes narrowed. “I am not an animal. You will not turn me into one. Get it straight in your head. I’m only talking to you now because you owe me a favor…”

 

“I owe you nothing,” Pandora said hotly.

 

Mark eyed her, then shrugged. “Right. And that is why you keep updating me on this chase. On these girls.” He stared at her. “How can I be sure that you aren’t lying to me again?”

Pandora’s anger flared, turning her eyes a red that matched her outfit. She reigned it in with considerable effort. As powerful as she was, she was no match for the half-human that Mark was. And she knew it.

 

“This is no lie.” She hissed out. Gone was the purr, the seduction. This was her true nature. Fiery anger, rage. “He marked them himself. He was seen…actually killed one who tried to stop him…”

 

This was the first time Mark had heard this. He sucked in a breath and held it for a moment, then sighed it out. All right. Good. That was what he wanted. “And you have…disposed…of the other three?”

 

“Yesssss,” She dragged the word out, savoring it. It was obvious she’d had her hand in at least one of the kills. “It was quite…”

 

Mark waved a hand. He did not want the details. “And the fourth?”

 

“Shall be ours within the day. Sooner,” She corrected herself. “We’ve destroyed his chosen. He will have to act fast to get to his last one before we do. We’ll not fail…this time.” She looked pointedly at Mark, then smiled. “Are you sure you don’t want to…”

 

“No.” Mark turned from her. “Take your…friend…and leave this place. You are not welcome here.”

 

Pandora made a choked sound of rage. Mark ignored her, going into the house, shutting the door behind him. He heard footsteps, voices, but did not pay them mind. The slamming of the car doors was what mattered. And the engine. It was fading, fading…gone. They were gone.

 

“Good riddance.” He lifted his gaze to the stairs. The fourth. Pandora and her scouts could look all they wanted. They would never find her. Not while she was with him anyway.

 

5

 

Rayne opened her eyes, expecting to see the young guy standing in front of her, the smile on his face, hand reaching for her. Instinctively she tried to jerk back, but couldn’t do it. Yes…that other guy, the biker…behind her…shit…

 

She…rolled? Wait. Rayne blinked a few times, looking around in confusion. She had been on the porch. The two guys were talking. Now she was laying in the middle of a huge bed, alone. She looked down the length of her body. And sighed in relief. Ok, still fully dressed. That was good.

 

She sat up, a little shaky. The few beers coupled with the carsickness followed by all the worry, yeah, she was shaky all right. Her eyes swept the room. The bed was covered with a soft black comforter. The floor was polished oak. The only other piece of furniture in the room was a table, situated near a huge window on the far wall. And on that table…a telephone. She blinked again. Shit. Were her eyes playing tricks on her? What kind of morons would kidnap a person then shut them in a room with a telephone?

 

Speaking of phones…she checked the front pocket of her jeans and sighed in relief for the second time in as many minutes. Her cell phone. She hated the damn thing, but never left the house without it. The gadget might actually come in handy for once.

 

She didn’t dig it out just yet though. House phone first. If these two guys didn’t know she had the cell yet, she wasn’t going to use it until it was absolutely necessary. Moving slow, making as little noise as possible, she edged off of the bed and stood, listening to the quiet house. She shuffled forward, grimacing every time a board creaked under her weight. Damn old houses. Why couldn’t guys who kidnapped people ever hide out in buildings made entirely of concrete? Nice, sound absorbing, non-settling concrete.

 

She stopped in mid thought, in mid step. And looked out the window. She’d been on the porch, it was still mostly dark with just a glimmer of dawn on the horizon. She could see through the window, see the blue sky, the high summer clouds. It looked to be at least lunchtime. Possibly later. She’d lost half of her day…sleeping. Whatever it was she had been doing.

 

Making herself go forward, Rayne shoved all thoughts aside. She made it to the table, and put her hand on the phone, but did not pick it up. She already knew it wouldn’t work. Wasn’t that how this shit always went?

 

“Oh…it works just fine,” an amused voice said from behind her. Rayne uttered a shriek and whirled around, knocking the phone off the table. Young clean-cut guy stood there, grinning sheepishly. She had been so intent on not making any noise that she had neglected to hear him opening the door to the room.

 

He came forward and she immediately backed away. She did not want him touching her again. Isn’t that what had happened? He’d done something and the next thing she knew it was after noon. He did not come toward her though. He stooped and picked up the phone, putting it back on the table.

 

“Don’t worry. I’m tapped out at the moment. I’m not going to hurt you.”

 

Rayne jumped a bit. It seemed as if he were reading her mind. Freaky.

 

“Yes I am, and yes…it is kinda freaky til you get used to it,” Again the boyish grin. “You’re probably hungry. Thirsty? I ran to the store…” He trailed off and glanced around the room. “Probably shouldn’t have left, but had to. Just for a little while. Mark is sleeping. He’ll want to talk to you when he gets up.”

 

“Mark?” Rayne tried the name.

 

“The one who brought you here.”

“Oh. Biker asshole guy.”

 

The young one laughed. “Umm, yeah. But if I was you I wouldn’t…you know…say that to his face.”

 

“Who are you people?” She asked, not expecting an answer. At least, not an answer she’d like.

 

“I’m Randy,” His smile faded a bit. “I think I should leave the explanations to Mark. He’s running the show.”

 

“What show?” She shoved her hands through her hair, pushing it away from her face. “I’m sorry, really I am, I’ve had one hellacious night, can’t think straight.” She turned, looking out the window. “Shit. I actually thought I heard you say you were reading my mind! How crazy is that?”

 

“I did say that.” Randy shrugged. “It’s just something that happens.”

 

‘Really?’ Rayne thought to herself.

 

“Yeah, really,” Randy answered out loud with a laugh as she stiffened in surprise.

 

‘That was an easy one.’

 

“It’s all easy. I’ve been practicing for a long time.”

 

“Ok. Stop it, you’re freaking me out,” Rayne spoke out loud this time. She didn’t like the idea of some strange guy knowing her thoughts all the time.

 

“Sometimes I can’t help it.” Randy shrugged. “I can tone it down if it really bothers you that much. I do it without thinking about it sometimes. I forget that hu…uh, well…I just forget that not everybody can do it.”

 

Rayne looked over her shoulder at him. He had been about to say something…she wondered what it was. If he was reading her thoughts now he didn’t show it. He went to the bed and straightened the pillows, then gestured toward the door. “Come on. We’ll have something to eat, you can relax for a little while. And everything will be explained. At least…I think it will be.”

 

What choice did she have? Even though Randy wasn’t as big as his friend Mark, he was still head and shoulders over Rayne. Although he didn’t bully her like his buddy did; which was probably why she only felt resentment toward the other man. This one just seemed too…easy going. Nice. Downright friendly. Or maybe she was just losing her mind. That made sense. More sense than any of this was making.

“Uh…” before she left, she glanced around. Her eyes fell on the huge bed. “Where is your friend right now?”

 

“Resting. Sleeping.” Randy shrugged. He had already exited through the doorway; he stood waiting for her.

 

“Where?” She met his eyes. “This is your room right? I mean, this house is huge…where is he at?” She did not know why that was suddenly so important.

 

“Uh…no it’s not my room. It’s Mark’s.”

 

“Oh.” She’d actually been in his bed. Holy shit. “And where is he?”

 

Randy looked at her as if she’d grown a second head. “In the bed. In his bed. Where else would he be sleeping?”

 

“But you just said…” She glanced over her shoulder, the words dying on her lips. The big biker guy was in the bed. Sleeping. Under the comforter, one arm thrown over his eyes to block out the sunlight that filtered in the window. He’d stripped his shirt off, baring his chest, shoulders, upper arms. “He wasn’t there a minute ago.”

 

“Sure he was,” Randy said, sounding amused. “Said he wasn’t going to put himself out just to give up his bed to you. Then he went and climbed in. End of story.”

 

“No…I mean…he literally wasn’t there,” She was staring at Mark. Could not take her eyes from him, lest he disappear again.

 

“Oh. That.” Randy said it dismissively. “Possibly astral projection. Or maybe he just didn’t want you to see him so he…uh…blended in. So you wouldn’t freak out. Like you’re thinking about doing right now.”

 

“Who the fuck are you people?” Rayne asked, giving up. She had been alone damn it. Alone in the gigantic bed. The big man had not been sleeping in there when she’d opened her eyes. She’d have been on top of him practically. She repressed the shudder that threatened to work its way down her back.

 

“Who said we were any kind of people?” Randy asked thoughtfully before moving toward the stairs. Rayne followed, casting glances back over her shoulder every few steps. She knew without a doubt that she couldn’t trust either of these two guys. Too much weird shit had happened already. Way too much.

 

6

 

“I’m not hungry.” Rayne repeated for the tenth time. Randy ignored her, firing up the gas stove.

 

“You are.” He pointed to a huge pitcher of orange juice. “Drink something. This will be a few minutes.”

 

Rayne huffed in frustration. Damn it. The juice looked good. She was parched. But…she didn’t trust this guy. She grabbed a glass and turned on the faucet, then filled it with water. Tilting her head back, she drank it down in three huge gulps, closing her eyes at the heavenly feel of the liquid on her burning throat.

 

She refilled the glass, drank it down quickly again, then topped it off one last time. She sipped at it, then noticed Randy looking at her in amusement. So…she liked water. Big deal. Who didn’t?

“Sit. It’ll be ready in a few,” Randy nodded toward an ancient looking table in the corner.

 

“Look…I told you I’m not hungry!” As if to spite her, Rayne’s stomach took that opportunity to growl. “Damn it. I just want to know what the hell is going on here. I do not want to play house with you!”

 

“Please…calm down.” Randy’s eyes drifted to the ceiling. “Mark can be kinda…cranky if you wake him up before he’s ready.”

 

“Big fuckin’ deal!” Rayne would not be calmed, not this time. She’d had about all she was going to take. “So am I. So is everybody else on the planet! Forgive the holy fucking hell out of me for not being courteous to the asshole who kidnapped me!” She raised her voice even more, hoping that he would hear, would wake up. She was tired of this waiting game.

 

There was a loud thump overhead. Randy smirked and turned back toward the stove. It was Rayne’s turn to look up at the ceiling. Oh…he was definitely up now. Stomping. Good. She tapped her foot impatiently. And was rewarded with the sound of water flowing through pipes. The asshole was taking a shower. Great.

 

Heaving a sigh, she flopped into a chair at the table and put her head in her hands. She made a conscious effort not to think of the cell phone that was poking into her hip. Randy would be on it so fast her head would spin, she had no doubt.

 

Randy was putting a plate in front of her. The smell of eggs and bacon made her mouth water, but she didn’t eat…not yet anyway. She was too busy trying not to think. To just clear her mind. Randy gave her an odd look, and settled into the seat across from her. Apparently his appetite was just fine. He dug right in.

 

Giving up, Rayne pulled the plate closer and tried a bite of egg. Not too bad. Hopefully he hadn’t spiked it. That was all she needed. She almost giggled at the thought. He’d been able to knock her out without her knowing it, why would he resort to drugs? She wondered if maybe she was starting to crack under the pressure of being here, of not knowing what was going on.

 

She quickly finished eating, then pushed the plate aside. “Want more?” Randy gestured at the stove.

 

“No. Uh…thanks. I’m full.” She watched him eat for a minute. “Can’t you at least tell me something? I’m going to go nuts.”

 

Randy shrugged. “I’d rather not. I mean…you’re not going to believe me, and you’re not going to like it. So I’ll let Mark do the talking.” He smiled at her frustrated groan. “Sorry.” His eyes drifted to her right. “Food’s ready.”

 

Rayne turned her head, looking at Mark. His hair was still damp from his shower. He’d put on a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt. The expression on his face was neutral. He ignored her, going to the stove and piling a plate high with food. Then he went to the table and sat down to eat.

 

She waited patiently. Rayne had the feeling that he wasn’t going to talk until he was finished anyway. To kill time, she gathered up her dishes and went to the sink.

 

“Uh…I’ll get those,” Randy was trying to nudge her out of the way.

 

“No. I can do it.” She shook her head. Damn, but this was nuts. Doing dishes for the guys who had snatched her out of a club. She truly had lost her mind. Maybe she took a shot to the head and this was all some kind of crazy dream.

 

Randy was grinning at her. Damn it. She glared back. He looked away, smirking.

 

When she was finished, she sat back at the table, tapping her fingers impatiently. Mark kept eating, as if her agitation did not bother him in the least. And why would it? He already knew what was going on. At least, she hoped he did.

 

He finally sat back, nodding at Randy, who leaned against the counter with his arms crossed. Rayne looked at Mark expectantly. “Well…” she said when it appeared he wasn’t going to talk.

 

Mark sighed. “This is going to be more trouble than it’s worth.” It was directed at Randy, who smiled but said nothing. Mark looked at Rayne. “You have a…special mark. You’ve been chosen.”

 

“Chosen for…” she prodded. “What mark? You guys seem to enjoy trying to lift my shirt and stuff. I don’t even have any freckles, so what’s the damn fascination with my back?”

Mark rubbed his eyes. “Every twenty years...” He seemed to lose track of his thoughts for a moment. “A specific demon gains the ability to come to the human world. To chose…mates. He picks as many as he wants, as many as he thinks will last him through the next twenty years. He marks them, branding them so no other demons will claim them.”

 

“Mates?” Rayne frowned. “Ok…demons, mates, marks. Fuck. What is that, some kinda sick joke?” She looked from Mark to Randy, then back. “There are no such things as demons.”

 

“Really?” Mark looked at her thoughtfully. “You are sitting in this room with two.” Her eyes narrowed. She thought he was joking with her. “And when I say mates, I do not mean it in the animal sense of reproduction. Although that has happened before.” He stopped, obviously struggling with the idea. “He means to take you back to where he lives, torture you, abuse you, rape you, ultimately he will kill you. But it would not be for a very long time. And it would not be a…pleasant…death.”

 

Rayne rolled her eyes. “That’s fucking crazy. Do you realize how insane you sound?”

 

“Yes.” He was deadly serious as he spoke. “As a human you refuse to understand. To accept. I expected that. But you do not need to understand or accept.”

 

“That’s where you’re wrong, asshole,” Rayne said, feeling her temper flare. “I need to know what the fuck is going on. Why you dragged me away from my friend last night, why you threatened me. Ok, so some demon guy wants to kill me. Big deal. What’s that got to do with you?”

Mark motioned for Randy to sit down. He waited until the younger man was seated. He turned his gaze back to Rayne, locking eyes with her. “I want to kill the demon who is after you.”

 

“Uh…” She started to speak, stopped herself, then went on. “You want to…use me for bait?”

 

“Basically.”

 

“No offense, but I think I would have rather taken my chances on my own,” She said flippantly. This guy had been an ass from the start, and now he admitted that he was just using her to get to someone else. Nice.

 

“Not likely. You see…” Mark smiled grimly. “This demon had marked four girls. Three of them are dead already.”

 

Rayne’s eyes widened in surprise. “Dead? He killed…”

 

“No. Not him. He can’t get to you for at least another few days…” He trailed off, obviously not wanting to go into detail. “Another group of demons is trying to prevent him from taking his chosen.”

 

“Great. Commando vigilante demons,” She said sarcastically. Did he actually think she was believing any of this? “If he’s a demon, and they are demons, then why would they want to stop him? Wouldn’t they be inclined to do the same thing?”

 

Mark was shaking his head. “This demon has made enemies. Forty years ago, he chose a human woman to…” He cleared his throat. “She ended up conceiving. No demon is allowed to conceive with a human. The results are…not controllable by the laws of either side.”

 

“So he got some girl pregnant and now he’s in trouble for it?” Rayne almost laughed. “Shit…sounds like some southern shotgun wedding in the making.”

 

Mark’s eyes did not waver, and Rayne felt the laugh die inside her. “The demon did not stop there. Very few human woman could conceive and carry a demon’s child. They are exceptionally rare. This demon decided that one was not enough. He impregnated her a second time only two years later.”

 

Rayne said nothing. In spite of herself, she was being drawn into this little story, as far-fetched as it sounded.

 

“This demon…Dominic…” he said the name with a twist of hatred. “Wanted to raise the two boys as his sons, destroy the part in them that was human, that was their mother. He wanted to control them, to use them for his own means. There are certain…powers…gained from the mix of a human and a demon parent. He wanted that power for himself.”

 

“And…what happened?” She looked from one man to the other again. “You happened. Or something to do with you,” Rayne pointed at Randy. He half-smiled.

 

“My parents happened.” He shrugged. “They were sympathetic to humans. Both of them were demons, but they had lived their lives here, in the human world.” He looked at Mark. Mark nodded, urging him to go on. “At the birth of the second son, they helped the human woman, Celeste, to escape, back to the human world. She took her sons with her.”

 

“And this…uh…Dominic…didn’t follow them?” Rayne asked softly. She had seen the way Mark’s face seemed to harden at the mention of the woman’s name.

 

“He couldn’t. He is an old demon, set in his ways. He is bound by his traditions and laws.” Mark bit off each word. “Only one trip into the human world every twenty years…”

 

“Oh…” Rayne frowned. “So…years passed. And he came for them.”

 

“Yes.” Mark closed his eyes. “Celeste tried to fight him, but she was just a human. She had aged. She was no longer the young woman that Dominic had known. So he killed her.”

 

“That’s…” She didn’t know what to say. She had a feeling she knew what was coming.

 

“The younger son, Glen, stood up to his father. He was half demon, half human. Much stronger than Celeste. But his powers had just woken up. He was still more human than demon. Dominic realized that he did not need both boys. Glen was...killed…violently. It made Celeste’s murder seem…almost merciful.”

 

“And the older son?” Rayne had the urge to reach across the table and touch his hand, offer him some comfort. That was just as insane as this story he was telling.

 

Mark opened his eyes, meeting her gaze. “Could not do anything against his father. The shock of seeing his mother and brother die…of seeing the blood…” He sighed. “He could do nothing. Dominic tried to…entice him to join him. And the older son was weakening. His family was dead, he had nothing left…”

 

Randy touched Rayne’s arm, making her jump. “My parents intervened again. They had worried that something like this may happen. Together they managed to force Dominic into an early…leave…from the human world. Then they took the older son in, taking care of him until he was able to do it on his own.”

 

“That was you.” Rayne was looking at Mark. He nodded.

 

“Yes. My father killed my mother and my brother in front of me and I could do nothing to stop it.”

 

“You were just a kid…what…like nineteen, twenty?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Christ.” Rayne felt like crying for him. Even if he had been an asshole, to actually witness something like that…

 

“Dominic’s time has come around again.” Randy said softly. “Twenty years.”

 

“And that has something to do with me?” Rayne asked.

 

“It has everything to do with you. He only chose four women…” Mark shook his head. “Such a low number. One of you would most likely be able to conceive with him. He wants another son. He wants what was denied to him so long ago.”

 

“But…why me?”

 

“Because…” He seemed at a loss. “I do not know how the choosing works. I do not…participate…in that aspect of demon life. Perhaps you did something that caught his eye. Or maybe it was something he sensed in you. At any rate, he’ll find out soon that his other three have been eliminated. He’ll have no choice but to come for you.”

 

“Eliminated…” Rayne was frowning again.

 

“Killed. So that Dominic can not fulfill his plans.” Mark sighed. “I told you…he has enemies. People who do not want to see the cross of human and demon, who do not want Dominic to gain more power than he already has. Over the last few days they eliminated three of his choices, leaving just one.”

 

“Me.” Rayne felt a shiver work its way down her spine. She didn’t actually believe any of this, did she? It was…it was insane. How many times was that word going to go through her head in one conversation?

 

“Yes.”

 

“You mean to kill him, don’t you?” Rayne asked Mark. He raised an eyebrow.

 

“For what he did to my mother and brother…yes. I am not a scared boy anymore. I am stronger now. I have accepted what I am.”

 

“And you…” She pointed to Randy again. “What role are you playing in this…this…whatever it is?”

 

Randy smiled sadly. “When I was born, my parents knew that Dominic would target us all again. For revenge. They sent me to live with a human family, as a human. I did not know what I was until Mark found me.” He sighed. “When I was three, Dominic convinced several of the…uh…less moralistic demons to kill my parents. So I never got to know who they were. But Mark knew about me, you see. He came for me when I turned eighteen. He helped me to come to terms with what I am. I was…uh…extremely confused. I thought I was going crazy, people’s thoughts in my head. I got to the point where I wanted to just…kill…everybody…who even looked at me.”

 

“You don’t look like you’d hurt a fly,” Rayne said with a smile. He ducked his head and grinned.

 

“Yeah. But looks are deceiving.” He met her eyes. “I had this girlfriend…I wanted to…uh…you know…and when she said no, I just saw red. All I remember is ripping at her clothes, listening to her begging me to stop, loving that fear and shame that was in her voice…” He took a deep breath. “Kind of got interrupted before anything happened. Mark…uh…knocked me out.”

 

Rayne was looking at Randy, then at Mark, who was nodding. “That whole demon raping the human thing…”

 

“Yes. Only in Randy’s case, it would not have been every twenty years, just a few here and there. He had been raised in the human world. The demon laws did not affect him. He could rape and kill, torture, as often as he liked.”

 

“Christ.” That was all she could think to say. And he looked like such a cute innocent kinda kid. What the hell had she been dragged into? She didn’t want to admit it, even to herself, but she believed. They were telling the most outrageous insane story she’d ever head and she believed every word of it.

 

7

 

Rayne needed air. Badly. And she still wanted a cigarette. Damn.

She stood up and headed toward the door that she assumed led to the outside world. A hand caught her wrist. She turned, looking into Mark’s eyes. For once he wasn’t squeezing. There was that at least.

 

“I just need a minute…to think…” She found it hard to talk. He sighed and released her hand.

 

“Going outside is not a good idea.” Mark shared a look with Randy. “We do not know if anyone is watching the house.” Randy got up, went to a cabinet and rummaged around. He turned back to Rayne with a smile on his face, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in his hand.

 

“I think I love you.” She took them from him, ignoring the way he flushed at her comment. “One smoke. Outside.” She looked at Mark. He nodded slowly.

 

“Stay right by the door. I mean it,” He added as if she had argued. Rayne rolled her eyes and moved once again toward the door, pulled it open and stepped out.

 

Rayne leaned against the wall next to the door, and opened the pack, pulling one out. She started counting in her head as she lit the cigarette and took a deep drag. Ahh…better already. She eyed the cigarette and smiled. And here she had thought the only thing out to get her was the addiction to nicotine she couldn’t seem to shake.

 

She got all the way to ninety before the kitchen door opened beside her. “Not even two minutes and you’re coming to check on me. Where the hell do you think I’d run off to? I don’t even know where I am.”

 

She turned her head and looked at Mark. He walked to the edge of the porch and scanned the overgrown yard. “I realize that it is a lot to deal with…”

 

“No shit.”

 

He leaned against one of the sagging roof supports, back to her, staring out into the day. “There was nothing I could do for the other girls. Nothing.”

 

“You trying to convince me or yourself?” Rayne asked. She finished the cigarette and tossed the filter into the dirt that surrounded the porch. “What…exactly…are you?”

 

“I am exactly nothing,” He said slowly. “I am caught between being a demon and a human. I have certain…powers that no demon possesses. And I do not feel things as a human would.”

 

“What kind of powers?” She moved to stand next to him on the other side of the rail.

 

Mark eyed her. “I can not read thoughts like Randy. That is his base power. The strongest that he has. He also has the touch. He can lay his hand on something and manipulate it however he wants.”

 

“Uh huh. I suppose I had the demo of those already. So what do you do? Bend spoons from across the room?”

 

“No.” He sighed. “It is…difficult to explain.”

 

“Try me.” Rayne laughed. “So far today I’ve been kidnapped, knocked out, and told I was hunted by a demon. So it can’t be too damn weird.”

 

“Give me a cigarette.”

 

Rayne looked confused by the change in conversational direction, but handed one over. She held out the lighter but he shook his head. Mark put the filter to his lips. Rayne’s mouth dropped open when the tip suddenly lit up in a flare of red fire that come from nowhere.

 

Mark took a drag, then blew smoke out, watching her as she took it in.

 

“Pyrokenesis?” Rayne finally said.

 

“Yes.” He looked at the cigarette in his hand, then at her. “You might want to smoke that before it burns down.”

 

“Smoke what?” She raised her hand. The cigarette was now between two of her fingers. “Shit. What is that, some slight of hand?”

 

“Telekenesis. Psychokenesis. The only thing I can’t do is telepathy. But I’m sure I can unlock that too if I work at it enough.”

 

Rayne took a drag from the cigarette. “Randy said you could…astral project?” Mark nodded. “Where do you go?”

 

“Just…away. To the past sometimes.” He looked out across the yard again. It was obvious he did not want to talk about it.

 

“Shit. This is like walking into an episode of the X-Files or something,” Rayne flipped the cigarette into the dirt. She laughed shakily. “You know…as odd as being able to do that stuff is, that’s still not all that strange. I mean, humans can do that stuff, right?”

 

“A few of them.”

 

“So what else is there?” She saw the way his jaw tightened. Plucking a nerve. She was good at it.

 

“You’ll find out. Probably sooner than you think.” He pushed away from the rail and rolled his shoulders, stretching his neck. “You should go back inside. It is too…exposed out here.”

 

“Um…am I being held prisoner here? Because…I have friends that are going to worry. A job. My whole life. What am I supposed to do about that?”

 

“I am not overly worried about your friends or your job.” He eyed her. “You can not contact anyone. Not if you want to be able to go back to your life when this is over.”

 

“But…”

 

“No. It would be too easy to track you that way. To bring the wrong…people…here.”

 

“All of this drama…all so you can get back at your father for what he did to you.” Rayne said quietly. Mark refused to look at her. “Maybe if you had just come up to me and told me all of this…”

 

“You would not have believed it.” He met her eyes again. “Do not feel sorry for me. Do not get too comfortable around me or Randy. We are as dangerous if not more dangerous than those who are hunting you now.”

 

Rayne raised an eyebrow. Looked like happy friendly hour was over for Mark.

 

“I thought that you were going to protect me.”

 

“No. I only said that you would come with me if you wanted to live.” He began to walk back toward the door. “Killing you would be the only sure way to make sure that Dominic does not get what he wants. It remains an option. You should keep that thought in your head, just in case you get any ideas about taking off or trying anything.” He stopped at the door and looked back at her. “Don’t think that I would hesitate to do what I would have to do. There is too much at stake.” With that he slammed into the house.

 

Rayne stared after him, the day’s warmth lost on her so suddenly that she shivered. Ok. She’d let down her guard and he’d just reminded her of why she should be scared. And she was. He was good. Did she think he’d kill her? Yes. Absolutely. There had been no doubt in his voice, his eyes. He wouldn’t even have a second thought about it.

 

She finally forced herself to go to the door. She had no choice. She would either cooperate with them or die. Rayne was going to have to figure this whole mess out, and soon. She felt as if she were already running out of time.

 

8

 

“I can see why he picked her.”

 

Randy spoke, breaking into Mark’s thoughts as he paced his bedroom. Mark stopped and looked at the younger man.

 

“It’s her eyes. Never saw eyes like that before.” Randy shrugged.

 

Mark heaved a sigh. “Maybe. Why he chose her is not our concern.” But Randy was probably right. Rayne had strange eyes, which he at first had thought were brown. In the light though, they were a dark violet color. It was very striking.

 

“How long do you think we have before…”

 

“There’s no way of knowing.” Mark interrupted him. “She fell asleep during the drive last night. Had a dream. I think he’s already started prying at her.”

 

“That fast?” Randy’s eyes widened. “He’s not wasting any time.”

 

“I think he already knows about the others. He wants this one before they can shut him down.” Mark went to the window and looked out. Afternoon was fading. The shadows were growing long with the coming night. “One of us will have to get her some clothes to wear. It’s too long a trip and too risky to go to her house for them.” He should have thought of that before. But he’d been in a hurry to get her away, to get her hidden.

 

The shower came on in the attached bathroom. Rayne had been quiet for the rest of the day, hardly seeming to know where she was. Randy had tried to draw her out but she’d just looked at him blankly. She’d surprised them both by asking if she could take a shower. And change clothes. Mark had finally given her one of her T-shirts to wear, which she had taken with a grimace.

 

“She’s acting…strange.” Randy said.

 

“How would you know what strange behavior is to her?” Mark did not look back at him. He watched the day fade.

 

“You threatened her, didn’t you?” Randy knew it was true even without probing into Mark’s mind. Not that he could do that…not usually. Mark had tricks for blocking that kind of thing.

 

“She needed to understand the seriousness of the situation.”

 

“Mark…” Randy sighed and leaned against the doorframe. “She’s been taken away from everything she knows. That is shock enough, don’t you think? Reminds me of…us in a way. Losing everything…not knowing what’s going on…”

 

“She is nothing like us.”

 

“Well, she’s more like you than me. At least you have a little human in you. Although I am having my doubts about that right now.” Randy watched as Mark turned to stare at him.

 

“You mind what you say, boy.” Mark’s voice had taken a dark twist. It was all Randy could do not to grin.

 

“I won’t. Not a bit. Because I’m not going to do Dominic’s job for him.”

 

Mark clenched his fists at the mention of the name. “What are you…”

 

“Oh please. Dominic has to break her before he can cart her off. Did it occur to you that you just helped him right along? Made his job a little easier?” Randy almost laughed at the look on Mark’s face. “You stomp on her spirit and he’ll have her quicker than you can blink. I’m starting to wonder if that’s your demon side or your human side. Seems like both sides enjoy it.”

 

“I was making sure that she didn’t try anything.”

 

Randy did laugh at that one. “Should have let her. It’s not like we couldn’t bring her right back. We’re…connected now. The touch…”

Mark let go of the anger. He rubbed a hand across his face. “You’re right.” Randy had used the touch on her already; they were connected now. Randy would always know where she was, know her topmost thoughts. What was going on in the deeper reaches of her mind…that would be Mark’s problem to take care of.

 

The shower cut off, and both men glanced toward the door. “Uh…I’ll go to town. We need some other stuff anyway.” Randy pushed away from the door and made his way downstairs. Mark resumed staring out the window, waiting.

 

Rayne dried off and tugged the T-shirt over her head. Black of course. It fell to about mid-thigh. She picked up a comb that was on the sink and began detangling her wet hair, wincing every time she caught a snag. She was putting off going out there. If should could stay locked in this bathroom forever, it would suit her just fine.

 

She looked at her jeans, lying in a pile on the floor. Her cell phone was still in the pocket. She started to reach for it, then stopped. Who would she call? Wynn? Rayne shook her head. She did not want to drag anyone into this. The cops maybe…but she had no clue where the hell she was, so what could she tell them? “Yeah…some demons have kidnapped me and are holding me hostage so they can kill another demon. Right officer, I’ll stay on the line while you call the local mental hospital,” She muttered under her breath.

 

It would help if that big asshole would make up his mind. One minute he’s talking to her like she’s…well…a human being. The next minute, he’s casually threatening her. It seemed to her that Mark was pissed at himself for being so ‘friendly’ for those few minutes on the porch. So he was going to take it out on her.

 

And the biggest kick in the face of all…she felt sorry for him. For both of them. She could relate. Her own parents had died when she was in high school, killed when they had stopped at a convenience store at the wrong time. They had interrupted a hold-up and had been shot.

 

Rayne leaned forward, studying her face in the mirror. She looked like her mom. At least, she looked like her memory of her mom. She knew she had her dad’s light hair. The urge to dye it had never happened, unlike Wynn, who seemed to sport a new color every week. Weird to have sentimental value on hair…but she couldn’t help it.

 

Sighing, she tossed the comb toward the sink and gathered her things. What good was it to think about her parents now? She wasn’t the one on some revenge mission…the cops who had responded to the robbery had shot the guy who had killed her parents. Shot him several times actually. Her father had been a police officer. When they recognized who it was that had been killed, his brother officers had…well…taken justice into their own hands.

 

“Enough with the memory lane shit,” She said to herself. She didn’t like to think about her parents. She’d end up crying. And crying would be showing Mark a weakness. He seemed to be looking for them. The asshole. She picked up her jeans and dug the cell phone out, then looked around.

 

It couldn’t hurt to keep it…handy. She made sure the power was off, then tucked it into the cabinet under the sink. Satisfied, she opened the bathroom door and stepped out. Mark had his back to her, looking out the window. She sighed and tossed her clothes into a bag that Randy had brought up for her. What did he think she was going to do? Melt and escape down the drain or something? There was a novel idea. Ooze on out of here.

 

“What are you smiling about?” Mark asked, reminding her that he was still in the room. He’d turned to watch her as she packed her things.

 

“Sludge.” The word caused him to crease his brow in a frown. Which made Rayne want to laugh. He’d said he’d kill her if she tried to run. That didn’t mean that she couldn’t aggravate the hell out of him while she was here. Sometimes being a smartass was the only weapon she had. “Where’s the boy wonder?”

 

Mark eyed her, suspicious that she sounded so…upbeat…all of a sudden. “Gone shopping.”

 

“Ah…” she zipped the bag up and tossed it into a corner. Then smoothed the T-shirt over her thighs. She’d have to remember to move carefully; she was going commando for the moment.

 

They stood there in silence for a few minutes. Rayne waited, wondering if he was going to start with the threats again. She’d had time to think. If he wanted revenge on his father so badly, he wouldn’t risk killing her. He needed her. Not that he’d ever come out and admit it, but she wasn’t stupid. It was probably killing him to admit it to himself.

 

“Well…” she finally broke the silence. She started toward the door. “I’m hungry. Since your resident chef is gone…I’m going to poke around the kitchen and see what you have to eat.”

 

Mark nodded, watching as she disappeared into the hallway. It had been on the tip of his tongue to apologize for earlier. But he’d held back. He got the feeling that it wouldn’t have helped anyway. She seemed to be regaining her equilibrium.

 

He finally moved toward the door. He had some things to take care of himself before night settled in. He had the feeling it was going to be a very long one.

 

9

 

Rayne slammed through the cabinets, throwing ingredients and utensils onto the counter. She didn’t cook…much. But she could make lasagna. And wonder of wonders, they actually had all the stuff she needed.

 

She busied herself for a while, letting the normalness of what she was doing sooth her. She never even noticed when Mark stopped in the kitchen doorway to check on her. He did not stay. But her behavior was confusing him.

 

Rayne finally put the dish into the oven to bake, then went out onto the back porch to once again catch a smoke. It was finally starting to get dark, the sun was almost entirely gone from the horizon. At night, in the quiet, with no lights, this place seemed so…lonely. Desolate. She had to stop that. She was doing nothing but spooking herself.

 

A sound of footsteps made her heart leap up into her throat. She sighed in relief when it was just Mark, coming around the side of the house, carrying…something in his hand. He looked up at her, then decided not to give her grief about being outside. Wonders never cease. He continued on his way, going around the far corner. Rayne frowned, wondering what he was up to.

 

“A demon line.” Mark’s voice made her jump. He was speaking from the corner where she’d first spotted him. How the hell had he gotten back around so fast?

 

“And what is that?” She managed to ask.

 

“An invisible wall around the house. Demons cannot cross it.” He shrugged. “An old trick, but it should work…for a while. Unless it rains.” He looked up at the clear night sky.

 

“An invisible wall…of what?” Rayne asked, smiling.

 

“The physical line is made of salt. And…a few other things.” He looked up at her. “Old demons won’t cross it. It’s a form of…territory marking.”

 

Rayne felt a shiver work its way up her spine. Territory. Was he trying to say that the house was his, or she was? There was a happy making thought. Not.

 

“Uh…how’s your friend gonna get back in the house if you blocked him out?”

 

“Randy is not an old demon. He was raised as a human. It is difficult to understand…” He trailed off. “Magic. Spells. Things of that nature…they only work if the person you use them on believes in them. Humans are taught not to believe. Demons believe fully; they use the magic themselves.”

 

“How…psychological,” Rayne flipped her cigarette into the dirt, then went to the top of the steps that led down to the ground. If she looked hard enough she could make out the faint line of white that was the salt he’d spilled on the ground as he’d walked around the house.

 

“Yes. Mind games. It is what demons rely on. The physical…comes later.” He moved to stand in front her of at the bottom of the steps. Rayne was at his eye level for the first time. “The physical is what drives them. They live to feel the next…kill, then next bit of pain. Not their own. They are sadists. They like to hurt others then feed off of the energy that pain gives. It is…”

 

“Difficult. Yeah.” Rayne sighed and hugged herself, wrapping her arms across her stomach. “But I get it. I think.”

 

Mark seemed to lose himself in thought. Rayne studied him in the meager light. He didn’t look any different from any other guy she’d ever known. Well, except for the size thing. And he was some kind of demon. And so was Randy. And…who knew how many people she worked with and dealt with during the course of a normal day were not what they seemed to be?

 

“Turn around.”

 

Mark’s voice dragged her from her thoughts. Rayne took a moment to process what he had said.

 

“Huh? Wh…why?”

 

Mark sighed and reached for her, hands on her waist, turning her. Before she could protest he was lifting the T-shirt up. Exposing her bare butt. Rayne fidgeted nervously.

 

“The mark hasn’t gotten any bigger…” He said softly. Thoughtfully. As if talking to himself.

 

“What mark?” Rayne tried to crane her neck, but she was no owl. Damn it. She wished she could see what he was seeing.

 

Mark raised his free hand and traced a small line in the center of the small of her back. Rayne shivered. “Here. A black line. The start of the number six.”

 

“What?”

 

“Dominic’s…brand,” Mark said softly. “For lack of a better word. If he has his way, the mark will be completed. There will be two sixes here…” He ran his finger over her skin. “One of them reversed. Connected here…” His finger stopped on her spine. “If the mark is finished…he wins. Do you understand that? You would go to him willingly, because by that time he would have broken you, would have broken your spirit. He would beat you, take you, torture you, every night for as long as he is not bored with you…and you would go into that willingly.”

 

“I don’t want to…” Rayne had to swallow. Her knees were practically shaking.

 

“It is not a matter of want. Or rather…not a matter of what you want.” Mark sighed, his finger once again tracing out the design on her back. “Once he takes you, he will keep you in his realm. Keep you young forever. You would never age. And if he is lucky…and from all signs, it seems to be true…you would be able to produce children with him. He would not kill you. Not for a very long time. But he would make sure you spent your life in hell. One way or the other.”

 

Mark slowly lowered her shirt, covering her back up. He stepped onto the porch until he was directly behind her. “I am not going to let that happen. You have to believe that. As a demon would believe in…certain magic.”

 

“Clap your hands for Tinkerbell…” She said softly.

 

“What does that mean?”

 

“Nothing.” She sighed and moved away from him, going toward the door. Before she went in, she studied him thoughtfully. “I believe that you would do anything to get even with your father for what he did. And if protecting me from him is a means to that end…then you’ll do it.”

 

He frowned. That wasn’t the response he had been hoping for. Rayne could offer him nothing else though. She couldn’t trust him. She’d already seen this friendly act turn into cold-hearted mercilessness. She wasn’t going to fall for it again.

 

10

 

They ate in silence. Rayne was lost in thought, staring down into her food and occasionally lifting a forkful to her mouth. What she managed to chew she did not taste.

 

Mark spent most of his time watching her. Studying her. The meal she’d cooked was good. Better than good actually. His appetite was not affected by the situation. He’d lived this life for a long time; he knew better than to let circumstances throw off his strength.

 

When dinner was over, he cleaned up without a word. Rayne watched him move around the kitchen, a little frown forming on her face. “Aren’t you worried about Randy? He’s been gone a long time.”

 

Mark looked over his shoulder at her. “Randy is all right. He had some things to take care of tonight. He’ll be back in the morning.”

 

“Oh.” Rayne dropped her eyes, sighing. Great. Stuck alone in this place with Mark. That should be interesting. She crossed her arms on the table and rested her head on them, yawning.

 

Mark’s face took on a worried frown that she did not notice. He watched as she blinked, the lids moving slow. She was getting sleepy. Randy had put her under for hours this morning but that had not been sleep; there had been no rest in it.

 

He was in for another long night. He’d have to stay up, watch Rayne sleep, be ready to…to intervene if it looked like Dominic was making a move. It would be the only way to draw him out. Mark would have to push him to the point that he would be forced to physically show himself.

 

He quickly finished up the dishes, then turned to Rayne. Her eyes were closed. He sighed and went to her, bending down so that he was at eye level.

 

“Rayne?” He touched her shoulder.

 

“Hmm…”

 

“Rayne. Come on. Wake up.” He nudged her. He wasn’t ready for her to go to sleep yet. He still had a few things to do.

 

Her eyes fluttered. Opened. Focused on his. “I…” She sat up, shaking her head. “Sorry. Guess I’m worn out or something.”

 

“Don’t be sorry. You are tired.” Mark put his hand on her arm and squeezed gently. “But try to stay awake for a little longer. Then we’ll both get some sleep.”

 

Rayne nodded. Then she noticed his hand on her arm and stared at it. Mark bit back a smirk and pulled it away. She seemed to be drifting back into sleep sitting up, but she caught herself.

 

She stood up suddenly, almost knocking Mark flat on his ass. “I think I’ll have a smoke. Something. Hell.” She grabbed the cigarettes from the counter and went to the door, slipping out before he could say anything.

 

Rayne leaned against the wall, hand on her chest. What the hell? She’d dozed off…then he’d woken her up and he’d…touched her. Ok. That was nothing to freak out about. But when her eyes had gotten heavy again…

 

It was as if a bolt of electricity had shot through her arm where his hand rested. And she suddenly did not want to sleep. Her body was still saying it was tired but her mind refused to listen to it.

 

And she wanted to sleep damn it. Eight straight, glorious hours. She’d been through too much, had taken in too much. She knew if she could just let it go for a while, she’d wake up able to look at everything in different ways.

 

But she knew that she wouldn’t be able to just drift off now. Something inside told her to wait. For what? Mark’s permission? She was confused. Her mind was refusing to think straight.

 

Sighing, she went back into the kitchen. Mark was not there. Whatever he was doing, she hoped he made it quick. She climbed the stairs slowly, then hesitated at the door to his room. Where was she supposed to sleep, anyway? In his bed again? In Randy’s, since he wasn’t going to be there til dawn?

 

Rayne stood indecisively, biting her lip. Shit. Why had every little decision become so complicated all of a sudden?

 

“You can sleep in my room.” Mark had come up the stairs behind her. She jumped, wondering how such a big guy could climb those rickety steps so silently.

 

“I don’t know if I want to do that.”

 

“You will sleep better there.” He urged her.

 

She surprised him by laughing. “Why does that sound like some kind of a pick up line?”

 

“It is no line. It is the truth.” He took her arm in his hand. “I can help you sleep. I have to help you sleep.”

 

“You…have…to?” She emphasized the second word. What did that mean?

 

“You’ll understand…later.” Mark gently guided her through the door. She went without a struggle. He was right already. She now felt that same mind numbing tiredness that she’d had in the kitchen but had lost the first time he’d touched her. Mark pulled back the comforter. “Come on. Climb in.”

 

Rayne hesitated for a moment, then did as he said. What was to keep him from just throwing her down on the bed? Nothing. And she was too tired to fight with him. In the morning it would be a different story.

 

She slid under the blanket and felt it being pulled over her. Her eyes were already slipping shut. Rayne could hear him moving around the room, sighed in relief when he turned off the light. She felt the other side of the bed sag under his weight as he got in. Should she protest? She couldn’t. Her mouth and her brain no longer seemed attached.

 

Mark didn’t get under the comforter. He didn’t make a move toward her, although Rayne was half-expecting it. He just lay there in the dark, listening to her breath. This sudden sleepiness…it was Dominic. Calling her. It as easier for him to get to her when she was sleeping. But Mark was ready for him. At least, he hoped he was.

 

11

 

Rayne was dreaming that dream again. She was on a bed, naked, her wrists bound above her head. It was dark where she was, pitch black. She was cold. Freezing. A puff of wind blew across her skin and she shivered uncontrollably.

 

A hand touched her bare stomach. It was ice cold, rough. She sucked in her breath, flinching back from it. It did no good. She could barely move, the restraints on her hands were too tight. The cold hand slid down over her hip. Rayne tried again to jerk away, but the hand suddenly locked on, gripping her, nails digging into her skin.

 

She hissed in a breath at the pain. It felt so damn…real. The nails were scratching her skin, pulling at her. She winced, feeling the sting.

 

“Rayne…” the voice sent a cold chill down her back. It sounded…gritty. Hard.

 

She shook her head, not wanting to speak, to acknowledge that she had heard. The hand moved across her hip, onto her lower stomach, then up. It was so cold it felt as if it burned wherever she was touched.

 

“Rayne…” This time the voice was deeper. Warmer. Farther away, but still…oddly familiar.

 

The hand suddenly grabbed her breast, squeezing it roughly, making her yelp. Tears of pain began slipping from her closed eyes.

 

“Mine. You are mine…” the gravelly voice seemed to come from all directions, whispering it over and over. Rayne was shaking her head again.

 

“No…” the other voice seemed to be getting closer. “Rayne…feel me Rayne. Open your eyes and see me…” She couldn’t do it. She did not want to see what was hurting her.

 

“You will submit to me, child…” the cold voice whispered. And sounded different. It was fading a little. “You will…you will…” There was a muffled shriek. Rayne flinched back against the pillow.

 

“Rayne…” the second voice, the familiar voice, was right beside her. “I am here with you. Focus on me.”

 

She tried. She could feel…something warm…inches from her left side. And she wanted to be near that warmth, to be warmed. She was so damn cold. Her teeth chattered. The hand on her breast squeezed again, not nearly as rough as the first time, but still hard enough to make her cry out.

 

“Leave her…she is mine…” the cold voice spoke from somewhere to her right.

 

“I think not.” The warm voice, even closer than before. Right next to her ear, it seemed. And she suddenly placed it. Mark. It was Mark’s voice. “Rayne…can you feel me?”

 

She took a deep breath, and concentrated. And…felt…a spot of warmth, on her stomach. His hand was on her stomach. “Y…y…yes…” She finally stuttered out. The hand on her breast squeezed again, making the momentary warmth disappear. She twisted her torso, trying to turn away from that icy grip.

 

“Concentrate on me and me only Rayne. Can you do that?” Mark’s voice was soothing. She could feel his breath on her ear as he spoke. “I will not hurt you. But he will. I will make you warm. But you have to concentrate on me…” And his warm hand was on her stomach again, the heat stronger this time.

 

The cold hand was still there though, but it was fading. She felt the nails dig into the soft flesh of her breast, and sucked in a pained breath. Mark’s hand slid up, cupping her other breast, and she focused on that instead. His hand was so warm, so gentle…she sighed and pushed herself more fully into his palm.

 

“That’s it Rayne.” As he spoke, his hand slowly stroked her skin. “Concentrate on what I’m doing to you. Nothing else matters now, except for what I am doing.” She nodded. She wished he’d untie her hands. She wanted to grab him and wrap around him, and get warm again. She was so damn cold still.

 

She felt the bed she was on shift, and suddenly Mark was there, on top of her, his body covering hers in a blanket of heated flesh. He was as naked as she was. She was not shocked at the move; she was too grateful to feel his warmth, to soak it in.

 

“Focus on me…” He repeated softly. The cold hand was still there, but seemed to be losing it’s substance. There was another shriek, this one of surprised anger and resentment.

 

“She is mine…” the gritty voice dragged the word out. Rayne hitched in her breath. “You would not dare take what is mine…”

 

“I would only take if it is given to me freely.” Mark was still talking to her, although she had the feeling the words were meant for the owner of the cold voice. He reached up and did something to her wrists. And Rayne was suddenly free of the bindings. Her arms were numb, her shoulders ached. But she was free damn it. She wrapped her arms around Mark, pulling him closer, reveling in the heat of him. She shivered violently against his warm flesh.

 

“Noooo…” the cold voice hissed out. It was so faint now that it was barely audible.

 

“Rayne…would you want me to make you warm?” Mark asked softly. His mouth was right against her ear, his voice sending a tremor through her body.

 

“Yes. Warm…would be…nice.” She managed to get the words out. Her teeth were chattering again. The cold hand was gone now, but she could still sense it, as if its owner was just waiting for another chance to step in.

 

Mark shifted, covering her body more fully with his. She sighed at the feel of him. She clutched at his shoulders. If he left her now, she’d go crazy, she’d freeze. “Warm me Mark. Please…” She did not know exactly what she was asking for, but she knew it had to be done. Had to be. There was no other way.

 

“Concentrate only on me Rayne…” He whispered softly. “Feel my body against yours. Do you feel my hand?” He slid it up her side, over her ribs, until his fingers were stroking the outer curve of her breast.

 

“Yes…” She sighed out. Her skin tingled wherever he touched her. Like sparks. Sending tiny rills of heat through her frozen limbs.

 

“Do you feel my mouth, Rayne?” as he spoke, he pressed his lips against her cheek, the corner of her lips.

 

“Yes…” Another sighed answer.

 

“Open up for me Rayne. Let me warm you.”

 

She did not think about it. She parted her lips, feeling his brush against them. He pressed on, slipping his tongue into her mouth. It was as if she were suddenly dropped into a tub of warm water. The heat from his mouth sent a wave of warmth through her body, making her sigh in relief. But it was not enough. She needed more damn it. She forced her tongue to move against his, to kiss him back, and was rewarded with another flare of heat that raced from her head to her feet.

 

The cold voice, the cold hand, slowly faded into the background as she kissed Mark. There was no cold. There was only Mark and the heat. The heat was good. She needed the heat more than she needed water, air. She pressed her body up against his, trying to soak him in, to soak in the warmth.

 

Mark broke the kiss and slid his mouth down her chin to her neck. She tilted her head back, murmuring as he warmed her skin with his lips. His hand slid between their bodies and he cupped her breast again. He kneaded it gently, then stroked a finger across her nipple. This time it was not just a ripple of heat, it was an entire waterfall.

 

“Mark…” She managed to sigh out his name. He moved lower, sliding his body down hers.

 

“Let me warm you Rayne…” his voice had turned husky. She cried out as his mouth closed over her nipple. He sucked gently, then pulled back and flicked his tongue over the peak.

 

Warm her? Rayne knew if he kept up she would be on fire. And that’s what she wanted. To chase away the bone-deep chill that had invaded her body. She was afraid of the heat, afraid of what it meant, but she was terrified of the cold. Mark would take away the cold. He would take it away and keep it away. She had to believe it. She had to trust him.

 

His mouth moved to her other breast, his hand once again cupping her. She could feel him…feel his erection…pressing against her thigh. And she moaned in need. It seemed to be the hottest part of him, hotter than his hand, even hotter than his mouth. He pressed his hips into her, letting her feel the length of him. She moaned, wiggling a little, trying to move him on.

 

Mark pulled back, nudging her legs apart with his knee, then settled himself between her thighs. Rayne made a low sound in her throat as his cock pressed against her folds. Forget ripples and waterfalls. This was even stronger, even more powerful. Spontaneous combustion, flash heat. Her body tingled with it. He pressed down against her, rubbing his body on hers, and she cried out at the contact.

 

“Do you want me to warm you now, Rayne?” He asked softly. He was still pressing his hips against her, but held his body up from her so he could look down. Rayne opened her eyes. It was still dark, but not as dark as it had been. Everything seemed to have taken on a red tint. Red…warm…red was good.

 

“Yes. Please Mark…make me warm again…” She reached for him, pulling him down to her body. Mark muttered, shifting his hips, and she could feel the head of his cock probing at her, seeking entrance. She opened up for him, spreading her legs a bit wider, then wrapping them around his waist.

 

He slowly pushed into her body, taking his time, not wanting to hurt her. And he could hurt her. She knew it. The heat, like the cold, could be too damn much. But having him inside her, warming her from the inside out…she tightened her grip on him. “Mark…please…”

 

Mark closed his eyes and finished his thrust, burying himself inside her. She was not cold…she was hot. Hot, wet, tight…pulsating around him, milking him. He heard her whimper under him as her body accepted him, pulled him in. He slowly moved his hips, pulling back then pushing forward, establishing a steady pace.

 

Rayne gasped in a breath every time he was fully sheathed, cried out, moaned…then began to buck against him, giving herself over to the sensations, to the heat. Mark began pumping faster, his mouth seeking hers, kissing her again, his tongue matching the rhythm of his thrusts. He felt her tensing around him, she was seeking her release, the end of that terrible cold that had gripped her.

 

He quickened the pace, giving her what she wanted now, movements hard and steady. He sucked in a breath then grunted in pleasure as she climaxed, her inner walls tightening almost painfully around his heated flesh. His mouth still against hers, his own moan of release was muffled as he plunged one last time, hips straining against hers as he spent himself.

 

Rayne sat up in the bed, heart pounding, choking back a yelp as the aftershocks of her orgasm went through her system. She looked around, panicked. She was in Mark’s room. In Mark’s bed. Her body was covered in sweat…she had kicked the blanket off even though the night was fairly cool. Still she felt…hot. Super warmed. Flushed. She was…was…

 

She looked down at herself. Naked. She was naked. She started to scramble from the bed but was stopped when a strong hand closed around her wrist. “It is all right. Do not leave.”

 

She hadn’t even noticed him lying there. He was naked too. And…she gulped…hard as a rock. She closed her eyes and did a mental check. All right. She’d had a dream. A vivid dream. That was all. So why the hell did it feel like she’d just had the wildest sex of her life? She felt…empty. That peculiar after-sex feeling of having lost something. And she could feel the numbness, the sign that she’d had enough for now. Oh boy. What the hell had they done?

 

She tried to relax against her pillow, but hissed in pain. Her hip was burning. She rolled onto her side and used the meager light from the window to see what the problem was. There were four…no…five…small wounds there. They had bled a bit, but seemed to have stopped. What the fuck?

 

“In the morning…” Mark’s voice whispered. He could not read her mind, he had said so himself, but he seemed to know what she was thinking anyway. “I will explain in the morning. It is safe for you to sleep now Rayne.”

 

Rayne allowed herself to be pulled down beside him. As hot as her body was, there was something…magnetic in the warmth he was putting out. Magnetic and altogether too familiar. She was too tired and confused to deal with it though. The morning would be soon enough for that.

 

12

 

The light was too damn bright.

 

Groaning, Rayne rolled away from it, pulling the pillow with her, covering her head with it. That didn’t help for long…she felt like she couldn’t breath. With a sigh, knowing that she was done with sleep, she pushed the pillow away and sat up. And froze.

 

This was not her bedroom. It took her a few seconds to remember…she was in Mark’s room. In his bed. Rayne pushed the blanket aside and looked down. The T-shirt was back. She glanced to her left. Mark was not there.

 

She sighed in relief, then stood up and stretched. That had been one crazy dream she’d had. It was hazy, but still…she knew it had been erotic. She snorted. That was an understatement. It had been so damn real that she actually felt…sore.

 

There were several bags on the floor next to the door. Curious, she went to check them out. They were full of clothes. Randy had apparently returned finally.

 

Rayne picked out a shirt and jeans, socks, underwear…he’d managed to get close to her size anyway. She’d manage. Sighing, she went into the bathroom to get dressed.

 

She tugged Mark’s shirt off and tossed it aside. Then froze as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. There were faint bruises on her right breast. She looked down, frowning. Little pieces of her dream came back to her…something about being grabbed…she shivered. Something cold had touched her. That was all she could remember about that part.

 

She craned her neck and looked at her hip. “Shit…how the fuck…” There were several gashes on her skin. Shallow gashes, but still…there was little blood, and it was dried. She grabbed a washcloth and ran it under cold water, then gingerly cleaned off the wounds. She hissed in a breath. They might be shallow but they stung.

 

Finished, she quickly tugged the new clothes on, not wanting to find anything else. How could something she had dreamed have come through when she was awake? She hadn’t…done it herself, had she?

 

Rayne shook her head at the thought. For one thing, she kept her fingernails short, blunt. Maybe Mark…no. His fingernails were shorter than hers. Why the hell couldn’t she remember?

 

She glanced at the cabinet where she’d hidden her cell phone. Then at the closed door. All right. Enough of this shit. She knelt down and rummaged, pulling the phone out.

 

Rayne hit the power button and then used the memory to dial Wynn’s number. She pressed the phone to her ear, then reached out and turned the lock on the bathroom door. She waited. There was nothing. Frowning, she looked at the phone. The battery was fully charged. That in itself was amazing.

 

She dialed the number from memory, closing her eyes when she was done and actually willing the cell phone to work.

 

She was rewarded with a click, followed by a low hiss as the phone made the connection. It rang. And rang. “Come on Wynn…” Rayne tapped her fingers impatiently on the plastic of the phone.

 

“Hey, this is Wynn…” Shit. Voicemail. “I’m out clubbing with Rayne. Hopefully we’ll get lucky. Leave a message, I’ll call you after I untangle myself.”

 

Rayne rolled her eyes. Wynn hadn’t changed her message from the other night. She must have found a really, really, really distracting guy.

 

“Wynn…I need help,” she said. Shit. She still had no clue where she was. “Listen, something happened and I’m…stuck…call me when you get this. Voice mail me, I’m turning the cell off.”

 

Rayne hit the power button. She’d have to conserve what battery power was left. She hid the phone back in the cabinet, then picked up Mark’s shirt and left the bathroom.

 

The bedroom was still empty. She glanced at the bed mistrustfully, remembering how he’d appeared there the day before. This was nuts. Why was she being so damn jumpy all of a sudden? If they were going to force her to stay one more night, she was damn sure going to get her own room. Even the floor would be better than actually having to lay in bed with Mark.

 

Rayne made her way downstairs. She could hear voices from the kitchen. It would be nice if she could just make a break for it, but where would she go?

 

“…stopped him before anything really happened…” Mark’s voice carried clearly into the hall, stopping her in her tracks.

 

“Do you think it worked though?” Randy’s voice. She heard the scrape of a chair, then the sound of running water.

 

“I don’t know…”

 

“So how did you stop him?”

 

There was a full minute of quiet. Rayne pressed herself against the wall and waited. Stop who?

 

“I had to go in.”

 

“No wonder you look so beat.” The water shut off. “You should be resting. Recharging yourself. It’s only going to get worse. You’re the only one who can get to them when she’s asleep.”

 

Rayne closed her eyes and took a deep breath. What did he do to her when she was sleeping? She realized she had better make her presence known. She’d been standing in the hallway for too long.

 

Before Mark could reply, she pushed away from the wall and went to the doorway. Randy was at the sink, washing dishes. Mark was sitting at the table, a mug of coffee in front of him. He looked up as she entered. Rayne bit her lip and looked away. She felt embarrassed by the dream she’d had. Not that she could remember the whole thing, but she knew that something naughty had gone on.

 

“Hey…good morning,” Randy had noticed her. He was flashing that boyish grin. Rayne nodded back, then headed for the backdoor. Looked like a good time for another smoke.

 

Mark stopped her by reaching out and grabbing her arm. “Wait a minute…” He pulled her closer to him, turning her.

 

Not this again. Rayne had taken about all of this she was going to take. Randy had moved closer to look as Mark pulled her shirt up.

 

Rayne jerked forward, and spun around on her heel. She glared at Mark. “Look…whatever the fuck you see on my back do you think it’s fucking possible to ASK me to let you look instead of just trying to rip my clothes off?”

 

Mark’s eyebrow went up. Randy looked stunned. “Uh…I…”

 

“Uh, you.” Rayne mocked him. She was mad. More than mad. And she had no clue where it was coming from. “The next fucking time you…or you…” she pointed at Randy. “Grab me, I’m going to fucking kill you.” She meant it. Enough was enough already. Turning, she went to the door and slammed it on her way out.

 

“Uh…damn.” Randy sounded awed. “She’s throwing off my subliminal stuff.” When he had put her under yesterday, he’d used a trick of his, kind of like brain washing, to keep her calm.

 

“I noticed.” Mark was staring at the door. With a sigh he got up.

 

“I wouldn’t go out there. Give her a few minutes to calm down,” Randy shrugged. “Or if you go out there…make sure you don’t touch her. She’s mad enough right now she might decide to rip your throat out with her bare hands.”

 

Mark nodded. He had heard that edge to her voice, the tone that meant she had meant business. He didn’t fear that she would actually be able to kill either of them, but rebelliousness on her part could mean the end to everything he had spent twenty years getting ready for. He needed her. He did not want to admit it, but there it was.

 

He headed for the front of the house instead, away from Randy’s questioning looks. Mark settled for going onto the front porch, leaning against the railing and looking out at the driveway. Last night had been the first time he’d ever gone into someone’s dream and manipulated it. It had drained him, a little. But that was not the problem.

 

The problem was what had happened once he’d gotten in. His sole purpose had been to keep Dominic away from Rayne. At first anyway. But something had happened. He’d followed his instincts and had joined with her. His father had been watching, outraged, and he took satisfaction in that. But now he was dealing with something he’d never felt before. He’d liked it. There was no urgency, no animalistic rutting…he had not been in any kind of rush. He wondered what it would be like to lay with Rayne here, in his world, real flesh against flesh…

 

Mark closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. It was not going to happen. He’d have to focus on the job at hand and not waste time on foolish fantasies. Rayne would not have him, not while she was awake. And he had never forced himself on someone who was not willing. He would not even use one of his little tricks to get to that end.

 

13

 

The rest of the day passed slowly. Rayne’s anger seemed to come from her in waves, but she held her tongue, refusing to speak to Randy. Mark did not try. He seemed to be avoiding her.

 

She was going crazy. They had no TV, no radio. There wasn’t even a magazine to leaf through and pretend to read. And she couldn’t go off the porch. She had tried, had walked down the steps, but found herself faltering before her feet could touch the actual ground. She remembered Mark circling the house, spreading salt. And she did not want to cross that line. Actually, it was more like she couldn’t cross it. Her feet would not carry her that far.

 

She refused to eat. Randy had tried to offer her food several times, but she’d given him a look of such cold anger than he’d backed off each time, hands in the air.

 

And now here she was. Late afternoon. The sun was starting its drop in the west, and the light was spilling in through the bedroom window. Rayne was sitting on the floor in front of Mark’s bed, staring ahead at the blank wall. This was an old trick Wynn’s grandmother had taught her. Meditation, sort of. If she could concentrate, she would be able to look down at her hands and see her aura.

 

So she was concentrating. Or actually…trying not to think at all. Just gazing at the white wall, letting her eyes lose focus. She’d been sitting like this for more than half an hour, ignoring everything around her, just zeroing in on that one spot on the wall.

 

And it was working. She could actually feel her anger drain away. It was a useless rage; there was no reason for it. She’d just suddenly…snapped. That was not like her, not at all. But she could feel this burning…hatred…inside her and had wrestled with it all day long.

 

It did not help matters that Mark and Randy had been acting so…weird. Randy had circled her like a doting mother, worrying over her not eating. She wanted to slap him every time he came near her. As the day wore on it got harder and harder to control that impulse.

 

And Mark…she had no clue what was up with him. He’d gone out of his way to avoid her, but she’d caught him looking at her. Not just curious looks either. He looked…hungry. Needy. Shit. She had no clue what the hell that look was. But it was scary. And it only fueled the anger inside of her.

 

Rayne slowly brought her hands together and dropped her eyes, still keeping them unfocused. And saw red. She sighed and resumed looking at the wall. Red was definitely an angry color right now. She made herself picture blue things, blue seemed like a calmer color.

 

There were footsteps outside the bedroom door. She could sense someone hesitating just on the other side. She ignored him. After a few minutes, whoever it was went away. Probably Randy, wanting to annoy her with his buddy grins and pleas to eat…

 

Rayne sighed again. Damn it. There were those angry thoughts again. She’d have to start all over. Focusing on the wall, she pictured blue. Blue flowers. Ok. Blue water. That was good. Her own eyes were blue; well, indigo might be a better way to describe them. Oh…and Wynn’s hair a couple of months ago…

 

She ventured a look at her hands. Now she could see blue. It was weird how that little meditation thing worked. She knew that she had to figure out where the sudden anger had come from. Maybe it was just the way Mark had grabbed her arm. His hand had been hot from holding on to his coffee mug. She rubbed her wrist without realizing that she had done it.

 

Whatever the reason, it was pointless, useless, a waste of energy. Rayne stood up and stretched, wincing at the numbness in her legs. She paced around the bedroom, moving until the blood was flowing back into her limbs. Ok. Now what?

 

She glanced around. She could go downstairs and see what those two were up to. She could go have another cigarette. The thought didn’t much appeal to her. She’d gone from a pack a day to not wanting one at all in the space of a couple of days. Somebody should market getting kidnapped as a means to kicking the habit.

 

The bedroom door opened. She hadn’t been paying attention, so she hadn’t heard the footsteps this time. Rayne stopped pacing and looked at Mark as he stood in the doorway.

 

Mark had not wanted to go upstairs. Rayne’s anger did not ‘scare’ him. If anything, he was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. He’d sensed her strong will. It was amazing that Randy had kept her sedate for as long as he had.

 

Randy was gone again. Back into town for another long night. He would return in the morning, as was their routine. He had tried to pry details of the night before from Mark, but had not been successful. It was better that the younger demon did not involve himself too deeply in the matter, even though he had just as much reason to hate Dominic as Mark did.

 

As soon as he opened the door, he could sense the change in Rayne’s attitude. She’d done what Randy had been trying all day to do. She seemed to have her anger in check. That was good. It might make this easier. He almost laughed. There was nothing easy about this situation.

 

“May I see your back?” Mark asked softly, finally breaking the silence between them. Rayne eyed him calmly. If she was surprised that he had asked, she did not show it.

 

Without a word, she turned and raised her shirt. Mark stepped closer, frowning. The mark had gotten bigger. The first six was almost complete. He had not been in time after all. He rubbed his hand down his face and heaved a sigh of frustration. Dominic had not had much of Rayne’s mind, but he’d managed to tighten his grip anyway.

 

“What is it?” Rayne was looking over her shoulder.

 

“It’s bigger.” He turned and went to the bed to sit down.

 

“I still don’t see it.” She started to lower her shirt, then changed her mind and went into the bathroom. “There’s nothing there.”

 

“Only a demon would be able to see it.” Mark said.

 

“Oh. Well. That’s a comforting thought.” Rayne came out of the bathroom and stood uncertainly in the middle of the room. “Uh…where is your friend?”

 

“Gone. Back into…town.” Mark shrugged.

 

“And he’ll be back…”

 

“In the morning most likely.” Another shrug.

 

Rayne turned and walked toward the window. Great. Another night all alone with Mark. Not that Randy being there would have made it any better, but still…

 

Mark watched her. He did not have to read her mind to know that being alone with him was the last thing she wanted. He’d sent Randy on his way, assuring him that Dominic would not try again tonight. And Dominic would not. He would wait a day or two, gather his strength, and attack when Rayne’s defenses were down. If he tried tonight…after the anger she’d had that day…it would be as useful as punching a brick wall. No…he knew his father well. He would bide his time.

 

And if he were to be truthful, Mark wanted Rayne to himself. He was suddenly…fascinated with her. He liked the flash and fire he’d seen today. And he had definitely liked being with her in her dream the night before. He wanted more. And she didn’t know it yet, but she was going to give it to him.

 

He was part demon after all. He would not just take her; that was not his style. But he could…influence her a little. And he wanted to. And for once the side of him that was human, was…normal…was not protesting. After being with Pandora, sex with a mere human should seem…bland. Mark and Rayne had not even shared real physical sex and he already sensed it would be a hundred times better.

 

14

 

Rayne had no idea where she was.

 

The hallway in front of her seemed to go on forever. It was dimly lit by spaced out windows that were so grimy that the sun could not penetrate fully. The place had a…hospital feel to it. She could think of no better way to describe it. The air smelled faintly of dust, of rubbing alcohol, of death. She seemed to be taking in way too much information, and none of it was helpful. The creaking of wooden boards around her. The dirt gritting under her bare feet. The weight and texture of the dark dress she was wearing…

 

On her right was a row of doorways. The doors were missing from most of them. She forced her feet to carry her forward and peered into the first room. It was empty except for a broken gurney. So it was some type of hospital. She shivered. She hated hospitals, had not been in one since she had lost her parents…

 

The thought left before it was fully formed. Pulling in a deep breath, she moved to the next doorway. The door was still on this one, although it was hanging at an extreme angle, one rusty nail holding it to the frame. She peeked around it and stepped back with a startled gasp. Bright red eyes were peering back at her. She heard a chattering noise and the click and scrape of claws on the old wooden floors.

 

Putting her hand to her chest, she giggled at herself. Rats. That was all it was.

 

She moved on down the hall. The light dimmed as she went, making vision next to impossible. She could see the shapes of things but not what they were. And…she could see a strange green glow coming from a room farther up the hallway.

 

Whatever that was, she did not want to see it. That light looked…sickly. Evil. She did not know why, but it did. It repelled her and pulled her at the same time.

 

She ignored the other doorways that she passed, eyes fixed on the green glow. She did not want to see what was in there, what was making that light, but she could not help herself. Her body and her mind were two separate things, and her body was currently in control.

 

A wave of despair filled her as she stepped into the green light that fell through the doorway. A feeling of being lost, helpless, alone. Weak. Breath coming in shallow hitches, she moved toward the door, stopping as soon as she had stepped over the threshold.

 

This room was like the first, except for the green that seemed to throb from the walls in a steady beat. A gurney was in the middle of the room, a pale sheet covering the pads on top of it. There were various pieces of equipment scattered around, but unlike the gurney they were in various stages of disrepair.

 

Her eyes finally settled on the figure standing in the middle of the room. His back was to her. He was wearing a long black leather duster. She did not have to see his face to know that it was Mark.

 

But…what was he doing? Rayne did not really want to know…just looking at his back, at his stooped posture, his stance, sent a shiver of fear down her back. But she could not leave, could not walk away, could not even close her eyes.

 

His head came up, turning. She could see his profile, the look of utter…nothingness…on his face. She could not back away from him. She wanted to but her body refused to respond. He turned slowly, and she sucked in a breath.

 

He hands were wrapped around the neck of a woman. She was on her knees on the floor in front of him, eyes wide, staring up at him. She jerked on his hands but could not budge them. The girl tried to breath but he was choking her…

 

Rayne made a low sound in her throat. The girl looked so…familiar…somehow. There was something about her…

 

Then it hit her. Wynn. The neon green streak in her hair seemed to glow in the eerie green light. Mark tightened his grip, uttering a grunt of effort. Rayne wanted to help her friend, to stop him, but she was powerless.

 

Wynn stopped struggling, her eyes losing focus as Mark kept up the pressure. Her hands fell to her sides and she went limp, head lolling back in his hands. Mark waited a few more moments, then let her go, watching as her lifeless body thumped to the floor.

 

He straightened up and looked at Rayne. Her mouth opened but no sounds would come out. She wanted to scream. She could feel it building inside her, but it seemed to lodge in her throat.

 

Mark walked toward her slowly, almost stalking her. He was dressed totally in black leather, his long hair pulled back from his face. His eyes were not blank anymore…she saw once again the dark hunger she’d been sensing from him all day.

 

Without a word he grabbed the front of her dress and pulled her to the middle of the room. The gurney was at her back. Wynn’s lifeless body lay sprawled on the floor near her feet. She was aware of all of that and at the same time…did not care. Her eyes were locked on Mark’s.

 

He reached out to her, once again grabbing the material of her dress. His lip curled and he yanked, tearing the fabric open, exposing her bare breasts. Rayne managed to make a low whimpering noise in her throat but that was all. It was as if he were not really seeing her. He was looking right at her but…there was nothing there.

 

Mark pushed her back until she felt the metal edge of the gurney bite into her skin. He grabbed her by the waist and lifted, then dropped her so that she was sitting on the hard cushion. Rayne managed to get her arms braced, pushing her body up so she wasn’t completely lying down.

 

Mark’s hands were already on her legs, pushing her dress up her thighs, bunching it around her hips, exposing her bare center. Rayne’s eyes widened as he dropped one hand to the zipper of his leather pants, realizing what he was going to do to her.

 

Now would be the time to struggle, to scream…but she couldn’t do it. It was as if her mind was disconnected from everything.

 

Mark shoved his pants down his hips. Rayne stared at him, eyes wide with fear. He was hard already. He shoved her back, pressing her flat against the gurney, then slid his hands down to her hips. He yanked her body toward his, letting her legs dangle off the edge of the gurney. Mark pushed her legs apart and stepped between them.

 

She could feel the head of his cock probing her. She struggled mentally, and managed to shake her head, wanting to scream at him to stop. Mark’s hands clutched her hips and he drove brutally, painfully, into her body.

 

He did not wait for her to get used to his size. She was not ready for this assault. He rammed himself into her again and again, the gurney rocking with each thrust. Tears slipped from her eyes as she tried to block out the pain. His hands left her hips and grabbed at her breasts, squeezing them, making the tears come faster. She could not make him stop…all she could do was hope he would finish quickly and just leave.

 

Mark continued to thrust into her, his pace never slowing. She felt as if she were being ripped in half. She had never felt pain like this…never. His hands tightened even more on her breasts and his body shuddered with his release as he came inside her, his last brutal thrust causing her to release the scream that had been building up sine he’d began to rape her.

 

Breathing heavily, Mark pulled away. Rayne watched as he adjusted his clothes, righting himself, before facing her again. He held out his hand.

 

She stared at it. Did he actually think after what he had just done she would take his hand? Even as the thought formed her hand was raising, coming to rest in his. He helped her to her feet. He’d hurt her. Her legs were aching, her body sore. She felt something trickling down her leg and knew instinctively that it was blood. Or a mixture of blood and his spend…he had taken her forcefully, roughly, if she wasn’t bleeding a little she would be surprised.

 

Mark led her slowly to the fallen body of her friend. He turned to face her, and put his hands on her shoulders. Rayne gave him one last look then closed her eyes. His fingers slid to her throat, caressing her skin before clamping down. The pressure was gradual, slow, almost…sensual. Nothing like the rape she had endured. She welcomed it, welcomed the feeling of his hands on her neck, of not being able to breath.

 

His hands suddenly tightened painfully, cutting off her air completely. Rayne’s eyes fluttered open and she looked up at him, seeing that same blank look on his face that had been there when he’d strangled Wynn. She opened her mouth and tried to gulp for air, but there was nothing…she could feel her vision fading, the green washing out of the room…and finally she found the strength to struggle.

 

15

 

With a scream, Rayne sat up in the bed, flailing her arms out, her heart pounding. Her breath came in gasps as she struggled to calm herself down.

 

A hand touched her arm. Rayne screamed again and pistoned her arms out, slamming her fists into Mark’s chest. He overbalanced and teetered on the edge of the bed. Rayne did not wait for him to fall. She tried to scramble away from him, whimpering, tears running down her face.

 

Mark had righted himself. He reached out and grabbed her arm before she could do more than put one foot on the floor. He pulled her backward, ignoring her curses, holding her arms to her sides so she couldn’t fight him. He pulled her back between his legs and wrapped his arms around her, pinning her effectively against his chest.

 

Rayne was sobbing uncontrollably, not wanting him to touch her, but finding comfort in his warmth. He made a low soothing noise in his throat and used one hand to stroke her hair. He could feel her shaking against him. He closed his eyes, hugging her close, rocking side to side as he tried to ease her, to calm her down.

 

It had just been a dream, a stupid dream…Rayne tried to get her mind to accept that idea. It had been so damn…real. He’d killed Wynn…and he’d raped her. And he’d tried to kill her. She shuddered again, the images replaying themselves in her mind.

 

Mark felt her body shaking against his, and held her tighter. He had been sleeping deeply and Rayne’s scream had jolted him immediately awake. And even before he moved to grab her, he already had an idea of what had happened.

 

Rayne’s sobs eventually tapered off to occasional sniffles, but she did not relax in his arms. She slowly became aware of the fact that the T-shirt she’d worn to bed had ridden up; she could feel him pressed against her. He wasn’t wearing anything. With a whimper, she tried to pull away.

 

“Rayne…” He whispered her name, his voice low.

 

“Let me go…let me go…” She repeated it over and over, twisting her body, trying to loosen his grip.

 

Mark sighed but still held onto her. “Tell me what you saw.”

 

Rayne shuddered but said nothing.

 

“You saw me.” Mark said softly. “You saw me...killing someone. A woman. And raping another. Was that it?”

 

Rayne froze. “M…me. You raped…me…” She took in a breath. “How did…you know?”

 

Mark was quiet for a few minutes. “I was…dreaming about it.” It was a dream he’d had many times, so many that it had no power to unnerve him. The demon side of him reveled in the killing, the hurting.

 

“You…” She stopped and shook her head. “You did it again? The same thing you did last night…why did you do it?” She started crying again. “Why would you want me to see that? To feel it?”

 

Mark held on to her, rubbing her arms gently with his hands. He had not meant to fall asleep. He’d wanted to lay down next to her and go into her dream again, to be with her there again, but had fallen asleep and had a dream of his own. And she had somehow…seen it. Not only that, she had been an active participant.

 

The thought scared him. His demon side had possibly pulled her in, and used her in ways that his human side would never allow. That was not what he wanted. He had that in Pandora, he’d had his fill of that kind of animalistic behavior. That he’d lost control over his ability, that he’d used it while he was asleep, scared him. If he could slip, what was to say that his demon side would not eventually take over in his waking life?

 

Rayne was still crying, waiting for his answer. And how the hell could he answer her? She would not believe anything he said. “Rayne…” He cleared his throat. Sighing, closing his eyes, he held her close. “When I came of age, I discovered I had this ability…this power…to see other people’s dreams. It’s where I go at night, when my own dreams are too dark. I leave, I enter their dreams, I watch…” he shrugged. “It is an invasion of privacy of the worst kind, but I can not help it.”

 

She said nothing. Mark resumed using the same low tone. “I discovered that I could make myself an active participant in others dreams. Which is what I did…last night. Do you remember what happened last night?” She nodded uncertainly. “Dominic has…the same power. Kind of. He cannot physically enter your dreams, but he can influence them. He is about mental domination. At least, until he can be near you physically.”

 

Rayne shivered. “But you…were so real.”

 

“I was there. I was there with you, and I had to do something to bring you back from him. I had to…” He stopped. “You were so cold Rayne. I had to warm you. I could not think of another way to do it.”

 

She did not reply. He could feel her waiting for him to go on. He sighed heavily. “Tonight, I did not enter your dream. You entered mine.”

 

“I…” She frowned. “How did I do that?”

 

“I do not know. Since my demon half awakened, I have had that dream, of being in a place like a hospital, of doing…what you saw…” He took a deep breath. “I have had it so many times that I am used to it. It holds no power to frighten me. And somehow…I pulled you in. It’s the only explanation I can think of.” He stroked her arm with his fingers. “I would never hurt you that way Rayne. I do not take what is not offered to me.”

 

Mark let his words sink in. When she spoke, she surprised him.

 

“How could you stand to dream that so many times?” She asked softly. “It was so…” she could not find the right words.

 

“My demon side likes the thrill of pain, of…”

 

“No. I understand…that. But the place, the…” again she stopped, at a loss for words. “So lonely there. Lonely and…empty.” She shivered again, feeling the remnant chill from the place where he’d been.

 

“It is me, Rayne. Inside. That is what I am.”

 

Rayne bowed her head down, finally releasing the tension that she had been holding since he started talking. Mark waited, eyes closed, for her reaction. Again she surprised him.

 

“You can’t be that…empty.” She finally said. Her head came up and she looked around as if realizing for the first time where she was.

 

“But I am. I am.” Mark whispered hoarsely.

 

“No. I don’t believe that.” Mark opened his eyes at the tone of her voice. “You took Randy in, right? You loved your family. You lost them, sure, but still…” she took a deep breath. “There can’t be so much nothingness inside you. If there was, why would you even bother trying to get revenge on your father? Wouldn’t you just…not care?”

 

Mark had no answer. Rayne apparently didn’t need one. “I am afraid of you. But you already know that. You wanted that.”

 

“Yes.”

 

Rayne sighed. At least he’d admitted it. “I’m more scared of what might happen…if your father gets me. Even after this dream…stuff…” She shook her head. “I keep forgetting that you aren’t doing this…to protect me. I don’t know why that’s so hard for me to accept.”

 

“Rayne…”

 

“You can let me go now. I’m all right.” She said, ignoring the sound of her name. His arms tightened momentarily, then relaxed. Rayne moved away from him, slid to the end of the bed, and sat there with her head down. Mark could think of nothing to say. She was right. He opened his mouth to at least try, but before he could say anything he sensed…

 

Head cocked to the side, he looked toward the window. Pandora. She had no reason to come here, but she was on her way. He looked at Rayne’s back, and had a moment of panic. Randy was not here to use the touch on her, to put her under. Pandora might have already sensed her and was coming for her.

 

“Someone’s coming…” He finally said. Rayne lifted her head but didn’t look around. “Stay here, in this room. Do not come out for any reason.”

 

Mark was getting up and gathering his clothes, jerking them on quickly.

 

“Is it…those people who want to kill me?” Rayne asked softly.

 

Mark tugged his boots on and looked at her. “Yes.”

 

She nodded then lay down on the bed, curling on her side away from him. Mark spared her one last glance, wanting to tell her that he would take care of her…but he could not. She already knew the truth, lies would not ease her mind at this point. With a sigh he went out the door, mentally preparing himself to deal with Pandora.

 

16

 

He didn’t have to wait long.

 

The sleek black car came to a halt in the driveway bare inches from the bumper of his truck. The passenger door swung open and Pandora stepped out, her blood red dress fluttering around her knees. She smiled seductively in his direction. Mark’s eyes narrowed.

 

She came toward him, eyes locked on him. And he almost laughed at loud as she came to an abrupt halt as if she’d hit an invisible wall.

 

She glared at him. “What is this? Too good to let old friends enter your house?” She glanced at the ground. Apparently the little trick he’d used was still working. She could not cross the line of salt on the ground.

 

“Old friends are always welcome here,” Mark said, voice flat. “You are not.”

 

Pandora looked as if she were going to argue, but stopped herself. A smile curved her lips. “You are hiding something. Perhaps…something that I want?” She sidestepped, careful not to get any closer to the line on the ground. Her eyes went to the second floor of the house. “Oh yes. Did you think you would be able to hide her forever?”

 

“What are you talking about?” He decided to play dumb. Just to aggravate her.

 

Pandora eyed him, her eyes dark. “Do not play games Mark. The girl we have been seeking…I should have known you would already have her. That deceptive humanity in you has made you weak. Kill the girl and end this foolishness.”

 

“What I do with the girl is none of your business, Pandora.”

 

“Oh, but it is. We have a job to do here, Mark. Just as you have a job to do. No one is going to take this bit of rebellion lightly.” She seemed to savor saying it.

 

Mark’s frown deepened. “I am not like you. I do not live by your ‘rules’. Your ‘code’. You of all people should have realized that. Perhaps your bosses will see that you were the one in the wrong. After all…you knew what I was when you suggested that I join you.”

 

Pandora managed to hold her anger in check. It took great effort. She wanted nothing more than to slap the smug look from Mark’s face. “Whatever you are planning…I would suggest you rethink it. The girl is dangerous to our kind. She can not continue to live. She would always be a threat.”

 

“What do you mean by ‘our kind’?” Mark asked. “Do not compare yourself to me Pandora. You and I are nothing alike.”

 

“She will destroy you.” She seemed to take pleasure in saying it.

 

Mark shook his head. “You still do not understand. You never will understand. I am not going to waste my time explaining it to you.” He stood straight. “Leave. Come back again and I will kill you myself. The girl is under my protection now.”

 

Pandora allowed a cold smile to form on her red lips. “Oh, is she?” She clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “She has willingly given herself to you?” She shook her head. “I doubt that very seriously. She already has Dominic’s mark on her. She would not let herself be taken by you. She belongs to your father, Mark. Even if you will never admit to it.”

 

Mark refused to be baited by her words. “We shall see about that. He has not claimed her yet. Time is on my side, Pandora.” He waved a dismissing hand at her. “Leave. Now. Before I decide I am sick of your face.”

 

He ignored her outraged gasp and turned to go into the house. “This isn’t over!” He did not acknowledge that he’d heard her. He slammed the door and stood there in the hallway, fists clenched, until he heard the car pulling away. They would be back. As soon as it rained, washing away the demon line he’d put down most likely. He looked up the stairs, then sighed. Pandora was right about one thing. Rayne was not under his protection. Having her in her dream was not the same thing as having her for real. If she came to him willingly…

 

He pushed the thought from his mind. After she’d shared his dream, the chance of that happening was slim. But he wanted her still, he could not define why, but it was there, eating at him. Rubbing at his temples, he made his way toward the kitchen. There would be no more sleep for him that night.

 

Rayne stood at the window, watching as the tall woman approached the house. She was beautiful in a cold, exotic way. She came up short before crossing onto the porch.

 

Even though their voices were low, Rayne could still hear them talking. She didn’t know how that was possible. The window was down. But it was like they were here in the room with her.

 

Mark finally got rid of the woman. Rayne went to the bed and sat down, mind reeling. She could hear him downstairs. He had apparently decided to stay in the kitchen.

 

What did they mean…willingly? She would have to sleep with him?

 

The thought made her shudder. But another thought invaded, this one much worse. The mark on her back, the one she could not see…it was Dominic’s mark. And that meant he already had some kind of hold on her. Was it possible that Mark would be able to break that hold? Just by sleeping with her?

 

Getting up, she paced to the window and looked out into the darkness. The woman had said that Rayne would destroy Mark. How? She couldn’t even seem to gather her thoughts around him, let alone kill him. What kind of chance did she stand in any of this?

 

There was only one option then. Her stomach clenched at the thought. If she…gave…herself to Mark, then he would have to protect her. No more threats, no more worrying over what he would do to her…after this was over. And did he want her? She had the feeling that he did. What else could be the reason for those looks he’d been giving her all day?

 

She focused on the dream she’d had the night before…the one where she had asked him to warm her. It had not been…bad. Not like his dream. If she could keep that in mind, then she could get through this.

 

She squared her shoulders. All right, she was going to give herself to him. That was her only choice. It was either that or wait for his father to come for her. And she would rather die first. Steeling herself, she headed toward the bedroom door.

 

17

 

Mark poured himself a double shot of Maker’s Mark, hesitated, then made it a triple. He didn’t particularly care for the alcohol but he liked the way it burned and warmed him when he drank it down. He knocked it back, wincing at the bite, then closed his eyes and waited as the heat seemed to envelope him.

 

He heard footsteps overhead. Rayne. Sighing he poured another triple. This had all started out so simple, when had everything gotten so complicated? He shook his head. The only thing complicating this mess was his own confused mind. The two sides of him warred with each other constantly, it was all he could do to remain sane.

 

There was a noise from behind him. He looked over his shoulder, then turned back to his glass and drank it down. “You should try to get more sleep. Everything’s all right now.”

 

Rayne stood uncertainly in the doorway, watching him. She still wasn’t convinced that she could go through with this. She did not want him. She was afraid of him. But she had to do this, had to. She could pretend, she could fake. She’d had to do that more than once with her last boyfriend…

 

Realizing her thoughts were straying, she slowly walked into the kitchen. He was sitting with his left side against the table, pouring himself another drink. She wished for one herself. Actually, she wished she were already falling down drunk, then her brain wouldn’t be working overtime.

 

She stood behind him, then reached around him, taking the glass. Taking a deep breath, she drank down the dark liquid, gasping as it lit a fire down her throat and into her stomach. She coughed once, wondering how the hell he could stand it.

 

She set the glass down and watched as he refilled it yet again. This time he brought it to his lips, downing it in a single gulp. He placed the glass back on the table and refilled it but did not immediately grab it to drink. Instead, he turned it with his fingers, thoughtful.

 

“They’re gone. They won’t harm you.” He finally spoke.

 

“Yeah.” She wasn’t asking. Mark glanced sideways at her. She seemed to be in a trance, staring at the glass in his hand.

 

“You can go back to bed. There won’t be any more nightmares tonight,” He said quietly. Rayne looked at him and nodded. But did not leave.

 

Rayne was at a loss as to what to do now. What exactly did willing mean? That he’d have to make the first move and she’d accept? Or that she should just…she shook her head. If she waited for him, she’d never get this out of the way. He seemed to be too deep inside himself.

 

Biting her lip, she took a step back, eyeing the back of his head. She brought her hands up and rested them on his shoulders. Mark stiffened at the touch, bringing the shot glass to his mouth and downing it. Rayne let her fingers slide onto his neck, ignoring the butterflies she felt in her stomach. Images from that damn nightmare kept going through her mind. No. She shook her head. The other dream…that’s what she needed to think about. He’d been…easy with her. Gentle. She felt herself flushing, remembering how she had practically begged him to make her warm. And it hadn’t just been a dream. He had been there, it had actually happened.

 

Resolved, she slowly stepped around the chair until she was facing him, her bare leg against his jean clad one. Mark opened his eyes and looked up at her questioningly. Before she could change her mind, Rayne leaned down and pressed her lips to his, putting her hands on his shoulders to steady herself.

 

He made a low noise of surprise in his throat. Tilting her head, she raised her hands to cup his face, then ran her tongue over his lower lip. His lips parted in response and she slid her tongue inside, tasting the whiskey he’d drank, but also tasting…him. She used her tongue, urging him to kiss her back. It took a few moments, but he finally joined in, delving into her mouth in answer.

 

Rayne’s legs were literally shaking. Whether it was from the awkward position she was in or from the barely held in check passion that was coming form him she did not know. So much for not responding to him. She felt like all of her dials were being lit up one by one, and that was just a kiss. She couldn’t imagine what sex with this man would do to her.

 

Mark felt her shake against his leg. Breaking the kiss, he grasped her waist and pulled her down so that she was sitting in his lap. Rayne leaned forward to kiss him again but he dodged her, staring down into her eyes.

 

“You…” he stopped to clear his throat. “We…can’t…do this.”

 

Rayne shifted on his lap, pressing her hip into his groin. He grit his teeth, trying not to react. “Why not?” She whispered. She brought her hand up and hesitantly used her finger tip to trace his lower lip. Mark sighed.

 

“It is…” He could not seem to form the words. “How could you want to do this with me after…what you saw?”

 

Rayne thought it over. Tell him the truth? No. He’d definitely put a stop to this if she did. She bit her lip, then looked at him, meeting his eyes. “Because…maybe I just want to prove that…that you’re not like that. That you won’t…hurt me like that.” She shifted her gaze from him. That was not far from the truth, actually. It made sense now that she’d said it.

 

Mark was studying her, his green eyes dark with barely restrained desire. “This would…change…things. There would be no way to go back…”

 

“I don’t care…” Rayne met his eyes again. “I’m tired of being afraid. I want you to help me…I want you to make the fear go away.”

 

Mark brushed her hair back from her face. “I do not know if this doing this will help you with that. It might make it…worse. I can not always control what I am, Rayne.”

 

“You…were in control the other night…that first dream…” she reminded him. “That’s what I want. I want to feel…safe.”

 

Mark closed his eyes and pulled her against his chest. He wanted her damn it. His body ached with the need to touch her, to taste her. But the reasons were wrong, all wrong. Again he could feel the two halves warring against each other, each one wanting her for different reasons. It was tearing him apart.

 

Rayne could feel his indecision. She knew she had to do…something…now before he said no, before he realized what exactly she was after. Taking a deep breath, she snuggled her head on his shoulder and pressed her lips against his throat. Her hand came up to rest flat on his chest. She could feel his heart thumping under her palm.

 

“Rayne…” Her name was nothing but a hoarse whisper. It sent a shiver down her back. Not a bad kind of shiver either.

 

Before he could voice another protest, while he was still a bit weakened by his own thoughts, Rayne lifted her head and kissed him again, not wasting time teasing him, sliding her tongue into his mouth again. Mark hesitated briefly; she could actually feel it the moment that he gave in to what she was doing. He moaned against her mouth and melted into the kiss, giving himself over to the feel of her tongue against his.

 

Mark tangled his fingers into her hair, tilting her head to get better access. He took control of the kiss, claiming her mouth with his. He wanted this so badly…this human wanting far outweighed anything else he’d ever felt. The old rules did not apply to him, they never had. His father did not own this woman, not yet. She could be his. He could make her his.

 

Rayne clutched at the collar of his shirt, the mixture of trepidation and lust almost more than she could handle. She hoped that the part of him that wanted her was the human part, the part that had warmed her when she had been cold. Then she made herself stop thinking. It was too late to go back now, either way, this had to be done.

 

She felt Mark’s hand move to her bare thigh, resting on her smooth skin. He was being gentle, so far at least. His hand inched up her leg as he kissed her. He paused when his fingertips encountered the hem of the shirt she had on. For a moment she worried that he had changed his mind, but his hand continued its slow path. His fingers slid under her shirt, and she jumped a little when he brushed against the ticklish spot where her hip flexed.

 

Mark kept going. He broke their kiss, gasping for breath, then looked down, watching his hand as he progressed up her stomach. The shirt bunched and rose with his movements. Rayne murmured softly and sat up, lifting the material over her head. She bit her lip and waited as he took in her bare breasts, her stomach. He made a low noise in his throat and slid his fingertips up to brush the underside of one, then the other.

 

Rayne closed her eyes, her head falling back, arching into his touch. The fear…it was going, leaving, as if his very gentleness with her was driving it away. And she suddenly felt hot, on fire…just like that first dream. She needed him to build up that heat then to put her out again.

 

The first real spark of desire shot through her body as his fingers slowly stroked the hard peak of one nipple. Her eyes fluttered and she stiffened up momentarily. Mark did not seem to notice. His gaze was focused on the movement of his hand over her breast. Rayne felt another flash of heat worm its way across her body, the familiar tension gathering at her center. What happened to just…faking this? She couldn’t remember why it had been so important not to get swept up. Her mind was too fogged over with lust.

 

His thumb stroked over her nipple and she moaned. Mark hesitated then slowly lowered his head, bringing his mouth in proximity. She felt his breath against her skin. Involuntarily she arched her back again, pressing herself against his lips. Mark opened up, pulling her nipple into his mouth, letting his tongue flick over the tip. It was Rayne’s turn to tangle her fingers into his hair, to pull him even closer to her body.

 

Mark released her nipple and turned his attention to her other breast. She tasted sweet…that was the only thought that seemed to register in his mind. He had never noticed that before in a woman…had never thought to pay that much attention to the scent of skin, the texture, the taste. And now he wanted to, he wanted everything.

 

He explored her breasts with his mouth and let his hand slide down her stomach, tracing her naval with one finger before going lower. He came against the waistband of her panties, and just slid his hand down over then, enjoying the smooth texture of them against his fingertips.

 

Rayne was whimpering softly as she parted her legs, letting him touch his way down her body. She was at sensory overload, his mouth, his hands, the feel of his erection pressing through his jeans and against her hip…and that deliciously scary heat that licked it’s way up from her center, bathing her in its warmth. His hand slid between her thighs, his fingers tracing the leg of her panties. Rayne wiggled, the anticipation was almost enough to drive her mad.

 

Mark slowly pressed his fingers against her center. Even through the thin material of her panties he could feel her heat. He gently rubbed his fingers back and forth, giving her a little friction. Her hips bucked against his hand. He smiled a little, then pressed into her again, making her gasp.

 

Abruptly he stopped moving and sat up, looking into her flushed face. She looked at him, her expression on of mixed disappointment and wariness. “Mark…?”

 

He slid his arm under her knees, his other bracing her back to support her. Without a word, he stood, lifting her with him. Rayne clutched at his shoulders, squeaking in surprise at being lifted so effortlessly.

 

He kept his silence as he headed toward the stairs. The feel of her in his arms was enough to drive him crazy, but he held it in check. He would not take her in the kitchen, or on the stairs. He wanted her in bed, in his bed. That animal urge to just take her was losing out to the need to be close, to feel everything that he possibly could.

 

18

 

Rayne sighed in relief when he gently laid her back on the bed. Big as he was, the idea of being dropped had entered her mind. She watched him, eyes half open, as he stood next to the bed and pulled his shirt over his head. The heat, which had faded a bit, was starting to rise again. She did not know why, she had…felt…him without his clothes on before. But now she was actually seeing him, looking at him…

 

Mark kicked his boots off, then worked his jeans down his hips. He finally climbed onto the bed, resting on his knees next to Rayne’s prone form. One hand rested on her knee, squeezing it a little. She smiled, closing her eyes as his fingers worked their way up her thigh, over her hip, little sparks seeming to jump from his skin to hers as he caressed her bare skin. His hand stroked her, flaming the fire that he had started in the kitchen.

 

Eyes on her face, Mark slowly leaned forward and pressed his lips against her stomach, letting his tongue trace a path around her naval. Rayne’s eyes fluttered open when she felt his fingers sliding under the elastic band of her panties. She lifted her hips, letting him pull them down her legs. She lay there, once again watching him take her in, actually feeling the heat from his gaze as he looked her over.

 

Mark moved, easing her legs apart. He positioned himself between then but was careful not to touch her, not yet. He leaned forward and kissed her, tongue probing her mouth, stealing her breath. Pulling away, he brushed a trail down her throat with his lips. Once again he settled on her breasts, suckling on her, squeezing her gently in his big hands.

 

Rayne’s moans were almost more than he could take. He fought against the urge to rush. No…he could not do that, did not want to risk her changing her mind now. She whimpered and arched her hips up from the bed, catching him by surprise when she pressed herself up against his erection. He jerked back, closing his eyes at what that little bit of contact had done to him.

 

Rayne was smiling a little at his reaction. Mark cocked an eyebrow and continued to kiss his way down her stomach, once again paying attention to her naval. She murmured and reached down, brushing her fingers through his hair. He cast one last glance into her eyes and moved down so he was positioned between her legs. He brought his hand up and parted her folds, feeling the way she tensed as he studied her body. He slid his thumb experimentally over her wet clit, smiling at her soft cry of pleasure.

 

He tilted his head and flicked his tongue out, running the tip over her swollen clit. Rayne’s hips came up off the bed and she cried out again, louder this time. Mark continued, holding her still with one hand on her lower stomach, his tongue working her over. He lost himself in the taste of her, the feel of her hot skin against his mouth, the pulsating little bud on his tongue.

 

She reached down, not sure if she was going to push him away or hold him close. It wasn’t just fire inside her, it was a full blown inferno, out of control. Every movement of his tongue against her brought another sound from her throat. She could feel her climax gathering strength. Her legs were trembling so hard she could not hold them still.

 

Mark finally pulled back, wondering if the sound she made when he released her was one of relief or disappointment. He licked his lips, relishing the taste of her one last time before sliding up her body. This time he let his lower body rest against her so she could feel his cock pressed against her. Rayne whimpered, her legs wrapping around his waist as she tried to pull him in closer.

 

She felt him shift on top of her, felt the head of his cock probing her entrance and had a moment of total body lock down. Mark held himself still, his eyes on hers as she fought against the sudden surge of panic that invaded her.

 

“I can stop…” He said it softly, but she still heard the need in his voice. Yes, he could stop, but it would kill him to do it. Rayne knew it.

 

She forced herself to relax, taking deep breaths. “I don’t want you to stop…I just…”

 

“I would not hurt you Rayne. I could not hurt you now if I tried,” He said, voice pleading. She stared into his eyes, believing him. He had exhibited control so far…

 

“Take me Mark…” She said, her own voice hoarse. “I want you…”

 

He ducked his head and kissed her lips, slipping his tongue inside. Slowly he moved his hips against her, filling her, going slow, stopping several times to let her get used to his size. He felt her squeezing him, felt her legs tighten, and knew she was ready. Her nails lightly raked his skin as he began moving, the rhythm slow and easy as used long strokes.

 

Rayne felt every inch of him as he entered her. It was the most intense sensation she’d ever had in her life. With a soft moan of acceptance she held on to him, letting him rock into her body at his own pace. The heat was coming back again, full force. She did not try to stop it or hold it back. She let it roll over her, let it take her where it wanted to go.

 

Mark pulled back from kissing her, moaning softly at the feel of her. It was even better than he had expected, not like the muted feeling of being inside her dream. She was so tight, so wet…his cock throbbed inside her body and he groaned as he pushed even deeper, lengthening his strokes so that he was completely sheathed by her before pulling almost completely out.

 

“Oh…Mark…” His name on Rayne’s lips was a breathy cry. Her body suddenly arched up from the bed, legs tightening painfully around his waist as her climax took her. He watched her, felt her, his strokes speeding up as her body convulsed around his throbbing cock. With a wordless cry, he pushed himself as far into her as he could go, his own release taking his vision, his ability to breath. For a few minutes it was all sensation.

 

He slowly became aware of Rayne’s harsh breathing, of her heartbeat slamming against her chest. Her body was still reacting to the powerful orgasm she’d had. He could feel it, could feel her inner walls twitching against him. He eased himself up from her, giving her room to breath. She made a protesting noise as he pulled away. He regretted leaving her body, feeling the same sense of loss that she was feeling.

 

He pulled her into his arms, rolling onto his side to hold her. Rayne muttered something unintelligible, and let him cuddle her close. Her body was completely relaxed in the aftermath, and a new kind of warmth was taking over. She blinked sleepily, and then gave up and closed her eyes. Mark kissed the top of her head and lightly stroked her back. It had been…intense. As he’d thought it would be. Rayne was the first and only human woman he’d slept with. And it had been even more…powerful…than he’d thought it would be.

 

And now…she was his. He closed his eyes at the thought. Anyone that tried to harm her would have to deal with him first. It was the only rule of the demon world that he actually agreed with. A smile quirked the corner of his mouth. His father…

 

Mark could almost imagine his roar of outrage at what had happened. Taking Rayne as his own before Dominic could complete his ritual meant that Rayne would no longer be an option for him. He would still come, oh yes. But not to take away a human woman. No, he would come to deal with the man who had stolen what was rightfully his. And Mark was more than ready for him. He’d spent twenty long years getting ready for the final showdown with his father.

 

 

19

 

Rayne opened her eyes, aware that the quality of light coming from the window could only mean one thing; a storm coming. She stretched and sat up, pushing the blanket off of her body. She felt oddly…energized. At full battery power as Wynn would put it. After the night she’d just gone through, she found that thought amazing. By all rights she should be sleeping like a rock.

 

She glanced to her left, taking in Mark’s sleeping form. He was the one being lazy today, apparently. He looked…different. Rayne frowned, studying his face. It was as if something had changed, some of his edges had softened…she shook her head. Anybody could look soft when they were sleeping. It didn’t mean anything.

 

She carefully got out of bed, not wanting to disturb him. She picked up some clothes and went into the bathroom to shower. While the water ran, she dug through the cabinet and pulled out her cell phone. Turning on the power, she punched in the number to her voice mail. There was one new message waiting for her.

 

“Hey…” there was a rush of static. “Club…doing…later!” That was all she could make out. Wynn’s voice was so distorted, Rayne had trouble with even that much. So the cell was useless. Shit. She stuffed it indifferently into the pocket of her jeans. She’d figure out what to do with it later.

 

She took a quick shower, letting the hot water soothe her sore muscles, then got dressed. Leaving the bathroom, she spared Mark one last glance before slipping downstairs. She could hear movement in the kitchen. Randy had made his return.

 

He grinned at her from his seat at the table where he was reading a worn looking book. “You’re up early…” The words seemed to die out and he gave her a confused look. Rayne just stared back at him, wondering if she’d grown a second head. He shook his head as if he needed to clear it.

 

“Uh…gonna go have a smoke.” She finally said. He was unnerving her with that look. She didn’t really want a cigarette but…it was a good excuse to go out on the porch.

 

She slipped through the door and stood there, looking up at the gray sky. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Looked like they were in for some rotten weather. It would be a good day to sleep in.

 

Laughing at herself, Rayne pulled her cigarettes from her pocket and lit one, inhaling the smoke. The old nicotine rush did not happen. Smoking it was more habit than necessity. Like a link back to normal life. She moved to the edge of the porch and leaned against the rail.

 

Bringing her cigarette to her lips, she took a drag and got…nothing. “Shit…” She muttered. Damn thing had burned out. She dug in her pocket for her lighter, staring at the tip of the cigarette. And saw it flare up in red flames.

 

Gasping, she dropped it and looked around. That was one of Mark’s little tricks, he’d shown her that the other day. But he wasn’t around, presumably he was still sleeping.

 

She bent down and gingerly picked up the cigarette, watching the smoke float from the tip. Without taking a puff, she tossed it out into the yard. The she pulled the pack out and chose another one.

 

She held it out and concentrated on it, willing it to burn. And to her surprise she actually felt something leave her, some invisible force. The tip of the cigarette smoldered then caught fire in one quick blaze of red.

 

“What…the…fuck…”

 

What else was it he had done? She wracked her mind, trying to remember. Oh yes, that little trick where it went from his hand to hers. She looked around, picked a spot on the porch rail about ten feet from her, then concentrated once again on the cigarette.

 

And nearly passed out as it slowly dissolved in her fingers, fading out, disappearing, leaving only a thin rill of smoke in its wake. She turned slowly, in shock, trying to process it, seeing the cigarette lying on the rail, still burning.

 

She went to it, picked it up, and sent it flying to join the one she’d tossed before. “I have his…powers…” She whispered, not realizing she had spoken out loud. She backed toward the door to the kitchen, staring at the smoldering cigarette that was lying on the ground.

 

Randy was still sitting at the table, with the same puzzled expression on his face. Rayne ignored him. She broke into a run and took the stairs two at a time, throwing open the bedroom door, not caring anymore if she woke Mark up or not.

 

She clambered up onto the bed, on her knees, and shook his arm. “Mark!”

 

He muttered and blinked his eyes, trying to focus on her. Rayne impatiently shook him again. “Mark!”

 

“What the hell is going…” Randy appeared in the doorway, still looking confused, then his gaze landed on Mark. His mouth dropped open and he took a staggering step backward, as if he’d been punched.

 

“What’s wrong?” Mark was sitting up slowly, rubbing his hand over his face, trying to shake off the remnants of sleep.

 

“Something happened…I don’t know what it is…my cigarette…fire…” Rayne was babbling but couldn’t seem to help herself.

 

“Whoa…” Mark held a hand up. “Slow down. What happened?”

 

“I was outside, I was smoking…”

 

She didn’t get a chance to finish.

 

“What the hell?” Randy’s voice again. He’d recovered himself and had come into the room. He was now standing by the bed, staring down at Rayne’s back. She was leaning forward and had not realized that her shirt had ridden up.

 

“What is it?” Mark was more alert now. He pulled Rayne forward so that she was almost sprawled across his blanket covered lap. She felt him moving her shirt aside but did not protest it, not this time. “I…”

 

“That’s your mark. Yours.” Randy said in wonder, staring at Mark, his eyes wide.

 

Mark frowned at her back, then looked up at Randy. His eyes were solemn. “I…do not see it. There is no mark.”

 

“What?” Randy and Rayne both said it in unison. Under other circumstances it might have struck them as funny. Rayne twisted in Mark’s lap, sitting up and righting her shirt.

 

“What do you mean, you can’t?” She asked, forgetting for the moment why she’d come running.

 

“I mean I can’t see it.” His voice was strange sounding. “There is nothing there. Just bare skin.”

 

“Oh no…” Randy muttered. He put his hand against his head. “Mark…this is not…”

 

“Rayne…tell me what you wanted to tell me.” Mark was looking at her. Rayne swallowed and cast a glance in Randy’s direction, then sighed.

 

“I was outside, I was smoking. And I…lit my cigarette the way you did the other day. No lighter. That mind trick thing. And then I made it disappear and reappear somewhere else.”

 

“I can’t believe this…” Randy was still muttering under his breath.

 

“My powers. You have my powers.” Mark echoed Rayne’s thoughts. “Give me a cigarette.” Rayne did not question, she reached for the pack and handed it over to him. Mark pulled one out and studied it for several long seconds. A look of intense concentration crossed his face. Rayne opened her mouth to speak when…something…happened. The end of the cigarette did not flair up as hers had, but it smoldered, a thin wisp of smoke rising from it.

 

Mark blew out a labored breath. Beads of sweat had formed on his forehead. “I can still do it but…It took a lot out of me,” He looked at the cigarette, then leaned over to crush it out against the floor.

 

Thunder rumbled, closer this time, making all three of them jump. Rayne’s eyes caught Mark’s. “What does this mean? Tell me…” She resisted the urge to grab him and shake him, to jar him into thinking faster. What the hell was wrong with him?

 

“I’m not really sure…” He shared a look with Randy. Randy nodded and stood up.

 

“I’m going to leave you two to talk. But I want to just say…Mark, I can read you now. I can hear your thoughts. I’ve never been able to do that before.” It seemed to trouble him. He did not wait for Mark to answer, he quickly ducked out the door and went downstairs.

 

Rayne looked at Mark expectantly. He sighed. “I think…we might have made one huge mistake last night.”

 

“Oh…really?” She couldn’t keep the sarcasm from her voice.

 

He chose to ignore it. “When a demon…mates…with a human, he invariably transfers to that person some of his power. The human will need it if they are to survive a trip to a deeper realm. What would be the use of hunting up a plaything and then killing them on the journey home?” He asked rhetorically.

 

“Realm?” Rayne said the word, confused. “What, like…a different world?”

 

“Basically.” Mark nodded. “There are many different levels to this world. Each realm represents a different world. The older the demon, the deeper, the darker, the realm they call home. I am…was…part human. The human world was my home because I had my choice. Dominic’s realm is deep, ancient. To get you there he’d have to give up a hell of a lot of his power to you. That is, if you were weak. At his age, as a full demon, that would not hurt him. He’d just rest and regain his strength. But without that power, you’d die on the trip to his home. What you’d see, what you’d feel…it would drive you insane and ultimately kill you.”

 

Rayne shivered at his words, then frowned. “What did you mean…you were part human? I thought you were half and half…”

 

“I think…” Mark met her eyes. “I think being with you, I gave up too much of my power. I gave in to the human side of me that wanted to be with you, instead of balancing the two halves.”

 

“So…what does that mean?”

 

“It means…for all intents and purposes, I am a full human now.”

 

His words stunned her. “How can that be? How can you just lose something that is a part of you?”

 

“Because…” he stopped, thinking. “I gave in to things last night, things I should have just left alone. My dream that you entered…it is the price that I pay for living a mostly human existence in the daytime. I controlled those urges inside me while I’m awake, then go to sleep and let my demon side run wild. No one gets hurt that way. But it was a balance, you see…”

 

“And that woman yesterday?” Rayne had a feeling she already knew the answer.

 

“Pandora is a former…lover. Another way to let the demon side of me get what it wants. As a full demon she cannot draw on my power. Neither can I hurt her…”

 

Rayne bit her lip. “And last night…?”

 

“Last night I did not even spare the demon half of me a thought. I made love to you. It was not just sex. It was not using you to get what I wanted. For the first time in my life I was completely and totally following my human instincts.”

 

“What does that mean?” She was no closer to understanding. Maybe just a little, but it wasn’t enough.

 

“It means that…” He shook his head. “All of my life I have had to control both sides, to keep one from taking over the other. Last night I did not do that…I could not do that.”

 

“So this…power…got passed on to me and now you’re…human?” Rayne asked. “Does that make me some kind of half-demon now?”

 

“No. You are still human. I might still have demon blood in me, but it is weakened because I chose a side. When I…when we…” he did not seem to have the words. “I gave you everything. Everything.” He repeated it slowly, looking at her. “You were willing, you accepted it.”

 

“Oh…God…” Rayne lifted her hand and covered her mouth. “That woman, Pandora. She said…she said I would destroy you. Is this what she meant?”

 

Mark nodded solemnly. “Not all humans would absorb the power. Only specific humans. Which is why Dominic wanted you so badly. He needed someone strong to take his power and go with him. To a demon you are both an amazement…and something to be feared. Because with the powers you gain, you can fight them. It is a risk that demons are willing to kill to get rid of. Or kill to gain.”

 

“Your mother didn’t know any of this.” Rayne said softly. Mark shook his head.

 

“She denied the power from the beginning. She stayed true to her humanity. She refused to willingly accept the powers that Dominic had given her. In the end it almost drove her insane. If not for Randy’s parents…” He trailed off, looking at the darkening sky through the window. His brow furrowed in a frown.

 

“What is it? Mark?” He was getting up from the bed and striding to the window, oblivious to the fact that he was naked.

 

“Rain. It’s coming.” His voice sounded hollow. “The demon line will be erased. The house…won’t be safe.”

 

Rayne stood up and joined him, looking out at the sky. The trees were swaying a bit as the wind picked up. Lightening flashed in the distance. She could see the gray membrane that marked the start of the rainfall. “Mark…what are we going to do?” She touched his arm.

 

“I am going to protect you.” He looked down at her. “I made you. It is what I am sworn to do now.”

 

“Wait…can’t I just…give you back this power?” She asked him, nodding in the direction of the bed. He smiled sadly.

 

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.” His eyes clouded over, got darker. “As much as I would like to try.”

 

“Randy.” Rayne said, ignoring the way he was looking at her. “He’s still a demon. He can still help, right?”

 

“Randy is young compared to Pandora, to Dominic he is a baby. He might be able to hold them off, but he wouldn’t be enough.”

 

“This is all my fault…” Rayne said softly. She turned and went to the bed, sinking onto the mattress. “I just wanted…I wanted…”

 

“I know.” Mark came to her, crouching down in front of her and pulling her into his arms. “It’s all right. You got what you wanted to.”

 

“No…I didn’t want…this…” She made a gesture with her hands.

 

“But you did. You have my protection now, my power. You can protect yourself even if I can’t.” He used his hand, tilting her chin so she was looking at him. “You’ll have to accept it. I will do what I can against them but you have to be ready.”

 

Rayne nodded slowly. “Uh…your father…”

 

Mark sighed and released her chin. “Will be coming, either with them or not far behind. All bets are off.” He cocked his head, listening. “Let’s go downstairs. Randy needs to know what’s going on. And I have a feeling that time is about to run out.”

 

20

 

Rayne stepped into the bathroom, telling Mark she’d join him in a minute, giving him time to talk to Randy alone. She wanted to look at her back again. She felt like she had to.

 

She lifted her shirt and turned so her back was to the mirror. Craning her neck, she looked…then did a double take. There was something there. A black…what the hell was it? Some kind of skeleton. At least, from this angle that’s what it looked like.

 

Mark’s symbol? Some kind of declaration of ownership? It was not the two sixes that he had described, that he had said belonged to Dominic. She actually found herself relieved that Mark’s father no longer had even that much of a claim on her body.

 

She hurried down the stairs. The men were standing in the kitchen, both looking as if someone had dropped a bomb on them. She came to a stop, tilting her head. The rain was starting to fall, the sound soothing and at the same time…ominous.

 

“They’re already coming.” Randy said softly.

 

Mark nodded grimly. “You ready for this? If it’s Pandora, you might have to be the one who goes for her.”

 

Randy shrugged. “What choice do we have?” He rolled his neck on his shoulders, popping it.

 

Mark looked at Rayne. “We’ll do what we can to get rid of them. You stay inside, out of sight. The longer we can keep them away from you, the better.”

 

“But…”

 

“No buts.” His tone was final. Rayne could do nothing but nod her head. “Just…be ready. Just in case.”

 

“Mark…Randy…” She did not know what to say to them. In case of what? What was she supposed to be ready for?

 

“They’re pulling in.” Randy said, distracted. The rain was coming harder now. He looked amazingly…calm. Eager almost. “I say we go on outside and welcome Pandora.”

 

Mark nodded and reached out, grabbing his shoulder. Randy grinned at him. Rayne felt something inside her twist at that simple gesture. They were about to risk their lives for her. This wasn’t what she wanted. She did not want them to take the fall for her.

 

They were leaving the kitchen before she could voice that thought. She stumbled after them, fear building, reaching out and grabbing Mark’s arm before he could follow Randy through the front door.

 

“Mark…” She said his name, looking up into his eyes. He kept his face neutral, but leaned down and pressed his lips against hers. “Be careful.”

 

“Always.” He touched her cheek with one finger then was gone, out the door into the storm.

 

Rayne closed the door and paced nervously. She couldn’t hear anything except for the raindrops on the roof of the house and the occasional roll of thunder. She closed her eyes, pressing her forehead against the door. “Please…please…help them…”

 

“How very touching.” The deep voice sent a chill down her back. Rayne slowly turned around, opening her eyes. A tall dark haired man stood there, his features handsome but twisted in hatred. “Too bad there is nothing you can do for either or them now.”

 

“Dominic.” It was not a question. She already knew who he was. How he had gotten into the house without Randy or Mark…or herself…picking it up was beyond her.

 

“Teleportation, my sweet…” He smiled, sending a chill down her back. “A little gift that I passed on to my son.” His face grew serious. “And he has taken what is rightfully mine. I so would have enjoyed you…enjoyed making you mine…” He came forward.

 

Rayne backed up against the door. She wanted to call for help, but couldn’t do it. There was a shout from outside, followed by a scream of pain. It sounded like the guys had their hands full enough as it was.

 

So it was up to her then. Gathering herself, she waited as Dominic closed the distance between them, willing herself to stay calm, to focus, to not give in to the sudden panic she felt.

 

The door had no more than closed behind Mark when the car appeared. He joined Randy on the bottom step, oblivious to the falling rain. The doors opened. Pandora stepped out first, followed by her ‘friend’. They seemed to be holding a conversation.

 

“You go for the guy. I’ll deal with Pandora,” Mark said quietly. Randy looked at him.

 

“Uh…he’s young. Younger than me even. I think I should…”

 

“No. I should have dealt with her a long time ago.” His tone said he wasn’t going to argue the point. Randy nodded.

 

Pandora and her driver made their way toward the porch, both grinning in anticipation. Mark steeled himself, feeling his anger rising to boiling point. Why couldn’t the bitch just mind her own fucking business?

 

“My, my, my…” Pandora said, voice dripping with venom. “Whatever have we done to warrant such a warm welcome?” She smiled as she stepped over the broken demon line.

“You were warned once about leaving this place.” Mark said, tone low. Pandora looked up at him, then widened her grin.

 

“Do you think I fear you?” She laughed harshly. “You gave up everything. All so you could have what was not rightfully yours. Now you pay. And we get her anyway. Two birds with one stone, right Andrew?”

 

The demon she was with nodded slowly. He was rocking back and forth on his heels, making fists. He was green. It was obvious. Pandora had taken him under her wing but had not fully trained him yet.

 

Randy took a step forward, baring his teeth, a low growl issuing from his throat. He could feel his control snapping. And he welcomed it. He would need that extra power.

 

“Now, now…” Pandora said mockingly. “I would keep your wits if I were…”

 

Randy let go, using his telepathy, shoving out at the younger demon with everything he had. Andrew shrieked, falling to his knees. Blood poured from his nose, from the corners of his eyes, his ears. He turned a questioning, wondering glance at Pandora and fell forward on his face.

 

Pandora moved so fast neither man saw it coming. She swung her arm, slashing out at Randy with her talon-like fingernails. He yelped in pain as her nails cut through his shirt, the skin of his chest. The cuts burned like acid…he staggered backward and raised a hand to the gashes, feeling his blood pouring over his fingers.

 

“Stupid child…” The mocking note was gone. Now she was just…mad. She turned her eyes to Mark. He noted, without surprise, that they were now as red as the outfit she was wearing. “Do you still think you have what it takes to beat me, Mark? Do you?” She stepped toward him. “You’re little friend is dying already. I have tricks of my own you know…” She pointed. Mark couldn’t help himself. He looked down at Randy in concern.

 

The front of his shirt was melting away. So was the skin under it. He was in obvious pain but was trying to get up. Pandora’s gift…if one could call it that…those acid claws of hers. She was right about Randy though. He would die. There was no way to undo the damage as the acid worked its way into his skin, melting him.

 

Pandora started laughing. “Come…human,” She spat the word out in obvious distaste. “Let us see how long you last. Perhaps your death will not be as quick as…as…as…” She did not finish. Mark was staring at her intently, focusing. There was still some power in him, he’d seen it that morning. He just needed one little spark…

 

And he got it. Despite the heavy rain, the red of Pandora’s outfit glowed brightly for a moment, then burst into flames. She screamed, turning, panicking, trying to shrug out of the long coat she was wearing. Mark willed the flames brighter, hotter, and it happened, catching her short hair on fire.

 

Randy had finally gained his feet. His face was pale, a mask of pain. “Go into the house, Randy.”

 

“Mark…” his voice sounded strange, watery. The acid was already working into his lungs.

 

“Go. I’ll take care of her.” He gave Randy a gentle shove and walked toward Pandora, who was still screaming and trying to put out the fire that burned on her head.

 

He heard Randy’s shuffling footsteps and the sound of the door opening. Satisfied, he stood in front of Pandora for the last time. “Did you not believe me that I would kill you this time?” He asked quietly. Her only answer was a scream as her hair burned to the roots, her scalp turning black. “You forgot something, Pandora. Human or not…I am driven by something you will never understand. Something that is far stronger than you would have ever been.”

 

He reached for her, taking her cheeks in his hands, ignoring the heat of her skin, the way the remaining flames burned his hands. She was trying to swing at him, to rake him with those nails of hers, but he did not give her the chance. With one small sound of disgust, he twisted her head sharply. He felt and heard the snap as her neck broke. He let go, watching as her body crumpled to the ground in front of him.

 

Mark slowly brushed his hands, wiping away the imagined feel of her burned skin. A scream broke through the sound of the storm. The house. Rayne. Not sparing Pandora another glance, he hurried toward the door.

 

21

 

Rayne moved sideways, wanting to angle herself so she could make an escape if the chance presented itself. Dominic tracked her movements, smiling a bit. “It will do no good to run. I would enjoy hunting you. And it would make your death that much worse…”

 

She couldn’t help it. She rolled her eyes. “Are all of you demons so fucking melodramatic?” His eyes widened, then narrowed. Good. She wanted him to be good and angry. Angry people made mistakes. “I mean…honestly. Death, maiming…can’t you just talk about the fucking weather or something?”

 

Dominic sneered at her. Rayne had the insane urge to laugh at him. She was scared to the point of almost not thinking at all, which was bad. Angry people made mistakes, frightened people paid for them.

 

He made a lunge for her, seeing if she would react. To her credit, she barely flinched. He smiled briefly.

 

“I see that you do have such spirit…” His voice was syrupy. “It will be my great pleasure to break it. To reclaim what my son stole from me.” He laughed. “You don’t even have to be willing now. I can just…take you. You might find that you enjoy the pain. Some do.”

 

“What the hell ever, asshole,” Rayne said through clenched teeth. “Why don’t you just pay for a whore’s services and leave me alone? You can’t have me. You can never have me. I bet that’s just eating at you right now.”

 

She saw his eyes flash a baleful red color. Again she felt like laughing. At least demons and humans had one thing in common. They couldn’t stand to lose.

 

“I made love to your son,” She told him. She was sure he already knew, but she wanted to rub it in. “He made it good for me. I wouldn’t mind if he did it again. And again.”

 

That had even more of an effect that she’d hoped for. The pretense of control was gone. He snarled at her and lunged again, this time meaning business. Rayne dodged to the left. He missed by bare inches.

 

“I bet you have a small dick.” She said with a laugh. “Isn’t that typical rapist? Overcompensating with power what they lack in the pelvis. Can’t say that Mark has that problem…” He lunged again, his fingers brushing the fabric of her shirt. Rayne managed to move before he could find purchase. “Come on you fucking pansy! What the hell are you waiting for?”

 

Dominic came at her again, full steam, leaping across the distance that separated them. Rayne saw it coming and sidestepped again and watched as he landed where she had been standing. He did not stop his forward momentum, he kept going, swinging around to try again.

 

Rayne saw the door open out of the corner of her eye. Instinctively, she moved in that direction, grabbing the door as it swung open, yanking it out of Randy’s hand. She threw it open with all of her strength just as Dominic came at her again. She heard the satisfying crunch as the wood slammed into his face, breaking his nose. He dropped to his knees, hands going up to feel the damage.

 

Rayne took her eyes from him and looked at Randy…then gasped in horror. It looked as if his chest were melting. If she looked close enough, and she did not want to, she could see the bone, the internal organs…

 

She looked into his eyes. She could see the pain there, the agony. But he fought it back, flashing her that bright, boyish grin before losing his balance and falling to the floor.

 

“No!” She went to his, rolling him onto his back, afraid to touch him. “Randy!” His eyes fluttered once, but that was it. She sobbed, touching his face with her fingers. It was her fault. All her fault. She looked at her hand. It was bloody; Randy’s blood was seeping out of the wound in his chest, covering her. She gently touched his face one last time, then started to stand…

 

And was snatched backward by her hair. She screamed in pain, twisting in Dominic’s grip, trying to turn so she could fight him off. He was laughing. “Poor, poor Randy. I don’t think that my son has faired any better, do you?” He hissed out. He jerked her body backward into his, his broken nose against her neck. She could feel his blood dripping onto her skin and shuddered in revulsion.

 

“Looks like the game is over, my sweet.” He said softly. Rayne closed her eyes, waiting for the blow…

 

And yelped in surprise when Dominic screamed in pain into her ear. She was jerked backward again, roughly, then released. Falling to her knees, swiping at the blood on her neck, she turned to see what had happened.

 

Mark stood behind his father, his face a mask of fury. He’d gone through the backdoor, stopping in the kitchen to grab the biggest knife they had. When he’d come into the living room, had seen Dominic rubbing Rayne’s neck, he had seen red. He’d silently come forward, ramming the knife to the hilt into his father’s back, then grabbing his hair and pulling him away from Rayne.

 

He let out a growl of strain and lifted on the knife, picking Dominic up off his feet, dangling him in the air. With a wordless cry he suddenly let go, forcefully throwing his father to the floor. Dominic wheezed, trying to reach over his shoulder to pull out the knife. Making sounds of pain he pushed to his hands and knees then shakily rose to his feet. He wavered, still trying for the knife.

 

His eyes fell on Mark. “You…can’t…do this…” He manage to say. His voice was weak. Mark stepped forward. He was going to finish it, the same way he had finished Pandora.

 

Rayne watched, her eyes widening. “Mark…No!” She screamed it but was too late. Mark had been too caught up in his anger. The mistake thing. While the knife had hurt Dominic, it wasn’t nearly enough to stop him for long. She saw his expression change from outright agony to sly deceptive smile.

 

She was on her feet, but not fast enough, not nearly fast enough. Dominic’s hand shot out lightening quick, the fingers disappearing into Mark’s chest. Mark uttered one grunt of pain, eyes widening in surprise. Dominic pulled his hand back, looking at the blood that covered it, smiling in satisfaction.

 

“It is what I should have done long ago, boy.” He watched as Mark crumpled to the ground, blood pouring from the hole in his chest. Dominic smiled and turned to face Rayne.

 

And froze. She was standing there, staring at him. But not staring at him. As if she were seeing through him. Dominic took a step toward her and stopped, confused.

 

“You shouldn’t have come here.” She said. Her voice was not hers. It was oddly familiar.

 

“I am claiming what is mine.”

 

“And I shall claim…my own.” Rayne’s eyes changed color. They turned a sharp, hard green. Dominic’s smile froze on his lips.

 

“Celeste?”

 

“It’s over for you, Dominic. Over.” The tone was cold and final. They eyes changed back from green to indigo. Rayne swung her arm toward him, feeling all of it, all of the anger, the fear, the despair, everything she had felt in the last few days. She used it, putting it all into one fatal blow.

 

Dominic did not flare up as the cigarette had. He incinerated, combusted. One minute he was standing there, a vague man-shaped wall of fire, then next there was nothing but a pile of ashes on the floor with a charred knife in the middle of it all.

 

Rayne collapsed to her knees again, drained, as if she’d just spent the day running flat out. The force she’d put behind that fireball…or whatever it had been…

 

With a sound of protest, she forced herself to crawl forward. To Mark. He lay on his back on the floor, trying to breath. She could see there was nothing she could do for him either. His skin was getting pale. He was getting cold.

 

“Mark?” She whispered it, not trusting her voice.

 

“Rayne…” his voice was lower than hers. She had to strain to hear him.

 

“It’s all right. It’s over.” She carefully lifted his head, holding him in her lap. He managed a smile.

 

“Good…tired…”

 

“Mark? Come on, don’t…don’t leave me…”

 

“I saw…my…mother…” He managed to say. His eyes focused on her for a moment. “You…look…like…her…”

 

Rayne started crying. His mother. Somehow, she had come to Rayne when she needed her. “Oh, Mark. I am so sorry. I should have…” he raised his hand, displaying Herculean effort at doing just that. His palm cupped her cheek.

 

“Protecting…you…” he whispered. “Told…you…”

 

Rayne smiled through her tears. “Yes.” She watched as he blinked once, twice. His eyes lost focus. “Mark…” she whispered. His eyes slid shut. He was gone. Rayne started sobbing, ducking her head and hugging him against her. “I’m sorry Mark. I’m sorry…” she choked the words out between sobs, dropping kisses on his forehead, his cheeks.

 

She had no idea how long she sat there, holding him. Her eyes wandered the room, looking at Randy’s prone form, at the ashes on the floor. It was over.

 

She gently laid Mark’s head on the floor, then kissed her finger tips and pressed them against his lips. Slowly she got to her feet, her legs not wanting to support her. She was empty, drained. She had to get out of here, away from all of this death. Before the thought had formed, a wave of dizziness struck her. She reached out, meaning to use the wall for support but she couldn’t hold herself up. She fainted, falling to the floor, out before she ever made impact.

 

Epilogue

 

Rayne opened her eyes, feeling her head throb, blinking against the harsh light of the early morning sun. She struggled to sit up, wincing at the pounding in her head.

 

And then she remember. Mark! Her eyes flew open and she made to get out of the…bed…

 

Confused, she looked around. She was in her bed, in her room, at her house. The familiar cream colored walls, the furniture, the odds and ends…

 

“What…the…hell…” Her throat was scratchy, dry. One minute she had been on the floor, holding Mark’s head in her lap as he had died. The next she was here, in bed.

 

How the hell had she gotten home? Had she done Mark’s trick and teleported herself, or whatever it was called? She couldn’t remember. She did remember the struggle with Dominic, the feel of Randy’s blood on her hands, the last words Mark had spoken to her before his eyes had closed for the last time…

 

She pushed into a sitting position, jumping when the telephone next to the bed trilled. She grabbed it, muttering a scratchy ‘Hello’.

 

“Woman!” Wynn’s voice, full of energy for so early in the morning, grated on her pounding head. “What the hell was that weird message on my cell phone for? That’s a screwed up prank, even for a doofus like you.”

 

“Wynn? What message?” Rayne struggled to clear her foggy mind.

 

“You called last night, told me you were in trouble and to leave a message on your voice mail. I about freaked out!” She sounded hyper happy. Rayne knew if she were close by she would probably have to smack her.

 

“Uh…” She remembered making the call. From Mark’s house. But that was days ago. Lifetimes ago even. “Wynn…what did we do last night?”

 

Wynn laughed merrily. “Don’t tell me you don’t remember. I told you to go easy on that Maker’s Mark shit.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“You got wasted. Last time I saw you, you were dancing…err…stumbling around the dance floor with that huge biker wannabe you were hitting on.” She laughed again. “Getting pretty snuggly with him by the looks of it.” She giggled. “I got a ride home from that cute little friend of his. He’s got the most amazing butt on him…”

 

“Randy.”

 

“Yeah! I’m shocked you remembered his name.”

 

“How did I get home?”

 

“I have no idea. By the time I was ready to go, you were already gone, leaving me weird ass messages on my cell phone.” Wynn laughed again. Rayne made a mental note to punch her friend for being so damn jolly in the morning. It was sickening.

 

“Look…I am going to wake up and I’ll call you back.” She didn’t wait for an answer before hanging up. Nothing made sense, none of it. She’d been gone for days, but Wynn was talking as if their trip to the club had just happened a few hours ago.

 

The bed shifted, making her jump. “That your friend with the odd hair?” A deep voice asked. Rayne scrambled off the bed and turned, staring down at the man who lay there.

 

It was Mark. But not…Mark. His hair was short. That was the first thing she noticed. His eyes were still that piercing shade of green though. She eyed him warily.

 

“What…how…” She cleared her throat. “What are you doing here?”

 

He rolled onto his side, an amused look on his face. “You asked me to stay, remember?” He reached out for her hand and pulled her back down to sit next to him on the bed. She did not resist. She was too confused to put up a fight. “You were drunk, out of it, I brought you here and you said you didn’t want to be by yourself. I was feeling kind of lit myself, so…” he gestured, as if that explained everything. Rayne could not take her eyes from him. Just a few minutes ago he’d been dead.

 

“I’m sorry…I just…” She paused. Her back was itching. She reached around to scratch it and encountered something under her nightshirt. She winced. “What the hell…”

 

“Guess you don’t remember that either,” Mark said with a laugh. He sat up, the sheet pooling in his lap. Rayne found herself looking at his chest, picturing the fatal wound that had been there only a short while ago.

 

“Remember what?” Short of raising her shirt in front of him, she couldn’t do more than gingerly touch the edges of what felt like a bandage.

 

“Getting a tattoo. Said you liked mine, so you talked me into taking you to my guy to get it done,” He motioned her to turn. “Come on, take the bandage off and give it some air. It probably needs some cream on it too…”

 

Rayne got up, legs wobbling. “I can do it myself…” she said, heading for the bathroom. Her head protested the short walk. Screw it. She’d get over it.

 

She stood with her back to the bathroom mirror and lifted the shirt, then pulled at the bandage. It came off, making her wince. Her eyes widened when she twisted enough to see what was on her back. The mark. Mark’s symbol. The dancing skeleton.

 

“What the fuck is going on?” She whispered.

 

“You wanted one like mine. See?” Mark had gotten up, and was standing in the doorway, a crooked smile on his face. He turned and bent a little so she could see the tattoo on the back of his neck. The exact same one that was on her back…

 

She realized she was holding her shirt up, exposing herself to some strange man, and dropped it quickly. “I am sorry. I am just…very confused right now.”

 

“That makes two of us,” Mark said, turning to smile at her again.

 

“Did we…uh…did you and I…” She mentally kicked herself. Why couldn’t she just come out and ask?

 

“I don’t want to lie to you and have you remember later…” Mark said slowly. “Yeah. Uh…a couple of times.”

 

“Oh God…” She put her hands against her head, then looked at him. “Oh…I’m sorry. I don’t mean…it’s not that…”

 

Mark was laughing. “I understand where you’re coming from. Truth be told…I was more than a little drunk myself. First time I’ve ever done anything like this. I do remember telling you that last night.”

 

“Yeah.” She remembered him telling her that to. That he’d never been with a human woman. She met his eyes. “Is your father’s name Dominic?”

 

“Yeah. You remembered that much?” He laughed again. “I barely mentioned him. All I said was he had taken my mom and brother with him on a trip. I had to miss out for Randy’s birthday party. Not that I’m going to complain. All three of them and me at once, it’s like demons running loose. Like…” He noticed the look on her face. “Hey…are you all right? Look like you’ve seen a ghost.”