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“Something’s wrong—”

A twig snapped nearby. In a flash, four shadows swallowed them, and his stomach pitched. Oh, God, no. There were more Arum.

Gathering her close, he knew he was too drained to fight off four of them. For the first time in his life, he envied his brother’s strength. Bethany was going to die, and it was all his fault. Because he was too weak to protect her.

He held her tighter. I’m sorry, he said through their mind link. And he’d never meant those words more than he did then.

Tensing his shoulders, he gathered his remaining strength. This might be the end, but no way was he going out without a fight. He’d take as many of the bastards with him as he could. He squeezed Bethany one last time and turned to face them.

There was a flash of intense light, blinding even him, and before he could shed his human form, something cool was placed against his neck. Then his world went to hell. It felt like the light was being torn from underneath the skin, muscles pulling, bones snapping. Red-hot, fiery pain exploded, taking…taking everything. Him. Sight. Sound. Everything.

The last thing he felt was Bethany being pulled from his limp arms. A finality of black crashed over him in waves he couldn’t surface from, welcoming him into the nothingness that dug in deep, refusing to ever let him go.

Chapter 19

Daemon rolled his shoulders, unable to shake the sudden tension building in his back and neck. Like he’d slept wrong, but he’d done a whole lot of not sleeping.

“Babe, you’re not paying attention to me at all.”

He glanced over at Ash. She’d ordered summer dresses off the Internet or something and was doing a little peek-a-boo modeling show. And by her current state of dress, he must’ve missed the good stuff.

Extending an arm, he said, “Sorry.”

She swayed her hips over to him. Instead of taking his hand, she climbed onto his lap and started going for it. Her mouth was everywhere—his lips, cheeks, throat, lower. Normally he would’ve been all into this, especially since Ash had been sweet that day. But his mind…it was someplace else.

Over her shoulder, moonlight sliced through the window.

Ash stilled and then straightened. Her lower lip stuck out. Somehow, she was still hot as hell. “Okay. What’s going on, because you are so not on the same page as me.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know. I just feel…” He couldn’t put it into words, because he wasn’t sure how he felt. He shook his head. “It’s nothing with you. I swear.”

She looked like she was going to argue, but remarkably decided not to. “Okay. Well, maybe…maybe tomorrow we can pick this back up?”

“Yeah, of course.” He cupped her cheeks gently and kissed her. “I’ll call you in the morning.”

Ash gathered her stuff up and left. He lay back on his bed, suddenly exhausted. Before he knew it, he opened his eyes and it was morning. Holy hell, he’d never just conked out like that.

Pushing himself up, he scrubbed at his eyes and yawned.

The tension in his shoulders and neck was still there. Great.

On his way downstairs he passed Dawson’s bedroom. The door was cracked open. From the hallway he could smell the roses he’d bought for Bethany.

Maybe he should do something like that for Ash—wait. Daemon pushed open the door. Dawson hadn’t been home. And it was obvious that he’d been planning on coming back last night. He dug his cell out of his pocket. There were no messages from him.

“Dee?” He went down the steps, three at a time. She was sitting on the couch, huddled up in a little ball, wrapped in a quilt. “Have you heard from Dawson?”

“No.” She looked dog-tired. “Maybe he stayed over at Bethany’s.”

All night with her parents being there? He doubted that. Going into the kitchen, he made Dee and himself some breakfast. They ate in silence, which was unusual. Dee always had something to talk about.

“You feeling okay?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I feel beat.”

“Same here.” And the weird feeling in his stomach, like a bundle of knots, kept growing and growing. Nothing he did, even running, eased them.

Sometime in late morning, right before he was about to go to Bethany’s house and see if his dumbass brother just couldn’t be bothered with letting him know where he was, there was a knock on the door.

It was Officer Vaughn and Officer Lane.

Daemon took a step back without speaking. Something…something awful was creeping up his throat, into his head.

Officer Lane looked terrified. “Sorry to arrive without warning, but we need a few minutes of your time.”

Okay, they were never sorry before. Ever. As if he were moving through water, he turned to his sister. Her pale face was tight. On autopilot, he sunk down beside her.

Vaughn remained by the door, his eyes sharp. It was Lane who sat in the recliner and clasped his hands together. “I need to ask you a few questions about Dawson.”

His mouth went dry. “Why?”

“Was he with a human girl by the name of Elizabeth Williams—also known as Bethany or Liz?”

The knots had turned into acid. Had the DOD found out about Dawson and Bethany? The DOD knew that the Luxen and humans had…relationships, even though it was a little bit on the forbidden side of things—for obvious reasons.

“Why are you asking?” Daemon sat straighter, figuring two officers were about to disappear if they’d discovered Dawson had exposed what they were.

Lane glanced at Vaughn, then took a deep breath. “Was he with her last night?”

“Yes,” Dee answered. “They’re friends. Why are you asking?”

“There…there appears to have been an incident last night in Moorefield.” There was a pause and all sorts of horrible things rushed through Daemon. “We don’t know what happened, but I am sorry, he was gone. Both of them were.”

Daemon opened his mouth to speak but lost his voice. Gone? As in, they weren’t where the DOD thought they were, because he surely couldn’t mean gone as in gone. He started to stand but couldn’t will his legs to work.

His sister drew in a shaky breath. “He’s coming back, right? With Bethany?”

Daemon bit down on his molars. Gone was a term humans loved to use when they couldn’t wrap their tongue around the word dead. As if saying gone somehow lessened the blow.

Vaughn’s expression remained impassive. “Both of them were dead. I’m sorry.”

Daemon couldn’t maintain the useless task of breathing. He locked up, every muscle, every cell. A roaring sound, like a low growl, filled his ears. His vision dimmed.

“No,” Dee said, whipping toward him. Hands flew to her hair, tugging erratically. “No. Dawson’s not dead! We’d know. He’s not dead, Daemon! He’s not!”

Lane stood, visibly awkward, and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry.”

There was a pressure building in his chest. “I want to see my brother.”

“I’m sorry, but—”

“Take me to my brother’s body now!” His voice shook the windows and the humans, but he didn’t care. “So help me, if you don’t…”

Vaughn stepped forward. “Your brother’s body and the human’s have been disposed of.”

“Disposed…” He couldn’t even finish the sentence. Nausea rose sharply. Disposed of…like nothing more than trash that needed to be taken out. “Get out…”

“Daemon,” Lane said. “We are truly—”

“Get. Out!” he screamed.

The officers couldn’t have left quicker.

The wooden floor quaked beneath his feet, rolling until a keening howl accompanied the movement. The house shook on its foundation. Windows rattled. Pictures slipped from the wall, shattering against the shaking floor. Furniture toppled over and elsewhere in the house, more things fell. He didn’t care. He would destroy everything. He had nothing left without his brother… Dee. Oh, God. Dee.

Daemon started toward his sister, but found his legs just wouldn’t keep going. He stopped, bending at the waist as a wave of pain that felt so real slammed into his gut. Not his brother. He couldn’t really comprehend what just happened. You don’t wake up and everything is normal only to have your entire life destroyed in seconds.

“Please, no,” Dee whispered. “No, no, no.”

He knew he needed to pull it together for his sister, but a cyclone was building inside him. All he could think about was the day in the kitchen. Him hugging Dawson—that couldn’t have been the last time he would hug him. No—no way.

Daemon racked his brain. When was the last time he’d seen Dawson? Yesterday? He was eating a bowl of cereal. Froot Loops. Laughing. Happy.

Last time took on a whole new meaning.

Lifting his gaze, he saw Dee was blurred. Either she was losing hold on herself or he was. Had he ever cried before? He couldn’t remember.

She seemed to wobble, and he shot toward her, catching her before she fell, but then they both hit the floor, holding each other. Daemon turned his head to the ceiling, letting out an unearthly roar that surely broke the sound barrier, shaking the house again. Windows rattled and then blew out this time. The tinkling sound of glass falling cut through the wake like distant applause.

And then there were Dee’s sobs. Heart-rending sobs racked her slender body and shook him. The sound broke his heart. She kept flipping in and out of her natural form, falling apart in his arms.

Dawson wasn’t coming back. His brother wasn’t going to walk through that door ever again. There’d be no more Ghost Investigator marathons. No more teasing fights with Dee over who ate the last of the ice cream. And there weren’t going to be any more arguments over the human girl.

The human girl…

Dawson had lit her up like a beacon—that had led the Arum straight to Dawson. That was the only explanation. The Rocks still protected them in Moorefield. The Arum had to have seen Bethany…

Never in his life had he hated humans more than he hated them right then.

Sorrow and rage rippled through him as his light burned reddish-white. Dee’s tears poured through the bond, her whispered denials kept coming, and God, he would’ve given his own life at that moment to take away her pain and loss.

And to change some of the last things he’d said to his brother. You’re going to get that girl killed. Why hadn’t he said he loved him? No. Instead he’d said that. Misery cleaved his soul, sinking in deep like a hot, serrated knife.

His head fell to his sister’s shoulder, and he squeezed his eyes shut. Tears still seeped through, scalding hot against his now-glowing cheeks. Light flickered all around the living room, casting strange shadows of the two forms huddled on the floor together.

Dawson was dead because of him—because he hadn’t warned his brother enough, hadn’t stopped the relationship before it got out of hand. He was dead because of a human girl. And it was Daemon’s fault. He hadn’t done enough to stop him.

He held his sister tighter—the last of his family—and swore never again. Never again would he let a human put his family in harm’s way. Never again.