I was just finishing my phone call to Ethan when Chase came outside. He and Jason had wisely chosen to give me space. The rain had let up, but the clouds above were dense and hazy with ice crystals. There would be more snow soon, hopefully not enough to block the roads.
Chase’s shoes crunched across the gravel as he approached.
I slid my phone into my jacket pocket, then turned to face him. “I have a meeting with Ethan. It might be best for you to stay at Devin’s for now.”
“I don’t want you doing this, not for me.”
I shook my head. “I’m not just doing it for you. This . . . thing was coming with the Demon Council regardless. They wanted Devin to hire me, and it has nothing to do with you. Now the fate of the wolves may very well depend on the demons, and I’m the only one who can learn the Council’s true intentions. This had to happen.”
He nodded half-heartedly. “I know you’re right. I just—”
“Hate that you can’t come with me?”
He smiled and met my eyes. “Yes. That is pretty much what I’m feeling right now.”
I patted his shoulder as I walked past him toward the house. “Probably should have thought of that a year ago.”
A moment later his footsteps crunched after me. “I’m never going to live it down, am I?”
“Screwing up the best thing you ever had?” I joked as I opened the door. “Never.”
Devin and Jason were waiting in the entry room, and turned to me expectantly as Chase shut the door behind us.
“It’s a bad idea,” Jason said.
I rolled my eyes. Vampire and werewolf hearing was the worst, especially when you only heard as well as most humans.
“Well it’s happening.” I turned to Devin. “Can Chase stay here while I’m gone?”
Devin inclined his head. “Of course.”
“Xoe,” Chase cautioned, knowing what I was going to do next.
Before anyone could react, I envisioned my home in the underground, soon arriving in a puff of red smoke.
Dory was cooking something on the stove that smelled like pancakes. She wore a fuzzy gray bathrobe, covering most of her tall form. She turned to look at me over her shoulder, draping her translucent hair down the robe. “I assume you knew someone from the Demon Council was coming over?”
“Not exactly.” I’d told Ethan I wanted to meet ASAP, but I had expected him to call me back with a time and place, not to show up at my front door. “Where is he?”
She gestured with her spatula toward the front of the house. “He’s in the den. Alexius is watching him.”
Wishing I’d at least had a chance to change, I shucked my coat and headed toward the entry room, then took a right to head down the hall toward the den.
Ethan didn’t notice me right away as I reached the doorway. At least, I assumed it was Ethan. He appeared a few years older than me, though the navy suit made him look older. I mentally catalogued deep brown skin with cool undertones, close cropped black hair, and from the side-angle I thought I could see golden brown eyes. This was a demon I’d want to remember.
He turned toward me with out a hint of surprise that I was already standing there. “Ms. Meyers,” he said as he stood. “We finally meet.” He offered his hand.
I closed the distance between us and took it. “Ethan, I presume?”
He nodded and offered a warm smile.
Who the heck did he think he was fooling?
“You have a very interesting . . . pet,” he added, gesturing to Alexius as he removed his hand from mine.
The pet in question was sitting in one of the smaller chairs adjacent the sofa, staring at Ethan. He wasn’t growling, but the raised hair on his back let us know the intent was there.
“Well, he’s not really a dog now, is he?”
I bit my lip, internally kicking myself for asking. The council already knew I’d stolen Dory from the Dream Realm. They didn’t need to know I’d stolen the spirit guide dog that was supposed to lead me to the afterlife.
“But we’re not here to discuss that,” he added.
I fought to not show my relief, then gestured for him to sit. “I need information on some of the vampires in Shelby. I think they’re planning something.” I sat on the opposite side of the couch from him.
“What exactly do you believe they’re planning?”
Did I tell them they were after demon magic? Would that lead to questions about Sam and Chase? “They attacked a friend of mine, someone allied with the wolves, and they’ve been threatening the local coven. I think it’s better for all of us to figure out what they’re doing before they do it.”
Ethan nodded, his expression pensive. “I’m glad to see you’re taking your job seriously. What exactly do you need from me?”
I thought about it. “The wolves can likely find where the vamps are hiding out, but I might need backup when I confront them.”
He nodded. “Done.”
“Just like that?”
He nodded again. “You must know we are pleased to have you on our payroll, Ms. Meyers. This new alliance will afford you certain benefits.”
I shifted in my seat. I’d tried to avoid the Council for so long. My dad had always encouraged me to remain off their radar. What would he think about me meeting a Council member in his home? “What’s the price of these benefits?”
“Whatever do you mean?” His smile let me know he knew exactly what I meant.
“I mean, what do you want from me? It’s not just my connection to the wolves. I may be young for a demon, but I’m not a total idiot.”
His smile faltered. “I see the gloves have come off, so I will be quite frank with you. Your father was an upper level fire demon. Despite your rather high level of human blood, you seem to have inherited much of his power, along with your grandmother’s ability to make portals. I suspect your power will increase with age.”
His smile returned. “And as far as the Council is concerned, the only two places for demons of your power level are on the Council, or in the grave.”
I tensed at the not so subtle threat. “My dad wasn’t part of the Council, nor was my grandmother. I’ve known other upper level demons who would never join the Council.”
Ethan looked like he tasted something sour. “Your grandmother was a fugitive. The demon Bartimus—” at my lifted brow, he added, “yes, I’m well aware of your involvement with him, so you also know he remained in his lair, far from other demons. The Council wanted them both dead, but could not capture them, then suddenly you come onto the scene and,” he waggled his hands in the air, “poof, they’re both dead. Your father was powerful, but not like them. Not like you.”
I realized I’d scooted as far away from him as I could while still remaining on the couch. I had no idea what Ethan’s powers were, but he knew mine, and was still blatantly threatening me, so . . . “So I ask again, what’s the cost? You want me on the Council’s payroll? Fine, I’m on it, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time amongst demons, it’s that nothing is ever simple, and nothing is free. You’ll give me my backup against the vamps, what do I give you in return?”
He glanced at Alexius, still sitting on his chair, then back to me. “I’d think that quite obvious.”
My shoulders slumped. “My portals.”
He nodded, then stood.
“And what if I say no?”
He chuckled. “Ms. Meyers, I think you’ll soon find that the help of the Demon Council is something you simply won’t be able to pass up.”
I stood, placing us just a few paces apart. He was tall, making me crane my neck upward to meet his honey brown gaze. “I’m getting a little tired of being threatened, Ethan.”
His smile didn’t falter. “I’ll be in touch as soon as I have any information on the vampires. If you find them first and need backup, I’m just a phone call away.” With that, he poofed out in a puff of black smoke.
I batted the smoke out of my eyes. It had no odor, but was still annoying. The fact that he could travel meant he was from a strong bloodline, but didn’t tell me much else. He had at least a bit of human blood if he could be my backup against the vamps.
I stared at the last remnants of smoke and wondered what the council had done to recruit someone like Ethan. Had they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, or had he gone willingly? Was being part of the Council really so bad?
I thought back to the countless warnings my dad had given me over the years. When we first discovered I could make portals, he’d become even more vehement. I knew my dad’s only goal was to keep me safe, but from what exactly? Or perhaps the better question was, from whom?