|THE DEMON'S daughter|
Take a holiday, his superintendent had said. You’re working far too hard.
Eight hours later, Inspector Adrian Philips was fleeing for his life through Avvar's fog-shrouded slums. He could have activated his implants, the tiny devices the Yamish doctor had tucked so cleverly beneath the tendons of his wrists. His muscles would gain power then, as much power as the demons it was his dubious honor to police. Unfortunately, the surge of artificial strength wouldn’t last and, once past, would leave him drained. That he couldn’t afford—even if those who chased him were mere humans. Better to save the advantage for when he truly needed it.
He tried to run faster on his own, but the soiled overcoat he'd donned as camouflage in this seedy section of the capitol flapped about his legs. Though the hem threatened to trip him, he dared not break stride long enough to discard it. His pursuers were too close. Even now he heard them splashing through the lake yesterday's rain had made at the intersection of Fifth and Heaven's Gate.
Despite his fear, a laugh rasped in his throat. Call him a Bedlamite, but he'd rather be here, running from a gang of slumboys, than home with nothing to do but contemplate the mess he'd made of his life.
"There's the bloody peeler!” cried a voice not nearly far enough behind him. It was a young man's tenor, the dialect pure dockside—like an irreverent bully trying to swallow a bag of marbles.
The clatter of hobnailed boots accelerated. All too soon, a shoulder slammed the small of his back, throwing him forward. His right cheekbone hit the stoop of a shuttered harness shop.
Stunned, he gasped in pain as they flung him onto his back and began kicking him—spine, kidneys, stomach, wherever they could reach.
He couldn't see them. The thick marine mist obscured their features, though their voices rang clear enough. He knew what he’d find in any case: bodies gone lean from feeding the demons with their life force, honed faces, pale perfect skin. Those who served the Yama came to share a bit of their alien beauty. Not their strength, not their cleverness, just a reason for the shallowest vanity. He’d heard the latest fashion among the gangs was to have their tongues tattooed to match their employers’ natural forked markings.
Too ignorant to see how cheaply they had sold themselves, his attackers cursed as they pounded him, telling him to keep his nose where it belonged. He wasn't wanted there and they’d better not see him in Harborside again.
Part of him wanted to laugh. These young men must have been demonbait once themselves. Yet here they were, defending the exploitation of their fellows.
All he’d wanted was to find one lost boy.
Adrian dodged one kick and rolled into another. A foot pinned his arm and ground down until his bones threatened to part company. With a grunt of pain, he wrenched free. He had to get a new hobby. Searching for missing youngsters was not a one-man job. Too bad his department figured the children of the poor were destined for a bad end anyway, so why waste the man hours? Adrian Philips, however inadequate, was their best hope.
Judging it more than time, he tightened his fingers in the pattern the Yamish doctor had taught him to activate the implants. A flash of heat streaked up the veins that led from his wrists. His heart pumped harder, and a frighteningly wonderful feeling swelled in his breast, as if one sweep of his arm could smash the world.
Gritting his teeth to maintain control of his impulses, he threw the nearest slumboy off him, the body flying off as if it weighed no more than a cat. One opponent taken care of, he drove his heel into the shin that wore the sharpest pair of boots. Bones snapped at the blow, and he wondered if he were sorry.
Even if he was, he didn’t have time for regrets. Exclamations of surprise and anger met his success. A fist drove towards his face. He stopped it dead with the flat of his palm. This time, he strove to be more careful. He’d pull the attacker over with his own momentum.
The boy stumbled as he yanked. Choke hold him, Adrian thought. He didn’t have to kill him. He could threaten his life to force the others to back off. Before he could pursue this strategy, the largest of his attackers barked a sharp order. As suddenly as they'd set after him, they disappeared. Their footsteps reverberated off the gritty cobbles, at least one of them limping. Perhaps seeing the fight come back to him had ruined their sport. Certainly, they'd not been cowed by his being a member of the law. The inhabitants of Harborside were in much more danger from each other than from the police.
There weren’t, after all, many officers willing to compromise their humanity as Adrian had. The prejudice he faced for accepting his implants, no matter how practical they were, was no small thing.
Numb with shock, he lay panting by the curb, trying to figure where he’d gone wrong. Adrian was no green recruit. He knew how to judge when a situation was about to turn dangerous. But there'd been no warning today. No strange looks from the people—demon or human—who he'd questioned about the Bainbridge boy. No sign that he'd been fingered for Securité.
Harborside. Just when he thought he understood it, it started speaking in tongues.
He tensed as a woman shrieked somewhere in the distance, either in laughter or pain. Perhaps her Yamish keeper had laid his hand on her heart. Perhaps he was even then drinking from the well of her vitality.
Etheric-force, a subtle form of electricity that some called animal magnetism, had always been transferrable in small amounts—a natural result of interaction between living beings. As far as Adrian knew, only the Yama could draw it off deliberately. To them, human energy, slightly different from but compatible with their own, was a cross between miracle elixir and spiked coffee. It strengthened their already formidable constitutions and made them, by all accounts, feel both relaxed and alert. No such benefits redounded on their human donors, but they recovered after a day or so of sleep. As long as the exchange was voluntary, it was all perfectly legal.
Sighing, Adrian struggled to sit up, feeling a thousand years old now that the implant’s unnatural boost of well being had passed. Thunder rumbled ominously, sure sign of winter's approach. He couldn't stay here. If he did, others would sniff out his weakness.
With a groan he got to his feet, blinking dazedly through wisps of blue-grey fog: half coal smoke, half moisture. The halos of the street lamps, their glass wired in diamond patterns against breakage, expanded and contracted before his eyes.
This was demon science, Queen Victoria’s reward for allowing some of the Yama to settle in her slums. A devil’s bargain, many said, but what was the spinster queen to do with the Medell army nipping at her border? Their neighbors to the west had been fighting Aedlyne rule for centuries. Nor were they any less belligerent under their own kings. To fend them off once and for all, Victoria decided to accept the Yama’s offer of superior technology. She couldn’t have known the settlers who arrived would be the Yama’s own outcasts, low-born rebels who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, live within their homeland’s strict hierarchical system. The aristocratic Yama—the daimyo, as they called themselves—didn’t want to be tainted with their presence any more than they’d wanted to be tainted with humankind’s.
Not one to waste an advantage, regardless of what it had cost, Queen Victoria, High Lady of the Aedlyne Empire, had ordained that every street in every subject nation be lit against the night. Not for the first time, Adrian blessed her fear of the dark, even if the swimming lamplight did make him dizzy.
At the least, the illumination told him which way to go.
He began to walk, not toward his base station in Little Barking—that was too far—but inland, away from the harbor, the quickest route to safety.
He stumbled repeatedly as he navigated the crooked, foul-smelling streets. He couldn’t blame the stench on the city’s newest immigrants. Even demon riff-raff were fastidious. Built by humans a century ago, these rickety wooden houses, their gargoyles splintered and stained, listed dangerously over his head. Some of the upper stories hung so far over the street, their inhabitants could have tapped the opposite side’s windows. He didn't relish walking beneath these arches; they were too well-suited for concealing threats.
He knew he must be gone from here by nightfall. It was more than dark enough already under the fog.
Cursing, he clapped a hand to a persistent stitch in his side. His palm came away wet. He blinked at the shiny red, barely comprehending what it meant. Apparently, one of the slumboys had used a blade. The beating he’d been taking must have distracted him from feeling the injury, but seeing it gave it power. Without warning, his legs folded.
Get up, he ordered, shaking his head on hands and knees like a wet dog. He tried to call on the implants again, but it was too soon for them to work. All he got for his attempt was a sickening surge of adrenaline. The sound of childish laughter swelled from a nearby alley, dark laughter, youthful exchanges of mockery. His neck tightened. Here even children were dangerous. Endangered and dangerous.
With so many serving the demons for the sake of a few scarce coins, it was impossible to know which side anyone was on.
Raising his head with an effort, he spied a brick wall up ahead. Brick, not wood. He must have reached the boundary of Harborside. A fire escape hung down the building's side, like a ladder to heaven. Though it abutted the poorest section of Avvar, the four-story brick box inhabited another, safer world, a world he was determined to reenter. He eyed the contraption longingly. Too woozy to think straight, he didn't stop to wonder if there were an easier way out than up.
Regaining his feet, he tried to grab the lowest rung to extend the ladder fully. Vexingly, it was too high. He had no strength to jump for it, though he tried. In desperation, he pulled off his overcoat and swung it like a grapple.
The ladder descended with a rusty squeal. Shaking his head in wonder, he began to drag himself up the rungs, about as strong as a starving pup. Up he struggled, one story, two.
Midway through the third, he passed a lighted window. The tableau inside made him stop and gape. A couple was making love on a kitchen table. Both still dressed, the man was cinnamon-brown, the woman as golden as the desert of Vharzovhin.
These were a previous generation’s immigrants, when newcomer still meant human. The golden woman kissed her lover's neck, her arms and legs tightening in rhythm to his thrusts. Her blouse had fallen away to reveal one perfect breast, and her nipple stood out sharply in arousal. The man ran his hand up under her skirt, baring her calf and thigh. His eyes were closed, his head thrown back as though the woman were killing him with pleasure. Then his thumb slid into the crease at the top of her shapely leg, pressing something that made her back arch like a bow. A sharp female cry struck the glass, unmistakably orgasmic.
Adrian's throat constricted. Turning away, he tried not to compare this scene to his life with Christine. Three months their marriage had lasted. He'd never even coaxed his wife to make love without her nightclothes. She was a decent woman. A model of middle class Victorian propriety. His consenting to have the implants had been the last straw. After that she hadn’t wanted to touch him at all. Adrian had loved her, but he couldn't live that way; couldn't sire children on a woman who'd been trained to hate the marriage bed, who had come to think of him as a monstrosity.
Monster or not, he didn’t think a morsel of warmth was too much to ask.
Two years had passed since he’d left her. He supposed her rejection shouldn't still hurt. It did, though, distracting him from where he was even as he dragged himself upward. Finally, he was able to lever his chest over the ledge of the roof.
Nauseated from loss of blood, he rested his cheek against the rough wet pourstone. Someone had planted a garden on the roof. He heard the rustle of leaves in the first spatter of rain and smelled late-blooming roses. He smiled faintly, then realized he was about to faint. He pushed himself higher, groaning, trying to ensure a fall on the right side of the ledge.
Thunder boomed as he dropped with a thunk into a flowerbed. As though this had been a signal, the skies opened, pummeling his body in hard silvery sheets. He closed his eyes, feeling it pound him clean. His fingers touched something ruffled and smooth—marigold petals, he thought.
He chuckled to himself. How absurd. He'd fallen into the Garden. He, who had been exiled.
He wondered if he'd die here, if his former wife would feel relief at the news. He'd only seen her once since the divorce, at the wedding of a mutual friend. Her eyes had lighted on his face from across the aisle, then flew away like a startled bird. That was all. No words were exchanged. No one else had seen her response, but he'd stayed away from the old neighborhood after that. Why risk tormenting her? He didn't enjoy it, though he knew some men reveled in mastering their wives. He heard their stories at the station house, saw the attitude in every stern-faced male with his fingers tight and white around his woman’s arm. Allow me to know what's best for you, my dear. Allow me to know.
He didn't understand those men, but sometimes he envied the freedom they claimed—at least with their mistresses. To be able to cry out in the heat of passion, to shed one's inhibitions with one's clothes, to be an utterly sensual creature and to have one's partner be the same . . . that must be paradise. But how could Adrian take joy in a mercenary arrangement? He didn't want a paid sham. He wanted true desire.
If he paid his partners, he would be no better than a demon.
Weighed down by more than bodily fatigue, the last of his strength dissolved.
He woke to the sensation of hands roaming his body. At first, he assumed he was being robbed, but the exclamations of concern that accompanied the search suggested someone was trying to ascertain how badly he'd been hurt. He opened his eyes a slit.
His examiner was a woman.
© 2004 by Emma Holly. It is illegal to reproduce or distribute this work in any manner or medium without written permission of the author.
Inspector Adrian Philips keeps the peace between demons and humans in Avvar, a city not unlike Victorian London. To do his job, he's allowed his strength to be enhanced by demon technology, a choice that's cost him his wife, his family, and—some would say—his humanity. Rejected by both races, he hungers for a woman's touch.
Roxanne McAllister is an outcast, too: the illegitimate daughter of an infamous chanteuse. One fateful night brings Roxanne and Adrian together, and though the border between human and demon is treacherous, they might be just the ones to cross it. The question is, will the exquisite pleasure they find together be worth the risk?
"Thoroughly engrossing ... An exceptional book ... A must-have for fans of more erotic romance"—Booklist