The Company of Fiends (Tempting Monsters 2) - Page 23

Could I?

Maybe at one point. A year or two ago, even. Myra was right—I was tired. And now with Beth in my mind, I was a little frightened too.

"You mean I'll survive," I said.

Mr. Reddy's lips pressed flat and white, and that apology on his face was buried under a hard determination. "Don't be dramatic. You're the only one I can ask. Maybe, if I swap Alexa and Evie every other night."

A rough laugh escaped me and my head shook, eyes tearing off of the older man and drifting around the room. Reddy knew full well I wouldn't want my friends hurt. Hunter's snarl was in my vision again, the clamp of his hand around my throat, the burn and weight of his body on mine.

"Who knows. Maybe I'll enjoy myself," I murmured.

Mr. Reddy's shoulders sagged. "You might," he said weakly, thinking I'd surrendered in the conversation.

Maybe I had. I knew that if Reddy thought I was the only option, I couldn't let him put the other girls through the act.

"When does he arrive?" I asked.

"Today. You won't rehearse. Not yet, at least. Not if you don't want to." Mr. Reddy fumbled over his words, and I realized he really was worried. Maybe not for me, but that I might have refused.

I could refuse. I could leave the theater. I had a little money saved. It wouldn't be the nice man and the great house Myra wanted for me, but I might find my way to a decent life.

I closed my eyes, and all I could see was a brilliant spotlight glowing down on me like a sun in a black sky, warming my cheeks. The rushing hush of a crowd breathing, waiting, needing me pounded in my ears. I opened my eyes, and there was Mr. Reddy again, in his dark office, watching me with a sympathetic frown on his lips, knowing I wouldn't refuse. I wouldn't leave.

"All right. I'll do it," I said.

His gusting breath of relief reminded me of the sound of dirt being shoveled down into a grave.

* * *

"Are you okay?"

I stiffened briefly as Ronan floated down with a beat of his wings into the seat next to me. On stage, a cluster of the company quietly discussed a memorial scene for Beth, but I'd stepped away, my head too full to talk.

A warm arm stretched over my shoulder, and I twitched with an impulse to pull away. It faded quickly and I sat up, Ronan's eyes widening as I moved only to sit myself down in his lap.

"Not particularly," I whispered, twisting and bundling myself against Ronan's warm chest.

His arms wrapped around me, and then his wings too, shielding me in a lovely dark cocoon. "'Course you're not. Stupid question."

It was quiet inside of Ronan's embrace, our breaths echoing together against the thick membrane of his wings.

"I took the orc home with me," I whispered, not sure why I was confessing.

Ronan's nose sniffed against my hair. "I know. I…I don't want to tease you if—"

"No, don't coddle me," I said quickly.

Ronan was quiet again, and then he shifted, holding me a little tighter as his voice grew light. "Did you enjoy yourself?"

I opened my mouth and shut it again.

"Fuck. You saw Beth. I'm sorry, nut, I'm buggering this all—"


Ronan and I both stiffened briefly at Myra's call.

"Has anyone seen Hazel?"

It was the slightly high, nervous squeak that made me curious, and Ronan's wings parted, breaking our bubble and revealing the theater. He was frowning at me, a line of worry between his eyes, and I pressed my finger over the spot briefly before turning and standing up.

"Here," I said, finding Myra stage right by the curtains, a tall figure at her side.

"Who's that?" Ronan muttered, rising at my back, his hand on my hip.

"New act," I answered in a whisper.

He was striking, with broad and gently twisting horns, and his body wasn't spiky and bright like Eston, but it also wasn't correctly proportioned to be mistaken for human, limbs a little too long. His eyes reflected the faint stage lights we were using, and his body moved in disjointed jerks and twitches. But when his chin lifted, there was an elegance to him, an uncanny beauty and faintly violet shifting glow under velvety bronze skin.

"This is Constantine," Myra said, inching away from the new arrival as I approached the stage, aware of Ronan following me.

The crowd of the company stared up at Constantine. Even Nireas, who so often existed just slightly separate from the rest of us, sat on his bench in front of his organ and studied the demon.

"This is Hazel," Myra said, and her eyes didn't raise above his chest. "She'll be your partner for your scenes."

Constantine's clothing was an interesting mix of textures and fabrics. Demons often had a confused sense of fashion, and his was more cluttered and disjointed than usual, with contrasting colors layered on top of one another, a long tunic hanging almost to his knees underneath a short jacket.

He bowed, and those eerie animal eyes remained fastened to me as I approached, glinting and glowing, never blinking. I stiffened, trying to suppress an involuntary shiver at the predatory interest in that stare. I wasn't sure if it was the abrupt motions of his body or the uninterrupted focus, but his gaze didn't feel like the sexual energy I was used to.

He rose slowly as I neared and then rushed forward to the edge of the stage, making one of the girls in the far corner gasp with the sudden snap of movement. I froze briefly, and Ronan's hand landed warmly on my lower back—a reminder that I was in a room full of friends, not alone with this disconcerting stranger.

Tags: Kathryn Moon Tempting Monsters Paranormal
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