Jane had never paid much attention to the demon dimension when she'd passed through it before. She'd always been anxious to get out to the other end, away from Cain and the other sex demons. They always made her nervous - way too attractive for their own good. Or anybody else's. And there was that edge of danger, the kind that sang to many women like a siren's song. Now that she was one of them and no longer prey, she took the time to look at her surroundings.
Lots of beautiful desert, colorful tents, firelight, cobblestone streets, and brilliant stars so bright and close that you could almost reach out and touch them. She had to resist the urge to try.
"I bet this place is less magical in the day," she said, more to herself than anything. But Cain heard it.
"There is no day here. And no weather, either. Nothing grows. We bring everything we want in from the outside world."
That was... unexpected. She took a moment to process the sameness of the place. Like heaven had been in a way. And yet, here you could just be what you were. No one was pretending. Whereas heaven had strict restrictions on the more earthy pleasures, here she could smell the sex in the air. It made her mouth water. The demon dimension was a hedonist's paradise. And she suspected there was no bigger hedonist than Cain.
The air was a comfortable, moderate temperature. Occasionally there was a breeze, which seemed like weather to her, but she didn't say anything. Cain was someone she didn't want to cross, even in minor weather squabbles. Mostly everything was calm and changeless. While this had been something that made her feel itchy and restless in heaven, here it filled her with an unexpected contentedness. As if she were home.
He still had her by the hand, but it wasn't the kind of handholding that would make her feel as if she were cheating on her mate. It was the demon being in charge, showing her the ropes. He'd already told her what he'd learned in heaven as they'd made their way to the portal point. It felt strange not needing the portal charm to get through anymore: the portal had just parted for her like the red sea, knowing her essence more than she did.
It warmed her to think of her bond with Cole unsevered, but warm and fuzzy thoughts were having a harder time getting through as the hunger escalated, causing physical pain. What if Cole couldn't accept the change? She had to feed soon. The discomfort was starting to build far past the tolerance point. Her skin was tight, hot, itchy. She felt weak, and she wondered if she still had her higher pain threshold or if that was gone now.
She still wasn't clear on how much of old Jane was in there, and how much of her was upgraded and new. Would Cole recognize anything of the woman he'd loved? Though she'd gone through many changes in this last lifetime, none were so pronounced as the one she'd undergone when she'd been transformed into a succubus.
What if she had to feed from someone else? Then he'd never be okay with her. Cain said he'd help her figure out other things to take the edge off, things that wouldn't involve cheating on her mate. But that was assuming Cole was on board for all this and also assuming she could trust the demon.
Being on the other side of things, where Cain was someone she could rely on, was different and disconcerting. She'd gotten used to darting past him when going to Golatha Falls on her trips with Cole through the dimensions. The last time, she'd been about to go into labor. She hadn't realized it was so close. The baby had been early.
She'd been pissed at Cole for something stupid she couldn't remember now and had ended up alone in the Georgia forest, giving birth to the pup and dying shortly after, unable to survive the rigors of giving birth to a preternatural species when she was only human.
In her last moments, as she'd bled to death, she'd thought of how foolish it had been to be so anxious of Cain when it wasn't him, but her own offspring that would do her in. The pup needed her, but she couldn't stay no matter how hard she fought to. She'd closed her eyes and apologized to Cole. It was her fault all of this had happened.
She shook herself out of memory lane and glanced up. The demon looked concerned, something she still didn't trust wasn't a trick. "Hmmm?"
"This will be your tent. I know you'll want to spend most of your time with Cole and the pack, but there will be times when you may want to be with other demons, those who will understand you better. This is your home anytime you want to be here."
"Um, thanks." A part of her wondered if this was all a dream. Maybe the angel was messing with her head, giving her images and hallucinations that weren't real, all a fantasy to help her let go. She waited for something horrible and morbid that would shake her and shatter the illusion. But nothing epic happened.
The inside of the tent was as bright and colorful as the outside. Lots of cushions. Sweet treats, like gourmet chocolate and fancy alcohols. Looking around, it was clear this was a place meant for seduction. It drove home what she was now.
A flashback of her time with the vampires surged through her. Those assholes passing her around, treating her like a whore. And now? She could pretend the tables had turned, but she needed to have sex for survival now, or at least health. She needed it like humans and therians needed food.
She thought she'd gotten over all the vampire crap. But no, she'd just been so happy with Cole she'd allowed it to go into hiding. Now she was faced with her past once again. It would never be behind her. The blessing of reincarnation would have been forgetting it all. Now she'd never forget. This would be her final form to live out eternity in.
"Hey." Cain's hand was on her shoulder. The caring look on his face was so different from the dangerous and inappropriately jovial demon she was used to. "I want you to stay here. I'll bring Cole to you so you can feed."
All Jane could do was nod. The tent flap dropped and she heard him speaking low to a couple of demons, instructing them to guard her and not let her leave or let a human male near her, no matter what she did. Or else.
The thought of sleeping with another man - even as hungry as she was - disgusted her. The demon part of her wanted to, perhaps. But the Jane part of her recoiled at the idea.
A couple of hours later she revised that thought. She was ready to dry hump just about anything. She'd pulled seduction attempts with the guards to try to get a nice hot piece of male ass in her tent, but it did no good.
One of the guards arched a brow. "Doesn't she know we don't do our own kind?"
"Hey, I'm standing right here," Jane said, rubbing a breast against the demon's arm. Some part of her was revolted by what she was doing, but another part was intent on getting fed and getting fed now.
The other one shrugged. "You know how they are after they're first turned. Reason doesn't penetrate the lust and hunger."
"Why won't he just let her feed? Did she do something to piss him off?"
"Who knows? But I wish he'd hurry up. I don't want to babysit all day. I've got my own dinner to hunt. I found this great club in L.A. where the women are just... wow. It's like they take care of themselves just for my dining pleasure."
The other one chuckled, and Jane growled and went back into the tent. It sucked having all this seduction power and it being totally useless.
Cole hadn't slept right in months. His face was gaunt, and he knew from the few times he'd passed by a mirror on the way to the bathroom that dark circles lived under his eyes. Mara and Blake had started bringing him rabbits, like he was a pup just learning to hunt. He'd picked over them, then went back to the alcohol. It was the only thing that could make him forget for five minutes.
He knew it wasn't right leaving the pack to fend for themselves without a leader, leaving Blake to do all the heavy lifting, but he'd never felt grief like this before. It swallowed him up, consumed him. It was a bottomless pit, and he just kept falling with no end in sight.
When he trudged out of his private den to the pack's common area, grasping a bottle of whiskey by the neck, he felt a rush of guilt at the way his pack cowered from the waiting demon. They couldn't fight Cain; he'd just go noncorporeal. He was an unfair fighter that way.
"What do you want?" Cole slurred. "Coming to collect your debt for the portal charms?" The question of who owed whom wasn't something he cared to get into at the moment. But if the demon were coming to collect, he was tempted to spill the truth about how they'd become allies in the first place. Let Cain kill him for it. It would be a more merciful end. Then he could see Jane again.
"Jane is alive."
The wolf's head jerked up; his gaze narrowed. "Cain, stop fucking with me. I know she's gone. I felt the bond break." Even drunk he wasn't that big of an idiot, and he was in no mood for the demon's mind games.
Cain moved across the space between them so fast, Cole almost took a step back. He cursed. It wouldn't do for anyone to see the alpha stepping back from anyone. Including a demon. Drunk or not, such an act would seal the suspicions that he wasn't up to leading them anymore. Blake could have challenged him for alpha and won a hundred times over. It would have been an easy win for anyone right now. But they hadn't because they pitied him. And maybe that was worse.
The incubus snapped his fingers in front of Cole's face and yelled back at no one in particular. "Someone get me some coffee. I need your leader sober." When they jumped at the order and one of them scampered off, he turned back to Cole. "And what do you feel now? Are you too drunk to feel the bond is back?"
Cole was so drunk it was possible none of this was happening.
"Your mate is alive, and if you'd lay off the bottle for five minutes you'd know that. You would have felt it the moment she was brought back."
Cole's mind raced. It was too much to hope. Jane, alive? The pain over the loss of his pup flared anew. But, Jane - she might be okay.
Mara returned with a tall mug of black coffee. He'd refused the bitter brew on the multiple occasions they'd already tried to ply him with it. But now he drank it down greedily, hungry for the clear head he'd need to feel the bond if it existed. The thing about therians was, everything was more for them. They got drunker easier, and got sober more quickly, depending on what they were given to facilitate it.
A moment later, Cole was back. Though malnourished, his senses were sharper, everything whooshing into clarity. And with it, he felt the bond come back to life.
"Oh God." The wolf turned away from the pack. He'd let them witness a great many weaknesses from him in the past months, but crying wasn't going to be one of them. He struggled with himself for a moment. Once he'd found his composure, he turned back to the demon.
"Where is she?"
Cain shifted his weight from one foot to the other. It was such a small movement that most didn't notice it. They were too busy being scared of him. But Cole noticed. Cain was full of bravado and swagger. If he let the tiniest thing slip, it meant some big shit was going down.
Cole braced himself. "Perhaps we should take this outside." This wasn't pack business. It was Cole's business.
The demon nodded and the two of them strode past the frozen pack that was just starting to reanimate itself, the noise volume increasing as Cole and Cain moved away from the group.
An hour later, Cole was in wolf form, hunting. It was something big all right. Cain wouldn't let him in the demon dimension until he'd fed. He said Jane would need him at full energy. For the first time in a long time, he was hunting in the Cary Town forest with no concern for whether the Preternatural border patrol found him.
As he tracked the bear, the voice in his mind chanted: Jane's a demon. Jane's a demon. Jane's a demon. Despite his possessive nature, at the moment he could care less if she'd fed off an entire college football team. The most important part was that she was alive. She was back. But was she still his Jane? Still the woman he loved?
Cole took the bear down with a growl, but the animal wasn't prepared to go quietly. Ordinarily a bear was no match against a werewolf. Today, odds were about even. Just what he needed while his mate starved in the demon dimension.
The two rolled on the ground for awhile, snapping and growling at each other. If he'd fed regularly, Cole wouldn't be so weak. He finally got the upper hand and ripped into the bear's throat with his fangs. The large animal struggled a little longer, then slumped and died with a whimper.
He ate everything. Nothing was wasted. He couldn't afford it right now. When he shifted back to human form, he felt better than he had in months. He reached up to touch his face. It had already started to fill out, the gauntness gone. He wiped the remaining bear blood off his mouth and sucked it off his fingers.
He jumped as Cain stepped out from behind a tree. "You're such a creepy voyeur aren't you?"
"Yeah, that's me. Watching a werewolf eat a bear without the slightest bit of table manners really does it for me," Cain drawled, his voice thick with sarcasm.
Cole snorted, but when the demon turned to go to the portal point, he followed. Cain stretched out his hand and a shimmery film appeared in front of them.
The demon looked up. "Yes? Your mate is starving, I hope this is important."
Cole looked down at the ground, feeling like the ultimate ass for saying it, especially to Cain. "What if she's not her? What if too much is different? I'm not sure I can handle what she's become. A demon is... a lot."
"Well, you'll have to figure it out and work it out. There are trade-offs. No situation is perfect. But it's a lot better than what you had. You have your mate for eternity, never to be separated again. A few minor inconveniences in that road are nothing."
It was weird getting a pep talk from the demon, but now that Cole had started, he couldn't stop. "We were happy before. Why couldn't they just send her back as she was?"
"Oh yeah? Explain to me how Jane, with a human lifespan who would age differently than you, die, and then leave you a mopey bastard for centuries is a better outcome. I'd love to hear it." He crossed his arms over his chest like he was ready to settle in for story hour.
Cole wanted to say there was no way he'd last centuries, he'd just euthanize himself, but he remained silent. The demon had made his point. It had always lurked in the back of his mind that he was going to lose Jane. He'd known the mating mark he gave her wouldn't make her age at the same rate he did. It was something he'd planned to think about later. Later had come too soon. Cain was right, but it didn't make any of this easy.
"Time to man up and take care of your woman," Cain snarled, stepping through the shimmery film.
Cole took a deep breath and followed him.
Cain growled when they reached the tent. "Oh, heads are going to roll. I told them to guard her tent."
But Cole wasn't listening. He pulled back the curtain to see Jane, rubbing her naked parts against a still-clothed human male. Her eyes glowed as she looked up at her mate with a trace of guilt. "I'm sorry, I was..."
Cole wasn't listening. He'd already shifted into wolf form, rolling around and snarling until he could get out of his clothes. When he'd fought free of the clothing, he pounced on the man, his paws on the guy's chest to hold him down.
The man started to scream like a little girl. The pansy display helped tamp down the jealousy just a bit.
"Wait! Don't. He's just human. Just some college kid. It's not his fault. I was hungry, I couldn't help it. But I didn't... nothing happened."
They both knew the true ending to that sentence was "yet."
Cole looked up at her, growling, frustrated he couldn't yell or argue with her in this form. He'd been too angry at seeing another man near Jane, that he'd lost all reason, shifting without intending to. He eased off the poor schmuck who had gotten between a werewolf and his mate.
Before he released him, the wolf swiped out and sliced the man's cheek, causing three deep gashes to appear. He bent and licked up the pooling blood before backing off of him. The man scrambled to his feet, clutching his cheek and backing away while Cole continued to growl. He wanted it to be clear he hadn't yet decided to let him live.
An attractive succubus appeared in the doorway of the tent. She wore a slinky dress made entirely of gold-colored beads that left nothing to the imagination. Every time she moved, beads parted to show an expanse of flesh. A thigh. A breast. A peek at her navel. She had wavy, black hair and bright violet, mischievous eyes.
"So here's where my meal wandered off to." She nodded to Jane. "You must be new. The boss not letting you feed?" The demon noticed Cole, a look of alarm crossing her face at the sight of a large, angry animal in one of the tents.
"I'm Jane. That's my mate. He's the Cary Town pack alpha. You guys let us use the portals," Jane said by way of explanation and introduction.
"Oh. Right. Yeah, we never see the pack in anything but human form. Wait. Did you say he was your mate?" The pieces seemed to be snapping into place. She cast a look of sympathy - or maybe pity - in his direction. "We heard about that." She looked back to Jane. "And now you're a... Oh wow. This is not my business. I'll just take my dinner and get out of your way." She snapped a finger at the man who still cowered from Cole. The human looked up at her, his eyes glazing a bit.
"You've been a naughty boy, Sam. Whatever am I going to do with you?"
His voice was husky when he responded, "Whatever you want, Daria."
She laughed. "Good answer."
He preceded her out. Daria watched him go then turned back to Cole. "I'm not into killing them. I like having my regulars. I'll try to keep my toys within my sights if you try not to break them. Deal?"
Cole snorted in response. When she left, he shifted back to his human form.
"I'm sorry, Cole. I know how that looked, I just... I'm starving and..."
"I'm not mad at you. I acted on instinct. You know what I am, and I imagine you've got similar self-control challenges now." He scrubbed a hand through his hair, standing there like an idiot, willing the tears not to gather in his eyes. He still wasn't convinced she was real. Maybe he was passed out in the den, dreaming. Such a lovely dream. He didn't want to wake up.
Of course she'd think he was angry with her. He hadn't even touched her, after all. But it wasn't that. Though he'd worried on the trip over, the second he'd seen her, he'd known she'd always be his no matter what she was. Being turned into a demon changed nothing about the way he felt.
He reached out and touched her, running his hands over her arms and torso as if making sure she was there and safe. He noticed her scars were gone, and she looked a bit more busty than normal, but he wasn't about to complain about that - as long as she hadn't done it for other men.
When his eyes moved upward, his fangs elongated. He felt fur starting to sprout again. No doubt his eyes glowed gold as well. "Where is my mating mark?" he demanded.
Jane jumped and took a step back. Now he was angry, and he didn't blame her for being smart and moving away. She was probably at least matched with him in strength now, even without having fed, but either she didn't know that or couldn't yet remember. He imagined there was a lot for her to assimilate and get used to.
"Where is it, Jane? Are you hiding who you belong to now? It should be there. If our bond still exists, the bite does. Why aren't you wearing it? Did you think it was an optional accessory?"
He knew he sounded like some kind of psychotic, like he should be wearing a wife-beater and raising a threatening fist in the air, but there were certain things you just didn't do to your mate. It rankled that she'd cover it up for some cheap meal. He understood her being hungry and not yet in charge of her instincts - he did. And maybe a human male wouldn't understand a mating mark anyway, but it was like she was ashamed of him.
He wanted people to see it. He wanted other preternaturals to know who she belonged to. The instinct to protect her didn't just disappear even if she could take care of herself now. She was his. She'd known that when she'd accepted his mark in the beginning. But now it felt as if the rules were changing on him, and as much as he'd missed her, as empty as his life had been without her in it, he couldn't just be someone else for her now. He was the alpha for a reason.
She held her hands out in a placating gesture, and he felt guilty that his mate should have to use such a gesture in the first place, as if she were some weak lower-level pack member and not his alpha female.
"Cole, no. It's not like that. Cain taught me how to alter my form and I was just getting rid of scars, I didn't think... I..." She sighed. "I'm new at this. " She closed her eyes and concentrated. His bite mark reappeared on her throat.
He let out a growl of approval. "That's better. Come here."
She took a tentative step forward, and he arched a brow at her hesitance. Then she ran for him and let him wrap his arms around her. He nuzzled his mark.
"I need to feed. Is that okay?" she asked. "Cain said that the... err... meal... enjoys the experience."
He knew she felt his erection pressed between them. "What do you think?"
She pulled back and smiled, her eyes dancing. "I missed you so much. I was dying without you. It's my fault, I shouldn't have run out like that in the middle of a fight with the baby coming so soon. It was dangerous and stupid."
He put a finger to her lips. "That's all behind us. I have you. That's all that matters. I just want to feel you against me. I sense how hungry you are. Is Cain going to give us trouble about this?"
"Why would he?"
"My kind and your kind aren't allowed to be together, because of the vampires," Cole said. It must have slipped her mind. The first vampire had been created from the joining of an incubus with a werewolf. She'd been born a human with vampire blood in her veins, which was how she'd ended up Cole's true mate to begin with. That vampire blood had given her a link, however weak, to his kind. Without it, they never would have come together.
Therian and demon relationships were forbidden. Cain didn't want any more half-breeds being created. From what the werewolf knew, the original vampire was strong and more dangerous than those he'd created from humans. Cain wouldn't want another one of those running around. From what Cole had heard, the original vampire had been under lock and key in the demon dimension for centuries.
"If it wasn't okay, he wouldn't have brought you to me," Jane reasoned.
"I didn't say we weren't going to be together. Cain would have to kill me - "
"You aren't able to die now."
Cole stepped out of her arms. "Say that again?" Cain had told him they were still tied together and had said something about eternity, but it hadn't penetrated that he couldn't die. Sure, maybe not age, maybe be conditionally immortal like a vampire, but immortal like a demon?
"Well... Cain told me. When a vampire makes a claim, it's forever. If it's a human, the human stops aging... but they're only conditionally immortal, because vampires are..."
"You aren't a vampire. And I'm not a human. So why are we having this conversation?"
"I know, we're a special case. When demons find a mate, those are always human and they kill them but take their soul so they can stay. When I got changed, the bond didn't break, but you got tied to my lifeline, like a vampire claim."
Cole could feel his hackles rising. "Can you control me? In that fucked-up vampire way? Because that shit isn't going to work with me, Jane. I am not subordinate to anybody." His stance turned intimidating, and he hated himself for directing it at his mate, but she had to know how things worked. Her species-upgrade couldn't change the pack dynamics. He couldn't let it.
"No... I don't know. I haven't tried. I don't think so."
"I don't want to fight you for dominance. An alpha should never have to fight his own mate like that. You know the hierarchy with the wolf pack. Are you going to challenge me?"
"Of course not! Who do you think I am?" She looked offended and a touch pissed off.
"Not who. What."
Her face fell, and Cole felt like a jerk for hurting her. He'd just gotten her back and he was treating her like the enemy. What the hell was wrong with him? All he wanted was for things to return to normal. "I'm sorry. This is hard for me. I don't know how to react to you. I was used to you being weaker, and hell, for all I know, you could take me in a fight..."
Jane strode toward him and, as if there were any doubt before, shoved him across the room. He went flying to land in a heap of pillows. "Stop being an ass. You want me all weak and defenseless? Finally, I never have to worry about not being able to defend myself or about staying away from the rest of the pack during the full moon, and you're concerned with posturing?"
He got to his feet, and his eyes glowed. "I warned you. I'm taking that as a challenge."
Jane stood her ground. She looked so pissed off with her arms crossed over her chest, her body flushed, that he didn't know whether to be angry or turned on.
Deciding on anger and his baser instinct for dominance, Cole rushed her. The two of them went flying, hitting a support pole and taking the tent down around them. They struggled, rolling around in the heavy fabric that had collapsed around them.
"Owww, fuck!" Cole growled, as sharp claws dug into his flesh. Had she partially shifted? She couldn't be too weak from hunger if she could do that. "Are we really playing that way, Jane? I've got claws too, don't forget."
She punched him in the arm as they continued to try to extricate themselves from under the fallen tent. "This is ridiculous, Cole."
"Yes, it is. You know it is. I'm not challenging you, you brute. You didn't walk all over me before, why start now?"
Before, she hadn't been able to challenge him. He'd been secure in their roles and who had the power. He hated the side of him that considered things like that mixed in the same bowl with feelings of tenderness and love.
Cole went still. "I can't have this discussion wrapped up in a tent."
"I told you it was ridiculous." She began pressing kisses across the scar on his belly, trailing her tongue over it, making him shiver. "Be the man who got this scar protecting his mother. Don't be the monster with me."
He groaned. Oh now she was playing dirty.
"Please, Cole," she panted. "I'm hungry. Take care of me." She managed to crawl up his body, and straddled him. She knew just the right words to appease the beast. Take care of me. He was a brute. But he'd be her brute as long as she'd have him.
He sighed. "Well, hop on."
"Such a romantic," she teased, sending another well-placed but playful punch to his arm.
Anyone who walked by the flattened tent, would see the unmistakable outline of one body grinding against another, no doubt connected in the carnal act. He held her against him as they joined, and this time tears did come. He couldn't stop them. He couldn't believe she was here in his arms again. Demon or not, she was a miracle.
"Cole? Are you all right?"
"Shut up and fuck me," he growled. She didn't argue.
He knew the moment she started feeding. It was a tingling warmth that felt like its own orgasm, a steady hum of pleasure he could be driven mad by. Sex with Jane had always been great, but now it was indescribable. Screw the bottle, she was his drug now.