The bite before christma.., p.21
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       The Bite Before Christmas, p.21

         Part #15.50 of Argeneau series by Lynsay Sands


  The Jiffy Lube station had closed months ago, judging from the layer of dust on the concrete and metal fixtures. But after a few modifications, its underground work area with reinforced walls and thick beams was the perfect place to restrain a vampire. I'd had to shoot Bones in the head again after he healed from the first wound and woke up in another murderous mood, but now he was safely tucked away in what used to be the oil-change undercarriage of the facility, enough weighty chains wound around him to force an average vampire to his knees.

  Bones wasn't close to average, though. He stood ramrod-straight and glared at me, his bright green gaze vowing revenge. Whatever flicker of emotion had led him to stop before twisting that knife in me was long gone, much to my regret. But as soon as Ian-who'd survived the fight in one piece, to my relief-was done drawing those bloody symbols on the ground, we'd know what sort of demon we had to chase to reverse the spell Bones was under.

  "You were gone less than thirty minutes. How'd you get a couple pints of that type of blood so fast?" I wondered. Then my gaze narrowed. "You didn't kill anyone, did you?"

  He sat back on his haunches to give me a sardonic look. "I'd never let a perfectly good virgin go to waste that way. Swung by a middle school and collected from a few students. They'll never remember it. Neither will their teacher. "

  I hated the idea of stealing blood from preadolescents, but we were too pressed for time.

  "There," Ian said, drawing the last of the symbols.

  "What do you think you're doing?" Bones asked, speaking his first words since he told me to let him die.

  Ian didn't reply. He stepped outside the circle and glanced at me.

  "Let's hope none of the students I picked were the experimental type. " Then he said "Balchezek" three times.

  "Stop!" Bones snapped, straining against his chains. The metal creaked but they held. That was why Ian and I had spent most of the night setting up this place.

  Nothing stirred in the circle with the bloody symbols, but a brunet man stepped out from behind one of the support beams as casually as if he'd been there all along.

  "You called?" Balchezek said.

  I let out a sigh of relief. Part of me had wondered if the demon made up the whole summoning ritual and we'd be wasting our time attempting it. Good to know that avarice still meant something to members of the netherworld.

  But just in case the demon tried to pull anything, like bringing uninvited friends with him, I had the bone knife within easy reach.

  Ian had something else within reach. He drew his thumb along the side of a thick pile of hundred-dollar bills like he was shuffling cards.

  "Hallo, Balchezek. If you want these, then look over our mate here and tell us what level of beastie we're going after. "

  "You shouldn't be here," Bones said, spitting the words in the demon's direction.

  "I take it this is the vamp you want me to check out?"

  Balchezek walked over to Bones, whistling through his teeth as he got closer. "I can tell you one thing right off. He isn't under a spell like you're thinking. He's possessed. "

  "Shut up," Bones hissed.

  I blinked in disbelief at the statement and the sound of Bones's voice. It was higher, and sounded like he'd lost his English accent all of a sudden.

  "I thought it was impossible for vampires to be possessed. That they have too much inherent power for a disembodied demon to break in and set up shop. "

  "Normally, yes. " Balchezek wagged his finger at Bones, who snarled at him. "But like all rules, that one has an exception. It's a pain-in-the-ass exception, which is one of the reasons why demons avoid possessing vampires, so I'm not surprised you didn't think it was possible. "

  "What are the reasons demons avoid possession with vampires?" Ian asked.

  Bones cursed in that unfamiliar, higher voice and swore terrible punishment if Balchezek continued. The demon ignored that and gave Ian a patient look.

  "You're a lot harder to break into, for one. Only a medium- or upper-level demon can do that, and only under very specific circumstances. For another, we like keeping the status quo. If demons started possessing a bunch of vampires, it wouldn't take your kind long to amass and fight back. If our numbers get thinned taking you on, then we'd have a harder time fighting our main opponents. "

  I inhaled to make sure I hadn't missed anything from Bones before. "He doesn't smell like sulfur. Are you sure he's possessed?"

  It would explain how I'd felt like I was dealing with a stranger in Bones's skin ever since that first morning after Wraith's appearance, plus his oddly amateur fighting skills and the abrupt reversal in personality when he'd stabbed himself. But I remembered with a spurt of fear the other thing Bones had told me years ago when we'd encountered a possessed human. The only way to get rid of a demon is to kill the host.

  "Humans don't have the power to conceal the sulfur smell when a demon takes over. A demon-possessed vamp would. Besides," Balchezek made a circular motion from Bones's face down to his chest. "I can see the demon. She's right here. "

  She? I stared, but all I saw in the area indicated were my husband's furious features and inches of chains writhing with Bones's efforts to break his bonds.

  "Of course you can't see her," Balchezek went on. "Consider it demon glamour. But just like vampire glamour works on humans but not other vamps, I can see through it. "

  My head felt like it was spinning. Reversing a demonic spell had seemed hard enough, but this was so much worse. We couldn't catch a break no matter how hard we tried.

  "So several demons decided to pitch their tents in my husband and his best friends. " A mirthless laugh escaped me. "That's what you're saying?"

  "Nope," Balchezek stated. "Just one. "
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