The Muse in the Flesh
Davin had tried so hard to stay away, knowing nothing good could come out of his prolonged dallying with Paige. The more time he spent with her, the more their affection for each other would grow. For him, it had already gone too far even knowing there was no future for them. So, the only logical step was to cut off all contact, never mind that every other woman he tried to be with paled in comparison. Ghosting sat uneasily with him but at least he wasn’t dooming her to fall for an immortal demon for real.
He imagined that that was what amputation felt like. A phantom pain haunted him, pangs that would only remind him of her absence. No, he had better control than that. It was for the best. He kept trying to convince himself of that.
And then, four days later, in the middle of him shelving a new shipment of books, the distress call came. Even in waking, he heard her, sensed the sheer terror in the way her mind screamed for him through the twilight of dreams. Without any hesitation, he stepped into the dreamscape she created only to stare in shock at the scene unfolding before them.
Before the inugami could react, he wrapped his arms around her and took them away, back to the familiar and safe walls of their bedroom. Minutes passed as Paige kept her face buried against his chest. His preternatural hearing picked up her heart drumming against her chest as adrenaline continued to course through her even in her dream state. He extended his control to prepare the bedroom, lighting the fireplace.
He looked down at his little sparrow, relieved to have her in his arms once more even when he knew how wrong this was. Just until she calmed down, he promised himself.
Paige’s heartbeat began to return to normal. As colour returned to her face, he felt her lean back and loosened his hold. Davin watched as she ventured a glance around her surroundings.
“Little sparrow.” One hand rose to cup her cheek, the pad of his thumb stroking her cheekbone. With each pass of his finger, he tapped into his power to influence her mind, just a small push to instil calm to help her deal. Little by little, he sensed her fears receding as he tried to dull the horrors she had just witnessed for her. Her eyes fluttered shut. She looked exhausted. Had she slept at all these past few nights?
His own mind, however, was still reeling from what he saw, with so many questions crowding for answers. Like, what the hell was an inugami doing in her dreams? That was no figment of her imagination. He had sensed the malevolence of the monster as it had come to the twilight of dreams to terrorize and break her mind.
“Paige, look at me.”
Her eyes snapped open, surprised at his serious tone written on his face. Good, he had her attention.
“Paige, this is important.” He kept his tone even, soft-spoken so that he could keep up pretences, make her think it was another thing she had conjured like she had made him up. he had to. If she realized any of it was real, her mind may break all the same and he would just be finishing the inugami’s job for it. “Tell me, where have you seen a dog like that before?”
Her body gave a great shudder and Davin’s stomach sank. Had he overstepped? Would she wonder why he asked? Perhaps if she asked, he could come up with some excuse. No, they all sounded flimsy. He’ll cross that bridge when he got to it.
Paige tilted her head with a quizzical look but her explanation came, all the same, each sentence spoken with reluctance. “The other night. I first heard something outside. It sounded like it was trying to take down the door, and when it couldn’t, it started circling the house. I saw it through a window, just the eyes and its fangs.” Paige swallowed hard and paused, taking a moment to steady herself. Despite wanting to know everything right away, Davin waited, calling on what little patience he had.
“Afterwards, I thought I was just hallucinating. I mean, that night had already been crazy enough as is. I met someone who looked just like you but after I started feeling off for no particular reason and went home early so hey, why not a nightmare dog right?” Her self-deprecating laugh came out shaky and Davin had to frown but he was reluctant to interrupt.
Paige winced. “Except when I went outside, I saw the damage. Someone, no I mean something, had shredded Lillian’s garden to pieces. Lillian thinks it’s some wild animal, mad with hunger but what I saw…” Her words trailed off and Davin pulled on a little more power to resettle her before she broke into panic again.
It had happened the same night he sent her home. There were few moments in his long life that he hated himself as much as he did right now. The inugami had failed on a physical attack and was trying a mental one. Paige was in danger. Why? Had his association with her drawn unwanted attention?
“Shade? You’re scaring me. Say something.”
Davin pulled his wandering mind back to focus. Unable to help himself, he drew his hands to rub both of her arms in an attempt to soothe. “Paige, I need you to trust me.”
“Tell me where you live.”
Confusion settled in her features. Davin hated himself even more as he pushed her mind further, compelling her to obey without question. He had lasted so long without manipulating a human’s mind but now he was making a conscious decision to break every rule he ever held himself to protect this woman.
“2302 Railway Drive.” The answer still came slow, and he sensed her resistance pushing back at his influence. Hell, she was strong. Davin spared a moment of admiration for her.
“Good girl.” He wanted to pull her into a kiss but held himself back. “I want you to stay there, okay? I’ll come to you soon.”
“Shade, what do you mean?” Panic edged in her voice once more, but this time, he refrained from touching her mind. Any more and she may get addicted to the euphoria he could create and lose her wits. And they were both going to need theirs for what’s coming.
“Fifteen minutes. I’ll be there in fifteen.” Desperation thickened his voice as he hoped she could hold out till then. And then he had to go.
“Oh my god, Davin. Are you okay?”
He woke to Kathryn hovering over him in concern then looked down on himself. No wonder she was freaking out. In his haste to rescue Paige, he had sat down on the floor next to the bookshelf he was working on and slumped over as he stepped into the twilight of dreams. It must have appeared to her as if he had fainted.
“I’m fine.” In one swift motion, he rose and waved her off. “I need you to close the shop. You know where the spare keys are. Just slip them back under the door after. I need to go.”
He left no explanation despite the shocked look on Kathryn’s face. It didn’t matter.
Paige lived further away than he liked. If he pushed hard, he could make it there on foot in the short time he promised. But Davin knew he had to conserve his energy in case a fight was on hand. So instead, he made his way home in record time and within a few minutes, he was roaring down the street with his one-true-love, his midnight black 63 Corvette Sting Ray.
The house sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, the front lawn still smelling of soil freshly turned. What surprised him as he approached on foot was the warding he sensed surrounding the innocent-looking two-floored building. It presented only minor discomfort for an incubus but now he understood why the inugami had trouble with its first attack.
Still, it took all his willpower to stand in front of Paige’s door. He understood the significance of what he was about to do. After this, he would leave for real, would never see her again, would never sup again on the feast she produced.
Her safety mattered more.
The door opened a crack, then wider. Paige stood in front of him, skin pale, hair sticking out this way and that, eyes rimmed with red. She was a wreck. She was beautiful.
“Shade?” Confusion marred her face just like in her dreams. “Davin?”
Right, he had his contacts on still.
A door from behind Paige flung open and a large woman entered, brandishing dagger. No, an athame. “Demon!”
A low snarl of warning sounded from behind and he half turned. The inugami was back, taking advantage of the cusp of in-between’s when day turned to night and their powers peaked. But what it didn’t expect was the appearance of a significantly stronger demon. Him.
Davin’s face shifted, and he growled back a warning, enough to make the inugami bow his head with a whine. But he knew it was only a temporary respite. Soon, its hunger for its prey would drive it beyond any self-preservation instinct.
“Paige, we have to go. I promise I’ll explain everything.” He extended his hand towards her, palm up.
He saw her hesitate, glancing back at Lillian who took another step forward although she was shaking like a leaf.
Her eyes widened, and he knew he was right in using his name for her.
“It’s after you. It’ll leave if you’re not here.”
“Come away from that demon,” Lillian called out, offering her own hand to Paige.
“Davin. My name is Davin Murphy and I own a bookshop on 255 Dun Street. There, now you know. Please, you know your wards can’t hold out against that thing for long. Let me take her somewhere safe. I can offer better protection. I promise you she will come to no harm while she’s under my protection.”
Maybe it was the agony on his face, or perhaps it was the recklessness in which he shared his human identity with her despite her recognizing what he was, but something in Lillian’s face softened. She lowered her hands and nodded.
“Come on, Paige.”
The grotesque dog still had its head bowed though it maintained a low growl, glaring at them both. As Paige crossed the threshold of the house, placing her hand in his, the inugami leapt.
Davin cursed under his breath, his arm rising to shield them. The creature’s fangs sank into his flesh. “Fucking mutt,” he muttered with a wince and despite the dog’s size, swung his arm, flinging the inugami away. It slammed into the brick facade of the house with a sickening crack.
“Let’s go,” Davin urged and ushered Paige into his car even as blood wept from his wound. As soon as she was in, he grabbed a spare shirt from the back, wrapped his arm and got in, driving away before the dog could recover.
“Davin. Shade.” It was as if she was tasting both names on her tongue. What would it be like to hear her scream his actual name in the throes of passion? Davin growled at himself for such thoughts.
“Where are we going?” It sounded like she was recovering from the shock she must have been experiencing.
“My place. It’s better warded. Then we can talk and figure out next steps.”
Davin gritted his teeth. “Yes.”
“I didn’t make you up.”
“That was a demon.”
Okay, conceivably, she was still in shock. “The dog? Sorta. Yes.”
“Lillian called you a demon, too.”
Damn that witch. “Yes.”
Silence filled the car. “Demons are real.”
Davin didn’t bother to answer but stole a glance at Paige. Yeah, definitely still in shock. The last statement, said in a hushed whisper, sounded like a woman trying to convince herself she was not crazy.
“Sparrow…” He extended a hand to touch the back of hers only for her to pull away, her whole body recoiling from him, as much as the seatbelt allowed.
“Don’t touch me.”
He withdrew his hand, placing it back on the steering wheel.
A heavy pause hung in the air before, Paige spoke again. “Don’t call me that either.”
He told himself he didn’t love her. She wasn’t mate material. So why was his heart breaking all the same?