The Inugami at Large
Paige left the long dagger on the coffee table and shifted to plop down on the couch though she took care to keep a healthy distance between them. She wasn’t sure she was ready for the feelings he may stir with his touch. Instead, she rested her head against the back of the couch and rolled to rest one cheek against the fabric to observe him.
“You’re still injured.”
Davin moved at his arm, unwound the shirt around his arm and lifted it to show her. The skin was pink and puffy but the wound had already healed over with patches of lighter new skin. “See? Almost good as new.”
No human could heal that fast. Every time the skeptic in her tried to voice concerns of a scam, some new evidence would prove everything to be real.
Her gaze followed his arm down to his hand where angry blisters still covered the area. Her brows knitted, and she frowned. “That one isn’t getting better.”
He studied his own hand and shrugged. “It’ll heal. Just takes longer since it’s from the iron.”
“That was dumb.” Inside, Paige noted how mean she sounded and wished she could take back those words.
A chuckle drew her gaze up, eyes rounding in surprise. Davin gave her an impish grin. “It made you stay and hear me out. I’d say it was worth it.”
Paige’s face grew hot, and she cleared her throat, forcing her gaze away from him. “Idiot.” A small pause helped her decide on next steps. “Do you have a first aid kid?”
“Ah, no “ Davin rubbed the back of his head with his uninjured hand. “I don’t bring humans over and you can see incubus’ don’t need it.”
Great. Her hands on her hips, Paige surveyed the apartment and walked over to the kitchens returning with a roll of paper towels.
“Give me your hand.”
With several paper towels, she wrapped his hand in a makeshift bandage. It would have to suffice until they could get some gauze. Her eyes lifted upwards but darted back down. In the brief glimpse, she had caught him staring at her with a mix of intensity and tenderness. It was a familiar look, one he sometimes gave her as Shade in the middle of a session, that moment before he would ramp up their pleasure, a mix of wonder and possessiveness that would melt her core.
Paige cleared her throat. “Let me call Ains, then tell me about the dog.” Calling it a dog seemed an insult to dogs in general.
She walked a bit ways towards the large windows and turned her back towards Davin, aware of the way his eyes followed hers. Damn that demon, he was probably hungry, as in, incubus-hungry. She refuses to believe she was special to some long-living entity. Too cliche.
“Oh my god, Paige. Are you okay? What’s going on?”
No, no, she wasn’t okay but Paige entertained the idea of lying to Ains. But she would be no better than Davin if she did that.
“I’m okay. I’m alive. Listen, I wish I could explain in person but I can’t so please just hear me out, okay?”
Her friend inhaled, and she pictured in her mind Ainsley’s firm nod.
“Yes, yes, I can do that.”
“This will sound crazy.” An idea popped into her head. Hadn’t Davin called her landlady a witch? “But Lillian should be able to verify at least some of what I am telling you. I’ll call her next.”
“Paige. You are a lot of things, but crazy would be pretty low on the list. So stop dancing around and tell me.”
“Okay.” Here goes. “You know how we always joke that I have a muse in my dreams and he gives me all the ideas? Well, it’s actually the truth. Except it turns out he’s not some imaginary lover, but a real person, well sort of.” Paige swallowed hard. “He’s not human.”
“Paige.” Davin growl from behind, approaching. “Telling others was never part of the deal.”
She shot him a pointed look. It wasn’t as if she could take back the words and if Davin suggested something like mind-wiping, she’d deck him, demon or not.
“What? Paige, are you okay?”
“Yeah. Davin’s whining that I told you.” She smirked at him with a challenge and he growled again. A small part of her accused her of riling him up to hear that sexy sound.
“Anyway, it’s why he looks like Tobias from my books. Because I based Tobias on my supposed muse.”
Paige wasn’t sure how okay Ainsley actually was but she had to plunge ahead. “Some creature attacked me. It’s why Davin showed up and fought it off. Lillian can tell you more of those attacks, but right now I’m safer with Davin. So now you’re caught up.”
“Okay.” Ainsley sounded faint over the phone.
“Ains. I’m sorry.”
The apology seemed to jolt her friend out of it. Ainsley tch-ed over the phone. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. My grandmama had the knack herself, always told me she was fae-touched.”
“What, you never told me?”
“Well, it’s crazy-sounding, right?”
Paige gave a small laugh, the first one she had in days. It felt good.
“In all seriousness, how much do you trust this Davin.”
Wasn’t that the million-dollar question? She turned to see the incubus still watching her and sighed. “Not a lot, but I know he’s my best chance at survival right now.”
“That’s not very reassuring.”
“He gave me an old but sharp pointy iron sword that burns fae?”
“Okay, more reassuring.”
Paige grinned and remembered once more why she adored Ainsley. “I’ll keep you posted, okay?”
“You better. Be careful. Don’t go falling for this stranger, no matter how good he is in bed.”
Oh dear god. “How did you…?”
“I read all your books remember? If he does half the things Tobias does, he’s probably some sex god between the sheets.”
Page blushed even as Davin raised a brow at her.
“I’m hanging up now.”
Ainsley’s laughter on the other end warmed her heart. “Okay okay. But in all seriousness, be careful, take care of yourself. I want my best friend back in one piece.”
“Promise. You be careful too.”
They hung up and Paige spun around on her heels. “Ever heard of privacy?”
Davin scowled. “You were talking about me.” He brightened “You know, you do make Tobias sound like a god between the sheets.”
Her jaws dropped and Paige wasn’t sure if her cheeks grew redder. “How?”
He tapped his ear. “Most supernatural beings have heightened senses.”
Another thing to remember. She had much to learn. Mortified and speechless, she turned away to buy herself some space to find composure.
“Paige, you have nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re a wonderful writer.”
The glass held his reflection such that she saw his smile turn sheepish.
“You know, I have signed first editions of your books.*
Paige spun around, incredulous. “What?”
It was Davin’s turn to blush, and he studied his shoes. “I always order and stock copy of your books in the store, and I send one of my staff over to your book signings. You honour me with your writing.”
It was getting harder by the minute to stay mad at him. But it didn’t mean he had earned her trust back, just yet. They needed safer ground. “Tell me about the dog.”
Right on cue, her stomach rumbled, and she wrapped her arms around her midsection in concern.
“How long has it been since you last ate?” He took a step closer and this time, Paige didn’t take a step back.
“I... don’t remember.”
Davin a frown tugging his lips downwards, and moved closer, enough to venture to place a tentative hand on her shoulder.
Paige let him and found his touch more reassuring than arousing as she had feared. “New deal. You let me cook you something and I can tell you all about the inugami in the meantime.”
“Okay.” He was already herding her towards the kitchen. It was so easy to lapse back into the almost Dominant/submissive dynamic they always had in her dreams. Paige had enjoyed how much Shade took care of her, how she didn’t have to think about making decisions with him. But this was different. She had to keep reminding herself.
As he pulled one of the high stools from the kitchen island, she took a seat. “The inugami,” she repeated, struggling to exert some control over the conversation to show she wasn’t going to submit to him.
He was already moving into the kitchen proper, studying the fridge to figure out what he had on hand. “Right, the inugami. Dog god in Japanese, I think. But they’re created in a pretty gruesome way by someone with enough juice to power the ritual.”
His eyes darted back and forth with unease. “Are you sure you want to know?”
Paige rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, resting them on the counter. “Didn’t I witnessed it gorge itself on my guts only an hour or so ago?” When she saw Davin turn away, she grumbled. “I’m no wilting princess Davin.”
He pushed his locks back and returned to the counter. “Fine, but don’t blame me if you get nightmares about it.”
“Don’t you control that?” She shot back.
In return, Davin winced but shook his head. “No Paige, I don’t control your dreams.” As if unwilling to discuss that topic further, he paused and caught her eyes. “The inugami is created by keeping a live dog chained up in sight but out of reach of food, starving it to the point of desperation before cutting off its head.”
Paige shuddered in horror, eyes growing round. “That’s...that’s…”
“Barbaric? Yeah, I know.”
“Poor thing,” Paige recalled the ravenous hunger she saw.
“Paige, you can’t pity it. It’s beyond that now and if you go all bleeding heart on it, it will kill you.”
“I get that,” she snapped but she glanced back towards the weapon lying on the coffee table. “I guess the best we can do now is to put it out of its misery.”
With his back towards her, Paige couldn’t tell his expression but she unfolded her arms to place both hands on the counter. “What?”
There was a pause in his movements as he cooked over the stove but not even the delicious smells wafting towards her can deter her demand for a reason. “Why?”
“Creating an inugami is one thing. To exert enough control to set it towards a specific prey? That takes both skills and a certain level of power. We need to figure out who it is before they send something worse.”
Something worse than that monstrous thing? What kind of world had she gotten sucked into? No, if she stopped to analyse too deeply, she was going to run for the hills screaming. Eyes on the prize. “Okay, what next?”
“Next,” Davin began and brought over a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast. Paige salivated at the sight but restrained herself from pigging out right away. Instead, she picked up the fork and took a bite. “You eat and rest. I will go out, try to pick up the thing’s trail and track down who’s holding its leash.”
Paige paused Midnite. “Nuh-uh. I’m not sitting this whole thing out. It’s after me. Someone or something supernatural obviously has a beef with me and I want to know why.”
“Besides, if I’m the target, put me out there as bait and you won’t even have to track.”
When Davin shifted to loom over the counter, it was almost as if he grew in size. “I am not putting you in harm’s way. You’re staying here where it’s safe.”
Paige set down the fork and stood up. Against his full height, she felt diminutive but hell if she would let him put her in a damsel-in-distress role. “And I’m saying I’m going. Either I go alone or you’re coming with me.”
They glared at each other at an impasse as minutes ticked by. Paige crowed inside when Davin caved and spoke first, his back still stiff.
“Fine, then instead you will learn to defend yourself before we make any other moves.” He nodded towards the iron dagger.
“Fine.” Paige huffed and sat down once more. Without prompting, she began shovelling food into her mouth, staring at it and ignoring him.
He watched her eat, something in his eyes softening. With a tender smile, he reached out and brushed back one brown curl back around her ear. “Paige, you are one of the most frustrating women I’ve ever met in all my years on this earth.”
She swallowed and looked up, comeback readied on her lips. But words died as her eyes caught his. She studied them, looking for traces for a lie in the affection and tenderness he seemed to hold for her. One could fall for him. In her mind, she kicked herself. She needed distance.
“What’s the real colour of your eyes?”
It was enough to break up whatever that tension building up was. Davin rubbed the back of his head as his lips tugged into a sheepish smile. “I’m wearing contacts. The eye colour you saw me with as Shade is the real one. I just thought blue might blend in more with humans.”
Paige wondered why blending in with humans were so important. Lillian had seemed satisfied when Davin had given her his real-life identity as collateral. And now this mention of blending in. And running a business? She filed it away as a question to ask another time.
“I like the amber better,” she muttered, then cursed herself. Her and her big mouth. Paige returned to shovelling food in instead of her foot.
Davin grinned at that. She thought he would make a comment but he stepped away. “Don’t worry about cleaning up. I’ll go prep a guest room. You must be exhausted. Turn in early and get some sleep.”
She couldn’t argue with that. Weariness seemed to seep into her bones.
As he paused by her side, he reaches out once more to touch her hair, fingers dancing over like the touch of a butterfly. “I’ll stand guard and keep you safe in your dreams tonight.” And with that, before she could reply, he walked away.