Disclaimer: I own nothing. Kim Harrison owns all.
"You're not supposed to be doing that. He'll get angry with me."
I glared at the witch beside me. "Lee, give me back my tomato or I'll shove this up your ass." I waved the butcher knife in my hand menacingly. Lee looked at it, then at my face… and gave me back my tomato. "Thank you." I set it back onto the cutting board and started cutting it into even slices. I'd been craving tomatoes something horrible the past few days. I'm surprised my skin didn't turn red.
"My father always said you should never argue with a pregnant witch."
Anger surged through me and I stabbed the butcher knife into the cutting board hard enough it got stuck.
Lee sighed. "Rachel, ignoring it will not make it go away. Especially not now that you're showing. You're pregnant. Accept it."
"Go turn yourself!" My voice was a snarl and I whirled away from the counter of Al's mundane, modern kitchen where I had been lending a hand in fixing my lunch. I wasn't supposed to. Al said it was Lee's place to deal with meals and such. My job was to study and learn, but my Latin skills were still crap and I had been staring at pages for so long I had text and sketches behind my lids whenever I closed my eyes. Besides, I was hungry. I was hungry a lot these days.
Lee kept his voice even. He probably didn't want to be blamed for upsetting me if he could avoid it. "Do you want me to slice the rest of this?"
"Stupid, damn, son-of-a-bitch, bastard demon!" I started pacing. "Strutting around like some damn peacock. Like he's accomplished something grand by knocking me up!"
"Would you like me to add some tomato to your cheese sandwich? The heat from the toasting really brings out the flavor."
"And this!" I spun around and tugged out the skirt of the gown I wore. It was a brilliant shade of green that matched my eyes and was made of a clingy, stretch fabric that emphasized rather than hid my small bulge. "He's showing me off! You should have seen the other demons when he took me to that mall with him the other day. They were all staring at me like they wanted to drag me off and pin me to a wall or something! And I thought male witches were bad! Demons probably think of sex ten times more often than you!"
"They say male humans are even worse." Lee continued to work on my lunch. "Spinach? A little iron is good for the blood."
"And they're all fawning! This isn't a baby, it's a damn community project!"
"First demon child in over five millennia, if Al is to be believed. Of course it's a big deal to them." Lee assembled the spinach, tomato and cheese sandwich and started toasting it. Spinach? I would have turned my nose up at it, but at the moment I would have eaten anything. "On the bright side, Algaliarept is treating you better and, because he's in a good mood, it goes better for me. He's not nearly as quick to smack me across the room as he used to be."
"Oh, I'm sooo glad that my impending motherhood to a baby demon is making your life easier."
I glared at Lee. He wasn't threatening to kill me anymore, like he had been those first few weeks after Al had snagged us both. When Al had announced our 'happy news' Lee had first looked shocked, then sickened and then pitying. He actually pitied me! I didn't need pity from some west coast rich boy! So I was pregnant with a demon baby! So what?
"I'm having a demon baby." I sat down in one of the chairs with a huff. "I'm a demon's whore."
"It wasn't your idea, Rachel. I don't blame you for telling Al about me. Not any longer. I would have done the same had our roles been reversed. It was a good gamble, by the way, but gambles don't always turn out for the win. And you're not a whore. This entire situation was not of your making. Now we just have to work together to find a way out."
I snorted. "Yeah, right. What do I do then? Hide on sanctified ground for the rest of my life?" I frowned. "He says I'm not going to die, you know. Not any longer."
Lee checked the bread to ensure it was properly toasted. "He's going to curse you for immortality?"
I shook my head. "No, it has something to do with whatever Trent's dad did to me." I frowned again. "To us, actually. Maybe you're not going to die either." Lee spun around, a look of horror in his eyes. I shrugged. "Sorry."
He shook it off and turned around to slice the now done sandwich in half. A moment later it was set before me on a plate with a glass of milk. I wasn't sure where the demons were getting milk, or the fresh fruits and vegetables that they kept giving Al to give to me in turn. Like I said, 'community project'. Everyone in the Ever After was intent on making sure that my little demon baby was born healthy and happy.
The scent of melted cheese, tomato and toasted bread made my mouth water. I took a bite and moaned in bliss. Even the spinach was welcomed. "You want some?" Lee gazed longingly at my sandwich but shook his head. "It's okay. I won't tell."
"He'd find out somehow and then punish me for taking food out of your mouth."
"You're not taking it if I give it to you."
"If you haven't noticed by now, Rachel, he's not exactly what you or I would consider rational."
I had to give him that. I sometimes wondered if Al enjoyed having a reason to hit Lee. Hell, half the time I acquiesced to something he wanted it was only because I quickly learned that since Al would no longer raise a hand to me he would take out any anger I stirred up in him on Lee. The witch got knocked around enough. I wasn't going to be the cause for more.
So I came across looking as though I was settling in to my new life as a demon's baby mamma while the baby's father preened under the envy and congratulations of his peers. If they declared him King of the Demons it wouldn't surprise me, though I suspect he would turn down such a title if only because he wouldn't want to be linked that closely to Newt. Couldn't blame him there. The Universe's lone female demon had paid a call shortly after our 'announcement' and it was all I wanted to see of her. She was completely insane and scared the hell out of me.
I'd eaten my sandwich before I knew it. I practically inhaled food these days, but my stomach was now happy and quiet. "Thanks, Lee. That hit the spot."
"You're welcome. Need another?"
I shook my head. "I'm good." I swallowed another gulp of milk and sighed. "What am I going to do, Lee? This is not what I pictured when I thought of growing up and having a family of my own."
"Like I said, we get out of it."
"And do what? I'll still have a demon baby."
Lee cleaned up after himself. "Nurture over nature, Rachel. Just because the baby is a demon by means of genetics doesn't mean the baby is born evil. Raise her to be good."
I raised my brows at him, wishing I could do the one eyebrow thing. "A 'good' demon?"
He shrugged. "Why not? Get her out of this environment, out of this culture, and she would have no reason not to grow up a balanced, productive member of society."
I looked down at my tummy bulge, not caring that my expression was set in a frowning pout. Even if I could get out of the Ever After, I would spend the rest of my life, the rest of eternity, trying to keep my child away from her father. Al was too happy about his impending fatherhood. I'd actually woken up to find him whispering to my stomach, running his fingers gently over the skin there. The other day he had been telling the baby a story about a great battle the demons had fought and won over the elves thousands of years ago. And I wasn't so naïve as to believe he would be happy with only one child. He would tear both worlds apart looking for us if I ran.
I shuddered. "You should run if you get the chance, Lee. I'll help if I can. He's not going to hurt me, not any longer, but he'd never stop hounding my steps if I left. I'm stuck."
"None of that. The Rachel Morgan I know would never give up, no matter how dire the circumstances appeared. Not the Rachel Morgan who broke her contract with the IS and survived it."
Yeah, that Rachel Morgan was a tough broad, but that Rachel Morgan had lived what I was going through. "I'm not giving up, I'm being realistic."
"Perhaps, but put your mind to it and unrealistic isn't outside the realm of possibility."
I got up to put my plate and glass in the sink. Lee gave me a faint smile before turning on the tap and starting to clean them. There was a shift in air pressure and my hand went automatically to the butcher knife still resting on the cutting board where Lee had finished slicing the tomato. I whirled around and threw it where I sensed Al would be. The demon vanished before the blade could reach him, the knife sailing over the head of something slumped on the floor to clatter against the far wall and fall do the floor with a metallic ring. Damn it! I'd missed him again!
There was another shift in pressure directly behind me and I didn't have time to react before a pair of strong arms wrapped around me, pulling me firmly into a well-muscled chest. I wriggled to get my arms loose but there was a head pressed next to mine and a deep, low rumble seemed to fill the room. Almost instantly my joints and muscles seemed to melt into warm caramel, gooey and sweet. My mind emptied of thoughts of violence and I felt well rested and content. I wanted to snuggle into the person holding me, bury my nose into him and breathe deep.
Damn demon, he did it to me again!
"Better now?" There was a chuckle coloring Al's cultured voice as he moved me back to the table and lowered me into the chair. "You are safe, Rachel, protected. I won't let anything harm you." The words struck a chord deep inside me, in a place I didn't like to admit existed. A place that, if Al could be believed about the origin of witches, still held the inherited behaviors of demons for generations. My mate would keep me safe. I had no reason whatsoever to raise a hand against him. The bastard.
"You never affected her that way, did you Nicky?" Now he was gloating, the smug jackass.
I blinked my eyes open, still feeling oh so mellow, and looked at the form Al had dropped on the floor when dodging my attack. It was Nick! Oh, God. "Nick?" I worked to make my too relaxed neck lift my head back, resting the top of my head against Al where he still stood behind me. "Why's Nick here?"
Al smiled down at me, lifting one hand to stroke the side of my neck gently. I shivered and his smile widened to a grin. "He got sloppy. Took him long enough. But not before I managed to send him out for this." He waved his other hand and a paperboard pint appeared in it. I blinked and pulled my eyes to it to read the label. Midnight Cookies and Cream ice cream. A whole pint of chocolate bliss. My mouth started to water.
Al chuckled. "I thought you'd be pleased." His hand left my neck to open the ice cream before setting it down in front of me. With an overdone flourish of his wrist he made a silver spoon appear. I watched as he scooped out a bite of the dark ice cream and brought it to my lips. I couldn't help myself. I was still feeling warm and happy from that damn rumble of his and it had been so long since I had tasted chocolate. I moaned as the creamy goodness melted on my tongue. The demon kissed my temple and put the spoon in my hand so I could continue.
I scooped another bite as the first one was still melting. "But why did you grab him?" The words were slightly muffled, but I didn't care that I was talking with my mouth full. I was pregnant, damn it. I didn't have to care about table manners.
"Because we need another room."
I frowned. "For what?"
"Why, the nursery, of course. I'm certainly not going to have the baby sleeping in our room. She'll eventually get old enough she's bound to notice when her parents are enjoying themselves. No need to go over the birds and the bees until she's older."
I blinked. That should bother me, shouldn't it? The part about selling Nick, I mean. "I don't think I like that idea. I don't want you to sell Nick."
"You're pregnant?" Nick was staring at me, and I didn't think I liked what I saw in his eyes. "By him? Rachel, how could you?"
I frowned, but it was Al that answered. Sort of. "Now, Nicky, if you're old enough to have sex, then you're old enough to understand how babies are made. I would have liked a little longer to train you up, but babies come in their own time. We need to start on the nursery now before Rachel starts feeling too tired and off balance to enjoy it."
"Al, I don't want you to sell Nick." I set the spoon into the carton, leaving it there. I should probably get up and stand between them, but I didn't think my legs could support me just yet. My mind was clearing, but my body was still mellow.
"Why not? It's not as though he's been faithful to your memory, Darling. He sold secrets about you to me." Al made a purring sound. "Good ones. Things that only someone intimate with you would know. How else would I have known about your penchant for black lace panties before I ever managed to get the first pair off of you?"
I blinked. Nick had traded secrets about me to Al?
The man on the floor blanched. "Rachel! It's not what it looks like!"
My eyes narrowed, my temper rising. Al chuckled. "Look at that glare. Not a good thing to be on the receiving end of, Nicholas. What color do you think she should paint the walls, Sweetheart? I know Newt says we're having a girl, but pink is a little over done, don't you think?" The last word trailed off into another rumble, and I closed my eyes as I leaned back into him. "Do you really care that I'm going to sell such a traitorous dog so that we can have a safe, secure place for our daughter to sleep?"
At the moment, no, I really didn't. "Peach. I like peach."
I felt Al's lips kiss the sensitive spot behind my ear and I suddenly thought how much fun it would be to lick chocolate ice cream off his chest. He chuckled. "Then save some for when I get back."
He stood up and I sighed, my body and hormones missing his presence even as my mind berated me for falling for that stupid trick. Again! I watched his coattails sway as he walked around the table, pausing next to Lee. "Oh, and Lee, Rachel is right."
Lee frowned. "About what?"
He turned to the witch, his smile cold. "She really doesn't want to have to deal with me if she ran away. And I'm not pleased with you putting the idea in her head." Before Lee could think to react, Al's hand shot up to grab the side of his head. With a crack, he slammed Lee's skull into the cabinet door with enough force to knock him unconscious from the solitary blow. Lee slid down the counter to land in the floor as Al walked over to Nick.
"Come along, Nicky. It's off the auction with you."
"Rachel! Rachel, don't let him take me!" Nick tried to get out of Al's grasp, but the demon was stronger. "Rachel, I'm sorry! I didn't mean anything by it! Please, help me! Rachel!"
They vanished with a pop and a rush of displaced air. I looked at the spot where Nick and Al had been, then over at Lee crumpled in the floor. I wanted to go over to him, but I couldn't make my body obey my mind.
I looked down at the pint of ice cream and wondered how my life had gotten this screwed up.