simple. And yet not. Here it was reality.

“Corrine, I’d like you to meet our King, Noah.”

Corrine drew in a breath as the sunset sped up around her, drawing down dark violet skies and then a cloak of night around the handsome Demon King. He was larger than Kane by far, in height and in musculature, and everything in his bearing screamed of his great position in life. He was powerful, he was responsible for the well- being of an entire people, and he knew it.

But as darkness descended around them, Corrine quickly learned there was far more to him. Noah showed her his palms briefly, and then with a whoosh of sound they were engulfed in flame. Brilliant balls of fire swallowed up his hands to the wrists, and slowly he began to move them, creating bright arcs of light in the darkness as he sketched circles and swirls and arches. Then with a sharp snap of his wrists, fire raced up his arms and quickly engulfed all of his body. Everything inside Corrine that had been trained to respond in the human dimension screamed to see a man on fire. She was breathing so hard, the air cold and warmed all at once in her lungs as she stood there forcing her mind to accept the impossible.

And then, in a rush, the flames burst apart, flying around her in a great circle and touching a ring of torches amidst them that she had not noticed before. After he had lit their way, the Demon King disappeared.

She turned to look at Kane, but only had a moment to open her mouth before he put his finger then to his lips and then pointed forward. Her heart seized in her chest as she eagerly looked in the indicated direction. Another cloud was coalescing in front of her, only this time it seemed to have more weight to it than smoke. After a moment she realized it was dust she was seeing.

Kane grabbed her by her shoulders from behind, pulling Corrine into his warm body as he pressed his lips to the sweet spot just behind her ear.

“Corrine Russ, I’d like you to meet my brother. His name is Jacob, and he is the most powerful Earth Demon ever to walk the world.”

And as he spoke, the man himself appeared. There was so much of Kane’s features in him that she might have known they shared the same blood even if he had not told her so. Jacob’s hair and eyes were as dark as Kane’s, but it was those proud Romanesque features that linked them, from the long nose and strong chin to the sculpture of the full, knowing lips. Yet there was something in Jacob’s eyes that Kane’s lacked. The man behind her, for all the pain and hardship he’d experienced as he laid bound beside her, had an almost carefree quality to his aura.

Jacob did not. Here was a man who carried a great weight on his soul. Corrine had seen it before, in the eyes of young boys who were faced with the lures of gangsters every day, and the painful or deadly alternatives if they resisted. In their world there was no such thing as saying “no.” Not without dreadful consequences. In Jacob’s weighted aura, there was a tremendous responsibility.

Jacob spread his hands wide, his palms turned toward the ground, and suddenly everything around them began to rock and tremble. The earth beneath her feet quaked; then a wall of soil and stone lurched up between her and Jacob. It was so massive and raw that she could smell the loam, see the burrowing creatures that suddenly dangled from roots and such as their protective homes were unearthed. Dirt rained down like a soft summer shower, even as the wave rising before her shifted first to the right and then to the left. And in the next moment the entire monstrosity fell in on itself, rumbling and shaking until it had repacked itself into place. By the time Jacob took a deep, cleansing breath and looked up at her, there wasn’t so much as a speck of dust out of place to bear witness to what had just happened.

“All right,” she breathed. “You’re Demons. Not human. I totally get it.”

“But it is not all about parlor tricks,” Jacob responded. “It is about long-held traditions, a long history of mistakes, and a painful responsibility to ourselves and those we coexist with. We cannot make mistakes. Mistakes cost us too dearly.”

“Wow.” Under her breath she whispered into Kane’s ear. “Is he always so tightly wound?”

“Always,” Kane assured her. “But he’s getting better.” A woman resolved out of thin air at Jacob’s side and Kane’s brother immediately reached to wrap an arm around her curvy hips and draw her flush to his body. It only took an instant for Corrine to recognize who she was.

“That’s my sister! Isabella!” She lurched forward, suddenly needing to feel the steady and familiar irreverence of her sibling, but Kane held her tight.

“Remember, this is all a production of my powers. I don’t know anything about your sister other than what she looks like. She would feel, smell, and act very flat to you, with no dimension. I’ve only met her once in person. I could draw from your memories of her, but the result would not catch all those special nuances that make her the person you love and are familiar with. Not unless I put all of my energy and focus into it and I am not old enough or strong enough to maintain our surroundings and do that as well.”

“So there are limits to what you can do,” Corrine murmured.

“Yes, of course. We are not all powerful. And besides, there’s a bit of an ethical limit too, Corrine. I won’t do things that will end up making you feel like you’ve been manipulated. Having your sister tell you how wonderful everything is for her, how wonderful we are, would be an outright manipulation of your trust and a misuse of your relationship with her. I am doing all of this to orient you to my world, to show you who and what we are, not to run some kind of propaganda gambit.”

“I appreciate that.”

“But even what you are seeing isn’t really right,” he said with no little frustration. “This is just a demonstration of power. It isn’t showing you how truly good we are. How incredibly moral Demons like my brother are.” He sighed. “I’m just not powerful enough or skilled enough.”

Corrine turned around against his body, not taking the opportunity of his loosened grip and lax attention to move away from him.

“On the contrary,” she said softly, reaching up to touch the edge of the wild dark curls lining his temple. “You’ve shown me that and more. If there is one thing I have learned at my job, it’s that those with power like to use it against those without. The fact that this is the first time I’ve even heard of a Demon, in spite of those extraordinary things I just saw them do, proves that you all wield your power with incredible regard for those around you. Your morals are shown in just the way you have restrained yourself from trying to win me over with methods even we humans wouldn’t hesitate to use against one another.”

He looked at her then with such a combination of fascination and true adoration that she bent her head, hiding her face against his breast bone.

“When I first saw you,” he whispered against the top of her head, “I admit it was your outer beauty that fascinated me. All of this glorious, fiery hair and your amazingly pale and perfect complexion. The way your eyes lit when you laughed, the way your curves filled out your clothing. But that was just the lure. As I watched you, as time went by and I saw the way you dealt with those around you. . that was the hook. Oh, Corrine, that was when I realized you were going to mean more to me than just a passing fancy. It was such a deep, visceral reaction. I knew you were meant for me. Even though every logical part of me understood it was forbidden for a Demon to touch a human being with the intentions that I had formed toward you. . I couldn’t let go. I couldn’t walk away.”

Corrine went still as his words sank into her brain.

“What do you mean, when you first saw me?” she asked, even though she was already feeling the truth rushing to the front of her mind. Things he had been saying, things that had been happening to her. If his explanation of how a Druid and Demon connection worked was to be understood, then. . “You’ve met me before all of this. You. . you touched me before. If what you are saying makes any sense at all, then you touched me long before I actually got sick.” She squirmed in his hold, trying to shrug him off. “Only, I don’t remember ever meeting you before. Ever being touched by you before.”

“Because when I met you, when I touched you, it was wrong of me to do so. It was illegal according to my people’s laws. Jacob stopped me from. . he made me erase your memory of any contact we had.”

“So you all have been messing with my mind? You stalked me, felt me up or something and then messed with my head so I wouldn’t remember? And now you’re trying to tell me what an up and up and moral society you have?” She pushed him off herself completely, stumbling as she backed away. “And for all I know you’ve got my sister locked up someplace where I’ll never see her. Or. .” Kane could see the panic welling in her eyes, brimming in her voice. “God, how do I know what’s real anymore? What can I trust anymore?”

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