Home > Ashes (Dark in You #3)

Ashes (Dark in You #3)
Author: Suzanne Wright

CHAPTER ONE

If I were a set of keys, where would I be?

Shoving the drawer closed, Harper Wallis cursed. She’d searched the reception desk, her office, the breakroom, and every tattoo station. There was no sign of her keys, which was a major problem since she couldn’t leave without locking the studio.

Having been raised by imps, she was very security conscious. Breaking and entering was merely one talent that imps possessed. They also excelled at lying, cheating, stealing, and identity theft. She might biologically be a sphinx like her mother, but Harper was an imp in every other way that counted.

Speaking of imps… Harper turned to her teenage cousin. “Did you find the keys?”

“Nope,” Robbie replied.

“Well, maybe if you got up off your ass and looked instead of lounging on the sofa flicking through the portfolios, you might actually find them.”

Heidi, her other cousin who was only five, came skipping out of the breakroom and crossed to Harper. “They’re not back there.”

Harper stroked the little imp’s white-blonde hair. “Thanks anyway, Heidi-ho.” The kid truly did look like an absolute angel. As a demon, she was, of course, far from it.

“Why not just call Raini?” asked Robbie. “She’s the co-owner; she must have her own set of keys.”

“She does,” said Harper. “But I’m not calling her all the way back here.” It wasn’t exactly a simple location to arrive at. Six months ago, they’d relocated the business to the Underground, a demonic paradise that was pretty much a subterranean, hyperactive version of the Las Vegas strip.

Harper’s mate, Knox Thorne, had built the Underground a long time ago, and it was globally popular – mostly because demons were impulsive creatures that had instant gratification issues, loved adrenaline rushes, and were plagued by boredom and restlessness.

“Done,” declared Richie, her uncle. Dusting off his hands, he backed away from the vending machine. “It should work fine.” He lightly pounded his fist on the side of the machine, and it sprung to life with a whir as it dropped a bag of chips.

Harper shook her head. “It doesn’t matter how many times I do that, it never works for me.” His daughter, Khloë – who also happened to be Harper’s receptionist – did it just as effortlessly. “Thanks, Richie, I appreciate the help.”

He frowned at her. “I still don’t understand why you want to work here when you could earn a hell of a lot more money working for me,” he griped. Her uncle could fix anything. He could also recreate any piece of art. He’d produced and sold countless counterfeit paintings, and he’d passed on his expertise to Harper. As such, it disappointed him that she chose to “waste her artistic talent by drawing with needles”.

Harper raised a hand. “I’m not having this conversation with you again.”

Richie grunted. “Come on, kids, your mom will be waiting for you.” Although he was unmated, he had dozens of kids with five different mothers. He was a good dad, though. Financially and emotionally supportive. Never missed a single baseball game, school play, or ballet recital. In that sense, he was very unlike Harper’s nomadic father who could go for months at a time without contacting her, though Lucian did actually consider that to be full-time parenting.

Gathering his tools, Richie spoke. “Where’s your bodyguard?”

“Tanner has the night off, since I’m riding home with Knox.” Her mate was a busy guy, so their work days didn’t always finish at the same time. “I’m meeting Knox at his office and then we’re going out for a meal.”

Honestly, she didn’t feel up to it. She was so tired that her mind was foggy with exhaustion, and all she wanted to do was go home and crash. Not that there would be much point in that. Sleep hadn’t been coming easy to her lately. That might not have been so bad since, as a rule, demons didn’t need much sleep and could even go days without it. But when she did sleep, it was restless and didn’t restore her energy.

“Want us to walk you to Knox’s office?” asked Richie.

She shook her head. “I can’t leave until I find the keys.” In general, she wasn’t a forgetful person, but it had been a long, tiring day and her brain just wasn’t cooperating. “Don’t worry, I’ll find them. They’re here somewhere. Thanks again for your help.”

Richie nodded. “Ready, kids?”

“Yep.” Heidi peppered Harper’s face with kisses and then turned to skip away, but Harper grabbed her by the back of her sweater.

“What?” asked Heidi, blinking innocently.

Harper held out her hand. “I want whatever you’ve stolen with those sticky fingers of yours.”

Heidi pouted and then fished a diamond belly button ring out of her pocket. The little girl could always be counted on to take something shiny. “You’re no fun,” she said.

Harper gaped at her. “How did you even get this?” The glass reception desk doubled as a display cabinet for jewelry and other products, and Harper always kept it locked.

Heidi gave her a look that said, “Don’t insult me.” Then she skipped over to Richie.

He patted his daughter on the head. “You make your daddy proud.”

Harper rolled her eyes. “I’ll see you all soon.”

They said their goodbyes, and Robbie then ushered the kids out of the studio.

Determined to find the damn keys, Harper restarted her search. She checked every desk drawer, the spaces between the sofa cushions, and then underneath the table and couch. Once she was positive they weren’t in the reception area, she moved onto the tattoo stations and thoroughly searched every one of them – still no keys.

Harper’s inner demon huffed at her in sheer exasperation, like she was failing on freaking purpose. It had absolutely no sympathy for her; it just wanted to be with its mate.

Sharing your soul with a dark predator that was essentially a psychopath could be a bitch of a situation at times. The demon had no conscience, no empathy, no ability to love. It also possessed a strong and annoying sense of entitlement that made it a persistent motherfucker.

As Harper made her way through the breakroom and into the stockroom, a mind – dark, familiar, and comforting – brushed against hers. You’re late, baby. It wasn’t a reproach; more like a need for confirmation that nothing was wrong.

She smiled as the velvety, smoky, rumble seemed to slide over her skin. Knox’s sinfully seductive voice truly shouldn’t be legal. I’m sorry, I can’t find my keys.

You don’t think anybody’s taken them, do you? There was a promise of retribution in his words.

No, they’re here somewhere. But as Harper scanned the inventory, she didn’t see them.

I have a spare set. I’ll bring them to you.

She lifted a brow, even though he couldn’t see. And just why do you have spare keys to my studio?

A vibe of amusement touched her mind. Apparently, her snippy remark didn’t bother him. It used to be one of my security offices, remember?

Oh, yeah, she’d kind of forgotten that. Give me ten minutes. If I haven’t found mine by then, I’ll use the spare set.

If that’s what you —

She frowned when he abruptly cut off. Knox?

I need to have a quick talk with Levi, he said, sounding distracted. After that, I’ll come to you if you haven’t already arrived.

If he was doing that “keeping things from her to protect her” thing again, there’d be an argument for sure. But since his mind had already pulled away from hers, she didn’t bother saying as much.

Turning her attention back to the mystery of the disappearing keys, Harper looked in the small restroom and gave the kitchenette a thorough exploration. Nothing.

Cursing, she returned to her office to give it yet another search. Looking under her sketchpads, she froze as a prickle of awareness danced across her nape.

She was about to turn when a heavy weight slammed into her back, propelling her forwards so that she was bent over the table. Just as fast, the back of her shirt was ripped open and a body appeared in front of her as two meaty hands grabbed hers, fisting her own hands and pinning them in place.

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