“While they’re what?”
“While they’re there,” I finished lamely.
“There’s nothing to feel guilty about,” Hadrian said. “And if it makes you feel better, the kind of people that are, err, there in Tartarus include the likes of Hitler, Jack the Ripper, Emperor Nero—-”
“I don’t know him.”
“Just another bad person,” he clarified in that cute-but-also-annoying solemn tone of his, “and to answer your question, yes, the subjects do still retain their DNA, but since UW liked swimming in dangerous waters…”
“Not enough DNA from MS’ bones?” I winced at his nod. “Shit.”
“That was my initial reaction, too—-” Hadrian’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “—-until I learned about the one promising lead that the autopsy revealed. It’s what Aesculapius wanted to talk about, actually.” He gestured to the iPad that had been integrated into the car’s dashboard, saying, “Use that to Google what a catoblepas is.”
I did as asked, and the search results showed a furry bull-like creature with a head that was too heavy for its elongated neck to carry. “Is this real?”
“Humans don’t think so, but it’s real. It’s known as the African Gorgon because its stare is fatal, but that’s not the only thing dangerous about it. Catoblepones can also emit a scent that’s just as fatal—-”
“Like a deadly raccoon,” I surmised. “But I don’t see what this has to do with your case.”
“The waters of Phlegethon might have made it impossible to identify MS’ corpse through DNA, but one thing the flames hadn’t been able to get rid of was its smell. There was enough of it clinging to the bones to be detectible but not enough to cause actual damage.”
“I think I’m following you somewhat, but how did the smell get to the subject’s bones?”
“Catoblepas pill,” Hadrian answered succinctly. “It’s to neutralize the senses, and you’d certainly need one if you’re thinking of swimming in the river of Phlegethon.”
“Painless suicide, in other words.”
“And a good plan, too,” Hadrian acknowledged evenly. “The Underworld receives over 150,000 new souls each day, and we’re unable to process them all at once.”
I fought to keep my face expressionless at his words. We. He had used ‘we’, like he was part of the Underworld. Did that make him a bounty hunter for Hell or something else?
“It would still be possible to determine the identity of the missing subject by going through all of our records, but by the time we’ve uncovered the subject’s identity—-”
“It would’ve been too late,” I finished for him, “wouldn’t it?” If guys in Mission Impossible films could pull off face switches, then the sky was probably the limit for guys who knew magic.
“So what now? I mean, how does the fact that your UW ingested a catoblepas pill help you figure out who she or MS is?”
“Catoblepas breeders are far and between. NSA has already forwarded its findings to CSI, and they’ll give me a call as soon as they’ve found a match. In the meantime…”
I literally jumped in my seat when Hadrian suddenly reached for my hand, and when my gaze flew up to his…
“I was wondering…” His voice had turned into a soft, velvety purr that had my body aching and melting in all the right places. “If you had any plans for tonight…”
My heart pounded against my chest. “That depends.”
His lips curved. “On what?”
“If your plans involve having any clothes on.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“Then I’m all yours.”
Old habits died hard (pun intended). I sorta knew this when I was alive, but I became deadly sure about it when I was dead. It was the only answer I could think of, with the way my lungs still forced me to breathe and my heart still persisted on beating. Thank God my womb knew better than to follow suit. What good would it do to be a ghost if you still had to have periods every month?
I DIDN’T REALLY HAVE much time to look around Hadrian’s apartment. We started kissing the moment we were inside it, and oh, it was as if absolutely nothing had happened between now and the first time I laid eyes on him. You’d think stinky catoblepones, burnt bones, and all that talk about murder and Hell would’ve dampened our mutual lust, but…nope. Like, seriously…nope.
Foreplay would’ve been unnecessary even, but Hadrian clearly thought otherwise as he gently laid me on his bed. Silver eyes locking with mine, he took his own sweet time undressing me, and by the time he started undressing himself, I was too overcome with desire, and all I could do was ache and hurt and burn at the sight of his beautiful, naked body.
He was ripped. Totally and exquisitely ripped that I could risk betting a million dollars for anyone to find even a single inch of flab. And trust me, you would lose.
Everything about him was so damn perfect that a part of me was already waiting and dreading the moment he’d remember I was a ghost and start freaking out. But he didn’t. I kept waiting to see even the faintest hint of disgust or terror in his smoldering gaze, but there was just nothing in those eyes except a fierce, savage glitter of need.