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White Hot Kiss

White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Apparently, demons love McDonalds. Well, this Poser demon certainly does. While Stacey and Sam see a middle-aged woman digging into a pile of burgers, Layla, who is half gargoyle, half demon, sees a demon without a soul. This particular variety has an infectious bite and insatiable hunger. While Stacey argues that Twilight is classic and they should have been allowed to cover it for their literature report, Layla is planning how she is going to tag the Poser demon. All Layla needs to do is touch the demon for it to be tagged, which means her adopted family, the Wardens, who are full blooded gargoyles, can hunt it down later. Giving Stacey and Sam a lame excuse to hang back in the restaurant, Layla then follows the Poser demon out and through the city streets.

Layla follows her for a short time, but still manages to lose her as she’s distracted by a human with a black soul. Eventually Layla finds the Poser demon again in an alley, however she transforms into a rare Seeker demon. Before the Seeker demon can attack, an Upper Level demon interrupts, and he is a total jaw dropping hottie. Layla tries to back away as the two demons fight, however the hottie gets the upper hand and throws the Seeker away. As Layla watches, the snake tattoo on the hottie’s arm slithers off towards her. The hottie tells Layla not to be scared of Bambi, but Layla has had one too many crazy things happen and she runs off. Unfortunately, as she thinks to call for help, she realizes she’s lost her phone. Again.

Layla eventually returns home, driven by Morris, the wardens' inscrutable chauffeur. As they draw close to the house, Layla notices six new gargoyles resting on the building. Great. Visitors. It gets worse as the visitors are Elijah and his son Petr, both of whom would happily murder Layla. Once inside, Layla heads first to the kitchen for cookie dough before going to see her “brother” Zayne. Thankfully he isn’t really her brother, they were raised as siblings after she was adopted, because Zayne is a hottie and Layla has what would be considered extremely inappropriate thoughts about him. Zayne notices she’s been eating cookie dough and looks a little worse for wear so Layla explains about the Poser demon turned Seeker demon. As they talk, Zayne is sure Layla is hiding something, that she took a soul, but she didn't. She doesn't want to tell Zayne about the hottie demon.

The next day, Stacey calls Layla out for ditching her and Sam, and for the whole day, Layla is exhausted and distracted by the color of people’s souls around her. The mean girl bully, Eva's soul is particularly distracting with its swirls of deep purple bleeding into black. The day isn’t a total loss however as the hottie demon walks into one of her classes and drops her missing cell phone on her desk. Layla is stunned and Stacey instantly starts drooling.

The hottie demon admits to having been thinking about Layla all night. With hottie’s sudden arrival, Layla can’t deal with the test they are about to have so she runs off to the bathroom. The hottie demon follows and stops Layla from calling Zayne by throwing her cell phone into the toilet. Hottie demon introduces himself as Roth, says he knows she is half demon and wants to know why she let herself be brainwashed by the Wardens. Roth also tells Layla she can do more than see souls, at least the last one could… Does she know nothing of her heritage? No, no she does not. As Roth leaves, he tells Layla she needs to stop tagging demons and to not let her family know about him. At the end of the day, out of spite, Layla decides to go tagging and is able to get a few. As Layla is waiting for Morris to pick her up, she gets a weird feeling and, looking around, spots another Upper Level demon watching her.

Back at the Warden house, Layla goes looking for Zayne and finds him with Danika, a female gargoyle who is super nice but Layla hates anyway. She especially hates that Danika looks a little too cozy with Zayne. Not wanting to watch her not-brother with another woman, Layla makes excuses and leaves; however, Zayne follows. There is some awkward sort of flirting-not-flirting that takes place about being awesome sauce with extra sauce before they’re interrupted by Abbot, Zayne’s father and the leader of their clan. Abbot has been contacted about Layla running out of class and doesn’t really believe she was sick. Abbot then makes icky remarks about Danika being mating age and that it’s time for Zayne, at twenty-one, to settle down. Any protests Layla makes about this are instantly dismissed. This happens a lot with Abbot.

To avoid everyone, Layla goes to her old treehouse. As she’s lying there, she pulls out her mother’s ring she wears on a chain around her neck before falling asleep. Zayne wakes her and they have some weird flirting-not-flirting again. Zayne explains that Petr is staying with them for some time and he won’t let anything happen to her again. Zayne also gives her a new phone. As Layla leaves the treehouse, she spots an abnormally large snake watching her from a tree.

At school the next day, Layla and Stacey are talking about the new hottie. Speak of the devil and guess who walks in. Roth sits in front of Layla so Layla uses this opportunity to look at his snake tattoo. After class, Layla notices a strong, rotten, foul smell all through the hallways. Roth tells her there is a zombie in the school and takes her to investigate. As they’re heading to the boiler room, they run into Assistant Principal McKenzie and Layla sees some of Roth’s abilities as he reads McKenzie's black soul. Leaving the depraved administrator, they head to the boiler room where it smells the worst. Behind a fake skeleton, they hear a growl and the zombie shambles toward them. Roth uses one of the fake skeleton’s arms to beat the zombie to goo which covers Layla. When Layla arrives home later, she decides to wake Abbot to tell him about the zombie as it’s kind of a big deal. Unfortunately, Petr interrupts her and he’s a total sleazy dickhead with his threats and insults. Ignoring the rules, Layla slams her knee between his legs as he grabs her throat forcefully and spits vile insults at her.

Later, Abbot agrees it would be best if Elijah and Petr’s clan were not visiting; however, it’s not really for the sake of Layla’s safety. Abbot assumes Layla wants to talk boys or something else teenage girls are bothered by, so she has to blurt out that actually she wanted to tell him about the zombie in her school. Instead of congratulating Layla for confronting and dealing with the zombie, minus any mention of Roth, Abbot berates her for dealing with it, the same as the other night when she followed the Seeker. Zayne suggests she stop tagging, for her own safety, but Layla is not impressed by this suggestion.

At school, Stacey tells Layla she can tell she’s been crying and she needs to drop Zayne and get with the hottie, Roth, who would make her cry but in a good way. During class, Stacey flirts spectacularly with Roth and invites him to lunch with them. After school, Roth continues to dog Layla, so she’s not in the mood to go tagging, but then she spots a Fiend. Roth persuades her not to play judge, jury and executioner as essentially that’s what tagging is and see what the Fiend is up to. The Fiend is on a construction site and when the last person leaves the scaffolding, it touches it, making it all crash to the ground. It was like it purposefully waited for the last human to be safe before committing its brutal act of inconvenience. They leave and find another Fiend messing with traffic lights and causing horrendous acts of fender benders and noise pollution through car horn blaring. Deciding to leave the mischievous and mostly harmless demons alone, they go for muffins and Layla asks about Hell. It’s hot and a twisted version of the human world, so Roth much prefers it up here. Roth asks Layla about when she started tagging and if she realizes the Wardens are using her. Layla is thoroughly convinced the Wardens are good because she is a Warden and that she is helping.

The conversation continues as they eat. It turns out Roth is eighteen years old, and not in dog years. Demonic maturity is very fast compared to humans and his current appearance is just a skin, not what he actually looks like in his true form. Suddenly, Layla spots a sinner, her soul tainted brown. Layla doesn’t know what she’s done but she wants to eat her soul. Roth distracts her by asking her about the ring she wears on a chain until the woman leaves. When they leave a little later, Roth asks her about never being kissed. Layla obviously resents that she hasn’t been kissed and says that kissing anyone with a soul is impossible as she would just eat it. Roth swoops down and kisses her then because he has no soul so she can’t suck it away. Layla enjoys the kiss more than she should admit.

They start talking again but this time it's about Layla’s mom. Roth tells her she shares her abilities. Wait. Roth knows who her mom is? Roth confirms she was known by many names, but most commonly Lilith, yes THE Lilith, and because of her mom, Layla is on Hell’s most wanted list. On that bombshell, Layla spots Morris’s car and heads toward it but gets an uncomfortable feeling in the line of taxis. Something isn’t right, like there is a demon nearby and it’s something with serious malice and raw evil. Morris can feel it too and he books it home but the taxi following them is the source of the bad feeling and the driver has been possessed. The taxi slams into them causing them to crash.

The front of the car is crumpled and there is blood everywhere. From the mess, the possessed tries to attack, but Morris shoots it with a gun stored in the glove compartment. Tendrils of acrid smoke come pouring out of the bullet hole and mouth of the possessed. Bambi arrives then and swallows the evil essence but the smell of sulfur lingers. Back at the Warden house, it’s chaos. A possessed human is a Big Deal™. Zayne is nowhere to be seen as Layla is debriefed, but not comforted because her feelings are not a concern. Abbot forbids her to tag again and nearly pulls her out of school. Layla doesn’t see Zayne that night, but she does hear him return.

The next day is Saturday and Zayne usually stays up late after his late night Warden watches so he can get early morning coffee with Layla. Layla, under the impression that this will still happen despite her lockdown, is disappointed to find out that Zayne must have “forgotten” as Abbot tells her he’s gone for breakfast with Danika. Layla goes back to bed and sleeps the day away, only waking when Zayne comes in. She confronts him about being forgotten and feeling like a fool in front of the clan. Layla realizes Zayne looks exhausted but that doesn’t stop her from feeling forgotten and replaced. As Zayne leaves, he tells her it’s difficult to treat her like an adult as she’s acting like a child, then tells her Abbot has spoken to the Alphas and they are coming. Layla really shouldn’t be there when they arrive.

With nowhere to go, Layla hides in the treehouse again, but not until after she watches the arrival of the Alphas. Getting impatient because she’s been exiled out of the house for hours and it’s very late, Layla tries to call Zayne’s cell but he doesn’t answer and eventually her calls start going to voicemail. While she’s sitting there, shocked and indignant, Petr slimes into the treehouse. Layla realizes in a panic that Petr isn’t there just to belittle and threaten her, he’s there to rape and kill her. As Layla and Petr struggle, Layla spots Bambi and Petr accuses her of having a familiar and throws Bambi away. This reminds Layla of something Roth told her, that pure souls are capable of evil. Desperately trying to save herself, Layla needs to use her greatest weapon, her ability to suck Petr’s soul, which tastes delicious. Petr turns sallow and dark veins shudder through him. He’s not withering like a human who lost their soul would, he’s transforming into a monster. Suddenly, Roth, in his demonic form, appears from the shadows, slices Petr for being a bastard and rips out his spine for throwing Bambi.

As Layla sits in shock that she took a soul, Roth disposes of what is left of Petr and collects Bambi. He then picks Layla up and, dark wings sprouting from his back, flies her to his place. Layla’s convinced she killed Petr but Roth points out he was the one to make the killing blow, thank you very much, however Layla taking a whole soul is something. As Roth doctors her cuts and bruises, three cats come to investigate Layla. They are so cute and fluffy and a complete contrast to the tattooed bad boy persona he displays. As is the beautiful flower garden he shows her. Roth points out that he, like most demons, isn't just one dimensional. Roth again says that Hell is looking for her and that the zombie and possessed taxi driver are proof. Layla is something special, half demon-half Warden, and despite what her adopted family remind her regularly of, they are no better than she even though they have pure souls. The Big Guy did that to make up for creating them in the first place. Roth confirms he works for The Boss Downstairs and has been charged with keeping her safe from the big bads and reminds her again she is the daughter of Lilith and tells her that someone wants her because of her bloodline.

Roth tells Layla they need to find the Lesser Key of Soloman, a book which catalogs demons and details how to summon them, trap them, and do all kinds of other fun stuff. Lilith can’t be summoned and neither can her original children, the Lilin, but like all things though, there is a loophole. The original Lesser Key of Soloman describes how to create the Lilin, and like most spells, there are stages. This one needs the blood of a child of Lilith, the dead blood of Lilith herself and a couple of other stages only detailed in the original text. Once the spell is completed, the Lilin will be born again on Earth. The child of Lilith is Layla, and Lilith’s dead blood is in the ring Layla carries on the chain around her neck. Hell does not want the Lilin to be free, especially on Earth, so Roth needs to make sure neither her blood nor Lilith's blood is spilled. Layla realizes Abbot has to know all this and has kept it from her. Roth starts getting all flirty again and talking about kissing and wanting more, but it doesn’t go anywhere because Layla needs to go home and not tell the Wardens she ate a soul.

At her insistence, Layla heads home alone but can feel Roth following her through the streets of DC. Her walk gives her time to reflect on everything Roth has told her and calm her emotions, though later, she will feel sick from the soul she consumed, and almost welcomes the sickness as penance. As Layla sits, weak and sick on a bench, she hears Zayne’s 1969 Impala pull up in front of her. Zayne dashes out and embraces her. Over Zayne’s shoulder Layla sees Roth turn and leave. Finally, after a long hug, Zayne sees Layla’s injuries and realizes it was Petr who hurt her because he found her bag and cell in the treehouse along with splatters of her blood and Petr hasn’t been seen since last night. Zayne gets upset and, with his heightened emotions, he starts to change into his gargoyle form, but fortunately Layla is able to calm him down. Zayne threatens to kill Petr for what he did but Layla is able to reassure him Petr is dead, killed by a demon who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. She doesn't mention Roth's name. Back home, Abbot questions Layla about the demon who saved her and she keeps the description vague saying only that he looked like a Warden. Abbot seems somewhat mollified but is still suspicious over the clothes she is wearing, which were given to her by Roth. Layla can hardly say the clothes belong to Roth the hottie high level demon, so she gives the lame response that they're old gym clothes. Suspicious Abbot is suspicious.

Later that night, Layla vomits up Petr’s soul. It claws its way out of her throat and turns to mist. After a hot shower, Layla crawls into bed when Zayne visits. Because she looks like crap, Zayne asks her if she ate a soul which she denies. Zayne’s angry too, that he failed to answer his phone, that Petr hurt her, that he didn’t protect her. Zayne settles next to her in bed and answers Layla’s questions about why the Alphas are here. Apparently there has been an increase in upper level demon activity. As Layla falls asleep, Zayne asks again if she ate a soul, promising he won’t tell anyone, so she confesses she did.

At school on Wednesday, Layla still isn’t looking or feeling great, and Stacey points out Roth has not been seen since Friday. Layla accidentally lets slip that she hung out with Roth over the weekend. Stacey instantly wants details and is overly concerned with Layla’s virginity status and really needs to get her priorities in order which Sam points out. The next day, Roth finally makes an appearance to steal Layla and save her from Biology. Roth takes Layla downstairs and into an old part of the school. Roth asks why she was off sick and Layla explains about her post-soul eating illness. He makes a weird face at this but instead of saying anything, he inspects her wounds before horny-teasing and horny-flirting with her, pointing out that he can do things to her that Zayne cannot. Getting back to business, they compare information about the increased upper level demon activity and decide they need to work together to get the key, however that’s not going to be easy. Luckily, Roth points out, there is a Seer near.

Heading out in Roth’s Porsche, with a quick stop at the grocery store for chicken, they head to the Seer who turns out to be a nine-year old boy with a pure soul playing Assassin’s Creed. The Seer tells them that the end result of releasing the Lilin is the apocalypse and the only way to defeat them is to kick it off early. He also gives them a very cryptic clue about a monolith to find the lesser key. Instead of heading back to school, they head to Roth’s. Before they leave the parking complex, the overhead lights start to flicker and pointy, hairless Rack demons emerge from the shadows. As one they attack Roth who displays some kickass demon skills and starts to take them out with Bambi's help. Layla can’t stand by and watch so she draws attention to herself and surprisingly, she can hold her own in a fight thanks to Zayne’s tutelage. Once the Rack demons are put down, they continue into Roth’s building.

Roth pulls out a commercial copy of the Lesser Key of Soloman, it’s incomplete of course, but it may be a start. It’s filled with pictures of demons and one sparks Layla’s interest. It’s Roth, Astaroth the Crown Prince of Hell. Well, not exactly, he’s one in a long line of Astaroth. Because they are sitting on Roth’s bed, one thing turns to another and they start kissing again. Before things go too far, Layla calls a halt which Roth respects. They spend the rest of the afternoon talking about Roth’s family until it’s time for Layla to fake being in school as Zayne is picking her up.

Days pass and Layla remains vigilant for demon attacks. Over lunch, Layla, Roth, Stacey and Sam read a newspaper article calling for the dissolution of the Wardens as they’re a sign of the apocalypse. Realizing how much Sam enjoys facts and riddles, Layla gives him the Seer’s cryptic clue about the Lesser Key. He works it out straight away, the monolith in the riddle is the Washington Monument. Duh! And it just so happens to be a full moon Saturday night, which is required to find the key. It’s going to be difficult to sneak out of the Warden stronghold to help, so Layla will pretend to be at a sleepover at Stacey’s.

Abbot’s office door is closed when Layla goes to ask her Big Favor. Zayne comes by while she’s waiting and they talk. Abbot has had a lot of closed door meetings lately and neither knows what is going on. Zayne also notes Layla seems different, but the only thing Layla can think of is that she’s been kissed. Eventually Abbot is free and Layla makes up a story about a Bio test and studying with Stacey Saturday night, but Zayne protests. Stacey is more than okay helping Layla have an overnight date with Roth and her only complaint is Layla's boring, practical outfit.

As it is still early to retrieve the key, Layla and Roth head to Roth’s apartment for a while, so of course they start making out and things take a hot and heavy turn but they don't go all the way. Eventually it’s time to leave and to help with their clandestine task, Roth makes them invisible. Layla notices a strange shimmer on the water at the Washington Monument and when she touches it, she realizes it’s not wet. The water is an illusion! They walk into and under the reflection pool into a room that looks medieval. As they try to get through a door at the end of the corridor, a swarm of Little Ugly Demons (LUDs) attack. While Roth fights them, Layla gets the door open and they’re able to move on. This next chamber has bats so they need to be quiet, which of course means they make out until the bats leave. Once they stop lip locking and start investigating the chamber, they spot two hand prints, one for a demon and one for a gargoyle. They both place their hands in which reveals a cubby holding the Lesser Key of Solomon.

Grabbing the book, the chamber starts to shake and come down like it’s Indiana Jones boobietrapped. They’re able to escape and make it to the metro tunnels. As they head back to Roth’s apartment to look at the book, Layla spots a falling star. Oh crap, that's not a star, it’s a Warden, Nicolai, followed by Abbot. As Nicolai and Roth go toe-to-toe, Abbot grabs Layla. Zayne eventually arrives and takes her back to the Warden house, so Roth flickers out of existence as she's flown away. This is not good.

Abbot berates Layla. They both accuse each other of lying, and Abbot demands to know that Layla is still a Virgin. Her virginity status, apparently, is a key part of the incantation. Now, the real question is, how does Abbot know what is in the incantation? Apparently it’s her “innocence” that is important and it’s also linked to her not taking a soul. Oops. Abbot demands Layla give him Roth’s name, but she refuses despite his belittling tactics, threats and anger. Eventually she’s able to go to her room, grounded for life. Thankfully she’s still able to go to school, but unfortunately Roth doesn't show.

A week goes by and there is still no sign of Roth. At night, Layla’s cravings for something sweet are overwhelming. They weren’t so bad when she was around Roth, but now they seem intolerable. Layla is sure she can smell Roth, or sense him, despite there being no sign of the hottie demon. One day as she lingers in the school bathroom, a crow enters the room and transforms into an unfamiliar demon called Caym. Caym grabs Layla's throat but she fights back, then Roth enters the bathroom. They banter until Roth points out he can’t let Caym hurt Layla and so they fight and Roth breaks Caym's neck. He explodes into sulfur smoke and shatters the windows in the bathroom. Roth grabs Layla and takes her outside as the whole school gets evacuated. As they’re standing outside, Zayne comes over. Roth and Zayne have a go at each other but something Roth says to Zayne strikes home: the Wardens have been doing a terrible job keeping Layla safe. Later, back in Abbot’s office, the Wardens finally listen to Layla explain that the demons are trying to stop the apocalypse. In other revelations, Abbot tells Layla her father is Elijah, the clan leader who wants her dead and father of Petr. This explains why Elijah hates her so much. He was probably the one who ordered Petr to kill her. Suddenly, Layla realizes that she’s taken her half-brother’s soul.

Later, Zayne catches Layla going crazy in her bedroom and takes her out for ice cream. As they eat, Layla confesses she took Petr’s soul, which Zayne already suspected she had, not because she wanted to but because she had to. As they drive back to the Warden house, Zayne slams into a Hellion in the middle of the driveway. Zayne orders Layla home to get Abbot while he battles the Hellion. As Layla runs, tree roots grab at her feet causing her to fall. With the smell of sulfur in the air, the demon Paimon appears, the demon sent to raise the Lilin. Layla tells him to go to hell and tries to fight, but it’s no use. He grabs Layla and her world goes dark.

Layla wakes up bound, and looking around, she sees a pentagram painted on the ground in the old gymnasium of her school. From outside the pentagram, Paimon orders his minion to spill the blood of Lilith. Layla tries to stall by getting Paimon to talk, and he says he’s doing all this for love, his love for Lilith who he will free from her prison. Eventually, Paimon's minion breaks the jewel on Layla’s ring which spills Lilith's dead blood, then Layla is cut on her arm spilling her own blood. The next step of the spell is for Layla to take a soul. More of Paimon's minions bring in Zayne and Roth. Roth was caught coming to rescue Zayne and if Layla doesn’t take Zayne’s soul, Paimon will kill Roth.

As Paimon starts to draw Roth’s blood, Layla tells Paimon she’s already taken a soul so she doesn’t need to take Zayne’s. As Paimon is about to slit Zayne’s throat now that he is useless to him, Layla’s inner demon and gargoyle gather strength and pour forth, giving her the strength to break her bindings as her human skin is shed for her demon gargoyle self. Layla easily cuts through Paimon’s minions. Zayne shifts into his gargoyle form and Roth into his demon, and Bambi slithers off his arm because she doesn’t want to miss out on the fun. The fight rages until Wardens rush in fighting Paimon’s minions. Eventually Zayne and Roth grab Paimon and are able to tie him into the pentagram, changing it into a Supernatural-worthy demon trap. With a roar, Paimon grabs Zayne, but then Roth pulls Zayne out and holds Paimon down as Abbot activates the trap. Bambi slithers to Layla’s arms.

A few days later, Layla, who now wears Bambi as a tattoo like Roth used to, heads to Roth’s apartment to collect his cats, but learns that they were also tattoos that Roth must have been wearing when he was cast to Hell in the demon trap. Checking Roth’s roof garden, Layla feels Roth but knows he can’t be there. She did find her necklace which held Lilith’s ring and knows it wasn’t there a moment ago. Layla leaves and can’t help but wonder if this isn’t the end.

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