Sam stifled a yawn as she sat at her computer. She’d posted notes to every Dark-Hunter and Squire message board, loop, Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook account she could think of. Even the sites that on the surface appeared to be role-playing games but in reality were their people hiding in plain sight. She’d been texting and leaving messages for hours, warning her brethren and their employees what was brewing.
The Daimons would be coming for them. And they were pissed off.
On the one hand, she could understand their anger. The Daimons were born as Apollites—a race of superhumans that had been created by the god Apollo. Then, because of the actions of their jealous queen who’d ordered the death of Apollo’s human mistress and son, they’d been cursed by him to die horribly at age twenty-seven—the same age his mistress had been when the queen had her killed. Their only hope to live past that date was to start sucking human souls into their bodies, but the problem with that was that souls weren’t meant to live in them. As soon as a Daimon took the soul, it started to wither and die and if a Dark-Hunter didn’t find and kill a Daimon before that soul expired, it would cease to exist.
But on the other hand, having watched the Daimons slaughter her entire family, Sam wanted them completely wiped from the earth. They were disgusting animals with no regard for human life and for that they deserved total extermination. And if it was by her own hands, then all the better.
“You want a war, Stryker…I’m ready to give you one.”
Just not until the sun went down. Damn the gods for that restriction on the Dark-Hunters and Daimons alike. For the next few hours, there was nothing she could do except wait.
Sam ground her teeth as she saw the tiny rays peeking in through the slats in her blinds. She was on the other side of the room, safe from their reach.
For now. But one well-placed brick or baseball and those dangerous rays could pose the ultimate threat to her. If they touched her skin, she’d burn up like a B-grade movie vampire.
Not wanting to think about that, she glanced at her clock, and sighed. It was just after noon. Way past her bedtime.
You can’t kill Daimons if you’re too tired to think. Go to bed, Sam. There’s nothing more you can do until dark.
She hated that. It wasn’t in her to withdraw. As a soldier, her mentor had beaten that into her. Amazons don’t back down. Sometimes you might want to. Sometimes you ought to. But Amazons never backed down.
Except for sunlight.
Aggravated, she glared up at her ceiling. “You know, Apollo, if you wanted us to keep humanity safe, you shouldn’t have banned us from the daylight too.” Then the advantage would be with them, not with his cursed race.
Why are you wasting breath? Even if the Greek god heard her, he didn’t care. She knew that better than anyone. The gods had more important things to do than listen to human complaints.
Still, she felt better for having said it.
She reached for her glass of water and headed to the stairs that would take her up to her bedroom on the third floor of her house. The only thing she really hated about living in New Orleans was that you couldn’t have a basement, which was much safer than an upstairs bedroom. Unfortunately the sea level here was such that a basement would flood constantly. Since she lived alone, if a fire or hurricane struck, she’d be at its mercy.
For that reason most Dark-Hunters had a human Squire who stayed in their house as a personal secretary and guardian during the day.
You should have let Dev stay with you.
That would have been a mistake in more ways than one. Plus she didn’t know if his shield—whatever it was—would hold the same if she was asleep. Since the moment she’d become a Dark-Hunter, she couldn’t allow anyone near her while she slept. Once she was unconscious, she had no way to block them. Her dreams tangled with their thoughts and she’d spend a restless day seeing and hearing everything they did.
She’d tried once to have a pet dog and then a cat, but their thoughts were even stranger than the humans’. So she was relegated to eternal solitude. Not that it mattered. After all these centuries, she was used to it.
At least that’s what she told herself.
Yawning again, she entered her room and dropped her robe. A few hours of sleep and she’d be as good as new.
And if that damn bird that kept thinking about eating worms parked its butt on her windowsill again today while she was sleeping, she was going to shoot it even if it did flood sunlight into her room.
Dev woke up with a start. His heart pounding, he used his heightened hearing to listen carefully and see what had awakened him. He heard Aimee’s soft snore from her room down the hall. The normal house activity of the day crew working…
Nothing out of the ordinary. Just another typical day.
After one hell of an incredible morning that had ended with him getting mentally bitch-slapped at the end.
Not wanting to think about that, he turned to look at the clock. It was just after two P.M. He cursed. He’d only had three hours of sleep.
Go back to bed.
He rolled over and closed his eyes. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t manage to go back to sleep. Worse, he was being haunted by the scent of a certain Amazon frustration.
“What is wrong with me?”
Sam had made it clear that she was done with him. Her play toy had been shoved back in the drawer and she didn’t want to see it again. And yet he couldn’t get the thought of her out of his head.
She’s aggravating. Frustrating. Off-limits.
And sexy as hell.
I should never have imagined her naked…. Never gone to her house and spent the best damned morning of my life with her.
That was like willing himself not to breathe. Some things a guy just did automatically and when a woman like her offered him a full morning of rampant sex, he took her up on it.
Groaning, he pulled the pillow out from under his head and laid it over his face. Go back to sleep.
Screw it, suffocate yourself.
At least then he’d be out of his misery.
But it was useless. He couldn’t do either one. He was up. Fully awake. So was his cock…. Damn it to hell. He’d be cranky as all get out for the rest of the day and night.
There was nothing he could do. His body refused to doze back off.
It was still thrumming from the incredible sex he’d had, the charge to his powers, and an insatiable desire to repeat what they’d done all morning. He was lucky he’d been able to go to sleep the first time.
Disgusted, he got up and went to the bathroom to get dressed and try to put some sanity in his brain.
When have you ever been sane?
Well, there was that….
It didn’t take long to shower, shave, and dress. He went downstairs to find his identical brother Quinn in the kitchen, bitching about Remi from the night before. It was a familiar sound and a rant he’d had a time or two himself.
Dev gave him a lopsided grin. “You know, I could put him down while he’s sleeping if it’ll make you feel better.”
Laughing, Quinn set his armload of dishes next to the sink. “Don’t tempt me. Not like I didn’t have the same thought myself. Worthless bastard.”
Dev stopped next to the sink. “What’d he do?”
“Screwed up the paperwork from last night again.” Quinn growled low in his throat. “How can he not read a register receipt after all these years? I swear to the gods…Maman would have a stroke if she saw it.”
They both went silent as those words hung between them and they were faced with the reality that their mother would never have a fit about anything ever again.
Gah, when would that pain stop hurting so much? It was only second to the guilt he had over not having protected his parents. Had he been quicker on the draw, he might have saved his mother’s life.
Shoving that useless regret aside, Dev twisted his hand in the chin strap of the helmet he was holding. “Let Aimee sort it out. She’s better at that than us anyway.”
“I’ll tell her you said that.”
Quinn probably would too, and Aimee would be highly offended even though Dev meant nothing by it, other than she had more business sense than the rest of them. Women. They were always getting pissed off over nothing.
Just like Sam throwing him out of her bed for no real good reason. The gods only knew what he’d said that had ticked her off.
Quinn started rinsing the dirty plates before putting them in the dishwasher. “So what are you doing awake? You don’t normally get up till dinnertime.”
Quinn wiped his forearm across his forehead to brush back a stray piece of curly blond hair. “You’re off tonight, aren’t you?”
His brother let out a long sympathetic breath. “Man, sucks to be you.”
Dev didn’t comment on his sarcasm as he left the sink and headed toward the door that opened into the club. His older brother, Alain, manned the bar of the almost empty place. There was only a tiny number of humans playing pool in back and eating at the tables at the front of the club.
Alain paused as he caught sight of him. “What are you doing up?”
That was the drawback of being nocturnal. If he ever rose before sunset, his family ragged him over it. “The apocalypse cometh. Thought I ought to be awake for it.”
Alain snorted. “You know, to most people, that would be a joke. But around here…”
He had a point. Dev probably shouldn’t kid about such a likely scenario. “Not very busy, huh?”
“You missed the lunch crowd. We were actually shorthanded.”
“Why didn’t you call up for help?”
Alain shrugged nonchalantly. “You guys were up too late dealing with the demon mess. Didn’t want to disturb y’all. We handled it without too much of a tragedy.”
“You didn’t eat any of the tourists, did you?”
Alain grunted. “Nah, but Aimee probably would have had she been here.”
Dev smiled as he thought about how cranky his sister could be when people were difficult. Aimee definitely had her moments. “Then it’s a good thing you let her sleep.”
“Absolutely.” Alain looked down at the motorcycle helmet in Dev’s hand. “You riding?”
“No. I’m standing.”
Alain made a sound of supreme annoyance. “You know what I meant.”
“Yeah.” Dev put his helmet under his arm. “Feeling restless. Thought it might take the edge off.”
Alain gave him a wicked grin. “I know something else that could take the edge off.”
Dev snorted. “Yeah, well, I ain’t had none of that in a while neither.” He wasn’t about to tell even his brother where he’d spent the morning. The less people knew about that, the better off he’d be.
“I noticed you haven’t been mauling the babes who come in here like you used to. You feeling okay?”
“Not dead yet.” But wishing he was, rather than to stand here longing for something he couldn’t have.
Dev inclined his head to his brother. “See you in a little while.” Without another word, he headed out the back door to where they kept their motorcycles stashed. His was a sleek 2007 black, silver, and red Suzuki GSX-R 600. Furiously fast, dangerous, and curvaceous…
Just like he preferred his women.
But the truth was, the gixxer wasn’t what he really wanted to be riding. He’d much prefer something tall and blond who walked like she owned the world.
Don’t go there, Bear.
If only he could stop his thoughts that easily. Damn, what was it with Sam that he couldn’t stay focused on anything else? He started his bike, then pulled the helmet on while it warmed up. His adrenaline pumping, he gunned it out of the lot and headed into the street with no real destination in mind. He just needed to be away from people and animals for a while.
He went screaming down I-10 at over a hundred miles an hour—a suicide pace for a human. It wasn’t really smart for a shapeshifter either. And in the end, it didn’t do anything to settle his mood. He still felt like he was on edge.
After an hour, he found himself down on St. Charles Ave. Some of the most beautiful homes in New Orleans were located here, but it was one in particular that drew him to this street.
Sam would probably kill him if she knew he was outside her black wrought-iron gate like some lunatic stalker. He’d be the first one to admit it was creepy. He damn sure wouldn’t like anyone doing it to him.
Yet here he sat like some lovesick teen hoping to catch a glimpse of his latest crush.
I seriously need help.
Maybe Grace Alexander would be able to fit him into her client list. She was a psychologist who catered to the preternatural crowd, surely she could help him.
Bear, there ain’t no help for you. You’re pathetic. Chasing after a woman who threw you out of her bed…
He wasn’t going to argue that.
Dev shut the shield on his helmet, intending to head home. But as he reached for the throttle, a weird sensation went down his spine.
There was no mistaking the feeling. It was hot and stinging. Turning the bike off, he put down the stand and listened carefully. If he knew Sam better, he’d flash into her house to check on her. But she was as likely to stab him as she was to thank him for that.
You’re being stupid. There’s nothing here.
Just his pathetic subconscious looking for an excuse to get invited into her house again.
Yet he couldn’t shake the feeling.
Sighing at his own idiocy, he started his bike and peeled off.
Sam walked through a haze of memories she wasn’t familiar with. Dozens of blond children and adults. They were laughing, playing…
Dying. It was awful. Men and women in the height of their youth were decaying into dust. Screaming in pain as their bodies aged and then disintegrated.
She was dreaming, she knew that…
Why am I seeing Apollites and Daimons? Worse than that, she was afraid and angry at the entire world. Vengeance scorched her every bit as deeply as it did when she thought about her own family. She wanted blood so badly she could taste it. Rage suffused every part of her being.
Wake up! her subconscious screamed out as it realized she was channeling the emotions of someone close to her.
Why can’t I move? She opened her eyes to find herself in her bed, trapped underneath a shimmering gold web. What the crud is this?
There was a gorgeous blond man standing to the right of her bed, staring down at her with a snide grimace. “Don’t fight, Dark-Hunter. There’s nothing you can do.”
Ah, now that was like telling a snake not to strike. She pushed with everything she had.
The Daimon male who’d spoken to her laughed. “I told you, you can’t fight. Your powers won’t work against the diktyon.”
Sam cringed as he identified the net covering her. It was a weapon of Artemis’s and he was right. It rendered her powerless. Only a god could fight or break its hold.
And even then it wouldn’t be easy.
He looked over to a woman on the other side of her bed. “Sophie, open the portal.”
Sam inched her hand out from under the net. If she could just get to the knife she always put beneath her pillow before she went to sleep…
And all the while, their memories and emotions poured into her with a ferocity that was disorienting and confusing. But at least it gave her some insight into them and how to attack with words.
Sam met the man’s gaze. “You know, you’re right, Karos. Sophie’s been cheating on you with your best friend…what’s his name? Jarret? She’s not really going to her sister’s like she says. She’s snaking on you, hon, and enjoying every minute of it. She thinks you’re a pathetic waste of a Daimon.”
His head snapped to the woman. “What?”
Sophie’s beautiful features paled. “It’s not true. She’s lying.”
“I swear, Karos. I haven’t gone near him.”
Sam snorted. “Not in the last six hours anyway. But last night…it was definitely on, or off if you’re talking clothing.”
He curled his lip at his wife. “I knew you two were up to something. You lying bitch.” He rounded the bed and slapped her hard across the face.
She came back with an impressive haymaker.
While they fought, Sam freed her hand enough that she could use her telekinesis to bring the knife into her grasp. She tried to cut the net, but big surprise there, it didn’t work.
Suddenly, the knife flew out of her hand.
Cursing, Sam looked to find another Daimon—a young woman—standing in the shadows.
The Daimon tsked at her as she fingered Sam’s knife. “Nice try, but it won’t work.” She glanced at the combatants. “If you two don’t stop, I’m going to rip out both of your spines. Open the portal and let’s get this trash to Stryker before it causes any more conflict.”
Stryker. Sam remembered him from the demon’s memories. Oh gods, they were planning to take her into Daimon central.
They would kill her there. Why else would they want a Dark-Hunter in their domain unless it was to gut her?
I’m going to be their entertainment.
Panic set in as she fought against the net. A shimmering green mist appeared in the corner of her room. It grew larger until it was big enough for them to walk through.
Sophie went in first while the man came over to pull Sam off the bed.
Sam jerked and struggled as hard as possible, but it was useless. The net wouldn’t let her move. He picked her up like she weighed nothing at all and cradled her in his arms.
I’m going to die.
She knew it with everything she possessed. No one would ever know what happened to her. The Daimons would take her into their realm and do who knew what with her before they ended her life.
So this is how my life ends. Not in battle with me taking as many of them as I can. Not in a heroic act of sacrifice.
She was going to be carried to her grave in the arms of her enemies.