At Dev’s call, Ethon came running into the room with Chi and two more Dogs one step behind him. Dev was still trying to stave off his bleeding and failing miserably at it. Unlike the Dark-Hunters, he wasn’t immortal, and if he didn’t get control of this soon, he would die.
The first one to reach him was El Escorpión, so named for the black daggers he’d been using since the Middle Ages when he’d become a Dark-Hunter that had scorpions engraved down the blades and on the hilts. No one knew what his real name was and most referred to him simply as Scorpio. The only thing about his past that he’d cop to was that he’d been a knight in medieval Spain—he wouldn’t even verify what century. That was if and when you could get him to speak—something that happened about as often as a Mac product going on sale.
Scorpio knelt beside Dev so that he could examine the wound.
Realizing there was no immediate threat, Kalidas retracted the spike on his arm into his black leather armband. At six foot five, Kali was taller than the average Indian male and rumored to have once been an ancient prince during the Classical Period of India. It was something Kali would neither confirm nor deny. But the way the two of them fought, it was hard to believe anyone had been able to kill them.
Ethon turned around in the room, looking for Sam. “What happened?”
Kali’s tone was as dry as his expression. “Obviously, something was hungry and bit the bear.”
Ethon flipped him off.
Dev ignored their animosity toward each other. “A demon grabbed Sam and took off with her. They were here one second and gone the next.”
Chi joined Scorpio on the floor next to Dev. She cringed as she saw his bite. “Oh, that’s nasty.”
Scorpio didn’t comment. Covering the wound with his hand, he locked gazes with Dev. “Take a deep breath, Bear.”
The moment he tried, Dev let out a foul curse. Scorpio’s touch singed his skin like nobody’s business. It felt like the Dark-Hunter was shooting electricity through him—something impossible since Dev was still in human form and not out of control changing back and forth between human and bear. But that was the only thing he could liken it to. The good news, though, was that it stopped the bleeding and sealed the wound better than if Scorpio had cauterized it.
Dev created a damp towel to clean up the mess. “Thanks.”
Scorpio inclined his head to him.
Ethon was busy looking over the remains of the food and where they’d fought as if trying to re-create the fight in his head. “What kind of demon was it?”
Dev grimaced as he pulled the towel back and saw how much blood he’d lost. “A Charonte. But I’m thinking it must have been the same person who was pretending to be Nick earlier.”
That got Kali’s attention. “A shapeshifter?”
“Yeah, but not a Were-Hunter. Maybe a demon of some kind? Demigod? I have no idea. All I know is he knew how to fight and he snatched her out of here with an ease that pisses me off.”
Ethon growled. “I’ll notify Acheron.”
Scorpio held his hand out to Dev and helped him to his feet, then mumbled in Spanish. He wasn’t sure, but it sounded vaguely like bad mojo.
Dev changed his clothes into something a little less bloody as Chi seemed to fall into some kind of odd trance. He started to ask about it, but the Dogs acted like it was normal for her and since Dev didn’t really know her well enough to judge, he ignored it too.
Kali pulled out his phone and after a few seconds, he cursed. “I can’t track her.”
A tic worked in Ethon’s jaw. “What ever has her will be blocking us. Damn shame none of us has a power that can track.”
Dev gave him a droll stare. Didn’t the Spartan know anything about Were-Hunters? “I do.”
The skepticism on his face was irritating. “How?”
“I’m part animal.” Dumbass—For the sake of peace and the fact that getting to Sam was more important than fighting with Ethon, Dev only said that word silently in his head. Though to be fair, Ethon probably hadn’t been around enough Were-Hunters to know what they were capable of. “I can track like a bloodhound.”
But as he tried, he realized that his powers didn’t work after all.
How could that be? Were-Hunters could track across five dimensions and there was no way she’d be in the sixth….
And it wasn’t like her scent wasn’t embedded in his senses. Yet there was no trace whatsoever that she was anywhere at all.
“Well?” Ethon asked in a less than impressed tone. “What’s your super smeller telling you, Gus?”
He gave the Dark-Hunter an evil glower. “Stop with the Psych reference, asshole. Remember, I am one of the few species who can rip you limb from limb.”
Ethon scoffed. “Do I look intimidated by you, rug?”
“You two stop!” Chi snapped as she came out of her weirdness. “We have a major problem here. Sam wasn’t taken by a Daimon or a Charonte. It was one of the empusae who took her.”
“Ah now, that’s just wrong.” Kali shook his head.
Ethon and Dev cursed simultaneously. The empusae were a rare breed of shapeshifting Greek demons capable of all manner of cruelty. But the one they were most known for was draining the blood from their victims, victims they could enslave and control. They were the original Greek demons who’d started the vampire legends.
And they were often mistaken for Daimons by those who didn’t know the difference. The main things that set them apart were that the empusae could walk in daylight and they weren’t cursed to die at twenty-seven. Most of all, Dark-Hunter blood wasn’t poisonous to them.
If one of them had Sam…
It could get ugly fast. The empusae were demigods and far more powerful than either the Dark-Hunters or the Daimons. No wonder Dev hadn’t been able to track it. It would be in the sixth dimension.
Chi jerked her chin toward Dev. “Call Fang and see if he can use his Hellchaser powers to track our demon.” She looked at Ethon, Scorpio, and Kali. “You guys, go downstairs and sharpen your knives and look intimidating.”
Ethon scowled. “Any particular reason for that?”
“It’ll keep you out of my hair and off my nerves until we can catch her trail. Now go. We have to find Sam before this thing kills her.”
Sam wanted to fight the beast that held her as he carried her down a dark alley in the Art District. But she couldn’t. The moment he’d taken her into his arms, he’d locked gazes with her and something inside her had snapped and broken. She’d gone completely numb. Every muscle in her body was limp and worthless. It was a struggle just to breathe. In her mind, she saw the people he’d killed. Heard them screaming and begging for their lives while he’d laughed at their pain.
He was insane. He didn’t care who he hurt or why. All he wanted was to feel the power he had over them as he made them suffer.
The demon laughed. “That’s right, bitch. I own you and I’m going to torture you in so many ways you will know ultimate suffering for the rest of eternity.”
The Amazon inside her screamed out, wanting to fight. But her body absolutely refused to cooperate. She was at his mercy and he hated her with an unfathomable depth.
What had she done to make him feel that way? She tried to sort through his memories to find the answer, but if there was one, he had it buried deep. So deep that trying to get to it was giving her a vicious headache.
The demon turned to the right at the call. Deep in the shadows was what appeared to be a man’s outline.
“Let her go.” Not a shout, but a quiet, powerful demand that carried an undercurrent that said if Lazaros didn’t obey, he would regret it.
Lazaros sneered at the shadow he deemed nothing more worrisome than a pebble in his shoe. “You don’t give me orders, imisysmorfi.”
Sam sucked her breath in at the ancient insult that meant the man was malformed or half-witted. Though the literal translation wasn’t as foul as the meaning behind the word. In her time, men had killed each other over it. For the demon’s sake, she hoped the man wasn’t an ancient Greek. Otherwise there would be bloodletting aplenty.
The shadow vanished, then reappeared right behind them. “Boo.”
Lazaros dropped her straight down and turned to fight. Ow! Big ow! She hit the ground so hard, it knocked the breath out of her. She would definitely feel that tomorrow.
If she didn’t die tonight.
And it was yet another reason why she wanted to kill the bastard scum. If only she could move. Meanwhile the shadow and the demon tore into each other with a venom the Furies would envy. But at least they weren’t stepping on her.
Sam was still under his control, and honestly, she was getting tired of it. She wanted to fight, not lie in the street like a worthless lump. With every piece of iron will she had, she tried to inch away from them as they went at each other like Titans after Zeus. It was impressive and made her really want to take them down. The shadow cut and dodged, and hit the demon with enough power that it lifted him almost ten feet off the ground.
Don’t pay attention to them. If she could just crawl into the alley next to her, she might be able to get free while the demon was distracted.
Come on, body, don’t fail me now. You can do it.
But that was easier said than done. What had the demon done to her that she was so helpless? Worse, that feeling of being powerless was eking away at her Dark-Hunter powers as memories of her death surged.
Stay calm, Sam. Focus.
If only she could…
Another shadow fell over her.
Sam cringed as someone rolled her over, onto her back. She looked up and met the face of a perfect blond angel. Skinny as a rail and yet muscular, the woman should have been an Amazon. But the eeriest part was her eyes—dark brown with ribbons of bright yellow twisting through the iris.
Was she another demon?
She angled Sam’s head until their gazes locked. Something inside Sam snapped like a pane of glass. One moment she was basically paralyzed. The next, she was free of what ever the demon had done to her.
Her blood rushing through her, Sam flipped up onto her feet and started for the demon only to have the woman grab her by the waist and stop her. “Cael has him.”
Yeah, right. Like she was going to let this go after what he’d done to her? “Oh, like hell. This is a grudge match.”
“More than you know, Sam. Stay back.”
How did she know her name? That shock kept her still as Amaranda’s past went through her. She saw Amaranda as a little girl in Seattle growing up in her family’s business, playing with her sister. But what floored Sam wasn’t Amaranda’s family.
It was the fact that the woman was a Daimon….
And something more.
Sam tried to delve deeper into that, but Amaranda released her before she could get any more details from her. Lazaros turned toward them and realized she was on her feet. He ran for her then, but Cael grabbed him from behind and tackled him straight to the ground.
Lazaros tried to bite Cael, who quickly dodged him. “Don’t need a DNA sample. Thanks for the offer though.” He punched Lazaros hard in the side.
Howling, Lazaros hissed at Cael, then vanished into a foul-smelling cloud of sulphur.
“Gah! What did you eat?” Cael snarled. He fanned the cloud as he jumped back trying to escape it. “Coward! Get your ass back here and fight like a demon, you sniveling waste of a scary monster. C’mon, who trained you? Casper?”
The woman next to Sam laughed. “Quit taunting the weak, love. It’s pointless.”
Cael flashed a grin at her. “Yeah, but did I impress you with my fighting prowess?”
“You always impress me with your fighting prowess, baby. Ain’t nobody better.” Those words were said in an almost mocking tone.
Cael walked toward them with the deadly lope of a predator. His hair was a riot of loose black curls that framed a face chiseled out of stone. He was stunningly handsome. And one arm was covered with an intricate tribal tattoo.
Ignoring Sam, he slid up to the woman and pulled her into his arms to give her a kiss that was so hot, Sam felt awkward watching it. The two of them kissed like they hadn’t seen each other for years and one of them had a terminal disease that would claim them in less than a minute. Any second she expected clothes to go flying.
Sam stepped away from them. “Tell you what. You two get a room. I’m going back to—”
“No!” Cael pulled back from his kiss and grabbed her arm to keep her from leaving. “You can’t go back there.”
She shrugged his touch away but not before she saw a glimpse of him with Acheron…. a glimpse that told her he was a Dark-Hunter.
With those demonic eyes?
Something was wrong. None of this made sense. None of it.
And she wasn’t going to stick around to sort it out. “Stop me, asshole.”
That cockiness died as she took a step away from them and something hit her hard in the chest.
With a gasp, she crumpled to the street.
Sam woke up with her head splitting sideways. Front ways. All ways. Never in her life had she hurt so badly. She actually felt nauseated from the pain.
What had caused…
Suddenly, she remembered the demon taking her and then the weird couple who had “rescued” her. Anger and panic mixed as she opened her eyes to find herself alone in a small room. It strangely reminded her of something out of the Victorian era. What? Did all demons like that time period? The beige walls were stenciled with a dark brown scroll print and the bed she lay upon was Gothic black wrought iron. The headboard and footboard reminded her of spiraled cathedral windows.
Ah gah, I’m trapped in the Victorian Trading Company catalog. Not that their stuff wasn’t beautiful, it just wasn’t her cup of tea. And right now, she really wanted to know what was going on.
Danger didn’t seem imminent, but then she’d been kidnapped, which tended to make her think she wasn’t as safe as she appeared. She moved from the bed and realized someone had put her in a short pink gown.
Yeah, this was getting creepy and it was made creepier by the fact that she wasn’t getting any vibes from the clothes or anything else. For that matter, she hadn’t dreamed of other people.
It was like being with Dev, only without the warm comfort of his touch.
She went to the door and quickly learned it didn’t have a doorknob. There was no way to open it.
Sam turned around slowly, looking for a window or some other means to leave, but there wasn’t one. She was trapped here. Alone. There wasn’t even a cockroach sending thoughts to her.
Big surprise, no one answered. Oh, how she didn’t like this.
Okay, girl. Don’t panic. Not that she was particularly prone to panic, but…She wasn’t used to being locked in rooms that looked like they’d been taken off a Hammer movie set either.
Great. I’ve been captured by Boris Karloff.
A low sinister laugh whispered in her ears. “I’m not exactly Boris and he’s not the actor you’re thinking about anyway. That would be Peter Cushing. Never dawned on me before that they favored, but I’ll give you that. However I do have one thing in common with both—”
“You abduct women?”
“Not as a rule, but I do tend to creep people out. At least those who have common sense.”
She turned around trying to locate a source for the voice. It seemed to be all around her and again, she picked up nothing from him. How could this keep happening?
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Because right now, she wanted that power back in the worst sort of way. It was only now that she understood just what a blessing it’d always been. She always knew where she stood with other people. Always knew what they were thinking and what kind of person they were.
Yeah, bring me back my weirdness.
“Who are you?” she tried again.
He tsked at her in that deep, provocative tone that sent a shiver over her. “You don’t really care about my name, sugar. You want to know why you’re here.”
“Yes, yes I do.” She moved around the room and his voice followed her. Was he a ghost?
Or a figment of her imagination?
“I’m here to keep you safe.”
Why didn’t she believe that? Oh wait, because she was a prisoner being held by a man who didn’t even have the guts to show his face. She pulled a finial off the bed—that should serve to put a pack in her punch if she had to fight her way out of here. And yet again, nothing came to her from the cold metal.
“Then let me go.”
He laughed. “Are we really going to have this conversation. If I were going to let you go, you wouldn’t be here. That would suck for both of us. So just make yourself comfortable, Dark-Hunter. You’re going to be here for a while.”
She felt the presence leave. Oh, this is great. She was trapped in a fluffy, frothy hell and there was no exit in sight. At least you’re not pulling images or emotions from the stuff in here.
Yeah, but for once, she needed to. She had to know what she was dealing with.
Closing her eyes, she summoned her powers from deep within and tried to find out who and what held her hostage.
At first there was nothing. Not even a trace. Then a thick fog swirled until she began to see images through it.
In the back of her mind, she saw a gorgeous man with dark blond hair and perfect features. Dressed in medieval armor, he led an army that appeared to have been forged from hell itself. At full speed, with his bloodred pennant rippling in the wind, he raced down a hill and straight into the heart of his enemy to battle them.
Only his enemy wasn’t human. It was a legion of demons who were bent on his total annihilation. They tore at him and pulled him off his demon horse, which reared, slashing at them with its black hooves that sent their blood spurting like in a Quentin Tarantino film. Still, even wounded and on foot, he fought them with a rage that would have made him a Dog of War had he been a Dark-Hunter.
He let loose a fierce battle cry as he cut his way through their number, slashing and hacking with his sword. He was a warrior without rival….
Sam pulled back. Why was she seeing that demon knight? Was he the voice she’d heard?
If he was her captor, she was thoroughly screwed. Defeating a man like that would not be easy. If even possible.
Then suddenly the image was gone. She tried to call it back to further understand who and what she’d seen, but it didn’t work.
Instead her vision turned to another blond….
Dev. She saw him as a young man with two older men who could have almost passed for his twins. By their clothes, she knew it had to be the late Georgian period. There were the three men and one bear cub hunkered down in the stall of some barn. It was pitch-black and the horses around them were going wild as they tried to escape.
Dev’s long hair had begun to come loose from his queue and hung in unruly curls around his teenaged face. His black vest was missing two buttons and there was red blood smeared on his white shirt. “I can fight the Arcadians.”
The older bear shook his head. “You’re too young, Devereaux. We need you to get Aimee to Papa and Maman. She is our only female. You know she has to survive. We can’t let anything happen to her.”
Gilbert grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and shook him hard. “Don’t argue with me. We’re depending on you, mon frère. Don’t let us down.”
Dev scooped up the cub, who whined in protest. She was too young to be teleported with their powers. They couldn’t use them on her without the risk of killing her. Solid black, she was huge in Dev’s arms as he cradled her to his chest.
Gilbert buried his face in the cub’s fur. “Stay safe, ma petite.” He kissed her on the ear.
Bastien stood up and it was then Sam realized he was the twin brother of Zar…the father to Yessy and Josie. Poor Dev, to have stared into the face of the brother he’d lost….
And poor Nicolette.
“I’ll draw their fire.” Bastien glanced down to Aimee and Dev. “Bon chance. Je t’aime.” Good luck. I love you.
Then he was gone so fast Dev couldn’t even say good-bye. A heartbeat later, Dev heard the sound of gunfire. He clutched Aimee harder as fear ate at his insides.
Please don’t be dead….
“Go!” Gilbert snapped.
Dev didn’t want to. He knew the human-Arcadian bears would kill both of his brothers. That he’d never see them again. His heart shattered as he was torn between the loyalty he had for his sister and that he had for his brothers.
How could he choose between them?
They’d only come here this afternoon to pick blackberries and let Aimee roam away from humans while his brothers had helped him train and hone his magick. It was supposed to be a perfect, happy afternoon. And it had ended when the Arcadians had come for Gilbert.
Not because he’d done them wrong.
Because he’d been mated by the Fates to the Arcadian bears’ sister. They wanted Gilbert killed before he completed the ceremony so that their sister wouldn’t be forced to lie down with an animal Kattagari.
For that, Bastien and Gilbert would die. And the worst part was that Bastien was an Arcadian too. Those bastards were about to commit murder even in the eyes of the Omegrion.
And they didn’t even care. So long as they took out Gilbert, the rest of them were simply collateral damage. Animals to be slaughtered.
If Dev told them he was an Arcadian, they would spare him because he was one of them. But not his sister. The Arcadians would kill Aimee too and use her fur for boots. Gods, it was so unfair.
He heard Bastien cry out—a cry that was cut short to a silence so foul it tore through him. An instant later, the Arcadians cheered. “Is it the right animal?”
“No. It must still be inside.”
Gilbert gripped Dev’s shoulder. “You must go now. Protect Aimee for us.”
Dev nodded as his brother stood up and slipped from the stall to turn into a bear—Gilbert’s weakest fighting form, but it would distract the Arcadians and give Dev more time to escape. The Arcadians knew there were four of them. Once they killed Gilbert, they’d seek out him and Aimee.
I have to go.
Tears flowed down his cheeks as he buried his face in Aimee’s fur. Holding her close, he slipped out the back while Gilbert fought their enemies. It was so cold outside.
He heard more gunshots and then a loud shout of jubilation from the Arcadians.
Gilbert was dead….
The Arcadians cursed as they realized Gilbert was human and that they had just committed a murder that would cost them their lives. “Find the other two. We have to kill them before they tell what we’ve done.”
Aimee let out a baleful cry.
Dev held her close as he covered her mouth with his hand to muffle her wail. “I’ve got you, Aimee. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. I swear. I’ll never let anyone hurt you.” And with that vow, he slipped out the back and into the trees that surrounded the farm where they’d taken temporary refuge.
It took him an entire night to make it back to the small house in London his family called home. He was completely exhausted. Weak. His wounds were bleeding profusely.
But Aimee was unharmed.
The moment he opened the door, his mother was there in her gown and bathrobe. Beautiful and blond, she was a study of grace as she looked past his shoulder, into the dawning sky. “Mon Dieu, Devereaux! Where have you been? Have you any idea of the hour? We’ve been trying to track you and…” She paused as he came in and locked the door. The panic in her eyes tore through him. “Where’s Gilbert and Bastien?”
Dev choked on the words he didn’t want to utter. He’d used his powers to mask his scent so that the Arcadians wouldn’t be able to track him. He’d never thought about the fact that his parents wouldn’t have been able to do so either.
His mother moved past him to look out the door. “Are they in tending horses? What keeps them?”
Dev laid his sister’s sleeping body down before he turned to face her. “They’re dead, Maman.”
The look on her face emblazoned itself on his heart. It was a look of pure agony…a look Sam knew far better than she’d ever wanted to.
All the color drained from Nicolette’s cheeks. “What?”
“We were attacked and—”
She slapped him hard across his face. “You left them to die?”
Dev wiped his hand across his mouth, smearing the blood that ran from his busted lip and nose. “I protected Aimee.”
Nicolette screamed out, waking up the rest of the house. Aimee went running to hide under the table while their mother seized Dev by his shirt and shoved him back against the wall. “You’re the one who wanted to go. You lured them there.”
“No, Maman. I would never have gone had I known.”
Still she screamed at him, accusing him of leaving them to die while he ran like a coward.
“Nicolette!” his father snapped as he pulled her away from Dev. “What’s happened?”
“My sons are dead.” She gestured to Dev. “That mongrel bastard ran and left them there to die.” She sneered at Dev. “You worthless human! I wish it’d been you who’d died!”
Dev sucked his breath in and held it as his father picked her up and carried her out of the room. The rest of his siblings followed, wanting to comfort their mother. They left Dev there shattered as her words echoed in his ears.
“I wish it’d been you who’d died.”
It should have been me. It should have been me…. Guilt and agony ripped him apart as his tears flowed. Why had he bothered coming home? It would have been so much easier had he died with them.
Aimee came out from under the table. She licked his hand before she crawled into his lap and licked his chin. Dev held her then and let out all the pain inside him.
But it was a pain that he still carried with him and it broke Sam’s heart. His mother had never really forgiven him for that night. Yes, she’d been grieving and hurting. But for the rest of her life, he’d seen the darkness in her eyes when she’d looked at him. Had heard the sharp tone in her voice that hadn’t been there before.
It was why he’d tried so hard to please her and why he’d never left Sanctuary.
Aimee had been his tie that kept him there, and for his sister, he would do anything.
Sam wanted to weep for her bear. Dev was such a good man. Not that she’d doubted it, but now she knew his scars were every bit as harsh as hers. He blamed himself for their deaths and for tearing out his mother’s heart. Every time he’d overheard her crying over her children had been like a knife through his soul. He believed that he’d caused it all.
It was why he’d never tried to mate. He didn’t want a woman to turn on him, or worse, have her family come for his. So he’d avoided sleeping with his own kind, knowing that it was rare for a Were-Hunter to be mated to a human. Yes, it happened, but it wasn’t a common occurrence and even if it did, a human would never be able to hurt them. So he’d played those odds, even though the one thing he really wanted was a family of his own….
Sam swallowed the lump in her throat as she wished Dev was here for her to hug. She wanted to take his pain away from him and to tell him the one thing no one in his family had ever said. Not even the sister he’d risked his life for. The sister he’d hand carried through the darkness to make sure she was safe.
I’m so glad you survived.
She blinked back her tears, angered over the fact that she felt them. Tears were weakness.
They accomplished nothing.
“Why am I channeling his memories?” She couldn’t sense them at all when she was around him. So why were they here now?
And as she contemplated that, she swore she could feel Dev with her. Feel his panic that she’d been ripped out of his arms and that he hadn’t been able to stop it. Right now, he was in turmoil. Every part of him was desperate to get her back.
For that, he was willing to bust hell itself wide open if that was what it took.
Tenderness spread through her in a way it never had before. And with that warmth came an awful realization….
She was falling in love with him.
I can’t be.
But there was no denying the emotions inside her. It was a feeling she knew well and one that had filled her every day she’d been with Ioel.
There was no doubt in her mind. Because right now, when her life was in danger, she wasn’t thinking about herself. She didn’t care what they did to her. What ever it was, she’d go down swinging. What was on her mind was the fear of what her death would do to Dev.
She didn’t want to die because she had a reason to live. She didn’t want to die because it would destroy her bear….
“And that’s why you’re here.”
She tensed as that disembodied male voice was back. “Excuse me?”
“You have to let Dev go.”
“Because if you don’t, it will get him killed.”