“What are you doing here?”
Dev paused as he met Remi in the living room of Peltier House. In deference to the Dark-Hunters and other nocturnal creatures who visited them from time to time, this was the one room in the house where sunshine was allowed to flood in.
It had been their mother’s favorite room and one Dev had spent many hours in, playing with his nieces and nephews.
Today, however, he didn’t see the beauty of the room or his mother’s impeccable decorating taste. Today, it was gloomy even with the sun shining bright.
And Remi’s tone chafed him like a knife down his spine. “What? I can’t come home?”
“Don’t bark at me, asshole. I just thought you’d become the internal kidney for your new honey and since she’s not here…”
“She’s not my honey.” Dev started for the stairs, but Remi stopped him.
For once there was actual concern in Remi’s eyes. “What’s wrong, mon frère? Really?”
That succeeded in making him feel like a jerk. It was easier to take Remi’s eternal barbs than to deal with his brotherly affection.
That alone weakened him.
“Nothing, Rem. I’m just tired.”
He saw the doubt in Remi’s eyes. “If you say so.”
Dev took a step, then paused as Sam’s words about his surliest brother went through him. It was so incongruous with everything he knew about Remi and yet curiosity sank its evil claws into him so that he had to have an answer. “Do you really listen to the Indigo Girls and watch Just Like Heaven?”
Remi’s face blanched. “What are you talking about?”
Dev would have burst out laughing, but the sheer shock of having Remi confirm Sam’s absurdity kept him from doing it. Dear gods, it was true. His brother had a whole tender side he’d have never guessed at.
Remi probably even cried while watching Bambi….
Damn. What was next? Dobermans nursing kittens? The whole concept messed with his entire view of the natural world order. It was so screwed up….
“Nothing. It was just a little bird I heard in my ear.”
Remi curled his lip and his eyes blazed with murder. “Yeah, well, you know me better than that. I watch gory horror movies and I listen to death metal.”
And he listened to Amy Ray and Emily Sailors. The thought was hilarious because his brother denied it. Honestly, he liked them too. But he’d never admit it either.
Dev bit back a smile as he headed upstairs to his room. But the moment he opened the door and his gaze fell to the rumpled bed, his amusement died under a bitter reminder of Sam making love to him. Every sense he possessed was suddenly filled with memories of her and it slammed into him like fist in his bread box.
How could she have come to be so important to him when they’d only just met?
And yet he couldn’t deny the pain he felt over not being with her.
I loved your father the first moment I laid eyes on him. I couldn’t believe that one so precious was cut from the blood and bone of my enemies and yet…he was the only one I could ever see myself with and I’m grateful that the Fates saw it the same way I did. I would be lost and bereft without him.
That was the only conversation he’d had with his mother about mating. His parents had been one of the rare Were-Hunter couples who’d been mated the first time they’d had sex.
For the rest of them it could take dozens of encounters.
He looked down at his bare palm. When he’d been younger, full of stupid dreams, he’d tried to imagine what his mating symbol would look like. While clan symbols were similar for the species, each one was unique to the couple. And as a kid, he’d actually painted one on just to see.
As a man, he’d been grateful that no one had marked him. While it was a bonding of two people, it also came with a heavy commitment. One they could never back out of.
He closed his fist tight. I don’t need a mate. He was happier alone.
But as he thought of Sam, he knew that for an absolute lie. He would be happiest with her.
And she had no use for him at all.
Urian was supposed to meet his source at Sanctuary so that he could gather more information about Stryker’s plan for Acheron. He and Davyn had always tried to pick spots where there was no chance of any of Stryker’s people seeing them together. If Stryker ever learned that Urian still talked to his old friend, he’d kill Davyn immediately.
And it wouldn’t be quick.
He rubbed his neck where his father had cut his throat in a fit of rage over the fact that Urian had dared try to be happy for five seconds. The bitter memory of that night was never far from the surface and it was carved in blood on his heart. He’d worshiped his father his entire life—had committed all manner of atrocities to please him.
And for what?
So the bastard could kill Urian’s wife and then cut his throat the first time he displeased him?
One day I will have my vengeance.
If it was the last thing he did, he would kill Stryker for what he’d taken from him.
“C’mon, Davyn, have something good for me.” Urian went over to the bar to order a beer while he waited.
Colt handed it off to him. Without a word, Urian drifted around the game area.
He checked his watch. Davyn was late. Something highly unusual for him.
Had Stryker found out? The mere thought made his blood run cold.
Suddenly, a familiar tingle went down his spine alerting him that there was a Daimon on the premises. Urian scanned the semicrowded bar, looking for his friend.
He saw a flash of white blond hair in the far corner and headed for it.
It wasn’t until he was within sight that he realized it wasn’t Davyn. This was a woman and when she turned toward him, he felt like someone had sucker punched him.
No, it couldn’t…
It wasn’t possible.
The woman frowned at him as if the name and his face meant nothing to her.
But to him that name had meant everything.
Time froze as he was taken back to the day his little sister had died. Unlike him and his brothers, she’d been too gentle and kind to take a human life in order to live. And so she’d withered away into dust on her twenty-seventh birthday. The pain of her decay had caused her to scream until her throat had bled. And still she’d had no peace. No mercy. It had been the most agonizing death imaginable.
One given to her by her own grandfather’s curse.
After they scooped up her remains and buried them, they never spoke her name out loud again.
But Urian remembered. How could he ever forget the little girl he’d protected and championed? The one he would have killed to protect.
Before Apollo had cursed them, they’d called her Diana to honor their great-aunt Artemis. And then after his grandfather had cursed their race, Stryker had refused to ever call her Diana again. He’d wanted no reminders of his Olympian family who had betrayed them all. Especially since Artemis was the one who’d created the Dark-Hunters to hunt and kill them.
Diana had been more than happy to change her name.
But this wasn’t Tannis.
She’s dead. He’d seen her decay into dust with his own eyes. Yet this woman was a complete physical copy of her, except for the way she moved. While Tannis had been hesitant and dainty, this woman was sure and determined. Fluid. She moved like a warrior ready to kill.
Before he could think better of it, he closed the distance between them.
Medea turned as a shadow fell over her. Expecting it to be her informant, she was stunned when she looked into the face of her father.
But this man was different. Instead of her father’s short dyed black hair, his was long and snow white—pulled back into a ponytail. He was also a hair taller than her father. Not obvious at first, yet undeniable as he came closer.
Still, there was no denying the similarity of their features. This was her father’s doppelganger.
“Who are you?” they asked simultaneously.
Medea hesitated when he didn’t answer right away. Why was he being reserved when it was obvious he was a relative she hadn’t met. Maybe a cousin even her father didn’t know about?
Curiosity got the better of her so she answered first. “I’m Medea.”
“Medea…” he seemed perplexed by her name. “I’m Urian.”
She gasped at the name of her mysterious half brother she’d heard about, but never expected to meet. He was now a servant of Acheron. Enemy to all of them after he’d betrayed her father.
“Filthy traitor!” she spat.
He didn’t take that well as he gripped her arm and yanked her toward him. “Who are you?”
She wanted to see the shock on his face when she delivered the truth. “Your sister.”
Urian blinked twice as that news sank in. He’d only had one sister. There was no way he could have another and not know it. “How?”
“Stryker married my mother, then divorced her to marry yours. She was pregnant with me at the time and he never knew.”
His jaw went slack. Why hadn’t Davyn told him about this? Davyn had told him about Stryker’s first wife returning, but a sister…
A living, real sister. Why would Davyn have kept that secret? Suddenly he remembered Acheron telling him…. Shit! The bastard had removed that memory. Why would Ash have done that?
And with that thought came a really bad feeling. “What are you doing here?”
He knew better, especially with someone sired by his father. “You’re spying for Stryker.”
She jerked her arm out of his hold. “Don’t take that tone with me, little boy. You served him too and for many more centuries.”
The thought made him ill. “And I paid the ultimate price for that blind stupidity. Trust me.”
She scanned his body. “I don’t know. You look pretty healthy and happy to me.”
“Yeah, right. Let me tell you something, little girl, I was his favorite. His pride and joy above all others. For thousands of years I served at his side, doing everything he asked me to. Everything. Without question or hesitation. And in the blink of an eye, because I dared to marry without his permission, he cut my throat. Literally.”
“He cut your throat because you married his enemy.”
Yeah, right. It had nothing to do with whom he married and everything to do with his father’s ego. Stryker couldn’t stand the thought of anyone questioning his authority.
Not even his own son.
“I married a kind, gentle woman who never hurt a soul a day in her life. She wasn’t a warrior. She was an innocent by-stander whose only mistake was falling in love with a monster.” And making him human. Making him care for someone other than himself and he would sell his soul if he could have one more moment with her. “Don’t delude yourself for one minute. Stryker will turn on you, just as he turned on me.”
“You’re wrong about that.”
“For your sake, sister. I hope to the gods that I am.” But the bad things was, he knew better. It was just a matter of time before their father went after her, too.
Sam felt lost in Nick’s house. It was huge. But luckily he had all the windows closed even though she knew from her protection detail that for some reason, he could walk in daylight. No one was sure why and Ash refused to comment on it.
They had hazarded guesses of everything from he was really a demon to a Daimon plant. To the fact that he was sleeping with Artemis. The Dark-Hunter scuttlebutt could be as creative as it was entertaining.
Personally, she believed it was the result of the fact that he hadn’t been murdered like the rest of them.
He’d killed himself for vengeance. Somehow, she was convinced, that had altered his Dark-Hunter powers and made him something more than the rest of them. She suspected that Acheron knew what he was and was afraid to tell the rest of them.
Perhaps the people coming for him, that she was charged with protecting him from, were a result of his unnatural rebirth. What ever the truth, both Ash and Nick were keeping it close to their vests.
Sam sighed as she pushed those thoughts away. No matter how much she pondered it, she wouldn’t get an answer. And right now, she should be sleeping. But she couldn’t seem to manage it. Her emotions were too raw and bleeding.
She wanted Dev and it was the one thing she couldn’t have.
Without thinking, she reached out and touched one of the photos on the wall of Dev and Nick playing pool. The moment she did, her powers surged and she saw that moment occurring in crystal clarity.
“Come here, you little hustler.” Dev laughed as he pulled Nick around the table for his shot. “You beat that and I’ll pay you a hundred dollars.”
Nick gaped at him. “Dude! You’re so on…um, do I have to pay you if I lose?”
Grinning, Dev shook his head and ruffled Nick’s short hair. “Nah, but you will have to wash dishes for a week.”
Dev tsked at him. “You a coward?”
“Oh you’re going down, Bear. Open the checkbook. Daddy’s going to show you how it’s done.” Nick lined up the shot.
Dev danced around the table, trying to distract him. “Your mother was a hamster and she smelled of elderberries.”
Nick scoffed at the Monty Python reference. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Grizzly Adams. You’re the one whose mom is covered in fur. My mom just wears sequins.” He let fly the cue stick and the balls scattered across the table. Unbelievably, he made the shot into the upper left hand pocket like a pro.
“Ha!” he shouted triumphantly.
Dev snorted. “Lucky shot.” But it hadn’t been lucky. Dev had used his powers to put the ball in the correct pocket. Nick had no idea.
Feigning disgust, Dev had pulled his money out and handed it over to Nick. “Next time, kid, it’s double or nothing.”
“Bull. Next time I’m not taking the chance that I could miss.”
Dev jerked his chin toward the money in Nick’s hand. “So what are you going to do with all that?”
Nick folded it up and slid it into his pocket. “I’m going to take my mom to Brennan’s to eat for Mother’s Day. She’s never been there before and she’s always wanted to.”
Dev clapped him on the back. “All right, Pool Shark. Have a good time. I better get back to work before you completely clean me out.”
Nick had reset the table while Dev went back to his station at the door.
Sam swallowed at his kindness that made her ache deep inside. Dev, unlike Nick, hadn’t changed a bit.
“What are you doing?”
She jumped at the sound of Nick’s deep voice behind her. “I was just looking at your photos.”
Nick moved forward to see the one of him and Dev. There was a sadness in his eyes that actually brought a lump to her throat. “We had a lot of good times back then. My mom used to save and frame everything she could.”
And she’d put them on the wall and then rotate them out at random times—it’d been a game she’d played with Nick to remind him of the things she thought were important in his life.
Friends. Family. Smiles.
His mom had been a great lady.
Sam cleared her throat. “You and Dev look pretty tight.”
“He was always a good friend to me which is why I’m glad you sent him home.”
His words didn’t match the feelings she got from him whenever he was near Dev. Nor did they match the emotions she was picking up from him right now. “Then why do you hate him?”
Nick stiffened. “I don’t hate him. I’m just mad—basically at the entire world. Dev let my mom leave Sanctuary with a Daimon disguised as a Dark-Hunter.”
“Dev would never—”
“I know, Sam.” She felt his pain as he said those words in a trembling voice. “He had no idea he’d put her in harm’s way and I know he’d have never done it intentionally. But I can’t get over that night and I can’t forgive anyone who had a hand in her death. I just can’t.”
She could understand that. “It’s hard to live with that kind of guilt all the time.”
“You’ve no idea.”
“You’re wrong, Nick. I know exactly what it’s like to watch the people I love more than anything be slaughtered while I was powerless to save them. I, who trained my entire life to fight, couldn’t save the very people I’d vowed to love and protect. How could I not be there to save them?”
A tic started in his cheek. “How do you live with it?”
She answered honestly. “Angrily. Every single day. Every single night. I want blood and all the killing in the world never changes it. Never eases it.”
He let out a tired sigh. “So this is how I’ll feel forever?”
“Unless you can find another reason to live. Find something that gives you peace.”
He looked down at her. “Have you found that peace?”
Yes, she had. But it was so corny and cliched that she couldn’t bring herself to admit it.
“A wise man once told me that peace has to come from within. We have to learn to like ourselves before we can find our place in the world.”
Nick curled his lip. “Acheron.”
She smiled. “He’s said it to you, too?”
“No. We don’t talk much these days, but it sounds like something he’d say.” His gaze turned dark. “Don’t trust Acheron, Sam. He’s not what he seems.”
Sam concentrated, but she couldn’t get a handle on it exactly. There was something Nick knew that none of the rest of them did. It was like he was hating Acheron for the same thing he protected about him.
It made no sense, but there was no denying what she felt. Nick did know a major secret about Ash.
And he knew one about himself that he would die before he gave up.
“How do you mean?” she asked, trying to get him to verbalize what she was sensing.
He refused to elaborate. “Believe me, there’s a lot more to him and he’s not really on our side.” With that, he walked off to leave her alone.
Sam scowled at his hostility. Part of her knew there was a lot more to Ash than he let others see, but she didn’t believe for one instant that he could ever hurt any of them.
Nick on the other hand…
She didn’t trust him at all. He was infected by evil. She was sure of it.
Her heart heavy, she started back to her room, wishing Dev were with her.
I did the right thing.
He was safe and that was all that mattered.
Sam had just reached her room when she felt her hand beginning to burn. Hissing, she blew air across her palm, trying to soothe it.
Just when she was ready to scream from the pain, it stopped burning.
To her instant horror, she watched as a design drew itself across her flesh. There in her palm was a mark that looked like a tribal bear claw.
She was mated….