Dev came awake to a scorching hot pain. At first he thought he was under attack, until he realized it was only his palm that hurt. Scowling, he shook his hand, then looked at it to see what he’d done to it.
His stomach drew tight. No…
It wasn’t possible. It just wasn’t possible.
Yet he couldn’t deny what he saw. There in his palm was the one thing he’d waited a lifetime to see.
His mating mark.
And there was no doubt who his mate had to be. He hadn’t been with anyone else in months. How could this be? Sam was a Dark-Hunter. How could he be mated to one? No Were-Hunter ever in their entire history had been mated to a Dark-Hunter.
“You bitches are crazy.” The Fates had to be. Why else mate him to Sam?
Artemis would have a fit when she found out.
Incredulous, he wanted to go to Sam, but he knew better. She’d tossed him out and she wasn’t the kind of woman a man went to. At least not without a Kevlar cup.
His phone rang.
He reached for it and flipped it open without checking the ID.
He went hard at the sound of Sam’s voice. “Hey.”
She hesitated before she spoke again. “I…There’s…um…”
He understood the panic he heard in her voice. He felt it too. Closing his palm so that he’d feel closer to her, he licked his lips. “You have a mark on your palm that looks like a bear claw.”
“Yes. Does this mean what I think it does?”
He took a long, deep breath before he answered and tensed in trepidation of how she’d react. “Yeah.”
She sucked her breath in sharply. “We can’t do this, Dev. You know we can’t.”
He winced at the determination he heard in her voice. “You know I can’t force you.” Mating was always up to the female. “But if you reject me, you might as well kill me.”
He clenched his teeth. “I’m not a eunuch, Sam. I don’t want to live in celibacy for the rest of my life. I’d rather be dead.”
“Don’t be so fatalistic. It’s just sex. You can live without it. Trust me.”
She didn’t understand what he was trying to say. It wasn’t just the sex. It was knowing that she was his mate and that he was forbidden to be with her that would ruin him. Were-Hunters were always insanely protective over their mates. They never liked to be apart.
Knowing she was out there alone…
It would kill him.
Sam let out a tiny breath. “How long do we have to decide this?”
“Three weeks.” After that, he’d be impotent. Gah…
“Okay. I need to think about this.”
Take your time, by all means. Not like you’re the one who’s going to be impotent. What ever you do, think about yourself first. He had to bite his tongue to keep from saying that out loud. But if he did, then he’d be as selfish as he was accusing her and that he’d never do.
“You know where I am, Sam.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to you later.”
He turned his phone off and hung his head in his hands as his emotions overwhelmed him. The bear inside him wanted to go over to Nick’s and take her whether she wanted it or not. The man knew he couldn’t. The Fates didn’t work that way. This was completely in her hands and there was nothing he could do except wait.
I hate you three bitches. May you rot in Tartarus.
The Greek goddess Atropos pulled back from the loom where she and her two sisters wove the lives of those they were responsible for. As the three Fates, each of them had a job to perform. Her sister Lachesis was responsible for assigning the length of a person’s life. Clotho spun the events that shaped and broke those lives.
And Atropos was the one who ended them. She had the final say….
At least so long as their brother didn’t interfere. Bastard.
Not wanting to think about that, she looked up at Lazaros who watched her in silence. “It’s done. They’re mated.”
Lazaros smiled in satisfaction. “I can’t thank you enough, little cousin. You are truly a lifesaver.”
What an ironic thing to say to the one whose prime responsibility was death. “I don’t see how. But if Artemis has anything to say—”
“She won’t. I promise. And if she should, I will take care of it.” He kissed her hand. “Now I have one last favor to ask.”
“And that is?”
He plucked at the strand on the loom that represented the Dark-Huntress Samia’s life. “Don’t cut this thread until I tell you to.” Because Sam wouldn’t be able to die until Atropos cut it. So long as it was unsevered, he could torture Sam to his heart’s content.
She inclined her head to him. “As you wish, coz. I’ll leave it until you’ve had your fun.”
He squeezed her hand before he released it. There were times when being related to the Fates was a good thing.
Today it was more than good.
Dev couldn’t stop staring at his hand. It was so strange to see it there after all these centuries of wondering if and when it would happen. Even though it was a girly thought, he’d always expected his mating to be really special. Like there would be the sound of trumpets or fireworks or something. People cheering. His family fainting in disbelief. Remi’s head exploding.
It was remarkably anticlimactic.
Just another day.
Nothing had changed and yet everything was different. Closing his eyes, he summoned an image of Sam’s face. Please don’t leave me hanging, babe. She had to accept him.
What was there not to love?
He really didn’t like the voice in his head that began cataloging the answer to that. Yeah, I’m a pig-bear. I leave my wet socks on the floor. I like to fight and I don’t listen as much as I should…
I’m such a schmuck.
He sighed as he heard his brother Kyle’s voice in the hallway. Rolling over on the bed, he landed his feet on the floor and went to see what Kyle wanted.
He opened the door.
It wasn’t Kyle.
Stryker was on the other side, smiling snidely. “If Mohammad won’t come to the mountain…”
He shot Dev in the chest.
Sam had her phone clutched in her palm. She was trying to tell herself why calling Dev would be a bad idea. Why she didn’t want to be his mate.
But everything kept coming back to one thing.
How Dev made her feel. How much she loved to see that cocky grin of his even when it annoyed her.
I am so messed up.
She traced the image on her palm that marked her as a bear’s mate. She should be horrified by what had happened, yet it somehow seemed right. In a weird way she felt like Ioel was happy about it too.
But if she went ahead with this, there would be a major problem. She didn’t want to be human again. Ever. There was no need. To be human wouldn’t get rid of her powers. They would remain, but she would be mortal.
She would die.
Yes, she could have children, but that was the only benefit. And having died while pregnant…
She never wanted to be that vulnerable again. And if she didn’t have children, she’d be robbing Dev of that pleasure.
You could always adopt.
Could she? She would still be a Dark-Hunter who owed her service to Artemis. Would the goddess understand or would she demand Sam’s head for this?
The entire thing was giving her a migraine as she tried to unscramble the mess.
She jumped in startled alarm as her phone started ringing. It was from Dev. Smiling, she opened the phone and answered it. “Yes?”
“In the heart and in the soul,
“Evil takes it’s wicked toll.
“When moonlight shines like flowing blood,
“Over the earth the demons will flood.”
Her blood ran cold as someone in a demonic voice whispered over her phone. “Who is this?” she demanded.
“Someone who misses you. Isn’t that right, Bear?”
“Don’t come near me, Sam. Don’t—” Dev’s words broke off into a sharp growl that sounded like he wanted to go for someone’s throat.
“If you want to see your mate again, leave the house right now, tell no one, and go down the street to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar and I’ll be waiting for you outside.”
“How will I know it’s you?”
“You’ll know, Dark-Hunter. And you better come alone. Dev’s life depends on it.” The demon hung up.
Fury and fear mixed inside Sam and it made her want to kill something. But worse, it brought out her nightmares and shredded her confidence.
How had they captured Dev? How had they known to go after him?
I jeopardize everyone I love…
Tears gathered in her eyes, but she blinked them away. She would not cry. She would not go down without a ferocious battle.
And right now, she wanted blood from Thorn and Nick. Had they known he’d be captured? Was that what they’d been trying to tell her?
Would Dev have been all right had she stayed with him instead of listening to them? They’d promised her that she was getting him out of the line of fire and instead, she’d handed him over to her enemies.
This isn’t your fault.
Dev’s a big boy.
Yeah and Ioel had been one too.
Right up to the moment they’d killed him.
Her heart hammering, she dressed in her warrior’s garb and had to sneak out of the house without Nick seeing her. It was just after dark as she crept down Bourbon Street toward the corner where it intersected with St. Philip’s. There was already a nice crowd there. Friends and couples drinking and laughing.
How she wished she could be so carefree.
Sam looked around for her contact, but all she saw were humans. Tons of humans which would make for a lot of collateral damage in a fight. And right now, all their residual emotions and thoughts were playing havoc in her mind.
She stopped on the corner, scanning the people at the tables while she debated what to do.
A dark shadow fell over her. “Keep walking, Huntress.”
Her blood ran cold as she turned to see the lethal killing machine.
It was Stryker.
She wasn’t about to let him know how he affected her. Putting up her guard, she sneered at him. “So you came yourself.”
“I’m not here to talk.” He jerked his chin to her right. “You go through my bolt hole or I’ll feed your mate to a mob of hungry Daimons who would kill to dismember a Were-Hunter. Literally.”
She lacked all appreciation for a joke he was proud of. And she had to force herself not to attack him. “Do I have your word that you’ll release him if I obey you?”
“Would you accept my word?”
That was a tough call. How could someone trust evil incarnate? And yet Stryker was an ancient warrior—like her.
Sam flinched as that thought triggered her powers. She saw Stryker in a home she’d never seen before. He was with another Dark-Hunter….
Stryker had him and his woman trapped and outnumbered.
“Do we kill him, my lord?” one of the Daimons asked.
Stryker cocked his head as if considering it. “Not today, Davyn. Today, we show a bit of mercy to our worthy opponent. After all, he taught me that you don’t trust the human cattle. Only other immortals understand the rules of war.”
And in another flash, she saw Stryker battling with Nick and Acheron….
For them against a common enemy to save everyone.
Even though Stryker was her enemy and didn’t shirk to commit heinous kills on innocent people, he was strangely a man of honor and he followed a very screwed up code.
Once he gave his oath, he would abide by it.
Even so, it was hard to utter the words she knew he wanted to hear. “I’ll trust you, Daimon.”
Stryker inclined his head to her. “Then yes. I will release both of you once this is over…if you obey.”
Sam knew from her powers that she could trust him. But that was easier said than done. Not to mention one small fact, he was the one holding Dev.
So while her common sense screamed at her to run, she did what he said and stepped into the bolt hole. The force of the vortex ripped at her skin and clothes. It was painful and terrifying as she spun and fell without anything to give her any sort of orientation.
I’m going to be sick.
No wonder the Daimons were always in such a foul mood when she ran across them. If she had to travel like this, she’d be grouchy too.
She finally fell out of the vortex and slammed into the ground where she landed unceremoniously as a lump on a cold, black marble floor. She hit it so hard, it knocked all the wind out of her. Groaning out loud, she looked around to find herself in the hall she’d seen through the slug demon’s eyes. Dozens of Daimons were there, along with Zephyra. All of them eye balled her like the top sirloin on a hamburger buffet.
Stryker landed beside her in a powerful crouch. Without so much as a grunt, he rose to his feet to stare down at her with one arched brow.
Sam pushed herself up and stumbled. Yeah, she still didn’t have her vortex legs.
Stryker stepped past her to his throne where a small orb that reminded her of the sun was set on the right arm. It hovered just above his hand—no bigger than the size of her fist. It was so bright, that she could barely look at it without flinching.
His dark eyes gleaming, Stryker danced his fingers under it. “This belongs to my father. I want you to touch it and tell me his weakness. Tell me how to break our curse so that my people don’t die. And most of all, I want to know how to kill that bastard.”
His hatred radiated to her.
But the sad thing was, she couldn’t help him. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Fury poured from his glare. “For your sake, Huntress. For Devereaux’s sake, it better.”
A shiver went down her spine. This had the making of a royal disaster. She had no idea if she could hone her powers that way….
C’mon, don’t fail me now. It wasn’t just her life on the line. It was Dev’s.
Sam looked around at all the Daimons who were gathered and as she did so, she picked up bits and pieces from them about their lives. Most of all, she picked up their hope that she could free them of their curse.
I have to get Dev and get out of here.
She was a powerful fighter, but she wasn’t good enough to win against this number. If Stryker was lying, there really wasn’t much she’d be able to do except die painfully at their hands.
But she’d go down fighting. To the bitter end.
Taking a deep breath, she closed the distance between her and his throne. Her gaze locked on his, she reached out and touched the orb. The light that emanated from inside it arced and filled her palm with warmth. She saw so many images all at once that she couldn’t understand any of them.
Until one became more prominent than the others.
It was Artemis dressed in a white gown and looking just as she did the night Sam had sold her soul to the goddess. Artemis was furious as she confronted Apollo in his temple. “What have you done, brother?”
Apollo’s golden hair gleamed like pure sunlight. His features were beyond perfect. He sat on an overstuffed gold chaise with his sister beside him. “They betrayed me. They killed my son, my baby son. Was I supposed to forgive them that?”
Artemis shook her head. “Why would you curse all of them?”
He sneered at her. “Like you have never acted impulsively? This is all your fault. Had you not been sleeping with a human whore none of this would have occurred!”
Artemis glowered at him. “And you’ve killed him too and damn near all of us in the process. Would you destroy this entire pantheon over your dead whore?”
He stood up to tower over her. “Why not? You risked it for yours!”
Artemis refused to back down as she faced him. “Leave Acheron out of this, brother, or so help me—”
“What? You won’t do anything to me, Artemis. If you do, I’ll tell every god here how you, the virgin goddess, spread your legs for a common piece of human filth.”
Sam reeled from that revelation.
Artemis didn’t flinch as she fisted both of her hands as if she was one step away from punching Apollo. “I hate you.”
“And I return that to you tenfold, sister. Now leave me.”
“I can’t. Your people are feeding on the humans because of your curse.”
Apollo bristled. “Not my curse. Apollymi was the one who taught them how to steal human souls. She’s the one housing and protecting them now. I have nothing to do with it.”
“Then lift your curse from your people. Apollymi won’t be able to control them if they don’t need to take human souls to live.”
Artemis shook her head. “Can’t or won’t?”
“Can’t. If I take it back, it will kill me and undo the entire creation of the world. I can’t fix this.”
Artemis let out a long sigh before she raked him with a repugnant sneer. “You’re pathetic, Apollo. Pathetic.” She turned and left him alone in his temple where he stared into an orb similar to the one in Sam’s palm.
Apollo’s hand shook as he conjured an image of Stryker in his orb. His eyes swam with tears. “You were ever disappointing to me, but I never meant to hurt you. I was trying to make you strong.” He choked on a sob. “If I could undo this, Strykerius, I would. I would…. I am so sorry for what I’ve done….”
Sam pulled back from the scene as her head whirled with everything she’d learned.
Especially about Acheron. Was that what had made him the first Dark-Hunter?
He’d been Artemis’s lover?
Surely Apollo hadn’t meant that Acheron was really a whore, whore. Had he? Or was it just his anger at Acheron that caused him to say that?
“Well?” Stryker prompted. “How do I kill Apollo?”
She blinked at Stryker’s impatient tone as her mind replayed everything in sequence.
Zephyra sat forward on her throne. “What did you see? Can we break the curse?”
Sam shook her head. “It can’t be undone.”
Rage contorted Stryker’s handsome features. “You lie!”
“No, I swear. There is no way. Apollo would have undone it in the beginning had he been able to.”
Stryker cursed. “And his weakness? What will bring him to his knees?”
Oh he wasn’t going to like the answer to that question. She knew it. “The same thing that caused him to curse the Apollites to begin with.”
“His whore, Ryssa?” Stryker asked.
She shook her head. “The death of the son he loves more than anything.”
Scowling at her, Stryker sat back. “I don’t understand. What son?”
She licked her dry lips and braced herself for his wrath. “You, Stryker. You’re his weakness. You’re what he loves above everything else…. You’re the only thing he loves.”
Zephyra put her hand on his shoulder as Stryker sat there completely stone-faced. “She’s telling the truth.”
Stryker grabbed Sam by the arm and jerked her to him. “Are you playing with me?”
“Why would I?”
Snarling, he threw her away from him. One minute she was in the center of the hall and in the next, she was being sucked back into the vortex.
Sam fought against it with everything she had. Stryker had lied, there was no Dev. He was sending her back empty-handed.
Screaming, she tried to stop falling. Tried to get back to Kalosis so that she could hunt for him.
It was no use.
She found herself on the street just a few feet from where she’d gone into the vortex earlier.
“No!” she screamed as it closed right behind her and left her alone. She got up and ran around trying to find another opening.
There wasn’t one.
She was here and Dev…
Oh God, Dev…
Tears blinded her as that old helpless feeling ripped her apart. “You lying bastard!”
Guilt and grief tore through her. Dev was dead and it was all her fault. She’d caused this. Had she not thrown him out, she would have been there to protect him when Stryker came to get him.
How could she have let him go?
You’re a fool. Twice now she’d lost the man she loved.
And as she wept, she felt her Dark-Hunter powers waning. I don’t care. Nothing mattered to her anymore. Let them kill her.
Yet again the Daimons had taken everything from her. Only this time, she couldn’t blame her sister.
She could only blame herself.
Sick to her stomach, she didn’t know where to go or what to do. Aimless, she found herself back at Nick’s house, walking through the gate and then the back door.
How do I tell Dev’s family what I let happen? They would be crushed. All of them…
Nick stopped her as she reached the bottom of his staircase. “Where did you go?”
She ignored Nick’s question as she stepped past him.
“Sam?” Nick snapped. “What are you doing?”
Numb, she couldn’t think straight. “I need to be alone for a minute.”
Or a millennium.
I just want to die.
She stumbled up the stairs, wishing Stryker had killed her too. How could she have ever been so stupid as to trust a Daimon?
Her heart breaking, she opened the door to her room and froze.
Was it possible?
She blinked her eyes in disbelief as she saw Dev standing near her bed.
It couldn’t be.
He was looking around as if he was as dazed as she’d been in Kalosis. “How did I get here? I swear I’m not stalking you, Sam. I didn’t—”
Laughing, she launched herself at him and wrapped her body around his while she kissed him over and over again.
Dev staggered back as Sam assaulted him. He’d expected her to be mad for his breaking her “space,” but there was nothing even remotely angry about her giddiness as she kissed him senseless.
Yeah, the woman was nuts. But as she rained kisses over him, he was getting harder by the minute and forgetting why he wasn’t supposed to be here with her.
“I thought you were dead.”
She squeezed him so tight, he could barely breathe. “I’m so sorry if I hurt you, Dev. I’m so sorry.” But for someone apologizing, she got more aggressive as she shoved him back onto the bed and pinned him there under her body.
Then she gave him the hottest kiss he’d ever had in his life.
But he wasn’t playing this. As much as he hated doing it, he shoved her back. “I’m not your yo-yo, Sam. And you’re not going to play head games with me.”
Sam swallowed as she saw the fury in those precious blue eyes she’d never thought to see again. “I don’t want to bury you, Dev. I don’t. I love you and it terrifies me.”
Those words hit him like a vicious punch to his gut. “What did you say?”
“I love you.”
He cupped her cheek in his hand as he stared at her in disbelief. Those were the three words he’d never expected to hear from someone he wasn’t related to. “I don’t want to live without you, Sam.”
Tears glistened in her eyes. “I haven’t been alive in over five thousand years. Not until some bear made a smart-ass comment about my bad driving and followed me home.”
He bristled under her accusation. “You invited me.”
Her smile blinded him. “And I’m inviting you in again.”
“Are you sure?”
She nodded. “I know this is fast, but—”
A loud knock on the door interrupted her. “Clothes on, people, quick,” Nick said from the other side of the door. “Buckle up, buttercups. We have incoming and it’s about to get bloody.”