Dev opened the door to find Nick in the hallway, dressed for battle. “What’s going on?”
“My Spidey sense is off the radar. There’s a massive demon migration and it’s charting a course straight for us. Since I don’t want my house destroyed, I vote we take it where we’re least likely to be seen and where we have an advantage.”
“And that would be?” Dev asked.
“The St. Louis Cemetery. This time of night, it’ll be closed and empty.”
Sam shook her head. “I can’t go there. I’ll get possessed.”
Nick rolled his eyes. “Better you than my house.”
“I thought you had it shielded?” she shot back.
“I do, but this—”
A loud pop downstairs cut his words off.
Nick cursed as he stepped back and tilted his head. “Looks like we waited too long. Gird your loins, people, join the fight.” He vanished.
Dev sighed irritably. “That’s so not what I want to do with my loins right now.”
Sam laughed. “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll take care of your loins later. Right now, we fight.”
By the time they reached downstairs, Ethon, Chi, and Nick were standing with their backs to each other. Sam could hear the demons scratching, trying to break the shield around Nick’s house.
She looked back and forth between Chi and Ethon. “What are you two doing here?”
Ethon winked at her. “Nice seeing you, too. Thanks for the gracious welcome.”
Chi ignored him. “We came in at sunset to help guard you and Nick.”
“Thank you.” Sam turned to Nick. “Where’s Ash?”
Nick curled his lip. “He’s not welcome here and I refuse to have him in my home.”
Dev looked at him like he was crazy. “Is that good idea given what we’re facing?”
“My vote is double hell no,” Ethon said, swinging his sword around. “But I think we can handle them.”
Sam gave Captain Suicide a droll stare. “How did you die again? Oh wait, I know this. ‘I can take ’em. I don’t need to wait for reinforcements. I can do it myself.’ How’d that work out for you again?”
Ethon glared at her. “It wasn’t that cut and dry and I would have won had my best friend not stabbed me in the back. Literally.”
Nick growled at them. “They’re breaking through. You guys might want to get your heads out of your asses and pay attention for this.”
The sound of glass shattering echoed through the house an instant before it began crawling with demons.
Lazaros manifested in the center of the room. Ten feet tall and in the form of a twisted one legged serpent, he faced them. “Give me Samia and I’ll leave the rest of you in peace.”
“Why do you want her?” Nick asked.
“She killed my brother.”
Sam frowned as she searched her memory. “I’ve never killed a demon.”
“Liar!” Lazaros snarled. “Your sister sold her soul to him to kill you and your family so that she could be queen in your place. When you became a Dark-Hunter, you hunted him down and killed him.”
Frowning in confusion, she shook her head. “No, I didn’t. I killed a Daimon.”
“You killed an empusa, you moron. And I would have killed you then but I was told you were dead and then I was captured before I could confirm it.” He narrowed a blood red stare on her. “Tonight my brother will finally be avenged and I will bathe in your blood.” He lunged for her throat.
Dev caught him and drove him back.
The other demons attacked en masse. They swooped in like a dark cloud that wanted to consume them. Sam put her back to Dev’s as they fought with everything they had.
She cut the head off one, then drove another to Ethon who quickly dispatched him.
Lazaros whipped his tail, catching her across the back. It felt like a razor slicing through her flesh and it brought out agonizing memories of his brother killing her and her family.
Cursing, Sam stumbled.
Dev caught her and the memories instantly faded so that she had total clarity again. He blasted a shot with his powers straight at Lazaros who absorbed it and sent it back to him. It knocked Dev flying.
Sam caught herself, then gasped as she saw Dev bleeding on the floor. Her powers drained out of her immediately.
Please don’t die. Please don’t die…
Running to him, she saw that his eye and nose were cut. He had a gash in his side. But he was alive. Bloodied, but alive. Relief swept through her.
He moved to stand.
Over and over, she saw the premonition images of him lying dead in this room. Normally she took power from such things as her rage went through her like the Hulk, but right now…
Her fears paralyzed her. She couldn’t lose him.
Dev saw Sam’s eyes turn green and his breath was sucked out of his body as his fear mounted. She was human which meant she could die.
Terrified for her, he flipped to his feet and put himself between her and Lazaros. There was no way he was going to let her go down.
The demons had Ethon and Nick pinned. Chi was completely out of sight. And more demons were coming in.
Lazaros rushed for Sam.
With a battle cry, Dev lunged at him, but just as he reached the demon, it darted and swiped him with its tail. One minute he was about to stab it, in the next he was flying through the air, ass over tea kettle.
Sam snarled as she found her human power. Screw the Dark-Hunter crap. She didn’t need it.
The lioness in her roared to life and all she could focus on was saving the people in this room who meant the most to her. And Dev topped that list.
She picked up the fallen sword that Ethon had dropped and true to her Amazon nature, she attacked with every instinct and skill she possessed. She dodged and swerved, hacked and sliced. Lazaros blasted her and she ducked, letting the blasts fly past her and hit the couch, walls, and tables which started burning.
“I hate you bastards,” Nick snarled as he saw the damage. “Couldn’t you have attacked at Ash’s house?”
Not paying Nick’s outburst any attention, she completely disengaged herself to keep Dev safe.
Dev was impressed by Sam’s prowess as she met every attack with a counter. He’d never seen anything like it and when she came up and stabbed Lazaros in his side, his heart stopped.
Lazaros whipped his tail around and pinned her to the floor.
Rage consumed him as he went for the demon. Lazaros turned to confront him. Sam rolled out from under Lazaros’s tail and scrambled for the sword she’d dropped. The moment the hilt was in her hand, she threw it at the demon.
She pinned Lazaros’s head to the wall like a grisly trophy. The demon screamed out in agony, shuddered, and then died.
Still the others kept coming.
Sam picked up another sword as she met Dev. She kissed him quickly on the lips, then turned to keep fighting.
“How do we stop them?” Ethon shouted.
Nick cursed. “They’re not responding to my powers. There’s nothing I can do.”
Sam had no powers to use. She looked at Dev.
Dev shrugged. “I say we beat them down until they kill us.”
All of sudden, there was a bright flash of light as Acheron appeared in the center of the room. He swept his gaze around them and took in everything before he slammed his staff down and sent a shock of something reverberating through the entire house. It was like some kind of weird sonic boom that shook the very foundation and made the demons disintegrate.
Ethon, bleeding and sweating, glared at Acheron. “’Bout time, boss. What kept you?”
Chi appeared beside Acheron. “I didn’t want to bother him. But it was getting too close for my comfort level so I went for the big gun.”
Ash gave her an irritated smirk. “Next time someone unleashes a herd of demons, an early call would be nice. I don’t want to be scraping up my team’s entrails. Took too much to train all of you to start over with recruits.”
Nick scoffed. “We were handling it just fine. We didn’t need your help.”
“Really?” Ash arched his regal brow. “Let me clue you in on one of your powers, Nick. You can charge off the power of a demon. If you don’t, they charge off you and grow in strength.”
That took the cockiness right out of Nick. “What?”
“You are the Energizer Bunny for badasses.” Acheron looked at Chi. “I thought you were training him?”
“We haven’t gotten to that yet. He’s a stubborn pupil who doesn’t listen to me much.”
Acheron let out a sound of deep disgust before he turned back to Nick. “And I thought teaching you to drive sucked.” Then he mumbled under his breath. “Hardheaded…” the rest was in some language Sam couldn’t understand.
Nick held up his hand. “Stop bitching and make yourself useful for once. Clean up my house.”
Ash scoffed. “Do I look like a Merry Maid to you?”
“Yes, Bo-Peep. Chop chop. I have blood and entrails on my walls and it’s staining the wallpaper.”
Sam was stunned Ash let anyone talk to him like that.
Yet he seemed to take Nick’s fit in stride. “I should have left you in the coma.” He slammed his staff down and everything in the house went back to normal.
Nick licked at his fangs. “Thank you…Dick.”
Ash ignored him as he moved to Sam.
She swallowed hard as Artemis and Apollo’s words about him rang in her head. Acheron a whore…
In a weird way, she could see it. He did have the movements of a trained courtesan. Slow. Steady. A symphony of movement. Plus there was that unnatural sexual magnetism he put out. It was like a lion in the wild. Something so beautiful that you had an irresistible urge to pet it and yet you knew if you tried, it would tear off your arm.
Yeah, that was Acheron.
He picked up her hand and looked at her marked palm.
Dev moved to stand behind her.
Ash didn’t speak for several long seconds. He met Sam’s and then Dev’s gazes. “How do you feel about this?”
Sam bit her lip. “I think it’s more a question of how do you feel about it?”
Ash’s hand actually trembled as he held hers. “I can’t get your soul back, Sam. I can’t. Artemis won’t let me.”
Her stomach hit the floor at his news. “You’ve done it for others.”
He nodded. “I know, but things have changed and Artemis won’t release anymore to me.”
Fine, she didn’t want to be human anyway. “Can’t I be a Dark-Hunter and mated?”
Ash looked at Ethon and then Chi. “The rules were set in place for a reason. Artemis still owns you and she’s a jealous goddess. If she finds out about this…you don’t want to ever see her that angry. And honestly, I don’t know what she’d do over this. But in the end, it’s your decision. I can’t make it for you.”
Sam clenched her teeth. “You’re sure you can’t get my soul back?”
“I’m sure and I’m sorry.”
Nick curled his lip at Ash. “You better be glad I’m a better friend to you than you ever were to me or I’d tell them exactly why you can’t help her…Acheron. But I won’t steal from you what you love. My mama raised me better.”
Ash’s swirling silver eyes blazed. “You know, Nick, but you don’t understand. There’s a big difference. You have no idea what the world is like when you’re completely alone and unprotected in it. Pray to the gods that you never do. The one lesson I can’t teach you…that neither Chi nor Takeshi can teach you is not to judge others so harshly. As you said, you’re mama raised you better and you shame her memory every time you spit at me.”
Nick bellowed in rage before he lunged for Ash.
Ash threw his arm out and held him back with an invisible force field. “One day, Cajun, you will have the power to destroy me. But that day isn’t here yet.” And with that, he vanished.
Nick was so angry, he shook from it. “You’re all fools to blindly follow him when you don’t know what he is.”
Ethon shook his head. “You’re wrong, Gautier. I know exactly what he is.”
“Yeah?” Nick sneered. “And what is that?”
“My friend. That’s all that matters to me.”
Nick scoffed at him. “You’re a fucking idiot, Stark. He was my friend too and he ruined me.”
“For that I’m sorry. But until he betrays me, I owe him my loyalty.” Ethon moved to stand by Sam. A sad smile hovered over his lips as he took her marked hand into his.
In that moment, she returned to the day she’d married Ioel. Ethon had been there then too. Standing by her side just as he was now.
He kissed the back of her knuckles. “I’m happy for you, little sister. If Artemis comes for you, call me. I will stand and I will fight for you anytime.”
Because he loved her.
Sam’s lips trembled at a truth he didn’t want her to know but one she’d seen so clearly. He’d been in love with her since long before their deaths. He’d loved her so much that he was willing to say nothing about his feelings for her in order to keep from tainting her happiness. And it was a love she’d never been able to return to him.
He would never be more than a brother to her.
Life was unfair and as Acheron so often said, emotions had no brains. Ethon deserved someone who could return his love with the same passion that burned inside him and she hoped that one day he’d find her.
She squeezed his hand. “I love you, Ethon.”
He swallowed. “Like a brother. I know.” He held his hand out to Dev. “Take care of her, Bear. I’d say I’d kick your ass if you didn’t, but she’s a better fighter than I am.”
Dev laughed. “Thanks, E.”
Ethon inclined his head before he headed to the door. “Time to patrol. There are Daimons on the street and stupid humans willing to feed them. You coming, Chi?”
“I have Nick duty tonight.”
“Then good luck. May the gods be with you and don’t kill the lippy bastard.” Ethon left them.
His gaze bitterly amused, Nick stepped forward. “Congratulations, Dev. Sam.” To her amazement, he shook their hands.
And he was actually happy for them.
Chi smiled. “I’m so thrilled for you guys. And I hope Acheron is wrong and that Artemis is understanding about this.” She turned to Nick. “You ready to start our lessons?”
He shook his head. “Not tonight. I have something else I need to take care of.”
“Nick…” Her tone was thick with chiding. “You have to learn. You’re still extremely vulnerable.”
“Yeah, but a good friend once taught me that sometimes you have to put others first. Tonight is one of those.”
Sam scowled at the odd note in Nick’s voice as he teleported out and left them alone with Chi. “What are teaching him?”
Chi sighed. “Demonology.”
That was impressive and a rare talent. “Does he have your powers?”
“No. His powers make mine look weak. But he has to understand why the others are coming for him.” Chi pressed her lips together as she thought about something that troubled her. When she spoke, Sam heard the undercurrent in her voice. “The more I’m with him, the more he scares me. There are times when he’s so kind and then something comes over him. Something so evil that it gives me chills.” She shook her head. “Anyway, don’t let me taint your night. You two have a lot to discuss and decide. Shoo! Go and enjoy. We can catch up later.”
Sam inclined her head to her. “I love you, Chi.”
“I love you, too, babe.”
“You ready?” Dev asked her.
He teleported her to his room.
She cringed as a wave of nausea swept through her. “I really hate traveling that way. It does not like me.”
“Sorry. I just couldn’t wait to be alone with you and it was the quickest way to get here.”
Sam bit her lip as she scanned his lush, scrumptious body. “I know how you feel.”
He kissed her gently on the lips. “So what did Stryker want with you?”
“Information on his father and how to break their curse.”
“Did you tell him?”
She nodded. “I told him the truth. There’s no way to break their curse. And that his father, even after all that’s happened, still cares about him.”
Dev let out a low whistle. “I’ll bet he didn’t take that well.”
Sam fell silent as she considered that. “He took it better than I thought, but I have a feeling this isn’t over.”
“The Daimons can still walk in daylight and we’re their enemies. Sooner or later, they’ll be coming for all the Dark-Hunters and Stryker seems too determined to give up. I think he’s got something even more sinister brewing.”
“And I hope you’re wrong.”
So did she. But her gut was kicking and it had never been wrong in the past. They’d won this battle.
The war was still on.