Ravyn woke up with his vision hazy and the scent of Susan heavy in the air. It was a delicate, warm smell. Unique and inviting. He felt like total shit and yet something about her scent soothed him.
It also set him on fire.
His right shoulder was so sore that he could barely move it. Not that he could anyway, since Susan was lying on it, facing away from him, sound asleep. At first he couldn't figure out where he was or why on earth she was on top of him. Then suddenly, the earlier events of the night came rushing back.
He'd been hit with a trank outside of the Happy Hunting Ground. Images of their flight and return to the Serengeti shuffled around him as he remembered bits and pieces of being sick... of Susan helping him.
She'd held him while the whole world had fallen apart.
Amazed by that, he rose up to look down at her and brushed a strand of blond hair off her silken cheek. She had the prettiest skin. Fair and unblemished, it was softer than silk. He laid his fingers over her cheekbone and marveled at the texture that was so different from his.
There was something lovely about her. Something that called out to the animal in him and lured it forward. He'd never felt such a pull toward anyone before. Not even Isabeau, and she had been his chosen mate.
He dipped his head down so that he could inhale the scent of her hair. The soft strands tickled his cheek even as the warmth of her body calmed him. He laid his other arm over her and held her close in the darkness. Like a lover. This moment awoke a long forgotten dream inside him. A dream of family. Of love. Of having someone he could love, who would love him, too.
God, it'd been way too long since he'd just held someone...
"If you don't stop groping on me, Puss in Boots, I don't care if you are out of it, I'm going to hurt you."
He laughed in spite of himself.
Susan opened those striking blue eyes to stare up at him.
"I'm over it," he said softly to her.
Still she looked suspicious. "Uh-huh, that's what you said last time, right before you made a head dive for my boobs."
"No, I didn't... did I?" He frowned as he tried to remember, but the last few hours were all hazy and vague. And he certainly didn't recall that happening, but then given how much she appealed to him, he couldn't deny it, either. If he had a chance and a reason to get away with such a thing, he'd have probably taken it.
She narrowed her eyes on him. "You really are back, aren't you?"
He put the heel of his hand to his right eye in an effort to ease some of the pain that felt like it was cleaving his skull in two. "Yeah, and with a vicious headache."
Susan rolled over to look up into those midnight eyes. Okay, it was only one eye since he still had the other covered with his hand, but it was nice to see clarity there again. "Welcome back."
"Thanks." His gaze dropped to her lips that teased him with an invitation he was finding hard to ignore. "For everything."
She licked her lips, moistening them with her tongue... it was his undoing. Unable to stand it, he lowered his head, half expecting her to pull back or push him away.
Instead, she moved forward in his arms to take his kiss. The instant their lips touched, Ravyn closed his eyes, letting the warmth of her wash over him. She wrapped her arms around him, causing him to tremble at the tenderness she offered. She was exceptional. His heart racing, he deepened the kiss, exploring her mouth.
Susan couldn't breathe... literally. Her allergies kicked in, but not even they were enough to make her let go as she tasted heaven. Every part of her fired at the touch of his lips. He cupped her face as his delicious weight pinned her to the mattress. She found herself actually resenting their clothing, even though she knew getting physical with him would be a mistake. Dark-Hunters couldn't have dates and girlfriends, and she had no interest in being someone's one-night stand.
They had nowhere to go except separate ways. Too bad her emotions weren't more rational because right now all they wanted was to keep him in her arms and to explore every inch of that wicked body with her tongue. But she couldn't.
Ravyn fisted his hand in her silken hair as images of her naked body writhing underneath him tormented him with desire. He nipped her lips as he felt her heart racing along with his. It took every piece of will he possessed not to lift her shirt and cup her breast in his hands. But she was a Squire, and they were off limits to Dark-Hunters. Even so, she appealed to him on a level he couldn't even begin to fathom.
If he could, he'd stay here with her for the rest of the night, but they had way too much to deal with at present. And the last thing he wanted was to be involved with another woman who could betray him. He pulled away, then groaned.
Susan put her hand on his sore arm as if she knew exactly what hurt. "You need to rest."
He shook his head. "We've got too much to do."
"Believe me, I know. But you're still hurt."
He snorted at that. "Trust me, this is nothing. I'll definitely live."
She shook her head at him as she sat up to face him. "Fine then. While you've been down and unconscious, I've been doing a lot of thinking. The Daimons are after all of you so that they can have a full run at Seattle, right?"
Ravyn remained lying back on the mattress. "That's what we think."
"Well, according to the handbook Leo gave me"-she picked up a huge leather-bound tome and held it against her chest- "whenever one Dark-Hunter goes down, another one is sent in to replace them, especially in an urban setting... such as say, oh, Seattle." She toyed with the edge of the book as she gave him a stern frown. "So what are the Daimons really hoping for? I mean if they kill you and more are sent in, why bother... right?"
She definitely had a point. "I don't know. It doesn't make sense, but you can't deny that they're doing it. Maybe they hope to pick us off one by one until the last Dark-Hunter falls." Even as he said it, he knew better than that. There were too many Dark-Hunters. It would take years, if not centuries, to get them all.
But then something weird had been happening these last couple of years. A lot of Dark-Hunters had gone free and an even larger number of them had died. Especially recently.
"Or maybe this is an experiment," Susan said. "Think about it for a minute. If they can get away with wiping out all of you here, then they could converge on other cities. Make a studied attack. Claim each city one by one. Right?"
"At this point, I would go with just about any theory. I've honestly never seen anything like this. I mean, there have always been a few stupid humans here and there who've been willing to help them. But never on this scale."
"Which brings up the question of why they're helping them? What are the Daimons promising them for their service?"
Ravyn shrugged. "It could be anything. My money says they've promised them eternal life."
"I don't think so. It's too easy. Think about it for a second. Someone fairly high up is helping them. Why? What could that person stand to gain by allowing Daimons to murder people in Seattle and take out the Dark-Hunters? The human would have to have a vested interest in this, and eternal life doesn't do it for me."
Ravyn grew silent. "You know, the Were-Hunters came into being for one simple reason. "
"And that is?"
"Roughly nine thousand years ago, an ancient Greek king married an Apollite without knowing it. When she died on her twenty-seventh birthday by slowing decaying, the king realized that his sons were going to meet the same fate as their mother. Horrified at the prospect, he immediately set out to magically splice animal strength with his sorcery to Apollites. His goal was to make Apollites live longer."
"It worked. He created the Arcadian race, my race, who have human hearts, and the Katagaria race, our enemies, who have animal hearts."
Susan nodded as she remembered that from her reading.
His dark eyes bored into her. "Do you see what I'm saying. Lycaon did everything he could to protect his family. He even defied the Fates when they told him to kill all of the hybrids he'd made. To kill his own sons..."
Her jaw went slack as she finally caught his meaning. "One of the police has married an Apollite?"
"And what if that Apollite were to turn Daimon?"
Susan couldn't breathe as those words went through her like glass. It made complete sense.
An official who would have the ear of the media to help hunt them down. An official who could tamper with evidence and reassign investigators.
"It's either the police chief or the commissioner, isn't it?"
"That would be my bet."
She covered her mouth as her mind whirled. If they were wrong and she went after an innocent man, she'd never live this down. But if they were right...
"We need evidence. Hard, inarguable evidence."
Ravyn nodded. "And we need to cut off their human allies quickly."
Susan couldn't agree more.
"Yeah. It's going to be dangerous, but for now we have to get our hands on Jimmy's journal."
She looked away as pain gripped her features. Clearing her throat, she met his gaze levelly, but he still saw the hurt she was trying so hard to hide. "My friend Jimmy, the investigator at the clinic, always kept a journal of his thoughts and what he did."
"Like a blog?"
"No, he was too private for that. This would probably be in his house somewhere. Either as a handwritten book or on his laptop. We need to search their house and find it."
Ravyn was skeptical. "Wouldn't the cops know about it?"
"I don't think so. Like I said, Jimmy was really private, especially around the guys he worked with. I don't think he'd have told them he kept a diary of all things."
She had a point. The gods knew he'd never admit to such a thing either. "But if they went to the trouble of killing him, wouldn't they have searched his place?"
"I'm willing to bet no. They think he's silenced and we're on the run. Searching his house might make someone suspicious."
Again, she had a good argument. But one thing, if the cops hadn't searched the house yet, they most likely would soon and whatever evidence or clues Jimmy might have left behind would be lost. So it was either get to it tonight or possibly lose it forever. "Okay, let's go. What time is it?"
She looked down at her watch. "Twelve thirty."
"Where does he live?"
"On Twenty-ninth Avenue West."
Good. Ravyn stretched before he sat up. "That gives us plenty of time to get there, search the place, and get back before dawn."
He noticed her hesitation as she sat on the mattress. "There's only one little problem with that. "
He sighed as he caught her meaning. "I know. They don't want to let me back in here once I leave. But that's okay. I have a secret weapon."
She arched a brow. "And that is?"
"You," he said, smiling. "It was impressive how you got past my father earlier. You really should be a lawyer."
She blushed at his compliment before she set the book aside.
He stood up and held his hand out to her. Taking it, she let him pull her to her feet, but the tug was so forceful that she stumbled into him.
Ravyn's breath left him at the full frontal contact. Every inch of her was pressed up against his body, making him instantly hard and aching for a taste of her. There, for a moment, it made him almost want to be mortal again. There was just something about her that captivated him. "Sorry," he said, his voice faint. "I sometimes forget how strong I am."
But there was a problem, he wanted to pull her even closer to him and taste those lips again. Get your bead in the game, boy.
Forcing himself to step back, he headed for the door and into the hallway. He led her upstairs toward the back of the club where his family should be away from human sight and hearing. From the sounds that echoed, it was obvious that at this time of night the club was hopping. The heavy, thumping beat radiated through his head, making it ache even more. But then he'd never been overly fond of this style of music anyway. He much preferred classic rock.
As they neared a partially opened door on their way out, he paused at the sound of his brothers' voices. And the more they spoke, the angrier he became.
"You know our laws, Dorian," Phoenix snarled. "He should be killed, now, while he's sleeping."
Dorian answered in a matter-of-fact tone. "The law of sanctuary-"
"Screw Savitar's laws. My mate and children are dead. The law of the jungle says-"
Ravyn pushed the door open. "The strongest survive. Always. And in my book, asshole, that's not you."
They jerked around to face him. He caught the look of shame on Dorian's face an instant before he hid it. But Phoenix was another matter. His eyes gleamed hatred. Ravyn braced himself as that look took him back to the night he'd died. To the look of tortured agony on Phoenix's face when he'd discovered his wife's body. She'd died beside their mother, trying to save her son and daughter.
Ravyn had stood in the doorway that night, too, paralyzed by the blood that soaked into the earthen floor of their cottage. Even though he'd been a warrior since the day he'd entered puberty and mastered his powers, he'd never seen such carnage. The humans hadn't been content to simply kill them. They had mutilated every member of their clan they had caught. Boy, girl, woman, child, infant... it hadn't mattered to them.
Phoenix had pulled his mate into his arms and roared with pain-filled horror. Until he'd turned on Ravyn.
"You did this!"
Overwrought with his own guilt and grief, he hadn't been able to move or to speak. His gaze had been morbidly caught by his mother's remains. By the look of terror that was permanently frozen on her beautiful face.
"Tell Isabeau the truth about us. About you. Ravyn, tell her what we are. Even if she is human, the Fates have chosen her to be your mate... surely, they know what they're doing. You must trust in the gods, my son. Always. "
His mother's words had echoed in his ears that night as he stared at her through the tears that burned his cheeks.
And then Phoenix had lunged at him. At first, he'd thought nothing of it, until he felt the sharp, hot pain in his side. It was followed by another and another as Phoenix stabbed him repeatedly while Ravyn merely stood there, taking each blow without even raising his arms in defense.
"Die, you bloody bastard. I hope you spend eternity in Tartarus paying for what you've done!"
Dorian had grabbed Phoenix and pulled him back, but it was too late. The damage had been done.
Ravyn had staggered back as he coughed up his own blood. He'd looked down to see the lifeblood as it coated his hands and fled from his body to drip down his clothes, to the floor to blend in with the rest. He'd slipped on a pool of it and fallen to the floor.
The last sight that had carried him out of his human existence had been his own father coming forward to spit on him, then kick and curse him as his last breath had rattled painfully in his chest. It was a sight that haunted him still. A sight that came to him often in the light of day while he tried to sleep and tormented him anew.
But he was through being haunted by his guilt. Being hated for something he'd had no part in. His only mistake had been to trust a woman who'd told him that she loved him. He'd had no way of knowing she would betray him by calling down the wrath of her people before they formally mated.
And he was tired now. Tired of the hatred and the blame. It was time to put the past to rest.
Ravyn raked his brother with a sneer. "You want me dead, Phoenix, then let's go outside and end it once and for all. But I warn you now, I'm not feeling guilty anymore and I won't stand there and let you stab me again. You got your one shot in. That's it."
Phoenix moved to stand just before him. He narrowed his eyes. "You should have stayed dead."
Ravyn didn't flinch or blink. "No, I should never have let you kill me to begin with. I should have slapped your stupid ass down and gone for Isabeau and her people without losing my life over it. Or better yet, I should have killed you the night I took my vengeance for being such a selfish bastard. But I didn't. I forgave you for killing me, just as I forgave Dad for kicking me. But I'm tired of taking the high road while the rest of you spit at me. So stop crying, little boy, and suck it up like I've had to do."
He gave Phoenix a disgusted look. "You think you had it so bad? Trust me, you didn't. I lost everything that night, too, including my mate and my entire family. You and the rest at least had each other to console yourselves. What the fuck did I have? Not a damn thing. And now I'm sick of tiptoeing around you and I'm sick of being blamed for something I couldn't help. Had you been half the man you think you are, you'd have bonded yourself to Georgette and died with her."
Phoenix lunged at Ravyn only to have Dorian catch him and pull him back. "No, Nix, you know the law."
"Screw the law! Let me go, Dori!"
Ravyn shook his head at his brother while he struggled against Dorian. "Instead of bitching about what you lost, little boy, you should be damned grateful for what you had. You had almost a hundred years with Georgette. One. Hundred. Years. I didn't even get a day with Isabeau as my true mate and I've had nothing since then. So screw you, crybaby."
Phoenix lunged again, only to have Dorian catch him and pin him to the wall.
"Get out, Ravyn," Dorian said, his voice thick.
Ravyn stared at the twins. At one time in his life, he'd have died for them. Growing up, they had been more than just his brothers, they had been his best friends. The loss of that friendship still bothered him, but he'd learned to stop caring. Obviously he had never meant as much to them as they had to him.
"I'm going, Dorian, but I will be back."
Phoenix cursed as Dorian's face hardened. "You'll have to find someplace else to stay. "
Ravyn shook his head. "There is nowhere else until I get this settled and you know it. By the Omegrion's law, you have to welcome me even if it sticks in your craw. "
"I hate you!" Phoenix shouted. "You come back here and I'll kill you, you bastard."
"Take a number."
Dorian let out a tired breath as Ravyn took Susan's hand and led her to the door.
Susan didn't know what to say or do as they left the building and headed to the alley in the back. She could sense the pain inside Ravyn even though he was trying hard to hide it with an angry facade. Not that she blamed him. Given what she'd heard, she couldn't imagine how betrayed he must feel over his family's actions. How could they have turned on him like that?
Without breaking stride, Ravyn headed straight for a gray Porsche with tinted windows. Susan frowned as he opened his palm, waved it in a circle, and the door popped open.
"This may be an odd question, but whose car are we stealing?"
He didn't look up as he got into the car. "Phoenix's."
"How do you know it's his?"
"Look at the plate."
She did and sure enough, it had his name on it along with a bumper sticker for the club. Strangely amused, she got in. "Don't you think this is going to piss him off? "
"God, I hope so," Ravyn said in a sincere tone. "Otherwise it defeats the purpose of taking it. "
"Won't he call the cops?"
"Nope. It would violate sanctuary. So let him simmer, we have a place to visit. Besides the cops won't recognize the car and the tinted windows will keep us hidden."
She shook her head at him as they buckled up. "I know it's a bit nosy-"
"A reporter being nosy? Damn, there's something you never see."
She ignored his sarcasm as he started the car without a key. That man had some eerie powers when they were working properly. "Yeah, back to my question. Why is your family in Seattle when it's obvious they don't want to be around you?"
Okay, that hadn't come out the way she meant for it to. Funny, it'd sounded much nicer in her head.
Ravyn cut an aggravated stare at her before he pulled out of the alley. "The Omegrion dictates where sanctuaries are to be set up, which means they didn't have a choice. If they wanted to be a sanctuary it was Seattle or nothing since this is where one was needed."
She considered that. "Why did they want to be a sanctuary?"
"I imagine it had to do with seeing most of our clan annihilated. A lot of my people tend to set them up whenever they're on the brink of extinction. It's a way of keeping our enemies at bay long enough for us to regain our numbers."
That made sense to her. "What about you? How did you end up here?"
"I was already here when they arrived. They just didn't know it. Acheron assigned me to this region almost two hundred years ago because it had enough open land to let me take on my cat form whenever I wanted, and Cael requested I get transferred with him. He didn't like the idea of coming out here solo."
"So the two of you have been friends a long time?"
He nodded. "He was the first Dark-Hunter I met after Acheron trained me. We were both stationed in London for a while and then later transferred to France, then Munich."
"Wow. You guys have been around."
"We had to move around a lot in the past because humans tended to get suspicious easier than they do now. Now most people are so absorbed by their own lives that they don't even bother to learn who's living next door to them, especially in a city."
She started to argue that until she realized just how right he was. She still didn't know the names of the couple who lived to the right of her, and they'd moved in almost two years ago.
The man had a vicious point.
"So where are we headed?" Ravyn asked.
"Hell in a handbasket."
He laughed. The sound of it was rich and deep. Gah, the man was so incredibly sexy. Especially with the moonlight shadowing the planes of his face. "Seriously."
"I was serious. It's exactly where we're headed," she said under her breath, but then louder, she added, "Forty-three thirty-five Twenty-ninth Avenue West. "
"Yeah, I know. Angie always had great taste in everything."
Wanting to distract herself, she focused on what Ravyn and his brothers had been talking about earlier. "So explain something to me. What is this mating thing you guys keep talking about?"
A dark shadow fell over his face, and she wasn't talking about the one from the moonlight. It was a strange light, as if her question bothered him on a deep, personal level. "Were-Hunters are different from humans."
No shit, Sherlock... But she kept that exact sarcasm to herself. "You mean other than the fact that you live for several hundred years, can turn into animals, time travel, and wave your hand to make freaky stuff happen?"
The corners of his lips turned up as if he was holding back a laugh. "Yeah, that, too. But unlike humans, we don't get the leisure of picking out our mates. The Moirae-"
"Greek Fates. They choose who we're mated to."
"Uh-huh..." she said, stretching the sound out. "Why am I suddenly channeling a cheesy Leo headline for this? Oh wait, I think I know. Maybe 'cause they're myths and not real?"
He gave her a peeved stare. "And neither are vampires, right?"
"Good point. Okay, they're real, too, and?"
"And they choose our mates."
If not for the ludicrousness of this day, she would recommend him for treatment. But there had to be truth in this even though it didn't make sense to her. "So what do they do? Jump here on earth, tap you on the shoulder, and say, 'Hey, bub, marry her.' "
"No. A matching symbol appears on the palms of the two people to let them know they're supposed to be mated."
"Intrusive and rude, but I'll go with it. So that's all there is?"
"Not exactly. Once the mark appears, we have three weeks to decide if we want to abide by it. If we do, then we sleep together and are mated. If not, then the symbol vanishes and we can never be mated to anyone else so long as we both live, and we can't have children."
She really didn't like the sound of that. "That sucks."
"You have no idea. The female can continue to have sex, but the male of the species is impotent until the day one of them dies."
"What if you're mated and one of you dies? Are you still bound to each other, or can the survivor go on to mate again?"
"Technically yes, but that rarely happens. One shot for a mate is pretty much all the Fates allow. They're bitchy that way. But at least death does free the survivor of the binding, which is why I can still have sex, even though I never finished the ritual with Isabeau."
"But you have no chance of being mated again?"
"Let's just say, I have a better chance of dying from grapefruit poisoning."
She laughed at that. "Oh, yeah, the Fates are definitely women. I love it."
"I'm glad you do, but I have to say it doesn't appeal to me. The idea of being impotent rather blows."
She could understand that. "So what makes the mark appear? You reach a certain age? You cross the street?"
"We have sex." He gave her a wicked grin.
"No, seriously. The mark only appears after you've had sex with your predestined mate. Within a few hours it'll show up."
"And if you never have sex with your mate?"
"Then you never find your mate. You go the whole of your life without the chance of having children."
And she thought being human was hard. At least she had a choice about marriage and procreation. "You really have no control over the mating?"
"None whatsoever. Believe me, if we did, I would have never chosen a human for mine."
She didn't know why, but those words stung her. "You know, we're not all so bad."
He made a rude noise. "Pardon me if I reserve judgment on that."
Well, honestly, she couldn't blame him for his feelings. He'd been damaged rather badly by the actions of a single human. And it made her wonder what kind of woman would toss away a chance to have a man like Ravyn in her life. "So did you and Isabeau do the deed to finish off the mating?"
"No, I stupidly chose to be noble and to tell her what I was before I finished the ritual with her. Since she was human and it was the Renaissance period, she got a little... wiggy on me."
To say the least. "And the rest is history."
Man, she felt for him. How awful to lay himself bare before someone and have her betray him so badly. It made Alex leaving her because he didn't want to be tainted by her soiled reputation seem mild by comparison. His actions had been insensitive, but Isabeau's had been downright cruel.
"So what was the bonding thing you mentioned to Phoenix?" she asked.
"It's a special bond that we can make with our mates if both parties choose it. It combines our life forces together so that if one of us dies, the other dies, too. Instantly."
"Romantic and scary."
"Yes, it is. On the night our village was attacked, it was how we knew what was happening. Several members of our clan who were with us just keeled over. One minute they were with us and the next, they were dead at our feet for no known reason. Since so many of them fell, we knew someone was killing our families."
She let out a long breath as she tried to imagine the horror of that. "I'm really sorry, Ravyn."
"Thanks." But still she noted the way his grip tightened on the steering wheel and it made him ache for him.
They fell silent while they made their way over to Angie and Jimmy's. This time of night, the neighborhood was absolutely silent, with only an occasional house showing a light or TV on. Susan had always liked staying up late at night. There was something peaceful and pristine about the world. The silence was almost tangible.
As they neared the house, Susan spotted a patrol car parked on a curb. "Looks like they're watching the place."
Ravyn nodded. "After the day we've had, I'd expect no less."
Well, there was that.
He drove them past the patrol car, down the street, turned the corner, then parked. "We can go in the back way on foot."
"You know, it's a pity that with all the magic you guys have you can't just pop us into the house."
"Actually a typical Were-Hunter could."
"But you can't?"
He shook his head. "Not anymore. When I became a Dark-Hunter, I lost that power. It seems Artemis wants us to live chronologically, so I can no longer teleport. But I do have stronger powers in other ways and in cat form, unlike other Dark-Hunters, I can survive sunlight. It's not comfortable, but it doesn't kill me."
"Hence the burning cat-hair smell in my car earlier?"
Susan watched the streetlight cut across the handsome planes of his face. Even though their time was limited, she had to admit he was stunning. And she would give anything to be able to kiss those lips again... to drape herself over that body of his until they were both sweaty and spent. But given his feelings about humans, she figured she was only one step up from an Apollite mauling him.
Sighing, she put that thought away. The last thing she needed after this day was rejection. "I guess life is nothing but trade-offs, huh?"
"What's your trade-off?" he asked as he opened his car door.
She thought about that as she got out and shut her door without slamming it. "I guess I got to keep my sanity and life, in exchange for working a really shitty job."
That seemed to amuse him. "Leo isn't that bad, is he?"
Susan wrapped her arms around herself as they doubled back toward Angie's house. "Actually, Leo is an unpolished gem most days. I just hate working for that paper so much that daydreams of torching it are a constant fixation for me."
Ravyn grabbed her and pulled her down behind a shrub as a car came down the street. The two of them huddled there while they listened to it passing by at an excruciatingly slow pace.
Afraid of being caught this close to their destination, Susan held her breath until the car vanished out of sight. Her gaze fell down to Ravyn's taut hand that held her in place. He had long, slender fingers that warmed her even if his grip was a little too intense.
As if he heard her thoughts, he loosened his hold and rubbed her wrist soothingly. That little gesture meant a lot to her as he peeped up to look.
Without another word, he motioned her forward and led her to Angie's house. They cut across the neighbor's backyard to avoid the patrol car that might see them if they approached from the front. Ravyn picked her up effortlessly and helped her over the fence before he jumped over easily.
She knew he was a cat, but whenever he did things like that it was almost spooky. Crouching low, he kept them in the shadows as they headed up Angie's deck. Again he did the strange hand gesture that allowed him to push open the sliding glass door without breaking into it.
Susan entered the house first. As she reached for a light switch, she caught herself. "This is useless. I can't see anything and if I turn on a light, the police will see it. "
"It's okay." She was startled to find Ravyn so close to her that his breath fell against her cheek as he spoke. The warmth of his body reached out to her and actually calmed her nerves. "I have perfect vision in the dark. Tell me what I'm looking for."
Closing her eyes, she summoned a mental diagram of what the house looked like. "Upstairs, the second bedroom on the right is set up as an office. Jimmy's laptop should be there. Grab it and look around for a leather-bound journal that should be within easy reach."
"I don't know. If you see something else that he might have used to jot down notes, grab it."
He reached out and gently pushed her toward a bar stool. "Okay. Wait here and I'll be back."
Grateful that he'd helped to ground her in the darkness, Susan nodded as she leaned against the breakfast counter. She listened to Ravyn moving stealthily up the stairs... like a cat.
Yeah. This was an odd life she was having.
And as she glanced around the darkened house where all too familiar furniture faded into the shadows, grief settled deep in her chest. The last time she was here had been Angie's birthday a few weeks back. Jimmy had been teasing Angie about how she was becoming Merlin and aging backwards.
"You get more beautiful every year. "
This had been the third time Angie had turned thirty-five. Angie had taken their jokes in stride as she reminded Susan that she wasn't that far behind her.
What she wouldn't give to be able to go back and live that night one more time...
"Oh, Angie," she breathed, aching with the loss of them. How could they be gone? It was such a waste. Such a senseless tragedy.
"Don't think about it." And yet it was impossible not to. She wasn't supposed to grow old without her friends. They were her family. Without them, she felt completely lost and alone.
In spite of her resolve, she felt the tears starting to fall. Wiping them away, she hated herself for the weakness. They had something to do and here she was crying like a little girl.
She jumped at the deep voice in her ear. "Ravyn! Don't startle me like that." She felt a muscular arm wrap around her and pull her close to his hard body. The scent of him soothed her even while it tickled her nose.
But she knew it wasn't. It would never be okay that they were gone. Yet it was kind of him to try to offer comfort.
Then again, if anyone knew pain, it was the man holding her. He, too, had lost everything. Grateful for his presence, she leaned back against his hard chest and hugged his steely arm against her breasts. She was silent as she fought down the tears and drew a shaky breath.
Clearing her throat, she gave his arm a gentle squeeze, then stepped away. "Did you get it?"
"Yeah. It was just where you said. Now let's get out of here before someone sees us."
He adjusted the small box under one arm, then took her hand and led her back outside, to the deck. They crossed the yard silently, and headed back down the street to where they'd left the car. Every single step of the way, she kept expecting someone to catch them. She held her breath, waiting for the police or the Daimons to somehow discover where they were.
By the time they reached the Porsche, she was afraid her nerves were completely shot.
She got in first and buckled up before Ravyn placed the box on her lap. She frowned as he shut the door and walked over to the other side. At least until she saw what was on top...
Grief and joy mixed inside her and closed her throat into a tight knot. It was a framed picture of her, Angie, and Jimmy from last summer when they'd been deep-sea fishing. She and Angie were pointing to the giant swordfish Jimmy had caught and he was standing there like a he-man with his arms up.
Clutching the picture to her, she looked over at Ravyn and was overwhelmed by his thoughtfulness. "Thank you."
He simply inclined his head to her as he started the car and headed them toward the Serengeti.
Susan put the picture back in the box and just tried to keep it together as her anger built over the injustice of their deaths. She wanted revenge. You've got to keep yourself calm, Sue. But it was hard. She'd always hated emotional basket cases, and yet that was what she felt like tonight. "I'm sorry, Ravyn."
"That you're stuck with the neurotic Susan. I'm usually much more together than this."
To her surprise, he reached over and took her hand into his. "Babe, don't you dare apologize to me. I have nothing but respect for the grace and strength you've had today. I don't know many men who could have held up as well as you have."
Those words made her heart pound. "Thank you."
He squeezed her hand before he let go to shift gears. Susan wiped at her eyes as she watched the streetlights cut across his face, bringing out his features. He was exceptional. But it made her wonder what he'd be like if he was just an average guy on the street.
No, she couldn't imagine that. He was so much larger than life. A guy like this could never be average. And it was why she knew a woman like her could never dare to have more than a moment with a guy like him.
Ravyn didn't speak as he drove them through the quiet Seattle streets. But he could feel Susan with every inch of his being. The Dark-Hunter inside him could hear her heart beating. Could feel her blood flowing through her veins. The predator sensed her unease and sadness. The man just wanted to kiss those lips she had parted and hold her until she smiled at him again.
It was hard to think straight with her so close to him. He'd never seen any woman more beautiful.
He dropped his gaze to the hand she had on the box. A hand he wanted to nibble and then guide down to cup him until she stroked the part of him that ached for a taste of her lush body. But an animal like him could never dare to touch something as precious as she. Susan was one of the very few decent humans he'd ever met. And she deserved much better than something like him. Shifting in the seat, he clenched his teeth. This wasn't the time to let his hormones lead him.
Sure it is....
He wanted to growl at himself. Instead, he pushed the accelerator, needing to put some distance between them before he gave in to the feral need he had to have sex with her.
Not soon enough for comfort's sake, he parked the car right where Phoenix had left it. He helped Susan out of the car and headed back inside the club. The hallway wasn't as loud as it'd been earlier. No doubt the club was winding down a bit, but it still had a good-sized crowd. He could hear the thumping beat of the dance music. The air was thick with the smells of alcohol, cheap perfume, and greasy food. Ravyn kept waiting for one of his "family" members to appear and try to drive him out.
As they rounded a corner, they were almost run over by Erika.
"Sorry," she said as she started past them.
"Where are you going?" Ravyn asked. Her father would have Ravyn's head if something happened to her while he was in Hawaii.
She sighed heavily. "To the dance floor, if you must know. I want to boogie till I puke."
He gave her a suspicious glare. "Don't you have school tomorrow?"
"Relax, Dad. Leo said that I should stay here until the threat is over. They're afraid I might get nabbed by one of the Doulosi."
"The what?" Susan asked.
Ravyn turned toward her. "It's a term for the humans who help the Apollites or Daimons."
Erika took a step toward the door that led to the club, then paused. "Oh hey, if you guys get hungry, tell the woman in the kitchen, Terra, and she'll make you something. I have to say the burgers here are delish."
"Thanks," Susan said, but Erika was already gone.
Ravyn took the box from Susan's hands. "Why don't you get us something to eat and I'll get this laid out in our room below so we can examine it. "
Susan watched as Ravyn headed down the stairs, then followed the sounds of pans and glasses clanking until she located the kitchen. She wasn't sure if the people working in here were human or not. It was really weird to never know anymore.
"Can I help you?"
She turned to see a tall brunette woman. She reminded Susan of a chic model with extremely intense eyes. Crystal blue, they seemed to glow as they watched her like a predator in the wild.
Susan refused to be intimidated even though the woman was doing her best. "Erika said we could get something to eat."
The woman looked a bit reluctant as she glanced around the room in a very catlike manner. After a minute, she slid her gaze back to Susan. "All right, but don't let Dori know I fed you. The last thing I want is to hear about it from him. "
This must be Terra and she was grateful that Terra had a heart. "Thanks."
Susan stood back as the woman made two plates of burgers and fries for them. "Are you part of the Kontis family?"
She held her palm up to show Susan a really cool geometric sign on her palm. "Dorian's my mate. I'm Terra."
So that's what the sign looked like. It was lovely. "Nice to meet you."
Terra snorted. "Yeah, right. You don't like being here any more than we like your being here-I can smell your emotions bleeding out of your pores. But that's okay. At least we all know where we stand." Terra handed her the plates. "You want a couple of beers?"
"That would be heaven."
Terra brushed her hands off on her apron, then pulled out two bottles from an ice tub behind her. She put them on the tray and indicated for Susan to place the plates there, too.
As soon as Susan did, Terra handed the tray to her. "You got it?"
Terra nodded before she went back to instructing one of the waiters to take an order of pretzels out to a table.
Susan took the tray and headed back downstairs to their room. Ravyn was already booting up the laptop. When he saw the beers, his face actually lit up like a child seeing Santa for the first time.
"You must have read my mind."
Susan smiled at him as she handed him a beer. "Terra did."
"It appears your brother Dorian has a mate."
His jaw actually dropped. "Really?"
"Yep. She's an interesting woman. Kind of rough around the edges, but at least she fed us."
"I won't argue that, especially as good as it smells."
Susan set the tray on the floor before she pulled Jimmy's laptop toward her. "So what all did you find in his office?"
"Not too much. Some letters, a few file folders, a couple of leather journals, and the laptop."
And one picture that he didn't mention. Disregarding that thought, she started looking through his laptop file folders, but as she did so a wave of unbelievable pain engulfed her. These were Jimmy's private files. His whole life was on this computer. His tax records, family photos, e-mails to friends, jokes...
She felt Ravyn's hand on her shoulder. "You want me to do it?"
"No," she said past the stinging lump in her throat as her anger returned. "I owe this to him."
Ravyn was amazed by her strength and resolve. He'd never seen anything like it. "Okay, while you search, I'm going to call the other Dark-Hunters and check in with them."
Not sure if she'd really heard him or not, he pulled his phone out and called Acheron. As before, there was no answer. Damn. He could really use some advice from the head honcho about how to handle this situation. If there was one thing in life Acheron seemed to understand, it was the Daimon mind-set.
Then one by one, Ravyn called the rest of the Seattle-based Dark-Hunters to find out that they were all on patrol, being vigilant.
The only one who didn't answer was Aloysius. A Scottish Dark-Hunter who'd been in Seattle since 1875.
He looked at Susan and nodded even though he felt ill about it. "I think I know who they killed... he was a good man." Shaking his head in disgust, he moved closer to her. "Have you found anything?"
"Not yet. Just a few notes about things that disappeared out of his files at work. Some missing evidence. But no theory about who's behind it or why. "
Ravyn leaned forward to read, but before he could, he heard something slam shut above.
More than that, he felt a wave of mass rage and fear in the air. The scent of it was overwhelming.
There was serious trouble above...