Satara flashed herself straight into Kalosis. For once, Stryker wasn't in the hall or "war room," as it had once been aptly called. In fact, the vast room was oddly empty, with his throne sitting alone on the dais.
The unexpected silence was eerie.
All of the Daimons who normally gathered here must be in their own homes, which lined the dark streets outside in this realm where sunshine was eternally banished.
Atlantean legend once claimed that this was the palace of Misos, the Atlantean god of death and violence. Archon, the peaceful king of the gods, created this realm to control Misos and keep him prisoner, along with all of his minions who preyed on both the Atlantean people and mankind.
Stryker's black throne of carved dragons, skulls, and crossbones had been fashioned by Thasos (the Atlantean personification of death) for Misos himself while he ruled over all the damned who were sent to Kalosis to be punished. Ultimately, Archon had even sent his queen, Apollymi, to this realm to be held so long as her natural son lived.
After her beloved son had died, Apollymi had left her prison in this realm and destroyed all of the Atlantean pantheon-just as the Fates had prophesied. And as she made her way across Greece, bent on destroying the entire world, somehow the Greek gods had found a way to return her to her prison in Kalosis.
No one knew how they'd done it and not once, in all this time, had any of them breathed a word of it.
But it wasn't long after her new incarceration began that Apollymi had mentally reached out of this prison and summoned Stryker to her so that she could teach him how to take human souls and save his people.
That had been a hell of a day...
And Satara was grateful her brother had lived, because through him, she had a shot of ending her enslavement as a handmaiden to Artemis once and for all. That was if she could find the missing bastard to tell him her news.
Knowing her time was extremely finite, she rushed through the rooms of the palace, looking for him.
Oddly enough, she found him where she least expected... his bedroom.
And he wasn't alone. There were half a dozen Daimons, male and female, sprawled all over him and his bed. That wasn't counting the two who were making out on the floor in front of her.
She didn't know what stunned her most, the fact that it was an orgy or the fact that Stryker was actually having sex with someone. Given his coldness, she honestly hadn't thought he'd bother.
Then again, he didn't seem to be particularly involved with the two women and one man who were trying to please him. Rather, he looked bored and preoccupied.
"Excuse me," Satara called. All of them froze at the sound of her voice. "I really hate to interrupt this, but I have a situation I think Stryker will be very interested in and I don't have time to wait until you're through."
Stryker pushed the woman on top of him off and sat up. "Leave us."
Without a single word, they quickly gathered their clothes and walked past Satara, out the door.
Stryker was a bit more leisurely as he pulled on a robe but let it hang open as he moved from the bed.
Fine. If his nudity didn't bother him, it certainly didn't bother her.
Facing her, he wiped away the bit of blood at the corner of his mouth with his finger before he licked the digit clean. "Since you interrupted my dinner and I'm still hungry, could you make this quick?"
Satara was amazed by his words. "That was dinner?"
He gave her a bored stare as he closed the distance between them. "Yes. I like to play with my food before I eat it."
That sounded more like the vicious Daimon she knew. But that wasn't what had her here.
"Acheron is free of Olympus and I've been recalled to Artemis's temple. I thought you'd want to know that he's in Seattle with his Dark-Hunters now."
Stryker let out a long, aggravated breath. "I guess it was too much to hope that she'd actually keep him this time." He paused before he looked back at her. "Is that all?"
"No. I was at the Serengeti a few minutes ago and learned something very intriguing."
Susan winced as Ravyn held an ice pack to her eye.
"For a woman who can handle herself so well in a fight, I can't believe you got taken out by a defenseless doorjamb."
She narrowed her eyes on him. "Given the size of my goose egg, I would argue the defenseless part. That doorjamb has a mean left hook. Besides, it's not my fault. I was distracted."
His butt, if the truth were told, but she wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of knowing she'd been so preoccupied by his body that she wasn't paying attention to where she was going. "I don't remember."
He brushed her hair back from her forehead with a gentle touch while he kept the ice over her brow. "You were amazing tonight by the way. "
"Thanks, but not half as much as you guys were." Her heart clenched as she inadvertently thought about Belle and right behind that thought was another, even more disturbing one. It was an image of Ravyn down on the ground... being executed in the same way.
Looking up at him now, she couldn't get that out of her mind. Belle's death had been way too easy to accomplish. To be so powerful, the Dark-Hunters had an awful Achilles' heel.
Then again, most beings, supernatural or otherwise, usually died once their head was removed. There really was no way back from that unless you were a character on a soap opera or in a horror movie.
Suddenly, someone screamed from upstairs, causing Susan to jump and scrape her brow against the ice bag. It was followed by running feet and something very heavy hitting the floor.
"What now?" she breathed, tired of the constant fighting for their lives. Honestly, she just wanted a few minutes of quiet.
"I don't know." Ravyn handed her the ice bag before he went to check it out.
Susan left the bag on the mattress before she followed after him. They rushed up the stairs to the hallway.
All of Ravyn's family was there, along with a couple of other Weres and the doctor she'd seen on their arrival.
But it was Jack who held her attention. He sat on the floor, crying with his arms wrapped around his legs, rocking.
"What happened?" Ravyn asked Terra, who stood off to the side, looking perplexed by Jack.
Terra's eyes were deeply sad. "Patricia died a few minutes ago from her injuries."
Susan felt ill from the news.
"It's not right," Jack wailed as he pulled at his hair. "She never hurt anyone. Why is she dead? Why!"
The doctor patted him on the back as she looked up at Dorian. "I think you guys should go back to work. I'll take care of Jack."
They nodded before they complied.
Ravyn's father took a moment to narrow his eyes on his son and curl his lip in disgust. "Why are you still here?"
Ravyn didn't give him the satisfaction of showing any emotion whatsoever. "Love you, too, Dad."
His face was so contorted by rage that Susan expected him to lash out at Ravyn. And he probably would have had Dorian not pulled him away.
Ravyn's face didn't betray anything, but his eyes spoke a tome about how much his father's rejection hurt him. And in that moment, she hated his father for the pain he caused Ravyn.
Her heart breaking for both Jack and Ravyn, Susan started to return downstairs until she realized that Ravyn wasn't behind her. Instead, he went to Jack and knelt on the floor beside him. The doctor looked a bit surprised but didn't say anything while Jack sobbed.
"Why couldn't she have at least woken up for a few minutes?" Jack whispered. "I just wanted to talk to her one last time. I wanted her to know how much I loved her. How much she meant to me."
Ravyn reached out and touched his forearm to comfort him. "She knew, Jack."
He shook his head. "No, she didn't. I was always complaining whenever she asked me to do something. Why did I complain all the time? I should have done something, just once, without lipping off. Oh God, I just want her back. I'm so sorry, Mom."
Susan's eyes teared as she listened to him and remembered her own pain when she'd learned about her mother's death. It'd been the worst moment of her life.
It still was. And like Jack, all she could think about was how many things she wanted to change. How many things she wanted to say, that she couldn't.
She watched silently while Ravyn sat on the floor beside him. The two of them sat shoulder to shoulder with their backs to the wall as the doctor pulled back to give them space.
Ravyn let out a tired sigh. "You know what I miss most about my mother? She used to sing to herself every night while she knitted by the firelight."
Jack looked up with a frown. "Your mother didn't knit. She was a Were."
"Yeah, I know. It was such a strange hobby for her to have, but she loved it. She'd make all kinds of things, but her gloves were my favorite. I could always feel her when I wore them. Smell her scent. For some reason, I could never keep up with them. So she'd make a new one to match the one I still had, kiss it, put it on my hand, and then say to me, 'My poor little kitten had better keep up with his mittens or I'll skin 'im.' I'd laugh, go off with them, and lose one again every time."
"My mom liked to read," Jack whispered. "When I was a kid, I subscribed her to one of those book clubs where you get a bunch for free, not realizing that you had to pay postage for them. She acted so excited, but I felt like a complete asshole when my sister Brynna told me Mom had to pay for the books. So I hired myself out to Erika to carry her books home from school for two months to pay Mom back."
Ravyn looked aghast at that. "And you survived?"
Jack actually managed a tentative smile. "Well, let's just say I earned every cent and then some." Sniffing, he looked up at Ravyn. "Does the pain ever stop?"
There was nothing but raw agony in that dark gaze as Ravyn stared at the floor in front of them. "Not really. There will always be a part of you that misses her. You'll see something that reminds you of her and want to tell her about it, only to realize she's not there anymore. Then you'll feel her loss all over again."
Another tear fell down Jack's cheek. "You're not helping me, Ravyn."
"I know, buddy." He turned to lock sincere gazes with Jack. "But you will eventually make peace with yourself, and that's the most important thing. Eventually, you'll even be able to smile again when you think about her. "
Jack wiped the tears from his cheeks and drew a ragged breath. "Thanks for talking to me."
"No problem. There's nothing worse than being left alone to grieve. You want to talk, you know where I am."
Ravyn nodded. "You going to be okay?"
"Yeah. Tad and Jessica are handling everything. I just have to pick up Brynna when she gets here in a few hours."
Ravyn patted him on the arm before he got up and realized that she was still there, watching them. He actually blushed before he walked past her, back down the stairs.
Susan stood there for a moment, completely overwhelmed by the tenderness she felt for him, and as it surged, she realized how easy it would be to fall in love with Ravyn. In fact, a tiny part of her was already there. Most men who'd been so callously thrown aside wouldn't have any compassion at all for someone else.
And then she realized something else. That was why he tolerated Erika. She might make him crazy, but in his mind she was the closest thing he had to a family.
It was probably why he even tolerated her, a stranger, being with him. He knew how much she was hurting from the loss of Angie and Jimmy.
Feeling strangely weepy, she followed him down to the basement, where he was going over Jimmy's notes. He had his back to her while he stood with the light falling down on his hair. Susan closed her eyes and inhaled the warm scent of him. Needing to be near him, she crossed the room and pressed herself against his back, then wrapped her arms around his waist.
Ravyn actually trembled at the unbounded wave of tenderness that swept through him over her actions. His emotions were roiling through him. Anger and hate over Belle's death. Pain and compassion for Jack. And something he couldn't even begin to fathom for Susan.
He turned in her arms to capture her lips with his. He cupped her face in his hands as he explored every inch of her decadent mouth. She tasted like honey and heaven.
Susan's head swam as she literally ripped the shirt from Ravyn's back. She didn't know why, but she had to have him. Right now. Right here.
He looked down with the cutest stunned expression as she pulled his shirt down his arms. He gave her a wicked grin. "If you're in that big of a hurry..."
Their clothes vanished.
Susan laughed even as the cold air chilled her. At least until he pulled her to him and pinned her up against the wall. Giddy with the sensation of his hard body against hers, she wrapped her legs around his waist and buried her lips against his neck to suckle his prickly skin even while her sinuses clogged.
Ravyn pressed his cheek against hers while he savored how soft and warm her body was. He loved the feeling of her legs around him, of her tiny hairs teasing his stomach while her breasts were pressed flat against his chest. It was the sweetest sensation he'd ever known.
Unable to stand it, he thrust himself deep into her body. She cried out as she dug her nails into his shoulders. He leaned his head against the wall until she started sneezing. Her body tightened around his, enhancing just how good she felt.
Until she sneezed again.
He groaned as he realized his hair was in her face. "This really sucks." He pulled back to see her twitching her nose. "Are you okay?"
She answered with another sneeze.
Aggravated and really wanting to shave his entire body, he pulled out of her and stepped back to give her room so that she could recover.
Susan felt awful as she sniffed. Not to mention, he reminded her of a little kid who'd had all of his candy stolen. It wrung her heart. Poor Puss in Boots.
But she wasn't going to let something so petty rob them of this moment.
Looking up at him, she pressed the back of her hand to her nose to help open the passageway so that she could breathe better.
Ravyn was just about to summon their clothes back when Susan knelt down in front of him. Before he could move, she cupped him gently in her hand.
A chill went straight up his spine at the sensation of her fingers massaging his sac. "What are doing, Susan? You're allergic."
She looked up at him, licked her lips, and gave him the hottest seductive stare he'd ever seen on a woman's face. "Some things are worth suffering for."
And the next thing he knew, she dipped her head to gently lave the tip of him. His cock jerked in response to her warm, sweet tongue. He growled deep in his throat as she took more of him into her mouth.
His heart pounding, he buried his hand gently in her hair and leaned forward with one arm against the wall so that he could watch her. Every so often, she'd pull back to sneeze, but then she'd return to him.
In all his life, he'd never had anything touch him more. God, how he admired her, even though he knew he had no right being with her. He destroyed everything he touched, and yet he desperately wanted to stay with her. If only he could...
Susan licked her lips before she returned to him again. She loved the way he tasted. But most of all, she loved the gentle expression on his face while he watched. The feel of his hand tenderly caressing her while she pleasured him.
And when he came, she didn't pull away. Instead, she continued until there was nothing left. She pulled back to lean against the wall so that she could look up at him. A slow, loving smile spread across his face as he stared down at her.
"You're the best," he breathed, fingering her lips.
She suckled his thumb. "Not really, but I'm glad you think so."
He helped her to her feet, then turned her so that her back was to his front. He wrapped his arms around her and held her to him. She could feel him nuzzling against the back of her head.
"What's going to happen to us, Ravyn?" she asked quietly.
"I don't know. But right now I'm glad that you're here with me."
Susan ached with the knowledge that they couldn't stay like this. And the worst of it was the fact that she couldn't go back to her old life. She knew things about the world now that would haunt her forever.
But none of them more than the fact that she would have to deal with Ravyn in the future without being a part of his life. Why did she feel this way for a man she knew she couldn't have? It wasn't right for her to crave the one thing she could never claim.
Then she felt it, the soft tickle of his fangs against her neck. She groaned at how good that felt as she arched her back in expectation of what was to come.
Ravyn cupped her breasts in his hands and teased her sensitive nipples with his palm as his breath scalded her skin. Then he lowered one hand to tease her before he slowly slid himself into her one sweet inch at a time until he was buried deep inside her.
She ached with how good he felt thrusting into her. He took her hand into his and led it to his mouth so that he could nibble on her palm.
Susan couldn't explain it, but she felt like she was a part of this man. Like they were connected. It didn't make any sense to her. There was no explanation. She'd never felt like this in all of her life.
She didn't feel alone. Even though tomorrow should scare her, she wasn't afraid. Nothing seemed to matter to her while she was with Ravyn.
Ravyn inhaled the sweet fragrance of her skin. There was nothing on this earth that smelled better than his Susan. Nothing that felt better than her skin gliding against his. Her hand touching his face. Closing his eyes, he savored that precious touch.
He didn't know how they were going to get out of this, but one thing was certain. He wasn't going to let anything happen to her. Ever. He would give her her life back. She deserved at least that.
And then he felt her tighten around him an instant before she cried out in orgasm. He clenched his teeth and held her tight in his arms while he quickened his thrusts until he could join her there.
They were both breathing raggedly as they stood by the door. Ravyn didn't want to move, but unfortunately his body slid from hers and left him feeling strangely vacant. He didn't want to leave her. Not even for a second.
She turned around to smile up at him before she nibbled his bottom lip.
"You still stuffy?" he asked.
"Yes, but you're worth it."
He laughed at that before he kissed her. He'd barely tasted her before he felt an awful stinging pain in his palm.
His heart stopped beating at the sensation he hadn't felt in hundreds of years.
It couldn't be...
Susan hissed, shaking her hand as if to cool it. "What on..." Her voice broke off as she saw on her palm what he knew was on his.
"Ravyn?" she breathed.
His vision darkened as conflicting emotions tore through him. "I can't mate." Not as a Dark-Hunter. It wasn't possible... was it?
What the hell was this?
Confusion furrowed her brow. "But that is what this is, right?"
He nodded, unable to believe his cursed luck. He was dead. How could he mate? It defied logic. He couldn't have children, he couldn't commit.
And after this, he wouldn't even be able to have sex again...
"Damn you, Fates," he hissed. What were they thinking?
Susan clenched her hand to conceal the ornate scrollwork. She didn't know what she'd expected from him, but this anger sure wasn't it. "I didn't know I was so repugnant to you."
The anger melted from his face. "How could you think that? But damn, Susan, do you understand what this means?"
"Yeah. You're screwed."
Ravyn leaned his head back. "I can't believe this."
"Well, look on the bright side, in this day and age if I told people you guys existed, they'd lock me up and laugh about it with you."
"You're not funny."
She reached up to cup his face in her hand. "I know. Look, I'll make this easy on you. You mate with me and then I can just leave and you'll be free to, pardon the pun, cat around all you want."
"It doesn't work like that."
Susan frowned. "What do you mean?"
"So long as you live, I can't have sex with anyone but you. Ever."
"And if we don't mate, you're a eunuch."
A tremor of fear went through her as she considered what he'd just said. So long as she lived...
"You're not going to kill me, are you?"
He looked both offended and baffled by her question. "What? Are you insane? Why would I do that?"
"Let's see, ten seconds after I met you, you ripped out a guy's throat, and now you're telling me that so long as I'm alive you're screwed. Murder seems like the best course of action for you even though I strongly vote against it."
"Don't worry. I can't kill you. I took an oath to protect human life."
She didn't know what offended her most about that. The fact that he considered killing her or the fact that the only thing that kept him from it was an oath. "Well, gee, thanks, hon. I'm so glad I mean so much to you. "
His face lightened up. "I wasn't serious."
He leaned his forehead against hers and let out a frustrated breath. "I can't believe I'm mated to someone who's allergic to me."
"You? I'm the one who should be having a hissy. How do I introduce you to people? Hi, this is my... what? Significant other? Mate? Pet?"
He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. "Why must every relationship I have be so damned impossible?"
Susan pulled back and tilted his head so that he met her eyes. "Hey now, defeatist talk from a catman like you? I'm the one who should be freaking out here. I mean, damn, you could give me fleas or something. "
He laughed. "I'll give you something all right." He popped her playfully on the rump.
"You better stop that. I could lure you out in daylight and then take you to be neutered. "
"You don't need daylight for that. All you have to do is walk out that door and stay gone for three weeks."
Her humor died at his dire words. "I won't do that to you, Ravyn."
"Why not? What does it matter anyway? We can't live together. Acheron will never allow it. "
"He's not stopping Cael."
Ravyn paused as he considered that. She was right. "Have you any idea what living with me would entail?"
She wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something foul. "If you're like most men, it probably means dirty underwear and socks on the floor. Toilet seat left up at night. You eating all my peanut butter and not telling me. But," she said in all seriousness, "you better not expect me to clean out that cat box. Erika needs chores, too."
He was stunned by her. She could always find humor in everything.
"Your life will be in constant danger."
"Excuse me? Do you have amnesia? Did you miss the last four dozen attacks on us? And that's not counting the doorjamb that almost decapitated me."
"Susan, I'm serious."
"So am I. I mean, yes, I would rather have had time to fall in love with you and I'd really like for you to be human. But no one's perfect. Granted most men are dogs and not cats... and I am allergic to you-"
He cut her words off with a kiss. "Look, we don't have to settle this right now. I'm asking you for the rest of your life. Literally. There's no such thing as divorce in our world. We have three weeks to act on this. So I want you to really understand what you're signing on for, okay?"
"Okay, but let's not forget that in three weeks, we could be dead or in jail, which for you would probably mean death anyway."
Susan let him pull her into his arms. She honestly wasn't sure about this, and she was glad he was giving her time to think it over. But she couldn't let him be alone and not have any shot for making a human connection again. That was just wrong and cruel. Especially given how kind he'd been to her through all this.
Still, they had a long way to go and it was getting scarier by the minute. She didn't know what tomorrow would hold. She only hoped that for them, there was a tomorrow, period.
"What do you mean, they got away?"
Trates sighed as he faced the human bastard he'd rather suck dry than deal with. But Stryker wanted this human alliance even if he thought it was completely stupid and beneath them. So here he was, playing nice with the chief of police when what he really wanted to do with Paul Heilig was rip his throat out and drink in his putrid soul.
"We had them trapped in an alley when Acheron showed up and killed every Daimon there. Now we're going to lie low until he leaves."
"Bullshit! You promised me my-"
"Listen to me, human," Trates sneered through his clenched fangs. "You don't want to mess with this Dark-Hunter. He's not like the others."
"They're still bound to the night and when something lives perpetually on the dark side of the moon, all you have to do is drag it into daylight to kill it."
Trates held his hands up. "I'm just here to tell you what Lord Stryker said. You do what you want. It's your funeral." He turned to summon the portal to return to Kalosis.
But as soon as he had his back to Paul, the chief of police ran at him.
Trates hissed as he felt a deep, biting pain in his heart. Gasping, he looked down to see a small sword blade piercing his chest... right through his Daimon's mark.
Paul jerked his sword out an instant before the Daimon exploded into gold powder. "You're wrong about that, Trates. It's your funeral. "
And soon there would be a lot more of them. If Stryker was too big a coward to do what was necessary to protect his children, then that was his loss. But Paul wasn't the same.
He'd already lost his wife to one Dark-Hunter, he wasn't about to lose his sons. No matter what it took, he was going to keep them safe.
Ravyn Kontis still lived and as long as he did, Paul could hear his wife's voice calling out to him to avenge her. And as long as a single Dark-Hunter roamed the streets of his city, his sons were at risk.
That he couldn't allow.
Pulling his cell phone off his belt, he called his deputy chief. "Hey, I need a search warrant."
"The Happy Hunting Ground." If Trates wouldn't tell him where Ravyn was hiding, he knew one person who would.