Ravyn leaned back against the wall with his eyes closed. His head was throbbing from exhaustion and tension. How could someone trap a public official in the police department without getting burned?
Even if they did catch him, could they clear Susan's name? He wasn't particularly worried about himself. He could be transferred to a remote part of the world for a few decades and then moved back here. But her...
He smelled her the instant she returned to the room. He kept his eyes closed as he savored the scent. There was nothing more soothing to him. Nothing more gentle. Her feet made only the slightest of sounds as she crossed the room and then knelt by his side.
She brushed the hair back from his forehead, firing his body with her careful touch. And then she pressed her lips against his. Ravyn hissed at the taste of her as he returned her kiss.
But when she reached for his fly, he caught her hand in his and moved it away.
He opened his eyes to find her frowning at him. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No, love. But we can't have sex until you're sure you want to mate with me. That's how we seal the deal. One tiny penetration, whether intended or not, and you're mine. Forever."
She nipped his mouth with her teeth. "Would that be so bad?"
He teased her lips with his tongue. "No. Not at all. But I already told you that I want you to take a few days to really consider this. Once we're mated there's no way back." Not to mention the fact that as a Dark-Hunter he wasn't supposed to mate at all.
"Okay." She pulled back. "So what's our game plan?"
"That's what I've been trying to think of. I mean, if we're right, and I'm sure we are, we have a motive and a name. It explains why the police are so gung ho to hang us and how they're getting away with all this."
"And if you're right and his sons are both Daimons, he doesn't want them to die like his wife, which explains why he wants to wipe out the Dark-Hunters in Seattle."
He nodded, then had a bad thought go through him. He pushed himself away from the wall. "We have to get Erika out of here."
"We need Erika gone. First thing. I don't want them to use her as a hostage."
"Wouldn't all Squires be in danger?"
He shook his head. "Think about it, Susan. I killed his wife."
"He wants your blood more than the others."
"Yeah, and that is how we're going to get him."
Stryker walked into his study on Kalosis to find the clock that marked human hours on his mantel. It would soon be dawn and Trates hadn't returned...
What could be keeping him?
It wasn't like his second in command to stay gone so long. Feeling stupid for even caring, Stryker picked up the sfora from his desk and cradled the small clear crystal orb in his hand. The Atlantean word for "eye," the sfora was a way for those in Kalosis to keep tabs on the humans or anyone else on earth or here.
"Where are you, Trates?" he mumbled under his breath as he searched for him.
He found nothing.
Stryker frowned. "Show me Trates," he commanded the magical orb.
There was nothing but the red and gold swirling mist.
He gripped the ball tight in his hand as he conjured an image of the Daimon he sought in his mind. "Show me what has happened to him."
He relaxed his grip enough so that he could see the mist that was clearing into images of Trates and Paul. At first they seemed to be talking... until Paul staked him in the back.
For a full minute, Stryker couldn't breathe as disbelief soaked him. Finally the numbness that incapacitated him dissolved into rage. Growling deep in his throat, he threw the orb against the wall and it splintered into a thousand shards.
Trates was dead.
Unimagined pain tore through him and he didn't even know why. Sure Trates had been with him for thousands of years and had served him well, but he was a servant to Stryker. Nothing more.
Yet the grief he felt told him the truth. He had cared for the man. Through it all, Trates had been a good friend to him, and now he was gone.
Slain by a human hand.
If there was anything Stryker hated more than a Dark-Hunter, it was a human being. He could at least respect Dark-Hunters as worthy adversaries.
They were cattle to be slain and eaten. And now one of the cows had dared to attack them. Fine, if that was the way Paul wanted to play it, then the rules were changed. The truce was over.
His anger raw, he left his study and headed for the hall, where he summoned his soldiers to him. Within seconds the entire room was filled with Spathis.
He glanced to where his elite Illuminati warriors stood on the left of his throne as he ascended the dais to stand before his regal seat. Because of their skills and ruthlessness, the members of his Illuminati had risen through the ranks of the others to be bodyguards to the Destroyer. Or, more to the point, to be the personal entourage and Valkyries of Stryker.
"Davyn," he said to the male who stood in their center. Davyn had once been a close friend to his son, Urian, before Urian had betrayed him and sided with Acheron and his bastard Hunters.
Like Urian, the Daimon had long white-blond hair that he kept tied at his neck with a black cord. Stepping forward, Davyn placed his right fist to his left shoulder and bowed slightly. "My lord?"
"You are my new second in command."
Straightening his spine, Davyn looked about nervously. "My lord?"
"You heard correctly. All of you have heard it. Davyn is to be my new right hand and you will all treat him accordingly. "
Davyn bowed his head with a jerk. "Thank you, my lord. But may I inquire as to what has happened to Trates?"
Stryker clenched his teeth as his virulent emotions threatened to overtake him. But he wouldn't show weakness to his people. They relied on him to be strong and he would be rock solid for them. "Our brother has fallen to a human hand."
Curses and whispers of shock filled the room as the news went over everyone like a pall.
"The experiment with humans is off. If we're going to die, then we'll die as soldiers fighting Artemis's army, face-to-face with our worthy enemies. We will not die by being stabbed in the back by cattle. As soon as Acheron is gone from Seattle, it's feeding time for the zoo, and we're starting with Paul Heilig and his sons."
"But, my lord," Arista said from her place with the Illuminati, "his sons are one of us."
"Not anymore they're not. I'm calling for vengeance on the human and his spawn. I want his head and the lives of his sons."
He beat his right hand against his breast before holding it up in salute to Trates, who'd died carrying out his orders.
His army followed suit.
"Sleep well," he told them. "And be prepared to attack."
Susan was tired and more than ready for bed as she left their small room to head across the hall to the bathroom. All she wanted was a cold cloth for her face to help her wake up so that they could formulate a plan of attack against Chief Heilig.
So used to it just being the two of them in the basement, she didn't even think to knock before she pushed open the door.
She froze instantly. Acheron was standing with his back to the mirror as he tried to rub ointment down his spine. But it was the sight of his tawny, muscled back that held her enthralled. Never in her life had she seen anything like it. It was raw and bleeding, with vicious welts covering every inch of it. They disappeared below his belt and even curved around his biceps, except they'd somehow missed hitting his small dragon tattoo.
"I'm sorry," she said quickly. She knew she should leave him to his privacy and yet she couldn't make her feet obey her. All she could do was stare at his ravaged skin and try to imagine how badly it must hurt him.
Before she could lose her courage, she stepped forward and held her hand out for the tube.
He moved so quickly that she barely saw him before he had grabbed his shirt from the towel rack.
"Ash," she said, reaching for the tube again. "I can help you smear that. "
His face blank, he shrugged his shirt on. "It's okay. I don't like for people to touch me."
She was dying to know what'd happened to him, but due to his demeanor and the aura of "don't mess with me or I'll kill you" that he wore wrapped around him like a tight glove, she refrained from asking.
There was something extremely powerful and at the same time highly vulnerable about him. More than that, he oozed an unnatural wave of primal sex. He was completely compelling, captivating. And a part of her actually wanted to touch him.
He sidestepped her as if he knew her thoughts and was made extremely uncomfortable by them.
As he started for the door, she stopped him. "Ash?"
"How do you punish a Dark-Hunter who breaks the rules?"
He scowled at her. "Depends on the rule and the circumstances. You have something in mind?"
She clenched her hand into a fist, afraid that he might see her palm and the telltale marking there. "No. I was just wondering."
"I see." Once again, he started to leave, then paused in the doorway. His eerie silver eyes burned into her. "But you know something, Susan... I personally don't believe anyone should be punished because they want to share their life with someone." His gaze turned empty as if he were thinking of something from his past. "No one should have to pay for love in flesh or in blood."
And with that, he left her alone to think about what he'd said.
Ravyn was right. Acheron was one spooky man. And it made her wonder what price he must have paid to hold that view.
As she reached for a washcloth, she heard Ash knocking on the door across the hall.
"Hey," he said to Ravyn in that strange lilting accent of his. "I just wanted to let you know that I have to leave now."
"You just got here."
"I know. I told you that my time here was extremely limited. But don't worry. I'll be back in a few days."
"Don't worry?" Ravyn asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Why would I worry? We only have humans and Daimons dropping out of the sky to murder us. Nothing to fret about at all."
"Yeah, well, it could be worse."
"You could be mated to a human."
Susan's stomach hit the floor at those words. Her eyes wide, she moved to the door and cracked it open to see Acheron heading down the hall while Ravyn watched after him with his face stern.
She quickly closed the distance between them and waited until Ash had vanished out of sight. "Do you think he knows?" she whispered.
"I have no idea."
Her heart hammering, she looked back down the hallway to make sure Ash was really gone. He was, but those words lingered and left them both unsettled.
So much so in fact that when Ravyn's phone rang two seconds later, it actually made her jump.
Ravyn scowled as he saw Cael's number. Given their earlier words, he was rather amazed to have his friend calling him so soon again.
He flipped the phone open. "Yeah?"
"Hey, Rave. We have a serious problem."
"I'm aware of that."
"No, leopard, you're not. I was just paid a visit by the chief of police, who dropped by with two Daimons."
Ravyn went cold with dread as he looked at Susan, who was watching him with a curious frown. "What?"
"You heard me. They busted up the place pretty badly and killed Amaranda's sister."
Ravyn winced at the news. Granted protecting Apollites had never been a mandate of his, he still hated to see anyone killed so needlessly. "What about you? You okay?"
"I'm hurt, but I'll live."
"And your wife?"
Cael paused. When he spoke, his voice actually broke. "Thanks, Rave."
"For the kindness of asking about her without having venom in your voice."
Ravyn glanced over to Susan. He was actually beginning to understand Cael's stupidity. "Yeah, well, I might not like it. But we've been friends for a long time. "
"I know, which is why I'm calling. While they were here I learned some interesting things."
"Like I killed the chief's wife who was also a Daimon?"
"Yeah," Cael said, his voice full of disbelief. "How did you know that?"
"Well, it gets better. He wants you like there's no tomorrow. "
Ravyn had pretty much figured that one out, too. "Did you tell him where I was?"
"You know me better than that. I told him you were at the Last Supper Club. I assume he's there now, looking for you. The man won't stop until you're dead. "
Ravyn scoffed at his dire tone. "I don't think he's going to stop until we're all dead, Celt."
Ravyn pulled the phone away and checked the ID again as Nick's words and their earlier encounter with the Daimons went through his mind. "Just out of curiosity. How do I know this is you?"
Cael paused before he answered. "Because I know you have three knitted gloves. It was the last pair your mother made for you, and on the night you took your vengeance, you found the third glove that she'd made to match the other two because she knew you were going to lose the left one soon. For some reason, the left one was always the one that got misplaced."
It was Cael. He was the only person who knew Ravyn still had them. "Hey, Celt?"
"Thanks for not ratting me out to the chief. I owe you."
"Don't worry. Just make sure you kill the bastard before he kills anyone else." And with that he hung up.
Amaranda stared at her husband as fear held her close. "Are you sure that was the right thing to do?"
"Yeah. Ravyn needs to know who's gunning for him. And we need the chief dead before he realizes we're alive and tells someone that he killed us both."
Amaranda walked herself into his arms, where he felt her trembling against him. "I'm so sorry I did this to you, baby. I just didn't want you to suffer. "
"I know." He leaned his head down so that he could rest his cheek against her hair and let her touch soothe the fear he felt, too, about a future that was even more uncertain than the one they'd had before.
All these centuries, he'd been the hunter. Now he was going to be the hunted.
Ravyn returned his phone to his pocket.
"That was Cael confirming our suspicion. It's the chief and he busted Cael and his wife up, trying to find me."
"What do we do?" she asked, her voice thick with worry.
Ravyn rubbed her arm comfortingly. "We give him what he wants."
She looked aghast as she shrugged his touch off in a huff. "I don't think I'm following this whole line of suicide that you're planning. What are you talking about?"
"I'm going to face him once and for all and end this."
"Whoa," she said, matching his tone with an equal amount of determination. "Wait a minute, Clint Eastwood. This isn't some spaghetti western with bad music playing in the background while you face off at high noon. We're talking about the chief of police. A man who can arrest you. "
Susan ground her teeth. By his tone of voice she could tell he wasn't listening to her.
So she whistled.
He cringed as if that caused him excruciating pain. "Don't do that. Being both a leopard and a Dark-Hunter, I have doubly sensitive ears."
"Good. I now know how to get your attention. And back to what I was saying. What are you planning to do?"
"Go to his house."
"Oh, yeah. That's a good plan. Want to fight him with a marshmallow gun while we're at it?"
He gave her a pointed glare. "Lay off the sarcasm long enough to think about it. If I don't go to him, he's not going to rest until he finds me. I don't want any more innocent people getting killed while I hide from him. I'm a trained fighter, Susan, with centuries of battle experience backing me. I somehow doubt I have much to worry about."
Uh-huh. Men and their egos . . . "And who was sitting in the cat cage when I found him?"
His features tightened in anger. "They caught me by surprise. This time the surprise will be on him. "
She let out an irritated breath. He was so stubborn. She wanted to choke him, but she could tell that she was fighting a losing battle. He was going to do this no matter what she argued. "Fine then. I'm going with you."
"No, you're not."
"Why not?" she asked, feigning innocence. "Because maybe it's a stupid idea?"
"Don't Susan me, you're not my father."
"No. I'm your mate."
She cocked her head with attitude. "Not till we do the deed, bud. And we haven't done the deed and if you keep this up, we're not going to do the deed, either, Mr. Limp. So if you go, I go. After all, between the two of us, I'm the one with the biggest ax to grind... upside that man's head. He took from me all I had, and I'll be damned if I don't pay him back."
Ravyn wanted to argue, but he knew the determined gleam in those blue eyes. Besides, she was a damn good fighter. It would be nice to have her by his side even if the thought of losing her was crippling to him. "All right, but I want you to promise me that if something goes wrong, you'll get out of there immediately and come back here for protection."
"You got it. 'Super Susan Becomes Terrified Rabbit. Runs to Ground.' "
"What is that?"
"A cheesy headline. I'm finally getting good at them, too. Leo's going to be impressed."
Ravyn shook his head at her. They didn't need a cheesy headline. What they needed now was one hell of a miracle.
And a cavalry.
Unfortunately, said cavalry had walked up the stairs and most likely out of the city.
But at any rate, one way or another, this was about to be over.
At least for him.
As they made their way upstairs, Ravyn paused as he came face-to-face with his father and Phoenix.
"Leaving?" his father sneered. "Dare I hope this is permanent?"
He didn't respond as he pushed his way past them.
Susan paused as she watched Ravyn leave the room. Unable to stand it, she turned on his father. "You are such a rank bastard."
"How dare you!"
"Oh go ahead," she goaded. "Hit me, kill me. I really don't care. But how can you stand there so sanctimonious and judge him when he didn't do anything except try to find someone to love? How could you hate your own son for that?"
She turned her gaze to Phoenix. "Your own brother? My God, you killed him. And instead of hating you people for what you've done to him, he's forgiven you. Why can't you do the same? Don't you think he hurt too? That every morning when he goes to sleep, he sees that night just as the rest of you do? I've listened to him talk about his mother and his sister, I've held him when the nightmares racked him, and I know how much he misses them. I've lost everyone who's ever meant anything to me, and I don't know how Ravyn has stood it all this time alone. He's going out right now probably to die. I'm sure that means nothing to you, but it means something to me. You should be proud of the son you fathered. He's more of a man than anyone I've ever known."
"What do you know, human?"
Susan shook her head as tears filled her eyes. She couldn't stand the thought of Ravyn getting hurt. Of what might very well befall him in the next few hours. She'd already lost too much in this battle. "I don't know anything, really. I just know that if I had a son... a brother, I would fight heaven and hell to keep him safe, and I would be damned grateful that, having lost so many in my family, I still had one more. Be damned if I'd lose him, too." Curling her lip at them, she followed after Ravyn.
Gareth narrowed his eyes as he watched the human leave. "Stupid, human."
"No, Dad," Dorian said behind him as he stepped out of the shadows. "I think she's smarter than all of us put together."