Susan took a deep breath as they headed for the chief's house on 18th Avenue South, not far from South Lucille Street. This time of night, it was totally peaceful as the moonlight dusted each house with becoming shadows.
"It's hard to believe how tragic the world can be when it's like this, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Ravyn agreed. "It's why I don't mind being a Dark-Hunter. There's something about the serenity of night that soothes the soul."
Susan gave him an amused smile. "I thought you didn't have a soul."
He cut his eyes toward her as he drove. "I was speaking metaphorically."
"Ooo, there's a big word for you."
By his face she could tell he enjoyed her teasing. "Be nice to me, or I might leave you here alone."
"Considering how close we are to dawn, I don't think you should be antagonizing me, do you?"
He gave her a feigned sullen look that was positively gorgeous. She really liked the fact that he could take a joke and see her humor for what it was. Too many people mistook her sarcasm for scorn. But it was her defense mechanism. Ravyn not only understood that, he seemed to actually enjoy it.
Before she could say anything more, he stopped the car a block over from the house and turned the engine off. "I don't think we should give them any warning."
Susan couldn't agree more. Personally, she still didn't even think they should be there. She glanced around the silent, dark upper-middle-class neighborhood. There wasn't a single light on in any house. No movement. Nothing to say that she and Ravyn weren't the last two people alive on earth.
It was a bit eerie.
"You think they're home yet?" she asked.
"I don't know. It'll be dawn shortly. I'm sure the chief has to work, so if they're not, I'm sure they're not far away."
She nodded, then frowned as a thought crossed her mind. "This may be a stupid question, but could you humor me?"
"What exactly are we going to do here?"
He looked at her with an arched brow. "The plan is to fight it out with the bad guys and win the day."
She nodded at his dry tone. "Good concept, any idea on how to execute it?"
"Not a one." He got out of the car and slammed the door shut.
Gaping, Susan jumped out and caught up to him on the side of the road. "Wait a minute. You're joking with me, right?"
"No," he said in all sincerity. "I'm going to break into his house and then confront him."
She let out several scoffing staccato laughs. "Can I tell you just how stupid I think this plan of yours is?"
"You just did." He placed the keys in her palm that held the mating mark and folded her fingers over them. "Feel free to head back at any time. In fact, I really wish you would." He started away from her.
She pulled him to a stop as fear tore through her. "You're going to get yourself killed, Ravyn. Do you understand that?"
A tic worked in his jaw. "Fighting Daimons is what I do, Susan. It's why I was created." He glanced up at the sky that was growing lighter by the minute. "Besides, it's a moot point. I don't have time to make it back to the Serengeti before dawn. This ends today. On my terms. Not his."
"At dawn. How cliche."
He shook his head at her as he turned and walked toward the chief's house.
Susan stood there in indecision. Every part of her screamed at her to get into Phoenix's car and just leave. To keep driving until all of this was behind her.
But as she glanced to Ravyn, who was making his way steadily toward the chief's house, she knew she couldn't do that. He'd been alone for all of these centuries. If he really was heading for his doom, then she would go with him.
You're an idiot.
Yes, she was. And maybe she would die this morning, too. But at least she would have confronted the man who was responsible for Angie's and Jimmy's deaths. She owed them that much. And she wanted to look the man responsible for their fate in the eye and personally tell him what a scabbing bastard he was.
Tucking the keys in her pocket, she ran to catch up to Ravyn.
Ravyn wasn't expecting Susan to join him, but when he felt her tugging at his hand he couldn't keep from smiling inside. He laced his fingers with hers before he took her around back and crept along the chief's house.
"You think he has an alarm system?" Susan whispered as Ravyn located a window low enough to crawl through.
"Then how do we get inside?"
He covered the windowpane with his hand and closed his eyes to sense if there was anything electrical around the window. There was. He put both hands on the glass and used his powers to interfere with the electrical connector. Then he unlocked the window and pushed it open.
There was silence as the alarm continued to think nothing had been breached.
Susan shook her head at him. "How do you do that?"
"He's a magic man, Mama," he said, quoting the song from Heart, with a grin before he lifted her up to crawl inside.
As soon as she was safe, he joined her, then slid the window closed and locked it. He took a minute to rearrange the curtains over it.
The house was completely dark and silent. There were heavy brown and gold jacquard drapes pulled closed over every window so that not a single ray of sunshine could enter. Definitely the residence of nocturnal beasts who had one serious allergy to daylight.
The house was decorated with a hodgepodge of contemporary and antique furniture. But even so, it looked like a typical home. There were photographs on the wall of Paul, his sons, and his wife.
Susan stared at the pictures, especially the ones of the boys. They appeared so normal. Until you realized their clothing was identical to what she'd worn as a child. His sons weren't in their twenties as they appeared. They had to be in their mid- to late thirties.
Suddenly, she and Ravyn heard the growling sound of a garage door opening. Someone was coming home.
"What do we do?" she breathed nervously, looking around for a place to hide.
"We wait," Ravyn said aloud.
Nonchalant to the danger they were facing, he went to lean against the arm of the brown leather sofa with his arms crossed over his chest. He crossed his ankles and for all intents and purposes looked like someone waiting on an errant child to come home after being out all night.
She couldn't fathom his cool exterior. And she really didn't like his strategy. It was a good thing the man didn't work for the Pentagon. The "I'll figure it out as I go" just didn't jibe with her.
"Don't worry, Ben," a man said, closing a door that she was sure led to the garage. "We'll get him."
"I can't believe that bastard lied." The voices were getting closer and closer.
Susan stepped back into the shadows and whispered a small prayer that this would go the right way.
"Like I said, don't worry about it. He paid for his lie. We'll get Kontis and the others. Mark my words."
"They're marked and noted," Ravyn said in a snide tone as the two men joined them in the room.
Paul and Ben pulled up short.
"What are you doing here?" Paul demanded, his face alternating from pale to red.
Ravyn didn't move or even blink. "Heard you were looking for me. I figured I'd save you the trouble of having to search."
Paul seemed to get control of himself as he adopted Ravyn's calm tone and stance. "Hmm... interesting. So what do we do now? Slug it out?"
Ravyn shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"
"I don't like that plan," Paul said, exchanging a smug look with his son.
Well, at least she and Paul saw eye to eye on something. She didn't like the idea, either.
"No?" Ravyn asked as he put his hand to his chin introspectively. "Then what do you propose?"
"That we kill you."
That plan she liked even less.
Luckily, Ravyn agreed. "I have to say that I don't like your plan. Too much..."-he hesitated as if searching for the right word while he waved his hand around his face in a circular motion-"dying on my part, I think." His face turned deadly earnest as he crossed his arms again. "I'd much rather kill you."
The threat didn't appear to concern Paul at all. "You can't do that."
He took a step toward them. "If I die, the two of you will never be absolved of the murders. You'll be hunted by the police forever."
Ravyn laughed. "Forever. There's a concept you can't even begin to fathom." He sobered. "Trust me, human. That takes on a whole new meaning in my world. But that's beside the point. I think you seriously overestimate your people and their attention spans. More than that, you definitely overestimate my giving a shit about them. I'm a Were-Hunter, moron. I've spent six hundred years being hunted by things a lot scarier and smarter than you."
"I think you're wrong. I think you seriously underestimate my kind."
Ravyn paused as he felt something odd run down his spine. It was like there were multiple Daimons in the house, but he knew better than that. He hadn't felt any when they'd first entered and Ben was in front of him...
He turned to see Susan in the arms of another Daimon. Dammit! How had he gotten behind him?
But then he knew. He could sense a Daimon's presence, but he couldn't really pinpoint it. They must have opened a bolt-hole somewhere in the house.
Now there was no telling how many of them might be here.
Paul laughed smugly. "Meet my brother-in-law. He sometimes travels with my sons to keep them out of harm's way. "
Ravyn glared at the Daimon but knew if he moved to take Susan away from him, the Daimon could rip her throat out. "Let her go."
Smirking, the Daimon shook his head.
"Why should we?" Paul asked, drawing Ravyn's attention back to the chief. "We're holding all the cards now."
Ravyn locked gazes with Susan, whose face was stricken by her panic, and he hated that she was endangered.
She tried to flip the Daimon over her body or break his hold, but she couldn't. He held her so tightly that the only way to get her free would be to kill him and since she was covering the Daimon's heart...
They were screwed.
Smiling, Paul made his way over to the curtains and pulled one panel back ever so slightly. "Oh look. Daybreak. What great timing." He turned to level a sinister smirk at Ravyn. "Why don't you come see this for yourself, Dark-Hunter?"
"You know I can't."
"True. But I really think you're going to."
"Fine then." He looked past Ravyn to the Daimon. "Terrence? Kill the bitch and take her soul."
"No!" Ravyn shouted. "Don't you dare touch her."
"If you don't like this scenario, how about this one? You die painfully so that I can enjoy your suffering. I let Susan go in exchange for her writing a piece about how you killed all the students that my wife and sons have fed on. You're dead, my wife is avenged, my sons are protected, and Susan lives, as long as she swears to forget all about me and everything she's seen. "
Ravyn snorted at the very idea. "That would require me to trust you. I have no guarantee that if I die, she lives."
"You have no choice but to trust me, Dark-Hunter."
Ravyn cursed, hating the fact that Paul was right. "And how exactly would this work?"
"Simple. Both of you go to the window. She opens it up, you fry, and then she can crawl through it and leave. Obviously neither Terrance nor Ben can follow after her. "
Ravyn turned it over in his mind, then shook his head. "Empty your gun so I know you won't shoot her in the back as she runs across the lawn. You're the chief of police. It's not like anyone would question it. "
By his face it was obvious Paul didn't like the idea, but agreed.
"You can't do this," Susan said, her tone a mix of anger and fear. "I won't help you to die."
"Yes, you will, Susan," Ravyn said calmly. "Law of the jungle. You do what you have to to survive. And your survival hinges on my death. "
"You're not trying to survive. Shouldn't you be fighting this?"
"No. I'm allowing my mate to survive. It's our way."
Susan clenched her teeth as pain and sorrow tore her apart. It wasn't her way. She didn't want to have to kill him in order to live. That wasn't right.
Ravyn looked at the chief. "Give her your bullets."
No! her mind cried as she tried to fight Terrence. Damn the bastard and his Bondo grip. She had to get free of him. She had to. She couldn't let Ravyn die.
Not like this.
Paul pulled the gun out of the holster at the small of his back and unloaded it into his hand. Then he handed the bullets to Susan.
Ravyn narrowed his gaze on Paul. "Fire the gun at the wall so that I know it's empty. "
His features disgusted, Paul did as he said. The gun merely clicked, proving that he was abiding by the agreement. "You satisfied?"
"That your gun is empty, yes. With this solution, not hardly." He turned to look at Susan.
She stopped struggling. Her heart froze at the sad resolve she saw mirrored in his black eyes. The grim determination that marked his handsome features. "Don't do this, Ravyn. We can find another way out."
Ravyn offered her a comforting smile, but what he really wanted to do was touch her one last time. To feel the softness of her skin. "It's okay. I've had a really long life."
Susan felt the tears prick the back of her eyes. She couldn't believe he'd be willing to do this for her. That he'd damn himself to being a Shade simply to save her life.
And in that moment, she realized that she really did love him.
More than that, she didn't want to live if he died.
The Daimon led her to the window.
"Open the latch, Susan," Paul said snidely. "Then Ravyn can join you at the window to help you out."
She parted the curtains only enough to let her hand reach the latch. But as she did that, a thought struck her. She knew how to get out of this.
How to save Ravyn.
"It's unlocked," she said.
Nodding, Terrence stepped away from the window to a safe corner of the room near Ben.
"Good," Paul said with a laugh. "Now go check out the daylight, Dark-Hunter."
Her heart pounding, Susan felt Ravyn at her back as he approached her. She closed her eyes and savored the strength of him. The heat of his body warmed hers.
And her conviction grew.
"I know I just met you, Susan," Ravyn whispered against her ear. "But I think I love you."
She froze her hand on the latch as a wave of anger went through her. Instead of warming her, those words went over her like ice. Looking at him over her shoulder, she glared at him. "You think? You think you love me? You don't know?'"
His face baffled, he scowled at her. "Why are you so angry? I'm trying to die here... for you. Nobly."
"Then you should have just dropped dead and not opened your mouth to piss me off. You think? Think? What is that? Obviously it's only wishful thinking on your part, because if you had thought for a single second, you'd have known it would upset me. Ugh!" Wanting to really kill him, she grabbed the heavy drape and before anyone realized what she was doing, she jerked with all her strength.
The curtain rod was torn free from the wall. Still angry at the beast behind her, she stepped back so that the curtain would fall over Ravyn to protect him as the room was flooded with daylight.
The two Daimons screamed out in pain as the light struck them and set them both on fire. Susan shielded her face from the horror of their deaths. If only she could protect her nose. The stench of burning flesh was revolting.
And in less than a minute, both of them were dead. Black, smoldering piles of ash on the green Persian rug.
"Ben!" Paul shouted in an agonized cry. "No!" He turned on her with his fury blazing. "You fucking bitch! I'll kill you for this."
He rushed at her, only to have Ravyn, now in leopard form, launch himself at him. The two of them hit the floor hard. Ravyn caught him a vicious swipe on the shoulder.
Rolling over, Paul pushed himself to his feet and held his injured arm to his side, then ran pell-mell to the interior of the house, toward the staircase, with Ravyn bounding up the stairs after him.
Susan followed them, then pulled up short as a hugely tall man stepped out of the shadows at the top of the landing. He was dressed in a pair of jeans with a black turtleneck and motorcycle jacket. Ravyn stopped halfway up the stairs as Paul continued on to the man's side.
"Stryker," he breathed, turning to point down at them. "Kill them!"
Susan's jaw went slack at the mention of the Daimon's name. So this was their infamous leader Nick had mentioned. Tall and lean, with short jet-black hair and wearing a pair of black wraparound sunglasses, he didn't look like the other Daimons, who were all blond.
But even so he did make an awe-inspiring sight. An aura of brutal, cold power bled from him. He had a demeanor that said he relished cruelty and that he was here for blood.
Ravyn flashed to human form and summoned clothes as he faced the Daimon with grim features.
"Why would I kill them?" Stryker asked Paul in a bored tone.
Paul's anger melted into a look of confusion. "He's a Dark-Hunter. Death to all Dark-Hunters... right?" There was no mistaking the fear in his voice now.
Stryker nodded. "That is my motto. But today it seems my agenda is a little different." He grabbed Paul by the throat and slung him against the wall, where he held him so high that the shorter man's feet didn't reach the floor.
Paul grabbed Stryker's hand in both of his as his face turned bright red while he struggled to get free.
Stryker's entire face was one of hell wrath. "You lying bastard. You betrayed my trust and you stabbed me in the back. "
"I did no such thing," Paul choked out in sharp sobs. "I-I-I didn't touch you."
"Yes, you did." Stryker pulled him away from the wall, then slammed him back into it again. "When you stabbed Trates, my right hand, my second in command, you in essence stabbed me. Me. And no one stabs at me. Do you understand, you pathetic fool? If I were to let you live after what you've done, I would become weak, ineffectual in the eyes of my men, and that I cannot allow. "
Ravyn took a step up the stairs.
"Halt!" Stryker snapped at him. "This doesn't concern you, Dark-Hunter. You and your woman are free to go."
Ravyn shook his head. "I can't and you know it. Even if he's a lying sack of shit, he's still human, and I took an oath to save the humans from Daimons."
Stryker let out a tired sigh before his face hardened. "Spathis!"
Before they could move, twenty Daimons flashed into the room. Three were by Susan while the rest were on the stairs between Stryker and Ravyn.
Ravyn ran at them only to have them drag him down the stairs to stand by her side.
She didn't even try to fight, since it was obvious the Spathis were more than able to kick their butts and take their names.
Stryker turned to Paul and opened his mouth to expose his fangs. "Before I kill you, I want you to know that the minute the sun sets tonight, I'm turning my warriors loose on every human who has helped you. Every single one, as punishment for your betrayal. No pathetic human slaughters one of my Daimons. Ever."
Paul's eyes were bulging. "No. How can you do this? We were going to combine our men and rule Seattle. We were allies!"
"Are you serious? After you killed Trates? But now I have an even better ally than you."
Without another word, Stryker removed his glasses and then sank his fangs into Paul's throat.
Revolted by the sight, Susan turned her face away and clenched her eyes shut an instant before she heard Paul's painful scream. It rang out through the house and chilled her all the way to her soul. In spite of everything he'd done, she still felt sorry for him. No one deserved to die like this...
She could even hear his feet kicking the wall as he continued to beg for mercy while Ravyn tried to fight his way past the Daimons to help Paul. But it was useless.
Suddenly there was utter silence.
It echoed through the house and set her nerves on edge. Were they next?
There was a sharp thud on the landing above.
Feeling sick, she looked back to see Paul lying on the floor at Stryker's feet as he wiped his forearm across his face to remove Paul's blood from his lips and chin.
Putting his glasses back on, he stepped nonchalantly over the body and walked leisurely down the stairs until he was in front of Ravyn. Stryker smacked his lips with his face twisted as if the taste didn't agree with him. "What a wuss. His pathetic soul barely qualifies as an hors d'oeuvre."
"You bastard!" Ravyn tried to reach him, but the Daimons wouldn't let him.
Stryker merely laughed. "Yes, and I revel in that title."
"Do we kill him, my lord?" one of the Daimons asked.
Stryker cocked his head as if considering it. "Not today, Davyn. Today, we show a bit of mercy to our worthy opponent. After all, he taught me that you don't trust the human cattle. Only other immortals understand the rules of war."
He broke through the ranks of Daimons to stand before Ravyn. "I have to say you've impressed me, Kontis. You've survived everything I've thrown at you. And the way you handled yourself here... really, I was wondering how you'd get out of this."
He looked at Susan then and his harsh features actually softened. "You remind me of my own wife. She was one hell of a lady, and like you she'd fight with me even while we were battling others."
For some reason she couldn't even begin to understand, she actually felt a pang of compassion for him. It was obvious he'd loved his wife a great deal.
"There's only one thing I have ever respected. Strength." He returned his attention to Ravyn. "We'll fight this battle another night, Cousin. For now... peace."
And with that, the portal opened and Stryker stepped through it. The Daimons released her and Ravyn and quickly followed after him.
Susan stood there, completely stunned by what she'd seen and heard. "This par for the course?"
"No." Ravyn looked every bit as baffled as she felt. "I think we may have witnessed an all-time first for the Daimons."
Susan expelled a long breath. "Damn. It's been one hell of a day and it's not even six thirty yet."
"Tell me about it."
Just grateful that they were both alive, she smiled at him and walked herself into his arms. Closing her eyes, she held him tight... until his earlier words repeated themselves in her head.
"You think you love me?"
"We're not going to go into this again, are we?"
"Yeah, we are. How heartless is that? Here I was thinking I meant something to you because you were willing to die for me and the next thing I know, you tell me that you don't even know whether or not you love me. That you'd rather kill yourself than stay alive and what? Be mated to me? Thanks a lot. You weren't making some declaration of loyalty. You're willing to die for any bimbo you meet. "
He scowled at her. "That's not true. If you were just some bimbo I wouldn't have tried to make it meaningful. "
"But you would have died for her anyway?"
"I didn't say that."
"You implied it!" As she opened her mouth to continue her argument, he captured her lips with his and kissed the daylights out of her.
Susan melted as his tongue teased hers. Her head spun as all her conflicting emotions settled down into just one...
The one that loved this man.
Ravyn licked her lips playfully before he pulled back to press his forehead to hers. "You feeling better yet?"
"I don't know. I think I need another kiss to be sure."
Laughing, he picked her up in his arms and kissed her again.
Yeah, that was doing it. She was definitely feeling better. At least until she realized something.
"How are we getting home?"
"Looks like you'll be driving." He glanced up the stairs to where Paul was. "We need to head out and call the police."
"Yeah, I don't want to be here anymore. I've seen enough death for a while."
He kissed her one last time before he stepped back and turned into a leopard.
Susan paused as she looked down and laughed. So this was her life now...
It was too bizarre even for her. "You know," she said quietly, "I've always wanted to pet a wild cat."
"Babe, you can pet me anytime you want. "
It was so strange to have his voice in her head. "You're not like Ash, where you can read my thoughts or anything, are you?"
Oh thank God. She didn't know why, but the idea of that really screwed with her head. Relieved, she bent down and sank her hand in his soft pelt. And then she sneezed, and sneezed again.
"Remind me. Benadryl. I think we may need to buy some stock in the company." Sniffing, she straightened up and headed for the door only to realize that the sun was still painful to Ravyn even in leopard form.
He actually stepped back with a hiss instead of going through the door.
Susan's heart ached as he pulled her coat off to wrap it around him.
"It won't help."
She gasped at the sound of Dorian or Phoenix's voice. Looking up, she found the twins in the living room, along with their father. Afraid of what they were going to do to Ravyn since he didn't have the protection of sanctuary here, she put herself between them. "What are you doing here?"
Gareth moved forward with that lethal predatorial lope that reminded her so much of Ravyn. Narrowing his gaze, he sniffed the air around her as if he caught a whiff of something he found puzzling.
Ravyn immediately flashed to human form. "Let her go. Your fight is with me, not her. "
Before Ravyn or she could move, Gareth grabbed her hand and turned it over to see the mating mark. His grip bit into her wrist. "Do you love him?"
"That's none of your business."
"Let her go," Ravyn growled.
Gareth didn't. Instead, he turned that cold gaze to Ravyn. "It would be so easy to kill you here and now." And then something odd flashed into his eyes. "In spite of what you think, I loved your mother more than my life. I wanted to bond with her, but she refused. Her worst fear was that we would die and leave all of you orphaned. I think about that at night. How angry she'd be to know what we did to you."
Susan looked to see the anguish in Ravyn's eyes.
Gareth turned his gaze to her. "You were right and I'm glad he has you." He let go of her wrist. "I don't expect you to forgive us. But now you need us to get you home in the daylight. "
Gareth held his hand out to Ravyn.
Ravyn hesitated as all the pain of his past washed over him. And in the end, he was still that little boy who loved his father. That little boy who just wanted to go home again. But the home he'd known had been shattered three hundred years ago. There was no way to go back to the family he'd known then.
He looked at Susan, whose gentle eyes waited expectantly for him to respond to his father. She was his family now, and he knew he would do anything for this woman.
But in order to protect her... to love her, he would have to live.
He wasn't ready to forgive everything, not by a long shot. Still, his father was making an effort, and he wasn't the kind of man to shun an honest offer.
Unsure of his future, Ravyn took his father's hand.
"Phoenix? Bring Susan home."
Susan watched as Ravyn and Gareth vanished. "What's he do-ing?"
"Relax," Dorian said. "No one's going to hurt him."
"Well, I might," Phoenix said in a surly tone. "Where the hell is my car?"
Susan laughed as she pulled the keys out of her pocket and held them up. "A block over."
"Is it damaged?"
Phoenix let out a relieved breath as Dorian laughed.
Dorian took the keys. "I'll drive it home." And then he flashed out of the room.
Phoenix reached for Susan. "Trust me?"
"Not a bit, but I trust that Ravyn will eat your head if you let anything happen to me."
He dipped his gaze down to her marked palm. "You didn't answer my father's question. Do you love him?"
"Why does it matter?"
"Because if you do, bond with him. Take my word for it. The worst hell imaginable is knowing you lost what you held dearest because you were a coward. Don't make my mistake."
And in that moment, she had a newfound respect for Phoenix. Standing on her tiptoes, she kissed his cheek. "Thank you."
He inclined his head before she put her hand in his. In an instant, they were back inside the Serengeti.
The next two weeks went by in a blur as they returned to their lives. With Leo's help, along with the help of the Squires who worked for Internal Affairs in Seattle, they were able to put the blame for all the deaths Susan and Ravyn were accused of where it belonged.
On Paul's shoulders.
She was even allowed to write it up and have her story picked up by the Associated Press. And as soon as her piece on surviving forty-eight hours with an insane serial killer chief hit wide syndication, papers all over the country contacted her about working for them.
And to be honest, she was actually considering it. Having a legitimate job again was all she'd dreamed of.
But in order to do that, she'd have to leave Ravyn...
It was a cool, breezy afternoon when they buried Angie and Jimmy together. Because it was daylight, Ravyn wasn't able to be with her in human form. But he'd insisted that she carry him as a cat so that he could be by her side.
It was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for her. She kept the cat carrier covered with a dark cloth, and during the service she stroked him through the bars.
When it was over and they were back at his house, he'd held her for hours while she cried and remembered all the years she'd had with the two of them.
And with every hour she and Ravyn spent together, she realized that she loved him even more.
She jerked away from her thoughts as she heard Ravyn's voice. Getting up from her chair in front of the computer, she headed toward the hallway, then down toward the balcony so that she could look to the great room below where Ravyn was standing.
"The Post is on the phone. They have to have an answer."
She saw the fear in his eyes. They still hadn't mated officially. Ravyn wanted her to have all the time she needed, but his deadline was looming, and if they didn't mate soon, he would be neutered. "Okay. I'll tell them."
Ravyn swallowed as he watched Susan turn around and head back to his office. He had a sneaking suspicion she was about to take the D.C. job. After all, it was her dream.
But her dream was killing him. He didn't want her to leave. He wanted her to stay.
Be strong. As an animal, he knew that you couldn't put someone in a cage and expect them to live. She had to be free to make her own life... with or without him.
His heart heavy, he went back to his bedroom and picked up the receiver. Part of him wanted to listen to her conversation, but he wouldn't do that to her.
It was up to her to tell him the news.
Sitting down, he picked up the book he'd been reading and tried to focus on it. He couldn't. All he kept doing was thinking of what his life would be like without her in it.
And he knew the answer. He'd been living that way for centuries.
The door opened to his room. He glanced up to see Susan coming in with a glum look on her face.
This was it. She was going to tell him and then pack. Bracing himself, he watched as she moved to the side of the bed and handed him her latest article. No doubt this one would solidify her as a legitimate reporter again.
He forced himself not to betray his hurt as he picked it up to read and his heart slid to his stomach.
So my husband has a litter box. At least he doesn't stray at night...
"What the hell is this?"
"I don't understand."
She laughed. "I have to turn it in to Leo. I just called and he told me that I can have my old job back."
"I thought you hated that job."
"Not anymore. I just realized that I can have a lot more fun working for him than I ever could writing for the Post or Wall Street Journal. Not to mention, I get to cuddle up with the best-looking catman in town."
Ravyn still couldn't believe it. "You're staying?"
"Are you deaf, kitty? Yes. Now are you going to make an honest woman of me, or what?"
Ravyn laughed as he pulled her to him and dissolved their clothes. "Yeah, baby. I intend to make sure that you never stray, either."
Susan shivered as the cool air caressed her skin, followed immediately by the warmth of Ravyn's hand as he glided it down her spine. His hair pulled itself back from his face into a ponytail so that he wouldn't cause her to sneeze too much.
She laughed at his consideration. Pressing herself against him, she pulled his head down so that she could taste his lips. It was still hard for her to believe that after this she would never be alone again.
Ravyn would be here for her.
He was her family. So was Leo, and even Otto and Kyl. They were more like her homicidal cousins, but they were family. It was more than she'd ever hoped for.
No, Ravyn was more than she'd ever hoped for. How could Mr. Wrong, be so right? It didn't make sense and yet he was. She couldn't imagine ever being this comfortable with another man. He fit her perfectly.
The more she learned about him, the more she loved him.
Ravyn's senses whirled as he tasted the sweetness of her mouth. In all these centuries, he'd never thought to have another mate and yet here she was.
Susan. Soft, irritating, beautiful. She was more than he'd ever dreamed of. Pulling back, he lay his cheek against hers and inhaled the floral scent of her hair...
At least until she sneezed.
He smiled before he turned her in his arms.
"What are we doing?" she asked.
"The ritual," he breathed in her ear. He held his marked hand out before her. "Put your marked palm against mine."
Susan did, then he laced his fingers with hers and nuzzled her neck with his whiskered cheek. She loved the sensation of his skin scraping hers. It sent chills all over her.
"Now I need you to guide me into your body."
Susan snorted as she realized that with his arm across her chest while he was behind her, that was easier said than done. "For the record, I'm not Stretch Armstrong. How am I supposed to do that?"
He laughed before he kissed her cheek and made her entire body burn as he cupped her breast with his free hand and teased her nipple with the calluses on his palm.
"I can do it then, but you have to tell me that you accept me as your mate."
"That's why we're naked, right?"
"Susan," he said, his tone gravely serious. "This is a big step to my people. By our laws, I'm not allowed to take a woman as my mate unless she is one hundred percent accepting of me and our ways. I'm not a Katagari, forcing my will on you. I'm an Arcadian and we would never breach the sacredness of this."
She leaned back so that she could meet his midnight gaze. "I've never been more serious about anything in my life, Ravyn. I want you as my mate."
His features softened as he dipped his head down to nip her on the back of her neck. Susan shivered in pleasure an instant before he slid himself deep inside her. Her hand burned as she rose up on her tiptoes, then lowered herself down onto him, taking him in all the way to his hilt.
He kept one hand on her hip while his arm crossed her body, holding her against him. It was the most incredible moment of her life. So this was mating...
She liked it.
Ravyn growled deep in his throat as he thrust against her hips, and she met him stroke for stroke. She was so warm and wet that it almost drove him over the edge, but he wanted to time this carefully. This was the first time they would make love as mates and he wanted them to come together.
She was his. A wave of possessiveness consumed him. So long as they lived, he would never again be able to take another woman. Susan alone would sustain him, and it wasn't just because the Fates decreed it. It was because he loved her. Deeply. With every part of himself.
There had been a time when that kind of commitment would have sent him running for the door, but after all these centuries, he was looking forward to having her in his life.
She wasn't just another lover to come and go. She was a companion. A friend. She alone knew how much he liked to have his ears rubbed. And even though it made her hand itch, she always made sure to rub them at night while they lay in bed. Just as she was doing now.
Her touch sent chills over him, and when they came together, it was the most blissful moment in his entire life.
He quickly released her hand before their union went further. He wasn't ready to bond with her just yet.
Not until she was as committed to him as he was to her. She still had her own life to live and he didn't want to trespass there. Having had his life taken from him by one person's selfishness, he wasn't about to do that to her.
"I love you, Susan," he said, kissing her gently on the cheek.
Susan purred as she continued to rub his ear with her hand. "I love you, too, Ravyn."