Susan was a bit confused by the vastness of the Addams layout. It wouldn't take much to get lost in the ten-thousand-plus-square-foot building that had some secured areas and some that were open to the public.
One of the first things Leo did was take her to an electronic scanner for a hand and retinal imprint that would allow her access to their locked facilities. It would also allow them to find her if she ran, or, her favorite part of all, identify her remains should the Daimons get their hands on her for torture and mayhem. She would also need to get a copy of her dental records for their files... just in case.
Yes, she was really enjoying the prospect of being part of this world. Maybe they could even manage a few ritual slayings just for fun and practice!
But one of the more interesting parts of the building was the very front, which was a small coffee and pastry/deli shop that let out onto Pioneer Square. It was dark in tone, with pine paneling and a black ceiling. Even so, it still managed to have a homey, old-fashioned feel to it. And spookily enough, it was one she'd eaten at several times in the past with Angie and Jimmy whenever they came down here for the antique store on the corner that Angie had dearly loved.
While they showed her around the shopfront, from behind the scenes innocent people came and went without realizing that just past the business area was the Twilight Zone. Only a few hours ago, she would have been one of them, too.
In fact, with the exception of the small eating area, the counter, the bakery area, and one small storeroom, the rest of the monstrous building was essentially command central for the Seattle-based Squires. There were high-tech computers that kept tabs on virtually everything to do with them. Where they lived, shopped, and patrolled. There were databases of local businesses they owned. Lists of who worked for the city, state, and federal government, and those who were assigned to particular Dark-Hunters in the area.
Apparently, there were nine main Dark-Hunters in various parts of the city while another six were assigned to outlying areas such as Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and Redmond.
There was also a hospital set up to tend any Dark-Hunter or Squire who was injured in a way that didn't lend itself to visiting a traditional medical facility without freaking out the "ords." Ords being a slang term for "ordinaries," who were people who had no clue about their world. Personally, Susan wanted to return to being an ord, but she knew better than to even ask.
But what fascinated her most was the one lone man who sat in an office where he monitored all the local emergency bands. He'd been the one to tell her that the call hadn't gone out on dispatch to those cops who had come to her house, when she and Ravyn had been attacked. If it had, he'd have known it. They had been sent from behind the scenes, which begged the question who had sent them.
She turned to find Leo behind her with what appeared to be a leather-bound phone book in his hand. "What is that?"
"The Squire's handbook I told you about."
He handed it to her and she almost dropped it. The huge thing had to weigh at least fifteen pounds and it smelled like her grandmother's old mothball-infested cedar closet. "You've got to be kidding me."
He gave her a grim stare. "And you'll be tested on it, too."
"Just kidding." He smiled. "But it will explain exactly who and what we are. There's also a lot more information in there about Daimons, Apollites, and emergency numbers for every major city."
"And the Dark-Hunters? Is there anything about them?"
"Oh, yeah. Lots of stuff about them. Their history and origins. If you go to our Web site, Dark-Hunter.com, there's an online database that tells you the names of all the Dark-Hunters, as well as a profile page about their general age and background. "
Now that could be useful. "Is it safe? I would think having all that online would just be inviting hacker trouble."
Screwing up his face, he shook his head. "Not really, but we have our own hackers who keep the rest at bay. And if someone does, perchance, find their way around our security precautions, they get a rude visit-"
"Let me guess, from Otto?"
"No... people who make Otto look fluffy."
Now that was something she would love to see, but not knocking on her door.
Susan tried to balance the book in one hand to flip through it, but it was too big for that. So she resorted to asking more questions. "What about Squires? Does the Web site tell about them, too?"
"Only a handful. We keep a lower profile as a rule. And there are a lot more of us than there are Dark-Hunters. They number in the thousands while we are tens of thousands worldwide." He tapped the cover of the tome and winked at her. "Happy reading."
Susan grunted at him. "Up yours, Leo."
He gave her a devilish grin. "Yeah, I know."
Sighing, Susan decided to find herself a quiet room to read in. She opened the first door she came to and pulled up short as she found herself in the same room as Ravyn, who was asleep on a red futon.
It was all she could do to catch her breath as she saw him lying facedown, entwined in the stark white sheets that seemed to just highlight how tan his skin was. And the man was tan all over. That dark, tawny shade appeared to be his natural skin tone.
It was enough to set her heart pounding. He was all sinewy muscle. All man-in a shapeshifting... leopard... undead kind of way. And even stranger than that, most of the bullet wounds on his back were nothing more than puckered scars. Leo had told her that the Dark-Hunters healed fast, but dang. They really didn't waste any time with mending those wounds.
He opened one black eye to stare at her. "You need something?" His voice had a rumbling quality to it that was deepened by his sleep.
"I thought this room was empty. Sorry."
He stretched before he rolled over, and the sheet slipped to give her a nice view of one bare hip and the trail of black hair that ran from his navel to a thicker patch of hair. A wicked part of herself was hoping the sheet would pull down another few millimeters so that she could glimpse the rest of him.
Okay, so she already knew what he looked like naked, but earlier she'd been a bit occupied to notice the finer details of his body. Now she was feeling a little greedy and if the man wanted to run around naked...
Well, far be it from her to complain.
"No problem." He yawned as he scratched the arm that up until a short time ago had also had a bullet in it. Now it appeared all healed like the rest of him. "You doing any better?"
His question and the concern she heard in his deep voice surprised her. Why would he even care, and yet a part of her was grateful that even if he didn't, he at least pretended to. Having spent her entire adulthood alone, she really ached to have someone just for her. Someone whose love she didn't have to share. It was selfish, but she really did want to find that one person who could love her unconditionally. "I honestly don't know. What about you?"
He looked down and ran his hand over his tight, perfect chest. "Pretty much healed."
It was so strange to try to reconcile this man with the one she'd seen viciously kill the half-Apollite earlier. A chill went down her spine at the memory. Ravyn might be acting friendly toward her at the moment, but he was a ruthless killer. He hadn't even blinked or hesitated at taking the lives of those men in her house. Whether justified or not, it was a sobering thought that life meant so little to him.
Suddenly uneasy, she stepped back into the hallway. "Well, I won't keep you. You probably need more sleep."
He pulled the sheet up higher and tucked his exposed leg under it. "Yeah."
Nodding, she pulled the door closed and backtracked to the room she'd been in earlier that held the computers Leo had told her were for regular Squire use.
Kyl was in there alone, typing furiously at one station.
"Can I borrow one?" she asked hesitantly. Kyl, like Otto, still acted as if he'd like to kill her.
He looked up but didn't break in his typing at all. "The one on your left."
She sat down, placed the book beside her, then wiggled the mouse. As soon as the screen came up, she tried the site Leo had mentioned, only to pull up a porn site. "Holy cripes. I don't think this is right."
Kyl frowned at her. "What?"
"Leo said there was a Dark-Hunter Web site, but I don't think I have the right URL."
He laughed at her. "You didn't put the dash in between Dark and Hunter, did you?"
She looked at the field and realized he was right. "No."
"Put it there and try again."
Susan did and breathed a little easier as the right page came up. It was all black-and-white. "How very monochromatic."
Kyl snorted. "It's easier on the Dark-Hunters' eyes. They're a lot more sensitive than human eyes. The dark background is the easiest one for them to read. "
Hmmm, that was interesting. "Why's their sight different?"
"If you'll read your manual, which should be used for information and not a doorstop, you'll see that since they hunt during the night, they have special night vision. Their eyes are always dilated, so bright light is painful to them. It's why many of them wear dark sunglasses even indoors."
Tucking that away into her brain in case she ever needed to blind one of them, Susan clicked for the Dark-Hunter profiles and paused as she saw Ravyn Kontis's name. Oh, it was too much to resist. Clicking on it, she quickly read what they had listed for him.
It was actually highly fascinating. He was born in ancient Greece-304 B.C. to be precise. Dang, he was an old coot. She hoped she looked that good at two thousand plus years.
She somehow doubted it though.
But as she was reading, she realized that the Were-Hunters, the shapeshifting branch in all this, didn't live normal life spans. Rather, they lived for hundreds of years and, unlike humans, they didn't have to live chronologically. They could move through time.
Impressive, but it also begged one major question. "Is Ravyn's family still alive?"
Kyl paused in his typing. "Technically yes, but no, not really."
"What do you mean?"
"Ravyn's a Were-Hunter. They're cousins to the Apollites and to the Daimons who are hunted by the Dark-Hunters. Since they share the same bloodline, many of the Were-Hunters run sanctuaries that protect the Daimons from the Dark-Hunters. Because of that, Ravyn was denounced when he became a Dark-Hunter. He's not allowed near any of his kinsmen in any incarnation."
Susan's heart clenched. Having had her own father turn his back on her, she fully understood the pain of rejection. But at least she'd never known her father. How much worse would it be to have someone she loved turn her out?
"Here in Seattle. His father owns one of the sanctuaries just a few blocks over."
Her jaw dropped at that. "And none of them ever talk to him?"
He gave an odd half laugh. "Nooo." He stretched the word out with meaning. "They're not even allowed to say his name. He's completely dead to them."
"If they felt so strongly about that, why did he become a Dark-Hunter?"
Kyl shrugged. "You'll have to ask him."
They both turned to look at the doorway where Jack stood in the small opening. "Have you heard anything from Brian?"
"We sent him over to check on Cael, but he hasn't come back yet and he's not answering his phone."
Kyl scowled. "That's weird."
Jack agreed with him. "We thought so, too, and it's dusk already. Should we send someone after him?"
Kyl hesitated. "Has the sun set?"
"Ten minutes ago."
Susan was perplexed by his hostility. "Is that bad?"
Both men gave her a "duh" stare. But it was Kyl who answered. "Just a little bit. At sunset, the Daimons are free to prowl." He let out a tired breath. "Man, times like this I really miss home."
"Home?" she asked.
"New Orleans. Down there, the Daimons are much more laid-back and tend to take their time before they hunt. Up here, they're way too caffeinated. As soon as the sun sets, they call for parties." He looked at Jack. "How many Blood Rites are around here right now?"
"You and Leo. Otto should be back in a few and Jessica later tonight."
Kyl stroked his chin as he considered that. "Let me know the instant Otto gets back and we'll go check on Brian."
There was something in his demeanor that struck her. He was scared and trying hard not to show it. After Jack left, she got up and approached him. "What are you not saying?"
His face turned stoic and cold. "Nothing."
Yeah. Right. Susan cocked her head and narrowed her eyes on him. "Look at me, Kyl. No bullshit. I used to be one of the best reporters in this country and if there's one thing I know, it's body language. And yours tells me that you're lying about 'nothing.' "
He dropped his gaze and took a deep breath. Deep sadness darkened his eyes as he rubbed his right biceps. "I probably shouldn't tell you this since it'll only scare you, but what the hell? If I'm right, you need to know." He paused a few seconds as if he were gathering his thoughts before he spoke again. "We had a bad situation about eighteen months ago in New Orleans. A real bad situation. We lost a lot of good people in one night, including one of my best friends and his mother."
It was obvious that he was still haunted by that night and her heart went out to him. There was nothing worse than trying to deal with tragedy.
"And you think this is going to be the same?"
His gaze burned her. "It's just a feeling I have. I know it sounds hokey. But I'm a Creole with a long line of people who know the mojo. As my grandmother would say, 'I can feel the evil on the wind.' It's the same feeling you get whenever someone steps on your grave."
Okay, now he was really beginning to freak her out.
All of a sudden, there was a loud crash outside that sounded like someone trying to break down a wall.
Susan jumped as her heart lodged itself in her throat. Good grief, what was happening now?
Kyl dashed from his seat, out of the room. Susan followed hot on his heels as he led her back toward the loading dock where there was a red Saleen S7 that someone had crashed into a Dumpster.
The door of the expensive sports car lifted open to show a young woman around the age of twenty, dressed as a Goth. Wearing all black except for her bloodred stockings and biker boots that had flames on them, she was cute enough as she leaped out of the car with bright blue eyes that were round in terror.
"Dammit, Erika!" Ravyn shouted from behind Susan as he joined them. "What have you done to my car?"
Susan put her finger in her ear and cringed as Ravyn bellowed as if he were in pain. She turned to see that he was dressed in a pair of black jeans, with a loose button-down black shirt that was opened at the neck. The look on his face promised Armageddon to the girl who'd damaged what appeared to be a prized possession.
Erika was completely undaunted by his rage as she ran up the dock and tossed her fuzzy black scarf over her shoulder before she confronted him. "Screw your car, Rave, straight up the sphincter. You can buy another one. I, on the other hand, am completely irreplaceable."
His eyes actually turned red as a fierce muscle worked in his jaw. "Not to me you're not. I'm not your daddy, little girl."
"Oh, shut up," Erika said in a way reminiscent of some vintage 1980s Valley girl. "Why don't you ask me why I'm driving the seven-hundred-and-fifty-horsepower car and not my adorable little Beetle, huh?"
Ravyn ignored her as he went to his car, which had the entire left bumper caved in. He raked his hands through his hair as if he were trying not to wrap them around her skinny little neck and choke her. "Why the hell were you in my car?"
Still on the dock not far away from Susan, Erika put her hands on her hips as she glared at Ravyn, who was now inspecting the inside of his car. " 'Cause Daimons tried to eat me, okay? Someone came to the house and rang the bell only a few minutes after the sun set. I thought it was you, so I opened the door, and there they were, so I slammed it shut, turned around, and there were three of them. In. The. House." She punctuated each word with a smack of her hands together.
Closing the car door, Ravyn stared at her.
"Did you hear me, Rave?" Erika asked when he didn't respond. "They were in your house. Your. House. And just how the hell did they get there, huh? I thought they had to be invited in."
She looked at Susan, then Jack, before she returned to Ravyn. "You invite one in and forget to tell me about it? I know I didn't. I'm not that stupid. But they got in and I want to know how."
Ravyn was aghast as he headed back up the metal stairs. "How did you escape?"
"I grabbed that round weapon thing you have on the wall and threw it at the one closest to me, then I ran screaming like a demon for the garage. You're lucky you still have me!"
Susan felt the grisly pain that Ravyn had on his face as he gave Erika a look that said he didn't think himself particularly lucky that she hadn't been eaten.
"Question," Susan asked Ravyn. "Is this the same Erika who's Dark Angel?"
Erika gave her a look that confirmed it.
Rage, dark and forbidding, came over Susan instantly. If not for this little Goth hoyden, her life wouldn't have taken the offramp to hell this afternoon. "Oh, forget it, Ravyn. I'm going to kill her for you!"
Kyl grabbed her as she started for the girl.
Squeaking, Erika took three steps back. "Who are you?"
She fought against Kyl's hold, but the little bugger was stronger than he appeared. "Psycho Susan and I have an ax to grind against your little selfish head."
"Take a number," Kyl growled in her ear.
Erika screwed her face up as if she smelled something really rotten. "Psycho Susan? The lunatic who e-mailed me earlier? Was that you?"
Suddenly a whistle rent the air. "Ladies," Leo snarled from where he stood beside Jack and Patricia. "Focus a minute. Ravyn, screw the car. We have a bigger problem here. How did Erika, Ms. I Can't Drive a Car If My Life Depended on It, elude a group of Daimons?"
Kyl finally released Susan. "She couldn't."
They all cursed as they realized it was a setup.
"Get inside," Leo said quickly.
"It's community property," Kyl snarled. "We have no protection here. They can get inside."
Leo glared at him. "You got a better idea?"
Erika and Jack were already running for the door that Patricia held open for them.
As Kyl and Leo made to join them, Susan, who noticed the look on Ravyn's face, paused there on the dock.
Patricia closed the door.
"What?" Susan asked as Ravyn turned his head as if he was listening for something.
When he spoke, his voice held a distant tone. "There's something strange here."
Now that had to be the understatement of the year. "You think? FYI, I haven't seen normal since I left my house this morning."
He gave her an irritated smirk. "No. I mean there's something really wrong with this-"
Before she could ask him what he meant, a bright ball of light flashed near his car. Two seconds later, a dozen men and women stepped out of it like some bad alien movie.
They were all tall, all blond, and all breathtakingly beautiful. Dressed all in black, they looked like angels except for the fact that they immediately attacked Ravyn.
"I'm assuming those are Daimons."
Ravyn grunted as he flipped the first one to reach him onto the ground. He pulled a knife from his boot, then stabbed the Daimon in the center of his chest. Screaming, the Daimon burst into an odd, gold powder that dusted the tops of Ravyn's boots.
He gave her a dry stare as another Daimon was headed for his back. "No, they're Avon ladies." He elbowed that one in the throat, then turned to confront him.
Susan started to run inside to get help, only to find her way blocked by another Daimon. He opened his mouth and hissed at her.
"Oh, get some Listerine," she growled before she drop-kicked him as hard as she could where it would do the most damage.
Cupping himself, he staggered back.
Relieved that maneuver worked on the undead as well as the living, she started for the door only to realize that Ravyn was in trouble. They had him pinned against the wall of the alley. His mouth and nose were bleeding profusely.
"Hold him still," one of the women said gleefully as she pulled out a hilt. She pressed a button and it extended to a sword.
Reacting on pure instinct, because if she'd thought about it for one instant she would have run the other way, Susan rushed the Daimon female. She knocked her away from Ravyn.
Cursing, the woman swung the sword at her. Susan jumped back, into the arms of another one.
She heard a fierce growl before she was released. Ravyn shredded the Daimon who'd been holding her, then he went for the woman with the sword. The female Daimon swung and missed. As she tried to recover the move to swing at him again, Ravyn caught her forearm and backhanded her.
The sword flew from her grip and rattled onto the pavement not far from Susan's feet. She quickly picked it up and turned toward the man who was rushing toward her. She twirled the sword, and planted it straight into his heart. He burst into a golden powder.
Her heart hammering, she turned to confront the next one.
"Retreat!" a second female shouted. She waved her hand to form another ball of light.
The remaining Daimons rushed into it.
Susan started to run in after them but caught herself as she realized that Ravyn wasn't so concerned about following. "Shouldn't we go after them?"
Shaking his head, he wiped at the blood on his lips as he faced Susan. "No. Trust me. You don't ever want to follow a Daimon into a bolt-hole. That takes you right into a banquet hall at Daimon central, where the poor fool who follows is quickly served up as an appetizer."
"Oh, that would be bad."
"Yes. Yes, it would." Ravyn smiled in spite of the fact that his entire body ached. He had to give her credit, she'd handled herself really well and even managed to maintain her humor. "Where did you learn how to sword fight?"
She twirled the sword around her like an expert, and since he'd once lived in the Middle and Dark Ages, he had plenty of firsthand knowledge of sword afficionados. "Society for Creative Anachronism. I lived in the Kingdom of Meridies for six years."
He scratched his jaw as he recognized that area of the southern U.S. There were a lot of Squires and even a few Dark-Hunters who were members of the SCA. "Yeah, but An Tir kicked their asses at Pensic."
"Not while I was fighting for them, they didn't." No sooner had she spoken those words than she slipped with the sword and almost sliced a chunk out of her leg. She straightened up immediately and held the sword still in an indignant way that said, I meant to do that.
He laughed in spite of himself. She certainly had a lot of salt and vinegar in her personality, and it captivated him. There was nothing he appreciated more in life than someone who could maintain their spirit when all odds were against them. "C'mon, Xena Warrior Princess, we need to get you inside."
She blew him a raspberry before she rested the sword on her shoulder and moved to join him. He opened the door and let her enter first.
No sooner had they entered the building than they heard the screams and sounds of people fighting inside.
Ravyn rushed past her, toward the command room. There were Daimons everywhere. He grabbed the one closest to him, who was fighting Jack, spun him around, and slammed him back against the wall. Ravyn manifested a knife in his hand so that he could stab the Daimon.
Then he went for the one with Patricia. Before he could reach her, the Daimon sank his teeth into her neck and ripped it open. Cursing, Ravyn shot a psychic blast from his hand to knock the Daimon back. Patricia fell to the floor as Ravyn launched himself and caught the Daimon about his waist.
The two of them went tumbling.
As they wrestled, the Daimon sank his teeth into Ravyn's shoulder. Hissing, he stabbed him, then kicked him back. The Daimon began spitting out the poisonous Dark-Hunter blood, but it was too late. The Daimon was dead three seconds later.
Ravyn turned right as another Daimon exploded behind him. His gaze met Susan's. "Thanks."
She inclined her head to him.
Ravyn's eyes flared as he saw another Daimon heading for Susan. Reacting on instinct, he tossed his knife, straight into the Daimon's heart.
Susan turned around with a gasp just in time to see the Daimon explode. "Thanks to you, too," she said in a breathless tone.
All of a sudden, Erika launched herself at Ravyn, who caught her against his body as the Daimon who'd been chasing her skidded to a halt. Setting her aside, Ravyn lunged for him, only to have him vanish into another bolt-hole. All of the remaining Daimons followed suit.
"How do they do that?" Susan asked.
Ravyn tucked his knife back into his boot. "Magick. Certain members can summon or request a bolt-hole from Kalosis and if the keeper likes them or believes them worthy, they get in."
"I'm picturing this decrepit old man who's in charge, laughing at them."
Ravyn snorted. "No. Imagine a beautiful ice goddess who decides whether or not she wants them in her realm."
Somehow Susan liked the idea of the old man a lot better.
Ravyn frowned as he caught sight of Patricia, lying on the ground while her son, Jack, was trying to staunch the blood flow at her neck. He made his way over to them.
"We've got to get all of you to safety."
Jack looked at him doubtfully. "Where's safe? They came in here like we were nothing. "
Ravyn's face turned to stone. "The Serengeti. As a sanctuary, it's the only place that they can't breach." He picked Patricia up in his arms. "I'll meet all of you there and if I were you, I'd hurry."
"You need any help?" Susan offered.
Ravyn hesitated. "It'll be a tight squeeze, but yeah, someone needs to keep pressure on her wound."
"I'm not claustrophobic."
By his face she could tell he was grateful. "Then retract that sword and let's go."
Susan did as he said, then followed him out to his trashed car. She got in first. Ravyn carefully set Patricia in her lap. "Don't press too hard."
Her heart lurched at the sight of the unconscious woman's neck. Honestly, she didn't know how the woman could still be alive. "Is she going to make it?"
"I hope so for her family's sake. The Addamses are one of the most prominent of Squire families, and she's their grand matriarch. "
Ravyn dashed to the other side, got in, and started the car. He certainly knew how to handle a crisis well. And he could rival any race car driver's skill as he whipped his car in and out of traffic.
Thankfully, they didn't have to go more than about ten blocks before they reached the famed Seattle Serengeti Club. The windows were tinted so dark that she couldn't tell if anyone was inside or not. There didn't appear to be any cars in the area that could belong to the club or its workers.
"Is it open?"
Ravyn put his car into park and got out. He didn't answer her until he'd opened up her car door. "It opens at dusk and the owners live here."
Before she could ask about the odd note in his voice, he took Patricia from her lap and carried her through the back door of the club.
Wondering why the door wasn't locked, Susan followed him down a short corridor, toward an office area.
"Excuse me!" an attractive redhead snapped as she saw them. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
Ravyn didn't hesitate or stop as he carried Patricia toward a door off to his right. "Get Dorian. Now."
The woman sneered at him. "And who are you?"
"Don't worry about it. Just go get Dori."
Arms akimbo, the woman looked like she wanted to lash out at him. She cast a dire go-to-hell look at Susan before she left.
Ravyn paused at a door. Susan stepped around him to open it, then stepped back for him to enter what appeared to be a clinic. He laid Patricia down very carefully on the hospital bed that was closest to the door.
"Is there a doctor here?" Susan asked.
Just as she started to blink, a man appeared directly in front of her. Out of nowhere. He just poofed into the room like some weird TV show effect. With shoulder-length black hair, he bore a striking resemblance to Ravyn. "What are you doing here?" he demanded between clenched teeth.
Ravyn's face was completely stoic. "The Addamses have been attacked by Daimons. Patricia needs medical attention immediately or she's dead. The others will be here as soon as they can make it."
The man, whom she assumed must be Dorian, slid an irritated gaze to Susan. "I don't know her."
"She's a new Squire."
There was a loud commotion outside before the door flew open. Jack came in along with a short African-American woman who rushed to the bed. By the way the woman started examining Patricia, Susan figured she was the doctor.
"Who else was hurt?" the doctor asked Jack.
"Most of us. But Mom was the only one who got seriously damaged. Will she be okay?"
The doctor didn't answer. "You need to wait outside with the others, Jack."
He went white.
The man, who still hadn't identified himself, took Jack by the arm and led him toward the door. "I think we all need to leave Alberta to her work. "
Susan felt for the boy as tears gathered in his eyes. "It'll be okay, Jack," she said, praying she was right. Having lost her own mother at Jack's age, she couldn't stand the thought of him losing his.
Ravyn gave her a knowing look. "Yeah, Jack. Alberta won't let anything happen to your mom. She'll be back on her feet, yelling at you, real soon."
Jack nodded bravely as he walked out of the room.
Susan followed Ravyn into the hallway where he drew up short. Looking around him, she sucked her breath in sharply to see a group of extremely handsome but angry men.
An older man who appeared around the age of sixty curled his lip at the sight of Ravyn before he spat on the floor at Ravyn's feet. "You know better than to come here. Ever."
An air of exhaustion settled over Ravyn, as if he didn't want to deal with this right now. "It was an emergency."
That didn't seem to appease the man at all, and it was then she realized this was the sanctuary his family owned. "You should have let the humans bring her."
He hissed at the man who'd joined them in the clinic. "Don't defend him, Dorian. If not for the laws of sanctuary, I'd already be tasting his blood."
Ravyn's features hardened as he approached his father. Anger mixed with hurt deep inside him. They hadn't seen each other in more than a century, and still his father couldn't look at him without curling his lip. Ravyn remembered a time when he had respected this man. When he would have done anything for him.
Part of him hated his father for the fact that he'd just stood by and watched while Phoenix killed him all those centuries ago. But another part was the little boy who'd once thought the world of this man. The little boy who used to ride on his wide shoulders and play chase with him. That part had wanted some kind of comfort over the death of his family.
Instead, they'd killed him, too. His father had even kicked him as he lay dying on the floor and spat on him. He looked at the spittle beside his boot. His father still spat at him.
And that awoke a potent rage inside him. It was what he focused on now. "What galls you most, old man? The fact that I betrayed you, or the fact that I had the balls to set it right when you didn't?"
He lunged at Ravyn only to have Dorian catch him. "Don't, Dad. He's not worth it."
Ravyn smiled sinisterly. Dorian had no idea just how right he was. "Yeah, Dad, I'm so not worth it."
"Get out," his father snarled, his voice thick with hatred, "and don't come back here ever. "
Ravyn started for the door until he realized that Susan was still following after him. What the hell was she thinking? "You need to stay here with the others."
"I don't think so."
"Look," she said sternly, "you're the one who dragged me into all of this. No offense, Otto, Kyl, and Jessica look at me as if they want to kill me. I want to kill Erika and you're the only one of them who seems to be bulletproof. So between my choices, you look like the safest bet for my continued survival."
Even though his features were angry, there was a glint of humor in his black eyes. "Trust me, I'm not. I'm headed out there into the lion's den. If you stay here, the bad guys can't get you. But if you go with me, they can."
Maybe he was right, but something in her gut told her that she needed to stay with him, and if there was one thing in her life she'd learned to trust, it was her gut. "Ravyn-"
"Listen to him, human," a brittle voice said from behind her. "Getting innocent people killed is what he's best at."
Grief so profound that it took her breath flashed into Ravyn's eyes before he hid it. "Go to hell, Phoenix."
Susan turned to see a man behind her who was an exact duplicate of Dorian. The only reason she knew it wasn't him was that this guy had on a pair of jeans and a denim button-down shirt instead of the pleated pants and black shirt Dorian had been wearing.
Phoenix narrowed his eyes before Ravyn opened the door and stepped through it. Susan headed out behind him just as Otto and Leo were coming in from the back alley.
"Where you going, Ravyn?" Otto asked.
"To check on Cael."
Leo frowned. "We were going there t-"
"No," Ravyn said in a tone that brooked no argument. "We've already got one Squire MIA and I'm sure he's dead. No need to get another one of you killed. I'll handle it."
Otto scoffed. "Are you insane? You can't fight beside Cael. You'll just weaken each other."
That didn't seem to faze Ravyn at all. "I'll have a good fifteen minutes before being in his presence weakens me. So will Cael. Believe me, the two of us can do a lot of damage to anyone who might attack us in that amount of time. I'm pretty sure we'll be all right."
Otto shook his head. "Then I'm going with you."
"So am I," Leo said.
Ravyn growled at their unreasonable insistence on joining him. He couldn't stand the thought of anyone dying so needlessly. If he had more time, he'd waste it arguing with them. But he already had a bad feeling about one of the very few friends he'd had all these centuries. The last thing he wanted was to see Cael dead, and he was too tired to argue anymore. He needed to get over there and find out if Cael was still alive. And if Cael was dead, then he wanted to hunt for the ones responsible. "Fine."
Without another word, he got into his car, only to find Susan getting in on the passenger side.
"What are you doing?"
She gave him a blase stare. "I told you. I'm going with you."
Like he really wanted that. In truth, all he wanted right now was to be alone to deal with the turmoil of this day. "I thought you'd ride with Otto since, in direct contradiction to common sense, they're going, too."
She let out a very undignified snort. "And I told you that the man acts like he's looking for a reason to kill me. Not to mention he, unlike you, isn't Kevlar. "
Ravyn sighed as he started the car and dropped it into gear. He might be bulletproof, but he wasn't completely invincible. They could chop off his head and kill him easily enough. But he decided not to worry her with such trivial details.
"Where are we going?" Susan asked.
"Ravenna." Cael lived over by the university, in the basement of a less than refined club that was owned by a family of Apollites. Ravyn had been telling Cael for years that he was playing with nitro by having the enemy so close.
Sod off, he'd always say. I like danger. Besides, all I have to do is throw on some clothes, walk upstairs, kill a few Daimons, and come home. You can't beat that.
Ravyn only hoped his friend wasn't paying for that arrogance now.
He glanced over to Susan. "Fine."
"You know when people say fine, it generally means 'leave me the hell alone because I don't want to talk about what's really bothering me.'"
"And sometimes it just means they're fine and there's nothing else to say. "
She made a face as she considered that. He could tell she wasn't buying it. "Maybe, but can I ask a question?"
Ravyn shrugged. "Free country, which means I don't have to answer it."
By her pinched features he knew that she didn't care for his answer. But after a few minutes, she turned toward him. "Knowing how they were going to treat you, why did you take Patricia to your family when you could have taken her to a hospital?"
Aggravated at the reminder of how much his family hated him, Ravyn tightened his grip on the leather steering wheel. He'd forgotten about the fact that Susan was a journalist, which made her observant and nosy-two things that were lethal to a man who didn't like to talk about his past or his present. Damn, he'd have to be more on guard around her.
He also knew that when dealing with such beasts, it was pointless to hedge. She would just pursue him until she had an answer... or he killed her.
Nah, they had enough problems without him doing that. Besides, she was oddly appealing to him. Especially the gentle curve of her lips and the way they turned up ever so slightly whenever she was waiting for him to answer her.
It was almost enough to make him drag this out...
But in the end, he answered her with the truth. "One, she wouldn't have been safe at a hospital. The Daimons can come and go there since it's public domain, and I have a feeling that they would have been back to finish her off since she's so significant in the Squire world. The only protection a human has against them is to be in the privacy of their own home. No Daimon can enter a private residence unless they've been invited in. Two, and most importantly, can you imagine trying to explain away the bite wound on her neck? I think the average doctor might get a little concerned to see what appears to be human teeth and yet not human teeth shredding a woman's neck. This was the easiest way to get her help without attracting unwanted attention from someone like, oh say, a journalist."
"You might just have a point with all that," she admitted in a grudging tone.
Susan fell silent as she watched the streetlights cut across Ravyn's face. He really was a good-looking man. But it wasn't just that that she found appealing. There was something more to him. Something that was in pain and at the same time feral. It made her want to soothe him, especially since she understood what it was like to be alone in the world.
Don't think about it. Her mind was right. She had much more important things to focus on at present than how good he looked and how attracted she was to him.
Her thoughts went to Erika. "So how do you think they got into your house?"
"Hell if I know. Someone would have had to have been inside the house to invite them in. She swears she didn't do it, and it damn sure wasn't me."
That wasn't comforting.
"Have you any idea what's going on with the Daimons tonight? Is this normal for them?"
"No," he said sincerely. "It's highly unusual for them to attack like this. Normally they pick off a few humans and we kill them before they get much age on them. Since their goal is to keep living, they usually run from us, not toward us. And I've never seen them attack a Squires' facility before."
She digested that and wondered why it was different now. What was the catalyst? Could it be the Stryker person that Kyl had mentioned earlier or was it something else?
"What about this Cael? I take it he's a friend of yours."
"How long have you known him?"
"Almost three hundred years."
"Wow. I'm impressed. I guess long-term relationships don't scare you, huh?"
He frowned at her teasing. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing." He still looked perturbed and she strangely found that amusing, too. She didn't normally tease people she didn't know. Yet there was an air about him that just begged her to nettle him. It must be that same suicidal tendency humans had to jump whenever they stood on the edge of a cliff.
Or maybe it was the fact that she liked the way his face softened whenever she amused him. It was extremely beguiling and made her wonder if he'd always been as stern and serious as he was now.
Ravyn slowed as he drew near the Happy Hunting Ground. Yeah, he'd always loved that tongue-in-cheek name for a well-established Apollite/Daimon bar that catered to college students. The college crowd thought it was a play on the singles scene. What they didn't know was that the black dragon shadow flying against a yellow sun on the club's sign was a welcome mat for an Apollite to his Daimon brethren, to let them know they were safe here. Originally Cael had been sent in to shut them down, but the Apollites had quickly offered to make a bargain with him. They would be respectable so long as he protected them. They had even invited Cael to live on the premises. For reasons unknown, Cael had accepted. Now the Daimons tended to stay away. And it was open season on those Daimons who hadn't gotten the word there was a Dark-Hunter in the basement, and who were unlucky enough to wander into the Happy Hunting Grounds to snack on some young college student.
Ravyn just hoped Cael still lived in the basement and hadn't become a casualty of his own trusting stupidity.
"I know this place," Susan said as he parked around back. "I love the recycled trash sculptures out front. I tried to find out who the artist was, but no one would tell me. In fact, the people who work here are really rude."
Ravyn dropped his car into park as Otto pulled his Jaguar to a stop beside them. "The artist would be Cael. The rude people would be the Apollites who own this place."
"Are you serious?"
"Isn't that kind of like playing with your food or something?"
"Something. Definitely something. But Cael likes it here and the Apollites seem to tolerate him. Who am I to question it?"
Ravyn got out of the car and took a minute to get his bearings while Otto joined them. The music from the club was loud and thumping. Susan tilted her head, it was Black Eyed Peas with "Don't Phunk with My Heart."
"Back door again?" Susan asked.
Ravyn shook his head. "You still got that sword?"
"Keep it close. We're walking into the dragon's den here and I don't know what we're going to find." He exchanged a warning look with Otto. "Any trouble breaks out, I want the two of you to run for the door, and make sure Susan is with you."
Otto gave him a vicious glare that would make a serial killer proud. "No offense, I don't run."
"Neither do I," Susan said firmly.
Leo held his hand up. "For the record, I do."
When Otto scowled at him, Leo rolled his eyes. "It was a joke, Carvalleti. Get a sense of humor."
"I'd really rather not, and don't pull a Gilligan on me. I tend to shoot Gilligans."
Leo flipped him off. "Don't worry. I'm in for the long haul."
Ravyn made a sound of disgust. "Fine. Your deaths are your own business. Just remember I told you how not to be a Gilligan." He tucked his knife into his pants at the small of his back.
They walked around to the front. The brick building was just over a hundred years old. Painted baby blue with black windows that had been decorated with vintage hippie symbols, it looked like a million other college clubs. This early, it wasn't particularly busy as people milled around the front, chatting and panhandling.
There was a cafe and bookstore, Ravenna Third Place Books and Honey Bear Bakery, next door that had a much larger crowd of people. Unlike the club, it was bright and inviting. There was an air of sex and seediness that clung to the Happy Hunting Ground, but then maybe that was what appealed to the regulars.
Trying not to think about how many people had lost their lives because they'd foolishly ventured here for a drink with their friends or a one-night stand, Ravyn opened the door of the club and came face-to-face with a huge Apollite who was waiting in a small foyer area to check IDs. He stood at least six foot seven and had to weigh a minimum of three hundred pounds. It wasn't often he had to look up at anyone.
Damn. As a rule, Apollites were taller than most humans, but due to their liquid diet, they were usually lean. The Apollites here could easily rent this guy out as a major bruiser...
Or a Macy's Thanksgiving Day float-except the sunlight would kill him. Then again, float and fireworks. You couldn't beat that.
The Apollite tensed as soon as he saw them. "What do you want here, Dark-Hunter?"
"Just came to see a friend. "
The Apollite moved to block his access to the club. "You ain't got no friends here."
Ravyn gave him a withering stare. "I better have at least one."
Still the Apollite wouldn't let him pass. "Then you can call him on the phone. Your kind isn't welcome here."
"Does that go for Cael, too?"
The Apollite's face turned to stone. "He's none of your business. Now leave."
Ravyn started past him only to have the Apollite take a swing. He ducked the blow, then added one of his own. The Apollite staggered back.
Out of nowhere three more Apollites appeared. They formed a line between him and the second door that led to the club. "You're not wanted here, Dark-Hunter. Go home."
"Not until I see Cael."
Otto swung open a butterfly knife. "You know, you guys have a pathetically short life. It'd be a shame to lose even one day of it."
"Put that away!" an extremely attractive blond woman said as she came around the bouncers. She was dressed in a lime green go-go outfit, complete with white vinyl ankle boots and white lipstick. Unlike the men, she didn't bother to hide her fangs while she spoke. "No weapons are tolerated in this club, ever."
She gave Otto, Leo, Susan, and Ravyn a scathing glare. "Why are you here?"
Ravyn took a deep breath for patience. "I'm really getting tired of saying this. I want to see Cael and if I have to say that one more time, I'm going to start Daimon-killing practice on the whole lot of you."
The Apollite woman crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm sure he doesn't want to see you."
Otto narrowed his gaze on the woman. "I think he's already dead, Ravyn."
"He's not dead," the woman said, her tone offended. "But you've got no business here with him. He didn't put you on the guest list and the last time we checked, he wasn't exactly social with the lot of you. How do we know you're friends of his?"
Ravyn gave her a toxic look of his own. "Enemies don't come in the front door, baby."
The bruiser said something to her in Apollite. She looked a little nervous as she glanced at Ravyn. "Smart enemies might. For all I know, you're not as dumb as you appear. Maybe you're here to kill Cael."
Ravyn was through playing this shit with her. "There you would be wrong. And unless you want this club to go up in flames tonight, I suggest you let us pass."
She stiffened at his threat. "You can't harm us, it's against the code. No Dark-Hunter is ever allowed to harm an Apollite until we turn Daimon."
"Fuck the code," he said between clenched teeth. "If my friend is dead, I honor nothing but that which gave birth to me... vengeance."
The man spoke to her again.
She hesitated before she answered him. Her eyes worried, she looked back at Ravyn. "You have fifteen minutes with him before you drain his powers. After that, I want you gone."
To his complete shock, the Apollites actually broke apart to let them pass.
Expecting a trap, Ravyn made sure that Susan was between him and Otto while Leo pulled up the rear as they followed the woman through the club, which actually had a fairly large crowd, dancing to the hip-hop music. Strobe lights flashed off three different mirrored balls that spun high above them. To the sides were tables that were covered with black tablecloths that held Apollite and hippie symbols painted in neon colors. Black lights helped the colors to leap out in the darkness. They also served a dual purpose of making Ravyn's eyes ache.
The motion and lights would weaken a Dark-Hunter while leaving Daimons and Apollites unaffected. Smart thinking on their part.
The woman took them past the bar area, through an industrial kitchen, to a narrow door that opened onto a stairway for the basement.
She held it open with one arm and stood back for them to enter without her. "His room is the last one on the left."
Ravyn went down first.
"You think this is a trap?" Susan asked after the woman shut the door behind them. The light in the basement was very faint, but it actually felt good to his eyes after the hostile lighting above. Here, he could see perfectly.
"At this point," Ravyn said in all seriousness, "nothing would surprise me."
Ravyn paused as he approached the door that the woman had said led to Cael's room. He could hear someone grunting as if in severe pain, then suddenly, Cael let out an anguished cry.
His heart hammering, Ravyn kicked open the door and then completely reevaluated his prior comment about surprise.
This... this shocked the total hell out of him.