Ash woke up in a cold sweat as fragmented, displaced images shifted through his mind like a broken kaleidoscope. Sitting up naked in bed, he could hear desperate voices calling out to him with unspoken pleas...
And then he felt it. The cold, demanding hand on his bare shoulder that jerked his senses away from the nightmare.
"Come back to bed, Acheron."
Ash raked his hand through his long blond hair as he tried to center his attention on the loudest voice he'd heard. But it was lost now... drowned out by all the others until all the pleas were nothing but a dull roar that rang in his ears. "Something's happening."
Artemis made a sound of disgust deep in the back of her throat-a sound that was completely unbecoming for a goddess who had created an army supposedly to protect mankind from the Apollites and Daimons her twin brother had fashioned in his own image and then endowed with godlike powers. Then again, she'd immediately abandoned that army into Acheron's care and then used them to tie him to her forever.
"Something's always happening," she said in an aggravated tone. "When the cat's away, the rodents will scurry."
He let out an exasperated breath as he turned to look at her over his shoulder. She was lying back in bed, her body covered by the white, gossamer sheet that was softer than the most finely woven silk, and it left nothing of her body hidden from his gaze. Her red hair fanned out around her in perfection, but in spite of being a goddess, she was the furthest possible thing from perfection. "The mice will play, Artie."
She turned instantly huffy with him as she tried to pull him back into her arms. "Whatever."
Ignoring her, Ash got up and headed for the French doors that opened onto a golden veranda at his approach. He stepped through them to lean against the cold stone banister and stared out at the rainbow waterfall. It was truly beautiful here on Olympus and yet he cared nothing for it.
His thoughts were on the future that taunted him with scattered images that he couldn't bring into focus no matter how hard he tried.
Something was happening and it would affect those he was close to. He could feel it with every fiber of his being. Damn it.
"What are you up to, Stryker?" he asked in the faintest whisper, knowing there would be no answer from the other side.
Stryker had set something evil into motion. For thousands of years the Daimon lord had remained dormant. But something had happened four years ago to bring him back into the open. Now he was determined to hurt Ash any way he could.
Artemis moved to stand behind him. She placed one cold hand on his right shoulder while she nuzzled his left with her cheek before she nipped his skin with her teeth. "Come back to bed, love."
That was the last thing he wanted at the moment... well, honestly it was the last thing he wanted period. But long ago, he'd reconciled himself to the fact that he would never be free of the prison Artemis had damned him to.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and counted to ten before he spoke a plea that stuck deep in his craw. He'd never been one to beg for anything and yet she managed to degrade him to this every single time they were together. "Let me go, Artie. My men need me."
Her nails bit deep into his shoulder blade as her temper flared and singed him. "You promised me a week of service if I let that woman's soul go, although why you wanted the soul of a Shade, I'll never understand."
That's because she had no concept of compassion and she never would.
"And you can release me from my word." He turned his head to look down at her uncaring expression.
She raked her nails painfully down his spine, no doubt laying his flesh open in vicious welts. Welts that would close instantly if not for her using her powers to make sure they stayed fresh and painful. His face stoic, Ash stiffened as his back burned. He knew what had always gone unspoken between them. She hated the fact that she loved him, and for the whole of their relationship she'd punished him because, in her mind, she couldn't live without him. Even though he would really, really like her to try.
She wrapped her hand in his long, blond hair and gave a vicious yank.
Bored with her childish games, he sighed. "Are you through?"
She gave another jerk before she released him. "I should have you whipped for your insolence."
Why not? His back was still sore from her last beating-part of the price she forced him to pay for Danger's soul. She'd always been sadistic that way. The fact that he could take a beating without flinching had always turned her on. But then he'd been weaned on brutality. Reacting to it had only served to worsen his punishments, so he'd learned early in life to suck it up and move on.
"Whatever makes you happy, Artemis."
"Then come back to bed with me." She brushed her hair back from her neck. Her long, graceful hand stroked the only part of her body that held any appeal to him. "I'll let you feed if you do..."
He could feel his incisors growing at her invitation as his stomach rumbled with need. It'd been almost a month since he'd last eaten. That more than anything else was what had forced him to stay with her for a week. He had to eat from her soon or he'd turn into the very thing he hunted. "Don't tease me, Artemis. I'm too hungry for that."
She moved closer to him. So close that he could smell the blood that flowed through her icy veins. She nibbled the line of his jaw as she gently cupped him in her hand, and yet his body didn't stir in the least. "Give me what I want and I'll give you a small reprieve to check on them."
Ash clenched his teeth. He truly hated it whenever she bartered with him for sex. He'd rather be beaten. Again.
But then he was nothing if not her whore. For a semblance of affection, for the novelty of a gentle touch on his flesh, he'd sold himself to her eleven thousand years ago. No matter how much he hated it, no matter how much he hated her, he knew that he couldn't exist without her. Not if he wanted to maintain his compassion and live with his emotions under his control and not become an instrument for an even more selfish goddess.
He'd truly damned himself for something so trivial that he now wondered why it had seemed so important all those centuries ago. "I want your word that I can feed and then leave for twenty-four hours."
She licked her lips as she ran a hot gaze over his naked body. "Give me six orgasms within one hour and you can have ten. I swear it on the river Styx. "
Ash laughed softly at that. Even after all these centuries, she still underestimated his abilities. Six orgasms and a feeding. Good. He'd be done with her in less than fifteen minutes...
Susan sat, bathing Ravyn's hot brow as he whispered unintelligibly in his sleep. Otto had helped her clean up the earlier mess and now they were alone again while Ravyn drifted in and out of consciousness and she skimmed through more information in the handbook that Otto had also brought for her.
The Squires seemed to have an affinity for the monstrosity and were insistent that she learn every nuance of it, and she was anxious to learn absolutely everything. But she also didn't mind taking a break whenever Ravyn came to.
The hardest part though was whenever he was awake, he was either groping her or leading her hand to parts of his body that she really did want to explore-but not while he was this far gone. Something about it just wasn't right. Even so, she had to admit, he was scrumptious and while under the influence of the drug, he was also extremely affectionate. Very catlike.
He opened those deep, dark eyes to pin her with a lusting stare again. He pulled her hand from his brow so that he could nibble her fingertip, then the back of her knuckles. Each sweep of his tongue sent a razor-sharp spike of pleasure through her. This man knew his way around a woman's senses and how to elicit pleasure with the smallest move or stroke. It was what made pushing him away so difficult. That evil part in the back of her mind was dying to know what he'd be like naked in her arms.
"Sleep with me, black-eyed Susan."
How could a girl resist a line like that?
Oh wait, very easily. He was still out of it. Yeah, and what would it hurt?
No, she couldn't take advantage of him. She wasn't the kind of woman to take advantage of people while they were down. Not to mention the small fact that he'd never seemed that interested in her while at full capacity. If, when he awoke, he was still interested, there might be some grounds for negotiation. But at the moment, those talks were moot.
She pulled the cloth away from his brow with her left hand while she tried to get the right one away from that deliciously erotic tongue of his. "That's okay, Leopardman. I'll just keep bathing your brow."
"That's not what I want you to stroke." He pulled her head down toward his.
Tired of fighting him, she let him kiss her only to learn that that was a serious mistake. Her entire world spun at the decadent taste of him. He had a way with his tongue that should be illegal and it probably was in some states. She'd been kissed a lot of times in her life, but never like this. It was strong and powerful and left her completely breathless.
He led her hand back to the swollen bulge in his jeans. He held her hand there as he rubbed himself against her open palm.
Grinding her teeth, she could just imagine him doing that inside her. Feel him hard and deep, stroking her until she finally had ultimate satisfaction...
But she'd gone a year without a guy. She could certainly go a little longer.
Reluctantly, she broke away from his kiss. "Easy, Puss in Boots."
He actually whimpered as she pulled her hand away. Pouting, he reached for her again, only instead of kissing her, he nuzzled her neck. Susan hissed at the warmth of his mouth on her flesh until something strange happened...
Her eyes started watering and her nose immediately became stuffy. The more he nuzzled, the worse it got until she sneezed.
"Oh my God," she said, pulling back to wipe at her eyes. "I think Pm allergic to you."
He rose up and stalked her across the mattress. "I'm addicted to you."
"Ravyn!" she snapped, holding him back. "I'm serious." But now she was getting better. Maybe she was wrong.
"You're not allergic to me," he said, playfully grabbing her. He rolled her over onto the mattress and pinned her under him.
Susan was fine until he dipped his head back toward hers to kiss her again and his hair fell down over her face. She immediately became stuffy again.
Clearing her throat, she rolled him over until he was pinned under her. He gave her a grin so wicked that it alone could have made her horny. He lifted his hips, rubbing himself against her again.
"Stop that and listen to me. I am allergic to you," she said sternly.
At least to his hair, which made complete sense she supposed, since it was cat fur that set her off. But the worst part was that deep down inside her, a part of her was extremely disappointed. Which made no sense to her whatsoever.
It wasn't like she could ever have a relationship with a man who was an undead cat, Dark-Hunter thing.
"C'mon, Susan," he said in that deeply provocative voice as he lifted his hips to rub with a part of her that was way too interested in that swollen part of his body. "I need you."
Stifling the wicked imp that wanted her to strip him bare and sate both of their baser instincts, she shook her head. "What you need is a cold shower."
"Take one with me and I'll wash your back."
He was relentless!
Suddenly, a knock sounded on the door.
Grateful for the interruption, Susan immediately scooted off Ravyn, got to her feet, and straightened her rumpled clothes. "Come in."
The door opened to show Erika, who looked past her to see Ravyn stretched out on the mattress.
Ravyn snorted as he rolled to his side and curled into a very catlike pose. "Hey, kitten. Got any change?"
Erika wrinkled her nose as she stepped past Susan, into the room. "What is he? High?"
"Yes. Very," she answered, duplicating Erika's clipped tone.
That appeared to amuse her a great deal. "Man, any idea what it is?"
Susan folded her arms over her chest as she watched Erika slowly approach Ravyn, who was now singing something that sounded like it might be a lullaby in a foreign language, while lying on his side. "I'm not one hundred percent sure. Why?"
" 'Cause whatever it is, let's up the dosage. He hasn't called me kitten since I was ten." Erika gave her a wide, delighted smile, which might have amused Susan had they met on better terms. But given Erika's blase attitude toward both her and Ravyn, Susan wasn't feeling overly charitable toward the younger woman.
"Is there a point to your visit?"
"I just wanted to make sure he was all right." There was an underlying tremor in her voice that made Susan feel like a heel for being so short with her. After all, Erika had known him all her life and with her father off in Hawaii, Ravyn was the only family she had here.
"He's fine," Susan said, softening her tone. "Are you okay?"
She nodded, but there was something in her eyes that was sad and hurt. "I just don't like people dying on me, you know?"
"Yeah, being alone sucks."
Erika tucked a piece of hair behind one ear. With that one, hesitant action, she went from being a snotty teenager to a little girl who needed someone to tell her everything would be okay. "You've no idea."
"Actually," Susan said, stepping closer to her, "I do. By the time I was your age, I was an orphan, and I've been alone ever since."
"Was it hard alone?"
Susan swallowed as old memories haunted her. "Yeah, most of the time. You stand there alone on graduation while all of your friends are surrounded by their families. You're alone the first day of college with no laughing mom and dad to tease you while you find your dorm room. Unless someone feels sorry for you, there's no place to go when the dorm's closed. But the worst are the holidays, especially Christmas. You sit in your house, looking at the one gift under the tree that you bought for yourself, and you wonder what it would be like to have a mom or dad, or just anyone to call."
Now she didn't even have Angie and Jimmy anymore. Angie had always been the one who'd invited her home. She'd always taken care to call her on Mother's Day and Easter to make sure she was okay. And she'd always lied and said she was fine, even though inside it still hurt to have absolutely no one.
She glanced over at Ravyn. How much harder were those moments when you knew your family was alive, but not to you?
It explained why he was so understanding of Erika. Annoying though she could be, she was better than being alone. Better than watching the rest of the world take for granted the very things you would sell your soul to have.
She saw a grudging respect in Erika's blue eyes as the girl nodded in mutual understanding. "I'm sorry about your parents. I lost my mom a few years ago... It still hurts."
"I know. I'm sorry, too."
"Thanks." Erika looked over at Ravyn, then frowned. "You need anything? Like a cage or flea repellent?"
Smiling, Susan paused as she watched Ravyn move his hands as if he were singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" in that lyrical language of his. "An antidote would be nice."
"I don't know," Erika said teasingly. "He's kind of amusing like this. It's like having a big kid around or something."
Ravyn rolled over onto his stomach and tried to push himself up. Susan rushed to his side to keep him down on the mattress.
"I need to go," Ravyn said, trying to push her back.
"No, no. You're right where you need to be."
"No," he said in a tone so whiny that it stunned her. She'd have never thought such a sound could have come out of a man with such a deep voice. "I have to go."
Why was he being so stubborn?
"No, Ravyn. You need to stay right here."
"But I can't go here and I really have to go."
Erika made an odd hissing noise. "Susan, I think what he's saying is he needs the litter box. "
A feeling of dread consumed her. No... even her luck wasn't that bad. "Oh, surely not."
He pushed himself away from her grasp only to fall back down. He looked at the mattress as if baffled by it. "This isn't the bathroom..."
Oh, shoot me, please!
But there was no reprieve. If he really had to go, she couldn't very well let him go in here. That would be gross and disgusting. "I can't believe I'm having to do this."
Erika indicated the door with her thumb. "You want me to get one of the guys to help?"
Susan let out a long, tired breath as she considered it for a second. "No. I somehow doubt they'll be any more enthused about this than I am." No doubt, they'd kill him if they had to help him with this. Dreading this down to the deepest part of her being, she assisted Ravyn to his feet and almost fell under his weight. The man was so solidly built that it was like lifting a car. "Could you help me get him to the bathroom?"
With Erika's help, Susan was able to get him across the hall to the small bathroom. The space inside was tight and cramped. She started to wait outside with Erika but then thought better of it. In his current condition, Ravyn might fall and damage himself. The last thing they needed was for him to whack his head on something.
She watched as he fumbled with his fly like a two-year-old. "My zipper's broken."
She rolled her eyes. "No, it isn't."
He dared to give her an exasperated look. "Yes, it is."
What did I do to deserve this? She figured it had to be divine retribution for something. There was no other reason for her day to have turned on her so viciously. Cursing her own fate, she moved forward to push his hands out of the way so that she could undo his pants. Which she learned were button fly. No wonder they wouldn't unzip. Unbuttoning them, her face flamed as she realized that he didn't have on any underwear. Not that she hadn't already seen him naked, but this was somehow different. More private. With a deep breath for courage, she helped him lower his pants, then turned her back while he took care of his needs.
This has to be the weirdest moment of my life. She'd never done something like this for a stranger before. But then again, if she ever somehow found herself in a situation like this, she only hoped that someone took the same mercy on her and helped her through it. What little she knew of Ravyn, she was sure he'd die of embarrassment about being this helpless. He seemed to pride himself on his independence.
And given the way his family treated him, it was obvious he'd been alone a lot longer than she had.
When he was through, she helped him dress and wash his hands. Susan paused while soaping them. His weren't pampered hands. They were large and callused, brutally scarred by untold fights against who only knew what. One in particular was wide and deep, and ran all the way up his forearm. Another one looked like something had taken a vicious bite out of him. Her stomach lurched at the sight of them. Yeah, her life and troubles seemed so mild by comparison.
"Your touch is so soft," he whispered. "Like a butterfly's wings."
It was stupid, but those words touched something inside her. No, it wasn't the words so much as it was the emotion she heard in his voice. The tone that told her he wasn't used to anything so gentle touching him.
"Thank you," she said, rinsing his hands off, then drying them with a small hand towel.
Placing his damp hand on her chin, he tilted her head back until their gazes were locked. "You are so incredibly beautiful."
Oh, yeah, the man was definitely high. Not that she was Quasimodo or anything, but Susan wasn't stupid, either. She wasn't the kind of woman that men thought of as beautiful. "Yeah, yeah. You just want me to sleep with you."
"No," he said in a deepened voice. "You are beautiful... like an angel." He pressed his forehead against hers before he gave her the gentlest kiss she'd ever known. Something inside her melted as he wrapped his arms around her and held her not like a horny man out to get laid, but like someone who actually had feelings for her. And it brought out an ache so deep inside her that her throat tightened.
All her life, all she'd ever wanted was to be loved. To have a family again, and this kiss only reminded her of what she didn't have.
Of what she'd most likely never have. And the pain from that thought washed over her like ice.
"Okay, Ravyn, we need to get you back in bed." She expected him to argue. Instead, he merely nodded before he withdrew from her, then opened the door.
"Kitten," he said as he saw Erika again. "When did you get so tall?"
She gave Susan a "duh" stare. "I grew while you were in the bathroom."
Erika snorted. "You know, this is a serious improvement over his regular temperament. I think I like it. We definitely need to find out what it is and spike his food. "
As Susan tried to guide him back to their room, Ravyn caught the door frame with his hand and refused to enter. He gave her a harsh stare as she tried to push him forward. "I have to get back home."
"Yes," she said slowly, "it's right in this room."
"No!" he growled in a ferocious tone. "Zatira needs me. I have to go to her."
Who was Zatira? Susan exchanged a look with Erika, who looked every bit as baffled by the name as she was. "No, you don't."
He pushed her away and he started down the hallway. "I have to save her." He took three steps before he froze. He stared at the floor as if it were a TV screen. Unbelievable pain twisted his brow as if he was reliving some kind of nightmare. She'd never seen a more tormented expression.
"No," he growled, punching at the wall. "Zatira! Mom! God, no! No more blood. They're not dead. They're not!"
He raked both hands through his hair before he threw himself against the wall and slid to the floor.
Susan went to him. Taking his hands into hers, she forced him to unclench them from his hair. "Ravyn, look at me."
He did, but she could tell he didn't see her. He was still being tormented by something in his past. "Zatira?"
He rolled away from her. "I have to save her. I can't let her die. I can't."
Susan tried to hold him back as he struggled without hurting her.
Suddenly, a shadow fell over them. Susan looked up, expecting it to be Erika.
It wasn't. It was either Dorian or Phoenix.
"Get up," he snarled at Ravyn. There wasn't a trace of compassion or sympathy on his face.
"Fuck you." Ravyn tried to crawl past him, only to have his brother grab him roughly by the arm and haul him to his feet.
"Not so rough," Susan snapped. "There's no need to hurt him."
Ravyn leaned back against the wall as he stared at his brother. His face was angry and feral, but his eyes spoke volumes of pain and hurt. "You going to kill me again?"
For once, his brother's expression softened. "It's Dorian, Rave. Not Phoenix."
"Dori..." The anger faded from Ravyn's face and was replaced by a profound agony. "I didn't mean to, Dori. I didn't. You have to believe me. I didn't want them hurt." He grabbed his brother by the shirt and held tight. "I didn't mean for anyone to die."
Dorian wrapped his hand around Ravyn's wrist before he removed his grip. "I know."
Ravyn snapped his head back so hard into the wall that it actually broke the Sheetrock. "We can save them," he said, taking a step toward the door that led upstairs. "We can go back and make it right."
"What is he talking about?" Erika asked.
Dorian didn't answer. Instead, he snapped at her. "Go upstairs, Erika."
It was obvious by her face that she wanted to argue, but for once she obeyed.
"We have to go," Ravyn insisted.
But there was no reprieve in his brother's stern expression. "Don't be stupid again." He shoved Ravyn away from him.
Susan glared at Dorian as Ravyn staggered and almost fell. "You asshole," she snarled, barely catching Ravyn against her.
Ravyn paused as their gazes met and held. For the first time since this episode had started, he saw her and not Zatira. His features relaxed. A small smile hovered on his lips. "You look like an angel..." His eyes rolled back in his head before he collapsed.
Dorian let out an aggravated breath as Ravyn hit the floor. None too gently, Dorian picked him up and carried him back to the mattress. Susan wanted to protest his help, but there was no way she could move Ravyn by herself. Damn his brother for being so cold.
"How long has he been like this?" Dorian asked as he straightened up.
"About two hours."
Dorian shook his head as he looked back at Ravyn, who lay silent and still. "You need a breather?"
She crossed her arms over her chest as she gave him a suspicious once-over. "It depends. You gonna beat on him while I'm gone?"
The look on his face said he wasn't amused by her question, which was okay by her since she wasn't joking. "No."
That made her feel a little bit better... but only a little. She still didn't trust Dorian. From what she'd read in the handbook, Dorian was an Arcadian Were-Hunter. Human in theory, he was able to shift into an animal. There were other kinds of Were-Hunters who held animal hearts. They were called Katagaria. Unlike Ravyn and his family, they were truly animals who could take human form. But from where she stood, she didn't see much difference since the so-called "human" branch seemed to be as cold as any animal she'd ever met in the wild.
Then again, as a reporter, she'd met plenty of humans whom she would definitely classify as animal. Some were even amoebas.
And the reporter in her had something else it was extremely curious about. "Who was Zatira?"
Pain darkened Dorian's eyes before he answered. "My sister."
"I assume she was Ravyn's, too?"
He cut her a look that said yes, but that Dorian didn't want to admit to it.
Which begged the next question. "What happened to her?"
The pain from his eyes seeped over his entire being. It was obvious that he felt her loss every bit as deeply as Ravyn did. "She was killed three hundred years ago."
Susan winced at that. "Killed how?"
"By humans." He snarled the word as if being human was the worst thing he could think of. He gave her the harshest, most hate-filled stare she'd ever seen in her life. "They brutally slaughtered her... our mother, Phoenix's wife and children, and our entire village."
Susan covered her mouth as the horror of that overwhelmed her. But then what had she expected? Dark-Hunters were created out of men and women who'd suffered unjust tragedy and who wanted revenge on those who'd wronged them. It was the screaming of their souls that summoned Artemis to them, and if they accepted the bargain, Artemis would bring them back to life and give them twenty-four hours to exact their revenge. After that, they became soldiers in her army that was dedicated to protecting mankind from the Daimons. The nature of their creation guaranteed that all of them had at least one major tragedy in their past.
"I take it their deaths are what made him a Dark-Hunter?"
He nodded. "He wanted revenge on the humans who'd killed them."
"And Isabeau? Was she part of your village, too?"
The look of hatred on his face was a resounding no. "She was Ravyn's mate... a heartless, human bitch. He told her about us and she in turn told her people. They're the ones who came for us. They thought we were evil minions of the devil and in their ignorance, they slaughtered our weaker members while we were out protecting them from the Katagaria who'd been raiding their village."
The Katagaria were the animal branch of their people who were at war with the "human" Arcadians. Susan winced as sympathetic pain swept through her. What awful irony to be betrayed by the very people you were attempting to help. But from what Dorian said, Ravyn sounded like a victim, too-all he'd done was trust the wrong person. Why would they hate him for a mistake that any one of them could have made? "How could you have banished him?"
He snorted at that. "We didn't banish him, woman. Phoenix killed him as soon as we found our families slaughtered... and the bastard should have stayed dead. "
She was horrified by his words and the venom in his voice. "How could you people do such a thing... to your own brother?"
"How could we not?" he asked as if he was baffled by her question. He gestured toward Ravyn. "Every time we look at him, we're reminded that he caused their deaths. He is an abomination to us. And I hate that we're forced to run a sanctuary in the city where he's stationed. Damn the Fates for it."
Oh, that was stupid. "It wasn't his fault."
"It was all my fault... I should have never trusted her."
Startled that he was awake, Susan looked at Ravyn, who had rolled over onto his back. At first she thought he was still delirious, but his gaze seemed clearer now.
His face grim, he pushed himself up and reached for his brother. "Dori-"
"Don't touch me, Ravyn." He curled his lip at Susan. "As soon as he's back to his senses, he needs to get out of here before the others turn on him again. Understood?"
"Yeah," she said, curling her own lip in response, "I completely understand. You're a heartless bastard and the rest of you aren't leopards. You're pigs."
His face hardened. "Be glad you're human and standing in a sanctuary right now. Otherwise, I'd rip your throat out." He cast one last hating glare at Ravyn before he vanished out of the room.
Unable to believe the gall of him, Susan turned back to Ravyn, who lay completely still. At first she thought he'd fallen unconscious again, but as she brushed his hair back from his face, she saw that his eyes were open.
The look he gave her singed her to the spot. There was so much anguish and self-loathing that it stole her breath. "I didn't want to be alone anymore. Was that so wrong?"
Her heart clenched at those heartfelt words. She knew exactly how he felt. "No, Ravyn, it wasn't wrong."
He started shaking uncontrollably as he reached for the blanket on the mattress. "I'm so cold."
Susan pulled the blanket over him, but his teeth continued chattering. She'd never seen anyone so cold. Figuring he was in enough pain from the raw emotions the drug was bringing out, she spooned up against him to try to warm him with her body heat. Poor man. And she'd stupidly thought she was all alone in the world. It was probably better to have no family than to have half of them dead while the other half hated you for causing the deaths.
She couldn't imagine anything worse. Well, maybe living with Erika, which he also did.
Ravyn continued to tremble in her arms. He covered her hands with his as she held him quietly in the dim light of the room. "Susan?"
She opened her eyes at his faint tone. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry about your friends. I wish it hadn't happened."
He went suddenly limp in her arms as if he was unconscious again. Her first inclination to pull away from him, she laid her head on his muscular arm instead. How odd that two strangers would find themselves lying on a mattress in the basement of a popular singles club in the heart of Pioneer Square. They were both being hunted for a crime they hadn't committed and were trapped in a place where no one wanted them.
God, what a day.
Closing her eyes again, she let out a long, tired breath. What lay ahead was even more daunting than when she'd written the story about Senator Kelly and his questionable spending only to learn that her source was completely bogus. Even now she cringed at the memory of that day when her boss had tossed the paper with the story in it in her face and accused her of making it up.
Then she'd come under fire from all of her reporter brethren as they wrote story after story about her. There had been no kindness or forgiveness. Nothing but hostility and glee as they brought her down, and all because she, too, had trusted the wrong person to not lie to her.
And then there had been the lawsuits. Slander. Libel. Defamation. Not only had the senator sued her, but her own paper as well. It'd been the worst time of her life.
Up until now. Now she didn't even have Angie to hold her hand through it. No Jimmy threatening to kill the people who were hurting her.
Just say the word, Sue, and I'll arrest them for parking violations...
She was completely alone.
Susan blinked back her tears as she toyed with his silken hair that made her skin itch. But she didn't care. She needed to feel his presence. This wasn't the time for weakness. She needed her strength. Especially since she had no idea how all of this would turn out. How to even begin to get her life back.
What was she supposed to do?
You're a reporter, Sue. What would a good reporter do?
Find the truth. The only way to get back her life was to expose whoever was behind all of this. Granted, she couldn't expose the vampires without becoming a complete laughingstock, but Jimmy had spoken of a cover-up, and she did trust him. He wouldn't have lied to her. Ever. Someone in his department was definitely working with the Apollites and Daimons to hide the disappearances, which were probably all murders. Now that she knew what was going on, she could find evidence and expose him or her... They could be brought out and exposed in a human court. Then the Apollites wouldn't have human help anymore.
Don't be stupid. The whole thing was ludicrous and she was living it. How could she sell this to people who couldn't see it for themselves?
Not to mention the small fact that going after a government official who was supposedly on the take was what had led to her disgrace.
"I'm too old to start over again."
More than that, she was too tired.
But even as she thought that, Angie's beautiful face hovered in her mind. She could see Angie and Jimmy on their wedding day, laughing as they waved good-bye to her from the limo before they headed off on their honeymoon. They were supposed to grow old together and make her a fabulous aunt to their whole brood of raucous children.
They had been her family.
This time there was no stopping the tears that flowed from her eyes. They-the only family she had-were gone and they would never have those kids to mooch off them. There would never be another call from Angie complaining about Jimmy watching football games on TV. No more Jimmy teasing Susan that he'd recently arrested a man who would be perfect for her.
No more late-night movies or laughter. No more Christmas dinners...
They were gone and those bastards had killed them for no reason.
Fierce, unadulterated anger swelled deep from her soul to crawl all the way through her body. She couldn't let the people responsible for their deaths get away with it. Not to mention that every night they were still out there, ending other people's dreams. Other people's lives. Taking away the family someone else loved.
She had to stop them. Somehow. She couldn't just sit by and let someone else lose their loved one. Not if she could stop it.
Susan paused in her mental tirade as an idea struck her.
"Jimmy's journal..." As far back as she could remember, Jimmy had kept anal notes in his journal. Both she and Angie had teased him about it endlessly. That incessant need to put everything in writing was what had made him such a great investigator.
Whatever evidence or leads he'd uncovered would be in that notebook. She knew it. There was no chance he didn't leave clues for her to follow.
But how could she get to his house while the police were looking for her? Not to mention they most likely had it staked out.
It didn't matter. She was going to find some way over there, and get those notes no matter what it took, and finish this investigation. Even if it killed her.