Gallagher could understand that. Even though Ash could be terrifying, there was something oddly comforting about the Atlantean.
The instant Ash realized he was there, he saw the veil come down over the man's face. The humor faded, and Ash stiffened noticeably. Ash became the grim, take-no-prisoners leader that Gallagher was well-versed with.
As soon as the song was finished, Ash handed his guitar off to one of the older children and excused himself. He stood up and left the room with a loose long-limbed, predatorial gait. Ash's face was impassable as he crossed his arms over his chest and approached Gallagher.
"St. Ash—who knew?"
Ash ignored his comment "What are you doing here?"
Gallagher shrugged. "I was just passing through."
He cocked his head. "Passing through? Last time I checked, Chicago was north of Baton Rouge, not south."
"I know. But since I was so close, I just wanted to stop in at Sanctuary and wish everyone a Merry Christmas."
Ash listened to Gallagher's thoughts and let the man's emotions wash through him. Jamie's wife had died of old age this past summer, and her death had hit the Irishman hard.
As soon as he'd "heard" about her death, Ash had gone to Jamie immediately only to find out that Jamie had broken his Code of Conduct and visited her while she'd been in the hospital. Ash had chosen to overlook the breach. He might not have ever known the love of a human being, but he did understand those who were lucky enough to have it.
"Tell you what, since you're here, why don't you just stay on until after the New Year?"
Jamie scoffed at that. "I don't need your pity."
"It's not pity. It's an order. Since Kyrian is retired, Talon could use an extra hand. Things get rather rowdy this time of year. Lots of Daimons head down south where it's warmer and people are out for New Year's."
"Are you full of crap or what?"
Before Ash could answer, the elf woman came out of the room holding a young toddler to her hip.
"Akri?" she said to Ash in strange sing-song kind of voice. "Can I keep him?" She patted the plump leg that was exposed from beneath the hospital gown. "See, he good eating. Lots of fat on this one."
The dark-headed toddler laughed.
"No, Simi," Ash said sternly. "You can't keep the baby. His mother would miss him."
She pouted. "But he want to go home with the Simi. He said so."
"No, Simi," Ash repeated.
She huffed at him. "No Simi, no food. Nag, nag, nag. Does your daddy nag you too?" she asked the boy.
"Nope," he said as he pulled at one of the black and red horns on top of her head.
Ash sighed. "Simi, take the baby back inside."
She moved to stand before Ash. "Okay, gimme a kiss and I'll go."
Ash looked extremely uncomfortable as he glanced at Gallagher, then back at her. "Not in front of the Hunter, Simi."
She made a strange animal-like noise as she looked at Gallagher. "The Simi wants a kiss,akri . I'll wait all century. You know I will."
To say Ash looked peeved was an understatement. He leaned over and kissed her quickly on the brow.
She beamed proudly, then trotted off with the child.
"Who is that?" Gallagher asked. "Or should I say,what is that?"
"In short, she's not your concern." Ash rubbed his hand over his forehead as if he were in pain. "Where were we?"
"I asked why you were giving me temporary duty in New Orleans."
"Because Talon could use a hand."
"I wonder what Talon would say?"
"He would tell you not to piss me off."
Gallagher gave a half laugh at that. "All right then. I'll take it under advisement."
Ash watched the woman in the room with the kids. "You can camp with the Peltiers at Sanctuary. Right now I better go before one of those kids ends up on a milk carton."
Gallagher watched as Ash rushed into the room to take a little girl from the elf and then set the child aside. The elf danced away and moved on to another child.
Shaking his head at the oddity, Gallagher headed for the elevator to go back below and check on his patient. The nurse told him she would be fine. Gallagher let out a relieved breath.
The nurse stood up and patted his arm. "Come on," the woman said, inclining her head toward the back. "She wants to thank you."
"I don't need any thanks."
"Sug, we all need thanks. C'mon."
Before he could stop himself, he let the nurse lead him back to a small emergency room that had curtained walls. The petite brunette sat up on her stretcher with an oversized bandage on her neck. Her large green eyes were a bit dazed, but they brightened as soon as she looked up to see him. The nurse left them alone.
"Are you the man who saved me?" she asked.
Feeling awkward, he nodded.
The girl fidgeted with the blanket that covered her. "Thank you. Really."
"My pleasure. I'm just glad I found you when I did."
"Yeah, me too."
Gallagher turned to leave. "Well, I need…"
His voice trailed off as a lovely young woman came through the curtains. She was tall, probably around five-ten or so with jet-black hair and deep blue eyes. "Jenna!" she cried as she saw her friend on the stretcher. "Oh thank God, you're okay. The lady on the phone said you'd been attacked."
Jenna's eyes teared up. "I don't know what happened. I was just going out to my car, and I don't remember anything after that. If not for him, I'd probably be dead."
The girl turned around and froze. She looked at him as if she'd just seen a ghost.
Gallagher stared back defiantly. "Something wrong?" he asked.
She frowned. "No." She waved her hand around as if feeling silly. "I'm sorry, you just remind me of someone."
"No, my great-grandfather."
"That's not particularly flattering. I thought I looked rather good for my age."
She laughed at that. "No, I mean… oh, never mind."
Jenna cocked her head as she looked at him. "He does look like him, Rose. You're right."
Rose. The name hit him like a blow.
Before he could move, the girl named Rose approached him. She pulled out an engraved gold locket from underneath her brown sweater. It was a locket he knew intimately. Right down to the garnet and diamonds that formed a circle on the front of it, to the inscription on the back.
For my Rose.
Happy Anniversary 1930.
She opened the locket to show him the two pictures inside. One was the photograph Rosalie had requested he have made just months before he died and the other was of his son at age two. "See," the girl said, showing him the photograph. "You look just like my Grandpa Jamie."
His heart aching, Gallagher swallowed. He wanted to reach out to touch it, but his hands shook so badly, he didn't dare. "Where did you get that?"
"My great-grandmother gave it to me last spring. Since I was named after her, she wanted me to have it." She smiled sadly and then closed the locket and returned it to rest under her sweater. "My father said Grandpa Jamie was a gangster, but I don't believe it. Gram Rose would never have married someone like that. She was a saint."
It was all he could do to breathe. To not crush her into his arms and weep. His great-granddaughter.
This vibrant young woman was his living tie to his wife. When he spoke, his voice was thick and deep. "She must have loved you a great deal to give you that."
"I know. She wore it every day of her life until she gave it to me. It's just weird, you know? You looking so much like him and all."
Gallagher cleared his throat. "Yeah. Weird." He couldn't take his eyes off her. He didn't see much of himself or Rosalie in the girl, but he felt the bond of kinship deep in his heart.
She was his family. And he could never tell her. Just as he had never been able to tell her father or her grandfather.
Gallagher had bartered his soul for vengeance and then been forced to step back into the shadows and surrender the care of his family over to strangers. But at least the Squire Council had been there. After Gallagher had become a Dark-Hunter, they had sent in people to make sure his family survived.
The government had taken everything from Rosalie. Confiscated even his legitimate assets and left her destitute. The Squires had given her a job, and after a few years, they had sent in suitable beaux to date his wife and one of them had finally married her.
While Harris had lived, he had sent Gallagher updated photos and news about Gallagher's son and grandchildren. The Squire's Council had ensured the safety and well-being of his family while he had gone about his business of hunting and killing Daimons.
Ash had warned him how hard it would be.
"So long as you have direct descendants still living, it will haunt you. But it does get easier… in time."
Other Hunters had told him the same thing, but right now with his great-granddaughter standing before him, he didn't believe it. God, it was so unfair.
Or maybe this was his atonement for living the violent life he had chosen.
Always an outsider. A part of the world, but not in it. He winced at the truth.
Weary and hurt, he excused himself from the girls and made his way out of the hospital. The street outside was virtually empty. The late hour had sent everyone home seeking warmth. Comfort.
He doubted if he would ever feel either again.
When he pulled into the private garage that was across the street from Sanctuary, Elizar Peltier came out of the back door and stopped. The man's long, curly blond hair was pulled back from his face. He wore a pair of black chinos and a baggy black sweater.
"Jamie Gallagher," he said slowly. "I'll be damned." He turned and called into the open door, "Kyle, go tellMaman to put on a plate of corned beef and cabbage. We have a Dark-Hunter in need of food."
Gallagher nodded his thanks. "Hi Zar, it's been awhile."
"About thirty or so years, I think, since we last had the pleasure of your company."
Time was truly fleeting to an immortal. "Yet you still remember my favorite food."
Zar shrugged. "I never forget a friend."
Neither did Gallagher. They were too few and far between.
Zar led him to the building next door to the Sanctuary bar. Built at the turn of the century, Peltier House was the home of the Katagaria family and their hodgepodge group of refugees. The house connected to the bar through a downstairs door that was guarded at all times by one of the eleven Peltier sons.
In the Hunter world, they were legendary because they greeted everyone as friends: Were-Hunters, Dream-Hunters, Dark-Hunters or others. It mattered not. So long as you minded your manners and kept your weapons concealed, they let you enter and leave in peace. Those who broke the one house rule of "No Spill Blood" quickly found themselves leaving in pieces.