Stryker sighed as he sat at his desk, looking for his cell phone, which was no place to be found. "Trates!"

He winced as he accidentally called for his old second in command. Damn, he was never going to get used to Davyn being here and Trates being gone.

It was almost as bad as having lost Urian.

Before he could call for Davyn, Satara appeared in the room beside him. "Hello, Brother."

Her presence amused him and he wondered if either Artemis or Acheron knew that he had a direct link to whenever Ash visited Stryker's auntie. "I take it Acheron is back on Olympus."

She nodded as she leaned against his desk. "Have you thought about what I said earlier?"

She'd had one hell of a plan to give them an informant that no one would ever suspect. Of course it hinged on her being correct, and he wasn't so sure that she was. "I have."

"And?"

"If he's really alive and you can convince him to go through with it, I'll convert him."

She laughed deep in her throat as she tapped him on the chin. "Oh, Brother, you constantly underestimate me." Leaning back, she snapped her fingers, and an instant later a Dark-Hunter was standing between them.

Stryker actually gaped at the sight. Satara had been right after all.

It was Acheron's friend from New Orleans. The one Desiderius had caused to kill himself. "Gautier..."

Nick looked around as if confused. "Where am I?"

Satara licked her lips as she leaned against him and rested her arm on his shoulder. "I told you, sugar. This is where you can get what you need to kill Acheron. And this is the man who can do it."

He narrowed his eyes on Stryker, but lucky for Stryker, Gautier didn't know him by sight and it was obvious Satara hadn't given his name to the man.

Good for her. She was a clever girl.

"He's a Daimon," Nick sneered.

Dub . . . Stryker masked his Daimon's aura. "Not entirely, Dark-Hunter. Not entirely. I'm also the son of a god."

He saw the confusion on Nick's face now that he could no longer sense him as a Daimon. "How can you mask your essence?"

"I told you. I'm the son of a god, and I can share those powers with you. If you're willing."

Suspicion darkened his eyes. "At what price?"

"Submission to me. You have to agree to abide by my rules. Same as Artemis required of you... only with a twist. "

"Yes," Satara said. "You'll actually get your Act of Vengeance with us. Unlike Artemis, we won't deny you."

Nick's eyes gleamed at the prospect. "Is that all I have to do?"

"Not quite," Stryker said honestly. "Once I convert you over so that you can share my powers, you'll be required to drink from me in order to live. If you go too long without feeding, you will die."

Nick was silent as he considered that. The idea of drinking blood disgusted him. The idea of drinking it from a man...

He shivered in revulsion.

But you could kill Acheron.

That idea thrilled him. Ash had taken everything from him. Or if not taken, he'd allowed it to be taken by others. And Nick wanted revenge. A vengeance Artemis had refused him when she'd taken his soul. But for Ash, he would still be alive. More than that, his beloved mother would be alive. New Orleans would still be intact. Rage darkened his vision.

"Is it a deal?" the Daimon asked.

"Yes," Nick said before he could chicken out. "Give me what I need to kill him."

Stryker stood up slowly as he savored this victory. Now here was something Acheron wouldn't see coming. Because he loved Nick, Nick's future was shielded from him. He'd never know this man was going to betray him.

Not until it was too late and the death blow was upon him.

Thrilled, Stryker unbuttoned his shirt so that his neck was exposed. He sat down on the corner of the desk so that Nick would have an easier time reaching him. Though Dark-Hunter blood had been made poisonous to Daimons, Daimon blood wasn't poisonous to Dark-Hunters. The fact that Dark-Hunters could drain emotions and powers from others was why they were banned from drinking blood. Nick was about to learn one of many secrets Acheron kept from his Hunters.

"Whenever you're ready, Dark-Hunter."

Nick stared at the Daimon's neck and the vein that throbbed there. If he did this, there was no way back for him. None.

And then he saw his mother's gentle face. Saw her sitting in her favorite chair, dead in their house on Bourbon Street.

Ash needed to pay for the people he'd allowed to die. The people he hadn't brought back to life.

His breathing ragged, he took a step closer and sank his fangs into the Daimon's neck.

Stryker laughed as heat poured through his body. He cupped Nick's head in his hands and tilted his head so that Nick could drink his powers into him. Stryker knew what was happening to Nick's body. The lust and craving the man was feeling as Stryker's life force invaded him. There was nothing else like it.

And when Nick became more feral from his newfound strength, Stryker pushed him away, into Satara's arms.

Nick whirled on her then and pinned her to the wall before he feverishly kissed her. He needed to release the fire in his body or it would consume him.

Wiping at the blood on his neck, Stryker licked it from his fingers. "Call me when he's through with you."

He wasn't sure Satara could hear him as Nick furiously pulled at her clothes. Stryker left them alone to screw while he savored this moment.

He now had two of Ash's Hunters. One Ash knew about. But the other...

He would be the death of the Atlantean.

Susan was still smiling from the mating ceremony with Ravyn as she entered the offices at the Daily Inquisitor.

"Hi, Joanie," she said, heading for Leo's office.

"Hi, Susan." Joanie leaned over her desk to whisper loudly. "Did you hear that there are vampires who live here in Seattle?"

"Oh, yeah. A lot of them hang out at the Happy Hunting Ground, too."

She watched as Joanie made a note. Shaking her head at the woman, she opened Leo's door. "Hey, boss man, what'cha up to?"

He was sitting with Otto across his desk. "You look awful chipper, Sue. What's up?"

Walking in and shutting the door, Susan handed him her article and watched his face as he read it, then laughed nervously.

"What is this?"

She smiled at him. "I have learned Ibsen. I now know how to embrace the absurd. "

Otto arched a brow at her. "I think she's learned to embrace the bong."

Susan slapped at his shoulder playfully. As she pulled her hand back, Otto grabbed her wrist. "What's this?" he asked, turning it over to see her mark.

A pall went over the room.

Susan balled her hand up, but it was too late for that.

"You can't mate with him," Otto growled. "It's against the rules. You're a Squire."

Susan's heart pounded as she tried to think up a lie.

"Actually," Leo said, leaning back in his chair. "That's not true."

Otto released her. "What do you mean?"

Leo squirmed a bit before he answered. "I kind of forgot to swear her in. She's still technically a civilian."

Otto was aghast. "Leo..."

"Hey, we had a tough week, you know? I was going to get around to it, but things came up."

To her amazement, Otto visibly relaxed. "Damn. Another good Dark-Hunter lost. And I really liked the leopard, too."

Susan went cold at his words. Were they going to kill Ravyn for mating with her? "What do you mean, you're going to lose him?"

Leo gave her an agitated glare. "You haven't read all the manual yet, have you?"

"Well, no. The thing's something like five thousand pages long."

Leo tsked at her. "You should read chapter fifty-six."

"Why?"

It was Otto who answered. "That's the chapter that tells you how you can free your Dark-Hunter and marry him."

Susan gaped at that. Ravyn hadn't said anything about that to her. "Are you serious?"

"Always. I don't have a sense of humor... well, Roman general and Tabitha not withstanding. "

She had no idea what he was talking about and honestly she didn't care.

"You know," Leo said, distracting her. "I like this article, Sue. What say we make it front-page?"

Her head still spinning from her latest discovery, she nodded at him. "That'd be great. I'll... um... I'll see you guys later."

She left them alone and headed back to her car as quickly as she could. Could she really be able to get Ravyn out of his service to Artemis?

The thought thrilled her.

At least until she got home and brought it up to Ravyn, who didn't seemed pleased by the prospect at all.

"No," he said firmly.

She couldn't believe his automatic answer. "What do you mean, no?"

He crossed his arms over his chest as he faced her in the hallway.

"What I said. No. I'm not getting my soul back from Artemis."

"Why not?"

"I don't want to be mortal."

That didn't make any sense. Why wouldn't he want to be free? For someone who hated cages, he seemed awfully happy to live in bondage to a Greek goddess.

"But you can leave-"

"No, Susan. I can die." He shook his head. "I don't want to die and I damned sure don't want you to die on me, either. I want us to bond when you're ready and I want us to be together forever." He gestured at the window that looked out onto the city. "I have a job to do here in Seattle. A really important one. I go back to being a Were-Hunter and then I go from this to being a Sentinel again and that's the last thing I want to do."

She frowned at the unfamiliar word. "What's a Sentinel?"

"Essentially, it's the Arcadian equivalent to a Dark-Hunter. Only instead of chasing Daimons, I chase down other Were-Hunters. And I lose all immortality. But wait, it gets better. The minute I return to being mortal again, the Katagaria have a clear shot at you because you're my mate."

"Oh..." Suddenly the idea of him getting his soul back wasn't so appealing to her, either. "They'd really do that?"

"Yes. We are at war and they'll stop at nothing to hurt us." He cupped her cheek in his hand as his black eyes and the sincere adoration there warmed her. "But if you really want that for us, then I'll call Ash and we can ask for the test to restore my soul. I leave it up to you."

"Really?"

"Yes."

Susan bit her lip as she considered that. "What if Ash won't let us be together if you continue being a Dark-Hunter?"

"He let Cael have Amaranda. Do you really think he'll stop us?"

He had a point. "I don't know. I mean, after all, you only think you love me..."

Ravyn laughed at that and rolled his eyes. "There's no thinking to this, Susan. I do love you. Why else would I volunteer to spend eternity with you? Have you any idea how long that is?"

"No," she said, giving him a devilish grin before she kissed him. "But I'm going to find out."



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