Ravyn paused as he stared into pale blue eyes that seared him. Not to mention the fact that his body was being cushioned by the softest curves he'd ever felt, curves that would only feel better if she were naked underneath him.
The scent of woman mixed with sweet perfume filled his head and it was enough to silence the beast inside him as he wondered how she'd gotten into his house while he slept.
It took a full ten seconds before he remembered that he wasn't in his own home. Another five before he remembered everything that'd happened since last night. The woman, Susan, had taken him out of the animal shelter and brought him to her house. As soon as she'd taken the collar off, his suppressed magick had run riot.
Now he was-
About to be creamed by the lamp she was lifting up to beat him with. Rolling away from her, he came to a crouch at the same time Susan lunged at him with her lamp.
"Hey, hey, hey!" he snapped, deflecting it with his arm. "What are you doing?"
She forced him back with the tip of the lamp. "Keep your hands to yourself, buddy."
Ravyn struggled to disentangle his feet from a pink Power Puff Girl blanket while he dodged her pokes. "Put the damn lamp down."
Too aggravated to argue, Ravyn tried to disintegrate it with his mind. Unfortunately, all that happened was a sharp pain to his head. Cursing, he put the heel of his hand against his forehead to combat the ache. He realized that he'd worn the collar so long, it had all but drained him of his powers. He was completely lacking all magick until he had time to recharge. Damn.
So instead, he jerked the lamp from her hands and made as if to hit her with it-not that he ever would, but dammit he was pissed, and the stupid blanket that seemed to be melded to his legs wasn't helping any. Irritated, he set the lamp down behind him as he finally succeeded in stepping out of the mess at his feet.
The woman seemed every bit as aggravated with him as she tried to reclaim her property. "You know, that wasn't cheap. I want my lamp back."
He kept her from reaching around him to grab the lamp. Finally, he forced her back, toward the brown leather sofa. "Yeah, and people in hell want ice water. Doesn't mean they're going to get it, especially when someone can't keep herself from poking me with it."
He glanced around the spartan living room, grateful that all the shades were drawn shut to keep the daylight out. The whole house was done in simple, contemporary lines with earth tones and only a bare minimum of furniture. It was obvious that she wasn't into anything too fussy, frilly, or complicated. "It's still daylight, isn't it?"
A tic started in his jaw. His luck just kept improving every step of the way. "Whatever you do, don't open those blinds."
"Why? You gonna burst into flames or something?"
He looked at her drolly but didn't answer. How he wished he had enough juice to summon clothes for himself. But that, too, would have to wait, so instead he retrieved the evil pink blanket from the floor and wrapped it around him. He grimaced as he realized the word Puff covered his cock-yeah, he was feeling really manly at the moment. "You got a phone I can use?"
Susan folded her arms over her chest. All things considered, she had to give Leo and Angie credit, the guy was scrumptious-even with the childish blanket wrapped low around his lean hips. His shoulder-length black hair was tousled but looked really good with his sullen features. As he raked a hand through his hair to settle it into place, the muscles of his arm and side flexed in a most captivating way.
He had the deepest voice she'd ever heard-the kind that just rippled down her spine like a hot caress. And he had the most intriguing way of speaking without opening his mouth more than a tiny bit. Truly the man was sex on a stick.
She didn't know where they'd found him, but given his build and beauty, she'd guess he was probably a local stripper. It would explain why he was so comfortable with being naked in front of a complete stranger.
But since they'd gone to such trouble, she might as well play along to see how far Mr. Buff carried the charade. "A phone? For what? Can't you mind meld to your cat people or something?"
He sneered at her as if that offended him. "Just how much TV do you watch?"
He looked less than amused. "So can I have a phone or not?"
"Who are you going to call?"
"Someone to get me out of here."
"Well, why didn't you say so." She tossed him her cell phone.
Ravyn wasn't sure if her quick capitulation amused him or pissed him off. Deciding on the former, he flipped the cover up and dialed for Erika.
"This is Erika. I can't answer the phone right now, but please leave your name and number and I'll get around to chatting later."
He glanced over to the clock on the wall. It was just after four in the afternoon.
"Dammit, Erika, where are you? You're not in class and you should be home studying with your phone turned on. It's me and I need you to bring me some clothes and come pick me up pronto. Call me back for directions." Disgusted with his wayward Squire, he hit theCANCEL button.
He dialed Acheron's number.
Yet another voice mail. Great, just great. He really hated these things. Hanging up, he growled deep in his throat.
He considered calling the other Seattle Dark-Hunters and warning them about the Apollite uprising but decided it would wait a bit. Either they were safe at home or they were dead. If the latter, then there wasn't anything he could do for them.
He glanced at the woman who was still watching him with a strange look of perturbance. "I don't suppose you have some clothes I could borrow, do you?"
"Sorry. Extra-large male isn't my specialty. Besides, can't you just poof some clothes on?"
"Not at the moment."
She gave him an arch look. "Let me guess, you need to recharge your batteries or something, right?"
She was eerily astute. "Yes."
The disbelief on her face was almost comical. "I do have some pink sweats that might not be too bad."
"I'd rather go naked."
"Suit yourself. Not like it bothers me."
"Then we're even." Like patience, modesty had never been his virtue. But one thing he did hate was being around people he didn't know. Then again, he didn't like being around people he did know, either. He much preferred solitude-it couldn't betray him.
She cocked her head. "So how long have you known Leo, anyway?"
He frowned at her. He'd known Leo vicariously for years. Like his Squire substitute, Erika, Leo was one of the humans who served the Dark-Hunters. Paid employees, they helped to keep the paranormal world hidden from the rest of mankind, who would most likely panic if they ever learned what inhuman beasts prowled the night, waiting to prey on them. "Are you a Squire?"
"No, I'm a Michaels."
He rolled his eyes. She had to be the biggest smart-ass on the planet; well, maybe second only to Erika. "That's not what I mean and you know it. Do you work with Leo?"
"Of course I do. Why else would you be here?"
Ravyn nodded. It explained her snotty attitude. For some reason, the latest generation of Squires seemed to have a problem with their duties. "Why didn't you tell me you worked for him?"
"I assumed you knew it."
"Yeah, right. The way you guys come and go, it's impossible to remember more than one or two of you at a time."
She nodded in agreement. "Leo does have a way of burning people out. So how did he talk you into this?"
"Showing up here, naked to yank my chain."
Yeah... like Leo could have ever done that. "He didn't. I assumed he sent you to me to get me out of the shelter."
"I guess in a roundabout way he did. So tell me something, how did you do that earlier trick?"
Ravyn grimaced. "What trick?"
"The cat thing. How did you switch?"
Why did humans always want that question answered? Even if he explained it, it wasn't like they could do it. "It's magick," he said sarcastically. "I mumble hocus-pocus and the next thing you know, I'm a cat."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "I suppose it's a step up. The last guy I had in my house could only turn into a beer-drinking Pig."
In spite of himself, he gave a short laugh at her dry tone. He had to give her credit, she had a quick sense of humor, and he was quirky enough to appreciate that in other people.
Suddenly, he was exhausted. He hadn't been able to sleep since the Apollites had captured him-to have done so would have caused him to revert instantly to human form, which would have resulted in head explosion. Now he felt the deep need to rest. "So can I take the bed until tonight?"
Her eyes widened. "Excuse me?"
"I need sleep. You know? Whole point of you getting me from the shelter? You said Leo sent you, right?"
She put her hands on her hips and gave him a sharp glare that said she wasn't keen on that idea. "Yeah, but not to let you sleep in my bed. This isn't a flophouse, you know?"
That raised his ire. "What is happening to the Squire's code? I remember a time when that actually meant something."
"What Squire's code?"
"Up the ginkgo, babe. Don't you remember the one you had to take when you went to work for Leo?"
Her eyes snapped blue fire at him. "Leo didn't make me promise anything other than to leave my sanity at home."
His disgust tripled. "That figures. You must be first-generation."
"What has that got to do with anything?"
"It explains why you don't know your job any better than you do."
She crossed the floor to stand right in front of him as she glared her anger at him. "Excuse me? I don't know my job? At least, I'm not the one standing naked in a stranger's house, clutching a throw to cover my vital parts." She raked him with a less than complimentary glare. "Who the heck are you to lecture me on what I should be doing?"
"I'm a Dark-Hunter."
Susan stiffened. He said that as if it explained everything. "And that's supposed to mean something to me?"
He curled his lip. "Of course it should. What the hell has gotten into all of you that you no longer care about us? Or your duties? Have the Daimons sucked you in to work for them, too?"
What was he talking about? "Who are the Daimons? Last time I checked, the paper was owned by the Kirbys."
He curled his lip at her. "Like you don't know who they are. Look, Susan, I don't have time for you to jerk me around. I need some sleep before tonight. We've got a lot of stuff we have to do and I'll need for you to e-mail the rest of your group and let them know what's going on. "
Boy, he had some nerve. She'd never seen anyone so commanding and sure of himself. Especially given the fact that he was standing here bare-butt naked. "Excuse me? Do I look like your personal secretary or slave? Uh... no. You don't own me. I don't even know you and I don't care how cute you look naked in my living room, I don't take orders from anyone. So there's the door-"
"You know I can't go out there. There's daylight outside."
She gave him a droll stare. "Well, that's what happens when the big yellow ball comes up over the mountains. Amazing, isn't it?"
Ravyn wanted to choke her. And he'd stupidly thought Erika was a pain. That's what you get for thinking there couldn't be a worse Squire in existence . . . here's Erika in another fifteen years or so.
And Acheron thought that saving mankind from the Daimons was nothing. Gods spare him from women such as these two.
Just as he opened his mouth to speak, there was a knock on the front door.
Ravyn exchanged a puzzled frown with Susan. A small preternatural frisson went up his spine. Since it was daylight, he knew there couldn't be a Daimon or Apollite out there-daylight would fry them on the spot.
Yet that's what it felt like. There was no denying or excusing away the unique sensation.
Which meant it had to be a halfblood. Only a half-Apollite would be able to set off his senses and still walk in daylight without dying.
"Ms. Michaels?" a deep, masculine voice called through the door.
Susan started toward it only to have Ravyn pull her to a stop. "No."
"No?" she asked, her voice frigid. "Boy, I'm not your bitch or your ho. You don't order me about. Ever." Susan twisted away from his grip.
Ravyn cursed at her stubbornness. Something wasn't right. He could feel it with every heightened sense he possessed.
Susan ignored him as she opened her door to find two uniformed police officers on her front porch. One of them was incredibly tall, probably around six six or so, with short blond hair and dark brown eyes. The other officer was a brunette who only stood about four inches taller than her.
"Can I help you?"
The brunette looked up at the blond as if he were the one in charge. "Are you Susan Michaels?" the blond officer asked.
"Were you at the Seattle Animal Shelter a short time ago?"
"Is there a problem?"
The blond gave her a smile so fake that someone should post it in a toothpaste ad. "No problem. You just left the facilities with a cat that wasn't meant to be adopted. We're here to collect him."
Every nerve in her body rang out with suspicion. Why would two cops-
Oh wait. Jimmy. He'd probably put them up to this just to get her goat. Susan stared blankly at them. "Don't you guys have something better to do, like actually investigate real crimes or something?"
"This is a matter of public safety, ma'am," he said seriously. She had to give him credit. He was much better at acting than Angie had been. "That cat is extremely feral and might be rabid."
Sure it was. "Well, I'm afraid you're too late. The cat has already turned into Mr. Supermodel and has now taken up residency in my home. I don't know what Jimmy paid you guys for this, but whatever it was, I'm sure it wasn't enough. Have a nice day, gentlemen." She closed the door.
But before she could step away, she heard a faint voice through the door. "It's her and he's here in human form. She won't hand him over, so what do you want us to do?"
Susan scowled as she heard a voice answer him, but she couldn't make out any of the words.
"Yes, sir." There was a brief pause until she heard footsteps on her porch. At first, she thought it was the police leaving. But the sound was getting closer, not farther away.
"He said to kill the Dark-Hunter and take the woman back to the shelter for questioning. If she gives us any problems, kill her, too."
Her heart shrank at those words. They had to be joking... right? This wasn't real. It couldn't be.
"I told you not to answer it, didn't I?" Ravyn snarled as he pulled her away from the door.
Two seconds later the front door flew open. The two uniformed officers angled guns at them. "Don't move."
She raised her hands up as fear gripped her hard. They were going way out of line on this one. "What's the meaning of this?"
They didn't answer as she saw two more men in street clothes coming in behind them. Large and tough, they each looked like they had a rap sheet to make Scar face proud.
Ravyn silently debated on how to handle this. The tall blond was half-Apollite without a doubt, but the other three were humans. By Dark-Hunter code, he wasn't allowed to harm humans. Then again he'd never lived by anyone's code but his own.
For now, he had to move quickly to keep Susan safe and himself alive. "Susan..."
She looked at him as he reacted instinctively.
He dove for her at the same time the cops opened fire on him. Ravyn cursed as the bullets sliced into his flesh. They wouldn't kill him, but it didn't mean they didn't hurt.
Susan was momentarily stunned by what was happening. This wasn't a practical joke. They were trying to kill him and take her. The horror of it all held her immobile as she stared at the blood pouring out of Ravyn's body while he shielded her from the gunfire.
"He's still moving," one of the thugs said to the blond officer.
"The bullets won't kill him. Tear down the blinds."
She heard Ravyn's curse before he breathed in her ear, "Run for the back door while I distract them."
He rolled from her as the men started ripping her blinds from their tracks, causing the afternoon sun to spill through her living room.
That's my house, you assholes, she wanted to shout at them, but thought better of it. They didn't seem to be in the most reasonable of moods as they riddled her home with more bullets while tearing it apart. She was amazed that they hadn't shot her in the chaos.
Ravyn hissed as a ray of sunlight cut across his skin. But what stunned her most was that his skin blistered and began smoking.
That wasn't normal and that wasn't fake, especially not the stench of it... what was going on?
Ravyn dropped the blanket and shoved her toward the back of her house. "Go!"
"What about you?"
He recoiled as they opened fire on him again. "Go, Susan. Run!"
She did but she didn't go far. She ran to her closet and pulled out her baseball bat that she kept there just in case of intruders. And this definitely qualified as that. Too bad she hadn't had time to get to her gun before all this started.
Susan ran back to the fray. Ravyn went down hard on the floor as she swung at the thug closest to her.
She caught him against the arm with enough force that it caused him to drop his gun. Then she swung another blow at him with all her strength, catching him against the head. He hit the ground hard. The brunette officer turned toward her and took aim. She ducked as he unloaded his clip into her wall.
Ravyn was dazed as his body burned. Daylight was now all around him so much so that he could barely move for it.
He saw Susan swinging at the other thug as the halfblood officer grabbed him by the ankle and tried to pull him toward the light on the floor. Every fiber of his body ached as he watched the brunette officer grab Susan from behind. The thug took the bat from her hand and shoved it into her stomach. She cried out before doubling over in pain.
Screw this. He was through playing with them. As a Dark-Hunter he wasn't supposed to ever attack a human being, but then humans had never been all that high in his estimation and he wasn't about to die and let these bastards live to do whatever they wanted with Susan. Pain though she was, she was a Squire and that brought with it a certain degree of protection.
Not to mention, it wasn't in his genetic makeup to go quietly into that good night and since one of these assholes was part Apollite... well, he knew of one way to rejuvenate his weakened powers. Apollites and Daimons liked to feed on Were-Hunters so that they could not only steal the Were-Hunters' souls but claim their psychic powers as well.
That channel worked both ways...
His rage swelling, Ravyn kicked out at the officer holding him. He felt the beast inside him snarl as it rose to the forefront. His eyesight changed from human to that of a vicious predator.
Lowering his head, he ignored the bullets that riddled him as he rushed toward the half-Apollite and caught him about the waist. "You stupid fool," he snarled as he turned the man so that his back was against Ravyn's front. "You should have brought a Taser."
"Shoot me!" the blond officer screamed at the other two who were still standing. "Quick!"
Susan froze in her struggling as she caught sight of Ravyn. He held the blond cop in front of him, but that wasn't what stunned her. It was the fact that his eyes were no longer black. They were a deep, insidious red. He tilted his head back, opening his mouth so that she could see long, sharp incisors. The other men in the room froze as if they were every bit as terrified as she was.
And before she could release her pent-up breath, Ravyn sank his teeth into the officer's neck.
I don't believe in vampires. I don't believe in vampires... The litany repeated itself over and over again in her mind as she watched the blood pour down the officer's shirt while he struggled to get away from Ravyn, who effortlessly held him with one arm.
Suddenly, the two thugs opened fire on both Ravyn and the cop he held. The cop's entire body shook in response to the bullets pummeling him as his eyes turned glassy and dull. Ravyn laughed evilly as he released the lifeless body to sink slowly to the floor at his feet.
He threw his hands out and some kind of invisible wave went through the room, knocking the two men off their feet. His eyes matched the red blood that still dripped from his chin as black clothing appeared on his body.
"You don't knock on the devil's door, boys, unless you want him to answer," he said, his voice deep and evil. He wiped the blood from his chin.
"Th-they said you wouldn't attack us," one of the thugs said in a frightened tone.
Some unseen force ripped her out of the arms of the officer who held her. Ravyn rushed the thug closest to him and hit him so hard that he was knocked off his feet, and three feet up, into her wall, which shattered as the thug hit it. The brunette officer rushed at Ravyn, who spun about and caught him a powerful blow to his jaw. The sound of bones breaking echoed in the room as the officer fired more bullets.
Ravyn's eyes turned an even brighter red before he waved his hand in the air. The bullets stopped dead in the air, hanging there for two heartbeats before they reversed direction and struck the cop.
Susan couldn't breathe as her gaze scanned the carnage of the four men who'd entered her home. Now the only one standing was...
The male stripper.
"Please, please tell me that I'm having an acid flashback."
His eyes faded back to black. "You drop acid?"
All she could do was shake her head no as some foreign coldness invaded every part of her body. This couldn't be real. She couldn't have seen what she'd just seen.
I'm having a psychotic episode.
Maybe they weren't dead. Maybe all of this was still part of the hoax Leo had perpetrated. She took a step toward the blond officer to feel for a pulse... only there was no way to press her fingertips against his carotid since it was no longer intact. It had been ripped out.
And that wasn't makeup. It was real. Disgusting and real. At one time, she'd been on the police beat and seen more than her fair share of dead bodies. This was no hoax. Her male stripper had just killed four men in her house, which would make her an accomplice if she didn't report this.
"We have to go to the police," she said in a strangely serene tone. "Tell them what happened."
He shook his head. "We can't go to the police. They're in on this."
"Susan," he snapped, shaking her lightly. "Look at me."
Even though she wanted to run, she stood her ground and met those spooky black eyes.
"This isn't a game. Didn't you hear what your friend was trying to tell you earlier? There's some serious shit going down here. Now that I know what's going on, I can take care of myself, but you're another matter. We have to get you to a sanctuary before more of them come to find you. Do you understand?"
"But I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't kill them. You did."
"Bobby? Alan? What's going on? You got the woman yet?"
Her breath caught as she heard the officer's radio going off. Were there more of them outside waiting to come in?
"Bobby? Respond. Over?"
Ravyn cursed as he heard heavy footsteps outside. "There's two more men coming up the walkway."
"How do you know?"
Before he could answer, her door was kicked wide open. Ravyn shoved her toward the kitchen before he slung his hands and knocked the two human males down. He took a step forward only to realize that these two were smarter than the others... they had the one weapon that would incapacitate him. A Taser. One shot and the electricity would bounce around his cells, turning him from cat to man and back again without his control. His magick would be haywire and he would be defenseless against them.
As much as he hated it, it was time to retreat. Changing to cat form, he ran after Susan, who was making her way toward the back door.
"We have to get to your car. "
Susan froze as she heard the male voice in her head and saw the small leopard back in her house. "Please tell me I'm having some kind of stress-induced hallucination." It was better than the thought that she had actually lost her mind completely.
But insane or not, she needed to get out of here until she figured out what was going on. Since there was no way to get to her front door without confronting the two newcomers, she grabbed the spare set of car keys from the small hanger inside her back door. She rushed out of her door as bullets sprayed the wall beside her, narrowly missing her.
Too afraid to look back, she ran to the driveway only to realize that they'd blocked her in. Damn. Another shot rang out before the passenger window of her Toyota shattered. Susan crouched down as she made her way around the car, to the driver's side. She didn't dare glance back until she had the door open.
She couldn't see anything until the small leopard came bounding out of the door, headed for her. Before she could move, it leaped into her car and jumped into the backseat.
Deciding not to argue, she got in, slammed the door, then started the engine.
Normally, she didn't obey anyone's orders, never mind a disembodied voice in her head, but given the oddness of this day, she decided not to argue or hesitate. No sooner was she down than more bullets sprayed her Toyota.
"This is ridiculous!" Infuriated over the damage done to her car, she put it in drive and gunned the engine as more shots were fired. The car lurched as it went tearing through her neighbor's yard, over their small white garden fence. "Jenna is going to kill me." But she'd deal with her neighbor later, provided she survived this and had a later.
Her heart pounding, she sat up so that she could actually see where she was going. Off in the distance, she heard the sound of sirens. The saner part of herself wanted to head toward them, but she thought better of it. Those had been cops at her door...
Jimmy had been terrified of his compadres in uniform. For argument's sake, what if that part of his psychosis had been real? She knew more about police corruption than any human had a right to, and though she'd always thought of the Seattle cops as much more honest than others, there could very well be more than one dirty apple in the barrel.
"I need to speak to Jimmy," she said under her breath. He was the one cop she could trust.
"Head toward Pioneer Square. " There it was again... that deep masculine voice in her head that she now recognized as Ravyn's.
"Why?" Oh good grief, she was now buying into the talking-cat thing. Great.
"Just trust me. Three-seventeen First Avenue South. "
Sure, why not? "And who's there, the Addams family?"
Of course. Who else would live there? "This is one hell of a delusion I'm having. All I can say is that I hope whatever put me into this coma doesn't leave any lasting damage."
"Since I'm the one with all the bullet wounds, I don't want to hear it from you. "
"Lay off me, Puss in Boots. I'm having a really bad day."
Deciding to listen to the voice that sounded like her own, she headed back toward the clinic.
"This isn't the way to Pioneer Square. "
"Yes, voice in my head, I know. But I'm doing things my way, so sod off. "
At least that was the plan until she got to the animal shelter and saw it marked off with yellow warning tape. Her heart rose in her throat to choke her as she saw the coroner, newspeople, officers, and a gathered crowd.
What had happened?
Part of her wanted to check it out, but given the fact that her car was currently riddled with bullet holes, that might not be the prudent thing to do until she found out what was happening and why the police seemed to be after her. No, she needed to get the hell out of here. But where could she go?
He was... "Oh, don't say it," she whispered. She couldn't believe that he, of all people, was her lifeline. Yet she couldn't think of anyone else who might know why the police were at the shelter. Pulling her phone off her belt, she pressed 3 and waited while it rang.
Never in her life had she been more thrilled to hear that goofy little-boy voice of his. "Leo?"
"Susan? Is that you?"
"Yes, and I-"
"Listen," he said sharply, cutting her off. "Don't talk." His curt tone irritated her, but for once she didn't argue. "There's been some odd things happening this afternoon. Did you by any chance go see your friend Angie today?"
He was silent for a full second. "Where are you now?"
"I'm in the car."
"You still got the cat?"
If there were any doubts Leo was in on the prank, that eliminated them. How else would he know that she'd taken a cat home from the shelter? "Yes. Puss in Boots is safe."
"Oh thank God." There was an unwarranted amount of relief in his voice. "Whatever you do, don't let that cat out of your sight."
"Just trust me." She heard a muffled sound like Leo was covering up the phone with his hand. "Tell them just a second." Then he returned to her. "I have to go. You need to head to Three-seventeen First Avenue South. Hold up there and I'll be over as soon as I can." He hung up the phone.
Three-seventeen First Avenue South. There was that address again. What was it with that place? Deciding that it must be important to her delusional mind, she finally succumbed and headed for it.
Susan really wished she knew what to think as she worked her way through the relatively light Seattle traffic. She could hear the cat moving around in her backseat from time to time, but for the most part, he was quiet.
Until she finally reached Pioneer Square.
"Pull around to the loading dock in back. "
Convinced she was utterly insane, she did as the disembodied voice said, then parked the car. Her nerves were pretty much shot by the time she opened the door and got out. She half-expected the cat to leap out, but instead it was lying on the backseat... completely covered in blood. Her heart clenched at the sight.
Was it dead?
Terrified, she opened the back door. She touched the cat's shoulder only to have it hiss at her. "Easy," she said, pulling back.
The cat rose up slowly so that it could limp out of the car, toward the dock.
"Hey!" a cute young man with short black hair snapped at her. "You can't park..." His voice trailed off as he caught sight of the cat.
His face went instantly pale before he shouted inside the door. "Mom, we got Ravyn out here! Code Red." He grabbed a coarse blanket from a stack of them that was piled on the edge of the dock, then jumped down to wrap it around the cat.
Carefully, he picked the cat up, cradled it in his arms, then took it back to the loading dock.
Unsure of what she should be doing, Susan locked her car (and immediately wondered why she bothered since one window had been completely shot out and the rest of the car looked like it'd survived a war zone-but then old habits die hard) and followed them into the dock, which led to a small storeroom. As soon as the kid shut the door and set the cat down, Ravyn returned to being human. He braced one bloodied and blistered hand against the right wall and kept his head bent down as if he was exhausted.
Sure, why not? He really was the cat. Made about as much sense as the rest of her day. And hey, if she had to be delusional, at least he had the best naked backside she'd ever seen, except for the fact that there were numerous bullet holes riddling almost every inch of his exposed flesh.
But then he was only naked for a few brief seconds before a pair of jeans and a T-shirt appeared on him. It didn't take long before the shirt was saturated in blood.
Susan cringed at the sight of it. How could he still be alive, never mind standing upright? Just play along with the delusion, Sue. What the hell? "He needs an ambulance," she said to the kid.
Ravyn lifted his head to look at her over his shoulder. There was a small bit of blood on his lips, and for the first time she saw his fangs when he spoke. "I'll be all right. I just need some sleep."
"I have got to start taking drugs," she mumbled. "At least then I'd have an explanation for all this."
A door on the opposite side of the small storeroom was flung open to show two more people running in. A young woman who was around the age of the boy and a tall, dark-haired woman in her mid-fifties. The older woman paused as soon as she saw Susan. "Who are you?"
Ravyn rubbed his bleeding arm. "She's with me, Patricia."
Patricia gave her a suspicious look but didn't argue. "What happened?" she asked Ravyn, moving to examine the bullet wound he had in his right biceps.
"The Daimons have declared war on us and they have some of the police department on their side. I don't know how they managed it or how many they have, but it's enough to warrant our undivided attention. They claimed they killed at least one Dark-Hunter, didn't say who, and they almost got me. We need to warn the others, ASAP."
The color faded from the older woman's face. "How is that possible?"
Ravyn shook his head. "I don't know. But they're coming after us one by one."
Patricia turned to the girl behind her, who was a younger version of her-obviously her daughter. "Alicia, start the calls." Then she looked to the guy who'd met them on the dock. "Jack, I need you to make sure someone goes to Cael's to warn him. Since he lives with Apollites, he's probably in the greatest danger, and I've never known the man to answer his cell phone until the sun goes down."
"Okay, Mom." Jack took off immediately to obey her.
Susan was completely baffled by what the woman was talking about. Apollite? What was that? Some sort of diet soda? And what the devil was a Daimon? The only time she'd ever heard that term was when her e-mail bounced back with trailer-daimon attached to it.
Alicia handed her mother more bandages before she left to do her mother's bidding.
As soon as they were alone, Patricia moved to grab a small doctor's bag. "We'll need to get those bullets out of you so you can heal."
Sure, and why not just give the man a piece of leather to bite on for the pain, too, while they were at it? How backwards were these people?
"He needs a doctor," Susan insisted.
Patricia ignored her as she started setting out her supplies on a nearby table while Ravyn sat down on a stool. "Are you sure she's a Squire?"
Ravyn shrugged. "She said she worked with Leo."
Patricia paused. "With... or for?"
"For," Susan said.
That got Ravyn's full attention as he turned those deeply annoyed black eyes on her. "You're not a Squire?"
Before she could answer, the door opened again. "Mom," Jack said. "We have a serious problem."
Jack held up a Sony portable TV monitor that had a breaking news story.
Susan's heart froze as she saw the news cameras that were trained on her little Cape Cod house.
"According to police, three unidentified men and two local officers were just reported as slain while trying to apprehend two people suspected of murdering a local veterinarian, her husband, and a clerk earlier this afternoon in a local animal shelter." Disbelief filled her.
The scene flashed to one of the men who'd chased Susan from her home. He was covered in blood and had a bandage wrapped around his head.
"I knew I should have ripped his throat out, too," Ravyn snarled.
"It was insane," the man said into the microphone. "We were just trying to sell magazine subscriptions and as soon as we knocked on the door, they pulled us in and killed my friend. I thought I was dead. I really did. If I hadn't been pretending I was dead, they would have killed me, too. They're crazy, man, crazy."
The scene went back to the anchorwoman. "As you can see, this is quite an unsettling event. Authorities are posting a reward for any information that leads them to the whereabouts of Ravyn Kontis and Susan Michaels, the two suspects for the murders. If you see either of them, please do not attempt to apprehend them, as they are considered extremely dangerous. Call the special line at 555-1924 and let the police know where they are."
Susan's jaw went slack as they flashed an old photograph of her and a police sketch of Ravyn. It was followed by a shot of her leaving the animal shelter with the cat cage. Jimmy had been right. There was a police conspiracy.
Her sight dimmed as her heart started racing. This couldn't be happening to her. It couldn't be.
But as shocking as that was, it was nothing compared to the next picture they showed.
It was the animal shelter again with all the yellow warning tape that kept it sectioned off from a small crowd of people.
"We finally have the names of the couple who was killed... Angela and James Warren. James, or Jimmy as he was known, had been married to Angela for the last five years and was known to often visit his wife at her clinic..."
Susan staggered backwards until the wall stopped her. Angie was dead? Jimmy?
And she was wanted for their murders...
From the deepest part of her soul, deep, wrenching sobs overwhelmed her.
Ravyn cringed as he heard the sound of her tears-he'd never been able to stand the tears of a woman. They tore through him and reminded him of a past he'd just as soon forget. "We've seen enough, Jack."
Jack cast a sympathetic look to Susan before he turned the monitor off and left.
Patricia moved toward Ravyn, but he brushed her off. "Give us a moment, okay?"
She nodded before she left them alone.
Ravyn's heart ached for the pain he heard in those soul-deep sobs. Better than anyone, he understood that kind of agony. The kind of loss that reached so far down into your being that it was all you could do to stand still and not launch into a hysterical tantrum of rage.
He'd been bred to that kind of misery. A Were-Hunter's life at best was one of burying family.
His had been even worse than that.
He wanted to tell her it would be all right, but he wasn't heartless enough to hand her that lie. In life, there were never any guarantees other than the one that said when you were down and out, someone would definitely come along to kick you.
So instead, he did something he hadn't done in countless centuries, he pulled her into his arms and held her. She wrapped her arms around him as she continued to sob. Ravyn ground his teeth as ragged emotions tore through him. Like her, he'd lost everything when he'd been mortal...
Even his life.
She would need to cry this out. To let out all the rage and agony until she was spent from it. All he could do was offer her some physical comfort. As paltry as it was, it was better than nothing.
And it was more than anyone had ever offered him.
He leaned his head against hers and closed his eyes while she clung to him.
Susan wanted to scream as countless memories of Angie and Jimmy haunted her. They were her friends. Her best friends. Both of them. She'd known Angie ever since they were children, playing house and dress-up together. As for Jimmy, Susan had been the one to introduce them. They'd even made her the best man at their wedding as a goof.
How could they be gone now? Like this? Who could have hurt them?
"Why?" she sobbed, wanting some kind of solace. Some kind of answer.
But there wasn't any. It was senseless and stupid, and it hurt so deep inside that she wanted to claw the pain out.
Why hadn't she believed Jimmy? Why? She should never have left that shelter without both of them being with her.
Now they were dead.
And it was her fault for being so stupid!
From the deepest part of her soul, anger swelled as she remembered Jimmy's earlier fear. That anger allowed her to gather her strength, and as it overrode her grief she became aware of the fact that she was clutching a complete stranger.
Pulling back, she stared into those obsidian eyes. "What the hell is going on here and don't lie to me. I want the truth about what happened today."
He took a deep breath before he answered. "You're not a Squire, are you?"
Her frustration mounted. "You keep asking me that. What is a Squire?"
He looked ill at her question.
Her gaze fell to the bullet wounds in his chest, which were no longer bleeding. They were all over his arms, his neck, and the bloodstains on the black shirt betrayed all the places where he'd been shot on his chest and back. Yet he was acting as if they were nothing but a nuisance.
Susan touched the bullet wound on his arm that had torn straight through the muscle and tissue. It wasn't makeup or some special effect, it was real and it was gory. "What are you?"
A tic worked in his jaw before he gave a clipped answer. "In short... the only hope you got."