His jaw dropping, Ravyn stood in the doorway in total stupefaction as he saw Cael entwined on his bed with an Apollite woman. Completely flagrante delicto. "I so did not need to see that hairy full moon tonight," Ravyn said as he turned around to give them his back. "Gawd, I think I've gone blind."
Susan gasped as Otto and Leo laughed, then stepped back into the hallway, out of sight range for the naked couple.
Cael snarled a fetid curse. "What the hell is this shit?" he demanded angrily in a thick brogue that was an odd Scot-Irish mix. Ravyn could hear the two of them shuffling about on the bed, no doubt trying to cover themselves. "And for the record, I'm not the one with the hairy arse. That would be you. Don't you people knock?"
"Usually yes," Ravyn said snidely. "But not when I think you're being attacked."
"I was being attacked... in a most desirable way. You should try it once in a while, Rave, and maybe you wouldn't be such a bastard."
Ravyn rolled his eyes. "I don't know. You're the one who seems obsessed with my hairy ass. What's that say about you, bud?"
A shoe struck the wall not far from Ravyn's head. "Your aim's off, Cael."
"That wasn't Cael," a soft, venomous voice said in an agitated tone. "And next time I won't miss."
Before Ravyn could comment, Cael cleared his throat. "Why are you here anyway, Catboy?"
"That's Catman to you, and I need a word with you."
Cael let out an aggravated sigh. "Wait outside while Amaranda and I get dressed."
Ravyn cast a glance over his shoulder to see Cael and Amaranda wrapped in a sheet before he joined the others in the hallway and shut the door.
"I think I'll go wait upstairs," Leo said, heading down the hallway. "Call me if you need any more help busting up horny couples."
"Shut up, Leo," Ravyn snarled. "You're not so necessary to my world that you can lip off and not get hurt."
"Yeah, yeah," he said dismissively as he headed back up the stairs and disappeared from sight.
"Well, that was certainly embarrassing," Susan said in a tone that should be entered in the Sarcastic Hall of Fame. Looking up at him with those clear blue eyes, she folded her arms over her chest. "Now that I've seen the mating rituals of the Dark-Hunters up close and personal, got any more fun places to take me tonight? You know, I haven't been this embarrassed since the elastic broke in my gym shorts in high school and I learned the hard way that I had a hole in the back of my panties."
And for some reason that made no sense whatsoever to him, the thought of her butt peeking out from a tear in her panties actually turned him on... yeah, he was losing it.
Before he could comment on her causticity, the door opened to show Cael wearing nothing but a red and black plaid kilt wrapped low around his lean hips. Raking his hands through his wavy black hair to settle it into place, he glared at them before he wrapped his arms around his bare chest, which bore a number of red scratches. "To what do I owe this extreme displeasure and interruption? The answer better be 'Armageddon' if you want to live."
Susan tried not to gawk, but it was hard. Like Ravyn, the man had the build of a taut gymnast... with a full eight-pack of abs. He, too, had a bow and arrow tattoo, only his was low on his left hip while another tattoo of a heart pierced by a dagger went down one arm. Vines rose up from it to twine over one shoulder and down to his right pecs. His thick black hair fell to his shoulders in waves of masculine perfection. At least one day of beard covered his handsome face, and he had dark eyes ringed by eyelashes so long, they should be illegal.
Ravyn had a tic in his jaw as he faced his friend. "Close. I came to tell you that the Apollites are going to try and kill you."
Cael gave an evil smirk at that. "You're too late. Amaranda's been trying all day, but I won't go down." He wagged his eyebrows.
Susan cringed at his bad double entendre.
Ravyn's nostrils flared as he directed a heated glare toward the closed door. "This isn't a joke, Cael. This is serious. I can't believe you're shacked up, shagging the enemy. What the hell are you thinking?"
All the humor fled Cael's face as he tightened his grip on his arms. "Caution, braither. You'll put respect in your tone when you speak of her, you ken?"
The bedroom door opened to show Amaranda. Tall and ethereally beautiful, she was the kind of woman Susan had spent her entire life envying. There wasn't an ounce of fat on her, and it was obvious, since she wore a pair of skintight jeans that barely came up over her pubic area and a slinky red halter top that left most of her upper body bare. Her slender upper left arm was encircled by a gold snake slave bracelet that matched a pair of gold earrings, and a ruby red moon hung from the loop she had pierced in her belly button. As she turned toward Susan, she noted that Amaranda also had a small red stud in her right nostril.
Susan started to mention the fact that it was a bit nippy outside for the outfit but held her tongue. Maybe the woman would get a cold and gain some weight... At the very least, she'd cover up that perfect body so that Susan wouldn't feel quite so inadequate.
Note to self: Start a new diet tomorrow.
Tossing her waist-length, perfectly white-blond hair over her shoulder, Amaranda glanced quickly at them before she looked up at Cael. There was no mistaking the deep, adoring love in that gaze. It was only matched by the one Cael gave her back before he smiled at her. He said something in a language Susan didn't recognize.
Amaranda responded in kind. Like Cael, she also flashed a bit of fang as she spoke.
Ravyn curled his lip as Amaranda withdrew from them. "You even speak their language?"
Tilting his head down, Cael rubbed at his eyebrow with his middle finger.
"Fine," Ravyn snarled. "But let me tell you what's been going on while you were making nice with your little girlfriend."
Cael gave him a peeved glare.
"At dawn, I was picked up by the Apollites and taken to an animal shelter where they came dangerously close to killing me. After I got out of that by the skin of my teeth, they sent a group of humans and a half-Apollite out to kill me during the daylight hours. They've already killed one as yet unidentified Dark-Hunter and then tonight they attacked the Addamses at their base. Patricia might not even survive the night."
With every word Ravyn spoke, Cael's face turned more deadly serious. "What?"
"It's true," Susan said in Ravyn's defense. "The police and Apollites are working with the Daimons and they're out to hunt all of you down." Even as those words left her lips, they sounded ludicrous. How she wished they really were.
"Yeah," Otto added. "We sent a Squire over here three hours ago, before the attack on the Addamses, to warn you."
Cael scowled at that. "No Squire came over here. Kerri would have told me."
"Kerri?" Ravyn asked.
Cael hesitated as he cast his dark gaze toward the stairway that led to the club upstairs. By his face she could tell he was debating something extremely important. He looked highly uncomfortable before he finally answered. "My sister-in-law."
Ravyn couldn't breathe as those words went through him like a hot knife. What the hell was he thinking? "Your what?"
His features tightened. "Amaranda's my wife."
Rage and disbelief made for a hostile mixture inside Ravyn. "Have you lost your friggin' mind?"
Cael started to shove him, then thought better of it. After all, whatever one Dark-Hunter did to another, the antagonist felt ten times worse. A simple shove to Ravyn would rebound to Cael as a staggering blow. "I know exactly what I'm doing."
Yeah, right. Tangling like this with an Apollite was like milking snake venom for a living. Sooner or later, one of them was bound to turn around and bite him-it was just the nature of the beast. "You fucking idiot! Have you any idea-"
"Of course I do, Rave," he said between clenched teeth. "Don't you dare think for one minute that this has ever been easy for either one of us. It hasn't. We're well aware of the downside and drawbacks of this relationship." The pain in his eyes was raw and powerful.
Part of Ravyn felt sorry for him. The other part just wanted to beat the shit out of him until he saw reason. This wasn't a game they were playing. It was a war they were fighting. And how could a man fight while his loyalties at home were with the very enemy they were sworn to kill?
"How old is she?" Susan asked quietly.
The pain flared even brighter in Cael's eyes. "She turns twenty-six in a couple of weeks."
"Damn, Cael," Ravyn said under his breath. He wanted to argue with him, but to what purpose? They were already married. Even though this had to be the dumbest move Ravyn had ever heard of, Cael wasn't a child. He knew the score and he was the one who would have to live with the consequences of it. Having screwed up his own life over a woman, Ravyn wasn't about to lecture anyone else about their love life. But it never ceased to amaze him how stupid a man could be over a woman. "Well, at least now I understand why the Apollites tolerate you living here. How long have you been married?"
Ravyn let out a disgusted breath as he exchanged a look of disbelief with Otto. It amazed him that Cael had managed to keep it quiet for so long. But then Dark-Hunters didn't usually visit one another's homes and Cael had never asked for a Squire. Even before he'd moved into the Apollite-owned building ten years ago, Cael had been alone, so it would have been relatively easy to keep his marriage hidden from them.
Since Dark-Hunters were forbidden to date or have any kind of long-lasting romantic entanglement it wasn't something that would have come up or been asked.
But then that begged one particular question. "Does Ash know?"
Cael shrugged. "If he does, he hasn't said anything."
Ravyn had to give Cael credit-he was good at hedging around a question. "Did you tell him?"
"No," Cael admitted, "but I haven't hid it, either. I am not ashamed of my wife or my marriage. But I figured as long as no one asked, I wouldn't talk about it. "
"What about her family?" Otto asked. "Since Apollites tend to breed a lot of kids, I'm sure she has more than a sister. What do you do when they turn Daimon?"
Cael's entire posture turned defensive. "Who says they turn Daimon?"
Both Otto and Ravyn gave him a doubting stare.
"You saying they've all died?" Otto asked.
Cael refolded his arms over his chest as his expression turned a bit sheepish. "Not exactly. Some of them have vanished."
"Vanished..." Ravyn mocked. "You mean went Daimon."
Cael's face was stone. "I mean vanished."
The look of disgust on Otto's face was tangible. There was so much tension in the air that it made the hair on Susan's arms stand up. She kept expecting one of them to lunge at the other, but to their credit no one was getting physical.
"Don't ask, don't tell, right?" Otto asked.
"They're my family, Otto," Cael said from between clenched teeth. "I don't go looking for them when they go walkabout. There's enough other Dark-Hunters here to take care of them if they go to the dark side."
Otto released a long, tired breath. "Family? Are you sure they feel the same way about you? Tell me what you're going to do when you wake up with your head detached from your body because your so-called family got nervous... Don't delude yourself, Cael. You're enemies. Always. Sooner or later, one of them is going to sell. You. Out."
"I think he has a bigger problem than that," Ravyn said, drawing their heated attention toward him. "What are you going to do when Amaranda turns twenty-seven?"
The agony in those dark eyes wrung Susan's heart as he looked away. "We don't talk about that."
"Why?" Otto asked. "You planning to hold her hand while she feeds on humans?"
That succeeded in breaking the hands-off truce. Cael grabbed Otto and shoved him back against the wall with so much force, Susan was amazed it didn't crack the plaster. His fangs bared, she half-expected Cael to rip out Otto's throat. "It's not your problem, human. "
Ravyn separated them and put his body between Cael and Otto. "It's all our problems, Cael. All of ours."
Cael curled his lip into a feral snarl.
"You know this might not be so bad," Susan said, drawing their attention to her. "Cael can ask them what's going on, can't he?"
Cael shook his head as Ravyn gave him a curious stare. "No," he said firmly. "I don't call in those kind of favors. They don't ask me about the Dark-Hunters and what we're up to, and I don't ask them about other Apollites or Daimons."
Cael sneered at Ravyn. "Don't cop a superior attitude with me, dickhead. It's not like you're not hunting family, too. At least I don't have any Apollite blood in me. How can you hunt your own kind?"
Susan caught Ravyn as he moved toward Cael. "Enough, boys."
"She's right," Otto said, backing her up. "Besides, you two should be weakening each other by now. "
"We are," they said in unison.
The door at the end of the hall opened to show Amaranda coming back toward them, carrying a small sack of what smelled like food. As she walked past them, Susan noticed a small Dark-Hunter bow and arrow entwined with a rose tattoo on the small of the woman's back.
Amaranda looked pointedly at Ravyn, who somehow managed to keep his face completely stoic. "Cael needs his strength. You need to go."
Ravyn's gaze fell to the teardrops that were tattooed on the hand Amaranda placed on Cael's arm. "She's Spathi?"
Cael's features hardened again. "She's not a Daimon."
"But she's trained to fight us."
Amaranda lifted her chin to stand firm against Ravyn and his criticism. "I'm trained to protect myself and those I love."
"From what?" Otto asked in a dry tone.
She gave him a withering stare. "Whatever I have to."
Again the air was rife with unspent anger and hostility. The frisson of it went down Susan's spine like a phantom touch that set her on edge.
It was only broken when Cael looked at his wife and his anger seemed to fade immediately into a much softer emotion. "Baby, was there a Squire here earlier asking to talk to me?"
"No." Her features were completely sincere and open.
"You sure?" Otto asked.
She nodded. "Kerri would have told me if there were. She wouldn't have kept something like that secret."
Otto looked ill. "He didn't come back and he didn't make it here. They must have intercepted him. Damn. I wonder when we'll find the body."
Ravyn released a heavy breath. His exhaustion and sadness reached out to Susan. She wanted to place a comforting hand on him but decided that wouldn't be prudent. Unlike Cael and Amaranda, they weren't a couple. And she didn't know him well enough to gauge if Ravyn would welcome her comfort or resent it.
"At least we know Cael's safe, so we can relax there." Ravyn narrowed his eyes on the other Dark-Hunter. "Stay in touch and remember what I said. Sooner or later, this battle will come to your door."
Worry darkened Amaranda's brow as she looked up at her husband. "What battle?"
He took her hand into his. "Nothing, baby. They're just paranoid."
Otto scoffed at his words. "And cockiness kills."
"C'mon," Ravyn said, pushing Otto toward the stairs. "We have other places to go and other people to annoy."
Otto shrugged his grip off as he headed down the hallway, away from Cael and Amaranda. Ravyn followed after him.
Susan pulled up the rear, but as she reached the stairs, she turned back to see Amaranda drop the sack of food on the floor as Cael pulled her into his arms and cupped her face in his large hands, before he gave her a passionate kiss.
Gone was all of his toughness and in its place was the gentleness of a man who was obviously head over heels in love with his wife.
"You need to eat something," Amaranda said as she pulled back from his lips.
He gave her a teasing smile. "Trust me, I'm going to eat now... the food can wait till later. "
Amaranda laughed as he picked her up and headed back into their bedroom.
A bittersweet pain sliced through Susan at the sight of them. God, what would it feel like to be that in love? She couldn't even imagine it. The closest she'd ever been to it had been Alex back when she'd been a reporter. He'd worked for a competing paper and they had dated for almost three years-they'd even talked about getting married.
Until she'd been disgraced. Then he'd left her life so fast, she still had a skid mark on her heart.
I can't stay with you, Sue. Can you imagine the gossip? No one would ever trust me. You ruined your career. I won't let you ruin mine, too.
The truly sad thing was, she understood it and, honestly, she'd rather have him gone if he didn't love her enough to stand by her.
But understanding didn't stop it from hurting, even after all this time. How she envied Cael and Amaranda for being able to love even when everyone else condemned them for it.
But that was tempered by what would happen to Cael next year when his wife was destined to die...
Her heart heavy for them, Susan dashed up the stairs after Ravyn and Otto, who'd already policed up Leo. The club was still thumping as college students and Apollites mixed and danced. She walked past a group of tall blonds whose black eyes watched them with tangible malice. Susan felt like a guppy in a shark tank. There was something extremely disconcerting about the way the blonds watched them, and the reporter in her went on full alert.
"Ravyn?" She pulled him to a stop. "I've got a bad feeling."
"I don't know. Something's not right. I can't explain it..."
A teasing light came into his eyes. "Don't worry, my spidey-sense is going off, too. I think it best we get out of here as quickly as we can."
She nodded as they followed Leo and Otto out of the club, back to the street.
Ravyn couldn't shake the bad feeling Susan had mentioned. He hadn't been kidding. There was a scent on the air that he couldn't place. It wasn't Daimon or Apollite. Nor was it human. It was something else... something sinister and powerful, and that concerned him. He needed to get the humans back to safety before whatever it was made its presence known to them.
"What now?" Leo asked as soon as they were outside the club.
"Were all the other Dark-Hunters notified about what's going on?" Ravyn asked.
"Then-" Ravyn's voice broke off as he felt a sharp stab in his shoulder. The sting of it made his arm start to tingle and burn immediately. "What was that?"
He met Otto's scowl.
"What?" Leo asked.
Ravyn couldn't speak. It felt as if his tongue was swollen so large that it wouldn't move. His head started throbbing. His vision blurred and dimmed.
"He's hit!" Otto shouted. He handed Susan the keys for his Jaguar before he grabbed Ravyn around the waist and pulled him toward the car. "Get us out of here. Now. Leo, take Ravyn's car and run."
Susan fished the keys from Ravyn's pocket and tossed them to Leo.
Leo dashed off to comply.
Susan barely had time to recover before she saw the brigade of five Daimons coming out of the alley to their left. Four men and one woman, they walked with determined strides in a killers' formation with the sharp Seattle wind billowing out their long coats. Each one wore a pair of dark wraparound sunglasses and held a sharp, stern face that said they were out for blood.
Her heart hammering, she got into the car and turned the key in the ignition at the same time Otto shoved Ravyn into the backseat. Something hard struck the hood.
Startled, she looked up to see a male Daimon standing on the hood, baring fangs at her as he drew a gun out of the folds of his coat to shoot through the windshield.
"Screw you, asshole," she snarled, putting the car in reverse and cutting the wheel even though Otto still had the car door open. The Daimon went flying as the car slung sideways. She laid her weight on the brakes, causing the car door to slam shut as Otto let out a foul curse from the backseat.
"Buckle up and hang on," she warned him, dropping the gearshift into drive. She stomped the gas and headed for the others, who quickly dove out of her path. "Damn, I missed them."
"Where did you learn to drive like that?" Otto asked.
"I was a reporter, Otto. You ever notice that reporters rank up there with lawyers and politicians in terms of public opinion? There's a lot of people in the world who'd like to hurt us. As soon as I got my first job out of college, Jimmy made me take self-defense classes in both martial arts and driving. Believe me, I can J- and K-turn with the best of them." She glanced into the rearview mirror to see Ravyn trying to stay awake. "What happened back there? Is he okay?"
Otto pulled a small dart out of Ravyn's shoulder, then sniffed the tip of it. "Apparently, they tranked him."
"Can they do that?"
He met her gaze in the rearview mirror. "The answer should be no. Dark-Hunters as a rule are impervious to drugs of any kind, but since he's part animal, it appears he's a little different, and whatever the drug, it worked on him."
Susan glanced all around the car to make sure they weren't being followed by the Daimons, then slowed down so as not to draw any attention from the police. The traffic appeared normal, but then what did she know about normal? All her preconceived notions about that had been splintered the instant Ravyn walked into her life.
"Where am I headed?" she asked Otto.
He sighed. "Good question. I only wish I had an answer. I'm sure between the police and the Daimons, they have both Ravyn's house and your place staked out."
Not to mention, her house was a crime scene. She couldn't go to the Addams house. Leo's house was too far... "Where's your house, Otto?"
That was the last place she expected him to answer with. "That's really not useful."
"Where are you living here?"
"I was living with the Addamses."
That was even less helpful. Fine. She only knew of one place that was safe for them.
She glanced at the men in the backseat. Otto watched the traffic even more carefully than she was doing while he fidgeted with his armpit under his jacket. "You got some kind of rash there, Otto?"
He frowned. "What?"
"You keep scratching at your arm like that and people are going to think you've gone mad or something."
He snorted. "I want to keep my hand close to my gun... just in case."
That should scare the crap out of her, but instead it made her feel a little less tense. She glanced at Ravyn, who was slumped over against the other window. His long black hair obscured his face but she could still see the bruises on his neck from where the collar had almost killed him. If anyone had had a worse day than her, it would be Ravyn. And he had yet to voice a single complaint. That amazed her. He had more strength and courage than anyone she'd ever met before, and it made her wonder how his family could have turned their backs on him.
Maybe it was because she had no family of her own that she understood its value, but one thing was certain; if she ever had someone like him in her life, she'd fight to keep him, no matter what.
"How's Puss in Boots doing?" she asked Otto.
Susan let out a tired breath. The day was really starting to get to her and she just wanted a minute to sit down and have five seconds of peace. A moment to catch her breath before something else was thrown at her. Since lunch, her life had been careening madly out of control.
Was this what she had to look forward to as a Squire? If it was, then Leo could shove it. Granted, as a reporter, she loved the thrill of the chase, but this was entirely different. Give her a regular human killer any day over one who could attack without warning and vanish into thin air.
If this was normal, then it went a long way in explaining why Leo was such a rank toad most days at work.
"So is this how you guys live your lives? One major disaster after another?"
Otto gave a short laugh. "No. Not really. It's usually rather quiet. There's something here in Seattle specifically that's behind this uproar."
That made her feel a little better... well not really. She still felt like crap. "Any idea who's behind it?"
"Apollites," he said dryly. "Big ones, with a few Daimons thrown in for fun."
"Har, har, Otto. I'm serious." Susan gripped the wheel tighter as she remembered the look on Jimmy's face in the shelter. "My friend Jimmy said to me earlier today that some of the police were working with the vampires. I thought he was nuts, but now I'm not so sure."
"That doesn't make sense, though. I can understand the Hollywood generation who fall for it, but cops? They have more sense than that."
"Unless someone higher up the food chain is sending them out. Think about it. I saw the list earlier. You guys have people all over the government. Why couldn't they?"
"For one thing, there's not as many of them who can walk in daylight."
"Yes, but there are a lot of cops on night shifts. How do you know they're not Apollites covering up the murders their people are committing?"
"Now that isn't unheard of. A lot of them do that. But this is more organized than that. They're not just Apollites and Daimons attacking. They have humans working with them."
"Which plays right into what Jimmy was saying. He told me that this ran high up. There has to be a human leading them."
Otto stroked his chin in thought. "What exactly did Jimmy know?"
Susan took a deep breath as she tried to remember everything. "It started a couple of years ago. He'd have these isolated incidents of college students or runaways who turned up missing. Every now and again, they'd even find a body. The cases would be solved, but he'd never see the reports. At first he didn't think anything about it. But a few months ago, they started getting more frequent, and that's when he became suspicious."
"Did you ever investigate it?"
Pain sliced through her. "No. I can't show my face at City Hall. I'd be laughed outside before I could even begin my research."
She met Otto's sympathetic glance in the mirror, but he made no comment. "Were the disappearances all in a certain area?"
"Ravenna. In and around the area where the Happy Hunting Ground is."
"That would make sense, wouldn't it?"
She nodded. "I think Jimmy was right. Someone fairly high up is interfering and helping the Daimons. Someone like the mayor, maybe."
Otto made a noise of disagreement. "He's too high up. He couldn't push that many members of the police department around without someone getting suspicious."
"Yeah, not to mention that it started before he took office." Susan chewed her lip as she considered more suspects. "What about the commissioner?"
"That's more a possibility. Or maybe a detective?"
"No, Jimmy said it went higher than that."
Otto nodded. "He'd be the one to know."
Her heart clenched remembering the fact that Jimmy couldn't tell her anything now.
Damn, if only she had a clue of some kind...
"There has to be a reason for this. Are you sure they've never attempted something like this before?"
"Positive. And in my mind, I can't imagine what would prompt a cop to help a vampire prey on other humans, especially a high ranking one."
"But it is happening."
Otto nodded. "Whatever's going on though, I'm thinking Cael needs to be replaced since he's obviously distracted and not paying attention to what the humans and Daimons are doing. "
She could understand that. "Is it normal for a Dark-Hunter to date an Apollite?"
"No. Hell, no. I've never heard of a Dark-Hunter hooking up with an Apollite before. The only time anything close to this has happened was with Wolf, and he wasn't technically a Dark-Hunter. He was just a human who got caught up in this by a Norse god. Dark-Hunters aren't supposed to date anyone at all. And marriage is strictly forbidden."
That had to stink. She couldn't even begin to wrap her mind around that concept. "So they live for eternity, but they're never allowed to have a significant other of any kind?"
"That's the deal."
"Yeah," Otto agreed. "It does, but as Ash would say, when you sign with the devil, you're bound to get burned. "
"The Dark-Hunter leader, Acheron."
She remembered reading about him earlier. Although there wasn't much on him other than he was rather eccentric and hard for a Squire to get ahold of. "How old is he?"
"Eleven thousand plus years."
Her jaw dropped as she imagined a shriveled up old man who looked like Merlin from a King Arthur movie. "That's a long time to putter about."
"Yeah," Otto said with a light laugh, "it is."
They fell silent as Susan ran all of the information through her mind, but honestly at this point, she was beginning to have information overload.
She slowed as they neared the Serengeti.
Otto cursed as he realized her destination. "You can't take him in there again, Susan. "
She parked on the curb, near the back door. "You got a better idea?"
She expected him to argue. Instead, he held a hand up to tell her to wait, while he pulled out his phone and pressed a button.
"Hey, where are you?" He looked up at her as he listened. "We're right behind the club with Ravyn. He's down for the count. Care to come out here and lend me a hand getting him inside?" He held the phone away from his ear and she heard the commotion from the other end before he pressed it back to his head. "I know, but where else can we take him?" He paused. "Yeah, I'll see you in a sec."
Susan leaned over the seat. "Was that Kyl?"
"Yes, and for the record, he thinks you're insane, too."
"Oh, goodie. But I guess that's only fair since I think he's psychotic."
Otto's eyes sparked. "No thinking about it, he is psychotic. Which makes him great in a fight. C'mon, let's get this over with."
Susan looked around the darkened street before she got out. The back door of the club opened to show Kyl joining them. Susan held open the car door so that he and Otto could get Ravyn out. The two of them had to struggle under the weight of him and they weren't exactly gentle. In fact, they banged his head on the roof, trying to get him out.
She cringed in sympathy. "That'll leave a mark I have no intention of explaining."
Otto gave her a harsh glare as he grunted. Leo parked Ravyn's car near theirs, then went to hold the back door open.
Kyl staggered forward with Ravyn between him and Otto. "What happened to him?"
"We have no idea," Susan said as she shut the car door. "The Daimons hit him with some kind of trank."
Kyl paused for an instant until Otto dragged Ravyn forward. "I didn't know a Dark-Hunter could go down on a trank."
Otto gave him a dry stare. "Well, we learn something new every day."
Susan stood back as they reached the door to give them enough room to get inside.
They'd barely gotten in the back of the building before their route was blocked off by Ravyn's father.
"What the hell is this?" he growled angrily.
It was Otto who answered. "Ravyn's been hurt."
"Then dump him on the street with the rest of the garbage."
Otto let out a tired breath as he grimaced from the weight of Ravyn. "We can't do that, Gareth, and you know it."
Two more of the Were-Hunters appeared out of nowhere to stand behind Gareth. "He's forbidden access to the Serengeti. Permanently."
Those words struck something hard inside her. Damn them for being so cold. Her family had been taken from her and if she could have any of them back for even a minute, she'd take it in a heartbeat and not question it. How could Gareth turn his back on his own child, especially when he was hurt?
It made her burn as she thought about her own father. And that made her focus her suppressed rage on Gareth.
"Hang on a second," Susan said. "This is a sanctuary, right?"
Gareth slid her an angry glare. "Your point, human?"
She crossed her arms over her chest and returned that glare tit for tat. "Then you're not allowed to pick and choose who can stay here. I read in my manual that it was really hard for a place to become a... lemony-"
"Limani," Otto supplied for her.
"Yeah, that. And once you were granted that status, you had to welcome in anyone who needed your help. Anyone. Human, Apollite, Daimon, or Hunter."
She saw respect on Otto's face as he gave Gareth a shit-eating grin. "She's right."
Anger beat a fierce tic in Gareth's jaw. "He violated our laws."
"There was nothing in the book about exceptions. According to the rules, you have to take him in unless someone named Savitar bans him from it. Has this Savitar banned him?"
Gareth raked her with a nasty glare. "What are you? A fucking lawyer?"
Gareth growled a sound that was animalistic and raw. "Phoenix!"
Ravyn's brother flashed in instantly. Susan frowned as a strange deep burgundy tattoo appeared on one half of his face before it faded out.
"Show these people to a room upstairs."
Otto curled his lip in disgust. "He can't be in daylight, Gareth, and you know it. "
If looks could kill, they'd all be nothing but dust. "Fine. Dump him in the basement then. In the holding room."
Well, didn't that sound all warm and cozy? "I guess I was lucky not to have a father, after all, if this is how they act."
No one said anything as Phoenix obeyed his father and led them to a stairway that was off to the right, concealed by a door. But she still half-expected the animals to turn on them as they made their way down to the room.
And it was small. It could barely accommodate the full-sized mattress on the floor. The walls were painted a dull gray and the room held a nice, musty odor to it. Nice... like a moldy piece of bread.
"What do they hold in here?" Susan asked as soon as Otto and Kyl dumped Ravyn on the mattress.
"Problem clients," Otto said, stretching his arm as if he'd pulled it. "If someone or something steps out of line, they have to hold them until they can get a council order to terminate them. "
That didn't sound pleasant. "Order from whom? The Squires' Council?"
Kyl shook his head. "No, the Omegrion. It's the ruling body for the Were-Hunters."
"By the way," Otto said, looking at Phoenix. "Thanks so much for helping us get him down here. "
"Fuck you, human." And then he vanished into thin air.
Susan feigned happiness as she clapped her hands together like a kindergarten teacher before her class. "Wow, boys and girls, they're just so inviting, aren't they? Martha Stewart would be proud."
Otto laughed while Kyl shook his head at her. Even Leo snorted.
"The Were-Hunters may be fuzzy," Kyl said, "but they're seldom warm. "
And that was definitely a shame.
Susan looked down at poor Ravyn, who was slumped in an awkward position on the mattress. "Could one of you at least get a pillow and blanket for him?"
Otto nodded. "I'll be back in a few."
The men stepped past her and left her alone with her charge. Although how he'd come to be her responsibility once more she wasn't sure. Then again, she was almost getting used to this.
Susan sat down beside Ravyn. As she was trying to make him more comfortable on the makeshift bed, she realized that he wasn't completely unconscious. "Ravyn?"
He gave a subtle blink but didn't really respond. He was as helpless as an infant, and that scared her. If he'd been hit with this while alone, he'd have been completely defenseless before his enemies.
It was one heck of an Achilles' heel to have. And now his enemies knew it...
Her gut tight with that thought, she brushed his hair back from his handsome face. Even though they were half-hooded, those eyes were still breathtaking and disturbing and they melted a foreign part of her. She'd never been the kind of woman who lost her head over good looks. But something in her was definitely drawn to him.
It was hard to believe she hadn't even known him twenty-four hours yet.
Otto came back with a blanket and pillow. "How's he doing?"
"I have no idea."
He sighed. "I tried to get one of the doctors in here to examine him, but, big surprise, they refused."
She ground her teeth in fury at that as she very gently placed the pillow under Ravyn's head. "Why do they hate him so much?"
"I killed them all."
Susan frowned at Ravyn's whispered words. "What?"
"I killed my family," he repeated, his voice distant and slurred. "Isabeau lied. She told them and they came for us..."
But there was no answer as Ravyn's eyes closed and he went limp. Again.
Otto shrugged. "I have no idea what he's talking about. Any more than I know why they hate him. I'm sure it has something to do with his being a Dark-Hunter, but anything other than that would be a guess on my part."
Feeling for Ravyn, Susan spread the blanket over him.
"You want me to bring you something to eat while you tend him?" Otto asked. "That is, assuming you intend to stay here with him."
Where else would she go? Besides, she'd been ill enough times in her adult life to know just how lonely it was. There was nothing worse than to have to tend yourself when you felt like complete crap.
"Yeah, I'll stay with him. And as for food, I'll eat most anything that doesn't bite me back."
Otto nodded before he left.
No sooner were they alone than Ravyn rolled to his side as if he was trying to sit up.
Susan caught him and pulled him back toward the mattress. "You need to stay down."
He cringed. "Don't yell at me."
Oh jeez he was on ketamine. What else would they use on a shape-shifter? She should have known. She'd had a college roommate who'd loved experimenting with all kinds of recreational drugs, and Special K, an animal tranquilizer, in particular had been a favorite. If Susan remembered correctly, it often left her roommate highly sensitive to light, sound, and touch.
Wanting to test the theory, she reached out to stroke Ravyn's hair. Like a cat, he arched his back and actually purred. It was so out of character for him that she wondered what he would say if he weren't under the influence.
He raised his hand up to cup her cheek. "You're so soft," he breathed. He grimaced as if something pained him. "I don't feel good."
Susan looked around quickly until she spotted a small trash can near the door. Releasing him, she grabbed it and barely made it back to him before he unloaded the contents of his stomach into it.
She cringed. They must have seriously overdosed him. Her roomie had often been nauseated by the drug, but Susan couldn't ever remember her actually getting sick from it-just very stupid and extremely over affectionate.
When he was finally finished, he fell back onto the mattress, where he panted and groaned.
Susan sighed wearily as she wondered what to do with the trash can. "What a perfect end to a perfect day."
Stryker stood in an alley outside of the Serengeti with three of his men and Satara. He glared at Trates, who'd allowed Ravyn to escape them yet again.
Stryker's second in command gave him a sheepish look that said he knew exactly how displeased Stryker was with him. "At least we know the tranquilizer works and it's every bit as fast acting as Theo promised."
Little consolation that.
Stryker licked his fangs meaningfully. "And where is the good doctor now?"
His face paling, Trates stepped back.
"Grow a ball, Stryker," Satara said irritably as she cast a glare toward the club. "March in there and take him down already."
" Grow a brain, little sister. You violate sanctuary and you open a whole can of worms that not even you can deal with."
Approaching her menacingly, Stryker backed her up against the wall. "I realize that as a handmaiden to Artemis you think you're immune to everything. Lucky you. But the rest of us aren't that fortunate. You go in there after Ravyn and you'll bring the wrath of Savitar down on us all. Not to mention it would become open hunting season on Spathi. We use those places to run to as much as the Were-Hunters do."
Her nostrils flaring, she pushed him back. "Then what do you want to do? Give up on taking Seattle?"
"No," he snarled. "We've gained too much ground here, and so far the humans have proven themselves worthy. We will wait them out and kill them when they leave."
She let out a disgusted breath. "You know what your problem is, Stryker? You think like an eleven-thousand-year-old man."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You're too set in your ways. Give me a team of men to lead."
Yeah, right. Like he would trust her? She was too quick to act and too slow to think. "Are you insane?"
"No, but unlike you, I think outside the box." She gestured toward the buildings around them. "You want Seattle? I can give it to you."
Stryker hesitated as he considered her proposition. For centuries, Satara had kept to herself and only visited him whenever Artemis had no need of her. It was only in the last two years that she'd become a more frequent visitor to Kalosis. And with each visit, she seemed to get more and more agitated. Something had happened on Olympus to infuriate her, yet she never spoke of it.
But then maybe she had a point. He was old and tired. And set in his ways. Maybe she did have an idea that the Dark-Hunters and Acheron in particular wouldn't see coming.
"Fine." He looked back at his second in command. "Trates, go with her. If she makes a move to compromise any standing treaty, kill her."
Satara gave him a snide grimace. "I love you, too, Brother." She pulled the dagger out of her boot. "But don't worry... things are about to go deliciously our way. "