I miss you, my brother. Even after all these years.

Life had no guarantees, except one. You will never succeed until you try one more time.

Even though her people didn’t believe Nick could be saved, she did. Tonight proved it.

Please be all right, Nicky.

Over the next hour as they waited for an update about Nick’s condition, the room began to fill with people eager to check on him. Wren. Aimee. Dev and his brothers. Jasyn. Mama and Papa Peltier. Talon. Acheron. Kyrian. Rosa and her son Miguel. Brynna and her father. But the one that caught them all off guard was when Bubba and Mark came in with Bubba’s mother.

Without a single hesitation, Dr. Burdette made her way straight to the counter to speak to the staff on duty. “Hey, sweetie,” she said to the triage nurse stationed there. “I’m Dr. Bobbi Jean Burdette from Perry County, Tennessee. And I’m a pediatric surgeon out of Vanderbilt and St. Jude’s. A friend of my son’s was brought in about an hour ago and I wanted to see if there was anything I can do for him.”

“His name?”

“Nicholas Gautier.”

The nurse turned her attention to her computer monitor as she searched for information on Nick.

One of the ER doctors approached Bubba’s mother slowly, as if he couldn’t believe what he saw. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Did I overhear you say that you were Dr. Bobbi Jean Burdette?” The Dr. Bobbie Jean Burdette who performs surgery at both Vandy and St. Judes, and who is a former Executive Board member for the World Health Organization?”

She smiled what had to be the warmest smile Kody had ever seen. “Why, sugar, when you say it like that, I almost sound impressive. That is indeed me. Believe me, no one else in their right mind would take on that much work if they didn’t have to. But that being said, honey, it is some of the most rewarding work you can ever imagine. Ain’t nothing prettier than the smile on a mama’s face when you hand her, her baby and tell her that baby’s going to live when she thought she was going to have pick out funeral clothes for him. Mmm mmm mmm, thank the good Lord that He chose me to have a few abilities to help out some of those in need. I am truly grateful for my many blessings, and for being able to help as many people as I can, as best as I can.”

He held his hand out to her. “It is such an honor to meet you, Doctor. You are a living legend. The things you’ve done for and with the WHO … Wow.” He turned toward the triage nurse who was now paying serious attention to Bubba’s mama. “Stacey? This woman, right here, has gone into some of the most war torn and worst natural disaster areas of the world to do volunteer work to save children’s lives. She’s been one of the first responders to set up clinics everywhere you can think of, including here in our own backyard.” He smiled at Dr. Burdette. I just can’t believe you’re here. In front of me. In New Orleans.”

“Aw now, honey, bless your heart for your kind words. But don’t be blowing sunshine at me and making me out to be more than what I am. You just might blind me and I need my eyes to see clearly. In the end, I ain’t nothing more or less than anybody else here on this earth. You ever want to know my flaws, and believe me, they are many, sit down with my bridge partners and they’ll spend hours enlightening you.” She shook his hand, then clasped it between both of hers. “And it’s a wonderful pleasure to meet you, too…” She glanced down at his name tag. “Dr. Ferguson. And I’d love to chat with you, I really would, but I’m trying to find out information about a patient who was admitted here a little while ago.”

While he conferred with the triage nurse about Nick, Cherise approached her slowly. Kody could tell Cherise knew her, but was timid about speaking up.

“Dr. Burdette?” she finally said, touching her lightly on the sleeve.

Bobbi Jean turned around with an arched brow. Until recognition lit up her entire face. “Cherise! Oh my goodness, child, I haven’t seen you in what? Ten, twelve years?”

“Fourteen.”

Bobbi Jean gaped. “Has it really been that long? Goodness me, how time gets away from us.” She held her hands out at Cherise and smiled like a proud mother. “And look at you, honey, all grown up and every bit as beautiful as you ever were, if not more so. Now tell me how that wonderful little baby boy of yours is doing?”

Tears welled in her eyes. “Nick Gautier is my baby.”

Her face blanching, Bobbi Jean covered her mouth with her hand. “I am so sorry, honey. I should have recognized the name. But Nick Gautier isn’t exactly uncommon, and here I thought your baby should be younger. It just never occurred to me that they’d be the same person. What a small world it is.”

Menyara went to Cherise and allowed her to cry on her shoulder.

Bobbi Jean pulled a tissue from the box on the counter and handed it to Cherise. “Now don’t you worry none, baby. I’m here and I’m going to make sure your little Nicky has the best care possible. You hear me?”

Sniffing back her tears, Cherise nodded. “Thank you so much. You’ve always been so good to us.”

Bobbi Jean rubbed her arm and offered her a kind smile. “It’s all right, sugar. We didn’t pull that baby of yours through all that misery just to lose him now. That I promise you. If I have to barter with the devil himself, we’ll keep that boy here, alive, and perfectly healthy.” Bobbi Jean turned back to the doctor. “May I please see Nick?”

“Absolutely.”

Kody’s frown deepened as she met Caleb’s icy gaze. There was something about all of this that troubled her. “Surely, it can’t be a coincidence that Bubba’s mother just happened to have saved Nick’s life when he was an infant. What do you think?”

Caleb shrugged. “The universe is random. Seldom does it make sense. I mean, explain to me the statistical anomaly that out of twenty people in a room, two of them will invariably share an exact birthday. And yet time and time again, they do.”

“Yeah, but I don’t believe in random. There’s a reason for everything.”

Caleb snorted. “That’s because you are a blind optimist and I see things for what they really are.”

Sure he did. But her gut told her otherwise. “You say that with conviction, but I don’t believe you.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve seen you in action, Caleb. Everything you do denies your words with neon clarity. You say you don’t feel or care about anyone or anything. You don’t believe in anyone or anything. Yet you’ve put yourself under the guillotine for Nick for no reason whatsoever, more times than I can count.”

He scoffed. “I have a reason and it’s a good one, too. If Nick dies on my watch, I die, and no offense, Caleb don’t wanna die. Especially not for Nick Gautier.”

“You don’t fear death, Malphas. Everyone knows that.”

Kody jumped at the sudden sound of Acheron’s deep, rumbling voice behind her. She hadn’t even realized he’d drawn near.

Besides being eerily sexy, the man moved like a wraith. Standing at a full six foot eight, with lean, hard muscles, he should never be able to sneak up on someone, and yet he was completely silent when he walked. More than that, he moved languidly, sensually. And yet when he fought, he could strike faster and deadlier than a nest of cobras.

Even though he was over eleven thousand years old, he appeared to be in his late teens. In fact, he’d been twenty-one when he’d died and become a Dark-Hunter. No one knew why. But he’d been the first one Artemis had created and he was now the unofficial leader of them all.

Always dressed in Goth attire, he wore a pair of tight black jeans, a white long-sleeve henley shirt pushed up to his elbows, with a ragged Sex Pistols T-shirt over it. His red biker boots each had a black skull and crossbones on the silver tip and a white vampire bat on the heel. His long purple hair fell to the middle of his back, and his humongously large, graceful hands were covered with a pair of thin, fingerless gloves. Even indoors, he wore dark sunglasses so that it was impossible to tell exactly what he looked like. Still, his features were so perfectly formed that it was obvious without those sunglasses on, he’d be even more devastating than he already was.

More than that was his aura of lethal power and pure intensity. It was so fierce that it sent a shiver down the spine of anyone who stood too close to him. There was no doubt that this was a man skilled in battle and in other arts that were usually reserved for private time.

Caleb raked a disinterested stare over Ash’s body. “What do you know about me, Acheron?” He actually pronounced his name with the full Greek accent so that it came out as “Ack-uhr-ron” instead of the “Asheron” most non-Greek people used when referring to him.

Acheron adjusted the black backpack over his shoulder—one that bore a white anarchy symbol on it. “We’re brethren, you and I. Both damned by our own actions. Both … unique. I know you a lot better than you think.”

Caleb rolled his eyes. “Don’t try to play sage with me, Atlantean. I’m a lot older than you are.”

“I know. But that doesn’t stop me from seeing you. Though I have yet to understand why you’re watching over Nick. What do you care what happens where he’s concerned?”

“Why do you watch over him, Atlantean?” Caleb countered defensively. “What interest do you have?”

Ash’s answer was simple and honest. “We’re friends.”

And it was one Caleb seized and turned on him. “I, too, am his friend.”

An evil grin spread across Ash’s face. “Your kind doesn’t have friends.”

“Neither does yours.”

Acheron inclined his head to him respectfully. “Touché.” Then Kody fell underneath his bold, intense scrutiny. “And the same holds for you. I have no idea why you’d be guarding him.”

Kody smiled. “Aren’t you the one who always says that sometimes things have to go wrong in order to go right?”

“I also say that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Those words haunted her. Did Acheron know about her ultimate orders where Nick was concerned? A tremor went down her spine at the thought.

No one, man, beast or other, could know why she was really here. Nick wouldn’t take it well. And neither would her higher ups.

For that matter, neither would she.

They stopped their conversation as Dev Peltier approached their small group. He opened up the bag he was carrying, which held soft drinks and bottled water. “I figured we could all use something to drink. Aimee has snacks in her bag.”

“Thank you,” they all three said.

Acheron wandered off to talk to Kyrian.

Kody opened her water and resumed her conversation with Caleb. It was odd to her that he was technically more beautiful than Nick. Where Nick had reached that strange phase of turning from boy to man and his body wasn’t quite proportional yet, Caleb was perfectly formed—no doubt enhanced by his demonic powers. His black wavy hair was fashionably cut and his body perfectly formed. Right now, he was leaning forward with his elbows on his bent knees. The ties from his hoodie fell down, brushing against his Coke can. The white of the hoodie was a stark contrast to his dark olive skin.

Yeah, he was made of the stuff that would have both teenage girls, their mothers, squealing, and clawing at each other for his attention.

She might have had stomach flutters for him herself had she not known what he really was. Instead, it was Nick with his boyish charm and the promise of his hotness to come that lured her against her will even when she knew she should stay as far away from him as possible.

Which returned her to his earlier trip that they had yet to discuss. “You never did tell me what you learned from Adarian.”

Caleb snorted as he set his Coke can down on the floor and stared at her from beneath his bangs. Something about his current position reminded her of a panther in the wild, eyeing the prey it wanted to bring down. “He’s going to come after Nick.”

That news jolted her. “What? Why?”

Caleb straightened up, then leaned back in his chair so that he could stretch his long legs out in front of him. “Not really sure. And he didn’t admit it to me. But I felt it, and it was unmistakable.”

“Is he the one behind this attack, then?”

Caleb shook his head. “This was human. I can smell a demon attack from a mile away, and this does not have that stench.”

Maybe, but there was always a first time for being wrong. “Haven’t you ever been fooled?”

He gave her a droll stare before he crossed his arms over his head, against the wall. “No. I’m not a loler.” That was the term his kind used for low-level demons. “Even though I’m technically a mid-level class, I was one of the strongest generals in the Primus Bellum. With more kills than anyone except Jared. And I’m not saying he was the better fighter. We never battled against each other, but I would lay skills against his any time. Any place.”



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