But in the end, he had surrendered his battle flag to his wife. Mostly because she’d kissed him until he’d lost the ability to form any rational thought. At least that was the lie he told himself to keep from admitting that in spite of all the horrors he’d seen and utter agony he’d survived, he still had hope inside his heart. Whether it originated as more torture or as divine inspiration, something always happened to carry him forward through every dismal ordeal.

And while he might not win this latest fight, he would go down battling the whole way, with everything he had. Not for himself or for his own vainglory. Not because he’d been ordered to do it.

He would stand strong and fight to the bitter end for the simple reason that it was the right thing to do.

Yeah, even he admitted it was stupid.

Caleb glanced back at the building where he’d left Adarian and let out a bitter laugh. “We are so going to die.”

CHAPTER 12

With the barrel aimed right between Alan’s eyes, Nick pulled the trigger and felt the recoil in his hand.

A mere instant before the bullet left the chamber, something hard slammed into his wrist, knocking the gun free and sparing Alan’s putrid life. The gun landed a moment later with a solid thud on the concrete. His fury exploding, Nick turned on his new attacker, intending to kill them.

But just as his hand flew back for a punch, warm, soft hands cupped his cheeks and then a pair of tender lips touched his.

The shock of being so unexpectedly kissed drove all the demon and anger out of him. A sweet, feminine essence filled his nostrils, making his head spin as he breathed her in. It was neither Kody nor Casey he tasted. And the kiss she gave him was so hot that it awoke every male hormone in his body.

Growling deep in his throat, Nick lost himself to the wonderful sensation.

Until someone hit him on the shoulder. Hard. His anger renewed, he turned with a curse to find Casey glaring at him.

The stern expression on her face told him she wanted to carve his heart into pieces. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Shocked and confused, Nick glanced back to the woman in his arms. The instant he saw who it was, his stomach hit the ground. No, it couldn’t be.

Simi?

Saint merde!

With a tender smile, Simi moved in to kiss him again.

Nick jumped back three feet. The one thing that his future self had all but beat into him was that he had to stay away from Simi. She was to be kept off his menu for all eternity. No matter what.

Simi passed a hungry look over him. “You know, Akri-Nick … you taste good even without barbecue sauce.”

Oh, someone shoot me.…

From the look on Casey’s face, he would say she was about to.

But before she had the chance, another gunshot rang out. Simi tackled Nick to the ground, filling his arms with her warm curves again.

Yeah, this was nice, but …

He rolled with Simi to see Alan on his feet, aiming the gun for another shot. Reacting on pure instinct, Nick conjured a fireball and shot it at Alan. It caught his arm and engulfed it in flames. Alan went down screaming while Nick jerked his head toward Casey, who hadn’t made a single sound since the gun had gone off.

She lay on the ground a few feet from him in a crumpled heap. Unmoving.

No …

Sirens filled the air as the police finally came toward them. Nick paid no attention as he headed for Casey to see if she was still alive. “Simi? Make sure he doesn’t get that gun again.”

Her eyes lighting with joy, Simi licked her lips. “Can the Simi eat his arm? You already toasted it. It just waiting for dinnertime.”

“No, Simi. Don’t.”

She made a sound of utter irritation as she picked up the gun and glared at Alan. “You are so related to akri. No, Simi, no. That’s all I hear. You know, ‘bon appétit’ is a perfectly good phrase, too. And it’s one that makes the Simi a lot happier than ‘no, Simi, don’t.’”

He ignored her irritated monologue and Alan’s cries of pain as he rushed to Casey’s side. Please don’t be dead. He’d never forgive himself if he’d let her die because he was stupid and hormonal. He skimmed her body, but didn’t see any blood.

“Casey?” he breathed as the police descended on the parking lot, filling the darkening sky with bright, flashing lights.

She didn’t respond at all as car doors opened.

“Freeze!” someone shouted. “Put down the gun!”

Nick glanced over to see Simi holding it on Alan, whose arm was now smoldering instead of blazing. Panic made him sick to his stomach as he feared what the demon might do to the police. “Simi, drop it fast and hold your hands up so they can see that you’re not armed.” Not that it mattered. She was actually a hundred times more lethal without weaponry than a battalion at full arsenal.

Luckily, Simi obeyed him.

Still kneeling beside Casey, Nick lifted his arms and laced his fingers behind his head, so that some nervous rookie didn’t accidentally shoot him. “We need an ambulance. Please!”

The police swarmed them.

“What happened?” a female officer asked as she squatted beside Nick.

“We were walking to the Hard Rock for dinner when he and another guy pulled guns on us.” He pointed to Alan, who was telling another officer that Nick had jumped him after he asked Casey for her name. “Not knowing we were being mugged, my friend Simi showed up and startled them. The other guy ran away while I fought that one for the gun and it went off. I dropped it, he picked it up and fired. I think he shot my girlfriend, but I can’t tell. Please, get her help!”

“Don’t worry. An ambulance is on the way.”

Nick nodded as a male officer came up and jerked him to his feet. “What are you doing?”

“He says you attacked him for no reason and that he was protecting himself from a homicidal lunatic. Since he’s the one bleeding the worst and your girlfriend was holding an unregistered gun on him when we arrived … We’ll take you all down to the station until we get this sorted out.”

“He mugged us!” Nick growled, indignant that Alan might skate free after all.

It didn’t matter what he said. The cop slammed a handcuff down hard on his wrist and jerked his arm behind his back to lock it to his other hand. He yanked Nick to his feet so hard, Nick was amazed it didn’t tear his arm out of the socket.

“He’s crazy!” Alan shouted as the cop dragged Nick toward the parked police cars where a large, curious crowd had formed. “Don’t get him near me. He’s on drugs or something. I ain’t never seen nobody act that way. He even set me on fire!”

Nick had to bite his tongue to keep from saying Alan deserved it.

As they reached one of the cars, a deep voice rumbled next to them. “Hey, Lenny, what’s going on?”

Thank God, it was Acheron.

The cop paused next to Ash, who, courtesy of his black biker boots, was almost seven feet tall. “I don’t know, Ash. We got a call about multiple gunshots and now we’ve got this guy,” he jerked Nick’s cuffed hands, “claiming to be mugged and that one over there saying this one attacked him for no reason.”

Ash shook his head, then leaned down to speak in a low tone. “You know you’re arresting Kyrian’s Squire, right?”

The cop paled instantly. “He’s one of us?”

Ash nodded. “Fully inducted into the sacred council.”

“Son of a … No. I had no idea.”

“I have my Squire’s card in my wallet,” Nick said over his shoulder. “It’s on the ground back there where I dropped it while trying to hand it over before he shot at us … first.”

“Kyrian’s been training him to protect himself from our natural enemies.” Ash jerked his chin toward Alan. “Looks like Nick’s been a good student.”

“Yeah, I’ll say. He beat the crap out of him.”

“What was I supposed to do? He threatened to rape my date and kill me.”

The cop reached down and unlocked the cuffs. “Sorry about that, but you have to appreciate what we saw when we got here.”

Turning to face him, Nick curled his lip. “Yeah, I know what you think you saw … Cajun trash.”

The cop looked away, shamefaced.

Ash folded his arms over his chest. “You okay, kid?”

Nick didn’t answer as he saw the paramedics pushing Casey’s stretcher toward the ambulance that was parked a few feet from them. He ran over to see how she was doing. She was conscious and they had an oxygen mask over her face.

“Casey?”

She reached for him. “Nick? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, you?”

She nodded.

“We’re just taking her in as a precaution,” the EMT explained as they stopped to open the back doors.

Casey squeezed his hand. “Can you get my car home for me?”

“You sure you don’t want your dad to get it?”

“I’m sure. My keys are in my bag.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. You just get better.”

She smiled at him as the EMT broke their hands apart. They lifted the stretcher and slid her inside.

Nick didn’t move as they shut the doors and took off with her.

Ash came up and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “So what really happened?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

Ash arched a bitterly amused brow. “I’m an eleven-thousand-year-old warrior, Nick. I can tell the difference between someone fighting back to protect himself, and when someone beats the crap out of someone he has a personal grudge against. What’d he do to you?”

“He’s the one who shot me the night I met Kyrian.”

“And you didn’t kill him?”

Nick shrugged. “Police got here first and they looked a little trigger-happy.”

Acheron nodded as he dropped his hand. “Good call.” All of a sudden, his phone started ringing. “Excuse me.” Ash pulled it out and moved away to answer it.

Nick left him to check on Simi, but there was no sign of her. He walked over to the woman officer who’d been so nice before Lenny roughed him up. “Where’s my friend?”

“They just took her off in the ambulance.”

“Not Casey. Simi.”

“Who?”

Was the woman blind? Simi was a hard creature to miss. “The tall, Goth girl who was here a minute ago?”

She screwed her face up. “I didn’t see her. Hey, Tim? Was there another girl here?”

“Nah. Why?”

Nick opened his mouth to respond, then snapped it shut. Now to most people, it would be weird for no one to remember seeing a six-foot-tall Simi holding a gun on Alan.

For him …

Business as usual.

Simi had some impressive psychic powers and obviously amnesia for others was one of them. Man, to have those awesome Jedi mind tricks. That and the Force choke …

Two things every teenage boy could use to make his life a lot easier.

Wishing for what couldn’t be, he walked over to the officer who was bagging Casey’s purse and his wallet. “Um, can I have my stuff back?”

The officer hesitated before handing his wallet over, but he kept the purse.

Really? Nick sighed as he braced himself for a fight. “Her car’s over at Canal Place. She wanted me to get it home for her. Kind of hard if I don’t have her keys.”

He screwed his face up in doubt.

“Give the kid the keys, Leo.”

“You sure?” he asked Lenny, who was heading over to the woman officer.

“Yeah, but I’ll take her bag to her at the hospital.”

Nick rolled his eyes. “What? You think I’m going to steal it?”

“It’s just protocol.” Lenny handed him the car keys, then moved away.

Still irritated, Nick went back to where he’d left Acheron, who was just finishing his call. “Can I ask a favor?”

Ash slid his phone into his back pocket. “Sure.”

“Casey wanted me to take her car home and since I don’t have my license yet…”

“Your mom’s still holding that card over your head, huh?”

Nick made a sound of profound disgust. “Yeah. She says I don’t have enough time behind the wheel. Whatever, I guess.”

“Your mom loves you, Nick.”

“I know, Ash. I really do. But there’s a difference between love and ownership and suffocation, you know?”

“Better than most,” he mumbled under his breath. There was so much sincere sympathy and anger in his tone that it made Nick pause.

“Your mom, too?”

Acheron laughed, flashing a tiny bit of fang. “No. My parents weren’t around when I was a kid. I was raised by strangers.”



----