"He's not old enough yet. But when he is, that's my plan. Why? Is there something about him I should know?"

Ash felt the tattoo on his biceps shift down toward his elbow. The burning sensation was Simi's way of letting him know she was getting restless and wanted to come off his body and take human form, or maybe she just had indigestion from eating the zombies so fast.

Rubbing his hand over his demon, he stopped her for the moment. "He seems like a good kid."

"But?"

But there's something about him not quite ... Right.

If only he could put his finger on it. Not wanting to worry Kyrian when there was no reason to, he shrugged. "I have nothing to add. Other than don't let the zombies eat vou while you're on patrol tonight. Be a damn waste of a good Dark-Hunter."

Kyrian flexed his foot so that one of the knives shot out from the toe of his boot. "I think I can take them."

Ash wasn't so sure about that. Kyrian always had a hard time harming anyone under the age of consent. Not that he was cold-blooded himself.

Simi was another matter. She'd eaten the zombies in the kitchen before he'd had a chance to corral her. It was why he'd blinded Nick and Rosa. His little demon had a mind of her own and when she smelled nonhuman delicacies, which she claimed weren't on her banned food list, there was no stopping her.

Soon he'd have to let her loose again or she was going to crawl all over his body until she had him doing St. Vitus' dance. "The sun's setting. You want me to take Nick home for you?"

Kyrian nodded. "Thanks. While you do that, I'll rendezvous with Talon in the Quarter and see if we can get a handle on this zombie outbreak."

"Good luck."

"Back at you." Kyrian headed for the door that led to his garage.

Ash waited until he was sure Kyrian was gone before he went to the kitchen. He paused to watch Nick joking with Rosa. There was something extremely charismatic about Nick. Like an aura that warmed people and made them want to listen to him.

Some would call it glamour—a power certain creatures were born with while others learned it later in life. It was more than charm. More than a good personality.

Ash had a similar ability, only it pulled people toward him for an entirely different reason. One that kept him on guard against people constantly lest they lose control of themselves.

Funny thing was, Nick seemed immune to that too. And for that, Ash was extremely grateful. Very few people didn't react to the curse his aunt had given him at birth. In fact he could count on one hand the number of people over the centuries who'd been immune.

There's something not right about this kid.

You're being paranoid.

Was he?

You were human once too wth no knowledge of your true birth or destiny. Another curse given to him by his family. Until his twenty-first birthday, he'd had no idea that he was a god. No idea that his real mother had been the Atlantean goddess of destruction.

And when his powers had been unleashed, it'd almost destroyed the entire world and had driven mankind back into the Stone Age.

What if that innocent kid eating the gumbo Ash had repaired was a creature like him?

You are being stupid.

Or was he? When Ash had been human not even other gods had been able to detect his real nature. Artemis herself had stood right beside him and proclaimed him human.

He narrowed his gaze on the boy. The zombies had been here for Nick and Nick alone. He was sure of it. There was no other reason for them to have attacked.

The only question was why....

CHAPTER 8

Nick froze in front of Ash's shiny black car.... No, not car. Friggin' Porsche 911 Turbo! Talk about epic. His heart actually started pumping like a freight train at the prospect of riding in it.

"How can this be your car?"

Ash shot him a "duh" stare. "Well, I wrote a really big check that didn't bounce to the dealer and then the most amazing thing happened.... The salesman gave me the keys and let me take it home. It was like magic."

Nick gave him a peeved glare. "Only I'm allowed to be that sarcastic."

"Trust me, Nick. I've got many more years of practice at it than you have. Now hop in."

"Hop in? Dude, are you out of your ever-loving mind? I can't touch this. I might leave a fingerprint or something."

"Oh the horror. Guess I'll have to trade the piece of junk in and get a new one if that happens. By the way, don't breathe on the upholstery or I may have to gut you." Ash slid into the car without missing a beat.

Even thoughAsh had been kidding, Nick hesitated. He'd only seen cars like this in posters and online. The price tag for it was more money than his mom made in ...

Fifteen years.

At least.

People lived in houses that cost less. He lived in a house that was probably cheaper than the tires on this thing. Dang, what would it be like to own something so fine?

"Nick, get in. I don't have all night."

Biting his lip, Nick pulled his shirttail up so that he wouldn't tarnish the pristine black paint with a paw print. Ash had already put his backpack in the floorboard. Man, this was such a cool car. Careful not to leave a shoe mark on the tan interior, he got in and shut the door. "Are you a drug dealer?"

"No." Ash let out a short laugh. "I'm a wrangler."

"A what?"

Ash started the engine with the key on the left side of the steering wheel. How weird was that? "I manage people." "What kind of people?"

"People like you. Hard-headed. Stubborn. Irritating and smart-mouthed." He shifted into high gear and kicked it.

Nick grabbed the door handle and held on for his life as Ash pulled into traffic at supersonic speed.

"Relax, kid. I'm not about to dent this car."

Nick wasn't so sure about that. "You like to drive fast, don't you? How many tickets have you gotten, anyway?"

Ash didn't answer. Probably for the best since Nick didn't want to end up as a hood ornament on someone else's vehicle. Last thing he needed to do was distract Ash while he was driving at warp speed.

Or attempting to anyway.

Nick cringed as Ash weaved between two huge semis. "Gah, do your parents know how you drive? And where did you get your license anyway? The Blue Light Special at Kmart?"

Ash laughed. "Who says I have a license?" Nick let out a cry of alarm.

"Relax, Nick. Remember, I have evil Jedi powers. Nothing's going to touch us." He downshifted and they shot forward like a bullet.

"I think I'd rather take my chances with the zombies. Stoooop ..." He swore the car actually left the ground to avoid being slammed by a car pulling out.

Yeah ... evil Jedi powers indeed.

He looked over at Ash, who was driving through the dark night with his sunglasses still in place. "How did you get those powers anyway?"

"They were a gift on my twenty-first birthday."

"You're that old?" Nick would have sworn he wasn't any older than eighteen or nineteen.

Ash laughed again. "Somewhat older than that."

"So what did you do for the gift? Sell your soul or something?"

The humor fled his face. "Something like that."

This was getting good. Nick would kill to have the kind of powers Ashdid. "Who'd you sell it to? The devil?" Now, with anyone else, that would be a stupid question, but since Nick had seen what Ash could do, he knew Ash had gotten them from somewhere, not the local Walmart.

Ash paused before he answered Nick's question. He didn't like talking or even thinking about his past for a multitude of reasons. But his ownership wasn't something that was that big a secret, since most of the people he knew had sold their souls to the only person who could control him. "I'm owned by a goddess, Nick."

"Which one?"

"Artemis. Ever heard of her?"

Nick scratched his ear. "Greek goddess of the moon, right?

"The moon's associated with her, but Selene is actually the goddess of the moon. Artemis is the goddess of the hunt." "And what does she hunt?"

"Most days, me," Ash said under his breath. Clearing his throat, he spoke louder. "She's basically retired now. Most of the ancient gods are only powerful when they're worshiped by followers."

"Most?"

Yeah, some, like Acheron, didn't need followers to charge their powers. They were the really dangerous ones because their powers never waned. And unfortunately, Artemis could and did tap into his powers when it suited her to. But lucky for the world, she really didn't care about using them except againstAcheron himself.

When he didn't clarify, Nick asked another question. "Are you one of the ones who's weak?"

"I never said I was a god." But somehow Nick seemed to sense what he was. Another thing that made him different from everyone else.

Nick fell quiet as he digested Ash's comments. Ash didn't say it, but there was something about him that was so powerful he could almost feel it in the marrow of his bones. If he wasn't an ancient god, he was something ...

Equal to it.

"Well, you know, you haven't told me what you are, Ash." "Just think of me as a powerful immortal and you'll be fine." Nick cocked his brow as he zoned in on one word in particular. "Immortal?" "Yeah."

"So how old are you? Really?" He must be totally ancient. "Two, three hundred years?"

Ash gave a testy smirk. "Over eleven thousand."

Nick's mouth fell open in disbelief. It wasn't possible. He could nof be tf?af old. "Bullshit!"

"Watch your language, kid."

"Okay, bullcrap. There's no way. We didn't even have people back then. You're yanking my chain."

Ash shook his head. "I assure you, we did. I was even on a first-name basis with some of them."

Nick remained still as that sank in and he tried to imagine the world Ash must have come from. What would people have been like back then?

Was Ash just full of total garbage?

"You're really not kidding, are you?" Nick asked.

"Dead serious."

Still, he couldn't believe it. Could people really be immortal? He'd seen the movies and read the books, but...

"How? Are you a vampire or something? What made you immortal?"

"Really good DNA."

Nick rolled his eyes. Ash's glib answers were starting to irritate him. He wanted an answer and he wanted one now. "Oh, come on. I have to know about the who-do voodoo that you do. Most of all, I want to know how I can become immortal ... well, not at my age 'cause that would suck. But in a few years when I'm filled out and in my prime." He grinned at Ash. "Make me immortal."

Ash wasn't charmed. "Look, Nick, I don't like talking about my powers and not a lot of people know what I can do. I'm trusting you with a secret and I expect you to keep it. If you can't..." He tilted his head down as if he was looking at him over the rim of his sunglasses. "Well, I'm sure your mom's going to miss you."

"Not half as much as I'd miss me if you killed me." He blinked like a girl and leaned against Ash's shoulder. "Please don't hurt me, Ash. Please. I don't want to die while I'm still a virgin. At least let me get laid before you kill me—which according to my mom I can't do until I'm married and I can't do that until I finish college. So you have to wait a good ten years before you snuff me. Deal?"

Ash shoved him back onto his side of the car. "You're really not right, are you?"

"Yeah, I know. It was all the paint chips I ate as a kid. They were good, but chromosomally damaging."

Ash let out an audible sigh as he forced himself not to laugh at Nick's antics. He was really beginning to like the kid a lot more than he should. There was just something about him that was infectious. "Ten years, huh?"

"Yeah, you can kill me when I'm twenty-four, provided I'm not still a virgin, but not a day before that."

"All right. It's a deal... provided you keep your trap shut."

"Trap nailed shut, sir."

"But at twenty-four..." Ash let his voice trail off. "I'm all yours, babe."

Ash shook his head. "I don't intimidate you at all, do I?"

"Well, when you chased me through Kyrian's house, I did wet my pants a bit. Guess I'm not housebroken after all. My mom will be so disappointed after all she went through to potty train me. But once you let me live ... your big mistake ... now I know you think I'm too cute and fluffy to kill."

It was really hard to be agitated at someone with that kind of humor. And in all honesty, it was nice to be around someone who wasn't trying to prove himself, wet himself, or posture. It'd been a long time since someone who knew he wasn't human had treated him like one.



----