"I guess you'll be leaving now," Sunshine said quietly even though part of her didn't want him to go. Her large loft suddenly seemed a bit desolate as she thought of him leaving.
They'd had a lot of fun at his cabin, creating their platter of food, making love to each other.
But now her sexcapade with him was over. It was time for them to go their separate ways.
Why, then, did it hurt so much to think of never seeing him again?
Talon nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."
He let go of her hand and started for the door. He could find someplace to sleep in the abandoned building next door to her. Find a floor that wasn't too far from this one so that he could keep watch over her until dawn. Then he could sleep in the building until tomorrow night.
It would be easier that way. Easier for both of them if he just broke off the relationship now.
There was no point in spending another day with her. Not when he knew he couldn't give her anything more of himself.
Not so long as he posed a danger to her.
Sunshine ached as he reached for her doorknob.
He was going.
It was over.
She couldn't breathe. A vicious pain stabbed her in the stomach at the thought of not seeing him anymore.
She couldn't just sit here and let him leave like this. "Talon?"
He paused and looked back at her.
"Why don't you stay the night? I know you can't get back home before sunup."
"No, I better not."
"But where will you go?"
Let him go...
She couldn't. Not like this. It just didn't seem right. "C'mon. I'll be out of the loft early tomorrow morning and you'll have the place all to yourself while I work. No one will disturb you. I promise."
The command echoed in his head. He needed to.
"You sure you don't mind?" he asked.
"Not at all."
Talon took a deep breath and headed back toward her.
His ultimate salvation.
His ultimate destruction.
Nynia had been everything to him. He'd thought all these centuries that he was safe from his emotions. Safe from the pain that came with the memories of his wife.
Now it was all back. Even more painful than before.
"Is something wrong?" Sunshine asked.
"I'm just tired, I guess," he said, pulling his jacket off and setting it down.
Sunshine swallowed at the sight of his tight T-shirt that displayed his well-developed body. She was riveted by his impressive form. The man had the best butt leather had ever cupped. His legs were long, well shaped, and gorgeous, and all too well she remembered what they felt like when they were entangled with hers.
The feel of all his masculine power and beauty lying in her arms... thrusting between her legs...
She almost moaned aloud at imagining it.
But there was a wall between them now. As if he had closed part of himself off from her.
Gone was the tender man who had shared his body and laughter with her. Now she saw the powerful beast who had clobbered her attackers and sent them running in terror.
How she missed the gentler side of him.
"You've gone all stiff on me, haven't you?"
He arched a puzzled brow at her and looked baffled by her question. "Lady, I get stiff every time you come near me."
Heat rose in her cheeks and she scoffed. "I don't mean that kind of stiff. Though that kind of stiff is much better than the other one. At least with that one I know you like me."
Talon groaned as she glanced down at his pants where he was sure his erection was plainly visible. He felt his barriers crumbling. Felt a desire to be the man with her that he had always been with Nynia.
With Nynia he had been himself. She'd never expected that he be anything other than her friend.
Nyn had never seen the pathetic little boy who was spat upon and rejected. The one who had been made to clean up after his betters.
The one they had forced to grovel.
She had never seen the cold-hearted lad he had become because he was tired of being beaten and abused.
As a child, he had hardened his heart and learned to take their punches. He had learned to spit back and take down anyone who cast a jaundiced eye or who made a comment about either him, his mother, or his sister.
He'd told himself that he didn't need anyone's love or caring. And so he had learned to live like a feral animal, always ready to strike out when someone tried to touch him.
Until Nynia. She had tamed the beast in him. Had allowed him to be gentle with her. To be something other than hard and unyielding. Defensive and brutal.
With her he had just been Speirr. The boy/man who wanted someone to love him. Who wanted someone to love.
It had been so long since Talon had been himself with anyone.
His Dark-Hunter brethren turned to him for advice. Acheron depended on him for his strength, wisdom, and calm leadership.
None of them, not even Wulf, really knew him. He had never opened his heart up to anyone other than the woman who sat before him now.
A woman he didn't dare open himself up to in this lifetime.
"You are insatiable, aren't you?" she asked.
"Only with you," he whispered, moving closer to her as he tried to reconcile the woman she had been with the woman she was now. "I never could resist touching you. Being inside you. Feeling your breath on my skin. Your beautiful hands on my body."
Sunshine shivered at his words.
He approached her like some great stalking beast. His body was a symphony of movement.
His masculine, leather scent invaded her senses and made her mouth water.
Her head swam at his kiss, but she pushed him back, perplexed by his comments. "You say that as if you've known me for a long time. Why is that?"
"I feel like I've known you forever. Like I've held you in my heart for centuries."
She trembled at the words. This was the man who haunted her dreams. The Celtic poet and chieftain. The man she remembered riding out to battle, then riding home to love her.
But that couldn't be this man, could it?
And yet as she thought about it, she realized just how weird her dreams really were. In them, she was blond and blue-eyed, but Talon...
Talon looked the same.
Right down to the tattoo on his body. The braids at his temple. He even wore the same tore. The only thing different was his eye color.
This couldn't be right. There was something strange about all this. Something that scared her on a level she'd never known existed.
Could he be the same man?
It didn't seem possible, and yet living with her father and mother, she'd seen a lot of impossible things in her life. There were otherworldly powers at work in this world.
She pulled back from Talon's kiss and tilted his head so that she could see the skin just below his right ear.
There was a small scar there. A small scar that she, as Nynia, had once given to Speirr when they were fishing as children. She'd drawn back her rod to cast it and the hook had caught his ear.
The star-shaped scar was still there.
Just as it had always been.
Just as it was now.
No, it wasn't possible.
She trembled in uncertainty.
His eyes were hooded as he stared hungrily at her. His breath fell gently against her face. She could feel his heart pounding under her hands, feel his strength and heat reaching out to her.
"I've missed you so much, Nyn... Nyn... neighbor."
Sunshine froze as he pulled back instantly. By his face, she could tell he was as surprised at what he'd said as she was.
"What did you call me?"
"Neighbor," he said quickly.
Okay, this was too friggin' weird. And she wanted, no she needed, an explanation.
"Talon," she said, leaving the chair to stand before him. "Tell me what's going on. You know who Nynia is, don't you?"
His obsidian eyes flashed. "Do you?"
Oh God, it was true! He knew her. Somehow he remembered the past too.
He hadn't changed a bit. He couldn't be in daylight. He wasn't an American citizen and yet...
Oh, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Somehow, Talon was Speirr.
He was a vampire or an immortal or something. She knew it.
"How do you remember me?" she asked him.
"How could I ever forget you?"
She ducked his lips and pushed him back again. "Smooth, but that doesn't answer my question. There's something really odd about you, Talon. And it doesn't make sense that you are now as you were in my dreams. Not even I look the same. But you do. Why?"
Talon wanted to tell her, but couldn't find the words. After you died I sold my soul for vengeance to a Greek goddess who now owns me so that I can spend eternity hunting down and killing vampires for her. Even he had a hard time believing the truth of that statement and he'd been living the reality of it for fifteen hundred years.
She growled at him. "You're stiff again."
"Can't you just live for the moment? Accept me as I am?"
"Okay. But answer me one thing."
"When did you graduate high school?"
He looked uncomfortable with her question. "I didn't."
"What year did you drop out then?"
Talon backed away from her. These were things he couldn't answer. Things he refused to answer.
The hurt in her eyes tugged at his heart.
"What's the deal, Talon? I'm not stupid. No one is so allergic to sunlight that they can't even walk in front of a window. And don't think it has escaped my notice that you never show your teeth. If I get too close to them when we kiss, you immediately pull away."
Talon wished he dared use his powers to make her forget him. To change this subject to something less volatile. "What? You want me to admit that I'm a vampire? That I howl at the moon when it's full?"
"Are you? Do you?" She stepped up to him and placed her hand against his chin as if ready to pry his mouth open. "Show me your teeth, Talon."
He stepped back. "I can't."
She gave him a mean glare. "You're Speirr, aren't you? Somehow it is you, you, I see when I dream. Isn't it?"
He looked away.
"I won't tell anyone," she insisted, softening her voice. "I just need to know."
"What difference would it make?" he snapped, growing tired of this conversation. "Would you throw me out?"
"No," she said breathily, sounding reconciled. "I don't think I could ever throw you out."
"Then why do you have to know?"
The fire returned to her eyes as she narrowed them on him. "Because I want you to be open and honest with me, to share your life."
Her words tore through him. Bitter longing swelled inside his heart as he remembered how hopeless having her had seemed as a mortal man. Back then only social standing and gossips had stood between them. Now the entire universe was united to keep them apart. "What makes you think I want to share my life? Maybe I'm just using you for sex."
Her face stricken, she backed away from him. "Are you?"
The pain in her eyes ripped him apart. He didn't want to hurt her.
"Are you?" he asked, turning the question back on her.
"Tell me what it is you want from me, Sunshine."
"I honestly don't know. Part of me is drawn to you and part of me is scared of you. There's something very dark inside your eyes. If I wanted to get to know you better, would you let me?"
"No," he said between clenched teeth, "we can't."
"Then you owe me a reason why we can't. You know I'm not some child in need of a father to make my decisions for me. I thought you respected me."
"Then treat me like an adult. Tell me why it is you refuse to answer even the most basic question about yourself."
What she asked for was impossible. He could never tell her about his current life, not unless Acheron or Artemis released him from his oath.
"If I tell you who I am, your life will be in danger."
"I live in New Orleans over one of the most popular clubs in town and park my car in an alley where two men were murdered last night. My life is always in danger."
"Those weren't men last night and they weren't murdered." Talon didn't know why he let that escape.
"Then what were they?"
The command was so strong. Never once had he broken his Code of Silence. Never.
"The Daimons wanted to party with your girlfriend, Celt. Don't leave her unprotected."
She had a right to know what was out there gunning for her.
"Talon." She stepped into his arms and placed her hands on his face. Her touch was soothing and warm.
It almost succeeded in breaking him.
"Trust me. Whatever it is, I won't ever tell a soul."
"I can't, Sunshine. I can't."
"You won't, Talon. You won't." She expelled an irritated breath and dropped her hands. "Fine. Keep your secrets. Go ahead and blow me off. Live a happy life and do whatever it is you do."
She moved away from him.
Talon reached for her, but she bypassed his hand. "Sunshine..."
"Don't touch me. I'm mad at you."
"Please don't be mad at me."
She shook her head. "Oh, you're good with those puppy-dog eyes. That deep note in your voice. But I'm too far gone now to care. Just leave."
He winced at the pain in her voice and her command. It cut him all the way to his heart.
In that moment, he realized something. Zarek and Acheron were right. He was scared. Scared of leaving and scared of staying.
The last thing he wanted was to lose Nynia again and yet as he looked at Sunshine, it dawned on him that though she might have his wife's soul, she wasn't his wife.
She was someone else. Someone new and exasperating. Nynia would never have gotten mad at him. Not even when he deserved her anger. She'd always been timid and shy. Not bold and demanding like Sunshine.
If he said to leave a matter alone, Nynia would nod and drop the subject. She would never have kneed a Daimon or fought an alligator.
But even more astounding, he had to admit that he liked the fire in Sunshine. Her ability to stand up to him and the world around her.
"What?" she asked, blinking her eyes as if she couldn't believe what she saw. "You're still here? I thought I gave you an order."
He smiled in spite of himself. "I don't want to leave you, Sunshine. Can't you just accept me as I am?"
Sunshine looked away. "I like what little I know about you, Talon, but the problem is just how little I do know about you. You live in the swamp, seem to have a lot of money and no last name, and you like big, creepy gators and have a guy named Nick who runs errands. That's it. That's the extent of my Talon knowledge and it's a really short list."
She met his gaze. "I refuse to have a relationship with a man who won't even trust me with his basic bio. Now if all you want is to get laid, there's the door. If you really want to stay, then tell me something about yourself. Something meaningful."
"Tell me the name of your best friend."
Shocked, she dropped her jaw. "Oh my God, you just answered a question. I think the world may end over it."
"You're not funny. So do I get to stay?"
She pursed her lips as she thought about it for a minute. "Fine, but only because I know you can't get back home before the sun rises."
Determined to keep distance between them until he answered her questions, Sunshine turned around and went to her bedroom. She grabbed a pillow and blanket from her bed, then returned to the living room and handed them to him.
He looked completely dumbfounded as he held her pink quilt and pillow. "What's this?"
"Until you come clean with me, you can take the sofa."
"Oh no. Not even a little. I'm not going to let you back into my bed until you let me inside your head."
Talon was completely stupefied as she walked over to the far wall and lowered her blinds.
"I told you about Wulf," he said.
She turned toward him, her look unamused. "You gave me a single name. Oooo. That tells me so much about you, doesn't it? Well, my best friends are Trina Devereaux and Selena Laurens. Now what does that tell you about me? Nada. Zilch. Nothing. It just means I have someone I can call when I get ticked off, and believe me, if it wasn't so late, I'd be dialing one of them like a madwoman."
Talon growled, but it didn't faze her in the least. The woman had entirely too much chutzpah.
"So tell me about Wulf," she said slowly, taking a step toward him. "What does he do for a living? Does he live here in New Orleans? Is he married? How long have you known him?"
"He lives in Minnesota and he's not married."
She looked pleased and yet at the same time managed to pull off a piqued look too. "How did you meet him?"
At Mardi Gras one hundred and two years ago when Wulf had been moved into the city for temporary duty- which was something he could never tell Sunshine.
Talon let out an aggravated breath. "I've known him a long time."
"Ooo," she breamed again. "Answers like that will get you voted into office, but they won't get you back into my bed. And they definitely won't let you near my body."
"You're being unreasonable."
This was so unfair. He was trying to protect her and here she was asking him for something he couldn't give. Denying him her body because he didn't want to see her hurt.
How could she do this to him?
Angered by her continued insistence, he snapped, "I'm your husband."
She snorted and raked him with a bemused stare. "Not in this lifetime, buddy." She held up her left hand for his inspection. "I don't see no wedding ring on my finger, and the last time I checked, you didn't come charging into town on the back of your black warhorse, sweeping me off my feet and asking me to be yours."
Talon went cold at her words. "You remember that?"
Some of her anger seemed to fade as she nodded. "And I want to know how you remember it."
He tossed the blanket and pillow on the couch and lay down stiffly. "I told you, I can't tell you that."
"Then good night, sweetheart. Have pleasant dreams."
She came forward to kiss him on his forehead and walked to her room.
Royally ticked off, Talon watched as she made a grand show of pulling the drapes closed. That woman had a way of making him burn and this time it wasn't in a good way.
He was furious.
Especially when she switched on the light on the night-stand and he could see her body plainly through the thin fabric.
His heart pounded. He couldn't tear his gaze away from her as she peeled her clothes from her lush body and then climbed naked into her bed.
He could just imagine her lying there, the pink cotton sheets nestled between her warm, wet thighs. Her breasts pressed together as she lay on her side with her arm grazing and partially concealing the dark tip of her left breast. Her back naked and bare to his eager gaze and her hair fanned out around her head, just waiting for him to lie down behind her and pull her close to his body.
Then he would slide his hand up her thigh where he would cup her soft flesh and lift her leg, opening up her body so that he could slide himself deep inside her from behind.
Oh yeah, he could already feel her soft rear against his groin as he slid himself in and out of her hot body. Feel her head tucked under his chin as he buried his hand between her legs and stroked her with his fingers while he made the sweetest, tenderest love to her.
Her woodsy patchouli scent would surround him as she writhed to his touch and moaned in ecstasy.
Every hormone in his body snapped awake and his groin tightened, demanding her.
Nynia would never have done this to him. She'd never denied him access to her. Not once. All he had to do was crook a finger or cock an eyebrow and his wife had gladly stepped into his arms.
Right now, he missed her more than he ever had before.
"No, Talon," she said firmly, turning off her light. "The answer is still no."
"I didn't ask you anything."
"I know that note in your voice when you said my name and I know what you want, and you know what I want. Guess which one of us is going to have to give in?" She paused, then added, "And for the record, it's not me."
He cursed under his breath. She was so damn stubborn in this lifetime. What had happened to his mild-mannered Nynia who gave him whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it?
Fine, then, let her lie in there all unmolested and naked.
His body leapt at the word.
Groaning, he rolled over and faced the back of the couch so that he couldn't see her anymore.
He was a grown man, he could handle this. He could control himself.
Oh, bloody hell! No woman had turned him down before. This was excruciating and infuriating.
He plowed his fist into the pillow as he hardened even more. He was much too large for the couch and it was damned uncomfortable, but he would sleep here or die.
Sunshine listened to Talon moving around on the sofa. She almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
But she was tired of his secrets. Tired of his cryptic games. She'd done enough snooping around his house to learn that he probably wasn't a drug dealer, especially since he didn't even have a bottle of Tylenol, but he'd had all kinds of interesting electronic gadgets. Lots of leather, imported beer, and enough DVDs to sink a battleship. Not to mention the weird weapons she'd found. Some of them quite ancient in design.
There was something very odd about his life and until she knew what it was she wasn't going to let herself get any closer to him. She owed it to herself to know more about him before she let her goo-goo eyes lead her astray again.
She rolled over and forced herself to go to sleep. She needed to work tomorrow. Unlike him, she didn't have an endless supply of income.
"Well, look who's back."
Sunshine put down the book she was reading and smiled at Selena as Selena wheeled her small cart over to her. Dressed in a loose purple dress and black cape, Selena parked her cart to the right of Sunshine's stand of pottery and sketches, and started setting up her card table and psychic stuff.
"I know," Sunshine said wistfully as she bookmarked the page of her romance novel Born in Sin and set it aside. "I've been preoccupied the last few days. Sorry."
Selena spread a purple cloth over her card table. "So do I get to learn anything about this guy? Want me to do a reading for you?"
Sunshine sighed as she scooted off her stool to help Selena set up her signs. "I don't know much about him except he's a giant blond biker sex god who eats nothing but junk food, has a ton of money, lives in the swamp, and knows your brother-in-law, Kyrian... Oh, and he knows Grace's husband too."
Selena's face went pale. She looked up, startled. "Talon? You've been seeing Talon? More than once?"
Sunshine froze, torn between excitement and trepidation. Selena didn't look right. She looked rather sick at the news.
"You know him?" she asked incredulously.
Uncomfortable, Selena glanced around. "Oh Lord, please, please tell me he's not the sexual athlete who got hit with the Mardi Gras float. Please tell me that the guy I've been fantasizing about isn't Talon. I've had dinner with him, for goodness' sake."
"Okay, I won't tell you it's him, but... it's him. Ain't he great?"
Selena groaned. "Oh jeez. I'd heard rumors about him, but who knew they were really true? I can't believe this."
Sunshine was relieved. Finally, someone who could give her some answers, provided she pried them out of Selena. But Selena looked like she was going to be less than forthcoming.
"Lainie, you better spill what you know about him."
Selena opened her mouth, but by the set of her jaw, Sunshine knew what she was about to say.
"Don't you dare tell me you can't tell me anything," she said before Selena could. "I've heard enough of that from him."
Selena closed her mouth. "Well, he's a good guy for once. He's not your usual out-of-work biker and he does have a future. A really long future."
"And what else?"
Sunshine opened up Selena's folding chair that Selena used for her clients, then sat down beside her. "C'mon, Lainie. I really, really like this guy, and it's driving me crazy that he won't tell me anything, not even his birthday. So what do you know?"
"I'm not supposed to say anything, Sunny. I was sworn to secrecy."
"Sworn by whom?"
Selena set her tarot card box on the table. "I'm not supposed to say," she repeated.
"What is he, Mafia?"
"Oh no," she said, her voice thick with warning. "They make the Mafia look like Boy Scouts. These are guys no one crosses with impunity."
Someone worse man the Mafia?
"Who are they?"
"Look," Selena said. "Let's just say he's in Tabitha's line of work, okay?"
Sunshine frowned. "Ladies' lingerie? He hardly looks the type to sell that."
"No, goof-ball. What she does at night."
Sunshine formed a small O with her mouth as she understood. "He's a vampire slayer?"
"Yes, and a really good one too."
That explained how they had met in the alley. Sort of, except the people who had attacked her hadn't looked like vampires. They'd actually looked like yuppies.
"There's a lot more to it than that, isn't there?" Sunshine asked.
She smiled devilishly. "And you, my best friend on earth, my soul sister who shares Chunky Monkey scoops and beefcake e-mails at the drop of a hat, the woman who made me wear a frothy, ruffled lime-colored bridesmaid dress that added fifteen pounds to my hips, are going to spill your guts to me, aren't you?"
Selena stiffened. "No fair and the dress wasn't lime, it was mint."
"It was lime-icky green and I looked like a sick pistachio. But that's beside the point. You're going to spill everything because all's fair in love."
Sunshine wasn't sure which of them was most startled by the last part of that statement.
Selena turned to face her. "What? You're telling me you love Talon?"
Sunshine sat back as she tried to sort through her feelings for Talon. There was so much about him that she adored, so much about him that she craved, and at the same time she knew nothing about who and what he was now.
All she knew was how he made her feel whenever she looked at him. The way she wanted to go home right now and be with him.
"Honestly, Selena, I don't know. Every time I'm around him I feel so alive. So warm and protected-like nothing in the world can touch me or blight my happiness. He just fits with me. I know this sounds crazy..."
She paused as she glanced at Selena's psychic stand, which was filled with trinkets, rune stones, and tarot symbols. On second thought, crazy to Selena was par for the course.
Sunshine stared at her, trying to make her understand. "Talon and I were married in another life."
A dark light appeared in Selena's eyes. When she spoke, her voice was scarcely more than a whisper. "Does Talon know this?"
She nodded. "He even called me his wife last night when I made him sleep on the couch."
"Sleep on the couch?"
Selena turned one of her cards over. She looked at the Death card, then looked at Sunshine. "Did he say it was in his former life?"
"No. In fact, when I dream about him I look different, but he doesn't. He even has the same tattoos and that is weird beyond weird. I even recalled him getting those tattoos done. Now I'm not sure if I'm insane or what."
Selena covered Sunshine's hand with hers and gave a light, sympathetic squeeze. "No, hon. You're not a loon, at least not about this."
"Then what is going on?"
Selena looked around, then leaned closer and lowered her voice again as if fearful someone would overhear them. "Sunny, tell me truthfully, what are your intentions toward Talon?"
Sunshine was irritated by the question. "What are you? His mom? I promise I'll respect him in the morning."
Selena rolled her eyes. "This is really serious, Sunshine. Your current interest plays with some seriously bad things that wouldn't hesitate to kill either one of you if they thought you or he would betray them."
Sunshine winced at the deadly earnest tone of Selena's voice. This wasn't good. "He's a vampire, isn't he? I knew it!"
"That's what he said. So I'll ask you what I asked him- what is 'not exactly a vampire'?"
Sunshine was stunned that she finally had an answer. Of course, the answer made no sense whatsoever, but still it was a long-awaited start. "And that would be... ?"
"An immortal vampire slayer who sold his soul for an Act of Vengeance."
A chill went up her spine. "Sold his soul to who, the devil?"
"The goddess Artemis."
Sunshine scowled. Now that was the last thing she'd expected to hear. But then, given how weird this whole conversation was, she shouldn't be surprised by anything. "You're kidding, right?"
Slowly, Selena shook her head no.
"But that doesn't even make sense. I mean, there aren't that many vampires in the world, are there? Just how many Dark-Hunters could there be? Is he the only one?"
By Selena's expression she knew the answer wouldn't be pleasant. "There are thousands of Dark-Hunters and countless vampires. More correctly, they're called Daimons since they've been around a whole lot longer than the word vampire."
Sunshine sat there in a stupor as she tried to take it all in. "I don't get this. I mean, I always believed in vampires in theory, but not really in the flesh, and I'm having a hard time believing that there are so many out there that we have to have real slayers for them." She locked gazes with Selena. "No offense, but I always thought your sister Tabitha was a bit wacked."
Selena gave an odd half-laugh. "She is, but that's beside the point."
Sunshine tried to come to terms with what Selena was telling her. She still wasn't sure if she should believe it. Could Talon really be an immortal vampire slayer?
And yet, in a very odd sense, it explained a lot of things. A lot of things.
Oh Lord, he really was a vampire slayer!
She felt ill. "Where do the vampires come from?" she asked Selena, "Are they demons or are they made from people, like in the movies?"
Selena paused, then spoke softly. "Okay, let me give you a short history lesson and see if that helps you make some sense of this. Aeons ago, two races were created-the human race and the Apollites. The Apollites were the children of the god Apollo. He wanted to create a super race that would outdo us in every shape, form, and fashion. They were beautiful, extremely tall, and they had massive psychic powers."
Sunshine swallowed as she recalled her attackers. That definitely sounded like them.
"But like many others who have such powers," Selena continued, "the Apollites abused them and started warring against humans, trying to subjugate mankind."
"The Apollites were vampires?"
"No," Selena said, "you're getting ahead of me. During the war between the Greeks and the Apollites, the Apollites killed Apollo's mistress and son. In anger over their murders, Apollo destroyed the Apollite homeland, Atlantis.
"For their betrayal, the Apollites were cursed so that they would have to drink each other's blood to survive, and they were forbidden to ever set foot under a single ray of daylight where Apollo could see them. Because his mistress was twenty-seven when they killed her, the Apollites were all condemned to die a horrible death on their twenty-seventh birthday."
"They disintegrate and decay slowly over a twenty-four-hour period."
Sunshine gaped. "Oh, how horrible."
Selena agreed as she picked up her card and returned it to the deck. "They avoid that fate one of two ways. They either kill themselves the day before their birthday or they turn Daimon and start killing humans and gathering their souls into their own bodies to prolong their lives."
Selena shrugged. "I'm not sure exactly. I just know that they drain the blood out of us until we die, then they take our souls into their bodies. So long as the soul is alive, they can live longer. But the problem is, the human soul starts to die as soon as they capture it. So it's a constant quest to gather new souls to maintain their lives."
"And this gathering of souls is what makes them vampires?"
"Daimons, vampires, ghouls, whatever you want to call them. They suck your blood and your soul and leave you with nothing. Kind of like lawyers." Selena smiled. "Oh wait, I just insulted my husband."
Sunshine appreciated the attempt at humor, but she was still trying to digest all this. "And the Dark-Hunters? Where do they come from? Are they Apollites too?"
"No, they're ancient warriors. After Atlantis sank into the ocean, the Greek gods were angry that Apollo had created and then unleashed the Daimons on us, so his sister Artemis created an army to hunt and destroy them. The Dark-Hunters. Talon is one of her soldiers."
"She created them how?"
"I don't know. She does something to capture their souls and then returns the Hunter to life. Once they're brought back, the Hunters are given servants and money so they can concentrate on hunting and killing the Daimons. Their only job is to free the stolen souls before the souls die."
Sunshine breathed deeply as she absorbed all this information. It wasn't looking good for her or for Talon. "So Talon is sworn into Artemis's service forever, then." Sunshine let out a ragged breath. "Jeez, I can really pick them. Talk about a go-nowhere, hopeless relationship."
Sunshine looked up and caught the sneaky look on Selena's face. "What?"
Selena shuffled her cards. "You know, Kyrian was once a Dark-Hunter..."
Sunshine's heart leapt at the words. "Really?"
Selena nodded. "They do come with an out clause. True love can restore their souls to them and free them from Artemis's service."
"So there's hope?"
"Honey, there's always hope."