Vane wasn't just any werewolf, Sunshine discovered. He was the werewolf, judging by the tough, hard-edged aura he projected.

He entered the cabin wearing a pair of faded jeans and a white T-shirt with a weathered motorcycle jacket, black cowboy boots, and a body that would cause a traffic jam.

And when he removed his sunglasses, her breath caught in her throat.

Even in height with Talon, he was stunningly gorgeous. His startlingly green eyes were a perfect contrast for his hair which at first glance appeared an extremely dark chestnut, but on closer view seemed to be made up of every color known. There were traces of ash and gold, red and black. She'd never seen hair like that in her life.

At least not on a human...

He wore it long, hanging just below his collar. She could tell he didn't spend any time with it, just brushed his hands through it and went.

But what captivated her most was the raw, overt male sexuality he oozed. One that ranked right up there with Talon's sexiness. Vane moved with the fluid grace of a predator, with his head held low as if ready to attack.

Grrrr, but the man was a fetching beast.

"You're early," Talon said.

Vane shrugged, his body a symphony of movement. "It didn't take as long to leave the pack as I thought it would."

The werewolf looked to her and gave her a knee-melting smile. "You really going to trust me with your female, Celt?"

"Yes, I am, because in this swamp, I rule."

Vane arched a skeptical brow. "That a threat?"

"It's a promise, Vane. I have my army camped on your doorstep to protect your family. I ask the same of you."

"I'll respect your trust, Celt. But only because I know how rarely you give it."

A look of mutual understanding passed between them.

Vane put his sunglasses back on. "You ready, baby?"

Sunshine stiffened at his offhand endearment. He might be cute, but she had no intention of letting him get away with that one. "You're not my boyfriend or my brother, so lay off the 'baby' thing, okay?"

He flashed a set of killer dimples. "Yes, ma'am." He held the door open until she walked past him. "See you after dark, Celt."

"Yes, you will."

Sunshine paused on the porch and looked about for their ride out of here. "Where's your boat?"

"I don't do the boat thing. It's loud and it takes too long."

"Then how are we going to get out of here?"

Vane smiled devilishly and held his hand out to her. "Trust me?"

Was he joking? "No, I don't even know you."

He laughed, a warm, rich sound that was seductive and charming, although strangely enough, it had no real effect on her. She could appreciate how appealing he was, but her heart and loyalty belonged to Talon.

"All right, then, Dorothy," he said. "Close your eyes, click your heels three times, and say, 'There's no place like home.' "

"What?"

Before she could blink, he took her hand and they flashed from the porch to a wooded area where a small trail broke through the trees. She had no idea where they were, but Talon's cabin was nowhere in sight.

Sunshine gasped. "What did you do?"

"I beamed you over."

"What are you, Scotty?"

He gave her a taunting look as if he were enjoying her discomfort. "It's correctly called a lateral time jump. I just moved you through horizontal time from Talon's porch, across the swamp to where my motorcycle is hidden. Simple."

"Horizontal time? I don't understand."

"Time flows in three directions," he explained. "Forward, backward, and laterally. If you do nothing at all, time always flows forward, but if you catch the Rytis just right, you can choose one of the other directions."

Totally confused, she frowned at him as she tried to comprehend what he was telling her. "What's the Rytis?"

"For lack of a better term, it's warp space."

When she continued to scowl, he pulled his jacket off. "Let me explain it this way." He held the shoulder of his jacket in his right hand and the end of the sleeve in his left. "Time is like this... If you want to get from here"-he moved his right hand-"to here," he said, moving his left, "you see how far you have to travel?"

She nodded as she noted the long length of his sleeve. The man had really long arms.

"The Rytis is essentially invisible waves that move around us all the time. Through everything on the planet. They echo and flow and sometimes they buckle. In essence, they do this." He compacted the sleeve between his hands so that his left and right hand were next to each other. "Now to travel from hand to hand, it takes a few seconds instead of several hours."

"Wow," she breathed as she understood. "So you can travel in any time direction? You can even go back in time?"

He nodded.

"And how do you do that? How do you catch this Rytis?"

He shrugged his jacket back on. "Baby, in this world, I'm the all-powerful Oz and there's not much I can't do."

Oh, this guy was getting irritating. "Stop calling me baby."

He inclined his head to her and moved to a tree. Two seconds later, a sleek dark gray motorcycle appeared out of nowhere.

"Okay, how did you do that?"

"In short, I'm a sorcerer. I can bend every law of physics known to mankind and a few not yet discovered."

She was impressed. "That's some serious talent."

Again that dark, deep laugh. "Baby, if you weren't with Talon, I would show you where my true talents lie."

She just bet he would too.

He handed her a helmet.

"You're calling me baby strictly to irritate me, aren't you?"

"My father always said I was born to be the barnacle up his nether regions. I guess I can't help it."

"Do me a favor. Try.'"

Flashing his dimples, he removed his sunglasses, put them in the inside pocket of his motorcycle jacket, and placed a helmet on his head.

"So tell me," she said. "If you can do all this magic stuff, why are we riding a bike into town? Couldn't you just time-jump us over to the square?"

He fastened his chin strap as he answered her. "I could. But as Acheron so often says, just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should. Personally, I don't want to be some guy's lab experiment, so I try not to pop in and out of populated areas if I can help it."

That made sense to her. "Since you can time-travel, do you ever think about changing the past?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever done it?"

He shook his head and a dark earnestness came over his face. "There are some powers in this world that are best left alone. Altering someone's destiny is definitely one of them. Believe me, the Fates have a nasty way of putting a hurt on anyone dumb enough to mess with their domain."

His ominous words rang in her ears. He sounded as if he had once made that mistake, and she wanted to ask if he had, but something inside told her to let it be.

Sunshine put her helmet on, then climbed on the back of the motorcycle and did her best to keep some distance between them. Vane was a handsome man, but something about him made her extremely nervous, and it wasn't the fact he was a werewolf or time-walker.

There was something about him she didn't trust.

At her request, he took her to the small art gallery where she kept her cart of artwork locked up and helped her wheel it to Jackson Square.

By the time they got there, it was a little after ten, and there was a huge crowd already gathered.

"I don't get it," Vane said as he wheeled her cart toward Selena's card stand. "Why are you setting up shop if you just want to meet a client?"

"Cameron said he wanted to see everything I sell. If I have to drag it all out for him, I might as well sell it to other people too."

She showed him where to set it up.

Vane did, but he didn't look too pleased about it.

Selena did a double take as she caught sight of them. "Someone new, Sunny?"

"No, he's just a-"

"Guard dog," he said, extending his hand out to her. "You're Selena Laurens, right? Amanda's older sister?"

Selena nodded as she shook his hand. "You know Amanda?"

"I know Kyrian."

"Is it just me or does everyone know Kyrian?" Sunshine asked.

Selena laughed, then turned back to Vane who was opening up Sunshine's card table where she usually placed her cheaper pottery pieces. "It's daylight so I know you're not a DH. Are you a Squire?"

He stiffened. "Don't insult me. I fetch for no one."

"He's not real friendly," Sunshine explained as she set up her stand. "I think he has rabies or something."

Vane gave her a half amused, half perturbed smile. "You know, Sunshine, I like your spirit."

Sunshine started to respond, but she felt someone watching her.

Scared and anxious, she looked around the crowd until she saw a bright, smiling face that was as familiar to her as her own.

Sunshine beamed.

Even though she wasn't very tall, the elderly woman stood out in the crowd and it wasn't just the insanely bright red shirt she wore. The older woman had an essence and presence that was as powerful and strong as Talon's or Vane's.

Her steel-gray hair was worn up in braids that were wrapped around her head. Her face was lined by a lifetime of happiness and smiles, and her dark brown eyes were bright and kind. The kind of eyes that drew people to the extremely wise woman.

"Grammy!" Sunshine said, as the older woman drew near. "What are you doing here? I thought you swore to never step foot in New Orleans again during Mardi Gras."

Her grandmother squeezed her tight, then pulled back to look at her. It'd been almost a year since they had last seen each other.

Oh, it was great to see her grandmother again!

Her grandmother ran her hand up and down her arm as if reassuring herself that Sunshine was healthy. "Well, that was my intention, but your mother called and told me that you were having all kinds of questions about being a Celt. So I thought I'd just pop in and surprise you."

"You certainly did. But I'm glad you're here."

Her grandmother arched a censuring brow as she caught sight of Vane. "And you are?"

"Vane Kattalakis."

She looked back at Sunshine. "Where's this Talon your mother told me about?"

"He'll be here later, Grammy."

She nodded, then pulled a small medallion out from under her shirt and placed it around Sunshine's neck.

"What's this?"

Her grandmother adjusted it so that it would be obvious to anyone who glanced at her. "Keep that close to your heart, little one. If that man comes after you again, you let him know who protects you."

"What man?" she asked, hoping her grandmother didn't know about her kidnapping.

She did.

"I know what happened, Sunny. You know I do."

Drat. Her grandmother had some eerie psychic talents.

"I don't think your necklace will scare him, Grammy."

"You'd be surprised. And if it doesn't, then he deserves what he gets." Her grandmother patted her on the shoulder and turned to Selena. "Have you been practicing those exercises I showed you, Ms. Laurens?"

"Yes, ma'am. I can feel my powers growing every day."

"Good. Now I better get back to Starla's. If that rank bastard comes near my baby-"

"Grandma!" Sunshine gasped. She'd never in her life heard her grandmother use such a word.

"Well, he is. Messing with my granddaughter. I'll boil his warts in oil and feed his head to the wolves."

Vane choked on that one. "You know, wolves don't really like to eat heads. Meat, yes, but heads are really hard on the jaws. Not to mention, the cranium gets caught between your teeth."

Her grandmother gave him a withering stare. "Are you being smart with me, boy?"

"Yes."

"Young man," her grandmother said in a haughty tone, "didn't your mother teach you any manners?"

"My mother only taught me one thing and, I promise you, it wasn't manners."

Her grandmother nodded. "I can see that. But you still have a very important lesson to learn in life."

"And that is?"

"One day you're going to have to let someone other than your brother and sister get close to you."

His face turned to stone and the look in his eyes was feral and fierce. "What do you know about my siblings?"

"More than you would care for. You have a hard road ahead of you, Vane Kattalakis. I wish I could ease it for you, but it's yours alone to travel. Just remember, you're a lot stronger than you think you are."

"Believe me, lady, my strength is the one thing I never doubt."

Her grandmother smiled at that. "It's amazing the lies we tell other people, isn't it?"

Her grandmother turned her back on him. "Selena, Sunshine. You two take care. And Sunshine, when tonight comes, follow your heart. Do as it commands, and it won't fail you."

"Okay, Grandma, I will."

Her grandmother kissed her cheek, then headed off toward St. Anne.

After she was out of sight, Sunshine turned back to see Vane looking agitated. "I'm sorry. She does that a lot to people. She tends to just say whatever pops into her head."

Vane didn't speak. Instead, he folded his arms over his chest and leaned back against the black iron fence that surrounded the square.

Sunshine finished setting up her stand, then checked her watch.

It was still a little while before Cameron was due, so she pulled out her sketchbook and started doodling.

Before she realized it, she'd drawn a picture of the man who had kidnapped her.

Vane looked at the sketch. "Damn good likeness."

Sunshine went cold. "You know this guy?"

"Well, yeah. Of course I do. So does Talon. Selena probably knows him too."

"Selena," Sunshine said, heading to her friend. "Do you know who this is?"

"Sure, it's Acheron."

"Who's Acheron?" she asked. Everyone kept mentioning his name around her, but she had no idea who or what he was.

"For lack of a better explanation," Vane said, "Talon's boss."

"Why would Talon's boss kidnap me? Do you think it's to keep me away from Talon?"

Vane laughed at that. "Not his style. If Ash wanted to keep you away from Talon, he'd just show up at your door and scare the crap out of you. Besides, he was the one leading the rescue party to you."

Well, that was nice to know.

But why did he look just like the guy who'd kidnapped her?

Her frown deepened. "He was there when Talon got me away from Camulus?"

"Yeah and I was too. Don't you remember?"

She shook her head. All she could remember was Talon. "How well do you know Talon and Acheron?" she asked Vane.

He shrugged. "I just met Talon, but I've crossed paths with Acheron a time or two over the centuries."

"Are you immortal too?"

He shook his head no. "My kind just lives a lot longer than humans."

"How long?"

"About a thousand years, give or take a century or two."

Wow. That was quite a while.

Sunshine couldn't imagine what it would be like to have that long to plan her future. But something inside told her that it might be as big a curse as a blessing to live that long, especially if you had to live it alone.

Sunshine watched Vane as he scanned the crowd around them. Those hazel-green eyes seemed to take in everything.

"Why are you so open to talk about this while Talon refuses to tell me anything?"

He shrugged. "I didn't swear an oath of secrecy, and I figure you've seen enough spooky shit the last few days that knowing about me is the least of your problems. Besides, I dare you to tell anyone I'm really a wolf pretending to be human."

He paused and grinned devilishly at her. "I double dog dare you," he said slowly. "That, my friend, will get you locked inside a rubber room."

She had no doubt about that at all. And it explained why he felt so free to talk about his "differences."

"Are you really a wolf?"

He nodded.

"Then how can you be human?"

"We're a different breed than your people. My race was created about nine thousand years ago when my greatgrandfather decided to save the lives of his sons by magically splicing their DNA with a few choice animals. Thus we were born. One son made two half-blooded creatures. One that held a human heart and one that held an animal heart. I'm directly descended from the animal."

"So you have the heart of a wolf?"

Again, he nodded. "And the morals and the self-preservation instincts of one too."

"Do you ever wish you were human?"

"No, never. Why would I?"

And yet she sensed he was hiding something. There was a lot more to his feelings than he was willing to admit and it was obvious he didn't want her to delve into it.

So she changed the subject. "Does it hurt when you change forms? Is it like the movies where you get all hairy and bones crunch?"

He snorted at that. "No. That's strictly a Hollywood dramatization. Since we're born of magic, for the most part we wield it painlessly. I feel about as much pain transforming as you did when we bopped from Talon's cabin to my bike. All you get is a little electrical frizz going through you. It's actually kind of pleasurable if you do it right."

"It must be neat to be able to do all that." She tilted her head, squinted her eyes, and looked at him.

"What are you doing?"

"Trying to imagine what you would look like as a wolf."

"Pray you never find out."

She stepped back from him. "You know, I think you guys really get off on scaring people."

"Sometimes we do."

Not willing to investigate that any further, Sunshine continued to wait.

Unfortunately, Cameron didn't show.

Vane tried to get her to go back to Talon's but she refused. "Maybe he's just late. Maybe he had a meeting or something. I can't just leave."

Vane gave a low, very wolf-sounding growl at that and took up a seat behind her stand, leaning back against the black iron fence while she sat on her stool, hawking her wares and sketching.

The afternoon dragged on, but nothing happened.

Cameron still hadn't shown up.

Selena left at four for a brief break.

Vane was now sitting on the curb behind her. His long legs were stretched out on the street, and he had them crossed at the ankles. He was leaning back on his arms. The position pulled his cotton T-shirt tight over his impeccable body.

"You do this every day?" he asked.

"Pretty much."

"Man, this is boring as hell. What do you do to keep from going insane?"

"I usually sketch or paint, and before I know it, the day has passed and it's time to go home."

"Well, I don't get it."

People who weren't artists never did.

"Hi, Sunshine, you got anything new?"

Sunshine turned to see Bride McTierney approaching her on the opposite side of the cart. A tall, plus-sized type of voluptuous, Bride had the face of one of Botticelli's angels. Her hair was so dark an auburn that it appeared black unless Bride was outside. Then it was a deep luminescent red. Bride usually wore it up in a clip with tendrils of it falling around her face.

A real sweetheart, Bride was one of her regular clients. She'd even taken some of Sunshine's paintings and used them in her boutique.

"No," Sunshine said, "sorry. I haven't been painting the fantasy or Jackson Square stuff lately. I've mostly been working on commissioned pieces."

"Rats, I just moved into a new apartment and was hoping you'd have something to make the drab walls tolerable."

Sunshine frowned. Bride had loved her place on Iberville. "Why did you move?"

"Taylor doesn't like coming all the way into the city at night so I thought it would be easier if I lived closer to where he works."

"But you work in the quarter."

"I know. It's one of the sacrifices we all have to make for love." She offered Sunshine a smile, but Sunshine could tell it was only a façade.

That was exactly what Sunshine was afraid of.

Why was it always the woman who had to sacrifice for love? Just once, couldn't a guy do it instead?

Bride sighed. "Give me a call if you paint anything new that I'd like, okay?"

"I will. By the way, you're looking really good. Have you lost weight?"

Bride beamed. "I'm down to a size sixteen. But I have to tell you that I am starving all the time."

"Yeah, but you're a knockout."

"Thanks. Taylor signed me up for an aerobics class at his club that meets four times a week and that helped to get a lot of the weight off."

"You don't sound like you enjoy it very much."

Pain darkened Bride's eyes as she averted her gaze. "I just hate having to put on sweats and then walk into a room filled with size-two women in leotards-like they really need those classes. It makes me want to head to Krispy Kreme even more than the diet does."

Sunshine laughed. "Tell me about it. I personally don't think they should make anything except gunny sacks for anyone under a size ten."

Bride smiled again. "Speaking of dress sizes and skinny women, I guess I better head back to the shop. You take care, okay?"

"You too."

Bride wandered off in the direction of her store.

"Who was that?" Vane was now standing up, staring after Bride with a hungry glint in his eyes.

How did he do that? The man, or rather wolf, moved with an eerie silence.

"Her name is Bride McTierney. She owns a boutique over on Iberville."

"She's... very nice."

Sunshine was amazed he thought so. Most guys were intimidated or just plain turned off by Bride's height and Rubenesque build.

Vane looked as if he had just seen a supermodel in the flesh.

Now this could be good...

He blinked and returned to sitting on the curb.

"You know, I could introduce the two of you."

He looked up at her, then glanced away. Still, she had glimpsed the regret in his green eyes.

"Wolves don't socialize with humans. You guys tend to freak out when you learn what we are. Not to mention, your females are rather frail. I don't like having to hold back for fear of bruising or killing my partner when I mate."

"And people think I speak my mind. Jeez. You will just say anything, won't you?"

"I told you, I'm not human. I don't share your inhibitions."

She supposed that was true enough. But it was a pity. Bride could use a man who accepted her as she was and didn't put her on strict diets and exercise regimes all the time.

"So," Vane said after a few minutes. "What's between you and the Celt? Are the two of you just casually carnal or is there something more?"

"Why are you asking?"

"Because you've asked me for a full bio. I figure turnabout is fair play."

Sunshine sat down next to him. "I don't know. When I'm with Talon it's like we fit. Like he's a part of me that I didn't know I was missing until I found him."

"Does he feel the same way?"

She sighed wistfully. "Who knows? With him it's hard to tell sometimes. I'm not really sure that I am the one he loves."

"True. Emotions don't appear to be his strong suit. Still, you must mean a lot to him for him to call me in."

"How do you figure?"

"Going against Acheron's orders isn't a smart thing for a Dark-Hunter to do. That man has life-and-death control over them. Secondly, Talon was willing to barter with me to keep you safe. Again, not a smart thing to do."

"Why, you're not going to hurt him, are you?"

"Not at the moment, but when you consider the danger my people live in, obligating yourself to a Katagari Slayer is one step away from blatant stupidity."

"A what Slayer?"

"The real term for what I am."

Sunshine frowned at him. "Okay, and what exactly is a Katagari Slayer?"

"Someone who kills without remorse."

A chill went down her spine and yet she found it hard to believe he could be capable of such a thing. He was feral, no doubt, but he didn't seem completely without a conscience in spite of what he said. "Would you really do that?"

"Baby, I would kill my own mother and not think twice."

She remembered what her grandmother had said about his siblings. "Yes, but would you kill your brother or your sister?"

He looked away.

She nudged his shoulder. "You're not as amoral as you pretend, Vane Kattalakis. I think there may be more human inside you than you think."

Sunshine returned to her cart and sat on her stool. She continued to scan the people around her, but as the sun set and Cameron didn't show, she saw no one who even remotely seemed threatening.

Well, no one other than her guard.

Talon was up and dressed before sundown. He was pacing the floor of his cabin, dying to leave and find Sunshine.

Anxious, he dialed Vane.

"She's still alive and unharmed," Vane said without greeting. "Sunshine," he called, "it's the Celt wanting a little reassurance that I haven't eaten you or anything."

Talon rubbed his head at Vane's odd humor as he waited for Sunshine to reach for the phone.

"Talon?"

"Hey, baby, you okay?" Talon asked, instantly relieved to hear her smooth Southern drawl in his ear.

It was the most blessed sound he'd ever known.

"I'm fine. Absolutely nothing has happened. It's been really boring today. Except for Vane. He's interesting in a very Cujoesque sort of way."

He smiled. His mood was instantly lighter just knowing she was okay. "I'll bet. You be careful and I'll be out there as soon as I can."

"Okay. See you soon."

His heart clenched as she made a kissing noise to him, then handed the phone back to Vane. Gods, how he loved that woman.

"Ahh, Tally, me lub you too."

"Shut up, crotch-sniffer. You're not allowed to make lovey noises at me, only my honey is."

Vane snorted. "You know, I'm really going to make you pay one day."

"Yeah, I'll bring along a few extra kibbles for you."

Vane laughed good-naturedly. "For that, swamp rat, you owe me an extra nice plate of prime rib."

"You got it. How are you doing, by the way? You holding on to your human form without any problems?"

"I'm just peachy. Even managed to keep most of my clothes on and everything."

"Yeah, you do that. Don't want your scrawny body making my Sunshine go blind or anything."

"Trust me, if she hasn't gone blind looking at your fat, hairy ass, mine's not going to hurt her any."

"Hairy? Excuse me, but you definitely have me confused with your brother."

Vane laughed again.

"Seriously, though, the sun'll be down in about fifteen minutes. I'll head out immediately."

"I'm holding down the fort, Custer. Don't worry."

"Thanks, Bull. See you in a bit."

Talon hung up and waited until he could feel the tingling on his skin that always alerted him that the sun was gone and it was safe to leave.

It was about forty-five minutes after dark when Sunshine asked Vane to walk the short distance around the corner to the Coke stand and get her something to drink.

He balked, but she finally convinced him that she would still be in full sight and wouldn't wander off until he returned.

As soon as he got in line, she heard Selena's low whistle.

"Now that man looks scary with a capital S. He has serial killer written all over him."

Sunshine turned to see an extremely tall, dark-haired man rounding the corner. The horses that lined Decatur Street snorted and pranced uneasily as he passed by them.

It was as if they sensed something evil about him.

He looked so incredibly sinister that her stomach drew tight. "Should I call Vane back?"

"I don't know." Selena got up from her card table and moved to stand beside Sunshine. "If he makes a move on you, I'll grab him and you scream."

"Okay. Maybe he'll just keep on walking right past us."

He didn't.

He glanced at her cart as he came even with it, then paused.

Sunshine's gaze fell to the vicious-looking silver claws on his left hand.

He didn't speak a word as he approached her cart. She swallowed and instinctively moved closer to Selena. The man would be incredibly handsome if he didn't look so ferocious.

She exchanged nervous looks with Selena.

His dark, deadly gaze was focused on the bowls she had fashioned after a Greek design she'd seen in a museum catalog. With a gentleness she wouldn't have thought him capable of, he ran his hand over a red-figured bowl.

A flash of longing darkened his eyes, as if the design brought back some bittersweet memory for him. "You make these?"

She actually flinched as his intense black gaze met hers. He had a deep, provocative voice that was so heavily accented, it took her a minute to understand his question. "I do."

"Nice work."

She couldn't have been more stunned had he taken a gun out and shot her. "Thanks."

When he reached into his pocket, she braced herself to scream for Vane until she realized he was just pulling out his wallet. "How much?"

"What are you doing here?"

She looked past the man to see Talon approaching. His long, angry predatorial strides brought him to her side. Fast.

"None of your friggin' business, Celt," the stranger growled.

"Get away from Sunshine, Zarek, or I swear I'll put you down."

Zarek tucked his wallet back in his pocket and turned to face Talon. "Try it, Celt, and I'll have your heart in my fist."

Talon lunged and shoved him back.

Zarek swung at him, but Talon ducked and shoved him again.

Vane came out of nowhere to break them apart. "Hey, hey, hey!" he snarled at Talon, forcing him away from Zarek. "What is this about?"

"I better not ever catch you around her, Zarek. I mean it."

Zarek flipped him off with his claw, then turned around and stalked angrily toward the Presbytere building.

Sunshine was terrified as she saw the wild look on Talon's face. He really looked like he could kill someone.

"Talon?"

"Stay back," Vane warned. "You okay, Celt?"

Talon couldn't respond. All he could feel was the rising fury inside him. The demanding, hot need he had to rip Zarek to pieces.

The moment he had seen Zarek, his mind had flashed back to Zarek in the alley with his victim.

God help the man if he ever attacked Sunshine that way.

He'd kill him regardless of the consequences.

Without comment, Talon pulled Sunshine against him and held her there. He fisted his hand in her hair, inhaled her warm patchouli scent, and just reveled in the peace he felt while holding her.

"You were supposed to be watching her, Vane," he snarled at the Were-Hunter.

"It was just Zarek, Celt. Calm down. He wasn't doing anything but looking at her dishes."

"He could have hurt her."

"But he didn't."

"Yeah, and you're damn lucky for that."

Zarek was still fuming as he made his way down Pirate's Alley.

When was he going to learn? Every time he had tried to help someone, it had always turned around and bit him on his ass.

He'd recognized the woman the minute he'd seen her and was wondering why Talon had left her unprotected.

He clenched his teem. "Fine. Let her die."

What did he care anyway?

As he neared the end of die alley, he stopped. A foreign, cold sensation ran over him. It was one he hadn't felt since the night he'd crossed over from human to Dark-Hunter.

"Zarek."

He turned to see none other than Dionysus before him. The Greek god had his short brown hair impeccably combed. He wore a dark tweed jacket over a navy turtle-neck and looked like some kind of high-paid corporate raider.

"If you're going to blast me, Dionysus, have at it."

Dionysus laughed. "Please call me Dion. Dionysus is just so passe."

Zarek stiffened as the god neared him. The power of the being was undeniable and it caused the air around him to sizzle. "Why are you speaking to me?"

Dionysus indicated the Pedestrian Mall with his thumb. "I overheard your little exchange with Talon. I was thinking we could make a deal, you and I."

Zarek scoffed at the very idea. "That would be like making a pact with Lucifer."

"Yes, but I don't smell like sulfur. And I happen to dress better. Luc always looks like a pimp." He offered Zarek a cigarette. "Go ahead, have one. It's even your brand."

Zarek took him up on it and eyed him suspiciously as he lit the cigarette. "So what's the pact?"

"Simple. I have a boy in town who is doing some favors for me. You ran into him last night. The one who looks like your boss."

"Yeah, I know the bastard. I owe him too."

"I know. It was unfortunate that the two of you met like that. But if you can put aside your anger, I think you'll like my deal a lot better."

"And that is?"

"My boy needs a few things. Now we could kill you, but I'm thinking a man of your 'special' abilities and skills would be better on our side than drifting through eternity as a disembodied Shade." Dionysus paused.

"Keep talking."

"All I need is for you to not hunt. Go home like Acheron wants and stay there until Mardi Gras. During my celebration, Styxx will be in touch. Help him with the final preparations and I will give you what you want most."

"And what do I want most?"

"An end to your suffering."

Zarek had to give the god credit, he knew what to offer, all right. "You're not trying to trick me, are you?"

"I swear by the river Styx that if you assist us, I will put you out of your pain. Completely. No tricks. No loopholes. One blast and you're beyond even death."

"And if I don't?"

Dionysus smiled evilly. "Hades has a nice corner of Tartarus waiting for you."

Zarek took a drag on his cigarette and laughed darkly. "Like that scares me. What's he going to do? Tear the flesh off my body? Break my bones? Better yet, why not hold me down and stomp on me until I bleed or make me shovel shit? Oh wait, been there, done that, and got the videotape."

Dionysus's green eyes blazed. "I can't believe Artemis lets you live."

"I can't believe you're a god with no better threat than that. But don't worry," he said as Dionysus looked like he was ready to strike. "I hate these assholes anyway and couldn't care less how many of them you turn into Shades."

The god calmed down instantly.

"I take it you know my cell number?" Zarek asked.

Dionysus nodded. "We'll be in touch."

"Fine. I'll see you Tuesday."

At Talon's insistence, Sunshine packed up her cart and let the men wheel it back toward her art gallery. But as they started away, she stopped them.

"What are you doing?" Talon asked as she opened up the small side door on her cart.

"Nothing."

He frowned at her as she pulled out the bowl Zarek had been looking at. She handed it to Vane. "Would you mind taking this to Zarek for me?"

Talon was aghast. "What are you, insane?"

"No, Talon. That man is in a lot of pain. I think he could use an act of kindness from someone."

Vane scoffed. "What he could use is a good butt-kicking."

"Vane, please." Sunshine urged him to take it.

He did, grudgingly. "Okay, but if he throws it at me, I'm going to want some compensation."

She kissed him on the cheek.

"Lame compensation, but in the presence of Talon, I'll settle for it."

Vane took the bowl and headed off down the street.

She turned back to Talon who was still frowning. "Zarek will slam it against a wall and break it the first chance he gets."

"I don't think so. Even if he does, I can always make another one."

He helped her lock up her cart and then led her back out to the street. "You have such a generous heart."

"That's what they tell me. So, shall we go hunt for Styxx?"

"Hell, no. I'm not going to chance you getting hurt."

She growled at him. "Listen, my grandmother said something to me this afternoon. She told me to follow my heart tonight. I don't know what she meant by that, but I trust her. She is an extraordinary psychic. Everything she has told me has come true."

"Look, Sunshine, I can't help what she said. I just know that I'm not willing to let anything happen to you. When Nynia died, I was so lost and cold, and I haven't been warm since. Not until I felt your hands on me. The only way I've been able to cope without you is to bury what I feel, but I can't seem to do that anymore. When I'm with you all I can do is feel and need."

"That's how I am too."

"So where does that leave us?"

"I don't know, Talon. I wish I did."

Talon put his arm over her shoulder as they walked back toward the square. He noticed other couples around them.

How he wished they could be a normal, happy couple with no worries other than a mortgage payment.

But it wasn't meant to be.

Camulus was playing with both of them and Sunshine was going to get hurt.

Talon only knew one real way to protect both of them.

"So where are we going?" Sunshine asked.

"We're going to see a god about a miracle."



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