"Oh, thank God you're there," Selena said in Sunshine's ear as soon as Sunshine answered the phone. "Where have you been? I've been ringing the phone off the hook all day long trying to reach you. I know you can never find the damn thing, but dang, girl... I've been so worried that I was about to head over there and see if you were okay or if this unknown guy had murdered you in your loft." Selena finally took a breath in the midst of her tirade. "Please tell me he's not still there."
Wiping off her paint-stained hands while she cradled the phone between her ear and shoulder, Sunshine smiled at Selena's concerned voice and her motherlike lecture. "No, Selena, Mr. Bodacious is gone. He had to go meet some friends."
"Well, what time did he leave?"
"A few minutes ago."
"What?" she asked in feigned innocence.
"Oh, honey," Selena gasped, "don't tell me you spent the whole day with him playing Parcheesi or something."
Sunshine bit her lip as she remembered exactly what they had spent the day doing. It made her warm and tingly all over again. "We didn't get to the Parcheesi, but we did it on the backgammon table a couple of times. And on the couch, the kitchen counter, the floor, the coffee table, and-"
"Oh, my God, TMI-way too much information. Tell me you're joking about this."
"Nope, not a bit. I'm telling you, Selena, forget the Energizer Bunny, this guy had it all."
Selena groaned. "What were you thinking? You just met him."
"I know," Sunshine said, agreeing completely with her friend that she was a lunatic for doing something so stupid. "It's so not like me, but I couldn't help myself. It was just like that weird magnetic force that grabs me when I'm walking past the Frostbyte Cafe and makes me swerve in to get a triple scoop of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey."
That was her one major vice. Sunshine had never been able pass up Chunky Monkey.
"The power of temptation was just too much, Selena. I couldn't resist it. He was a Chunky Monkey container and all I could think was, 'Someone give me a spoon.' "
"Oh, good grief," Selena said.
"Yeah. It was weird. I was here, he was here, and then he said, 'Let's do it,' and the next thing I knew, the spoon was in my hand and I was going for it."
Selena made a disgusted noise. "Please tell me no one was using a spoon."
Sunshine smiled devilishly. "No, no spoon, but there was a whole lot of licking going on."
"Oh, oh, oh! You're killing me. Don't go there."
Sunshine laughed. "I can't stop myself. He was so hot that I feel this deep need to share his spectacular hotness with you."
Selena snorted at her. "Are you at least going to see him again?"
"No, unfortunately not. I didn't even get his last name."
"Sunshine! Girl, you are nuts."
"Yeah, I know. It was just a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing."
"Sheez, are you okay, though? He didn't hurt you or anything?"
"Oh no, not at all. It was the best day of my life. Freaky, ain't it?"
"Ah jeez, Sunny. I can't believe you did this. You've been hanging around all those weird friends of yours so much that you're picking up their bad habits. Bringing home stray men you don't even know. Next thing you know, you'll be dancing naked on tabletops... Oh wait, that was me."
Sunshine laughed. "Don't worry. It'll never happen again. You know me, I do date occasionally, but I usually spend at least a few normal, boring days with a guy before we rock the house down. Of course, no one ever rocked my house down the way this guy did. He leveled the mother to its foundations."
Selena shrieked. "I can't believe you keep telling me this."
Sunshine laughed at the tortured angst in Selena's voice as she continued to tease her. "I can't believe I spent the day in bed with this guy, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I'm telling you, these were the best eighteen hours of my life."
"Jeez, you didn't even know him a whole day?"
"Well, I know him now. Every last yummy inch of him. By the way, he had a lot of inches."
"Stop it, Sunny," Selena begged, her voice cracking with laughter. "I can't take any more. I don't need to know the sexual athlete of all time is running around New Orleans and I'm married to the lawyer. This is so cruel."
Sunshine laughed again. "Well, Bill is nice, in a very Bill sort of way."
"Oh gee, thanks, now you're ripping on my Bill."
"I'm sorry. You know I love Bill, but this guy was really, really great." Sunshine, dragging the heavy, psychedelic phone in her wake, crossed the kitchen toward her fridge to get some guava juice. Teasing Selena was fun, but oddly enough there was a part of her that was extremely sad Talon had left.
He really had been a lot of fun and not just in the bed, or on the floor, or on the other five thousand places where they'd had sex. He'd been fun to talk to too.
Best of all, he hadn't lost his patience with her.
She opened the fridge, then laughed again.
"What?" Selena asked.
Sunshine saw Talon's prized Snoopy Pez dispenser standing up, looking straight at her. She couldn't believe it.
So that was what he'd been doing in the fridge while she was in the shower. No wonder he had looked uncomfortable when she caught him.
"Awww, he left me his Snoopy Pez dispenser on top of the soy cheese."
"What?" Selena asked.
"Nothing," Sunshine said, taking the cold plastic toy into her hand. "It's an inside joke."
"Oh, don't tell me you did something with the cheese."
"No, we just ate it. Jeez, Selena, get your mind out of the gutter. Not everything has to do with sex."
"Well, with the two of you it does. The basis of your whole entire relationship seems to be nothing but sex... Oh wait, it's only been eighteen hours since you met him. Does that qualify as a relationship?"
"Believe me, the way he does sex, it counts. Besides, he did leave me his Pez dispenser."
"Ooo," Selena teased, "he's bodacious and generous. What a guy."
"Hey now, be fair to my bodacious biker. It's a valuable Pez dispenser. A 1960-something collector's item."
"Yeah, but did he leave you his phone number?"
"Well no, but he did put Snoopy on the top shelf so I would find it."
"Enough said. Case closed. You're still riding the loser train when Snoopy becomes something valuable."
"Okay, fine, Selena, you're bringing me down from my love fest and I'm losing my afterglow. It's been ten months since I last slept with a guy and it'll probably be forever and a day before another one who's not gay darkens my doorstep, so let me go back to work where I can bask in the after-greatness of my afternoon."
"Okay, sweetie. I'll call you later. I was just concerned. You go back to work and I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay, thanks. Bye."
Sunshine hung up the phone and looked down at the Snoopy in her hand. She laughed.
Talon might not be perfect, he might even occasionally screw up and get run down by a Mardi Gras float, but he had been a great guy, and great guys were hard to come by in this day and age.
It was a pity she'd never see him again. But then, she wasn't the kind of woman to mope over what could have been. She was an artist with a good career that she had worked very hard for.
A serious relationship with someone wasn't something she was looking for right now.
She liked living alone. Loved having the freedom to just pick up and go whenever and wherever she wanted to. Her brief marriage in her early twenties had schooled her well on what a man expected from a wife.
She had no intention of ever revisiting that fiasco.
Talon had been a fun afternoon diversion, but that was all he was. Her life would now go on just as it always had.
Her heart lighter at the thought of him, she took Snoopy into her bedroom and set him on the nightstand by the bed.
Sunshine smiled. She'd never had a memento before. But that's what Snoopy was to her. A token reminder of a wonderful day.
"Have a nice life, Talon," she said, turning off the light by the bed before she headed back to her work. "Maybe someday we might meet again."
It was just after one a.m. when Talon found himself outside the club Runningwolf's on Canal Street. He'd tried to tell himself that he was here because Daimons were often found hanging in and around clubs where drunken humans made easy pickings.
He'd tried to tell himself that he was just doing his job.
But as he looked up at the dark windows above the club and wondered if Sunshine was up there in her bed or if she was at her easel painting, he knew better.
He was here because of her.
Talon cursed under his breath. Acheron was right. She was inside him in a way no one had been inside of him in centuries.
No matter what he tried, he couldn't get her out of his mind.
Over and over, he could feel her. Feel her body under his, her breath on his skin. Hear the sound of her soft Southern drawl whispering in his ear.
And when she had touched him...
It was like a song from heaven.
The physical comfort and companionship she'd given him this afternoon had touched him profoundly.
He'd felt welcomed in a way that wasn't sexual.
What had she done to him? Why after all these centuries had a woman crept inside his feelings?
Even more frustrating, he knew if he were human, he'd be with her now.
You're not human.
He didn't need the reminder. All too well, he knew what he was. He liked what he was. There was a special kind of satisfaction that came with his job.
"Speirr? What are you doing?"
He tensed at Ceara's voice coming out of the darkness and at the fact that someone had caught him doing something he shouldn't be doing.
She appeared beside him. Her shimmering face smiled knowingly.
He let out a disgusted breath. Why did he bother trying to hide anything from the ones who could see straight into his thoughts?
"Yeah, okay," he admitted reluctantly, "so I wanted to check up on her and see how she's doing."
"And that really irritates me." The words were out before he realized it.
Ceara laughed at that. "You were expecting her to be sad?"
"Of course. She should at least have had a moment or two of regret or something."
Ceara clucked her tongue. "Poor Speirr. You found the only woman alive who doesn't think you hung the moon and the stars."
He rolled his eyes at her. "So maybe I'm being a little arrogant..." She arched a brow and he corrected himself. "So I'm being a lot arrogant, but damn, I can't get her out of my thoughts. How can she feel nothing?"
"I didn't say she felt nothing, I only said she's not sad."
"So she did feel something for me?"
"If you like, I could do more investigating."
"Nae," Talon said quickly. The last thing he wanted was for Ceara to find out what he and Sunshine had been doing all afternoon.
Ceara was naive and he wanted to keep her that way.
His sister walked a small circle around his body. For some reason she'd always liked to do that. As a little girl, she'd made him dizzy as she raced around him at a dead run, giggling as she went.
Even though she was a young woman before him now, in his heart he always saw her as that chubby little toddler who used to sit on his lap for hours, playing with his braids as she gibbered her baby speech at him.
Just like Dere...
His stomach clenched at the memory.
Ceara hadn't been his only sister. Three more had been born between them. Fia had died her first year of life. Tress had lived to age five when she perished of the same illness that had claimed their mother.
She had died at age four.
She'd gone out at sunrise, wanting to see the fey folk Talon had teased her with. He'd told her how he often saw them out the window at daybreak while she slept.
Only five years old himself, he had heard someone leave their hut. At first he had thought it was his father. But as he snuggled back down to sleep, he'd realized Dere wasn't in their bed.
He'd gotten up immediately and rushed out to find her.
She had slipped on the rocks along the edge of the cliff that looked out onto the sea where he'd told her the fey frolicked in the early dawn's light.
He heard her scream and had run as fast as he could.
By the time he reached her, it was too late. Her young arms had been unable to hold on until he got there.
She lay below on the rocks with the waves rushing over her.
Even now, he could see her lying there. Could see the looks on his parents' faces when he had awakened them with the news.
Worst of all, he could see the accusation in his father's eyes.
Neither of his parents had ever uttered the words aloud, but in his heart he knew they had blamed him for it.
Not that it mattered. He blamed himself. He always had.
It was why he had been so protective of Ceara and Tress. Why he had been so determined that nothing bad would ever happen to his youngest sister.
Tonight, he saw a hesitancy in Ceara's steps.
"So, what's the news from the Daimon world?" he asked her.
Ceara paused. "How did you know?"
"You've been strangely quiet tonight. It's not like you to stay hidden while I hunt unless you're conferring with the others."
Her eyes glowed warmly. "I never could hide from you." She wrapped her arms around herself. "There was talk. There is a force here. One not Daimon born."
"Goblin, ghoul, demonic? What?"
"No one seems to be sure. There are Daimons surrounding the source of it, but it is not one of them. It's something else."
She looked up, exasperated. "I'm trying to find someone who knows, but as yet..." She paused and wrung her hands. "I want you to be careful, Speirr. Whatever this thing is, it holds a great deal of malice. Hatred."
"Can you locate it?"
"I have tried, but it moves whenever I draw near. It is as if the source knows to avoid me."
This wasn't good, especially with Mardi Gras right around the corner. When Bacchus came to town, even the most moderate of things went wild. To Talon it sounded like something or someone was counting on the excesses of the celebration to propel whatever plan it had.
Talon's thoughts were distracted as a car drove down the street in front of him. It was an old VW Beetle. Someone had painted the top of it dark blue with glow-in-the-dark stars and the lower half was bright sunshine yellow with red peace symbols.
He smiled at the sight. It had been parked outside the club earlier when he had left. Instinct told him it had to belong to Sunshine. No one else would be caught dead in such a monstrosity.
True to his suspicions, the car turned into the alley behind Runningwolf's.
With his honed Dark-Hunter sight, he watched her leave her car and pause to pull a sealed box out of the backseat. His body hardened instantly.
Tonight, she wore her black hair in two braids down the side of her face. She was dressed in a long fuchsia sweater coat that displayed her lush curves to perfection.
In his mind, he could imagine walking up to her, pulling her back against his front, and just inhaling her warm patchouli scent. Letting his hand trail down the front of her, to her tight black sweater held closed by small buttons. Of working those buttons through the cloth until she was exposed to him.
His body burned with aching want.
Ceara's voice jarred him from his reverie. "I'm sorry, I was distracted."
"I said I will go and investigate further. Or do you need me to stay here and keep you grounded?"
"No, thanks. I'm grounded."
"I'm sensing conflict inside you. Are you sure you want me to leave?"
About as sure that the world would end in fifteen minutes. No, he wasn't sure. Because every time he looked at Sunshine, he had a nasty tendency to forget everything else.
To want nothing more than to stare at her. To touch her.
"Very well, then. I shall listen out for you. If you need me, call."
Ceara vanished and left him alone in the darkness.
Sunshine slammed her car door closed and entered the rear door of the club.
He took a step toward her before he even realized what he'd done.
Talon ran his hands over his face. He had to get her out of his thoughts. There was no point in this. Dark-Hunters didn't date and they damn sure didn't have girlfriends. Well, no one except Kell, but he was weird anyway and Kell's girlfriend was a constant source of irritation for Acheron.
Not that Talon minded being an irritation to Acheron. It was actually enjoyable to nettle the Atlantean, but he couldn't screw up Sunshine's life that way.
Dark-Hunters didn't date and most especially not this one. He'd already learned his lesson and he'd learned it hard.
Unlike the others, he was cursed by his own gods. It was why he refused to have a Squire. Why he refused to have anyone near him.
"For what you have taken from me, Speirr of the Morrigantes, you will never again know the peace or happiness of a loved one. I curse you to walk eternity alone. Curse you to lose everyone you care for.
"One by one, they will suffer and die, and you will be powerless to stop it. Your agony will be knowing they are doomed because of your actions and wondering when, where, and how I will strike them down. I will claim them all and live only to watch you suffer."
Even after all these centuries the angry god's words rang in his ears.
Talon groaned at the pain of the memory of his wife dying in his arms. "I'm afraid to die, Speirr..."
It had been all his fault.
How could so many lives have been shattered by one stupid mistake? He had let his emotions lead him and, in the end, he had destroyed not only his own life but those of the ones he loved.
He winced at the truth of it.
Agony seared him so deeply that he cursed aloud from the force of it.
"You were born cursed," Gara's gnarled old voice whispered in his head. "Born bastard to a union that should never have been. Now get out and take the babe with you before the wrath of the gods falls to my head."
At age seven, he had stared in helpless disbelief at the old crone his mother had worked for. When his mother and Tress had taken sick, Gara had allowed him to do his mother's tasks.
After his mother's death, the old woman had turned on him.
"But Ceara will die if I leave. I don't know how to care for an infant."
"We all die, boy. It's no concern of mine what becomes of the child of a whore. Now get out and remember how quickly our fates change. Your mother was a queen. The most beloved of the Morrigantes. Now she is a dead peasant, like the rest of us. Not even worth the dirt that covers her."
The cruel words had torn through his child's heart. His mother had never been a whore. Her only mistake had been to love his father.
Feara of the Morrigantes had been worth all the treasures of the earth to him. Her value was beyond measure...
"Push it away," he said, taking deep breaths to calm himself.
Acheron was right, he had to keep his emotions buried. They were what had led him astray to begin with. The only way he could function was to not remember. Not feel.
And yet he couldn't help feeling. He couldn't seem to repress the memories that he had buried fifteen hundred years ago...
"So the son of the whore has returned to beg you, my king, for his shelter. Tell me, King Idiag, should I cut off his head, or just slit his nostrils and then turn this pitiful wretch out into the storm to die like the worthless dung he is?"
Talon could still hear the laughter of his mother's people. Feel the fear in his young heart that his uncle, like everyone else, would forsake him and Ceara. He had clutched his sister close to his chest while she squalled, wanting the food and warmth he had been unable to provide her.
Barely two months in age, Ceara had refused to suckle the bladder he had tried to feed her with.
For three days as they traveled without stopping, she'd done nothing but scream and cry.
No matter what he tried, Ceara would not be placated.
Idiag had stared at him for so long that he was sure his uncle would send them to their deaths. The fire in the hall had crackled while the people held their collective breath, waiting for their king to pronounce judgment.
Talon had hated his mother then. Hated her for making him beg for his sister's life. Making him suffer like this when he was just an untried lad who wanted only to run away and hide from his humiliation.
Hide from the screaming baby who never took pity on him.
But he had made a promise and he never broke his word. Without his uncle's help, another sister would die.
When Idiag finally spoke, his eyes were blank. Unfeeling. "No, Parth," he'd said to his guard. "He has suffered much to travail the winter's harshness to reach us, especially with nothing more than rags on his feet. We will give them shelter. Summon a wet nurse for the babe."
Talon had wanted to collapse in relief.
"And the boy?"
"If he survives the punishment his mother ran away from, then he will be allowed to stay here as well."
Grinding his teeth, Talon remembered the grueling torture they had meted out. The days of beatings and starvation.
The only thing that kept him alive was the fear that should he die, Ceara would be turned out after all.
He had lived solely for her.
Now he lived for nothing at all.
Talon forced his feet to carry him down the street away from Sunshine's club and her comfort. Away from these memories that had somehow been set loose.
He had to find his peace.
He had to forget the past. To bury it.
But as he walked, repressed thoughts and memories tumbled through his mind.
Against his will, he remembered the day he had discovered his wife...
Even now, the mere mention of her name was enough to bring him to his knees. She had been everything to him. His best friend. His heart. His soul.
She, alone, had given him solace.
In her arms, he hadn't cared what the others thought of him. Only the two of them had existed in the world.
As a mortal man, he had taken her as his first and only lover.
"How could I ever lay hands to another woman, Nyn, when I have you?"
Those words haunted him now along with the memory of how many women he'd slept with since his death. Women who had never meant anything to him. They had merely been passing flings designed to ease a physical craving.
He had never wanted to know anything about them.
Never really wanted to know any woman except his wife.
Nynia and the perfect love she had given him had touched something inside him and given it wings. She'd shown him things in the world that he'd never seen before.
She had confused him, aggravated him, and made him deliriously happy.
When she had died, she had taken him with her. He had survived physically, but not his heart.
It had died that day too.
And he'd never thought to desire a woman that way again. Not until he had felt the warmth of a graceful artist's hand on his skin.
The mere thought of Sunshine was enough to make him feel sucker-punched.
"Get her out of my head," he said between clenched teeth. He would never again let himself be open to so much excruciating pain. He would never again hold someone he cared for in his arms and watch her die.
He had been hurt enough in his life. He couldn't stand any more.
Sunshine was a stranger to him and she would remain that way. He didn't need anyone.
He never had.
Talon froze as an odd noise on the wind intruded on his thoughts. It sounded vaguely like a Daimon feeding...
He pulled his Palm Pilot out of his jacket pocket and opened up his tracking program. Designed to pick up traces of the Daimons' elevated neuron activity that came from their psychic abilities, the tracking program allowed Dark-Hunters to pinpoint any concentration of Daimons after dark. During the daylight hours while the Daimons rested, their brain activity was too human for the trackers to be of any use.
But once the sun set...
Those little brains of theirs started snapping and humming.
Talon frowned at his findings.
It showed nothing and his Dark-Hunter senses didn't pick up a Daimon either, but his gut instinct was off the radar.
He headed toward a dark alley. A woman stumbled out, falling against him. Her eyes were glazed as she glanced up at him. There was a small bite wound on her neck that was healing even as he looked at it and the collar of her blouse held traces of blood.
"Are you okay?" he asked as he righted her.
She smiled a smile that was delirious and vague. "I'm fine. Never better." She stumbled away from him and headed into the building to his right.
In that instant, he knew what had happened.
Unmitigated rage descended on him as he stalked farther into the alley where she'd been. He saw the dark shadow and knew it in a heartbeat.
"Damn you, Zarek. You better lay off the feeding crap while you're in this city."
Zarek wiped the blood away from his lips with his hand. "Or what, Celt? You going to hit me?"
"I'll rip your throat out."
He laughed at that. "And kill yourself in the process? You don't have it in you."
"You have no idea what I'm capable of. And you better pray to whatever god you worship that you never find out."
His expression pure evil, Zarek smacked his lips in a way Talon knew was designed to piss him off thoroughly.
"I didn't hurt her. She won't even remember it in three minutes. They never do."
Talon moved to grab him, but Zarek caught his hand. "I warned you not to touch me, Celt. No one touches me. Ever."
Talon shrugged off his hold. "You swore an oath, just like the rest of us. I won't have you preying on innocents in my town."
"Oooo," Zarek breathed. "How cliche, little partner. Wanna tell me to be out by sunup, or better yet, this town ain't big enough for the two of us?"
"What is your problem?"
Zarek started past him.
Unwilling to let him prey on someone else, Talon shoved him against the wall. His own back throbbed viciously as if he'd been slammed against the wall too, but he didn't care.
He wasn't about to let Zarek have free rein over the lives of innocent people.
Zarek's eyes flared with hatred. "Let go of me, Celt, or I'll rip your arm off. And you know what? I don't care if I lose both of mine in the process. That's the difference between us. Pain is my friend and ally. You fear it."
"Like hell I do."
He shoved Talon away from him. "Then where is it? Hmmm? You buried your pain the night you left your village in flames."
Talon paused at the words, wondering how Zarek knew that, but his anger overrode it as he thought about Zarek judging him. "At least I don't wallow in it."
Zarek laughed at that. "Do I look like I'm wallowing? I was having fun with her until you showed up." He licked his lips again as if resavoring the feeding.
"You should try it sometime, Celt. There's nothing like tasting human blood. Haven't you ever wondered why the Daimons feed before they take human souls? Why they don't just kill the human quick? It's because it's better than sex. Did you know you can see straight into their minds when you do it? Feel their emotions? For one instant, you actually bond with their life force. It's one hell of a high."
Talon glared at him. "Nick's right, you are psychotic."
"The correct term is sociopathic and yes, I am. But at least I have no delusions about myself."
He shrugged. "Take your meaning wherever you can find it."
The man was disgusting. Insufferable. "Why do you have to make everyone hate you?"
Zarek snorted at that. "What? You want to be my friend now, Celt? If I clean up my act, will you be my buddy?"
"You're such an asshole."
"Yeah, but at least I know what I am. I have no pretensions. You don't know if you're a Druid, a Dark-Hunter, or a playboy. You lost yourself a long time ago in the dark hole where you buried the parts of you that once made you human."
Talon was aghast at such a low, self-serving life-form trying to play sage with him. "You are lecturing me on humanity?"
"Ironic as hell, isn't it?"
Talon's jaw ticced. "You don't know anything about me."
With his silver claws flashing, Zarek slowly pulled a cigarette out of his jacket pocket and lit it with an old-fashioned gold lighter.
Putting the lighter back in his pocket, he took a long drag on the cigarette, exhaled the smoke, then cast Talon a sardonic, lopsided sneer. "Ditto."
With one last, parting grimace, Zarek walked slowly away from him, out of the alley and back toward the street.
"Lay off the feeding, Zarek, or I will kill you myself. I swear it."
Zarek raised his clawed hand and flipped him off without breaking stride or looking back.
Talon growled low in his throat as Zarek vanished into the night. How could Acheron stand dealing with him? That man could try the patience of a tree.
One day, Artemis was going to have to put Zarek down. In truth, Talon was astounded the order for Zarek's execution hadn't already been handed out. But then maybe that was why Artemis had sent him here. In Alaska, Zarek was on his home turf where he knew the terrain better than anyone and he would be able to avoid an executioner.
Down here, Zarek was at the mercy of Acheron, who knew these streets like the back of his hand. If the order came down, Zarek would have nowhere to hide.
It was definitely a thought.
Talon shook his head to clear it of Zarek. The ex-slave was the last person he wanted on his mind tonight.
His cell phone rang. Talon answered it to find Acheron's thick Atlantean accent.
"Hey, I'm down on Commerce Street in the Warehouse District. There's a murder scene here that I would like to confer with you about."
"I'm on my way." Talon hung up and headed to where he'd left his motorcycle.
It didn't take long to grab his bike and make his way over to the scene. Cops were everywhere, questioning witnesses, marking off the area, and taking notes and pictures.
A large crowd of locals and tourists had gathered to watch the spectacle.
His eyes aching from all the bright police lights, Talon parked his bike and made his way over to Acheron, whose hair was now blond.
Jeez, the man changed hair colors more often than most people changed socks.
"What's up, T-Rex?"
Acheron grimaced at the nickname, but didn't comment. He inclined his head toward the body that had been draped with a body bag, but not yet sealed up. "That woman died barely an hour ago. Tell me what you feel."
"Nothing." As soon as the word left his lips, Talon understood. Whenever someone died, their soul lingered for a brief time before it moved on. There was only one exception to that-when the soul was captured and trapped by someone else. "It was a Daimon kill?"
Acheron shook his head no.
"Is she a new Dark-Hunter?"
Again the no shake. "Someone fed on her until they drained the life out of her and could steal her departing soul. Then they ripped her apart with something like a claw. The police are trying to convince themselves that it's an animal, but the depth and precision of her wounds are too precise."
Talon went cold. "Claws like the ones Zarek wears?"
Acheron turned his head to stare straight at him. All Talon could see was himself in the dark lenses. "What do you think?"
Talon ran his hand along the edge of his jaw as he watched the police work over the area. This was disturbing.
"Look, T-Rex, I know you have a soft spot for Zarek, but I have to tell you that I found him having lunch a few minutes ago outside of a club. It looked like he was enjoying himself a little too much, if you know what I mean."
"So you think he killed this woman?"
Talon hesitated as he remembered what Zarek had said when he had caught him with the woman in the alley. I didn't hurt her. Was that an admission he had hurt someone else or was it a statement that he never hurt the women he fed on?
"I don't know," Talon answered honestly. "If you're asking me if he's capable, I'd definitely say yes. But I sure would hate to consign a man to Shadedom without more evidence."
Shadedom was the hellish existence that came to any Dark-Hunter who died without a soul. Since they no longer had a real body or a soul, their essence suffered eternity trapped between this plane of existence and the next. It was said to be the most grueling torture imaginable.
"So what do you think?" Talon asked. "Do you believe he did it?"
A slow smile slid across Acheron's face, but he didn't answer the question. The hair on the back of Talon's neck rose. Something about all this just didn't seem right.
For that matter, something about Acheron didn't seem quite right either.
Acheron took a step away from him. "I'll go talk to my good buddy Zarek, and see what he says."
Talon frowned. This definitely wasn't right. Acheron never referred to anyone as his "buddy."
"By the way," Acheron said. "How are you doing? You seem tense. Uneasy."
He was. It was like someone had opened a floodgate on his hormones and emotions, and he wasn't sure how to close it again.
But he didn't intend to burden Acheron with that. He could control himself.
Talon glanced away from Acheron for a second to watch the arrival of the coroner. "By the way, T-Rex, what happened to your nose stud and..." His voice trailed off as he turned back and saw nothing but empty space.
Talon looked about.
Acheron was gone. The only trace of his presence was two bloody shoe prints that marked the concrete where he'd stood a second ago.
What the hell?
Acheron had never done that before. Man, this night was getting stranger by the hour.
"... there's a disturbance on Canal Street. At Club Running wolf's..."
Talon's heart stopped at the words he overheard from a police scanner.
Every instinct he possessed told him it involved her. He ran for his bike and quickly headed back toward the club.