Why was he being so stubborn?
"No, Ravyn. You need to stay right here."
"But I can’t go here and I really have to go."
Erika made an odd hissing noise. "Susan, I think what he’s saying is he needs the litter box. "
A feeling of dread consumed her. No… even her luck wasn’t that bad. "Oh, surely not."
He pushed himself away from her grasp only to fall back down. He looked at the mattress as if baffled by it. "This isn’t the bathroom…"
Oh, shoot me, please!
But there was no reprieve. If he really had to go, she couldn’t very well let him go in here. That would be gross and disgusting. "I can’t believe I’m having to do this."
Erika indicated the door with her thumb. "You want me to get one of the guys to help?"
Susan let out a long, tired breath as she considered it for a second. "No. I somehow doubt they’ll be any more enthused about this than I am." No doubt, they’d kill him if they had to help him with this. Dreading this down to the deepest part of her being, she assisted Ravyn to his feet and almost fell under his weight. The man was so solidly built that it was like lifting a car. "Could you help me get him to the bathroom?"
With Erika’s help, Susan was able to get him across the hall to the small bathroom. The space inside was tight and cramped. She started to wait outside with Erika but then thought better of it. In his current condition, Ravyn might fall and damage himself. The last thing they needed was for him to whack his head on something.
She watched as he fumbled with his fly like a two-year-old. "My zipper’s broken."
She rolled her eyes. "No, it isn’t."
He dared to give her an exasperated look. "Yes, it is."
What did I do to deserve this? She figured it had to be divine retribution for something. There was no other reason for her day to have turned on her so viciously. Cursing her own fate, she moved forward to push his hands out of the way so that she could undo his pants. Which she learned were button fly. No wonder they wouldn’t unzip. Unbuttoning them, her face flamed as she realized that he didn’t have on any underwear. Not that she hadn’t already seen him nak*d, but this was somehow different. More private. With a deep breath for courage, she helped him lower his pants, then turned her back while he took care of his needs.
This has to be the weirdest moment of my life. She’d never done something like this for a stranger before. But then again, if she ever somehow found herself in a situation like this, she only hoped that someone took the same mercy on her and helped her through it. What little she knew of Ravyn, she was sure he’d die of embarrassment about being this helpless. He seemed to pride himself on his independence.
And given the way his family treated him, it was obvious he’d been alone a lot longer than she had.
When he was through, she helped him dress and wash his hands. Susan paused while soaping them. His weren’t pampered hands. They were large and callused, brutally scarred by untold fights against who only knew what. One in particular was wide and deep, and ran all the way up his forearm. Another one looked like something had taken a vicious bite out of him. Her stomach lurched at the sight of them. Yeah, her life and troubles seemed so mild by comparison.
"Your touch is so soft," he whispered. "Like a butterfly’s wings."
It was stupid, but those words touched something inside her. No, it wasn’t the words so much as it was the emotion she heard in his voice. The tone that told her he wasn’t used to anything so gentle touching him.
"Thank you," she said, rinsing his hands off, then drying them with a small hand towel.
Placing his damp hand on her chin, he tilted her head back until their gazes were locked. "You are so incredibly beautiful."
Oh, yeah, the man was definitely high. Not that she was Quasimodo or anything, but Susan wasn’t stupid, either. She wasn’t the kind of woman that men thought of as beautiful. "Yeah, yeah. You just want me to sleep with you."
"No," he said in a deepened voice. "You are beautiful… like an angel." He pressed his forehead against hers before he gave her the gentlest kiss she’d ever known. Something inside her melted as he wrapped his arms around her and held her not like a horny man out to get laid, but like someone who actually had feelings for her. And it brought out an ache so deep inside her that her throat tightened.
All her life, all she’d ever wanted was to be loved. To have a family again, and this kiss only reminded her of what she didn’t have.
Of what she’d most likely never have. And the pain from that thought washed over her like ice.
"Okay, Ravyn, we need to get you back in bed." She expected him to argue. Instead, he merely nodded before he withdrew from her, then opened the door.
"Kitten," he said as he saw Erika again. "When did you get so tall?"
She gave Susan a "duh" stare. "I grew while you were in the bathroom."
Erika snorted. "You know, this is a serious improvement over his regular temperament. I think I like it. We definitely need to find out what it is and spike his food. "
As Susan tried to guide him back to their room, Ravyn caught the door frame with his hand and refused to enter. He gave her a harsh stare as she tried to push him forward. "I have to get back home."
"Yes," she said slowly, "it’s right in this room."
"No!" he growled in a ferocious tone. "Zatira needs me. I have to go to her."
Who was Zatira? Susan exchanged a look with Erika, who looked every bit as baffled by the name as she was. "No, you don’t."
He pushed her away and he started down the hallway. "I have to save her." He took three steps before he froze. He stared at the floor as if it were a TV screen. Unbelievable pain twisted his brow as if he was reliving some kind of nightmare. She’d never seen a more tormented expression.
"No," he growled, punching at the wall. "Zatira! Mom! God, no! No more blood. They’re not dead. They’re not!"
He raked both hands through his hair before he threw himself against the wall and slid to the floor.
Susan went to him. Taking his hands into hers, she forced him to unclench them from his hair. "Ravyn, look at me."
He did, but she could tell he didn’t see her. He was still being tormented by something in his past. "Zatira?"
He rolled away from her. "I have to save her. I can’t let her die. I can’t."
Susan tried to hold him back as he struggled without hurting her.
Suddenly, a shadow fell over them. Susan looked up, expecting it to be Erika.
It wasn’t. It was either Dorian or Phoenix.
"Get up," he snarled at Ravyn. There wasn’t a trace of compassion or sympathy on his face.
"Fuck you." Ravyn tried to crawl past him, only to have his brother grab him roughly by the arm and haul him to his feet.
"Not so rough," Susan snapped. "There’s no need to hurt him."
Ravyn leaned back against the wall as he stared at his brother. His face was angry and feral, but his eyes spoke volumes of pain and hurt. "You going to kill me again?"
For once, his brother’s expression softened. "It’s Dorian, Rave. Not Phoenix."
"Dori…" The anger faded from Ravyn’s face and was replaced by a profound agony. "I didn’t mean to, Dori. I didn’t. You have to believe me. I didn’t want them hurt." He grabbed his brother by the shirt and held tight. "I didn’t mean for anyone to die."
Dorian wrapped his hand around Ravyn’s wrist before he removed his grip. "I know."
Ravyn snapped his head back so hard into the wall that it actually broke the Sheetrock. "We can save them," he said, taking a step toward the door that led upstairs. "We can go back and make it right."
"What is he talking about?" Erika asked.
Dorian didn’t answer. Instead, he snapped at her. "Go upstairs, Erika."
It was obvious by her face that she wanted to argue, but for once she obeyed.
"We have to go," Ravyn insisted.
But there was no reprieve in his brother’s stern expression. "Don’t be stupid again." He shoved Ravyn away from him.
Susan glared at Dorian as Ravyn staggered and almost fell. "You ass**le," she snarled, barely catching Ravyn against her.
Ravyn paused as their gazes met and held. For the first time since this episode had started, he saw her and not Zatira. His features relaxed. A small smile hovered on his lips. "You look like an angel…" His eyes rolled back in his head before he collapsed.
Dorian let out an aggravated breath as Ravyn hit the floor. None too gently, Dorian picked him up and carried him back to the mattress. Susan wanted to protest his help, but there was no way she could move Ravyn by herself. Damn his brother for being so cold.
"How long has he been like this?" Dorian asked as he straightened up.
"About two hours."
Dorian shook his head as he looked back at Ravyn, who lay silent and still. "You need a breather?"
She crossed her arms over her chest as she gave him a suspicious once-over. "It depends. You gonna beat on him while I’m gone?"
The look on his face said he wasn’t amused by her question, which was okay by her since she wasn’t joking. "No."
That made her feel a little bit better… but only a little. She still didn’t trust Dorian. From what she’d read in the handbook, Dorian was an Arcadian Were-Hunter. Human in theory, he was able to shift into an animal. There were other kinds of Were-Hunters who held animal hearts. They were called Katagaria. Unlike Ravyn and his family, they were truly animals who could take human form. But from where she stood, she didn’t see much difference since the so-called "human" branch seemed to be as cold as any animal she’d ever met in the wild.
Then again, as a reporter, she’d met plenty of humans whom she would definitely classify as animal. Some were even amoebas.
And the reporter in her had something else it was extremely curious about. "Who was Zatira?"
Pain darkened Dorian’s eyes before he answered. "My sister."
"I assume she was Ravyn’s, too?"
He cut her a look that said yes, but that Dorian didn’t want to admit to it.
Which begged the next question. "What happened to her?"
The pain from his eyes seeped over his entire being. It was obvious that he felt her loss every bit as deeply as Ravyn did. "She was killed three hundred years ago."
Susan winced at that. "Killed how?"
"By humans." He snarled the word as if being human was the worst thing he could think of. He gave her the harshest, most hate-filled stare she’d ever seen in her life. "They brutally slaughtered her… our mother, Phoenix’s wife and children, and our entire village."
Susan covered her mouth as the horror of that overwhelmed her. But then what had she expected? Dark-Hunters were created out of men and women who’d suffered unjust tragedy and who wanted revenge on those who’d wronged them. It was the screaming of their souls that summoned Artemis to them, and if they accepted the bargain, Artemis would bring them back to life and give them twenty-four hours to exact their revenge. After that, they became soldiers in her army that was dedicated to protecting mankind from the Daimons. The nature of their creation guaranteed that all of them had at least one major tragedy in their past.
"I take it their deaths are what made him a Dark-Hunter?"
He nodded. "He wanted revenge on the humans who’d killed them."
"And Isabeau? Was she part of your village, too?"
The look of hatred on his face was a resounding no. "She was Ravyn’s mate… a heartless, human bitch. He told her about us and she in turn told her people. They’re the ones who came for us. They thought we were evil minions of the devil and in their ignorance, they slaughtered our weaker members while we were out protecting them from the Katagaria who’d been raiding their village."
The Katagaria were the animal branch of their people who were at war with the "human" Arcadians. Susan winced as sympathetic pain swept through her. What awful irony to be betrayed by the very people you were attempting to help. But from what Dorian said, Ravyn sounded like a victim, too-all he’d done was trust the wrong person. Why would they hate him for a mistake that any one of them could have made? "How could you have banished him?"
He snorted at that. "We didn’t banish him, woman. Phoenix killed him as soon as we found our families slaughtered… and the bastard should have stayed dead. "
She was horrified by his words and the venom in his voice. "How could you people do such a thing… to your own brother?"
"How could we not?" he asked as if he was baffled by her question. He gestured toward Ravyn. "Every time we look at him, we’re reminded that he caused their deaths. He is an abomination to us. And I hate that we’re forced to run a sanctuary in the city where he’s stationed. Damn the Fates for it."
Oh, that was stupid. "It wasn’t his fault."
"It was all my fault… I should have never trusted her."
Startled that he was awake, Susan looked at Ravyn, who had rolled over onto his back. At first she thought he was still delirious, but his gaze seemed clearer now.