She shook her head at him as they buckled up. "I know it’s a bit nosy-"
"A reporter being nosy? Damn, there’s something you never see."
She ignored his sarcasm as he started the car without a key. That man had some eerie powers when they were working properly. "Yeah, back to my question. Why is your family in Seattle when it’s obvious they don’t want to be around you?"
Okay, that hadn’t come out the way she meant for it to. Funny, it’d sounded much nicer in her head.
Ravyn cut an aggravated stare at her before he pulled out of the alley. "The Omegrion dictates where sanctuaries are to be set up, which means they didn’t have a choice. If they wanted to be a sanctuary it was Seattle or nothing since this is where one was needed."
She considered that. "Why did they want to be a sanctuary?"
"I imagine it had to do with seeing most of our clan annihilated. A lot of my people tend to set them up whenever they’re on the brink of extinction. It’s a way of keeping our enemies at bay long enough for us to regain our numbers."
That made sense to her. "What about you? How did you end up here?"
"I was already here when they arrived. They just didn’t know it. Acheron assigned me to this region almost two hundred years ago because it had enough open land to let me take on my cat form whenever I wanted, and Cael requested I get transferred with him. He didn’t like the idea of coming out here solo."
"So the two of you have been friends a long time?"
He nodded. "He was the first Dark-Hunter I met after Acheron trained me. We were both stationed in London for a while and then later transferred to France, then Munich."
"Wow. You guys have been around."
"We had to move around a lot in the past because humans tended to get suspicious easier than they do now. Now most people are so absorbed by their own lives that they don’t even bother to learn who’s living next door to them, especially in a city."
She started to argue that until she realized just how right he was. She still didn’t know the names of the couple who lived to the right of her, and they’d moved in almost two years ago.
The man had a vicious point.
"So where are we headed?" Ravyn asked.
"Hell in a handbasket."
He laughed. The sound of it was rich and deep. Gah, the man was so incredibly sexy. Especially with the moonlight shadowing the planes of his face. "Seriously."
"I was serious. It’s exactly where we’re headed," she said under her breath, but then louder, she added, "Forty-three thirty-five Twenty-ninth Avenue West. "
"Yeah, I know. Angie always had great taste in everything."
Wanting to distract herself, she focused on what Ravyn and his brothers had been talking about earlier. "So explain something to me. What is this mating thing you guys keep talking about?"
A dark shadow fell over his face, and she wasn’t talking about the one from the moonlight. It was a strange light, as if her question bothered him on a deep, personal level. "Were-Hunters are different from humans."
No shit, Sherlock… But she kept that exact sarcasm to herself. "You mean other than the fact that you live for several hundred years, can turn into animals, time travel, and wave your hand to make freaky stuff happen?"
The corners of his lips turned up as if he was holding back a laugh. "Yeah, that, too. But unlike humans, we don’t get the leisure of picking out our mates. The Moirae-"
"Greek Fates. They choose who we’re mated to."
"Uh-huh…" she said, stretching the sound out. "Why am I suddenly channeling a cheesy Leo headline for this? Oh wait, I think I know. Maybe ’cause they’re myths and not real?"
He gave her a peeved stare. "And neither are vampires, right?"
"Good point. Okay, they’re real, too, and?"
"And they choose our mates."
If not for the ludicrousness of this day, she would recommend him for treatment. But there had to be truth in this even though it didn’t make sense to her. "So what do they do? Jump here on earth, tap you on the shoulder, and say, ‘Hey, bub, marry her.’ "
"No. A matching symbol appears on the palms of the two people to let them know they’re supposed to be mated."
"Intrusive and rude, but I’ll go with it. So that’s all there is?"
"Not exactly. Once the mark appears, we have three weeks to decide if we want to abide by it. If we do, then we sleep together and are mated. If not, then the symbol vanishes and we can never be mated to anyone else so long as we both live, and we can’t have children."
She really didn’t like the sound of that. "That sucks."
"You have no idea. The female can continue to have sex, but the male of the species is impotent until the day one of them dies."
"What if you’re mated and one of you dies? Are you still bound to each other, or can the survivor go on to mate again?"
"Technically yes, but that rarely happens. One shot for a mate is pretty much all the Fates allow. They’re bitchy that way. But at least death does free the survivor of the binding, which is why I can still have sex, even though I never finished the ritual with Isabeau."
"But you have no chance of being mated again?"
"Let’s just say, I have a better chance of dying from grapefruit poisoning."
She laughed at that. "Oh, yeah, the Fates are definitely women. I love it."
"I’m glad you do, but I have to say it doesn’t appeal to me. The idea of being impotent rather blows."
She could understand that. "So what makes the mark appear? You reach a certain age? You cross the street?"
"We have sex." He gave her a wicked grin.
"No, seriously. The mark only appears after you’ve had sex with your predestined mate. Within a few hours it’ll show up."
"And if you never have sex with your mate?"
"Then you never find your mate. You go the whole of your life without the chance of having children."
And she thought being human was hard. At least she had a choice about marriage and procreation. "You really have no control over the mating?"
"None whatsoever. Believe me, if we did, I would have never chosen a human for mine."
She didn’t know why, but those words stung her. "You know, we’re not all so bad."
He made a rude noise. "Pardon me if I reserve judgment on that."
Well, honestly, she couldn’t blame him for his feelings. He’d been damaged rather badly by the actions of a single human. And it made her wonder what kind of woman would toss away a chance to have a man like Ravyn in her life. "So did you and Isabeau do the deed to finish off the mating?"
"No, I stupidly chose to be noble and to tell her what I was before I finished the ritual with her. Since she was human and it was the Renaissance period, she got a little… wiggy on me."
To say the least. "And the rest is history."
Man, she felt for him. How awful to lay himself bare before someone and have her betray him so badly. It made Alex leaving her because he didn’t want to be tainted by her soiled reputation seem mild by comparison. His actions had been insensitive, but Isabeau’s had been downright cruel.
"So what was the bonding thing you mentioned to Phoenix?" she asked.
"It’s a special bond that we can make with our mates if both parties choose it. It combines our life forces together so that if one of us dies, the other dies, too. Instantly."
"Romantic and scary."
"Yes, it is. On the night our village was attacked, it was how we knew what was happening. Several members of our clan who were with us just keeled over. One minute they were with us and the next, they were dead at our feet for no known reason. Since so many of them fell, we knew someone was killing our families."
She let out a long breath as she tried to imagine the horror of that. "I’m really sorry, Ravyn."
"Thanks." But still she noted the way his grip tightened on the steering wheel and it made him ache for him.
They fell silent while they made their way over to Angie and Jimmy’s. This time of night, the neighborhood was absolutely silent, with only an occasional house showing a light or TV on. Susan had always liked staying up late at night. There was something peaceful and pristine about the world. The silence was almost tangible.
As they neared the house, Susan spotted a patrol car parked on a curb. "Looks like they’re watching the place."
Ravyn nodded. "After the day we’ve had, I’d expect no less."
Well, there was that.
He drove them past the patrol car, down the street, turned the corner, then parked. "We can go in the back way on foot."
"You know, it’s a pity that with all the magic you guys have you can’t just pop us into the house."
"Actually a typical Were-Hunter could."
"But you can’t?"
He shook his head. "Not anymore. When I became a Dark-Hunter, I lost that power. It seems Artemis wants us to live chronologically, so I can no longer teleport. But I do have stronger powers in other ways and in cat form, unlike other Dark-Hunters, I can survive sunlight. It’s not comfortable, but it doesn’t kill me."
"Hence the burning cat-hair smell in my car earlier?"
Susan watched the streetlight cut across the handsome planes of his face. Even though their time was limited, she had to admit he was stunning. And she would give anything to be able to kiss those lips again… to drape herself over that body of his until they were both sweaty and spent. But given his feelings about humans, she figured she was only one step up from an Apollite mauling him.
Sighing, she put that thought away. The last thing she needed after this day was rejection. "I guess life is nothing but trade-offs, huh?"
"What’s your trade-off?" he asked as he opened his car door.
She thought about that as she got out and shut her door without slamming it. "I guess I got to keep my sanity and life, in exchange for working a really shitty job."
That seemed to amuse him. "Leo isn’t that bad, is he?"
Susan wrapped her arms around herself as they doubled back toward Angie’s house. "Actually, Leo is an unpolished gem most days. I just hate working for that paper so much that daydreams of torching it are a constant fixation for me."
Ravyn grabbed her and pulled her down behind a shrub as a car came down the street. The two of them huddled there while they listened to it passing by at an excruciatingly slow pace.
Afraid of being caught this close to their destination, Susan held her breath until the car vanished out of sight. Her gaze fell down to Ravyn’s taut hand that held her in place. He had long, slender fingers that warmed her even if his grip was a little too intense.
As if he heard her thoughts, he loosened his hold and rubbed her wrist soothingly. That little gesture meant a lot to her as he peeped up to look.
Without another word, he motioned her forward and led her to Angie’s house. They cut across the neighbor’s backyard to avoid the patrol car that might see them if they approached from the front. Ravyn picked her up effortlessly and helped her over the fence before he jumped over easily.
She knew he was a cat, but whenever he did things like that it was almost spooky. Crouching low, he kept them in the shadows as they headed up Angie’s deck. Again he did the strange hand gesture that allowed him to push open the sliding glass door without breaking into it.
Susan entered the house first. As she reached for a light switch, she caught herself. "This is useless. I can’t see anything and if I turn on a light, the police will see it. "
"It’s okay." She was startled to find Ravyn so close to her that his breath fell against her cheek as he spoke. The warmth of his body reached out to her and actually calmed her nerves. "I have perfect vision in the dark. Tell me what I’m looking for."
Closing her eyes, she summoned a mental diagram of what the house looked like. "Upstairs, the second bedroom on the right is set up as an office. Jimmy’s laptop should be there. Grab it and look around for a leather-bound journal that should be within easy reach."
"I don’t know. If you see something else that he might have used to jot down notes, grab it."
He reached out and gently pushed her toward a bar stool. "Okay. Wait here and I’ll be back."
Grateful that he’d helped to ground her in the darkness, Susan nodded as she leaned against the breakfast counter. She listened to Ravyn moving stealthily up the stairs… like a cat.
Yeah. This was an odd life she was having.
And as she glanced around the darkened house where all too familiar furniture faded into the shadows, grief settled deep in her chest. The last time she was here had been Angie’s birthday a few weeks back. Jimmy had been teasing Angie about how she was becoming Merlin and aging backwards.
"You get more beautiful every year. "
This had been the third time Angie had turned thirty-five. Angie had taken their jokes in stride as she reminded Susan that she wasn’t that far behind her.