Nick threw his hand out and Otto went crashing into the far wall. "What happened in New Orleans?" Nick demanded of Erika.
Finally her survival sense kicked in. Erika turned around, eyes wide as Nick approached her. Gulping, she pressed herself against the door and made a tiny squeak noise.
Nick was only two feet away from her when he went flying across the room to land not far from Otto.
"Two can play that game, boy," Ravyn said in a feral growl as he stood up. "And I’ve had a lot more practice with my powers than you have. Don’t you ever threaten her."
The door opened a crack.
"Erika." Ravyn’s tone was eerily calm and pleasant. "Go get your sandwich."
She hurried from the room as Nick pushed himself up from the floor.
Nick glared at Kyl and Otto. "I want the truth about New Orleans."
It was Otto who answered as he straightened his clothes with a tug. "New Orleans was hit dead-on with a category three hurricane about nine months ago."
Susan’s breath caught at the horror she saw on Nick’s face.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice thin and breathy.
Otto sighed before he answered. "The levee broke and flooded the city. It completely wiped out the Ninth Ward. "
Nick leaned against the wall as horror played across his face.
"Your house is still standing," Kyl said gently. "It had some damage from the winds, but it’s repaired now. Kyrian made sure of it."
"Screw my house. What about the people?"
Otto and Kyl exchanged a sick look. "It was bad. But we’re-"
"Why are you here?" Nick demanded. "Why aren’t you down there helping people?"
Anger flared in Otto’s eyes. "We were sent here before the hurricane hit."
"You just walked out and left the city?"
"We did what we were told to do, Nick. We’re Squires, remember?"
Nick curled his lip. "You bastards." He pinned a hate-filled glare on Kyl. "I don’t expect better from Otto, but you were born there, same as me, Kyl. How could you turn your back on the city and our people?"
"You don’t know what you’re talking about, Nick," he said between clenched teeth. "Damn you, how dare you take that tone with me? I lost family down there, boy. We weren’t the ones sitting on an island with Savitar, learning to surf. We were in the thick of it. I stayed there through the storm, with Kyrian, Valerius, Talon, and the rest. I was part of search and rescue teams until I couldn’t take it anymore. And then I got up and started it over. Every single day. I wasn’t transferred up here until three months ago. So don’t you dare stand there and judge me."
Leo whistled. "Enough! Squires, out of the room. Now."
Susan felt like she’d been caught by shrapnel. She started to argue that she hadn’t been the one causing problems, but Leo didn’t look like he could take any more arguments from anyone.
Ravyn squeezed her hand reassuringly before she got up. Ironically, Nick took two steps for the door before he must have remembered that he was no longer a Squire. He was a Dark-Hunter.
There was so much agony in his gaze that it stole her breath as he returned to his chair. Feeling for him and for Dave she followed the men out of the room.
She paused to look back at Ravyn, who gave her a small smile. That smile warmed her and gave her strength as she closed the door and headed back downstairs to start her research again.
"All right, " Leo said as soon as the Dark-Hunters were alone in the room with him. "We have a unique problem here. We not only have to avoid the Daimons, but the police, too. Anyone have a suggestion?"
"Bend over and kiss your ass good-bye," Nick said.
They ignored that oh so not helpful comment.
"Don’t we have some cops on the Squires’ payroll?" Zoe asked.
Leo shook his head. "Not in Seattle. We have some in Internal Affairs and with the DA’s office, but none on the force itself. "
Belle made a sound of disgust. "Why not?"
"The last one retired," Leo said irritably. "The other one died a year ago of a heart attack. We haven’t had a chance to replace them."
"Well, that blows." Belle reached for the tequila bottle and didn’t bother with her glass. She took a giant swig. "No offense, but I don’t want to be barbecue."
Zoe gave her a pointed stare. "None of us do."
"Has anyone been able to get a hold of Ash?" Dragon asked.
One by one, they shook they heads.
Except for Nick. "You won’t hear from him until it’s too late. Any time he vanishes, the Daimons go wild. I told you, they’re linked somehow."
Leo cleared his throat. "That doesn’t help us, Nick."
"And neither does staying together like this," Ravyn added. "We’ve been together too long. We need to break."
"Yeah," Menkaura agreed.
Belle set the half-empty bottle back on the table. "I just wish we knew what they were up to!"
"That’s a no-brainer," Nick said snidely. He looked around the table as if they were all morons, and honestly, Ravyn was getting a little tired of his attitude. Train him, hell, the man would be lucky if Ravyn didn’t kill him.
"Care to enlighten us blind sheep?" Zoe asked.
"Most of you are ancient warriors. Can’t you figure it out? Think about it. All through history, what has brought down every great civilization or people?"
"War," Cael answered.
"No," Zoe whispered. She looked around the table at them. "It’s what has brought all of us over to Artemis."
Ravyn nodded as he understood what they meant. "Betrayal. Sabotage. None of us were brought down by the enemy who attacked us in the open. We were brought down by the enemy within. By the traitor we didn’t see coming at our backs."
"That’s right." Nick’s gaze went back to Cael. "It’s always the one you least expect who does it, too. We won’t be destroyed by the Daimons. We’re going to be destroyed by one of our own."
Ravyn stiffened at words he knew were all too true. It was why, as Erika had pointed out, he didn’t let anyone near him. He’d had enough of trusting people. God, he’d been killed by his own brother. A brother whose life he’d saved only a year before Phoenix had taken his.
Zoe stood up. "And on that sobering thought, I’m going to patrol."
Menkaura fell in behind her.
"Watch your backs," Leo called.
Zoe paused at the door. "Don’t worry. It’s what I’m best at."
"And beware of the phones," Nick said. "I don’t know how the Daimons do it, but not even the caller ID works right."
She scoffed at him. "Yeah, thanks."
Dragon and Belle went next, leaving Cael, Ravyn, Nick, and Leo alone in the room.
Cael met Ravyn’s gaze. "August 14, 2007."
When he spoke, his tone was barely a whisper. "That’s the day I need you to help me do the right thing. "
Ravyn’s heart clenched as he realized it must be Amaranda’s birthday. That more than anything else told him that Nick was wrong to accuse Cael. He was the one person Ravyn had faith in. "I’ll be there."
Cael nodded and then passed a hostile glare toward Nick before he headed to the door.
As soon as it closed, Ravyn sighed as he looked at the Cajun. "Well, you certainly know how to win friends and influence people. No wonder Savitar wanted you off his hands."
"Don’t start with me, Katagari. Out of all of them, you know I’m telling the truth."
How he wanted to deny it, but yeah, he could feel it. His animal senses picked up on it with an eerie accuracy. There was something highly out of the ordinary here. "For the record, I’m Arcadian, not Katagaria. Jeez, you’ve been hanging around Talon too long."
Nick sneered. "For the record, I don’t give a shit."
Turning away from the angry man, Ravyn looked at Leo. "So what’s our next move?"
"You have to stay hidden," Leo said as he handed him the folder he’d been thumbing through.
"A file I was collecting. About a year ago, I got a call from a hysterical woman who said she’d seen her neighbor come home one night with blood on her clothes. A neighbor with fangs. I investigated it and found out the woman was on all kinds of medication, so I wrote it off. "
"Okay, so why give it to me?"
"Open the folder."
Ravyn did. His gaze went straight to the third paragraph where Leo had underlined four words that leaped out at him. Chief of police’s wife.
"That’s who she lived next door to."
Ravyn narrowed his eyes as those words went through him.
"Give it to Susan. Believe me, if anyone can find the truth, even while the cops are hunting her down, it’s her." Leo patted him on the arm and left.
Alone now with Nick, Ravyn closed the folder. "Just so you know, Cael would never betray us."
"Yeah, and two years ago I thought Ash was a friend of mine. You know what that got me? A bullet to my brain."
"I don’t know how you died, but I know Ash didn’t kill you."
Nick gave a bitter laugh. "I wish I still had your blind faith. Unfortunately, mine was stripped from me the night I died."
Ravyn felt sorry for the man. What he had inside him was actually very typical for a new Dark-Hunter. That sense of outrage and of being wronged. The need to strike out at everyone around you. Hell, he’d even attacked Acheron when the Atlantean had shown up to train him. But then, he hadn’t really needed training. Unlike a human warrior, he was used to his powers and used to fighting preternatural beings.
"When do you want to start your training?"
"I don’t need training," Nick said. "I was a Theti and I know how to stake a Daimon. "
As a former Squire, Nick also knew the basics for Dark-Hunter survival.
"Fine. I guess for the first time in history, Savitar was wrong."
"He wasn’t wrong. He just wanted an excuse to get me off the island. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have things to do."
Ravyn didn’t even want to go there. He didn’t say anything as Nick left the room. That was one troubled man. But until he was willing to let go of the bitterness, there was nothing Ravyn or anyone else could do for him.
As Ravyn started for the door, he froze. There was something strange in the air… a whispering.
Closing his eyes, he summoned his powers of cognition and tried to hone in on it. But for his life, he couldn’t. Instead, it settled as an uneasy feeling deep in his gut. Something bad was about to happen. He just couldn’t tell what it was.
Ash laughed deep in his throat as Artemis clutched him to her in the throes of her latest orgasm. Sighing in complete contentedness, she held him close as the last tremor shook her body.
"Ah," she breathed in his ear as she draped one arm around his neck while her long, shapely legs slid from around his waist to the floor so that she could support her own weight.
Ash wiped the sweat from his face with his hand. Every muscle in his body was twitching from the marathon she’d put him through over the last six hours. His long blond hair was damp while his entire body was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. He gladly welcomed the cool breeze that whispered in from the veranda.
Leaning back against the wall, Artemis laughed seductively. "Surely you’re not giving up so quickly, Acheron. Only two more to go now. I wonder what position we should try next?"
He pulled away and gave her a crooked smile as he summoned a towel and used it to wipe at his chest. "Actually, that was your sixth and now you owe me a feeding before I leave." Completely uninhibited by his nudity, he draped the towel over his shoulders and held it in place with both hands.
Her face fell immediately. "What?" She looked past his shoulder to her hourglass on the shelf above her bed. It was still half-full of sand. "You’re wrong, Acheron. That was only four since I started timing this."
Leaning on one arm against the wall where she stood, he savored the sensation of having bested her again. One day she’d learn not to play these games with him. But what the hell? At least it kept him on his toes. "From when you started logging your time, yes. But not from when I started logging mine."
He snapped his fingers and five hourglasses appeared beside hers. Each one had started right before her orgasms began. One hourglass to mark the hour from when one started until he had given her six within the allotted time.
All had expired except for the last two, but it was the fourth hourglass that was important. Held between the hands of two black gargoyles as the last few sands were quickly making their way from the top to the bottom, it was his key to freedom. He held his hand out and it shot from the shelf to his waiting grip so that he could show it to her.
"This one started earlier, right before you had your last two orgasms and vanished out of the room to delay our bargain. You came back after your hourglass had expired to begin again, but mine was still going… marking the time from when the last two left off to these four. Now I’ve fulfilled our pact, Artie. You’ve had your six orgasms in one hour. "