Susan smiled at the thought. "Well, if he was as kind to her as he’s been to the rest of us, I might understand her motivation."
"Yeah, but in a way I feel sorry for him. He’s not the same man who used to run the Web site. He was always sarcastic, but I can respect that. Now he’s bitter and angry."
Ravyn shook his head as he remembered the way Nick used to be. There was nothing he could do to change that. Only time would allow Nick to regain some semblance of what he’d been before. "Enough about Nick. You need to check that folder out. Leo thinks it’s a lead to who’s helping the Daimons."
That caught her interest immediately. She headed back for the folder and sat cross-legged on the mattress to read it.
Ravyn’s groin jerked at that and he wasn’t sure why… well, okay, he was. There was something very inviting about that position as inappropriate thoughts went through him. He’d give her credit, she was hot in bed and on the floor, and he wondered how she’d be in other places such as the kitchen counter, the shower, and out in the woods, under the stars.
His body was really burning at those thoughts.
But she was completely engrossed by her work right now. She didn’t even appear to know he was in the room as she started fanning pages around the mattress to read them. Her brow furrowed, she grabbed the laptop and pulled up Google.
"You want something to drink?"
"Coffee," she said in a distracted tone as she grabbed a pencil and started making notes.
"Cream and sugar, or a caramel Macchiato is always welcomed."
"Ooo, a Starbucks woman after my own heart."
That finally made her look up. "That’s the best part about living in Seattle. Twenty-four stores in a ten-block radius. It’s the only thing I don’t miss about living in D.C."
He laughed. "All right, I’ll see you in a few."
She went back to her research while he made a coffee run.
Ravyn paused in the doorway for a second just to watch her. She looked beautiful but tired. Most of all, she looked determined. He remembered a time when he’d had that kind of fire. A time when he’d lived for the thrill of the hunt. He wasn’t sure when those feelings had faded. When he’d learned the complacency of just going through the motions of life. Of finding a temporary partner for sex one night and then leaving to find a new one the next.
Now he wondered what it would be like to have a woman who knew his likes and dislikes. To have a woman who knew what he was and who didn’t seem to mind that he was both a leopard and a man…
Repressing those thoughts before they got him into trouble, he left the room and headed upstairs. No matter how much Susan appealed to him, she was off the menu. There was no hope for them, He’d been given his one shot at a mate, and he’d sworn himself to Artemis. No matter how much he might wish otherwise, there was no kind of future for them. He went to the kitchen to find Terra bustling around the kitchen as she helped prepare appetizers for their clients in the club.
She paused as she saw him. "You need something?"
"Yeah, he needs to leave."
Sighing in disgust, he turned to see Phoenix behind him. "Lay off me, Nix. I’m really not in the mood for your bullshit."
"Yeah, that’s because you’re a pu**y."
Anger whipped through him so fast that Ravyn was actually stunned he didn’t go for his brother’s throat. Ravyn turned slowly to glare at him. "Me? I’m the pu**y?"
"That’s what I said."
"Uh-huh. If I’m the coward here, then why am I dead while you’re alive? You were mated for what, two hundred years, and you never bonded to Georgette? What were you waiting for, Phoenix? There were several blue moons during that period."
Growling in rage, Phoenix started for him only to have Terra knock him away. "Sanctuary, Nix."
His breathing ragged, he had bloodlust all over him as he glared at Ravyn.
Terra let out a deep breath. "Leave the kitchen, Phoenix. You can either go on two legs or I’ll carry you out. "
His gaze slid to hers. "You wouldn’t dare."
"Oh, trust me." she said in deadly earnest. "I would and I’m man enough to do it, too."
He curled his lip at her before he headed out the swinging door that led to the club.
Terra wiped her hands on her apron before she looked back at Ravyn. "Now where were we?"
"Coffee coming right up."
Impressed by Dorian’s mate, Ravyn watched as she made her way over to the counter where the coffeepots were set. His brother’s mate was an interesting beast. She didn’t look like Dorian’s type at all. And for some reason, Ravyn’s curiosity got the better of him. "Are you bonded to Dorian?"
She paused in filling the mug to look up at him. "Yes. Unlike Phoenix, he isn’t a pu**y. "
Ravyn laughed in spite of himself as she returned to filling the mug then she pulled a thermos out and filled it, too. "How long have the two of you been mated?"
"Seventy-five years." She placed the mug and thermos with a small container of sugars and cream on a tray for him.
"How long have you been bonded?"
"Nosy much?" Her gaze burned into his, and to his surprise, she answered. "Seventy-five years. Dorian never wanted to come home and find his mate dead after what all of you had been through. He said that the Fates joined us for a reason and that his place was to be by my side, even in death. "
A newfound respect for his brother welled up inside Ravyn. But more than that, he remembered the horror of the night his village had been destroyed. When the men had started falling around them, the assumption had been that those who were standing had mates who’d survived.
They’d rushed back home only to find out just how many of their clan hadn’t bonded to their mates.
The hardest blow for Ravyn had been his mother. Given how much his parents supposedly loved and respected each other, he’d just assumed they were bonded. But apparently his father hadn’t loved her enough.
"Thanks, Terra," he said, taking the tray.
He paused to look at her.
"Dorian thinks about you all the time and he holds himself responsible for not stepping up to defend you against Phoenix." She looked around as if embarrassed that she’d confided that to him. "I just thought you should know. "
Ravyn’s throat grew tight. So he did have a brother who still loved him. Not that it changed anything. Dorian was still too much of a coward to stand up to the others or to let Ravyn know that he didn’t agree with the pack about his banishment.
So be it. He’d lived these past three hundred years without them, he could certainly live longer.
He inclined his head to Terra before he left her to return to Susan who was gnawing her pencil to a nub.
"You’re going to break your teeth on that." He set the tray down beside her.
She appeared baffled by his words. "What?"
He pointed to the pencil. "Are you hungry?"
She looked at it and laughed. "No, it’s a bad habit I started in grade school. My old boss used to say he could tell whenever I was on to something good by the number of teeth prints in the pencil on my desk." She set the pencil aside and reached for the coffee.
"I assume by the state of the pencil that you’ve found something."
She poured the cream in and added sugar. "Yes and no. Apparently the chief of police’s wife died a couple of months ago while visiting Europe with her son."
She nodded. "I’ve pulled up a few photos of her at various social events, but nothing that leaps out at me." Cradling the mug in one hand, she held up a piece of paper from the folder where Leo had written a small note: Makes the Mad Hatter Look Sane. "I think Leo was right."
"Well, so much for that."
His phone rang. Ravyn pulled it out of his pants and answered it. "Ravyn here."
It was Otto’s voice. "Hey, Ravyn, we have a bit of a situation we need you for. Can you meet us at Post Alley?"
"I’ll be there." He hung up the phone to see Susan’s quizzical stare. "Otto wants me at Post Alley."
"Why? I thought you were supposed to be lying low."
Ravyn shook his head. "Otto didn’t say why, but it must be important though for him to call."
Susan nodded in agreement. "Can I hitch a ride over?"
"Curiosity. C’mon. You’re a cat. Surely you, of all people, can appreciate that."
"I don’t know…" Ravyn hesitated.
"Oh, don’t take that tone with me. Either I go with you or I find my own way."
"And if I don’t want you to?"
She gave him a miffed stare. "You know, you’d look really weird in a dress and high heels."
"What’s that supposed to mean?"
"It means you’re not my mother. Now stop arguing and help me find my shoes."
By the expression on his face she could tell he wasn’t happy, but he did help her search out her shoes, which were buried under a pile of Jimmy’s papers.
It didn’t take them long to reach the alley, which wasn’t far from Pike’s Market.
They’d just gotten out of Phoenix’s Porsche and walked over to it when they heard Zoe’s aggravated voice in the darkness.
"Don’t make me run up that hill, Daimon, and spill my coffee. If I do, I can assure you that you’ll suffer unmercifully before I kill you."
"I strangely like that woman," Susan said to Ravyn as she followed him toward Zoe’s voice.
They’d only taken a few more steps before they ran into Dragon.
"What are you doing here?" he asked them.
"Call from Otto," Ravyn said.
Dragon paused. "Me, too. How weird that he’d want us both here. Out in the open."
That was odd. Susan looked back and forth between the men. "Did he say what he needed?"
"He didn’t," they said in unison.
Dragon and Ravyn exchanged a wary stare. "Is it just me," Ravyn asked, "or do you suddenly have a bad feeling about this?"
They heard Zoe let out a war cry.
The men took off at a dead run up the hill. Without thinking, Susan ran up after them, but as they crested the hill and she saw Menkaura, Cael, and Belle also there, she realized this was a trap.
And they’d all fallen right into it.
Ravyn cursed as he realized what was going on. Susan had been right. The Daimons had put them together while their powers were weakened knowing that this would drain them even more-which would make them easy pickings for the Spathis. Dammit, they should have listened to Nick. He’d even warned them about the phones. Who knew the crusty bastard had been telling the truth?
And of course, Nick was the only one of them not here…
"We need to separate." The words had barely left Cael’s lips before bolt-holes began opening all around them, trapping them in the narrow, grungy alleyway.
Spathis were emerging from the top and bottom of the hill.
"Oh, we’re screwed," Belle said as she pulled the whip off her belt and snapped it in the air before her. "Anyone got a bright idea?"
"Yeah," Zoe said as she pulled a knife from the top of her boot, "we learn to teleport."
They all looked at Ravyn. "Wish I could help folks. But that power was stripped from me when I died."
Belle made a face at him. "Well then, what good are you, leopard?"
He didn’t know at present. This was a bad situation and they all knew it.
His adrenaline rushing at the prospect of a fight that would most likely be to his death, he turned to Susan. "We need to get you out of here."
She scoffed at him as she gestured toward the top and bottom of the hill where the Spathis were gathering force. "No offense, Catman, unless you know something I don’t, I don’t think the Daimons are going to let me out."
As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. Angry that he’d allowed himself to be caught like this, he manifested a stake in his hand. "You know the legend. Stab them in the heart and they’ll die." He handed her the stake.
Susan’s eyes held a degree of fear as she wrapped her hand around the stake and offered him a brave smile. "Call me Buffy. I’m even blond, but don’t ask me to wear a halter top." She glanced over to Zoe. "Or corset."
Ravyn lifted her hand with the stake in it and kissed the back of her knuckles. Standing there with his death imminent, he felt a wave of respect for her the likes of which he’d never known. More than that, something sublimely tender touched his heart.
Whatever happened tonight, he only hoped that she got out of it in one piece.
Susan offered him an encouraging smile before she stepped back. Reluctantly, he let go and turned around to fight.
As the Daimons came toward them slowly, the Dark-Hunters formed a circle with their backs to one another.
Ravyn tried to put Susan behind him, but she wouldn’t go. "Susan, get in the middle."
She met his gaze without flinching. "Get your head in the fight, Ravyn, and don’t worry about me. I’m the only one here who isn’t having my strength depleted right now. "
Zoe scoffed at her bravado. "You’re also the only one of us who has a soul they can steal and blood they can drink."