He offered Acheron a lopsided grin and used a greeting from one of Acheron’s favorite cartoons. "Greetings, O Great Gazoo. How nice of you to join us here on planet Earth again."
Ash rolled his eyes. "Thanks, Barney. How’s Betty and Bam Bam doing?"
"Great, if I could only get them away from Wilma and Pebbles. Those women are nothing but trouble."
"Nah, they’re good women. It’s the ones in red who are always the downfall of good men."
Laughing, Cael extended his hand to Acheron. "Ain’t it the truth, my braither?"
Ash reached out and took his hand. Cael went to clap him on the back, only to have him move out of reach.
Cael didn’t miss the grimace Acheron quickly hid. "You okay?"
Acheron shrugged his shoulders as if trying to alleviate something uncomfortable. "I hurt my back earlier. It’ll be all right though."
Cael nodded. "It’s good to be immortal, huh?"
"Some days, anyway."
They grew silent as they stood out on the open street, in front of a small coffee shop where a group of college students were lolling about, studying and talking while music filtered out of the store. Cael wasn’t far from home, but he had no intention of taking Ash there. He’d always kept as much distance as possible between his boss and his wife.
Acheron knew things that no one had a right to know and it always chilled him.
"Did you need something?" Cael asked.
Ash didn’t speak as a thousand thoughts went through his mind. He wanted to warn this man and knew that if he did so, he’d change so many more fates than just Cael’s. The endless chain of change was playing out in his mind.
A thousand lives rewritten because of one spoken word…
That was so much easier said than done. How he hated knowing what was to come and being constricted by a human conscience from preventing it. Then again, if not for that conscience, it wouldn’t matter what happened to Cael one way or another. He wouldn’t care about anything except himself.
He’d become Savitar…
Ash winced at the thought. Recovering himself before Cael realized what he was doing, Ash rubbed his cheek. "No, I just wanted to wish you a good night. "
By Cael’s face he could tell the Celt didn’t believe him. "Yeah, okay. I’ll catch you later." He turned and started heading for his home.
Ash stood on the street, watching him walk away. Every part of him wanted to call Cael back and warn him.
And every part of him knew why he couldn’t. He didn’t know if he should curse or thank Artemis for this gift.
But then the only thing worse than knowing the future was not knowing it, which happened whenever the future involved him or someone whose future directly influenced his.
"Hi there, cutie."
He turned his head to find an extremely attractive college student by his side. With black curly hair, she was dressed in jeans and a tight green top that displayed her curves to perfection. "Hi."
"You want to go inside for a drink? It’s on me."
Ash paused as he saw her past, present, and future simultaneously in his mind. Her name was Tracy Phillips. A political science major, she was going to end up at Harvard Med School and then be one of the leading researchers to help isolate a mutated genome that the human race didn’t even know existed yet.
The discovery of that genome would save the life of her youngest daughter and cause her daughter to go on to medical school herself. That daughter, with the help and guidance of her mother, would one day lobby for medical reforms that would change the way the medical world and governments treated health care. The two of them would shape generations of doctors and save thousands of lives by allowing people to have groundbreaking medical treatments that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford.
And right now, all Tracy could think about was how cute his ass was in leather pants, and how much she’d like to peel them off him.
In a few seconds, she’d head into the coffee shop and meet a waitress named Gina Torres. Gina’s dream was to go to college herself to be a doctor and save the lives of the working poor who couldn’t afford health care, but because of family problems she wasn’t able to take classes this year. Still Gina would tell Tracy how she planned to go next year on a scholarship.
Late tonight, after most of the college students were headed off, the two of them would be chatting about Gina’s plans and dreams.
And a month from now, Gina would be dead from a freak car accident that Tracy would see on the news. That one tragic event combined with the happenstance meeting tonight would lead Tracy to her destiny. In one instant, she’d realize how shallow her life had been, and she’d seek to change that and be more aware of the people around her and of their needs. Her youngest daughter would be named Gina Tory in honor of the Gina who was currently busy wiping down tables while she imagined a better life for everyone.
So in effect, Gina would achieve her dream. By dying she’d save thousands of lives and she’d bring health care to those who couldn’t afford it…
The human race was an amazing thing. So few people ever realized just how many lives they inadvertently touched. How the right or wrong word spoken casually could empower or destroy another’s life.
If Ash were to accept Tracy’s invitation for coffee, her destiny would be changed and she would end up working as a well-paid bank officer. She’d decide that marriage wasn’t for her and go on to live her life with a partner and never have children.
Everything would change. All the lives that would have been saved would be lost.
And knowing the nuance of every word spoken and every gesture made was the heaviest of all the burdens Ash carried.
Smiling gently, he shook his head. "Thanks for asking, but I have to head off. You have a good night. "
She gave him a hot once-over. "Okay, but if you change your mind, I’ll be in here studying for the next few hours."
Ash watched as she left him and entered the shop. She set her backpack down at a table and started unpacking her books. Sighing from exhaustion, Gina grabbed a glass of water and made her way over to her…
And as he observed them through the painted glass, the two women struck up a conversation and set their destined futures into motion.
His heart heavy, he glanced back in the direction Cael had vanished and hated the future that awaited his friend. But it was Cael’s destiny.
"Imora thea mi savur," Ash whispered under his breath in Atlantean.
God save me from love.
Susan leaned back against the wall as she sorted through files on Jimmy’s computer. "Dammit, Jim. I’m just a reporter, not a mind reader," she said, feigning a Bones McCoy quote from Star Trek. "Couldn’t you have at least left me an obvious crumb to follow? Is one loaf of bread too much to ask?"
Sick to her stomach, she decided to take a break and clicked on the photos folder.
A bittersweet pain lacerated her chest as she flipped through pictures of him and Angie at a party last year. God, what she wouldn’t give to hear Angie tell her she was five by five again. To hear Jimmy’s raspy voice teasing her about being too uptight all the time.
Startled, she jumped at Ravyn’s deep voice as he entered the room with that silent cat walk of his. "You scared me…" She paused to watch him come closer. Honestly, he was the best-looking thing she’d ever seen in her life. He had his hair pulled back in a ponytail and even though his shirt was untucked, it didn’t disguise the fact that he was ripped with sinewy muscles. Distracting herself from that thought, she indicated the laptop with her chin. "I was just spying on Jimmy’s pictures."
He handed her the coffee he’d gone upstairs to get for her. "Maybe you should close the file." He sat down beside her so that he could look at the screen, too.
"No, it’s okay. I just found this one set of pictures from Jimmy’s Halloween party at his precinct last year. He went as Frankenstein and Angie was-"
"Bride of Frankenstein?"
"No… she went as a Holy Cow." Susan smiled at the memory. "She was always a bit offbeat that way."
Ravyn laughed as she showed him the picture of Angie in a cow suit with a halo suspended above her head and a giant wooden cross around her neck. He’d only seen her a couple of times in the shelter while they’d held him, but the woman had seemed decent enough.
But his smile died when Susan flipped to the next picture and he saw the people in it.
It couldn’t be. Surely he was mistaken…
Susan flipped to another.
"Wait! Go back."
Susan frowned. "Why?"
He set his own coffee aside and frowned as he examined the picture of a tall blond woman who was dressed as a classic campy Hollywood vampire, complete with all-too-real-looking fangs, standing with her arm around Angie. "I know her."
Susan gave him a less than pleased glare. "For the record, Puss in Boots, I hope you’re not speaking biblically. Because if you are-"
"No," he said, interrupting her tirade, even though a part of him was flattered that she felt that way. "She’s a Daimon… or was. I killed her."
Susan scoffed at him. "Not her you didn’t."
Ravyn looked again and studied the woman’s sharp patrician features. In the back of his mind, he could still see her dressed in a black pair of slacks and a red blouse as he found her standing over her victims. The sight had sickened him as she had wiped the blood from her mouth and laughed about it.
"It was her, I’m sure of it."
Still Susan had doubt in those blue eyes. "How would you know? Do you memorize the face of every Daimon you snuff out?"
He gave her a droll stare. "No, but I remember her."
" ‘Cause she’s a bimbo?"
He shook his head. "Because she didn’t run from me. She actually dared me to kill her. She said that she had a get out of jail free card and that unless I wanted every Dark-Hunter in Seattle to die, I’d leave her alone."
Susan was unamused by that. "So naturally you just had to kill her."
If a dry stare could mutilate, she’d be in several pieces on the floor.
"She’d just taken the life of a pregnant woman and her small child outside of a Laundromat. I had to kill her to release those two souls or both of their souls would have died. "
"While fascinating and gross, that can’t be this woman. "
"How do you know?"
"Because she’s the wife of Paul Heilig, the chief of police. And she died in a car wreck in Europe. I saw the photos of it."
Ravyn went cold at her words as they confirmed his suspicions. "What?"
"You heard me." She flipped through the pictures until she got to one of the Daimon with two very tall blond men, who were also dressed as Bela Lugosi vampires, and a short, pudgy man with dark hair, highlighted with gray, and glasses, dressed as an explorer. The man appeared to be around the age of fifty, with thinning hair and sharp gray eyes. "That’s her, her sons, and her husband."
Ravyn narrowed his gaze on them before he looked up at Susan. "Don’t you think it odd that the chief of police is married to a woman who looks to be the same age as her children?"
"Plastic surgery, baby. Some of the best surgeons in the country live right here."
"Yeah, and so do some of the best Daimons."
Susan went cold as she stared at the woman, and her emotions sobered. It all made sense now. "It’s just what you said, isn’t it? He married an Apollite who turned Daimon, and now he’s using his position to keep them safe."
"Except for the wife I killed. No wonder they wanted to torture me in the…" His voice trailed off as he remembered something the half-Apollite vet had said.
"Paul wants to see this one suffer…."
Since he didn’t know who Paul was, he’d completely forgotten that. But now he understood. Paul was Paul Heilig. Chief of Police and father of two Daimon sons.
They were screwed.
"When did you kill her?" Susan asked.
"I don’t know. About two months ago, maybe."
That was around the same time the chief’s wife had died. Susan remembered the articles about it clearly. No body had been returned to the States for a funeral, but they had held a memorial service for her.
Of course if she was a Daimon, there wouldn’t have been a body to bury. Oddly enough, it made a perfect cover.
Ob jeez, now you’re thinking like Leo. But then Leo wasn’t the crackpot she’d taken him for…
"Do you remember anything about her?"
"Yeah," he said breathlessly. "She was a nasty bitch with a mean left hook."
"Not that," Susan snapped. "Something that could help us identify her as the chief of police’s wife."
"The words get out of jail free card-"
"Maybe she played a lot of Monopoly. Who knows what weirdness Daimons partake in to pass the time." At his withering stare she held her hands up in surrender. "Okay, bad stab on my part. Please continue."
"Couple that with Jimmy’s paranoia that someone high up in his department was covering up murders and disappearances. C’mon, Susan, this is too much to be coincidence."
"I know I’m playing devil’s advocate here. We have to have concrete proof before we accuse this man of framing us and hiding murders."