"Why would I kill them?" Stryker asked Paul in a bored tone.
Paul’s anger melted into a look of confusion. "He’s a Dark-Hunter. Death to all Dark-Hunters… right?" There was no mistaking the fear in his voice now.
Stryker nodded. "That is my motto. But today it seems my agenda is a little different." He grabbed Paul by the throat and slung him against the wall, where he held him so high that the shorter man’s feet didn’t reach the floor.
Paul grabbed Stryker’s hand in both of his as his face turned bright red while he struggled to get free.
Stryker’s entire face was one of hell wrath. "You lying bastard. You betrayed my trust and you stabbed me in the back. "
"I did no such thing," Paul choked out in sharp sobs. "I-I-I didn’t touch you."
"Yes, you did." Stryker pulled him away from the wall, then slammed him back into it again. "When you stabbed Trates, my right hand, my second in command, you in essence stabbed me. Me. And no one stabs at me. Do you understand, you pathetic fool? If I were to let you live after what you’ve done, I would become weak, ineffectual in the eyes of my men, and that I cannot allow. "
Ravyn took a step up the stairs.
"Halt!" Stryker snapped at him. "This doesn’t concern you, Dark-Hunter. You and your woman are free to go."
Ravyn shook his head. "I can’t and you know it. Even if he’s a lying sack of shit, he’s still human, and I took an oath to save the humans from Daimons."
Stryker let out a tired sigh before his face hardened. "Spathis!"
Before they could move, twenty Daimons flashed into the room. Three were by Susan while the rest were on the stairs between Stryker and Ravyn.
Ravyn ran at them only to have them drag him down the stairs to stand by her side.
She didn’t even try to fight, since it was obvious the Spathis were more than able to kick their butts and take their names.
Stryker turned to Paul and opened his mouth to expose his fangs. "Before I kill you, I want you to know that the minute the sun sets tonight, I’m turning my warriors loose on every human who has helped you. Every single one, as punishment for your betrayal. No pathetic human slaughters one of my Daimons. Ever."
Paul’s eyes were bulging. "No. How can you do this? We were going to combine our men and rule Seattle. We were allies!"
"Are you serious? After you killed Trates? But now I have an even better ally than you."
Without another word, Stryker removed his glasses and then sank his fangs into Paul’s throat.
Revolted by the sight, Susan turned her face away and clenched her eyes shut an instant before she heard Paul’s painful scream. It rang out through the house and chilled her all the way to her soul. In spite of everything he’d done, she still felt sorry for him. No one deserved to die like this…
She could even hear his feet kicking the wall as he continued to beg for mercy while Ravyn tried to fight his way past the Daimons to help Paul. But it was useless.
Suddenly there was utter silence.
It echoed through the house and set her nerves on edge. Were they next?
There was a sharp thud on the landing above.
Feeling sick, she looked back to see Paul lying on the floor at Stryker’s feet as he wiped his forearm across his face to remove Paul’s blood from his lips and chin.
Putting his glasses back on, he stepped nonchalantly over the body and walked leisurely down the stairs until he was in front of Ravyn. Stryker smacked his lips with his face twisted as if the taste didn’t agree with him. "What a wuss. His pathetic soul barely qualifies as an hors d’oeuvre."
"You bastard!" Ravyn tried to reach him, but the Daimons wouldn’t let him.
Stryker merely laughed. "Yes, and I revel in that title."
"Do we kill him, my lord?" one of the Daimons asked.
Stryker cocked his head as if considering it. "Not today, Davyn. Today, we show a bit of mercy to our worthy opponent. After all, he taught me that you don’t trust the human cattle. Only other immortals understand the rules of war."
He broke through the ranks of Daimons to stand before Ravyn. "I have to say you’ve impressed me, Kontis. You’ve survived everything I’ve thrown at you. And the way you handled yourself here… really, I was wondering how you’d get out of this."
He looked at Susan then and his harsh features actually softened. "You remind me of my own wife. She was one hell of a lady, and like you she’d fight with me even while we were battling others."
For some reason she couldn’t even begin to understand, she actually felt a pang of compassion for him. It was obvious he’d loved his wife a great deal.
"There’s only one thing I have ever respected. Strength." He returned his attention to Ravyn. "We’ll fight this battle another night, Cousin. For now… peace."
And with that, the portal opened and Stryker stepped through it. The Daimons released her and Ravyn and quickly followed after him.
Susan stood there, completely stunned by what she’d seen and heard. "This par for the course?"
"No." Ravyn looked every bit as baffled as she felt. "I think we may have witnessed an all-time first for the Daimons."
Susan expelled a long breath. "Damn. It’s been one hell of a day and it’s not even six thirty yet."
"Tell me about it."
Just grateful that they were both alive, she smiled at him and walked herself into his arms. Closing her eyes, she held him tight… until his earlier words repeated themselves in her head.
"You think you love me?"
"We’re not going to go into this again, are we?"
"Yeah, we are. How heartless is that? Here I was thinking I meant something to you because you were willing to die for me and the next thing I know, you tell me that you don’t even know whether or not you love me. That you’d rather kill yourself than stay alive and what? Be mated to me? Thanks a lot. You weren’t making some declaration of loyalty. You’re willing to die for any bimbo you meet. "
He scowled at her. "That’s not true. If you were just some bimbo I wouldn’t have tried to make it meaningful. "
"But you would have died for her anyway?"
"I didn’t say that."
"You implied it!" As she opened her mouth to continue her argument, he captured her lips with his and kissed the daylights out of her.
Susan melted as his tongue teased hers. Her head spun as all her conflicting emotions settled down into just one…
The one that loved this man.
Ravyn licked her lips playfully before he pulled back to press his forehead to hers. "You feeling better yet?"
"I don’t know. I think I need another kiss to be sure."
Laughing, he picked her up in his arms and kissed her again.
Yeah, that was doing it. She was definitely feeling better. At least until she realized something.
"How are we getting home?"
"Looks like you’ll be driving." He glanced up the stairs to where Paul was. "We need to head out and call the police."
"Yeah, I don’t want to be here anymore. I’ve seen enough death for a while."
He kissed her one last time before he stepped back and turned into a leopard.
Susan paused as she looked down and laughed. So this was her life now…
It was too bizarre even for her. "You know," she said quietly, "I’ve always wanted to pet a wild cat."
"Babe, you can pet me anytime you want. "
It was so strange to have his voice in her head. "You’re not like Ash, where you can read my thoughts or anything, are you?"
Oh thank God. She didn’t know why, but the idea of that really screwed with her head. Relieved, she bent down and sank her hand in his soft pelt. And then she sneezed, and sneezed again.
"Remind me. Benadryl. I think we may need to buy some stock in the company." Sniffing, she straightened up and headed for the door only to realize that the sun was still painful to Ravyn even in leopard form.
He actually stepped back with a hiss instead of going through the door.
Susan’s heart ached as he pulled her coat off to wrap it around him.
"It won’t help."
She gasped at the sound of Dorian or Phoenix’s voice. Looking up, she found the twins in the living room, along with their father. Afraid of what they were going to do to Ravyn since he didn’t have the protection of sanctuary here, she put herself between them. "What are you doing here?"
Gareth moved forward with that lethal predatorial lope that reminded her so much of Ravyn. Narrowing his gaze, he sniffed the air around her as if he caught a whiff of something he found puzzling.
Ravyn immediately flashed to human form. "Let her go. Your fight is with me, not her. "
Before Ravyn or she could move, Gareth grabbed her hand and turned it over to see the mating mark. His grip bit into her wrist. "Do you love him?"
"That’s none of your business."
"Let her go," Ravyn growled.
Gareth didn’t. Instead, he turned that cold gaze to Ravyn. "It would be so easy to kill you here and now." And then something odd flashed into his eyes. "In spite of what you think, I loved your mother more than my life. I wanted to bond with her, but she refused. Her worst fear was that we would die and leave all of you orphaned. I think about that at night. How angry she’d be to know what we did to you."
Susan looked to see the anguish in Ravyn’s eyes.
Gareth turned his gaze to her. "You were right and I’m glad he has you." He let go of her wrist. "I don’t expect you to forgive us. But now you need us to get you home in the daylight. "
Gareth held his hand out to Ravyn.
Ravyn hesitated as all the pain of his past washed over him. And in the end, he was still that little boy who loved his father. That little boy who just wanted to go home again. But the home he’d known had been shattered three hundred years ago. There was no way to go back to the family he’d known then.
He looked at Susan, whose gentle eyes waited expectantly for him to respond to his father. She was his family now, and he knew he would do anything for this woman.
But in order to protect her… to love her, he would have to live.
He wasn’t ready to forgive everything, not by a long shot. Still, his father was making an effort, and he wasn’t the kind of man to shun an honest offer.
Unsure of his future, Ravyn took his father’s hand.
"Phoenix? Bring Susan home."
Susan watched as Ravyn and Gareth vanished. "What’s he do-ing?"
"Relax," Dorian said. "No one’s going to hurt him."
"Well, I might," Phoenix said in a surly tone. "Where the hell is my car?"
Susan laughed as she pulled the keys out of her pocket and held them up. "A block over."
"Is it damaged?"
Phoenix let out a relieved breath as Dorian laughed.
Dorian took the keys. "I’ll drive it home." And then he flashed out of the room.
Phoenix reached for Susan. "Trust me?"
"Not a bit, but I trust that Ravyn will eat your head if you let anything happen to me."
He dipped his gaze down to her marked palm. "You didn’t answer my father’s question. Do you love him?"
"Why does it matter?"
"Because if you do, bond with him. Take my word for it. The worst hell imaginable is knowing you lost what you held dearest because you were a coward. Don’t make my mistake."
And in that moment, she had a newfound respect for Phoenix. Standing on her tiptoes, she kissed his cheek. "Thank you."
He inclined his head before she put her hand in his. In an instant, they were back inside the Serengeti.
The next two weeks went by in a blur as they returned to their lives. With Leo’s help, along with the help of the Squires who worked for Internal Affairs in Seattle, they were able to put the blame for all the deaths Susan and Ravyn were accused of where it belonged.
On Paul’s shoulders.
She was even allowed to write it up and have her story picked up by the Associated Press. And as soon as her piece on surviving forty-eight hours with an insane serial killer chief hit wide syndication, papers all over the country contacted her about working for them.
And to be honest, she was actually considering it. Having a legitimate job again was all she’d dreamed of.
But in order to do that, she’d have to leave Ravyn…
It was a cool, breezy afternoon when they buried Angie and Jimmy together. Because it was daylight, Ravyn wasn’t able to be with her in human form. But he’d insisted that she carry him as a cat so that he could be by her side.
It was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for her. She kept the cat carrier covered with a dark cloth, and during the service she stroked him through the bars.
When it was over and they were back at his house, he’d held her for hours while she cried and remembered all the years she’d had with the two of them.
And with every hour she and Ravyn spent together, she realized that she loved him even more.
She jerked away from her thoughts as she heard Ravyn’s voice. Getting up from her chair in front of the computer, she headed toward the hallway, then down toward the balcony so that she could look to the great room below where Ravyn was standing.