"Phoebe!" Wulf snapped, looking over at her.
"What?" Cassandra’s sister asked innocently. "That’s our heritage. It’s not like you guys don’t swap stories on Andy the Evil Apollite or Daniel the Killer Daimon. You know, I see human movies and read their books too. They’re not exactly nice to my people. They portray us all as soulless killers who have no compassion or feelings."
"Yeah, well," Wulf said, "your people happen to be soul-sucking demons."
Phoebe cocked her head with attitude. "You ever met a banker or a lawyer? Tell me who’s worse, my Urian or one of them? At least we need the food; they do it just for profit margins."
Cassandra laughed at their banter, then took the book from Chris’s hands. "I appreciate the thought, Phe, but could we find a book that doesn’t paint the Dark-Hunters as Satan?"
"I don’t think one exists. Or if it does, I’ve never seen it."
"Great," Wulf muttered, picking up another card, "just great. My poor son’s going to have nightmares all of his childhood."
"Trust me," Chris said as he upped his bet against Wulf. "That book’s going to be the least of your kid’s problems with you as his father."
"What do you mean?" Cassandra asked.
Chris put his cards down and met her gaze. "You do know that as a small child, they actually carried me around on a pillow? I had a custom-made helmet that I had to wear until I was four."
"That’s because you banged your head every time you got angry. I was afraid you were going to get brain damage from it."
"The brain is fine," Chris said. "It’s my ego and social life in the toilet. I shudder at what you’re going to do to that kid."
Chris dropped his voice and imitated Wulf’s lilting Norse accent. "Don’t move, you might get bruised. Oops, a sneeze, better call in specialists from Belgium. Headache? Odin forbid, it might be a tumor. Quick, rush him for a CAT scan."
Wulf shoved his shoulder playfully. "And yet you live."
"Ever the better to procreate for you." Chris met Cassandra’s gaze. "It’s a hell of a life." Then Chris dropped his gaze as if he were thinking about that for a minute. "But there are worse ones out there."
Cassandra wasn’t sure which of them was most stunned by that confession. Her or Wulf.
Chris got up and went to the foyer where a trestle table was set with snacks and drinks. He poured himself more Coke and grabbed some chips before he and Wulf resumed their game of cards.
It was just before midnight when Urian rejoined them. He looked a lot better than he had earlier. His deep tawny skin had a healthy glow. His eyes were bright and for once he wore his long, blond hair down around his shoulders. Cassandra would give Phoebe credit. Her husband was extremely gorgeous.
When he was dressed completely in black, there wasn’t much difference between Urian and a Dark-Hunter. Except for what they needed in order to live.
Phoebe smiled as Urian neared her.
Wulf didn’t. In fact, the tension between the men was fierce.
"What’s the matter, Dark-Hunter?" Urian asked as he draped his arm around Phoebe’s shoulders. "You were hoping I’d succumb?"
"No, I was just wondering who you killed to reclaim your health."
Urian gave a short amused laugh at that. "I’m sure the cows you eat aren’t exactly thrilled by their slaughter either."
"They’re not people."
Urian sneered at that. "In case you haven’t noticed, Dark-Hunter, there are a lot of people out there who aren’t human either."
Taking Phoebe’s hand, Urian led her toward the door. "C’mon, Phe, I don’t have much time before I have to return to Kalosis and I don’t want to spend it with my enemies."
As soon as Urian and Phoebe left, Chris headed off to bed.
Cassandra and Wulf were alone.
"You think Kat’s okay?" Wulf asked as he picked up Chris’s glass and closed the chips.
"I’m sure she is. She’ll probably be back soon." Cassandra gathered her sister’s letters for the baby and tucked them inside the box.
"After that book she bought, I shudder to think what your sister wrote in her letters."
"Hmmm," Cassandra said, glancing back at the box. "Maybe I should read them first…"
"Well, if they point to me as a horned demon, I would appreciate it."
Cassandra dropped her gaze down to his lap and to the bulge that was already there. "I don’t know about that. From my experience you are a horny demon."
He arched a brow. "Am I?"
"Uh-huh. Horny to the extreme."
He laughed, then kissed her slowly, hotly. "You taste like lemon," he whispered against her lips.
Cassandra licked her lips as she remembered putting lemon juice on her fish.
Wulf tasted of decadence, wild, fierce decadence, and he made her heart race.
"Oh, oh, wait, I’m going blind!"
Wulf pulled back at the sound of Kat’s voice.
Cassandra looked over her shoulder to see her friend standing in the open doorway.
Kat shut the door behind her. "Thank goodness no one’s nak*d."
"Three more seconds and we would have been," Wulf teased.
"Ew!" Kat cringed. "More information than I needed."
She walked over to sit across from them. Her joking aside, Kat’s features looked pinched.
Wulf was a bit disgruntled by her intrusion.
Cassandra pulled back from him and turned around to face Kat. "Something wrong?"
"Just a bit. Stryker isn’t happy about your vanishing. The Destroyer was also pissed at me. A lot. Luckily, she hasn’t rescinded the no-touch law where I’m concerned. It gives us some leeway, but I’m not sure how long Stryker will abide by it."
"Will you have any warning if they do rescind it?" Wulf asked.
"I don’t know."
"What happened with Urian?" Cassandra asked. "Did they find out about his helping us?"
"No, I don’t think so. But I’ll tell you what. I’m afraid of what Stryker might do to him if he ever learned Urian was helping us. He wants you and the baby dead in the worst way."
Cassandra swallowed at that, then changed the subject. "So what did you two do?"
"I dropped Urian off at his house and left him there so that no one would know I was helping him. If anyone saw me near him, they’d be suspicious immediately. We haven’t exactly been friends over the centuries. Hell, we haven’t even been cordial."
"Why?" Cassandra asked. "He seems nice enough. A bit standoffish, but I can’t really blame him for that."
"Trust me, hon, he’s a different Urian here. He’s not the same guy I’ve known for eleven thousand years. The Urian I’ve known wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone or anything at his father’s command. I’ve seen him snap the neck of any Daimon who crossed them and you don’t want to know what he does to Were-Hunters who betray them."
Wulf reached for his drink on the coffee table. "The Spathis are the reason Dark-Hunters never come out of bolt-holes, aren’t they?"
She nodded. "The bolt-hole drops you front and center into the main banquet hall of Kalosis. Right in the heart of their city. Dark-Hunters are killed instantly. Weres are given a chance. They can swear allegiance to the Destroyer and be spared or they die."
"Are welcomed so long as they train with the Spathis and uphold their warrior’s code. The instant they show weakness, they die too."
Wulf let out a slow breath. "Hell of a place you come from, Kat."
"That’s not my place. I come from Olympus."
"Then how did you get involved with the Destroyer?"
Cassandra was curious about that too.
Kat was sheepish. "I really can’t go there."
"Why not?" Cassandra asked.
Kat shrugged. "It’s something no one talks about, least of all me."
Well, that was just irritating and told her nothing. But then Cassandra had other things on her mind. "Do you think Stryker will be able to find us here?"
"Honestly, I don’t know. Stryker has a lot of spies in the Apollite and Were communities. It’s how he found us before. Apparently one of the Weres at the Inferno works with him and contacted them as soon as we came in the door."
Wulf indicated the door that led out into the city. "So any one of the people out there could betray us?"
"I won’t lie and say no. It is possible."
Cassandra swallowed as fear invaded her heart. "Is there any place safe?"
"At this time. No."
Cassandra was getting ready for bed. Wulf was still outside with Kat, brainstorming escape plans in case they needed a quick exit from Elysia.
Personally, Cassandra was tired of running. Tired of being hunted.
Look on the bright side, it will all end on your birthday.
Somehow that thought was less than comforting to her. Sighing, she ran her hand through the letters in her memory box. Cassandra paused as she noticed a piece of sealed gray vellum paper that was different from the cream ones she used.
She hadn’t added that one. Wulf’s fears about what her sister might write made her more than curious.
A frown creasing her brow, she pulled the letter out and looked it over. She pried the seal up so as not to hurt it, then opened it.
Her heart stopped as she read the masculine, flowing script.
I would call you by name, but I’m waiting for your mother to decide. I only hope she is joking when she calls you Albert Dalbert.
Cassandra paused to laugh at that. It was a joke between them, at least most of the time. Sobering, she read on.
For weeks now I have watched your mother zealously gather her tokens for this box. She’s so afraid of you not knowing anything about her, and it bothers me greatly that you’ll never know her strength firsthand. I’m sure by the time you read this, you’ll know everything I do about her.
But you’ll never know her for yourself and that pains me most of all. I wish you could see the look on her face whenever she talks to you. The sadness she tries so hard to hide. Every time I see it, it cuts through me.
She loves you so much. You’re all she talks about. I have so many orders from her for you. I’m not allowed to make you crazy the way I do your Uncle Chris. I’m not allowed to call the doctors every time you sneeze and you are to be allowed to tussle with your friends without me having a conniption that someone might bruise you.
Nor am I to bully you about getting married or having kids. Ever.
Most of all, you are allowed to pick out your own car at sixteen. I’m not supposed to put you in a tank. We’ll see about that one. I refused to promise her this last item until I know more about you. Not to mention, I’ve seen how other people drive on the roads. So if you have a tank, sorry. There’s only so much changing a man my age can do.
I don’t know what our futures will hold. I only hope that when all is said and done, you are more like your mother than you are like me. She’s a good woman. A kind woman. Full of love and compassion even though her life has been hard and full of grief. She bears her scars with a grace, dignity, and humor that I lack.
Most of all, she has courage the likes of which I haven’t witnessed in centuries. I hope with every part of me that you inherit all her best traits and none of my bad ones.
I don’t really know what more to say. I just thought you should have something of me in here too.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she read his words. "Oh, Wulf," she breathed, her heart breaking at the things he would never admit to aloud. It was so strange to see herself through his eyes. She never thought of herself as particularly brave. Never thought of herself as strong.
Not until the night she had met a dark champion.
As Cassandra folded up the note and resealed it, she realized something.
She loved Wulf. Desperately.
She wasn’t sure when it had happened. It might have been the first time he took her into his arms. Or it might have been when he reluctantly welcomed her into his home.
No, she realized, it was none of those times. She had fallen in love with him the first time he had touched her belly with his strong, capable hand and called her baby his.
Dark-Hunter or not, he was a good, wonderful man for an ancient barbarian.
The door opened.
"Are you all right?" Wulf rushed forward to the bed.
"I’m fine," she said, clearing her throat. "It’s these stupid pregnancy hormones. I cry at the drop of a hat. Ugh!"
He wiped her tears away from her cheeks. "It’s okay. I understand. I’ve been around plenty of pregnant women in my day."
He nodded. "I’ve even delivered a few of their babies."
"Oh, yeah. You have to love the days before modern roads and hospitals when I was up to my elbows in placenta."
She laughed, but then she always did around him. He had an incredible knack for making her feel better.
Wulf helped her put everything away. "You should probably go on to sleep. You didn’t rest well last night."
"I know. I’m going, I promise."
He tucked her into bed after she had changed into her nightgown, then turned the lights off and left her alone. Cassandra lay in the dark, her thoughts wandering.