Dr. Lakis started for the door.
She turned toward him.
"Don’t say you’re sorry. I’m just another Apollite to you."
"No," he said sincerely. "You’re not. You’re the woman who kept my wife safe and who helped to birth my son. I won’t ever forget that."
She offered him a tremulous smile. "I wish you luck with your son. I hope he grows up to be the man his father is."
Wulf watched her leave, his heart heavy. He had tried so hard to stay detached from everyone here. To not care and not see how very human his enemies were. But it was impossible. Just like staying away from Cassandra was impossible.
Against his will and common sense, they had all invaded his heart.
How could he ever go back to his role as a Dark-Hunter after all this?
How could he kill another Daimon when he understood them so well? How?
Cassandra was exhausted by the time Wulf returned to her. Kat and the nurse had taken the baby to watch so that she could rest. Of course, they would have to wake her when it was time for his next feeding, but for a little while, Cassandra would be able to rest in comfort.
"Close your eyes," Wulf said.
Cassandra did as he asked without question and felt him place something around her neck. Opening her eyes, she saw an intricate, antique necklace. The design was obviously Norse. It had four square pieces of amber mounted on their sides in a diamond shape. In the center was a circular piece with another amber stone embedded in it, and dropping down from that was a tiny Viking ship that had its sail made of more amber.
"Erik and I bought two of them from a Danish merchant in Byzantium. It reminded us of home. He gave his to his wife and I was going to give mine to my sister, Brynhild."
"Why didn’t you give it to her?"
"She wouldn’t take it. She was too angry at me for not being there when our father died, angry at me for raiding. She said she never wanted to see me again, so I left and have kept the necklace with me ever since. I pulled it out of my safe when Kat and I went back for my sword."
His sadness touched her. Over the past few months, she had learned just how much Wulf’s siblings had meant to him. "I’m sorry, Wulf."
"Don’t be. I like seeing it on you. It’s as if it were meant to be there." He brushed his hand through her hair. "Do you want me to go sleep on the couch?"
"Why would I want that?"
"You said earlier that you weren’t ever again going to let me near your bed."
She laughed lightly. "I don’t even remember half of what I said."
"That’s okay. I think Chris was recording it in the other room for posterity."
She covered her face with her hands. "I hope you’re joking."
"No, not really."
Cassandra ran her hand through his silken hair and let the strands of it slide through her fingers. "Well, now that it’s over, I’m much more tolerant of you. So, come and snuggle up. I think I could use it."
Wulf quickly obliged her.
Cassandra let out a long, tired breath and drifted off to sleep.
Wulf watched her as he let the warm softness of her body seep into his very heart. He took her hand in his and studied the delicate shape of it.
"Don’t leave me, Cassandra," he whispered. "I don’t want to raise our son without you."
But wishing for her to stay was as productive as wishing for his soul back.
On Thursday morning, Wulf couldn’t sleep. Cassandra and Erik were both blissfully unconscious. But his thoughts wouldn’t settle down long enough for him to rest.
Getting up, he donned his clothes and left the apartment. Since few Apollites were up and about, he didn’t have to endure many sneers or glares.
He knew he had no business headed where he was, but he couldn’t stop himself.
He had to say good-bye to Dr. Lakis. She had strangely become another member of their small troop over the weeks when she had kept vigil over Cassandra’s and Erik’s health.
Her apartment wasn’t far away from Phoebe’s.
Unsure of his reception, he knocked on her door.
A boy around the age of twelve answered it.
"Are you Ty?" he asked the boy, remembering Dr. Lakis talking about her oldest son.
"My mama’s not going Daimon. You can leave her alone."
Wulf flinched at his angry words. "I know she’s not. I just want to see her for a minute."
"Aunt Millicent," he yelled without letting him in. "The Dark-Hunter wants to see Mama."
A beautiful woman around Chris’s age came to the door. "What do you want?"
"I want to see Dr. Lakis."
"He’s going to kill her!" the boy said from behind her.
She ignored the boy. Narrowing her eyes, she stepped back and let Wulf enter.
Wulf took a deep breath in relief as she led him to a bedroom on his left. The door opened to show him a room with five small children and one more woman around Millicent’s age. Dr. Lakis lay on the bed, but he barely recognized her. Instead of the young vibrant woman who had delivered his baby, she already looked as if she were fifty years old.
Millicent shooed the children and the other adult out.
"You only have five minutes, Dark-Hunter. We want to be with her as long as we can."
He nodded, and once he was alone with her, he knelt beside the bed.
"Why are you here, Wulf ?" Dr. Lakis asked. It was the first time she had ever used his name.
"I’m not sure. I just wanted to thank you again."
She blinked her tear-filled eyes and appeared to age another ten years. "This isn’t the bad part," she whispered. "That comes later when our bodies fall apart while we’re still alive. If we’re lucky, our organs fail quickly and we die. Otherwise it lasts for hours and is excruciating."
Her words tore through him as he thought about Cassandra going through this. Of her in even more pain than she had been in when Erik was born. "I’m so sorry."
Dr. Lakis didn’t take pity on him. "Just answer me one question?"
Her gaze bored into his with its molten heat. "Do you understand?"
He nodded. Yes, he knew what they went through and he understood why Daimons became what they did. Who could blame them?
Dr. Lakis reached out and touched his hand with hers. "I hope your son is spared this. I really, really do. For his sake and for yours. No one should die like this. No one."
Wulf stared at the hand that now had wrinkles and age spots. A hand that had been as smooth as his just a few hours ago.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked.
"Take care of your family and don’t let Cassandra die alone. There’s nothing worse than going through this on your own."
Her family returned to the room.
Wulf got up and left them to their loved one. As he reached the door, Dr. Lakis stopped him.
"In case you wanted to know, Wulf, my name is Maia."
"Safe journey to you, Maia," he said, his voice deep from his repressed emotions. "I hope your gods are far more merciful to you in the next life."
The last thing he saw was her son falling into her arms and weeping.
Wulf left the apartment and headed back to his own. By the time he reached it, his anger was smoldering. He entered his room to see Cassandra lying asleep with Erik beside her.
They looked so beautiful like that. She was a young woman who should have the rest of her life ahead of her. She had a baby who needed to know his mother.
Most of all, Wulf needed her.
It couldn’t end like this. It couldn’t.
He wouldn’t let it.
Grabbing his cell phone, he went back to the living room and called Acheron.
To his surprise, Ash answered it on the first ring.
"Are you back?" Wulf asked.
He ignored Ash’s usual sarcasm and went to the matter at hand. "Have you any idea what has happened while you’ve been gone."
"I know, Wulf," Ash said in a sympathetic tone. "Congratulations on your marriage and Erik."
He choked at the mention of his son. He didn’t bother to ask Ash how he knew about either event. Ash wouldn’t answer and everyone knew the man was a freak.
"Is there any…" Wulf couldn’t even bring himself to ask whether or not they had any hope of a future together.
"You’re not ready for the answer."
His anger exploded at that. "Fuck you, Ash. What do you mean, I’m not ready?"
"Listen to me, Wulf," he said in the patient tone of a parent dealing with an upset child. "Listen carefully. Sometimes to have what we want most, we have to give up everything we believe in. You’re not ready to do that yet."
Wulf tightened his grip on the phone. "I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Why can’t you ever answer a simple question?"
"Ask me a simple question and you will get a simple answer. What you ask me is extremely complicated. You’ve done what Artemis wanted you to do. You’ve saved your lineage and her brother’s."
"Then why don’t you sound happy about it?"
"I don’t like to see anyone played with or used. I know you’re in pain right now. I know you’re angry. I understand it. You have every right to feel every emotion that’s churning inside you. But this isn’t over. When you’re ready, I’ll answer your question."
The bastard actually hung up on him.
Wulf stood there feeling even more betrayed. He wanted Ash’s blood, but most of all he wanted Artemis’s and Apollo’s. How dare they screw with them like this, as if they were nothing.
The door to his bedroom opened to show him Cassandra standing there, her brow furrowed with concern.
"Hi," she said, looking very tired.
"You should be in bed."
"So should you. I was worried when I woke up to find you gone. Is everything okay?"
For some reason it was always okay whenever she was around him. It was what made it so hard being with her now.
He tried to imagine what it would be like holding her hand while she aged in front of him.
What it would be like when he watched her decay into dust…
Pain racked him so fiercely it was all he could do not to show it. Not to shout out until his anger shook the very halls of Olympus.
He wanted her then, wanted to be inside her so badly that he could barely think.
But it was too soon. She was still sore from birthing his son. And no matter how much he wanted the physical comfort of her body, he would never be so selfish.
Cassandra wasn’t expecting Wulf to pick her up and pin her to the wall behind her. His lips covered hers as he kissed her as if he’d never have another chance to kiss her.
Breathless, she breathed in the scent of her ancient warrior. Let the feel of his arms holding her steal her away from the reality of what was inevitable.
She knew he needed her. He wouldn’t admit it. She knew that too. He was too strong to ever admit he had a weakness. To ever say he was afraid, but how could he not be?
Neither of them knew if their son was human or Apollite. The preliminary test had been inconclusive. And it would be another three months before they would test Erik again to see which DNA was dominant in him.
Whatever the outcome, Wulf would be left alone to see to Erik’s needs.
He let go of her.
Cassandra took his hand and led him back to the bedroom. She sat him on the bed, then forced him to lean back.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
She unzipped his pants. "After all these centuries, I would think you would be able to recognize a woman seducing you when you saw it."
He sprang out into her hands. Cassandra ran her hand down the length of his cock. He was already hard and leaking. She traced the tip of him, letting his wetness coat her fingertips.
Wulf couldn’t breathe as he watched her. He cupped her face with his hands as she bent down to tease him with her sweet mouth.
His breathing ragged, he watched as she licked her way up to his tip while her hand gently cupped his balls. It was so nice to make love to someone who knew him. Someone who remembered how he liked to be touched and caressed.
Someone who remembered him.
For centuries, he’d only had strangers touch him. None of them felt like this. None of them warmed the cold place inside his heart and made him weak from it.
Only Cassandra did that.
Cassandra felt his body relaxing more with every gentle suck and lick she gave him.
He came with a fierce growl.
After he was completely sated and drained, he lay on the bed, panting, his eyes closed while she straddled him and lay down over his chest. His arms enclosed her as she listened to his heart pounding.
"Thank you," he said softly, stroking her hair.
"You’re welcome. You feel any better?"
"Well, I tried."
He gave a bittersweet half-laugh. "It’s not you, love. It’s really not you."
Suddenly Erik woke up crying. Wulf fastened his pants while Cassandra picked the baby up and comforted him.
Wulf watched as Cassandra lifted her shirt up to suckle his baby. He stared in awe at the sight, which touched every feral male part of him. This was his wife and his son.
He felt primal around them. Protective. He would kill anyone who dared to threaten either one.