He sat back on the bed and cuddled Cassandra as she fed his son.
"We’ve started freezing my breast milk this morning," Cassandra said quietly.
"For Erik. Dr. Lakis said he would most likely need my milk until he’s six months old. The Apollites have developed a way of preserving it since so many of their women die before their children are weaned."
"Don’t," he whispered against her temple, unable to bear the thought of her dying. "I… I’ve been thinking about this. A lot."
"I want you to go Daimon."
She leaned back to give him a shocked stare. "Wulf? Are you serious?"
"Yes. It makes perfect sense. That way-"
"I can’t do that," she said, interrupting him.
"Sure you can. All you have to do-"
"Is kill innocent people." She looked horrified. "I can’t."
"Phoebe doesn’t kill anyone."
"But she feeds from someone who does and she has to suck his blood. No offense, yuck! Not to mention the small fact that I am no longer equipped to suck anyone’s blood and the last person I want to bite into is Urian. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget that you and your cohorts will be after me if I ever step foot out of Elysia to hunt anyone else."
"No they won’t," he said emphatically. "I won’t let them. I can keep you safe, Cassandra. I swear it. You can stay in the cellar with me. No one ever has to know."
Her features softened. She laid her soft, warm hand against his cheek. "I would know, Wulf. Erik would know. Chris…"
"Please, Cassandra," he begged, thinking of Dr. Lakis and what she had looked like. How she had aged. The pain on her face. "I don’t want you to die. Most especially not like-"
"Neither do I," she said, interrupting him. "Believe me on that one."
"Then fight for me. Fight for Erik."
She flinched. "That’s so not fair. I don’t want to die any more than you want me to, but what you’re asking me is impossible. It goes against everything you have fought for and believed in. You would hate me."
"I could never hate you."
She shook her head in disbelief. "The divorce courts are full of husbands who thought that when they married their wives. How would you feel a year from now after I have taken several innocent lives?"
He didn’t want to think about that. He only wanted to think about them. For once in eternity he wanted to be selfish. To hell with the world. For twelve hundred years he had defended the humans.
All he wanted was one year of happiness. Was that so much to ask, for all he’d done for humanity?
"Would you at least think about it for me?" he asked quietly, even though he knew she was right.
"Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it." Talon’s words haunted him.
"Okay," Cassandra whispered, but even as she said the words, she knew better.
They both jumped as the phone rang.
Thinking it was Ash since it didn’t register a caller ID or number, Wulf pulled it off his belt and answered it.
His blood went cold at the sound of the thick Greek accent he remembered all too well. "Stryker?"
"Yes. Very good. I’m proud of you."
"How did you get my number?"
If Urian had betrayed them, so help him, Wulf would rip his Daimon heart out and feed it to him.
"Ah, that’s an interesting question, isn’t it? I’ll give you credit. You have led me on quite a merry little chase around town. But I do have my resources. Luckily one of them lives right here in town."
"Who?" Wulf demanded.
Stryker tsked at him. "The anticipation must be killing you, no? Who do I have? What do I want? Will I kill this person I hold?" He paused to make a delighted noise. "Well, I’ll have mercy on you. I think you’re smart enough to know what I’m after."
"I won’t give you Cassandra. I don’t care who you hold."
"Oh, it’s not Cassandra I want anymore, Viking. Use your head. She’s as good as dead in a few weeks anyway. What I want is your son and I want him now."
Again the Daimon tsked at him. "Is that your final answer? Don’t you even want to know whose soul I’m going to devour?"
Not when compared to his son or Cassandra. It really didn’t matter. No one on earth was more important to Wulf. But he had to know. "Who do you have?"
The phone went silent for several seconds while Wulf held his breath. It couldn’t be Cassandra, Erik, or Chris he held. Who was left?
The answer made his blood run cold.
It was Cassandra’s father.
Wulf hung up the phone, his thoughts whirling. He looked at Cassandra who had gone pale. "What did he say?"
Part of him wanted to lie to her, but he couldn’t. Their relationship was beyond that. He’d never kept anything from her. He wasn’t about to start now. She had a right to know what was going on.
"Stryker wants to exchange your father for Erik. If we refuse, your father dies."
What he didn’t tell her was that her father would probably die anyway. Given what he knew about Stryker. It was pretty much a given.
But maybe Urian would be able to keep Jefferson Peters alive since he had a vested interest in the man’s health.
Cassandra covered her mouth with her hand. Her eyes were large, terror filled. "What do we do? I can’t let him kill my father and I damn sure can’t give him my baby."
Wulf stood up and kept his voice calm so as to not alarm her any more. She had her own health and Erik’s to worry over. He would take care of the rest. "There’s only one thing I know to do. I’m going to go kill Stryker."
She looked less than convinced. "We’ve tried that. Remember? It didn’t exactly work. I seem to recall he and his men cut a swathe through you, the Were-Hunters, and Corbin."
"I know, but the thing about us Vikings, we know how to take advantage of surprise attacks and disorient our opponents. He won’t be expecting me to attack."
"Sure he will. He’s not stupid and he knows who he’s dealing with."
"Then what do you want me to do?" he asked in frustration. "You want me to give him Erik and say bon appetit?"
"Then offer me another solution."
Cassandra tried desperately to think of something. But he was right. There was no other way.
Maybe if they could reach Urian, but he’d been gone for several days now and no one, not even Phoebe, had seen hide nor hair of him.
"When and where are you supposed to meet him?" she asked.
"Tonight at the Inferno."
"We’ll think of something by then."
Wulf hoped so. The alternative was completely unacceptable to him.
"I’ll go and help."
Both Wulf and Kat looked at Chris as if he’d lost his mind.
"What are we supposed to do with you, Chris?" Wulf asked. "Lob you at them?"
Chris bristled, offended. "I’m not a baby, Wulf. I happen to know how to fight. Hell, I’ve been sparring against you for years."
"Yeah, but I never really hit you."
Chris looked even more offended.
Kat patted him on the arm. "Don’t worry, Chris. The day that Sony PlayStation attacks the world and threatens to destroy it, we’ll give you a call."
Chris made a disgusted sound. "Why do I bother?"
Wulf took a deep breath as he fastened his sword on. "Your job is to protect Cassandra and Erik. I need you here, boy."
"Yeah, yeah. I’m ever useless."
Wulf grabbed Chris by the back of his neck and pulled him close. "You are never useless to me. I don’t ever want to hear that out of your mouth again. You hear me?"
"Okay." Chris relented as he tried to shrug off Wulf’s fierce grip. "I guess my baby-making abilities aren’t completely defunct with the new heir, huh?"
Wulf ruffled his hair, then turned to Kat. "You ready?"
"I suppose. You do realize they’ll just run from me?"
"Good. Keep them stirred up. If they’re busy worrying about hurting you, then they can’t concentrate on hacking me into pieces."
As he started for the door, Cassandra stopped him. She pulled him tight against her and held him close. "Come back to me, Wulf."
"I fully intend to. God and Odin willing."
She kissed him, then let him go.
Wulf took one last look at his wife and the baby who was sleeping on the floor completely oblivious to what was happening tonight. Oblivious that if Stryker had his way, Erik would die and the world would end.
How he wished he could be so ignorant.
But he couldn’t. He had a job to do and too much to lose if he failed.
In the back of his mind was the one repeating thought… How had Stryker found out about Cassandra’s father?
Could Urian have betrayed them? Would he?
Part of him wanted to believe it was a coincidence. The other part of him couldn’t help wondering if Urian had changed his mind about helping Stryker after all. The man was his father…
He and Kat left the apartment and met Phoebe at the main entrance. She held out a necklace to him and placed it around his neck. "This will allow the door to Elysia to open when you return. I couldn’t get in touch with Urian and that concerns me. I only pray they haven’t learned of his helping us."
"He’s all right, Phoebe," Kat soothed. "Believe me, he’s a great actor. I had no idea he wasn’t a complete ass**le. I’m sure his father doesn’t know either."
Phoebe looked peeved by her words.
"It was a joke, Phoebe," Kat said. "Lighten up."
Phoebe shook her head. "How can you be so nonchalant when you know what’s at stake?"
"Unlike the rest of you, I know I’ll live through the night, one way or the other. Unless the earth is destroyed or they hack me to pieces, I’m in no danger. My only fear is for all of you."
"Then make sure you stand close to me," Wulf said, only half-jokingly. "I need some Teflon-coated armor."
Kat shoved him toward the exit. "Yeah, yeah. Big Viking defender hiding behind me. I’ll believe that one when I see it."
Wulf led the way out of the city, up to the surface. The truck they had arrived in had been moved to a nearby cave that housed several vehicles they kept just in case one of their people went Daimon and needed a link to the human world.
It was sick, but Wulf was grateful just this once for their "care" of the Daimons.
The spring thaw had started and the ground wasn’t as frozen as it had been before.
Shanus had given him several sets of keys so that he could choose the automobile most likely to get them there quickly. Wulf chose the navy blue Mountaineer.
Kat got in first. He looked back the way they had come while his thoughts returned to his family.
"It’ll be okay, Wulf."
"Yeah," he whispered. He knew it would be. He was going to make damn sure of it.
Wulf got in and drove them back toward the city. His first stop would be his house. Or what was left of it. He wanted to be fully armed for this conflict.
They drove for well over an hour before they reached his estate. Wulf pulled into his driveway and hesitated. There was no sign of battle here anymore. His garage, his windows were all intact.
Even the front gate was standing.
"Did Stryker repair it?" he asked Kat.
She burst out laughing. "Not his style. Believe me. He never repairs the damage he does. I have no idea what happened here. Maybe your Squires’ Council?"
"No. They didn’t even know about this."
Wulf keyed the lock for his gate, then pulled toward the house slowly, expecting the worst.
As he neared the front door, he stopped suddenly.
There in the shadows beside his house, he saw movement.
The mist from the lake was thick, swirling. He cut the lights so that his vision wouldn’t be impaired by them and reached for the retractable sword under his seat.
There were three very tall men dressed in black walking toward them slowly, arrogantly, as if they had all the time in the world. They were united in power and strength, and their eagerness to fight bled from every pore of them.
All of them were blond.
"Stay here," he warned Kat as he got out, ready for battle.
The fog swirled around the three men as they came closer.
Probably no more than six feet three, one of them was dressed in trousers, sweater, and wool overcoat. One side of the coat was pulled back to show an ancient scabbard and sword of Greek design. The one in the middle was two inches taller. He, too, wore wool trousers and a sweater along with a long black leather coat.
The third one had short hair, a shade darker than the other two. Dressed all in biker leather, he had two braids that fell down from his left temple.
And in that instant, Wulf remembered him.
The biker broke into a wide grin. "From the way you’re holding that sword, I was wondering if you were going to recall me or not, Viking."
Wulf laughed as his old friend drew near. They hadn’t seen each other in over a century. He gladly shook the Celt’s hand.