Wulf turned to the man in the middle and remembered him, too, from the brief time he had spent in New Orleans over one hundred years ago during Mardi Gras.
"Kyrian?" he asked. The ancient Greek general had changed quite a bit since the last time he had met him.
Back then, Kyrian’s hair had been cropped short and he had worn a beard. Now it was shoulder length and his face was clean-shaven.
"Nice seeing you again," Kyrian said, shaking his hand. "And this is my friend Julian of Macedon."
Wulf knew the man only by reputation. Julian had been the one who had taught Kyrian everything he knew about fighting and battle. "Glad to meet you. Now what the hell are the three of you doing here?"
"They’re your backup."
He turned to see Acheron Parthenopaeus joining their group. He didn’t know what stunned him most, their presence or the sight of the infant Ash had strapped into a baby harness, facing his chest.
Wulf was aghast. "Kyrian? Is that your baby?"
"Hell, no," Kyrian said. "No way I would bring Marissa into this. Amanda would geld me first and then kill me if I even considered it." He inclined his head to Acheron. "That’s Ash’s baby."
Wulf cocked a brow at that. "Lucy," he said in a mock Ricky Ricardo accent, "you got some ‘splaining to do."
Ash grunted. "Stryker isn’t stupid. Your idea of going in with a plastic baby, while admirable, would never work. Stryker would smell the plastic in an instant." He turned the Snugli sack around to face Wulf so that he could see the tiny, dark-haired infant it contained. "So I give you a real baby."
"What if it gets hurt?"
The baby sneezed.
Wulf jumped as fire shot out of its nostrils and almost singed his leg.
"Excuse me," the baby said in a singsongy voice. "I almost made Dark-Hunter barbecue, which would be really sad ’cause I ain’t got no barbecue sauce with me." The baby leaned its head back to look up at Ash. "You know fried Dark-Hunter isn’t good plain. What you need-"
"Sim," Ash said in a warning tone under his breath, cutting the baby off.
The baby looked up at him. "Oh, I forgot, akri. Sorry. Goo, ga, goo."
Wulf rubbed his forehead. "What is that?"
"He told you, Simi’s his baby… demon."
All five of them turned at the deep, sinister voice that was laced with a heavy Greek accent. Another man stepped out of the shadows. He was almost as tall as Acheron with black hair and vibrant blue eyes.
Ash arched a brow. "You came after all, Z. Glad you made the party."
Zarek snorted. "What the hell? I didn’t have anything better to do. Figured I might as well come kick ass and take names. Not that I really give a damn about their names. I’m just in it for the bloodlust."
"So you’re Zarek," Wulf said, eyeing the notorious ex-Dark-Hunter who had once been exiled to Fairbanks, Alaska.
His nasty attitude not only bled from every pore, but was apparent from the lip he kept perpetually curled. Billy Idol and Elvis had nothing on this man.
"Yeah," Zarek said, sneering even more. "And I’m freezing, so can we rush this little get-together so I can kill some ass**les and get back to the beach where I belong?"
"If you hate it here so much," Talon asked, "why did you agree to come?"
In a subtle gesture of flipping Talon off, Zarek scratched his eyebrow with his middle finger, which was covered with a long, sharp metallic claw. "Astrid wants me to make friends. I don’t know why. Some weird woman thing. She’s trying to make me more sociable."
Ash let out a rare laugh at that.
Zarek passed an equally amused, knowing look at Acheron. "I don’t want to hear it from you, O Great Ash. You’re the one who got me into this in the first place." Then Zarek did the most surprising thing of all; he bent down and chucked the baby on the chin. "How you doing, little Simi?"
The baby jumped happily up and down in the harness. "Fine. You got any more frozen beans for me? I miss being in Alaska with you. It was fun."
"No time for food, Sim," Ash answered.
The baby blew him a raspberry. "Can I eat the Daimons then?"
"If you can catch them," Ash promised, making Wulf wonder what the man knew about the Daimons that he wasn’t sharing.
"What’s that mean?" Zarek asked for him. "You being vague again?"
Ash looked at him archly. "Always."
Zarek let out a sound of disgust. "Personally, I think we should get together and beat the hell out of you until you come clean."
Kyrian scratched his chin thoughtfully. "You know-"
"Don’t even go there," Acheron said irritably. He turned to Wulf. "Go get your weapons. You have an appointment to keep."
Wulf paused by Ash’s side. "Thanks for coming."
Ash inclined his head to him and stepped away as he cuddled the baby demon to his chest.
Wulf went back to the car to get Kat, but she was nowhere to be seen. "Kat?" he called. "Kat?"
"What’s wrong?" Talon asked as he and the others joined Wulf by the car.
"Did you see the woman I was with?"
They shook their heads.
"What woman?" Talon asked.
Wulf frowned. "She’s six feet four and blond. She couldn’t have just van-" He paused as he rethought that statement. "Never mind, she’s one of the few people who could have just gone poof."
"Is she your wife?" Kyrian asked.
"No, she’s one of Artemis’s handmaidens who’s been helping us."
Ash scowled at that. "Artemis doesn’t have a kori taller than her. Believe me. She doesn’t let any woman look down on her. Literally."
Wulf looked at him as a feeling of dread went through him. "I hope you’re wrong. Because if you’re not, then Kat was working with Stryker all this time and is most likely off to tell him about our surprise party."
Ash cocked his head slightly as if listening for something. "I don’t even sense her. It’s as if she doesn’t exist."
"So what do you think?" Kyrian asked.
Ash picked his baby up as she started kicking him in the groin and moved her to his hip. The baby played with his braid, then started chewing it.
Wulf furrowed his brow. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear that baby had fangs.
"I don’t know what to think," Ash said, pulling his hair away from the baby, "Kat bears the description of an Apollite or Daimon."
"But she walks in daylight," Wulf added.
Zarek cursed. "Don’t tell me there’s another Day-Slayer loose."
"No," Acheron said firmly. "I know for a fact Artemis hasn’t created one. She wouldn’t dare. At least not at the moment."
"What’s a Day-Slayer?" Talon asked.
"You don’t ever want to know," Julian answered.
"Yeah," Zarek concurred. "What he said, times a hundred."
"All right, then," Wulf said, heading for his house. "Let me get my things and we’ll be on our way."
As he walked off, he saw Talon move to stand beside Ash. "This is the part where you normally say if everyone does what they’re supposed to, everything will work out as it’s meant to. Right?"
Acheron’s face was impassive. "Normally, yes."
"We’re dealing with something greater than the Fates tonight. All I can honestly say is it’s going to be one hell of a fight."
Wulf laughed at that as he left hearing range. That was okay by him. Fighting was the one thing he and his people excelled at.
They arrived at the Inferno just before midnight. Oddly enough, the bar was completely empty of patrons.
Dante met them at the door, dressed in black leather. He didn’t have his vampire teeth in, and he looked extremely angry.
"Ash," he said, greeting the Atlantean. "Been a long time since you’ve darkened my door."
"Dante." Ash shook his hand.
Dante looked down at the baby with a knitted brow. "Simi?"
The baby smiled.
Dante let out a low whistle and stepped back. "Damn, Ash, I wish you would warn me when you’re planning on bringing your demon here. Do I need to warn the guys the feeding machine has come visiting?"
"No," Ash said, swinging the baby lightly. "She’s only here to munch Daimons."
"Where is everyone?" Wulf asked.
Dante glanced to the wall to his right. "I caught wind of what was going down tonight so we closed the place."
Wulf followed his line of vision and saw the pelt of a panther mounted there. He recognized the hide by the streak of red in it. "Your brother?"
Fury darkening his eyes, Dante shrugged. "The bastard was working with the Daimons. Feeding them information about us and you."
"Man," Talon breathed. "That’s cold to kill your own blood."
Dante turned on him with a feral sneer that more than betrayed the fact that Dante wasn’t human. "My brother betrayed me and our people. If I were as cold as I’d like to be, his hide would be on the floor so everyone could walk on him. Unfortunately, my other brothers were a little disturbed by that so we compromised with the wall."
"Understood," Ash said. "Where’s the rest of the pack?"
"In the back. We’re staying out of it. We don’t like to kill our own."
Zarek snorted at that. "Unless it’s your brother."
Dante approached Zarek and the two of them had a mutual sneer-off. "Law of the jungle. The betrayee gets to eat the betrayer."
Zarek gave him a droll stare. "Law of my jungle. Kill them all and let Hades sort them out."
Dante actually laughed at that. "I like this one, Ash. He understands us."
"Gee, Z," Ash said jokingly. "I think you may have found a new friend after all. That should make Astrid happy."
Zarek flipped him off.
Ash ignored it. "All right, game faces, guys."
Dante went to guard the front door while Ash removed his baby from the carrier and handed her to Wulf who was a bit hesitant to touch the little girl demon.
She eyed him speculatively, then smiled. "The Simi won’t bite you if you don’t drop her."
"I will try not to drop you then."
She flashed her fangs at him, then settled back in his arms, the perfect image of a relaxed infant.
"Should we hide?" Julian asked. "Take them by surprise?"
"We can’t," Ash said. "Stryker isn’t a normal Daimon."
"More like Desiderius?" Kyrian asked.
"Worse. In fact, my best advice to all of you"-Ash directed a warning glare at Zarek-"is to let me handle Stryker. I’m the only one of us he can’t kill."
"And why is that, Acheron?" Zarek asked. "Oh, wait, I know this. Fairbanks will hit one hundred and ten Celsius in January before you answer that."
Ash folded his arms over his chest. "Then why ask it?"
"Just to piss you off." Zarek moved across the floor. "When are they supposed to get here, anyway?"
The air above the dance floor shimmered and hissed.
Zarek’s face broke into a wide grin. "Oh, goodie. Let the bloodbath commence."
Kyrian pulled his sword out and extended the blade while Talon pulled his circular srad into his hand. Julian unsheathed his Greek sword.
Zarek and Ash didn’t make a move for their weapons.
Neither did Wulf. His goal was to protect Simi, Erik, and Cassandra.
The bolt-hole flashed a second before Stryker came through it. A full legion of Daimons came out with him, including Urian.
Urian’s face was completely stoic as he met Wulf’s gaze. It was hard to believe this was the man who had married Wulf to Cassandra. There was nothing on his face or in his eyes that indicated Urian knew him. Kat was right, the man was one hell of an actor.
"How nice," Stryker said with an evil laugh. "You brought dinner for my men. If only everyone could be so considerate."
Several of the Daimons laughed.
So did Zarek. "You know, I almost like this guy, Acheron. Pity we have to kill him."
Stryker slid a sideways glare to Zarek before his gaze went to Acheron. The two of them stared at each other without a word or emotion.
But Wulf saw the momentary confusion on Urian’s face as he noticed Acheron.
"It’s all right, Urian. I know all about the Atlantean. Don’t I, Acheron?"
"No. You just think you do, Strykerius. I, on the other hand, know your every flaw, right down to the one that enables you to believe in the Destroyer while she toys with you."
"Perhaps. But perhaps not."
Oh, yeah, no one could play the game of vagueness better than Acheron. He was a master at saying nothing and making people doubt the very air they breathed.
Finally, Stryker turned to Wulf. His gaze dropped to the baby Wulf held. He cocked his head and smiled.
"How sweet. You went to so much trouble, didn’t you? All of you did. I should feel flattered."
A bad feeling went through Wulf. Something wasn’t right about this.
Did the Daimon know Simi wasn’t his?