He felt Urian’s frustration with him, but at least it was lessening some of the man’s grief. "Can I walk in daylight?"
"If you want, I can make it so. If you choose amnesia, I will make you fully human."
"You can do that?"
Urian laughed bitterly as he raked a cold look over Ash’s body. "You know, Acheron, I’m not stupid, nor am I as blind as Stryker. Does he know of the demon you carry on your body?"
"No, and Simi isn’t a demon, she’s part of me."
Urian’s gaze bored into his. "Poor Stryker, he’s so screwed and he doesn’t even know it." The intensity of Urian’s gaze burned. "I know who and what you are, Acheron Parthenopaeus."
"Then you know if you ever pass your knowledge along I’ll make sure you regret it. Eternally."
He nodded. "But I don’t understand why you hide."
"I’m not hiding," Ash said simply. "The knowledge you carry can’t help anyone. It can only destroy and harm."
Urian thought about that for a minute. "I’m through being a destroyer."
"Then what are you?"
Urian let his thoughts wander through the events of this night. He thought about the aching pain inside him that screamed over the loss of his wife. It was so tempting to let Acheron erase it all, but with that he would lose all the good memories he carried too.
Though he and Phoebe had only had a few years together, she had loved him in ways no one ever had. Touched a heart he had thought was long dead.
No, it hurt to live without her, but he didn’t want to lose all connection with her.
He fastened her locket around his neck and rose slowly to his feet. "I’m your man. But I warn you now. If I’m ever given a chance to kill Stryker, I will take it. Consequences be damned."
Stryker snarled in outrage as he found himself in the Destroyer’s throne room. "I was so close to killing them. Why did you stop me!"
Still the demon Sabina held him.
For once Xedrix wasn’t in the room with his mother, but Stryker didn’t have time to ponder the demon’s whereabouts. His thoughts were too consumed by hatred and vexation.
His mother sat on her chaise completely poised, as if she were holding court and hadn’t just destroyed all their years of careful planning.
"Do not raise your voice to me, Strykerius. I will not take insubordination."
He forced himself to level his voice even while his blood simmered in fury. "Why did you interfere?"
She pulled her black pillow into her lap and toyed with a corner of it. "You cannot win against the Elekti. I told you that."
"I could have beaten him," Stryker insisted. No one could stop him. He was sure of that.
"No you couldn’t," she said firmly. She dropped her gaze again and ran her hand elegantly over the black satin. "There is no pain worse than a son who betrays your cause, is there, Strykerius? You give them everything, and do they listen? No. Do they respect? No. Instead they shred your heart and spit on the kindness you would show to them."
Stryker clenched his eyes shut as she voiced the very thoughts inside him. He had given Urian everything and his son had repaid him with a betrayal so profound that it had taken him days to come to grips with it.
Part of him hated Apollymi for telling him the truth. The other part thanked her.
He had never been the kind of man to cradle a snake to his bosom.
Stryker would never do to his mother what had been done to him. "I will listen to you, Mother."
She cradled the pillow to her breast and sighed wearily. "Good."
"So what do we do now?"
She gazed at him with a small, beautiful smile. When she spoke, her words were simple, but her tone was purely evil. "We wait."
Wulf sat on the couch with Cassandra beside him. Erik slept peacefully in his mother’s arms, oblivious to the violence and deaths that had occurred tonight.
Oblivious to the fact that the world the baby was just coming to know had almost ended.
Since they had returned home, Wulf had refused to let either one of them out of his sight.
Chris was helping Talon bandage his arm, which had gotten shredded by one of the Daimons. Julian sat with an ice pack on the back of his head while Kyrian poured peroxide over his bloodied knuckles, into a bowl.
Zarek stood like a statue against the wall by the hallway that led to the kitchen. He, alone, appeared unscathed by the fighting.
"You know," Kyrian said, pausing long enough to hiss as he poured alcohol over the peroxide. "The fighting was a lot easier when I was immortal."
Talon snorted. "I still am immortal and I’m pretty banged up. That was a hell of a fight."
The phone rang.
Chris got up to answer it.
"That better not be Stryker," Cassandra said breathlessly.
It wasn’t. It was her father.
Chris handed the phone off to her and her hand shook. "Daddy? Are you all right?"
Wulf held her against his chest as she wept and talked for a few minutes, then hung up.
"It was what you said," she breathed to Wulf. "They never had him. Stryker had used the same trick to get you to leave the city that he used on me to open the apartment door. Damn that bastard!"
The phone rang again.
"What is it?" Chris snapped. "A full moon?"
"Yes," all the men said at once.
"Oh." Chris answered it, then handed it over to Kyrian.
"Hello?" Kyrian said. "Oh, hi, hon. No, I’m okay." He cringed a bit. "No, hunting was good. We’ll… uh… we’ll be home tomorrow."
He paused, then glanced to Julian. "What head wound?" He cringed even more. "No, tell Grace, Julian is fine. Just a little bump. We’re all fine."
Wulf laughed at the way the ex-Dark-Hunter was squirming.
"Yeah, okay, will do. Love you too. Bye." Kyrian hung up the phone and let his gaze go to everyone. "Jeez, never marry a psychic woman." He looked at Talon, then Julian. "Guys, we’re so screwed. The women know we didn’t go hunting."
Zarek made a rude noise at that. "You think? What idiot came up with that lie?"
"I’m not an idiot," Talon snapped. "And it’s not like I lied. I just omitted what exactly we were hunting and where we were doing it."
Zarek made another noise of disagreement. "Like your wives wouldn’t know better?" He glanced to Kyrian. "When was the last time Mr. Armani hunted something that didn’t have a price tag on it?" His gaze then went to Julian. "Oh, and the loafers and trousers are perfect camouflage."
"Shut up, Zarek," Talon snapped.
As Zarek opened his mouth to retort, a knock sounded on the door.
Grumbling, Chris went to open it and let Acheron and Urian into the room. Wulf rose to his feet as they entered.
Urian looked bad. He was pale, his clothes still covered in blood. But the worst was the restrained fury and pain in his pale eyes.
Wulf didn’t know what to say to the man. He’d lost everything and gained nothing.
"We were getting worried about you, Ash," Kyrian said.
"I wasn’t," Zarek said. "But now that you’re here, do you need me for anything else?"
"No, Z," Ash said quietly. "Thanks for coming."
Zarek inclined his head. "Any time you want me to help rip something apart, just give me call. But in the future, could you pick somewhere warmer to do it?" Zarek flashed out of the room before anyone could respond.
"You know," Talon said. "It really pisses me off that he’s a god now."
"Just make sure you don’t piss him off," Ash said in warning. "Or he might turn you into a toad."
"He wouldn’t dare."
Kyrian snorted. "We are talking about Zarek, right?"
"Oh, yeah," Talon said. "Never mind."
Kyrian stood up with a groan. "Well, since I’m one of the few nonimmortals in the room, I think I’m going to head to bed and rest."
Talon flexed his bandaged arm. "Sleep sounds like a plan to me."
Chris threw the medical supplies back in the plastic box. "C’mon, guys, and I’ll show you where you can crash."
Cassandra stood up with Erik. "I guess I should-"
"Wait," Urian said, stopping her.
Wulf tensed as the Daimon approached his wife and son. Ash put his hand on his arm to keep him from interfering.
"Can I hold him?" Urian asked.
Both Cassandra and Wulf frowned. Urian had barely looked at the baby before this.
Cassandra glanced to Ash who nodded.
Reluctantly, she handed Erik over to him. It was obvious Urian had never held a baby before. Cassandra put her hands on his and showed him how to support Erik’s head and hold him so as not to hurt him.
"You’re so fragile," Urian breathed at the baby who eyed him sweetly. "And yet you’re still alive while my Phoebe isn’t."
Wulf took a step forward. Ash tightened his grip.
"Will you stay and guard your family?" Acheron asked quietly.
"My family is dead," Urian snarled, casting a heated glare toward Ash.
"No, Urian, it’s not. Phoebe’s blood is in that baby. Erik carries her immortality with him."
Urian closed his eyes as if hearing those words was more than he could bear. "She loved this baby," he said after a brief time. "I could tell how much she wanted her own whenever she spoke of him. I only wish I could have given her one."
"You gave her everything else, Urian," Cassandra said, her own eyes filling with tears as she spoke of her sister. "She knew that and she loved you for it."
Urian wrapped an arm around Cassandra and pulled her close. He laid his head down on her shoulder and silently cried. Cassandra joined him as she finally let out the pain she, too, had been holding back.
Wulf felt uncomfortable with their grief. Cassandra was so incredibly strong. He felt Phoebe’s loss too, but not nearly as much as the two of them did.
But he would know Urian’s grief all too soon.
After a time, Urian let go and handed her Erik. "I won’t let your baby die, Cassandra. I swear it. No one will ever hurt him. Not as long as I live."
Cassandra kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you."
Urian nodded and withdrew from her.
"What an alliance, huh?" Wulf said after Cassandra had left them. "A Dark-Hunter and a Spathi united to guard an Apollite. Who would have ever imagined?"
"Love makes strange bedfellows," Ash said.
"I thought that was politics."
Urian folded his arms over his chest. "Would you mind if I slept in the boathouse?"
"Sure," Wulf said, knowing Urian wanted to be someplace where he had memories of Phoebe. "Consider it yours for as long as you want it."
Urian drifted out of the house like a silent phantom.
"Is that what I have to look forward to?" Wulf asked Ash.
"Life is a tapestry woven by the decisions we make."
"Don’t give me that pseudo quasi psychobabble bullshit, Ash. I’m tired, I had my ass kicked, I’m still worried about Cassandra, Erik, and Chris, and I really feel like shit. Just once in eternity, answer one f**king question."
Ash’s eyes flashed to red so fast that for a moment, Wulf thought he might have imagined it. "I will not tamper with free will or fate, Wulf. Not for you, not for anything. There is no power on this earth or beyond that could make me do such a thing."
"What has that got to do with Cassandra?"
"Everything. Whether she lives or dies depends on what both of you do or don’t do."
He was wholly unprepared for Ash’s next statement. "If you want to save her life, you have to bond her life force to yours."
That didn’t sound too hard. For the first time in months, he felt some hope. "Great. Any chance you’re going to give me a clue on how to do that?"
"You feed from her and she feeds from you."
A feeling of dread shrank Wulf’s stomach. "Feed how?"
Ash’s swirling silver eyes met his and the look in them chilled Wulf to his soul. "You already know that answer. It’s the first thought that went through your mind just now."
How he hated it when Acheron did that.
"Have you any idea how disgusting the thought of drinking blood is to me?"
Acheron shrugged. "It’s really not so bad."
The words stunned Wulf. "Excuse me?"
Acheron didn’t elaborate. "It’s all up to you, Viking. Will you at least try it?"
What the Atlantean suggested was impossible. "She doesn’t have fangs."
"She will if she needs them."
"Are you sure?"
Ash nodded. "It’s really simple and yet it’s really not. You drink from her neck and she drinks from yours."
The ancient Dark-Hunter was right. It sounded so simple at first. But could he and Cassandra really do that when everything they both believed in forbade it?
"Won’t my blood kill her? I thought Dark-Hunter blood-"
"You’re not a Dark-Hunter, Wulf. Not really. You never died. You have always been different from the others."