“Yeah, so do I.”
She laughed and her body protested the movement. “Are you as sore as I am?”
“Let’s just say I’m in no hurry to get out of bed.”
Sunshine traced his tattoo as she took comfort in being safe with him. It was so good to just feel him by her side again. To hear the sound of his voice. She remembered the gunshots they had fired into him and how terrified she had been that he would somehow die from the wounds.
Now there was no sign at all that he had ever been shot.
“I’m so glad they didn’t kill you,” she breathed.
“Believe me, I feel the same way about you.”
She ran her hand over his nipple and then froze as she felt suddenly sick.
She left the bed and rushed for the bathroom.
Talon followed after her and then held her while she unloaded the rest of the drug from her system.
Sunshine didn’t know how long she was in there. It seemed like she would never stop heaving.
Talon stayed with her the entire time, holding her hair, washing her face with a cold, damp cloth.
“Are you okay?” he asked when she finally stopped.
“I don’t know. I feel awful.”
He kissed the top of her head. “I’ll go get you a Coke and some crackers. It’ll help you settle your stomach.”
She thanked him, then went to the sink to brush her teeth while he went to get the Coke.
When she left the bathroom, she found Talon waiting in bed for her.
She sat down beside him and pulled the covers over her body. She was still shaky and queasy.
Talon handed her a cracker and a can of Coke.
“Hmm,” she said, taking them from him. “You must like me a lot to let me eat crackers in your bed.”
He brushed the hair back from her face. His eyes burned her with their intensity. “Yes, I do.”
His words sent a chill over her. “Do you, Talon? Or is it Nynia you love? When you look at me, do you see Sunshine or your wife?”
“I see you both.”
Sunshine cringed at his answer. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear. All her life, she had struggled to be herself. Her parents accepted her, but the guys she’d dated had all wanted to change her.
The last guy she dated had only been interested in her because she reminded him of his ex-girlfriend.
Now she reminded Talon of his ex-wife.
She couldn’t win for losing.
Why couldn’t someone just love her for being Sunshine?
Would Talon be so tender and attentive now if she weren’t his wife reincarnated?
“What do you like about me?” she asked, nibbling her cracker.
“I like your fire and I love your body.”
“Gee, thanks. Does that mean if I were fat and hideous you’d run for the door?”
“Would you run for the door if I was?”
Touche. The man was quick with a comeback. “Probably so. No doubt, I’d break it down trying to escape you.”
He laughed at that. “I’d run after you if you did.”
“Yes, I would.”
But would he run after Sunshine or Nynia?
The question haunted her.
Sunshine leaned over and kissed his forehead. “You need to get some sleep. You look really tired.” And he did.
It was almost noon and, unlike her, he wasn’t used to staying up all day.
“Okay. Remember, Nick is four and a pound sign on the phone if you need anything. And don’t go far. Camulus will be coming back, I just don’t know when. At least here I know the gators will slow them down. So make sure you stay close enough that I can reach you if something happens.”
She nodded. “If I’m not in the cabin, I’ll be right outside the door painting. Promise.”
“Okay.” He nuzzled her cheek tenderly, then kissed her. “I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Sunshine tucked him into the bed, got dressed, turned out the lights, and quietly went outside to paint.
As the afternoon went by while she sat on the porch, she realized that Talon had lived out here for centuries and in all that time he had never once seen the beauty of the swamp during the light of day.
He’d never seen sunlight dappling the water. Never seen the vibrant green of the moss on the stump by his dock. At night the edge was taken off the colors.
It was such a shame that he had to live like that. Alone in a world without…
She cringed as the word sunshine popped into her head.
“Jeez,” she muttered. “How cheesy is that?”
Still, it didn’t stop her heart from aching for him.
He was loneliness.
Because of Camulus, Talon didn’t dare let anyone close to him. How terrible it must be.
At dusk, she packed up her art supplies and headed inside with Beth eyeballing her from the dock. Sunshine wrinkled her nose at the bossy gator and tossed her the remains of her crackers.
Physically, Sunshine felt a lot better, but mentally she ached.
She watched Talon as he slept. He was a creature of the night. Literally. She couldn’t change him. Ever.
He was immortal.
She was human.
There was no hope for them.
The thought made her want to cry.
“They do have an out clause.”
But Talon would have to agree to it, and then what? Would she have to be his wife? Would he expect her to be as Nynia was?
She shivered at the thought. No offense, but as Nynia she had been a ninny.
Not that it was wrong to live to please your husband, but as Nynia she’d taken that to a whole new level. Nynia had never questioned him, never said anything back to him.
He said jump, she’d jumped and not even bothered to ask how high. Whatever he’d wanted, she’d done, regardless of her own thoughts or wants.
She had been a Stepford wife. Ew!
Sunshine didn’t think she could behave that way if she had to. She was outspoken and stubborn. At times, she was even a little selfish.
She wanted a mutual partnership with a man. Someone who could handle her needs as an artist. Someone who could appreciate her while she appreciated him, faults and all.
She liked herself. Liked her life.
With Talon, she would never be quite sure if he loved her for being Sunshine or if he tolerated her because of Nynia.
How would she ever know the truth?
Talon woke up to the softness of a hand brushing through his hair. He didn’t have to open his eyes to know who it was who touched him. He could feel her all the way to his heart.
He blinked open his eyes to see her sitting beside him.
“Good morning,” she said.
She handed him a cup of coffee. Talon took a drink, expecting to cringe, but it was actually good. Very good.
At his surprised look, she laughed. “My parents sell coffee at the bar. I may not drink the stuff, but I do know how to make it.”
“You do it very well.”
Talon sat back in bed to watch her. “What did you do while I slept?”
“Worked. I have to meet a client and show him some pieces he commissioned. If he really likes them, he’s going to give me a contract to supply artwork and murals for his restaurant chain.”
“Really?” he asked, impressed by the news.
Her eyes glowed with excitement, her cheeks pinkened. He could tell it meant a lot to her. “If I get the contract, no more stand at the square. I’ll finally have enough money to open my own studio.”
“You know, I could give you the money for that.”
A sadness came over her. “So could my parents, but this is something I want to do on my own. I don’t want anyone to hand me anything.”
He well understood that. He’d spent most of his mortal life proving himself to others. “It never hurts to have help.”
“I know. But it wouldn’t be the same. Besides, I think it would be really neat to walk into a restaurant and see my stuff hanging there.”
“Yeah, it would be. I hope you get the contract.”
She smiled again. “What about you? What do you hope for?”
“I hope my cabin never blows apart in a hurricane during the daylight hours.”
She laughed. “Seriously.”
“I am serious. It could get ugly if it did.”
She sat back on her heels. “You really don’t have any plans for the future, do you?”
“There’s nothing to plan for, Sunshine. I’m a Dark-Hunter.”
“Do you ever think about quitting?”
“Not even now?”
He fell silent as he thought about that. “If I could get past Camulus maybe. But…”
Sunshine nodded, understanding that stumbling block all too well. Camulus had laughed at her when she’d asked if he would/could ever forgive Talon.
“The earth will perish before I leave him in peace. So long as I live, he will pay for taking my son’s life.”
But she didn’t tell Talon about that. She didn’t want to upset him.
Somehow, she would find another way around Camulus.
“All right,” she said. “I won’t mention it again. Let’s just enjoy what time we have.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
They spent the night quietly, playing games and talking. Sunshine scrounged through his kitchen and even found enough supplies to make edible body paint.
Talon introduced her to chocolate Reddi-Whip shots and delighted in the ecstasy on her face while she ate the decadent whipped cream.
And Talon finally got to douse her in chocolate and to lick it off her.
Who knew having an artist could be so much fun?
Talon had never in his life enjoyed anything more than this night. He’d never laughed so much. Felt so at ease and comfortable. There was no more hiding from her. She knew what he was, both as a Dark-Hunter and as a man.
She fell asleep not long after midnight and left him alone to think about them.
Talon went outside to sit on the porch. It was peaceful and cold outside. The fog on the swamp was thick and he could hear the water ripple all around him.
For centuries this had been his solitary existence.
He couldn’t count the times he had sat here alone, just listening to the darkness.
And on the other side of the closed door he had heaven itself waiting for him.
If only he could keep her.
How did a man beat back a god? Was it even possible?
As a mortal man, the thought had never occurred to him, but now…
Now he wondered…
Talon went to bed a few hours after sunup. He’d only been asleep about an hour when he heard Sunshine rummaging around his desk.
“What are you doing?” he asked groggily.
“I’m looking for the keys to the boat.”
“I told you, I have to go meet a client.”
Talon rubbed his blurry eyes as he tried to focus on what she was saying. “What?”
“I told you about it last night, remember? I’m supposed to meet him at my stand at eleven. I promise I’ll meet with him and then be back as soon as I can.”
“You can’t do that.”
She paused and looked at him. “I told you how important this is to me. To my career.”
“Sunshine, don’t be stupid. This is your life we’re talking about.”
“Yes, it is.” She went back to searching the desk. “And I’m not going to let some sick psycho screw up my one shot at what I want. Believe me, if that weirdo comes near me today, I’ll make sure it’s the last mistake he ever makes. I didn’t know they were after me before. Now I do and I can take care of myself.”
Angered that she would dare disregard him, Talon got up. “I’m not about to let you leave here.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, Talon. My own father doesn’t order me around. I’m a grown woman, with my own thoughts, and I will not have anyone dictate my life to me.”
“Dammit, Sunshine, be reasonable. I don’t want you hurt.”
“Why? Because you love me?”
“Yes, I do.”
They both froze as he snarled the angry words.
Her heart fluttered. She wanted to believe that. Desperately. But was it true?
“Do you really?” she asked, her voice thick and heavy.
Talon watched as she opened the velvet-lined silver chest on his desk that held the tore that was identical to his, only smaller.
A woman’s tore.
She handed him the open box. “Or is it Nynia you love?”
Talon closed his eyes, unable to bear the sight of his wife’s tore. He should have destroyed it centuries ago.
But he couldn’t.
He’d shut it away and kept it out of sight.
It had never been out of his thoughts.
Sunshine closed the box and returned it to his desk. “I have to do this. For me. I won’t live my life afraid. Camulus knows we’re together. He can take or kill me here as easily as he can in town. He’s a god, Talon. It’s not like we can hide from him.”
Talon winced as her words tore through him. In his mind, he saw his uncle cut down as he struggled to his side. Saw the killing blow that had sent his uncle to the ground before Talon could reach him.
Pain ripped through his chest. He well understood Sunshine’s need to prove herself, to have something of her own. But he couldn’t send her out there alone, unprotected.
Besides, he needed his full strength to fight and protect her, which meant he needed more rest. If he went out tonight while he was exhausted, he could get them both killed.
If he returned to bed while she was here, he had little doubt that she would sneak out of the cabin the minute he closed his eyes.