Dev choked on the words he didn’t want to utter. He’d used his powers to mask his scent so that the Arcadians wouldn’t be able to track him. He’d never thought about the fact that his parents wouldn’t have been able to do so either.
His mother moved past him to look out the door. "Are they in tending horses? What keeps them?"
Dev laid his sister’s sleeping body down before he turned to face her. "They’re dead, Maman."
The look on her face emblazoned itself on his heart. It was a look of pure agony…a look Sam knew far better than she’d ever wanted to.
All the color drained from Nicolette’s cheeks. "What?"
"We were attacked and–"
She slapped him hard across his face. "You left them to die?"
Dev wiped his hand across his mouth, smearing the blood that ran from his busted lip and nose. "I protected Aimee."
Nicolette screamed out, waking up the rest of the house. Aimee went running to hide under the table while their mother seized Dev by his shirt and shoved him back against the wall. "You’re the one who wanted to go. You lured them there."
"No, Maman. I would never have gone had I known."
Still she screamed at him, accusing him of leaving them to die while he ran like a coward.
"Nicolette!" his father snapped as he pulled her away from Dev. "What’s happened?"
"My sons are dead." She gestured to Dev. "That mongrel bastard ran and left them there to die." She sneered at Dev. "You worthless human! I wish it’d been you who’d died!"
Dev sucked his breath in and held it as his father picked her up and carried her out of the room. The rest of his siblings followed, wanting to comfort their mother. They left Dev there shattered as her words echoed in his ears.
"I wish it’d been you who’d died."
It should have been me. It should have been me…. Guilt and agony ripped him apart as his tears flowed. Why had he bothered coming home? It would have been so much easier had he died with them.
Aimee came out from under the table. She licked his hand before she crawled into his lap and licked his chin. Dev held her then and let out all the pain inside him.
But it was a pain that he still carried with him and it broke Sam’s heart. His mother had never really forgiven him for that night. Yes, she’d been grieving and hurting. But for the rest of her life, he’d seen the darkness in her eyes when she’d looked at him. Had heard the sharp tone in her voice that hadn’t been there before.
It was why he’d tried so hard to please her and why he’d never left Sanctuary.
Aimee had been his tie that kept him there, and for his sister, he would do anything.
Sam wanted to weep for her bear. Dev was such a good man. Not that she’d doubted it, but now she knew his scars were every bit as harsh as hers. He blamed himself for their deaths and for tearing out his mother’s heart. Every time he’d overheard her crying over her children had been like a knife through his soul. He believed that he’d caused it all.
It was why he’d never tried to mate. He didn’t want a woman to turn on him, or worse, have her family come for his. So he’d avoided sleeping with his own kind, knowing that it was rare for a Were-Hunter to be mated to a human. Yes, it happened, but it wasn’t a common occurrence and even if it did, a human would never be able to hurt them. So he’d played those odds, even though the one thing he really wanted was a family of his own….
Sam swallowed the lump in her throat as she wished Dev was here for her to hug. She wanted to take his pain away from him and to tell him the one thing no one in his family had ever said. Not even the sister he’d risked his life for. The sister he’d hand carried through the darkness to make sure she was safe.
I’m so glad you survived.
She blinked back her tears, angered over the fact that she felt them. Tears were weakness.
They accomplished nothing.
"Why am I channeling his memories?" She couldn’t sense them at all when she was around him. So why were they here now?
And as she contemplated that, she swore she could feel Dev with her. Feel his panic that she’d been ripped out of his arms and that he hadn’t been able to stop it. Right now, he was in turmoil. Every part of him was desperate to get her back.
For that, he was willing to bust hell itself wide open if that was what it took.
Tenderness spread through her in a way it never had before. And with that warmth came an awful realization….
She was falling in love with him.
I can’t be.
But there was no denying the emotions inside her. It was a feeling she knew well and one that had filled her every day she’d been with Ioel.
There was no doubt in her mind. Because right now, when her life was in danger, she wasn’t thinking about herself. She didn’t care what they did to her. What ever it was, she’d go down swinging. What was on her mind was the fear of what her death would do to Dev.
She didn’t want to die because she had a reason to live. She didn’t want to die because it would destroy her bear….
"And that’s why you’re here."
She tensed as that disembodied male voice was back. "Excuse me?"
"You have to let Dev go."
"Because if you don’t, it will get him killed."
Dev paused in the doorway of Sanctuary’s office. His stomach clenched as it always did whenever he walked in and saw his mother’s empty desk. No one had moved anything on it. They hadn’t had the heart. Even the last pen his mother had used was right where she’d laid it by the phone. It was so eerie and as long as it stayed that way, he kept expecting to see her there, looking at him over the rim of her glasses as she waited for him to say something.
He had such mixed emotions where she was concerned. He’d loved her more than anything and yet…
She hadn’t been all that lovable. A true mother bear in every sense of the word, she’d been fierce and stern. While she could show affection–especially toward those she favored, such as Griffe, Bastien, Kyle, and Aimee–it hadn’t been easy for her. She’d expected only the best out of them and she’d been real quick to let them know when they failed her. Most of all, she’d never refrained from severely punishing any of them, including her favorites, when she thought they’d screwed up or jeopardized the family.
But that wasn’t why he was here and he was in a hurry. The only thing that needed to be on his mind right now was Sam.
He’d come here seeking Aimee. She sat at her desk along the wall just like she did every day when she did the paperwork. Like their mother, she could be pretty nasty when crossed or interrupted, but there was an innate kindness to her that took the edge off even her worst moods.
"Hey, babe," she said with a smile as she looked up and saw him. Somehow she’d always been able to tell him apart from his identical brothers. "How are you guys doing over at Club Charonte?"
"We were doing great until a demon broke in and snatched Sam out."
"Have you seen Fang? I tried to call, but it keeps going straight to voice mail." Which was what had brought him back to Sanctuary. They needed to get Fang on the demon’s trail as quickly as possible.
"He’s with Remi helping to unload a shipment into the freezer. You need me to help look for her?"
That explained the crappy phone reception. The steel of the freezer was so thick, not even a nuke would be able to penetrate it. "Thanks, but I’d rather you sit on the sidelines with this one. I don’t want to be pulling you out of another demon realm anytime soon and I’m pretty sure Fang feels the same way."
She made a sound of petty annoyance.
As he started to leave, she stopped him. "Dev?"
"You okay?" He saw the concern on her face as she studied him. "You look…strange."
Strange? He felt awful. He didn’t know why but he kept reliving the night his brothers had died. He was eaten up with that same helpless feeling and he hated it. He couldn’t stand the thought of someone he cared about being in harm’s way.
Sam’s nothing to you. Not really. They were barely more than strangers.
It didn’t feel that way. There was a part of her that lived inside of him even though he knew they could never be anything more than friends.
Maybe the occasional booty call.
Don’t go there. Especially not with his sister looking at him. That was just creepy as hell.
"I’m fine." He’d never let Aimee know the truth. Then again, he never let anyone know his emotions. He hid them behind wisecracks and sarcasm.
It was safer that way.
Closing the door, he flashed himself to the freezer where Remi and Fang were stocking meat.
Hefting a box onto a shelf, Remi curled his lip at Dev’s unexpected appearance. "It figures you’d show up after all the hard work’s done. You always had an uncanny knack for that."
Dev ignored him as he walked over to where Fang was standing on a stepladder. "Fang. I need your demon expertise."
Fang pulled back from the steak boxes he was rearranging to look down at him. "For what?"
Dev gave him a "duh" stare. "Demons, obviously."
Fang flipped him off as he came down the ladder. "Why do I live here with you people again?"
Remi snorted. "’Cause you love our sister and she won’t leave. Believe me, I know. I’ve been trying to run her off for years."
Fang shook his head at him as he turned back to Dev. "What’s going on?"
"One of the empusae took Sam and we can’t find her. I need you to tell me where to look."
Fang let out a low whistle. "An empusa isn’t an easy thing to track. Are you sure that’s what got her?"
"That’s what Chi said."
"She would know." Fang scratched his chin. "Damn. This isn’t good. Give me a minute to consult with my people and I’ll get back to you."
"Could you kind of rush it? I have a bad feeling that the empusa who took her is the same one who came here disguised as Nick. If I’m right, then he’s working with Stryker, and if he is, you can bet Sam’s not being treated well at Hotel Daimon Central."
Lazaros roared through Kalosis in his dragon form. Fury burned deep inside him as he used his powers to find Stryker, who was alone in his study in the main hall. He flew at the building’s wall without slowing. Right as he would have slammed into it, he used his powers to go through it.
The Daimon lord arched a brow as Lazaros manifested in his true demon form in front of his ornately carved desk. But other than that, he had no real reaction.
Because Lazaros, like all of the empusae who were descended from the goddess Empusa, Lazaros only had one leg in his demon form. But one leg was all he needed to kick the ass of his enemies.
And right now he wanted to drive his foot straight up Stryker’s sphincter. "Why didn’t you tell me Nick Gautier was the Malachai?"
Stryker let out a long-suffering sigh as he cupped his head in his hands and leaned back in his padded black leather chair. "What is it with all of you pansies that that one word sends you to me with your tail tucked between your legs whining about how you pissed your pants because you saw him? Yes, he’s the Malachai, so la di f**king da what?"
Lazaros moved to blast him.
Stryker caught the blast and sent it back to him tenfold with a counterblast so powerful it pinned the demon to the wall above his marble fireplace. He squeezed the power down, letting the demon squirm in agony. "Gautier isn’t the only one with talents. You’d do well to remember that I, too, have the powers of a god. And I’m really not afraid to use them."
Lazaros bellowed in rage.
"Oh shut up." Stryker used his powers to muzzle him.
At least as much as he could. The demon still grunted and growled like a caged animal.
Stryker let out a frustrated breath as he lowered the demon to the floor. "I sent you to Gautier because I knew he’d be easy to manipulate right now. His powers are growing, but still nothing compared to ours. If you weren’t such an idiot, you’d have been able to possess him like I wanted and turn the others against him."
He needed Nick on the run.
But that was the backup plan in case his primary one failed. Which it better not do.
And right now, he wanted Samia.
He glared at Lazaros. "If I release you, can you be an adult demon for five seconds?"
Lazaros returned the glare with an angry scowl.
"Didn’t think so, but I’m going to remove your gag anyway, ’cause that’s just the kind of guy I am. Don’t make me regret it. If you do, I won’t gag you next time. I’ll decapitate you."
Lazaros took a step forward, then wisely checked his stupidity. "You’re such an ass**le!"
"Goes with the whole King of the Badasses. Kind of hard to lead an army of the damned if I’m the King of Nice."
Lazaros glowered at him.
"Oh, stop wasting my time with those pathetic looks. And speaking of, what cheesy excuse do I get for why Samia isn’t with you this time?"
"I was attacked on the street by something I’ve never seen before."
Stryker scoffed. "They’re called mosquitoes. I know they’re rather large in New Orleans but–"
"Stop with the sarcasm. It was a demon mixed with the powers of a Dark-Hunter and a Daimon. What kind of Frankenmonster have you created?"
Stryker froze as that rang a very unfond bell. A bell that had managed to fall off the grid for quite a few years. Nice to know it’d finally resurfaced. "Cael?"