"Yeah. That’s what the other woman called him."
"Sonofa…" Stryker paced his office as his mind whirled with the new information. Cael’s wife, Amaranda, had been an Apollite in Seattle. He still wasn’t sure how a clan of Apollites had come to not only house, but protect a Dark-Hunter, yet they had. A few years ago an attack on them had left Cael and his bride being converted to Daimons.
No one had heard anything from them since.
Why were they here? Why now? Had they discovered his trick with the demon blood? Or was something else keeping them alive? He couldn’t imagine a Dark-Hunter taking a human life even for pure survival reasons….
Perhaps the demon essence Lazaros had sensed inside them was the same trick he and his army were now using to empower their Daimon existence. What would that blood do to a Dark-Hunter?
It was a most intriguing possibility.
"Did he say anything to you?" Stryker asked him.
"Basically he told me to die quietly. Kind of like you."
Stryker grimaced at the fear he heard in Lazaros’s tone. This couldn’t be good. Not for them. He refused to believe it was a coincidence. He didn’t believe in those.
Everything happened for a reason. Everything. Which made him wonder if Cael had known Stryker would send Lazaros for Samia. Or was Cael one of her protectors too?
He narrowed his speculative gaze on the demon. "Did you tell them anything?"
By the look on Lazaros’s face it was obvious the demon wanted to leave his guts on the floor. Too bad he lacked the skills or the courage to try. Stryker was always up for a good fight. "Of course not."
"Good." He didn’t have to kill the bastard after all. "Now be an obedient little demon. Go away and let me think."
Lazaros stepped toward the door, then stopped. "I’m not done with her, Stryker. She killed my family and now that you’ve freed me, I won’t rest until I hold her heart in my fist."
That was why Stryker had descended into his granduncle Hades’s domain. Once he’d investigated Samia’s past, he’d uncovered the origins of her sister’s pact and the demon she’d made it with. Stupid Samia had assumed it was Daimons who’d killed her husband and child.
Daimons couldn’t make deals of that nature. Only the gods and demigods could, and Samia was lucky Artemis had covered for her after Sam had slaughtered Lazaros’s brother. But for that one rare act of altruism on Artemis’s part, Samia would have been killed immediately. Instead, Artemis had locked Lazaros in Tartarus to keep him away from her pet Amazon warrior.
Now Stryker held the key to the demon demigod’s existence.
"Fine. Just make sure you pull her to me before you kill her. My needs take precedence over yours and if you fail me in this, I swear what I do to you will make Prometheus’s punishment look like a joyride at the beach."
Samia was his key to killing his father and owning the world. Nothing was going to stop him this time.
Fang flashed them into a wickedly dark corridor. But for Dev’s honed vision, he’d be blind. He put his hand on Dev’s shoulder to keep him from walking on. "Remember, Bear, let me do the talking. You don’t speak unless Thorn asks you something."
Dev shrugged his touch away. He didn’t know who Thorn was–Fang had refused to elaborate. Honestly, he didn’t care. All that mattered was the fact that this…person had pulled Sam into custody and that alone warranted his death. "I don’t play this cryptic shit, Wolf."
"And I don’t want to clean up your entrails. Nor do I want to tell Aimee her beloved older brother was splintered on the floor. Comprende?"
"I don’t think you do. Thorn is evil incarnate. Think Savitar on steroids."
That managed to give Dev pause. Savitar oversaw the Omegrion council that all Were-Hunters answered to. No one knew who or what he was. Only that he was about as close to omnipotent as a being could get and anyone who crossed him didn’t live long enough to regret it.
In fact, Savitar had extinguished one entire Were-Hunter species when they’d dabbled in something that irritated him. Since then, everyone tried to give him a wide berth.
"Got it. Thorn rules here. Keep my mouth shut."
Inclining his head to him, Fang stepped away to lead him down that dark, eerie hallway that seemed to stretch on forever. There was no light at all. Yet Fang navigated the hall like a pro. It wasn’t until they approached a door that Dev could see the firelight dancing through the crack at the bottom.
Dev still wasn’t sure where here was. One minute they’d been in the freezer while Fang "talked" to his people, and the next Fang had teleported him into some lightless void that reminded him of the Nether Realm.
Or a bad Night Gallery episode.
Yet it wasn’t that either. This was almost like a vacuum…like space without stars.
Pulling him to a stop, Fang knocked on the door. The sound echoed around them. A heartbeat later, a light came out of the ceiling to illuminate the door so that Dev could see the medieval construction that even had rivets around the outer side of the door. The steel at eye level swirled and formed the face of a demon woman complete with fangs and blazing red eyes.
She scanned them before she spoke. "The master is busy."
Fang didn’t hesitate. "I need to see him."
She hissed, baring her fangs.
"Let me pass, Shara. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important."
She tsked at him. "You’re brave, Wolf. Very brave. Or perhaps stupid is a better term. Of all beings who serve here, you should know better." She melted back into the door.
"Who is she?" Dev asked Fang.
Before he could answer, the door opened slowly on a well-oiled hinge that made not even a whisper of a sound.
Light spilled into the hall, hurting his eyes until they adjusted.
The demon was now a beautiful, slender woman around the age of twenty-two. With pointed ears and short black hair, she was dressed in a sheer red sheath that left every part of her body exposed to them.
Licking her lips, she gave Dev a hot once-over that left him strangely cold. He wasn’t interested in any woman right now, except a certain Amazon.
She closed the door and led them from the small spartan antechamber into a dark room where ancient weapons hung as decoration on the walls. Swords, axes, spears…Some others that Dev couldn’t identify. There was a huge, ornately carved desk in one corner with an overstuffed chair. The carvings were so intricate that it looked like the gargoyles on it would come to life any second and attack.
Fang led him to a single chair…or throne would be a more appropriate term. Like the desk, it was huge and carved with the heads of dragons. As they drew nearer, the carvings opened their eyes to show yellow and red pupils that focused on them with interest.
One of the dragons let loose a belch of fire, stopping Fang from getting any closer.
Dev frowned at the man who sat there. Impeccably dressed in a black silk and wool suit, he’d left the top button of his black shirt open. Dev saw a hint of a scar that ran across his collarbone where it appeared someone had once tried to cut his throat.
His features were so perfect, he would have looked feminine but for the lethal aura of I’m-planning-on-picking-my-teeth-with-your-spine. He narrowed a cold dark stare on Fang, then shifted it to Dev. "You can’t have her."
"Excuse me?" Dev asked in an offended tone.
He swept a dismissive gaze over Dev. "If I let you have Samia, Lazaros will kill her. Painfully. Believe me, I’m doing both of you a favor by keeping her here."
Dev shook his head. "I can protect her."
"And you’re doing such an admirable job of it too. If I were Samia, I’d be tickled pink by your care." That tone was so patronizing that it took all of Dev’s control not to go for his throat.
Thorn ignored Dev’s anger as he continued speaking. "Arrogance…how I love the sound of rampant stupidity after a long, dreary day." He held his goblet up and the female demon came forward to fill it with something that looked more like blood than wine. "Tell your bear, Wolf, that he’s not equipped to deal with our enemies."
"I tried, Thorn. He won’t listen."
"Pity they never do. At least not until it’s too late to do anything more than scrape up their remains." Thorn sipped his drink as his eyes changed from a freakish luminescent green to a bright yellow which matched some of the dragon eyes that continued to stare at them. "You know the problem with seeing the future?"
"You run out of enough banks to hold all your lottery winnings?"
Thorn gave a short, dry laugh at Dev’s sarcasm even as Fang sucked his breath in sharply and gave him a warning glare. "You can’t circumvent free will. That is the curse of your existence."
Dev put his hands on his hips. "Funny, I always thought of free will as a gift."
"You would. Just goes to show exactly how naive you are."
Naive maybe, but right now this ass**le was really starting to piss him off with his B-grade movie theatrics and warnings. It was all he could do not to leap at his throat.
As if sensing his intent, Fang put a hand on his shoulder to remind him that reserve was the key to getting what he wanted out of Thorn. If he was like Savitar, overt aggression might get Sam killed.
For her and her alone, he’d corral his temper.
Fang cleared his throat. "You once told me that there’s more than one kind of death."
Thorn savored a deep draught before he answered. "There is indeed."
"Then what kind of death will they have?"
One corner of Thorn’s mouth quirked up. "You know I can’t answer that, Wolf. Well…I could, but it might change things and that might suck. Might not, but who am I to tamper with such odds?" He looked over his shoulder. "Shara? Be a dear and fetch our latest two guests here at the Hotel California."
"You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…." The reference to the old seventies Eagles song wasn’t lost on Dev.
What is his deal? Dev mouthed to Fang.
Fang’s eyes widened in warning for him to behave–something that was virtually impossible for someone who lived to irritate others.
Thorn rose to his feet.
Dev stepped back, not out of fear, but awe. There was a solid aura about him that was ancient and lethal. Something that said, in spite of his impeccable manners and speech, he was much more at home slashing throats than chatting. And for some reason, Dev had an image of him engulfed by flames.
Thorn glanced to Dev. "Forgive my rudeness. I’d offer you both something to drink, but trust me, you don’t want any of what I have. Ever."
Okay…Nice boss, Fang. This guy was not Acheron. He was spooky as shit and definitely out to lunch. Dev had never thought he’d ever meet someone who could make Savitar or Ash appear normal, but Thorn…
Gods help them if the two of them ever combined forces.
And it made him wonder what Thorn might have done with Sam. Was she safe?
I haven’t harmed her. Scout’s honor.
He tensed at the sound of Thorn’s voice in his head. He locked gazes to find a knowing look on Thorn’s face.
Yes, Bear, I hear all, and Sam is quite safe.
Dev ground his teeth, reminding himself to keep his thoughts on the weather and not the freaky power of Thorn.
A few seconds later, Shara returned with…Dev wasn’t sure what the two of them were. On first impression, they appeared to be Daimons, but he was picking up on something else. Another layer of powers that made no sense whatsoever.
Thorn indicated them with his goblet. "Amaranda. Cael. Meet Fang, who is one of your colleagues, and his brother-in-law Dev."
Amaranda was a stunning creature. In a pale pink summer dress, her tawny skin belied her nocturnal race. And with a feral aura that would give Thorn’s a run for his money, Cael was dressed in a black vest with no shirt underneath and a pair of ragged jeans.
Dev’s gaze went straight to the bow-and-arrow mark on Cael’s exposed hip. "You’re a Dark-Hunter?"
Cael flashed him a fanged grin. "Sort of."
Uh-huh…Dev narrowed his gaze on him as all of his defenses ran into high gear. "What’s sort of a Dark-Hunter?"
Thorn gave an evil laugh before he explained. "A Dark-Hunter who foolishly falls in love with an Apollite who turns him into a Daimon to save his life." He turned to Fang. "See why I tried to tell you love is far more sinister than anything I could ever do? I’m convinced it’s why Acheron’s wedding ring is black with skulls and crossbones on it." He paused to give Fang a pointed stare. "But you didn’t listen to me either." He indicated Amaranda and Cael with a jerk of his chin. "I couldn’t stand to see such warriors wasted so I took them under my wing."
Dev had a feeling that being taken under Thorn’s wing was only slightly better than being run down by a Mack truck. And then backed up over just for good measure. "How so?"
"He saved us," Amaranda said. "We were on the run from my people and Cael’s."
Dev gave her a droll stare. "Ya think? You live on human souls and people tend to get a little pissed off about it. Damn rotten bastards. Can’t imagine why that would be a bad thing."
Cael tensed as if he wanted to slug Dev for daring to use sarcasm against his woman. "Actually we don’t touch humans and never have. We feed on corrupt demons. They’re much more palatable to all involved. Less calories. More filling."