Now the brothers were reunited.
Miracles did happen. The people in this room were living proof.
"To family," Tabitha said, holding up her glass. "And to those we’ve lost, but who we still hold in our hearts, I’d like to propose a moment of silence for them…"
Everyone bowed their heads in respect.
But it wasn’t sadness Kyrian felt, it was gratitude that all of them were here tonight, alive and well.
He lifted his head at the same time Talon and Sunshine did. Kyrian smiled at them, remembering a time when he and Talon had been the only two Dark-Hunters to patrol New Orleans. Boy, how things had changed from that fateful day when he’d awakened handcuffed to his wife, Amanda.
And thank the gods for it.
Nick stepped back from the window as he watched the group inside lifting their heads from prayer. He placed his hand against the window and remembered Christmases past when he and his mother had been in Kyrian’s house, celebrating.
Every year his mother had demanded he attend midnight mass with her. Every year until she’d been brutally murdered.
Now Nick had no one.
You could tell them. Kyrian and Amanda would welcome him back. But he couldn’t allow them to. He’d sold his soul to the devil for vengeance and whatever he saw, Stryker saw.
And Stryker wanted Kyrian’s daughter.
No matter how much Nick might hate Acheron for allowing his mother to die, he couldn’t let Kyrian suffer. He owed Kyrian too much for that.
Closing his eyes, Nick turned away from them and pulled his collar up higher on his neck to block the chill. There really should be some kind of do-over for mistakes. But there wasn’t. Life was cold, and it was brutal.
For him, there could never be forgiveness. There was no way back to the life he’d once had.
No way back to the mother he’d once loved more than his own life. He’d screwed everything up royally.
His heart broken, Nick left Kyrian’s home and crossed the street to where he’d parked his Jag. After getting inside, Nick paused to stare at Kyrian’s house. The red and white lights sparkled in the night and he could hear the laughter that came from the party inside.
"Merry Christmas," he breathed before he started his car and drove it over to the St. Louis Cemetery on Basin Street. He parked at the gas station across from it and crossed the empty street until he was at the locked gates. Nick looked to his right and then his left before he leapt to the top of the ten-foot wall and then jumped to the ground inside.
It was pitch black, but as a Dark-Hunter, he could see better at night than in full daylight. He ignored the hungry souls that reached out for him as he made his way to his mother’s tomb. Because of his ties to Stryker, he was immune from possession by their souls.
Nick parted his coat and pulled out the roses he’d brought for her. Shattered by the tragedy of his life, he knelt down before her tomb and placed his forehead against the cold stone. "I miss you, Mom. And I’m sorry."
And there in the darkness for the merest sliver of a moment, he thought he could feel her presence. But he knew better. She was as lost as he was.
Falling to his knees, Nick curled up against the tomb and squeezed his eyes shut as overwhelming grief racked him.
Stryker rolled his eyes as he saw the image of Nick at his mother’s grave in his mind. "Why did I make him my servant again?"
His sister, Satara, looked up from her corner. "What?"
Stryker sighed as he shifted himself on his throne. "Your pet. He’s whining again. Go get him."
Satara let out a loud sound of disgust. "Why don’t you kill him already?"
Stryker considered it. "Because he will be my tool to kill Acheron. Trust me."
"Trust you…" She blew him a raspberry. She lifted her hand to form a ball so that she could see Nick. "Oh, just leave him. Let him wallow in his grief. The more he feels her loss, the better for us."
Perhaps his sister was right.
Even so, watching Nick with his mother reminded Stryker of the loss he’d once suffered, and it pained him to see Nick grieve like that. But more than his loss, he thought of his own son.
The pain of his son’s death still burned deep inside him, and it made him hate the goddess he served who had demanded he kill his own child.
"One day, Apollymi, I will serve to you what you have served to me." And he would laugh while she cried over the death of her precious Acheron.
Ash smiled as he watched his daughter, Simi, and her sister, Xirena, opening presents. Dressed in a Goth Santa’s Helper dress, Simi had red and black hair. Her demon’s wings were a matching red, and they fluttered while she unwrapped a large box.
Xirena’s hair was blond, and she was dressed in dark green and gold.
Suddenly, Simi squealed in delight. "BE-Goth dolls!" She beamed at Acheron as she ripped open the box for her Slayer Storm doll and set it next to her Pandora doll. "Akri, you spoil your Simi and she loves her akri. Thank you!"
Xirena let out a similar noise as she opened her gifts to find a collection of Voodoo Babies. She turned to Ash’s servant, Alexion. "Oh akri, you know what your demon likes. Thank you."
Danger leaned against Ash’s back to whisper up in his ear. "What do you think they’ll do when they open their Tokidoki bags?"
A shrill, piercing scream answered her question. Ash actually cringed. "I think I’ve lost all hearing."
Alexion snorted. "I think we just lost some glass in the windows."
Danger rolled her eyes at her husband before she left Ash’s side to put her arm around Alexion’s waist. "Shouldn’t you see about replacing it then?"
"I don’t-" Alexion paused as if he suddenly caught her meaning. "Um, yeah, I think I should." He looked at Ash. "If you’ll excuse me…"
Ash didn’t have time to answer before the two of them vanished.
Simi frowned. "Where are they going?"
"Sweaty human sex," Xirena answered before she ate one of the plastic qees for her handbag.
Ash cringed at Xirena’s comment which was most likely true. "Xirena, do you mind?"
She looked up innocently. "What? It’s what they’re going to do. It’s what they always do. All that huffing and-"
Simi let out a long-suffering sigh as she caught her sister’s attention. "It’s not you, Xirena. Akri afraid his Simi is going to find another human to have sex with."
Xirena made a strange demon noise. "I keep telling you, you need to let me introduce you to some of my demon friends. They have a lot more stamina than them humans do. They can go for days without pausing. And they’re so much better-looking. No man turns blue when-"
Ash stood up. "Lady-demons? Do you mind? I’d really like to change this subject."
Simi huffed. "Listen to him. You’d think akri had never had sex before the way he carries on, which the Simi knows is definitely not true. Akri has more sex than any ten sweaty humans you can name."
"Simi! Mercy, please." The last thing he wanted was to have open sex talks with his daughter.
Ash paused as a sudden idea hit him. He snapped his fingers. QVC came onto the TV, and the demons immediately flashed themselves to the monitors.
Thank the gods he knew at least one thing that could distract them. He let out a relieved breath as they stretched out on the floor and manifested cell phones so they could begin ordering.
"Having demon troubles?"
Ash froze as he heard his brother’s voice behind him. Alexion had warned him that he’d allowed Styxx to cross over to their side of Katoteros for the holiday.
Even so, it irked him.
Ash turned around to face the one person who was an almost-identical copy to him. The only difference was their eyes. Styxx’s were a vibrant blue while Ash’s were a swirling silver. "I thought you’d pass on this. It’s not exactly your holiday."
Styxx looked at the Christmas tree in the corner of Ash’s throne room-half the ornaments were missing since the demons had decided to snack on them earlier in the evening. "Never thought I’d see something like that in the hall of the Atlantean gods. You think a lot of your family, don’t you?"
Ash hesitated. As a human, he’d once begged his brother to love him. At the very least, acknowledge him as family. And every time he’d reached out for Styxx, Styxx had brutally slapped him away.
Now the tables were turned, and Styxx was the one reaching for him. His instinct was to return the favor.
But Ash refused to be like that… at least today.
"It took me a long time to have a family that would claim me."
Styxx sighed. "I’m never going to be able to prove myself to you, am I?"
"How many times have you tried to kill me now?"
Styxx placed his hand on Ash’s shoulder and gave him a sincere stare. "I’ve apologized for that."
"And I’ve accepted your apology."
"But you don’t trust me."
Styxx looked away as he removed his hand from Ash’s shoulder, and Ash felt sorry for the hurt in his brother’s gaze. He wanted to trust his brother, but it wasn’t that simple. Centuries of betrayal separated them.
"Look, we’re taking this slowly, Styxx. Give me time."
Styxx nodded. "At least you’re not throwing me out on the street nak*d, huh?"
Ash went ramrod-stiff at the callous words and the memory that tore through him of the day Styxx and their father had done that to him.
Styxx looked horrified as he realized what he’d inadvertently said. "Oh gods, Acheron. I forgot. I’m so sorry."
That was why there was still a wedge between them. Styxx had forgotten an event that had left an indelible scar on Ash’s soul. It was one of abject humiliation and bitterness.
And it made Ash want to put his brother through the wall behind him. He had the powers to do it without making a move.
But he refrained for the time being. "What are you doing here, Styxx?"
"I don’t like being alone all the time."
When Ash spoke, he made sure there was no emotion whatsoever in his voice. "Yeah, it really sucks to be alone, especially on days of celebration."
Styxx flinched. "I was stupid, Acheron. Please, give me another chance."
"You want me to throw him out?"
Ash looked past Styxx’s shoulder to see Urian approaching them. Tall and lithe, Urian had white blond hair that he normally wore tied back in a queue. Since the day Urian’s father, Stryker, had cut his throat and left him for dead, Urian had lived here with Ash, Simi, and Alexion.
"It’s all right, Urian. I have it."
"You sure? It’s been a whole day since I last killed someone, and I’m getting antsy."
Styxx turned a menacing glare on him. "You can’t kill me. If you do, Acheron dies."
Urian tsked. "Nice try, but I know better. The tie only works in reverse. I kill Ash, you die. I kill you, it’s just another day to rejoice."
Ash shook his head. "I thought you were spending the holiday with Wulf and Cassandra."
"I was, but then Cassandra got all weepy-eyed over the holiday and I couldn’t take it."
In spite of his harsh words, Ash felt the grief Urian still carried over his dead wife, Phoebe. She’d been Cassandra’s sister, and no doubt that was what had made Cassandra so sad on this day.
"It’s still your day off."
Urian shrugged. "I hate days off. They’re such a waste. Hell, there aren’t even any Daimons out and about. They’re all holed up as if there’s some kind of truce or something."
"Don’t worry. They’ll be out in force for New Year’s."
Urian looked hopeful. "Flash me forward in time, Ash. I want to start cleaning house."
"You know I can’t do that."
Urian scoffed. "You mean you won’t. We both know you can."
"Just because you can-"
"Doesn’t mean you should." Urian shook his head. "I really wish you’d get another saying. That one is lame." Urian swaggered over to the demons and plopped down on the floor between them. "Any chance we can watch a horror movie?"
Simi lifted her head to look at him. "Is there any where the demons win?"
"Then pooh on them. I’d rather shop."
Urian grimaced. "I’d rather have my eyes gouged out."
Simi arched a brow. "If I do that, can the Simi eat them?"
Xirena pulled a bottle of barbecue sauce out of her purse. "You have to share if you do."
Urian whimpered in feigned pain.
Ash paid them no attention as he started away from Styxx.
Styxx took his arm and pulled him to a stop. "You can’t ignore me forever, brother."
"True," Ash agreed. "But I can ignore you for now." And with that, he snapped his fingers and left Katoteros to visit Olympus.
Normally, he’d be like Urian and would rather have his eyes gouged out than be here. Today, however, it was different.
He opened the doors from the balcony of Artemis’s temple to find his daughter, Kat, visiting her mother in the main room. Kat sat on the cushioned throne with her long, blond hair gleaming. Her husband, Sin, stood behind her with one hand possessively on her shoulder while Artemis glared at him. Her long, wavy red hair fell around her body, and Ash could tell she was one step away from blasting Sin out of her temple.