Dark Bites (Page 35)

Dark Bites (Dream-Hunter #1)(35)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Strangely, he did. At least physically.

It was just after dark on Christmas Eve. The bear clan was slowly filing down the stairs and gathering into the two main parlors where dual twelve-foot-tall pines were decorated.

Gallagher stood back, watching the whole crew of Katagaria and Arcadians who made Peltier House their home, gather around for the coming celebration. The tiny bear cubs climbed over presents and tried to eat and climb up the trees while their fathers and mothers, in human form to make Gallagher feel more at home, pulled them back. Justin Portakalian came down in his panther form and picked up one of the smaller cubs by the scruff of his neck and rolled him playfully across the floor.

It was the most bizarre Christmas gathering Gallagher had ever seen in his one-hundred-plus years of living. He felt even more out of place than he had felt three days ago when he arrived. As members from The Howlers came in to join the party, Gallagher decided he needed a breath of fresh air and a moment of quiet to clear his head. He headed out into the cold dark night and drifted aimlessly through the French Quarter. Before he realized it, he was outside the St. Louis Cathedral.

It had been a long time since he’d last been in church. There were only a few people headed inside. No doubt most of the parishioners would wait until the Midnight Mass. He started to turn away, but instead found himself heading inside with the others.

The foyer was dark, but his Dark-Hunter sight saw the interior clearly and he moved toward the small font of holy water that rested on the wall to his left, just beside the church store. He blessed himself, then opened the dark wood doors that led into the cathedral. The beauty of the stained glass and statuary immediately took him back to the days of his youth.

Gallagher genuflected, then sat down on the last row. Here, he felt his Rosalie. Devout, she had never missed a Holy Day of Obligation or Feast Day. He had dutifully gone with her even though he’d hemmed and hawed about it. Ever patient, she would sit by his side, patting his arm and smiling to herself over the fact that she had gotten him to do the impossible.

“I miss you, Rose,” he breathed, his chest tight with the pain of her loss.

He wanted to stay here where he felt her, but he couldn’t. No Dark-Hunter could remain in any old church for very long before the ghosts of the past came out to possess them.

And he was too weak at this moment to fight them.

Getting up, he made his way silently out back to the font, then out to the street.

It was cool out, but nowhere near the coldness he felt inside himself. Gallagher headed down Chartres Street. He didn’t know where to go. He didn’t feel like going back to Sanctuary and there was no real need to hunt on Christmas Eve. Since most humans were at home with their families, the Daimons tended to stay in as well.

“Hel-lo!”

He paused at the familiar sing-song voice. Turning around, he found “Simi” behind him.

“Hi,” he said, half-expecting to see Ash with her.

But apparently she was out alone. Simi bounced up to him. “What’cha doing out here all alone?” she asked. “Did you forget how to find Sanctuary?”

“No. I want to be alone for a bit.”

She cocked her head and frowned. “Why? Were the bears mean to you? Mama can get a bit cranky whenever I play with the cubs. She thinks I’m going to eat one, but bleh! They’re way too hairy. Now if she’d let me skin one, I might be interested.”

He laughed in spite of himself. “Are you joking?”

“Oh no. I never joke about hairy food. It’s disgusting.” She looked up at him. “If they weren’t mean to you, then why did you leave?”

“I don’t know. I guess I didn’t feel right being there.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “What are you doing out here?”

“Not much. Akri is off with that red-headed demon so he said I could go play just so long as I don’t eat nothing not cooked by a human. But all my favorite places are closed so I thought I’d go find the bears myself and see if Jose, since he’s human, would make me up something good that wouldn’t make akri mad if I ate it.”

“Akri is Ash?”

“Yes.”

“And the red-headed demon?”

“Artemis the bitch goddess. You know her. She’s the one who stole your soul.”

“She didn’t steal it.”

Simi blew him a raspberry. “Of course she did. She steals everything.” She stood up on her tiptoes and stared into his eyes. “Hey,” she said, taking his chin in her hand so that she could move his head back and forth while she examined him. “You’re hurting in there. That would make akri very sad. He doesn’t like for his Dark-Hunters to hurt and the Simi don’t like it when akri is sad. Why are you hurt?”

“I miss my family.”

Releasing him, she nodded sympathetically. “I miss mine, too. My mama was good people. ‘Simi,’ she would say, ‘I love you.’ Akri loves me, too.”

She tilted her head down so that he could see her horns which were now covered by what appeared to be very small knitted hats. “See, akri even gave me hornay warmers so my horns wouldn’t get cold. You want some hornay warmers, too?”

This had to be the oddest conversation of his life. He didn’t know why he stayed here talking to her. Maybe it was her childlike manner. There was something very charming about her.

“I don’t have horns.”

“You want some?” she asked hopefully. “I could give you some real colorful ones. Akri has some black ones, but he doesn’t let other people see them.”

“Ash has horns?”

“Oh my, yes. They are quite lovely. Not as lovely as mine, but they are still very nice. The Simi would say she hopes you see them, but if you ever did, you’d be dead and I think the Simi would miss you. You seem very nice, too.”

Gallagher frowned as she rummaged around in her giant oversized, beaded purse. After a few seconds, she pulled out an oven mitt that looked like a fish. She handed it to him.

“That is quality. From QVC. My favorite place. Do you watch QVC?”

“No.”

“Well, you should. Akri says I watch it too much, but he never complains when I shop there. They like me, too. Put me on television and call me Miss Simi. I like that.”

He handed her the fish back.

“Oh no, that’s for you. Presents make people happy. The Simi wants you to be happy.”

Oh yeah, this was without a doubt the strangest moment of his life. Both mortal and immortal. “Thank you, Simi.”

She waved his words aside with her hand. “No need to thank me. See, that’s what families do. They take care of each other.”

His stomach tightened at her words. “I no longer have a family. I had to give them up.”

She looked at him curiously. “Of course you have a family. Everyone has family. I’m your family. Akri your family. Even that smelly old goddess is your family. She’s that creepy old aunt who comes around but nobody likes her so they make fun of her when she’s gone.”

He laughed again. “Does she know you say that about her?”

“Of course. I say it to her face all the time. That’s why akri told me to come play while he’s with her. He don’t like it when we fight.”

She took his hand into hers. “Listen and I’ll tell you what akri once told me. We have three kinds of family. Those we are born to, those who are born to us, and those we let into our hearts. I have let you into my heart so the Simi is your family and she won’t give you up. If you are sad right now, then I’m thinking your family is still in your heart, too, and they are taking up so much room that you have no room for anyone else.”

“I can’t give them up.”

“And you shouldn’t. Ever. No one should ever forget those they love. But it’s like with QVC – whenever I fill up my room with too much stuff, akri builds me another room. Somehow there’s always space for more. Your heart can always expand to take in as many people as you need it to. The people who live there, they don’t go away. You just make room for one more person and then another and another and another.”

With her arm in his, Simi walked him down the street. “Don’t you want Simi to be your family?”

He thought about her words and strange analogy.

She leaned forward and whispered. “This is the part where you say, ‘Yes, Simi, I would like to be your family.’ ’Cause if you don’t, then I’ll have to take my mitt back and barbecue you. Akri is still upset about the last Dark-Hunter I barbecued and that was… oh, a thousand or so years ago. He part elephant when it comes to remembering things. So tell me, do you want Simi to be your family?”

He smiled in spite of himself. “Yes, Simi, I would like to be your family.”

She beamed. “Good. You’re such a smart Dark-Hunter.”

Before Gallagher realized it, Simi had led him back to Sanctuary. She opened the door and stood back, waiting for him to enter. The earlier loudness was nothing like what was happening now. There were four hawks lined up on one curtain rod, dancing in time to the rocking Christmas carols. The Howlers (all in human form) were singing while Dev Peltier played the piano. A white tiger was lying on its back on the sofa while Marvin the monkey jumped up and down on its belly.

A large black bear he assumed was Aimee Peltier was feeding two baby cubs peanut butter sandwiches. A red-headed human woman with a scar on her face came up to them and grabbed Simi into a hug. “Hey little demon, where’s boss man?”

Simi shrugged. “He off attending to Lord Queen Pain-In-My-Butt. How are you, Tabitha? Is your sister and Kyrian coming?”

“No, they’ll be here tomorrow. Morning sickness hit Amanda as they were leaving, but Talon said he’d be here just as soon as he could.” The two of them drifted off into the crowd.

Gallagher stood back, watching the revelry. There were Arcadians here, Katagaria, Dark-Hunters, demons, humans, and who knew what else. By all rights none of them should get along and yet they were together tonight.

Bound by something other than blood. They were bound together by their hearts.

Colt came up to him. An Arcadian Sentinel, his job was technically to hunt and slay the Katagaria. But years ago the Peltiers had rescued and protected Colt’s mother and then raised him after her death. He was as loyal to the bear clan as any of their natural sons.

Smiling, he pulled a pineapple mitt out of his back pocket. “Man, Gallagher, you must really rate. You got one of the good fish. All I got was a lousy pineapple.”

“What, does everyone she meet get one?”

“Nope. Only family.”

Gallagher looked around at that and saw something he hadn’t noticed earlier.

Everyone there had a mitt.

UNTIL DEATH WE DO PART

Prologue

Romania, 1476

He was coming for her. She knew it. Esperetta of the house of Dracul could hear him out in the cold darkness. Unseen. Fearsome. Threatening.

And he was getting closer.

Closer.

So close, she could feel his breath on her skin. See his evil eyes as he relentlessly stalked her through the night while she ran from him, hoping to find some way to escape.

He wanted her dead.

“Esperetta…”

There was magic in that deep, sultry voice. It’d always had a way of making her weak. Of lulling her into a stupor. But she couldn’t afford that now. Not after she knew him for the monster he really was.

She stumbled through the darkness as the fog seemed to wrap itself around her, slowing her down, pulling her back toward where he waited to devour her. The cry of wolves echoed on the wind that sliced through her dirt-stained gown and cloak as if she were nak*d in the woods.

Her breathing labored and painful, she tripped and fell against a wall of solid black steel. No, not steel.

It was him.

Her hand was splayed over the frightening gold emblem on his armor of a coiled serpent that mocked her with its venom. Terrified, she looked up with a gasp into those deep, dark eyes that seemed to penetrate her. But that wasn’t what scared her. It was the fact that she was in her white burial gown. The fact that she’d clawed her way out of her own grave under the weight of the full moon to find herself alone in the church cemetery. She’d stared down at the tombstone that had held her name and death date for almost an hour before she’d found the courage to leave that place.

No longer in Moldavia as she’d been when she went to sleep, she was in a small village outside of Bucharest. In the churchyard by her father’s castle, where she’d been born. Needing to understand what had happened to her, she’d made her way toward her father’s home, only to find an even worse horror than waking in her own grave.

She’d seen her husband kill her father before her very eyes. Seen him gleefully hand her father’s head off to his Turkish enemies. Screaming, she’d run from them, out into the night.

And had run without stopping until now. Now she was in the arms of a man whose black armor was covered in her father’s blood. A man she’d sworn to love for all eternity.