Ravyn dropped his car into park as Otto pulled his Jaguar to a stop beside them. "The artist would be Cael. The rude people would be the Apollites who own this place."
"Are you serious?"
"Isn’t that kind of like playing with your food or something?"
"Something. Definitely something. But Cael likes it here and the Apollites seem to tolerate him. Who am I to question it?"
Ravyn got out of the car and took a minute to get his bearings while Otto joined them. The music from the club was loud and thumping. Susan tilted her head, it was Black Eyed Peas with "Don’t Phunk with My Heart."
"Back door again?" Susan asked.
Ravyn shook his head. "You still got that sword?"
"Keep it close. We’re walking into the dragon’s den here and I don’t know what we’re going to find." He exchanged a warning look with Otto. "Any trouble breaks out, I want the two of you to run for the door, and make sure Susan is with you."
Otto gave him a vicious glare that would make a serial killer proud. "No offense, I don’t run."
"Neither do I," Susan said firmly.
Leo held his hand up. "For the record, I do."
When Otto scowled at him, Leo rolled his eyes. "It was a joke, Carvalleti. Get a sense of humor."
"I’d really rather not, and don’t pull a Gilligan on me. I tend to shoot Gilligans."
Leo flipped him off. "Don’t worry. I’m in for the long haul."
Ravyn made a sound of disgust. "Fine. Your deaths are your own business. Just remember I told you how not to be a Gilligan." He tucked his knife into his pants at the small of his back.
They walked around to the front. The brick building was just over a hundred years old. Painted baby blue with black windows that had been decorated with vintage hippie symbols, it looked like a million other college clubs. This early, it wasn’t particularly busy as people milled around the front, chatting and panhandling.
There was a cafe and bookstore, Ravenna Third Place Books and Honey Bear Bakery, next door that had a much larger crowd of people. Unlike the club, it was bright and inviting. There was an air of sex and seediness that clung to the Happy Hunting Ground, but then maybe that was what appealed to the regulars.
Trying not to think about how many people had lost their lives because they’d foolishly ventured here for a drink with their friends or a one-night stand, Ravyn opened the door of the club and came face-to-face with a huge Apollite who was waiting in a small foyer area to check IDs. He stood at least six foot seven and had to weigh a minimum of three hundred pounds. It wasn’t often he had to look up at anyone.
Damn. As a rule, Apollites were taller than most humans, but due to their liquid diet, they were usually lean. The Apollites here could easily rent this guy out as a major bruiser…
Or a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float-except the sunlight would kill him. Then again, float and fireworks. You couldn’t beat that.
The Apollite tensed as soon as he saw them. "What do you want here, Dark-Hunter?"
"Just came to see a friend. "
The Apollite moved to block his access to the club. "You ain’t got no friends here."
Ravyn gave him a withering stare. "I better have at least one."
Still the Apollite wouldn’t let him pass. "Then you can call him on the phone. Your kind isn’t welcome here."
"Does that go for Cael, too?"
The Apollite’s face turned to stone. "He’s none of your business. Now leave."
Ravyn started past him only to have the Apollite take a swing. He ducked the blow, then added one of his own. The Apollite staggered back.
Out of nowhere three more Apollites appeared. They formed a line between him and the second door that led to the club. "You’re not wanted here, Dark-Hunter. Go home."
"Not until I see Cael."
Otto swung open a butterfly knife. "You know, you guys have a pathetically short life. It’d be a shame to lose even one day of it."
"Put that away!" an extremely attractive blond woman said as she came around the bouncers. She was dressed in a lime green go-go outfit, complete with white vinyl ankle boots and white lipstick. Unlike the men, she didn’t bother to hide her fangs while she spoke. "No weapons are tolerated in this club, ever."
She gave Otto, Leo, Susan, and Ravyn a scathing glare. "Why are you here?"
Ravyn took a deep breath for patience. "I’m really getting tired of saying this. I want to see Cael and if I have to say that one more time, I’m going to start Daimon-killing practice on the whole lot of you."
The Apollite woman crossed her arms over her chest. "I’m sure he doesn’t want to see you."
Otto narrowed his gaze on the woman. "I think he’s already dead, Ravyn."
"He’s not dead," the woman said, her tone offended. "But you’ve got no business here with him. He didn’t put you on the guest list and the last time we checked, he wasn’t exactly social with the lot of you. How do we know you’re friends of his?"
Ravyn gave her a toxic look of his own. "Enemies don’t come in the front door, baby."
The bruiser said something to her in Apollite. She looked a little nervous as she glanced at Ravyn. "Smart enemies might. For all I know, you’re not as dumb as you appear. Maybe you’re here to kill Cael."
Ravyn was through playing this shit with her. "There you would be wrong. And unless you want this club to go up in flames tonight, I suggest you let us pass."
She stiffened at his threat. "You can’t harm us, it’s against the code. No Dark-Hunter is ever allowed to harm an Apollite until we turn Daimon."
"Fuck the code," he said between clenched teeth. "If my friend is dead, I honor nothing but that which gave birth to me… vengeance."
The man spoke to her again.
She hesitated before she answered him. Her eyes worried, she looked back at Ravyn. "You have fifteen minutes with him before you drain his powers. After that, I want you gone."
To his complete shock, the Apollites actually broke apart to let them pass.
Expecting a trap, Ravyn made sure that Susan was between him and Otto while Leo pulled up the rear as they followed the woman through the club, which actually had a fairly large crowd, dancing to the hip-hop music. Strobe lights flashed off three different mirrored balls that spun high above them. To the sides were tables that were covered with black tablecloths that held Apollite and hippie symbols painted in neon colors. Black lights helped the colors to leap out in the darkness. They also served a dual purpose of making Ravyn’s eyes ache.
The motion and lights would weaken a Dark-Hunter while leaving Daimons and Apollites unaffected. Smart thinking on their part.
The woman took them past the bar area, through an industrial kitchen, to a narrow door that opened onto a stairway for the basement.
She held it open with one arm and stood back for them to enter without her. "His room is the last one on the left."
Ravyn went down first.
"You think this is a trap?" Susan asked after the woman shut the door behind them. The light in the basement was very faint, but it actually felt good to his eyes after the hostile lighting above. Here, he could see perfectly.
"At this point," Ravyn said in all seriousness, "nothing would surprise me."
Ravyn paused as he approached the door that the woman had said led to Cael’s room. He could hear someone grunting as if in severe pain, then suddenly, Cael let out an anguished cry.
His heart hammering, Ravyn kicked open the door and then completely reevaluated his prior comment about surprise.
This… this shocked the total hell out of him.
His jaw dropping, Ravyn stood in the doorway in total stupefaction as he saw Cael entwined on his bed with an Apollite woman. Completely flagrante delicto. "I so did not need to see that hairy full moon tonight," Ravyn said as he turned around to give them his back. "Gawd, I think I’ve gone blind."
Susan gasped as Otto and Leo laughed, then stepped back into the hallway, out of sight range for the nak*d couple.
Cael snarled a fetid curse. "What the hell is this shit?" he demanded angrily in a thick brogue that was an odd Scot-Irish mix. Ravyn could hear the two of them shuffling about on the bed, no doubt trying to cover themselves. "And for the record, I’m not the one with the hairy arse. That would be you. Don’t you people knock?"
"Usually yes," Ravyn said snidely. "But not when I think you’re being attacked."
"I was being attacked… in a most desirable way. You should try it once in a while, Rave, and maybe you wouldn’t be such a bastard."
Ravyn rolled his eyes. "I don’t know. You’re the one who seems obsessed with my hairy ass. What’s that say about you, bud?"
A shoe struck the wall not far from Ravyn’s head. "Your aim’s off, Cael."
"That wasn’t Cael," a soft, venomous voice said in an agitated tone. "And next time I won’t miss."
Before Ravyn could comment, Cael cleared his throat. "Why are you here anyway, Catboy?"
"That’s Catman to you, and I need a word with you."
Cael let out an aggravated sigh. "Wait outside while Amaranda and I get dressed."
Ravyn cast a glance over his shoulder to see Cael and Amaranda wrapped in a sheet before he joined the others in the hallway and shut the door.
"I think I’ll go wait upstairs," Leo said, heading down the hallway. "Call me if you need any more help busting up horny couples."
"Shut up, Leo," Ravyn snarled. "You’re not so necessary to my world that you can lip off and not get hurt."
"Yeah, yeah," he said dismissively as he headed back up the stairs and disappeared from sight.
"Well, that was certainly embarrassing," Susan said in a tone that should be entered in the Sarcastic Hall of Fame. Looking up at him with those clear blue eyes, she folded her arms over her chest. "Now that I’ve seen the mating rituals of the Dark-Hunters up close and personal, got any more fun places to take me tonight? You know, I haven’t been this embarrassed since the elastic broke in my gym shorts in high school and I learned the hard way that I had a hole in the back of my panties."
And for some reason that made no sense whatsoever to him, the thought of her butt peeking out from a tear in her panties actually turned him on… yeah, he was losing it.
Before he could comment on her causticity, the door opened to show Cael wearing nothing but a red and black plaid kilt wrapped low around his lean hips. Raking his hands through his wavy black hair to settle it into place, he glared at them before he wrapped his arms around his bare chest, which bore a number of red scratches. "To what do I owe this extreme displeasure and interruption? The answer better be ‘Armageddon’ if you want to live."
Susan tried not to gawk, but it was hard. Like Ravyn, the man had the build of a taut gymnast… with a full eight-pack of abs. He, too, had a bow and arrow tattoo, only his was low on his left hip while another tattoo of a heart pierced by a dagger went down one arm. Vines rose up from it to twine over one shoulder and down to his right pecs. His thick black hair fell to his shoulders in waves of masculine perfection. At least one day of beard covered his handsome face, and he had dark eyes ringed by eyelashes so long, they should be illegal.
Ravyn had a tic in his jaw as he faced his friend. "Close. I came to tell you that the Apollites are going to try and kill you."
Cael gave an evil smirk at that. "You’re too late. Amaranda’s been trying all day, but I won’t go down." He wagged his eyebrows.
Susan cringed at his bad double entendre.
Ravyn’s nostrils flared as he directed a heated glare toward the closed door. "This isn’t a joke, Cael. This is serious. I can’t believe you’re shacked up, shagging the enemy. What the hell are you thinking?"
All the humor fled Cael’s face as he tightened his grip on his arms. "Caution, braither. You’ll put respect in your tone when you speak of her, you ken?"
The bedroom door opened to show Amaranda. Tall and ethereally beautiful, she was the kind of woman Susan had spent her entire life envying. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on her, and it was obvious, since she wore a pair of skintight jeans that barely came up over her pubic area and a slinky red halter top that left most of her upper body bare. Her slender upper left arm was encircled by a gold snake slave bracelet that matched a pair of gold earrings, and a ruby red moon hung from the loop she had pierced in her belly button. As she turned toward Susan, she noted that Amaranda also had a small red stud in her right nostril.
Susan started to mention the fact that it was a bit nippy outside for the outfit but held her tongue. Maybe the woman would get a cold and gain some weight… At the very least, she’d cover up that perfect body so that Susan wouldn’t feel quite so inadequate.
Note to self: Start a new diet tomorrow.
Tossing her waist-length, perfectly white-blond hair over her shoulder, Amaranda glanced quickly at them before she looked up at Cael. There was no mistaking the deep, adoring love in that gaze. It was only matched by the one Cael gave her back before he smiled at her. He said something in a language Susan didn’t recognize.