"What’s up?" she asked Leo as Terra left them alone.
"A lot of shit."
"Good," Susan said as she put her sack lunch on the table. "I’ll make sure and get my waders out. "
Kyl snorted as he reviewed something on his laptop.
As Susan and Ravyn sat down, the door opened to show Otto and Nick. Otto’s face was stoic, but Nick’s was angry, as if he really resented this meeting. He took a seat opposite her and folded his arms over his chest like a sullen child.
Kyl cocked a brow as he looked up from his computer. "What? Being a Dark-Hunter doesn’t agree with you?"
Nick curled his lip. "Shut up, schmuck."
"Schmuck?" Kyl was completely indignant. "What the hell happened to you, boy? I thought we were friends. Best friends."
"Kyl," Otto snapped as he sat down beside Nick. "Lay off."
Kyl held his hands up in surrender. "Whatever."
Susan looked up as the door opened again and froze with her turkey sandwich halfway to her lips. Eyes wide, she stared at a man she hadn’t seen in almost twenty years… and he hadn’t changed a bit. Seriously. Not a bit. Not a wrinkle, not a gray hair. Nothing.
Still stunningly gorgeous, he was six feet even in height with short jet-black hair that set off his Asian features to perfection.
She set her sandwich back on the table. "Sensei?"
His own mouth dropped as he met her gaze and she finally saw a set of fangs that she’d somehow failed to notice during the two years she’d trained in his studio. "Susan?"
Ravyn darted a curious gaze between them. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear she saw a hint of jealousy in those dark eyes. "You know Dragon?"
Ravyn looked less than pleased. "How well do you know him?"
"She was one of my students at the dojo," Dragon said as he smiled at her. "One of my best students, I might add."
Susan continued to stare at him in disbelief. "Wow, I can’t believe you’re here. Then again, this explains so much."
Finally relaxing, Ravyn laughed at that. "Let me guess, never a day class available, and a lot of family emergencies that had him running out at odd times?"
It was true. Dragon had been a great teacher, but he’d also had two assistants and they’d often joked that he dashed off like Superman after a criminal. Who knew how close they’d been to the truth?
Susan shook her head. "Jeez… you guys really are everywhere, aren’t you?"
"Yes," Dragon said. "Which explains why I’m here, but not how it is that you’re in our company."
"She’s a new Squire," Leo said as he sat down at the head of the table.
Coming forward, Dragon held his hand out to her. "Welcome to our world. It’s good to see you again."
She shook his hand and smiled. "You, too."
As Dragon started to take the chair beside her, Ravyn cleared his throat.
Dragon arched a single brow as he hesitated with his hand on the back of the chair. She could see his inner debate of whether to sit there and irritate Ravyn or not. Winking at her, he moved to sit on the other side of Ravyn.
"Have you known Ravyn long, Susan?" Dragon asked.
"Drop the subject, Dragon," Ravyn said as he picked the tomatoes off his sandwich.
Dragon put his hands in the pocket of his black windbreaker and cast a knowing look at them.
Susan felt the heat sting her cheeks before Dragon started chatting with Leo over the latest story in the Inquisitor about an alien baby being found in Greenland.
While they talked, Susan noticed Nick’s hand. Like Leo and the others, he had the same spiderweb tattoo. How very interesting…
The next Dark-Hunter to join them was a former Nubian priest named Menkaura. Tall and lean, his skin was a perfect shade of mocha. He wore his long black hair in braids that were tied back at the nape of his neck. But what fascinated her most was that he was dressed in black jeans and a black sleeveless vest that showed off a tattoo of the eye of Horus on his right biceps. There was also a line of tiny hieroglyphics beneath it.
"I have to know what that says," she said, indicating the tattoo.
He glanced at it before he answered, " ‘Death is a doorway. Think before you knock on it.’ "
He inclined his head to her as Jack made an aggravated noise.
"Dang, and I always thought it said something like ‘Die, Scum, Die.’ How disappointing."
By his pained expression, Susan could tell Menkaura didn’t appreciate Jack’s humor. Unlike Dragon and Ravyn, Menkaura was completely reserved and said very little. Something about him reminded her of a cobra lying in wait for its next victim.
Susan took a second to glance around at the men… "You know, I suddenly feel like I’m on that Cover Model show. Is it just me or is there some unwritten rule that says all the Dark-Hunters have to be really hot?"
Erika snorted. "C’mon, Susan, think about it. If you’re an immortal goddess and you’re putting together an army of warriors to fight the undead, are you going to fill it with slugs or with the hottest pieces of cheese you can find? Maybe I’m shallow… okay, I’m highly shallow, but in this I give Artemis two thumbs-up."
"You have a point," Susan said as she let her gaze wander over the four Dark-Hunters who were present. Then she looked at Leo. "You know, this would have made a good headline, huh? ‘Greek Goddess Commands Army of Hot Cheese.’ "
Leo flipped her off before he returned to sorting through his folder.
"Ooo," Susan said, feigning hurt. "I think I’ve been dissed by the Master of Sleaze."
Menkaura had just taken his seat when the door was suddenly thrown back.
"Dammit, Belle!" Leo snapped as he jumped completely out of his seat. "Don’t do that."
Susan had to force herself not to laugh.
"Aw, sit your ass down, Leo," Belle said in a voice that was thick with a Texas drawl before she slammed the door shut with the heel of her foot. Tall and blond and also dressed in black jeans and a black blouse, she reminded Susan of an angel… one that was chewing her gum like a cow going to town with cud. She moved forward to set two bottles of unopened tequila on the table. "Now boys and girls, let the party start."
"All right, Annie Oakley," Ravyn said in a teasing tone. "Last time you threw a party, half of Chicago burned down."
Belle narrowed her eyes playfully on him. "That was not my fault."
Ravyn leaned back in his chair and gave her a doubting stare. "Uh-huh. The least you could have done was take the blame yourself and not put it off on Mrs. O’Leary’s cow."
"Hey now, they couldn’t hang old Bessie for starting the fire." Belle moved to stand by Susan. She folded her arms over her chest as she stood there with her feet slightly apart. The stance reminded Susan of a gunfighter about to draw his gun. "You’re new. Who the hell are you?"
She glanced about nervously, but the men didn’t seem concerned at Belle’s antagonistic nature. "Susan."
"Uh-huh," Belle said in a tone that was less than impressed.
"She’s a Squire," Leo said.
"Uh-huh." Belle sized her up again. "Can you shoot a gun?"
Susan frowned at the odd question. "Yeah."
"Can you hit anything after you pull the trigger?"
"Most of the time."
"Cool." She held her hand out to her. "Welcome to our little group here."
Susan shook her hand as Belle’s entire demeanor changed over to friendly. "Thanks."
Menkaura shifted in his chair. "Belle used to travel with a Wild West show."
Belle opened the bottle nearest her with her teeth. "Yeah," she said as she pulled a small shot glass from her pocket and filled it, "and I kicked Annie Oakley’s ass in my last show, but do they ever mention that? No. I got the shaft and she got the fame. Life’s just not fair, I tell you."
Kyl opened the other bottle before he poured the tequila into the plastic cup he had before him. He held the cup up in toast to Belle before he met Susan’s gaze. "Belle shot the reporter who failed to mention her as the winner." He knocked back the drink in a single gulp.
"Yeah, but he took a shot at me first." Belle tilted her head back to empty her cup, then refilled the glass. "Not my fault he missed. I just showed him up close and personal who the better shot was…" She frowned as she set the bottle aside. "But then I probably shouldn’t have killed him ’cause then he could have fixed that article."
Leo gave her a dry look. "And you wouldn’t have become an outlaw. "
"Shut up, Leo."
Belle grabbed the chair next to Susan, spun it around, and straddled it. At the same time an unbelievably attractive woman walked in.
Susan had to keep her mouth from dropping. She’d truly never seen a more beautiful woman in her life. And she was incredibly tall… at least six foot five, with long auburn hair that was scraped back from her face to fall in a braid all the way to her thighs. Like the others, she was dressed in what must be their uniform of black clothes. Only this Dark-Hunter had on leather pants and a black brocade corset. She was also clutching a venti-sized cup of Starbucks coffee and wearing a pair of five-inch steel-spiked boots, which accounted for some of her unbelievable height.
She stopped beside Nick’s chair and took a minute to size him up. "Gautier?"
He didn’t even bother to look at her while he poured his own shot of tequila. "Hi, Zoe."
Narrowing her eyes, she reached out and tilted his head to the side so that she could see the Dark-Hunter mark that was on Nick’s face and neck. "Damn, boy, what happened? Artemis bitch slap you?"
He grabbed her wrist and glared up at her.
Zoe broke his hold as she shook her head. "Kyrian said he thought you’d gone over to the dark side, but I didn’t believe him."
Nick gulped down his tequila. "Yeah, well, I guess he isn’t as dumb as he looks."
Zoe looked surprised by the venom in Nick’s voice. She took a drink of coffee before she frowned at Susan. Zoe inclined her chin toward her. "Who’s the new chick?"
"Who’s the old bitch?" Susan asked, looking over at Leo.
"Ooo," Zoe said with an evil laugh, "snotty." Still there was respect in the woman’s eyes. "You got anything to back that up?"
Dragon gave a low laugh of his own. "Yes, she does. J trained her."
"Okay. A smart- and tough-ass. Can’t ask for better than that. I know she’s not one of us, so I take it she’s a Squire then."
"Yeah," Leo said.
Susan put her sandwich wrapper back in the sack as she looked over at Ravyn, who was watching her with a seductive gleam in his eyes. "Should I have a shirt on that says ‘New Squire’?"
"Nah," Kyl said, "it should have ‘Squirehood: what an indenture.’ "
All the Squires plus Ravyn laughed. The rest didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor about it.
After taking another swig of coffee, Zoe gave Susan a once-over that was extremely sexual. "Who does she serve?"
Erika answered. "No one. She’s Dorean."
There was no mistaking the interest in Zoe’s eyes as they lingered on Susan. "Really?"
Ravyn cleared his throat meaningfully. "You’ve already got a Squire, Zoe."
"Yeah, but I can’t stand him-he’s more woman than I am. Be nice to have an actual female Squire for a change."
Dragon snorted. "It doesn’t work like that, Zo, and you know it. You can’t have a Squire you’re sexually attracted to."
She let out an aggravated breath. "I really hate that rule," she muttered as she took a seat next to Belle and Cael joined them.
He greeted them all before he took a seat beside Leo. Unlike the others, Cael wasn’t dressed in black. He had on a pair of baggy blue jeans and a loose V-neck sweater that seemed at odds with his spiked hair. Poor Cael looked like he’d just crawled out of bed and tossed on the nearest clothes he could find.
Susan frowned as she watched him. He seemed extremely subdued, as if something had him completely preoccupied. The reporter in her was instantly intrigued.
Dragon checked his watch. "I don’t mean to be rude, but my powers are starting to wane. How much longer before we start this meeting?"
"We’re just waiting on-" Leo’s voice broke off as the door opened and a short, stout man walked in. In his mid-thirties, he was dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans. He didn’t strike her as a Dark-Hunter but rather another Squire.
His face was completely grim as he swept them with a soulful stare.
"What are you doing here, Dave?" Leo asked. "Where’s Troy?"
A tic worked in Dave’s jaw. He swallowed before he answered in a voice that was thick with grief. "Dead."
With that one word, it felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. For a full minute it was so quiet that all Susan could hear was a faint buzzing in her ears. No one moved.
Even though she didn’t know who this Dark-Hunter was, she felt the sadness of his loss. And she knew it deeply affected everyone there, especially Dave.