Wearing only a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt, he appeared immune to the cold. His shoulders were wide, his waist narrow, and there was an aura around him that said absolute killer. No fear.
Those icy blue eyes penetrated with hatred and warning. And they sent shivers over her. "This is die part where you need to run, little human. Don’t look back."
Those words angered her to the same level he appeared to operate at. She wasn’t incompetent or weak. "I’m not little." She elbowed the Daimon who was running at her in the throat before she flipped him onto the ground and lacked him.
The newcomer scoffed at her show of power. "Then let death become you." He tinned and pulled the Daimon she’d attacked off the ground. He plowed him into the wall so hard, it left a dent in the brick. The Daimon grunted and cursed.
"Open the portal," he demanded of the Daimon, whose nose and mouth were bleeding profusely.
As if in response to his words, a bright light flashed at the rear of the alley, right in a corner.
The man dropped the Daimon in his hands and headed for the light, but before he could enter, a giant, blond Daimon came out of it.
This wasn’t one of the normal Daimons she’d seen before.
Dressed in black leather, he had the aura of a trained fighter. Of someone who was used to killing and making the death as painful as possible.
Simone couldn’t move at the frightening sight. At least seven feet tall, the Daimon actually laughed and exposed his long sharp fangs at the dark-haired man an instant before he attacked him.
Fists and lacks were flying faster than she could follow. Apparently no braver than schoolgirls, the other three Daimons ran toward the sheet to get away from the combatants.
Simone stumbled away as the Daimon knocked the man against the wall. The man let out a huff as he collided with the stone. The Daimon landed a punch against his jaw so solid that she could feel it herself.
The man took it with a grimace before he head-butted the Daimon, who staggered back. But the Daimon didn’t go far before he reached into his coat and pulled out a large gold bracelet. He snapped it around the man’s wrist.
The man hissed as if the bracelet burned his skin. The Daimon kicked him back, then turned to her.
This would be a good line to take the man’s advice and run like hell.
Simone didn’t know what the Daimon intended, but whatever it was;, it boded rotten for her. She ran for the street. The Daimon caught her and slung her to the ground. She scrambled to get away, but he was inhumanly strong and much faster than she was.
He grabbed her arm and shoved her over onto her back. She tried to lack him. It didn’t work. He pushed her sleeve back to expose her forearm.
Rather than bite her, he snapped another bracelet onto her wrist. Pain tore through her arm with such ferocity that she wouldn’t have been surprised to see her arm shredded.
She struggled to breathe for the pain of it.
Meanwhile the Daimon laughed at the tears that gathered in her eyes. He smiled evilly. "Time for you to die, human."
Before he could carry out his promise, Jesse picked up her toolbox and hit him across the back. The Daimon turned on him with a hiss made rabid by his razor-sharp fangs and lunged.
One heartbeat later, the stranger was there, pulling her off the ground and shoving her toward the street. "Move your ass."
"What do you think I was doing?"
"Picking your nose." He paused to sling his hand out at the Daimon after them. The leather-clad Daimon recoiled as if something invisible had blasted him.
An instant later, that same invisible force slammed into her and sent her flying. She landed on the ground with a thud so hard, it knocked the wind from her lungs.
"Breathe, Sim, breathe," Jesse said as he appeared beside her. He grabbed the keys; from her pocket and put them in her hand. "Now get your butt up!" He ran to her car and opened the door for her.
Simone followed him as fast as she could. As she got in, someone shoved her from behind. She looked back to see the dark-haired stranger. He pushed her into the passenger seat and climbed into the car after her.
Even more surprising than that, he glared at Jesse, who was still outside. "Get in, ghost-boy, or get eaten. I don’t care which and I’m not waiting."
Something struck the car.
Turning to look out, Simone gasped at the sight of the leather-clad Daimon perched like a giant ornament on her white hood. He moved to punch the windshield. The man beside her gunned the engine and knocked the Daimon face first into the glass before he slammed on the brakes and sent him flying from the hood.
The man jerked the wheel and sent the car careening into traffic, over the median. Tires squealed. Cars crashed around them as horns began blaring.
Simone crossed herself and prayed as she watched headlights coming at them, fast and furious. Her hands shaking from fright, she budded herself in while Jesse screamed out like a terrified child in the backseat. As if he could die.
The man snatched the wheel an instant before they would have hit a dump truck head-on, and sent the car back into the correct lane. Still, cars around them slammed on brakes and swerved to get out of their way. "This would probably be easier if I knew how to drive, huh?"
Her eyes widened as she looked at the man beside her. "I hope you’re joking."
"Not really," he said as he clipped the fender on a parked car.
Simons didn’t know what horrified her most. The man beside her or what her insurance rates would be if he didn’t stop hitting things.
"Watch out!" she screamed as he headed for another truck. He swerved a heartbeat before it would have plowed into them.
By the time he tinned into an alley and slammed on the brakes hard enough to put a bruise on her shoulder from the seat belt, she was ready to jump out of the car and take a chance on the road rather than die in a twisted heap of burning metal.
The man turned in the seat to look at her. With near perfect features, he was ruggedly handsome. Blue eyes showed intelligence, if not kindness, He had one muscular arm braced on the dash and the other on the seat. He would be gorgeous if he wasn’t so frightening. "I have no idea what I’m doing. Given that, I think I should surrender this thing to someone who knows how to properly operate it."
Simone gulped for air as she tried to get her heart to stop pounding. She plied her grip loose from the door handle. "Who the hell are you?"
He glanced at die bracelet on his wrist, then snatched at it as if trying to jerk it off. "Xypher, and you are?"
"Pissed off. You wrecked my car, shoved me around, and are a complete and utter dickhead!"
"Dear God," he said dryly, "what a mouthful- your mom must have really wanted a son. Mind if I call you ‘Pissed’ for short? The rest of that is just too much to say every time I want your attention."
Jesse laughed from the backseat.
Simone glared at him.
Jesse at least had the good grace to look contrite. "Sorry, but you should be in my shoes. You two are hysterical."
"Careful, ghost-boy, or I’ll summon a Daimon and feed you to it."
Simone was stunned. "You can hear him?"
Xypher gave her a blank stare before he replied dryly, "Can’t you?"
"Yes. But no one else has ever heard him before."
"Guess you’re not so special after all, hull?"
She screwed her face up at him. "You are so rude."
"No shit, human." He started tearing at the bracelet with his teeth.
She cringed at the sound of enamel on metal. She hated to hear teeth scrape like that. "What are you doing?"
He let out a frustrated sigh before he went back to pulling at the bracelet. "You have no idea what happened to us just now, do you?"
"Aside from being assaulted by you and a group of the damned, is there something else I should know?"
He held her arm up to show her the bracelet that matched his. "Yeah. Since both of us are wearing these I’m going to take a wild guess that they bind us together somehow. ‘Cause, let’s face it, the Daimons don’t usually tag you before they bite. They’re not Marlin Perkins out to study us."
Simone looked down at her arm as a bad feeling went through her. "What are you saying?" She actually knew, but she wanted to hear it from him before she was willing to believe it.
"I’m saying that if I were you, I wouldn’t get too far away from me until we figure out what exactly these are and what they do. Knowing the gods as I do, I’m sure we’re f**ked somehow."
Knowing the gods . . .
Oh, this was going from bad to worse. "What are you?" she asked, terrified of what answer he might give her.
His look was; as cold as the wind outside. "Don’t ask questions you don’t really want answered."
"Um, guys …" Jesse said, interrupting them. "The Daimons have a car and they’re coming after us."
In the blink of an eye, Simone went from the passenger side to the driver’s.
Xypher was now in her seat. "Can you get us out of here?"
She should probably question what had just happened, but given the fact that one of her best friends was a ghost and the other worked for immortal Vampire slayers, she was used to the unusual on a daily basis. What mattered right now was getting free.
"Defensive Driving 101. Fasten your seat belt." She threw the car in reverse and headed for the Daimons, who quickly swerved to miss her. Simone did a quick K-turn in the center of the road and headed back toward the alley where they’d met.
She was amazed that the surly Xypher was capable of giving her a compliment. "It pays to hang around the police. You pick up all lands of useful things."
Jesse popped his head up in the front seat, between them. "They’re still behind us."
"Not for long." Xypher rolled down the window and he pulled a gun out of his pants pocket. He opened fire on the car following them.
Simone’s eyes widened as she heard the tire blow out. The car skidded sideways before it turned over in the street "Nice shooting.Tex."
He pulled the mag out and replaced it with another one. "I have an unfair advantage. I can make the bullets go where I want them to. I took out the Daimons before I KO’d the car."
Simone cut into a small parking lot, then stopped again. She turned in the seat to face him. His cheeks were reddened from his exertion and the wind burn on his skin as he’d filed on the Daimons. The color made his eyes stand out even more.
He looked gorgeous and human, and yet. . . "What exactly are you?"
Xypher didn’t answer as he rubbed a hand over his brow. "We have to figure out these bracelets before it gets any darker. I don’t like playing with unknown factors."
She gave him a droll stare. "You’re not alone on Planet Ego. I, too, want to know what I’m dealing with, and right now. Psycho, you’re the most crucial unknown factor in my world. So answer my question. What are you?"
The sneer was back on his face. "That’s not so easily answered, human."
She turned the car off, pulled the keys out, and folded her arms over her chest. "Try."
Xypher ground his teeth as he fought the urge to kill her. After all, she was just another human, albeit a cute one. Human, nonetheless. Normally, he wouldn’t have hesitated to put her out of his misery, but he had a really bad feeling about the bracelet on his arm. The fact that they both wore them probably meant their lives, if not actual souls, were linked together somehow. Which meant that if she died, there was probably a good bet that he would, too.
Dammit. She’d have to live until he figured this out.
He considered lying to her. But why bother? She’d seen the Daimons, some of his powers, and what the hell? There was a ghost in the backseat who appeared to be a friend of hers. The way she’d acted so far said that she was at least familiar with the supernatural.
What was a little more?
"How up are you on Greek mythology?" he asked her.
"Zeus is the king, right?"
Xypher snorted. "He thinks he is most days. Personally, I think he’s a pompus ass who should be bitch-slapped by Hera at least once in his existence."
Simone winced as she realized that he was going to be somehow related to them . . . Yeah, her luck was improving by the minute. "So what has Zeus got to do with this?"
"Not much really. You’re the one who brought him ip."
She let out a tired breath of exasperation. "I’m getting a headache and you’re still avoiding my question."
"Fine," he said simply. "I’m a Skotos."
She scowled at the unfamiliar word. "That means what? You have toe jam?"
He looked less than amused by her question. "No, human, it means I used to be a dream god."
Well, he was kind of dreamy . . .
Oh, no, Sim, you’re not really buying into his baloney, are you? It seemed so far-fetched and yet the Dark-Hunters Tate worked for were an army of immortal warriors created by the goddess Artemis to protect mankind.
Yeah, it’d taken her a while to swallow that reality. Arid if she believed that Tate wasn’t crazy and that the Daimons were real-because she’d seen them more times than she wanted to-then she had no choice except to buy this farm tale, too.