Taking a deep breath to brace herself for the rest of his story, she tensed. "And now you are?"
"The walking dead."
With images of the Daimons trying to eat her running through her head, Simone shot out of the car. All she could think of was escaping him before he made a meal out of her.
She didn’t get very far.
Xypher flashed himself in front of her and caught her against his chest. "I told you not-"
She clipped him hard in the throat.
Cursing, he let go of her as he struggled to breathe.
Xypher glared at her as he imagined tearing her into bloody pieces. Angry beyond tolerance, he slung his hand out and pinned her to the wall behind her. His throat throbbing, he stalked toward her intending to make her pay for her attack.
He’d been hit enough in his life . . .
"Do that again," he growled between clenched teeth, "and, bracelet or no bracelet, I’ll tear your head off and use it for a doorstop."
Simone felt fear crawling down her spine, but she wasn’t about to let him see it. "What do you want with me?"
"Not a damn thing. All I want is an entrance into the Daimon hell so that I can sit and kill an old friend. You’re just the poor sap who got caught in the crossfire."
He released her so fast that Simone almost fell. She caught herself and stood as tall as she could, but it was far from intimidating since he was a full head taller than her. "I don’t like being threatened, lied to, or manipulated. You’d do well to remember mat," she said.
He sneered at her bravado. "Or what you’re going to snivel at me?"
Jesse started for him but before he could strike Xypher, Xypher turned and caught him by the throat. Throwing Jesse to the ground, he drew back to hit him, then caught himself before he completed the punch.
He moved away.
Jesse gaped at her as he pushed himself to his feet.
Simone was stunned. Though Jesse could move things, no one had ever been able to touch him before. "How can you touch him?"
Xypher crossed his anus over his chest. "I still have a lot of my god powers, but not all of them, and the ones I have keep coming and going without any predictability. No doubt courtesy of Hades and his sick sense of humor."
Jesse stared at her in disbelief. "I think we’re going to have to believe him. No one’s been able to touch me since the night I died."
Swallowing, Simone nodded her agreement, What Xypher had just done was impossible and unexplainable. "All right. Let’s start over. You’re a dream god with screwed-up powers who is out to kill someone. And these …" She held up her arm with the bracelet. "Are an unfortunate gift."
He nodded. "For all I know, these little Tinker-toys could explode and kill us. We’ve got to get them off."
You think? She bit back the sarcasm, sensing it wouldn’t help the situation or his cranky mood. "Okay. I think I know someone who can help us."
"You?" He sneered. "You know someone." He laughed.
Oh, that offended her. "Hey, I happen to know a lot of people. Most of them are highly unusual."
"Yeah, and do any of them have a connection to a Greek god?"
"As a matter of fact they do." She raked him with a smug look. "They happen to work for Artemis."
He sobered instantly. "You know the Dark-Hunters?"
"Not personally, but I know a Squire."
"Take me to him."
Those words went over her like ice down a gown in the middle of the night. "You are one seriously bossy SOB. Who died and made you …"
Simone paused as she realized that if he was telling the truth, then the man really was a god. Which would answer her question. And it explained a lot about his ego and pushiness. "Never mind. Get in the car and let’s find Tate. If you’re right about these things exploding, then we need to hurry."
They were in the car instantly.
Simone shook her head to clear it as a foreign buzz whispered in her ears. "Wow. Can you take us to Tate’s office like that?"
"Only if I’ve been to it first. I have to know where I’m going to perfect it. Otherwise we could turn up in a wall or someplace foul."
Foul was bad. She definitely didn’t want to do that. Implantation in a wall wouldn’t be much better.
Jesse appeared in the backseat. "By the way, did you guys realize that Gloria vanished during the chase? I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing."
Sadness gripped her as she started the car. "I’m sure it’s bad. But we’ll worry about her after I talk to Tate. Unless you can find her in the nether plane, there’s not a lot we can do about her for now."
Fear flashed in Jesse’s brown eyes. "Yeah, right. Remember what happened the last time I did that? It’s not an experience I want to rush back to."
Neither did she. Poor Jesse had almost gotten swallowed by a Daimon.
Simone headed toward Tate’s office and picked up her phone from the console. She dialed his number to make Sure he was there.
He answered on the fourth ring. "Hey, my love. I just got off the phone with the Squires,"
She slid a glance to Xypher, who was sitting there looking grim and irritable. "That’s great, but right now I have a really pressing problem."
"You find something?"
"More like something found me."
"What do you mean?" Tate asked, his voice full of fear.
Simone considered the best way to tell him what had happened. But she wasn’t one to beat around the bush. Besides, if Tate worked for the Dark-Hunters, maybe he knew what a Dream-Hunter was. "While I was looking over things, a group of Daimons showed up and so did … a Skotos."
Tate laughed nervously. "You’re shitting me, right?"
Xypher cocked a handsome brow at her as if he could hear her conversation.
"No," she said, dragging the word out, "and I take it you know what mat is, then."
"Absolutely. Were you hurt?"
"Scuffed a bit." She turned left onto Canal. "But the point of this is the Daimons slapped something on my wrist and the Skotos’, too. We don’t know what it is and we need to find someone who does."
"You need an oracle." Tate made that sound so easy.
Simone shook her head. "Yeah, and we’re just a little far from Delphi, hon."
"You don’t have to go to Greece, boo. You know Julian Alexander, right?"
She frowned at the familiar name. "The hot classics professor?" "Not that I personally consider him hot, but yeah."
She ignored his sarcasm. "You’re not seriously telling me that he’s an oracle who speaks to the gods?"
Tate laughed evilly. "Brace yourself, boo. He’s the son of Aphrodite."
Of course he was . . . Why should anything in the world make sense? Dear Lord, it wasn’t like she wasn’t sitting beside one of the hottest men on the planet who was a god himself. Or that she had a goofy teenage ghost in her backseat mouthing the words to the Tears for Fears song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."
It only made sense that the hottie in the classics department was a demigod, too . . .
"I just knew I wasn’t going to like that answer," she muttered. "And to think, all this time I just thought he was a cute teacher."
"And all your students think you’re eccentric for talking to yourself when they catch you having conversations with Jesse."
"Of course they do. Okay, how do I find him?"
"Let me give you his number."
Simone repeated the number to Jesse to help her remember it. Hanging up from Tate, she immediately called Julian.
He answered on the third ring.
"I don’t know if you remember me, but we’ve met at a couple of faculty functions. I’m Dr. Simone Dubois-"
"The ME and pathology professor . . . Yes, I remember you."
That was impressive since she was highly unremarkable. She was average height, average weight, with curly dark brown hair and hazel-brown eyes, and she normally wore beige and browns or a white lab coat. As a rule, she never stuck in people’s memories, In fact, her senior high school paper had once voted her Most Likely to Be Forgotten . . . or Sat On By Mistake. The fact that Dr. Alexander remembered her gave her a bit of an unfounded thrill. "Good, ’cause I’m in a bit of a pickle with something."
"And that would be?" Even over the phone she could hear the reservation in his tone.
Xypher snatched the phone from her hand and started speaking to Julian in a language she couldn’t even begin to identify. That being said, the smooth, lyrical quality of it was incredibly sexy. It was the kind of tone that could make a woman hot even if he were ordering pizza. And she hated the fact it was affecting her.
Good-looking or not, he was a jerk and the last thing any woman needed to do was feed his massive, pushy ego.
After a few minutes, he held the phone out to her. "He’s going to give you directions to his house."
"Thanks," she said dryly. She took the phone from him. "Dr. Alexander?"
"Call me Julian."
She listened as he told her how to find his house. Lucidly, it wasn’t too far away.
It didn’t take long to find the little bungalow off St. Charles. Simone had barely parked the car before Xypher flashed them to the porch. "You know, that’s really obtrusive and disorienting."
"I really don’t care." He knocked on the door.
Simone shook her head as Jesse joined her. Jesse looked about as pleased as she did.
Julian opened the door with a less-than-welcoming look. It never failed to shock her exactly how good-looking this man was. And she wasn’t the only one to think so. His classes were always filled to the brim by female students who wanted nothing more than to stare at him. The fact he was one of the leading experts in the world about ancient civilizations was just a bonus.
The good doctor narrowed his eyes on Xypher as if he couldn’t believe what he saw. "You have emotions."
Xypher curled his lip. "Not really. I only have one. Rage. Unless you count an insatiable need for vengeance. Then it’s two."
Julian’s scowl deepened. "How can you-"
"Look," Xypher snapped. "I don’t have time for this. Get the bracelet off so that I can do what I have to do."
"He’s extremely single-minded," Simone explained.
"Yeah, it shows." Julian stepped back. "Come in and let me see it."
Xypher literally shoved his arm in Julian’s face. The man was truly obnoxious. "There."
"I suspect he might have been raised by apes," Simone said to Julian.
Julian gave a low laugh before he took Xypher’s forearm and examined the bracelet while he stood in the doorway. "This isn’t Greek."
Xypher scoffed. "Of course it is. I know the work of Hephaestus."
"So do I and this isn’t it." Julian bent Xypher’s arm so that he could see the lock. "I’m taking a shot in the dark here, but I think this is Atlantian in origin."
Xypher still looked less than convinced. "Are you sure?"
Julian nodded grimly. "Hephaestus is my step-father. I have trinkets from him all over my house . . . and experience with other items of his. Including handcuffs. The lock on this is definitely something else."
Simone wanted to groan in frustration. If Julian couldn’t help them, who could? "Do you know what it does?"
"Not really, but if you can come in and get out of view of my neighbors, I can ask."
Xypher’s eyes darkened dangerously.
"Don’t even try," Julian said. "I’ve faced down a lot worse than a pissed-off Skotos."
Xypher gave him a menacing stare. "You have to sleep sometime." "So do you."
Simone let out a sound of disgust. "Down, boys, down. Please, I just want to be free before I get testosterone poisoning."
Without another word, Julian led them into his house, toward the living room. Simone smiled at the sight of toys scattered about on the floor of the otherwise immaculately kept home. There were also pictures on the mantel of Julian with a dark-haired woman and kids -two boys and two girls. They appeared to be extremely happy. "I didn’t know you had children." she said, warmed by the sight.
He smiled proudly. "They’re at a friend’s house with their mom. I was trying to put together a syllabus for a new class while it was quiet and the baby wasn’t trying to scribble all over my notes. Her older sister just taught her how to draw tulips and she’s been putting them on everything."
Case in point, there were two bright pink tulips about toddler height on the wall behind him.
Simone could just imagine how hard it must be to think up interesting and beneficial class material while shuffling an insistent toddler. Personally, she hated coming up with new syllabi and that was without the addition of a … then again, she did have Jesse. She could actually relate to Julian’s plight. "Sorry we’re disturbing you."
"Don’t worry about it," he said in a friendly tone. "If this is the worst interruption I have today, I’m doing remarkably well."
Then without another word to them, Julian upped his head back and looked up at the ceiling. "Hey, Mom, you got a minute?"