Her question angered him. "I never murdered anyone. I only protected myself and my brother."
"Ah, I see," she said quietly. "So you don’t think it’s murder when you barge into someone’s home to rob them and they fight you rather than submit to your brutality?"
Shame filled him as he remembered a few of his early raids. Back then, his people had traveled far and wide, attacking villages in the middle of the night to raid other people, other lands. They weren’t after the kill, but rather wanted to leave as many alive as they could. Especially when they were after slaves they could sell in foreign markets.
His mother had been horrified when she learned that he and Erik had started raiding with the other sons of their neighbors.
"My sons are dead to me," she had snarled before she threw them out of their squalid home. "I never want to see either of you again."
And she hadn’t. She’d died the following spring of a fever. His sister had paid one of the young village men to find them and deliver the news.
Three years passed before they were able to return home to pay their respects. By then his father had been slain and his sister taken by invaders. Wulf had gone to England to free her and it had been there that Erik had died after they left her village.
Brynhild had refused to leave with them. "I reap what you and Erik have sown. It is God’s will that I be a slave to serve as those whom you and Erik have sold are forced to do. And for what, Wulf? For profit and glory? Leave me, brother. I want no more of your warring ways."
Like a fool, he had left her and she too had been slain a year later when the Angles invaded her small village. Life was death. It was the only thing that was inevitable.
As a human, he’d been well acquainted with it. As a Dark-Hunter he was an expert.
He turned away from Cassandra. "Times were different then."
"Really?" she asked. "I never heard before that people in the Dark Ages were supposed to be sheep to be butchered."
Cassandra cringed as Wulf turned on her with a fierce growl. "If you are looking for me to apologize for what I did, I will not. I was born to a race that respected nothing but the strength of one’s sword arm. I grew up mocked and ridiculed because my father wouldn’t fight. So when I was old enough to prove to them that I wasn’t like him, that I could and would stand by them in battle, I took it.
"Yes, I did things I regret. What person hasn’t? But I never once killed or raped a woman. I never hurt a child, nor a man who couldn’t defend himself. Your people prize the death of a child or pregnant woman above all else. They stalk them for no other purpose than to elongate their putrid lives. So don’t you dare preach to me."
She swallowed, but admirably held her ground. "Some do. Just as some of your people lived to rape and pillage. Didn’t you tell me your own mother was a slave who had been captured by your father? It may come as a surprise to you, Wulf Tryggvason, but some of my people only prey on people like yours. Murderers. Rapists. There is an entire branch of Daimons called the Akelos who have all taken an oath to kill only the humans who deserve it."
"No," she said, her tone sincere, "I don’t. Funny, when I first met you, I thought you might know more about my people than I do since you hunt us. But you don’t, do you? We’re just animals to all of you. Not even worth the trouble of talking to one of us to find out the truth."
It was true. He had never given any thought to the Daimons other than the fact that they were killers who needed to die.
As for Apollites…
He hadn’t thought of them at all.
Now he had a "human" face to go with the term "Apollite."
Not just a face… he had a touch.
A lover’s gentle whisper.
But what did it change?
Nothing. At the end of the day, he was still a Dark-Hunter and he would still pursue the Daimons and slay any of them he found.
There was nothing more to be said between them. This was one obstacle neither of them could ever overcome.
So, he withdrew from the conflict. "You have free run of the house at night and the grounds during daylight."
"And if I want to leave?"
He scoffed. "Ask Chris how easy that is."
That familiar light came into her emerald eyes. The one that challenged him and told him he didn’t have any real power over her. It was one of the things he admired most in her-that fire and strong will. "You know, I’m used to getting out of impossible situations."
"And I’m used to tracking and finding Apollites and Daimons."
She arched one brow. "Are you challenging me?"
He shook his head. "I’m only stating fact. You leave and I will bring you back here. In chains if need be."
She gave him a suddenly droll look that reminded him of Chris. "Will you punish me too?"
"I think you’re a little old for that. I also think you’re smart enough to know how stupid it would be for you to leave here while Stryker and his men are salivating to find you again."
Cassandra hated the fact that he was right. "Can I at least call my father and tell him where I am so he won’t worry?"
He pulled the cell phone off his belt and handed it to her. "You can leave it in the living room when you finish."
He turned and opened the door.
"Wulf," she said before he could leave.
He faced her.
"Thank you for saving me again when I know it must burn every part that you did so."
His look softened. "It doesn’t burn every part of me, Cassandra. Only you do that."
Her jaw went slack as he left the room and closed the door behind him.
She stood dumbstruck as those words whipped through her. Who would have thought her Viking warrior could have a more tender side? But then she ought to know the truth. She had seen his heart in their dreams.
Dreams that were real. In those few precious hours, she had glimpsed the man’s heart. His fears.
Things he kept guarded and secret from everyone, except for her…
"I must be out of my mind," she breathed. How could she feel any tenderness toward a man who made no bones about the fact that he killed her people?
And in the back of her mind, she wondered whether Wulf would kill her, too, if she turned Daimon.
Wulf let out a long, tired breath as he entered the living room where Chris was lounging on the couch. Just what he needed, one more person tonight who couldn’t do what he’d been told.
Thor, didn’t any of them have a lick of sense?
"I thought I told you to pack."
"Go pack, brush your teeth, get laid. All you do is tell me what to do." Chris flipped through the channels on the TV. "If you would look at my feet, you will see that I’m all packed and am just waiting on my next order, thank you very much."
Wulf looked down to see a black backpack in front of the couch. "That’s all you’re taking?"
"Yeah. I don’t need much, and whatever else I need I’m sure I can buy since the Council knows that I am the charmed one who has to be humored lest the big bad Norseman go a Viking on their heads."
Wulf tossed one of the cloth sofa cushions at him. Gently.
Chris tucked the pillow behind his back and didn’t respond as he continued to flip channels.
Wulf sat down on the other sofa, but his thoughts kept drifting back to the woman he’d left in his guest wing. He was so confused where she was concerned, and confusion wasn’t something he had much experience with. He’d always been a basic man. If he had a problem, he eliminated it.
He couldn’t eliminate Cassandra per se. Well, he could in theory, but that would be wrong. The closest he could come would be to toss her out the door and let her fend for herself or hand her off to Corbin.
But Ash had charged him with her care and he didn’t believe in passing his obligations off. If Ash wanted him to watch her, there must be a reason for it. The Atlantean never did anything without a damned good reason.
"So how much does Cassandra know about us?" Chris asked.
"It appears everything. Like she said, she’s an Apollite."
"Half, whole, what’s the difference?"
Chris shrugged. "The difference is I really like her. She’s not snotty like most of the other rich hos in my college."
"Don’t be so disrespectful, Christopher."
Chris rolled his eyes. "Sorry, I forgot how much you hate that term."
Wulf propped his head against his hand as he watched the TV. Cassandra was different. She made him feel human again. Made him remember what it was like to be normal. To feel welcomed.
Those were things he hadn’t felt in a long time.
"Good grief. You two look like Village of the Sofa Damned."
Wulf leaned his head back to see Cassandra standing in the doorway. Shaking her head at them, she came forward and handed him the phone.
Chris laughed and turned the sound down. "You know, it freaks with my head to see you here in my house."
"Believe me, it freaks with my head to be here in your house."
Chris ignored her comment. "Not to mention how weird it is that you remember him when you come back into the room. I keep feeling the deep need to introduce the two of you."
Wulf’s phone started playing Black Sabbath’s "Iron-man." He picked it up and flipped it open. Cassandra walked over to sit near Chris while Wulf answered it.
"What is she doing here?"
Cassandra frowned at Wulf’s gruff question.
"It’s security calling," Chris told her.
"How do you know?"
"The song. Wulf thinks it’s funny that it plays ‘Iron-man’ for my escorts. They live in the security house that’s down the estate not far from the gate. Someone must have pulled in to the driveway and buzzed for entry."
And she thought her father was paranoid about security. "What is this place, Fort Knox?"
"No," Chris said earnestly. "You might actually break in or out of Knox. The only way out of here is with at least two guards trailing you at all times."
"You sound like you’ve tried to go over the wall."
"More times than you can count."
She laughed as she remembered what Wulf had told her in her room. "Wulf said it was useless."
"It is. Believe me, if there was a way out of here, I’d have found it and used it by now."
Wulf hung up and rose to his feet.
"Is it for me?" Chris asked.
"No, it’s Corbin."
"She’s the one with Kat?" Cassandra asked Wulf.
He nodded as he went to the front door.
Cassandra followed after him in time to see a sleek red Lotus Esprit pulling up in front of the house. The passenger door opened to show her Kat, who got out of the car and rushed up to the house.
"Hey, kid, you all right?"
Cassandra smiled. "I’m not sure."
"Why is she here?" Wulf asked Corbin as the Dark-Huntress drew near him.
The Huntress tucked her hands in her pockets as she drew closer to Wulf. "She’s in Artemis’s service too. Her job is to protect Cassandra, and I thought it wise to let her help you."
Wulf looked suspiciously at Kat. "I don’t need any help."
Kat bristled. "Relax, Mr. Macho, I won’t rain on your parade. But you do need me. I happen to know Stryker personally. I’m the only shot you have at deflecting him."
Wulf wasn’t sure if he should put any faith in those words. "You said you didn’t know him at the club."
"I didn’t want to blow my cover, but that was before you guys separated us and I had to convince Corbin to return me to Cassandra before Stryker finds her again."
"Do you trust her?" he asked Corbin.
"About as much as I trust anyone. But she pointed out that she’s been with Cassandra for five years and Cassandra ain’t dead yet."
"It’s true," Cassandra said. "I’ve trusted her implicitly all this time."
"All right," Wulf said reluctantly. He met Corbin’s gaze. "Keep your phone on and I’ll be in touch."
Corbin nodded, then headed back to her car.
"We haven’t met formally," Kat said, holding out her hand to Wulf as Corbin drove off. "I’m Katra."
He shook her hand. "Wulf."
"Yes, I know." Kat led them into the house, back to the living room where Chris was still sitting on the sofa.
Wulf locked and bolted the door behind them.
"By the way, Wulf," Kat said as she paused by Chris’s backpack. "If you’re thinking of sending Christopher away in order to protect him, I’d urge you to reconsider it."
She indicated the TV with her thumb. "How many times have you seen the ‘let’s kidnap the good guy’s sidekick and hold him for ransom’ episode?"
Wulf snorted at that. "Trust me, no one would be able to get him free of the Squire’s Council."
"Au contraire," Kat said sarcastically. "Stryker won’t have a bit of a problem finding him. The minute you let him out of this house, Stryker and his Illuminati will be on him like white on snow. He’ll never make it into another protected area without them having him. Literally."
"They wouldn’t dare, kill him, would they?" Cassandra asked.