Wulf snorted in derision. "Yet again you tell me something that should have been made known to me years ago. Thanks, Ash."
"Things are always given to us when we need them."
"That’s so not true," Wulf said.
"Actually it is. You just have to decide if you’re strong enough, brave enough, to seize it and make it yours."
Ordinarily, Wulf would have had no doubt whatsoever about his strength or courage.
This required both of them.
And it required a lot of faith that Wulf wasn’t sure he had anymore.
Cassandra sat there in stunned silence after Wulf had told her of the possible out.
"Are you sure it’ll work?"
Wulf took a deep breath. "I don’t know what I believe anymore, but if there’s a chance, shouldn’t we try it?"
"And you’re sure this Acheron isn’t trying to kill me too?"
Wulf offered her a small smile and refrained from laughing at the idea. "That is probably the only thing that I am certain about. I trust Ash, at least most of the time."
"Okay, then, let’s do it."
Wulf cocked his brow. "You sure?"
"Okay then." He moved to stand just in front of her. She tilted her head to the side and pulled her hair off her neck.
Wulf put his hands on her waist.
"Well?" she prompted.
He opened his mouth and placed his lips on the warm skin of her neck. Wulf closed his eyes as he felt her heartbeat in the vein and he grazed her skin with his teeth.
Mmm, she tasted good. He loved the way her skin teased his lips.
Cassandra cupped the back of his head with her hands. "Hmmm," she breathed, "you’re giving me chills."
His body erupted at her words and the image he had of her nak*d in his arms.
He added pressure with his teeth.
She tightened her grip in his hair.
"I can’t," he said, pulling back. "I’m not a Daimon or an Apollite."
She looked up at him from underneath her lashes. "Now you understand what I meant when I told you that I couldn’t cross over."
Yes, he understood.
But so long as neither of them was willing to do this, Cassandra was destined to die.
Wulf was in the nursery with Erik. He sat in the antique rocking chair with his son asleep on his shoulder while he stared idly at the wall in front of him. It was covered with pictures of babies who had been born to his family over the last two hundred years.
Memories poured through him.
He glanced down at the baby he held. The thatch of black hair and the serene, tiny face. Erik’s mouth worked in his sleep and the baby smiled as if in the midst of a happy dream.
"Are you talking to him, D’Aria?" Wulf asked, wondering if the Dream-Huntress would watch over his son as well as him.
He touched the tip of Erik’s nose. Even while asleep, the baby turned to suckle his finger.
Wulf smiled, until he caught the faint scent of roses and powder on the baby’s skin.
He tried to imagine a world without her. A day when she wasn’t there to brighten everything. To place her silken hand on his skin, to run her long graceful fingers through his hair.
Pain lacerated his chest. His sight dimmed.
You’re a wandering soul, looking for a peace that doesn’t exist. Lost you will be until you find the one inner truth. We can never hide from what we are. The only hope is to embrace it.
At last, he understood the seer’s words.
"This is bullshit," he said in a low tone.
There was no way he would let go of the best thing that had ever happened to him.
Wulf Tryggvason was only one thing in life.
He was a barbarian.
Cassandra was in Wulf’s bedroom, looking for her box, when she heard the door open behind her.
She was mostly lost in thought when she felt two strong, powerful arms wrap around her and turn her to face a man she had only glimpsed one time before.
The first night they had met.
This was the dangerous warrior capable of shredding Daimons apart with his bare hands.
Wulf cupped her face in his hands and kissed her desperately. That kiss reached deep inside her and set fire to her blood.
"You are mine, villkat," he breathed. His tone possessive. "Forever."
He pulled her close to him, tight. She expected him to take her. He didn’t. Instead, he sank his fangs into her neck.
Cassandra couldn’t breathe as she felt the momentary pain that was quickly followed by the most erotic sensation she had ever known.
Her mouth fell open as she breathed raggedly, her head spinning. She saw colors swirling before her eyes, felt her heartbeat synchronize to his as everything around her became hazy, dizzy. Pleasure erupted through her body with an orgasm so strong she cried out from it.
As she cried out, she felt her incisors growing. Felt her fangs returning…
Wulf growled deep in his throat as he tasted her. He’d never felt so close to anyone in his life. It was as if they were one person sharing one single heartbeat.
He felt everything she did. Every hope, every fear. Her entire mind was laid open before him and it overwhelmed him.
And then he felt her bite into his shoulder. Wulf gasped at the unexpected sensation. His c**k swelled, making him wish he were inside her.
She reached down between their bodies as she drank from him, and unzipped his pants. Wulf moaned deep in his throat as she guided him straight into her.
With no control over himself, he took her wildly, fiercely, as they bonded their life forces together.
They came together in a furious orgasm that slammed through them both at the same exact moment.
Weak and spent, Wulf pulled away from her neck. She looked up at him, her eyes glazed as she licked her lips and her teeth receded.
Wulf kissed her deeply, holding her tight.
"Wow," she breathed. "I’m still seeing stars."
He laughed at that. He was too.
"Do you think it really worked?" she asked.
"If it doesn’t, I vote we follow Zarek’s advice of taking Acheron out and beating him."
Cassandra laughed nervously. "I guess in a few weeks, we’ll know."
Only it didn’t take that long. Cassandra’s eyes widened as she started gasping for air.
"Cassandra?" Wulf asked. She couldn’t respond.
"Baby?" he asked again.
Her gaze was filled with pain as she reached up, laid her hand against his whiskered cheek, and shuddered. In less than three seconds, she was dead.
Ash jerked awake at the shrill pitch that rattled through his head. He was lying nak*d in his bed with his black silk sheets wrapped around his lean body.
I’m tired, Artie, and I’m sleeping. He sent the mental note through the cosmos to her temple on Olympus in a much calmer tone.
"Then get up and come here. Now!"
Ash let out a long sigh. No.
"Don’t you dare roll over and go back to sleep after what you’ve done."
And that is?
"You released another Dark-Hunter without consulting me!"
The corners of Ash’s lips twitched as he understood her latest rant. Wulf had bitten Cassandra.
He smiled, relieved at the truth. Thank the gods, Wulf had chosen wisely.
"That was not the way this was supposed to turn out and you know it. How dare you interfere!"
Leave me alone, Artie. You’ve got more than your share of Dark-Hunters.
"Fine," she said, her voice brittle. "You bent the rules of our agreement, then so shall I."
Ash bolted upright. "Artie!"
She was gone.
Cursing, Ash willed his clothes back on his body and flashed himself from his home in Katoteros to Wulf’s house.
It was too late.
Wulf was in his living room with Cassandra in his arms. Her face was pale with a bluish tint to it.
As soon as the Viking saw him, his teary eyes blazed with hatred. "You lied to me, Ash. My blood poisoned her."
Ash took Cassandra from Wulf’s arms and laid her gently on the couch.
Erik started wailing as if he understood what had happened. As if he knew his mother was dead.
Ash’s heart stopped beating.
He’d never been able to stand the sound of an infant crying. "Go to your son, Wulf."
"Go to Erik!" Ash snapped. "Now, and get out of the room."
Luckily, the Viking obeyed.
Ash cradled Cassandra’s head in his hands and closed his eyes.
"You can’t resurrect the dead, Acheron," Artemis said as she flashed into the room. "The Fates won’t let you."
Ash looked up at her and narrowed his eyes. "Don’t mess with me right now, Artie. This doesn’t concern you."
"Everything you do concerns me. You know our bargain. You gave me nothing in exchange for Wulf’s soul."
Ash rose up to his feet slowly, his eyes flashing.
Artemis took a step back, recognizing the fact that he was in no mood to play with her.
"You never had his soul, Artemis, and you know it. You used him to protect your brother’s line. What better way than to release him to watch over his immortal wife and breed equally immortal children who are strong enough to survive those who want them dead?"
"Wulf belongs to me!"
"No he doesn’t. He never did." Ash closed his eyes and touched Cassandra’s forehead.
Her eyes fluttered open slowly.
"No!" Artemis snapped.
Ash looked up, his eyes glowing red. "Yes," he hissed. "And unless you wish to take her place with Hades, I suggest you back off."
Artemis flashed out of the room.
Cassandra sat up slowly. "Acheron?"
"Shh," he said, moving away from her. "It’s okay."
"I feel so strange."
"I know. It’ll fade soon."
Cassandra frowned as she looked around the room.
Wulf returned. He froze as soon as he saw Cassandra sitting up. Faster than Ash could blink, he was across the room so that he could scoop her up and hold her.
"Are you all right?"
Cassandra looked at Wulf as if he’d lost his mind. "Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?"
Wulf kissed her, then looked at Ash in disbelief. "I don’t know what you did, but thank you, Ash. Thank you."
Ash inclined his head. "Any time, Viking. All I ask is that the two of you enjoy your time together and have lots of children." He folded his arms across his chest. "By the way, as a wedding present, I’m revoking the daylight curse from you and your children. No one born to either of you will ever again have to live at night. Not unless they choose it on their own anyway."
"Am I missing something?" Cassandra asked again.
One corner of Ash’s mouth twisted up. "I’ll leave it to Wulf to explain. For the time being, I’ll go back to bed." Ash flashed out of the room.
Wulf picked Cassandra up and carried her toward his bed.
Artemis was waiting in Ash’s bedroom for him to reappear. The look on her face told him she was planning on making the rest of his day miserable.
"What, Artie?" he asked irritably.
She swung a medallion from her finger. "You know who this belongs to?"
Ash smiled evilly. "Morginne. Loki is the one who has Wulf’s soul. Think about it, Artie. What is the one law of souls?"
"They must be freely given."
He nodded. "And you never agreed to give up hers. Using Daimon venom, Morginne drugged Wulf so that he unknowingly gave his to Loki. The spell Loki used to trade their souls wore off after a few months and Morginne’s soul returned to you while Wulf’s went back to the amulet Loki holds."
"There aren’t any buts, Artie. I’m the one who made Wulf immortal and gave him his powers. If you want to put that soul back inside someone, then you better call Loki and see if he’s willing to release Morginne to you."
She shrieked in outrage. "You tricked me!"
"No. This was the way things were meant to be. You needed someone to breed with Apollo’s heiress. As much as I hate your brother, I understand why Cassandra must live and why Apollo can’t die."
"You planned this from the beginning," she accused him.
"No," he corrected. "I only hoped."
She glared at him. "You still don’t understand the source of your Atlantean powers, do you?"
Ash drew a ragged breath. "Yes, Artemis. I do. I understand them in a way you’ll never comprehend."
And with that, he brushed past her and lay down on his bed so that he could finally get some well-deserved sleep.
Artemis crawled into his bed behind him and snuggled up to his back. She nuzzled his shoulder with her face. "Fine then," she said softly. "You won this round against me and Apollymi. I’ll credit you with that. But tell me, Acheron… how long can you continue to defeat both of us?"
He glanced over his shoulder to see the evil glint in her iridescent green eyes. "As long as it takes, Artemis. As long as it takes."
Cassandra awoke on her birthday, half afraid all of this was a dream.
Even Wulf never ventured far from her side, as if he were afraid she would evaporate the moment he left her.