"Oh, my God," she breathed as every detail became crystal clear.
"In five minutes no one in that bar will ever remember they saw me." His words tore through her mind.
But she did remember him.
Had he come home with her?
No. Cassandra calmed a degree as she clearly remembered him leaving her. Of her going back inside and rejoining her friends in the club.
She had gone to bed alone.
But she had awakened nak*d. Her body damp and sated…
"Cass, I’m starting to get worried."
Cassandra took a deep breath and shook everything off. It was a dream. It had to have been. Nothing else made sense. But then when dealing with such supernatural things as Daimons and Dark-Hunters things seldom made sense.
"I’m fine, but I’m not going to my morning class. I think we need to do some research and run an errand."
Kat looked even more worried than before. "You sure? It’s not like you to miss class for anything."
"Yeah," she said, offering her a smile. "Just go grab the laptop and let’s see what we can find out about Dark-Hunters."
Kat arched a brow at that. "Why?"
In all the years Cassandra had been chased by her mother’s people, she had only confided the truth of her world to two bodyguards.
One who had died when Cassandra was only thirteen, in a fight that had almost killed her.
The other had been Kat, who had taken the truth a lot easier than the first bodyguard. Kat had merely looked at her, blinked, and said, "Cool. Can I kill them and not go to prison?"
Since then, Cassandra had never kept anything secret from Kat. Her friend and bodyguard knew as much about the Apollites and their customs as Cassandra did.
Which wasn’t much. Apollites had a nasty habit of not letting anyone know they existed.
Still, it had been such a relief to find someone who didn’t think she was insane or delusional. But then in the course of the last five years, Kat had seen enough Daimons and Apollites come after them to know the truth of it.
Over the last few months as Cassandra neared the end of her life, the Daimon attacks had backed off enough so that she had a small semblance of normality. But Cassandra wasn’t foolish enough to think that she was safe. She would never be safe.
Not until the day she died.
"I think we met a Dark-Hunter last night."
Kat frowned. "When?"
"At the club."
"When?" she repeated.
Cassandra hesitated to tell her. Several details were still sketchy even to her, and until she remembered more of them, she didn’t want to worry Kat.
"I saw him in the crowd."
"Then how do you know he was a Dark-Hunter? I thought you told me they were fables."
"I don’t really know. He could have just been some weird guy with dark hair and fangs, but if I’m right and he’s here in town, I want to know because he might be able to tell me whether or not I’m about to drop dead in eight months."
"Okay, points well taken. But you know, he could have also been one of the fake Goth vamps who hang at the Inferno." Kat went to her bedroom to retrieve the laptop and set it up on the kitchen table while Cassandra finished eating.
As soon as it was ready, Cassandra signed online and headed to Katoteros.com. It was an online community that she had found a little over a year ago where Apollites could talk to each other. On the public side, it looked like a Greek-history site, but there were password-protected areas.
There was nothing on the site about Dark-Hunters. So she and Kat spent some time trying to hack into the private areas, which proved to be even more impossible than breaking into the government’s servers.
What was it about preternatural beings that they didn’t want others to discover their whereabouts?
Okay, so she understood the need for secrecy. Still, it was a major pain in the ass for a woman who needed some answers.
The closest thing she could find for help was an "Ask the Oracle" link. Clicking it, Cassandra typed in a simple e-mail. "Are Dark-Hunters real?"
After that, she did a search for Dark-Hunters and came up with bubkes. It was as if they didn’t exist anywhere.
Before she signed off, her e-mail came back from the Oracle with only two words for a response.
"Maybe they are just legends," Kat said again.
"Maybe." But legends didn’t kiss women the way Wulf had kissed her, nor did they find their way into her dreams.
Two hours later, Cassandra decided to utilize her last resort… her father.
Kat drove her to her father’s high-rise office in downtown St. Paul. All things considered, the late-morning traffic was light and Kat only managed to give her one small heart attack with her dodge-car style of driving.
No matter the time of day or how bad the traffic congestion, Kat always drove as if the Daimons were after them.
Kat whisked the car into the parking garage, clipping the automatic gate on her way in before she whipped around a slow-moving Toyota and beat it into a good spot.
The driver flipped them off, then kept going.
"I swear, Kat, you drive like you’re playing a video game."
"Yeah, yeah. Wanna see the ray gun I have under the hood to zap them if they don’t get out of my way?"
Cassandra laughed, even though part of her wondered if maybe Kat really had something hidden there. Knowing her friend, it was possible.
As soon as they left the car in the parking lot and entered the building, they attracted a lot of attention. But they always did. It wasn’t every day people saw two women who were both over six feet tall. Not to mention that Kat was so strikingly beautiful, Cassandra would have to cut the woman’s head off to make her blend in anywhere not Hollywood.
Since a headless bodyguard was rather useless, Cassandra was forced to tolerate a woman who should be working for LA Models.
The company guards greeted them at the door with a nod and waved them inside.
Cassandra’s father was the infamous Jefferson T. Peters of Peters, Briggs, and Smith Pharmaceuticals, one of the world’s largest drug research and development companies.
Many of the people she passed as she walked through the building cast a jealous eye toward her. They knew she was her father’s sole heir, and they all thought she had it made.
If they only knew…
"Good day, Miss Peters," his administrative assistant greeted her when she finally made it to the twenty-second floor. "Should I buzz your father?"
Cassandra smiled at the extremely attractive, skinny woman who was very sweet, but always made her feel like she should lose ten pounds and brush her hand selfconsciously through her hair to straighten it. Tina was one of those scrupulously well dressed people who never had a molecule out of place.
Dressed in an impeccable Ralph Lauren suit, Tina was the total antithesis to Cassandra, who was dressed in her college sweatshirt and jeans.
"Is he alone?"
"I’ll just go in and surprise him."
"You’ll definitely do that. I know he’ll be glad to see you."
Leaving Tina to her work and Kat waiting in a chair near Tina’s desk, Cassandra entered her father’s sacred workaholic domain.
Contemporary in design, his office had a "cool" feel to it, but her father was anything but a cold man. He’d loved her mother passionately and since the hour of Cassandra’s birth, he had doted on her with everything he had.
Her father was an exceptionally handsome man with dark auburn hair that was laced with distinguished gray. At fifty-nine, he was fit and trim and looked closer to his early forties.
Even though she’d been forced to grow up away from him, for fear of the Apollites or Daimons finding her if she stayed anywhere too long, he had never been far away from her even when she’d been halfway around the world. Only a phone call or even a plane ride away.
Over the years, he’d turned up unexpectedly on her doorstep with gifts and hugs-sometimes in the middle of the night. Sometimes in the middle of the day.
As children, she and her sisters used to make bets on when he’d turn up again to see them. He had never let any of them down, nor had he ever missed a single birthday.
Cassandra loved this man more than anything else in the world and it terrified her what would happen to him if she were to die in eight months like other Apollites. Too many times, she had witnessed his grief and sorrow as he buried her mother and four older sisters.
Every death had torn apart his heart, especially the car bomb that had killed her mother and her last two sisters.
Would he even be able to stand another blow such as that?
Pushing that terrifying thought aside, she approached his steel-and-glass desk.
He was on the phone, but he hung up the minute he looked up from his stack of papers and saw her.
His face lighting instantly, he got up and hugged her, then pulled back with a worried frown. "What are you doing here, baby? Shouldn’t you be in class?"
She patted his arm and urged him back to his side of the desk as she flopped into one of the comfy chairs in front. "Probably."
"Then why are you here? It’s not like you to cut class to come see me."
She laughed as he echoed Kat’s earlier sentiments. Maybe she needed to alter her habits a bit. In her position, predictable behavior was a dangerous liability. "I wanted to talk to you."
He paled, making her wonder just how much he knew and how much he was going to share. He had a nasty tendency to overprotect her, hence her long legacy of bodyguards.
"Why do you want to know about them?" he asked cautiously.
"Because I was attacked by Daimons last night and a Dark-Hunter saved my life."
He shot to his feet and rushed over to her side of the desk. "Were you hurt?"
"No, Daddy," she hastened to assure him as he tried to inspect her body for damage. "Just scared."
He pulled back with a stern frown, but kept his hands on her arm. "All right, listen. You need to withdraw from school, we’ll-"
"Daddy," she said firmly, "I’m not going to withdraw less than a year from graduation. I’m through running."
Even though she might not live past eight months, there was a possibility that she would. Until she knew for certain, she had vowed to live her life as normally as possible.
She saw the horror on his face. "This is not something debatable, Cassandra. I swore to your mother that I would keep you safe from the Apollites and I will. I’ll not let them kill you too."
She clenched her teeth at the reminder of an oath he took as sacred as he did this office and company. She knew the legacy she had inherited from her mother’s family all too well.
Centuries past, it had been her ancestor who had caused the Apollites to be cursed.
Out of jealousy, her great-great-whatever had sent out soldiers to murder the son and mistress of the god Apollo. In retaliation, the Greek sun god had banished all Apollites from his favor.
Since the Apollite queen had ordered her men to make it appear as if a beast had destroyed the mother and child, Apollo gave all the Apollites the features of beasts-long canine teeth, speed, strength, and predator’s eyes. They were forced to feed off each other’s blood in order to survive.
He had banished them from the daylight so that the angry god would never again have to see them.
But the crudest blow of all, he had cursed them to a life span of only twenty-seven years-the same age his mistress had been when she’d been slain by the Apollites.
On his or her twenty-seventh birthday, an Apollite spent the entire day slowly, painfully decaying. It was so awful a death that most of them committed ritual suicide the day before their birthday to escape it.
The only hope an Apollite had was to slay a human and take the human soul into their own body. There was no other way to prolong their short lives. But the minute they turned Daimon, they crossed over and invoked the wrath of the gods.
It was then the Dark-Hunters were called in to kill them and free the stolen human souls before the souls that were trapped withered and died.
In eight short months, Cassandra would turn twenty-seven.
It was something that terrified her.
She was part human and because of that she could walk in daylight, but she had to stay covered up and couldn’t be out too long without burning severely.
Her long canine teeth had been filed down by a dentist when she was ten, and though she was anemic, her need for blood was satisfied by bimonthly transfusions.
She was lucky. The handful of other half-Apollite, half-humans she had met over the years had leaned mostly toward their Apollite heritage.
All of them had died at twenty-seven.
All of them.
But Cassandra had always held on to the hope that she had enough human in her to make it past her birthday.
Ultimately, though, she didn’t know, and she’d never been able to find anyone who knew more about her "condition" than she did.
Cassandra didn’t want to die. Not now when there was so much living she had left. She wanted what most everyone else did. A husband. A family.
Most of all, a future.
"Maybe this Dark-Hunter knows something about my mixed blood. Maybe he-"
"Your mother would fly into a panic if their name ever came up," he said as he stroked her cheek. "I know very little about the Apollites, but I know they all hate the Dark-Hunters. Your mother called them evil, soulless killers that no one could reason with."