Night Embrace (Page 14)

Night Embrace (Dark-Hunter #3)(14)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"Goblin, ghoul, demonic? What?"

"No one seems to be sure. There are Daimons surrounding the source of it, but it is not one of them. It’s something else."

"A god?"

She looked up, exasperated. "I’m trying to find someone who knows, but as yet…" She paused and wrung her hands. "I want you to be careful, Speirr. Whatever this thing is, it holds a great deal of malice. Hatred."

"Can you locate it?"

"I have tried, but it moves whenever I draw near. It is as if the source knows to avoid me."

This wasn’t good, especially with Mardi Gras right around the corner. When Bacchus came to town, even the most moderate of things went wild. To Talon it sounded like something or someone was counting on the excesses of the celebration to propel whatever plan it had.

Talon’s thoughts were distracted as a car drove down the street in front of him. It was an old VW Beetle. Someone had painted the top of it dark blue with glow-in-the-dark stars and the lower half was bright sunshine yellow with red peace symbols.

He smiled at the sight. It had been parked outside the club earlier when he had left. Instinct told him it had to belong to Sunshine. No one else would be caught dead in such a monstrosity.

True to his suspicions, the car turned into the alley behind Runningwolf’s.

With his honed Dark-Hunter sight, he watched her leave her car and pause to pull a sealed box out of the backseat. His body hardened instantly.

Tonight, she wore her black hair in two braids down the side of her face. She was dressed in a long fuchsia sweater coat that displayed her lush curves to perfection.

In his mind, he could imagine walking up to her, pulling her back against his front, and just inhaling her warm patchouli scent. Letting his hand trail down the front of her, to her tight black sweater held closed by small buttons. Of working those buttons through the cloth until she was exposed to him.

His body burned with aching want.

"Speirr?"

Ceara’s voice jarred him from his reverie. "I’m sorry, I was distracted."

"I said I will go and investigate further. Or do you need me to stay here and keep you grounded?"

"No, thanks. I’m grounded."

"I’m sensing conflict inside you. Are you sure you want me to leave?"

About as sure that the world would end in fifteen minutes. No, he wasn’t sure. Because every time he looked at Sunshine, he had a nasty tendency to forget everything else.

To want nothing more than to stare at her. To touch her.

"I’m sure."

"Very well, then. I shall listen out for you. If you need me, call."

"I will."

Ceara vanished and left him alone in the darkness.

Sunshine slammed her car door closed and entered the rear door of the club.

He took a step toward her before he even realized what he’d done.

Talon ran his hands over his face. He had to get her out of his thoughts. There was no point in this. Dark-Hunters didn’t date and they damn sure didn’t have girlfriends. Well, no one except Kell, but he was weird anyway and Kell’s girlfriend was a constant source of irritation for Acheron.

Not that Talon minded being an irritation to Acheron. It was actually enjoyable to nettle the Atlantean, but he couldn’t screw up Sunshine’s life that way.

Dark-Hunters didn’t date and most especially not this one. He’d already learned his lesson and he’d learned it hard.

Unlike the others, he was cursed by his own gods. It was why he refused to have a Squire. Why he refused to have anyone near him.

"For what you have taken from me, Speirr of the Morrigantes, you will never again know the peace or happiness of a loved one. I curse you to walk eternity alone. Curse you to lose everyone you care for.

"One by one, they will suffer and die, and you will be powerless to stop it. Your agony will be knowing they are doomed because of your actions and wondering when, where, and how I will strike them down. I will claim them all and live only to watch you suffer."

Even after all these centuries the angry god’s words rang in his ears.

Talon groaned at the pain of the memory of his wife dying in his arms. "I’m afraid to die, Speirr…"

It had been all his fault.

Every death.

Every tragedy.

How could so many lives have been shattered by one stupid mistake? He had let his emotions lead him and, in the end, he had destroyed not only his own life but those of the ones he loved.

He winced at the truth of it.

Agony seared him so deeply that he cursed aloud from the force of it.

"You were born cursed," Gara’s gnarled old voice whispered in his head. "Born bastard to a union that should never have been. Now get out and take the babe with you before the wrath of the gods falls to my head."

At age seven, he had stared in helpless disbelief at the old crone his mother had worked for. When his mother and Tress had taken sick, Gara had allowed him to do his mother’s tasks.

After his mother’s death, the old woman had turned on him.

"But Ceara will die if I leave. I don’t know how to care for an infant."

"We all die, boy. It’s no concern of mine what becomes of the child of a whore. Now get out and remember how quickly our fates change. Your mother was a queen. The most beloved of the Morrigantes. Now she is a dead peasant, like the rest of us. Not even worth the dirt that covers her."

The cruel words had torn through his child’s heart. His mother had never been a whore. Her only mistake had been to love his father.

Feara of the Morrigantes had been worth all the treasures of the earth to him. Her value was beyond measure…

"Push it away," he said, taking deep breaths to calm himself.

Acheron was right, he had to keep his emotions buried. They were what had led him astray to begin with. The only way he could function was to not remember. Not feel.

And yet he couldn’t help feeling. He couldn’t seem to repress the memories that he had buried fifteen hundred years ago…

"So the son of the whore has returned to beg you, my king, for his shelter. Tell me, King Idiag, should I cut off his head, or just slit his nostrils and then turn this pitiful wretch out into the storm to die like the worthless dung he is?"

Talon could still hear the laughter of his mother’s people. Feel the fear in his young heart that his uncle, like everyone else, would forsake him and Ceara. He had clutched his sister close to his chest while she squalled, wanting the food and warmth he had been unable to provide her.

Barely two months in age, Ceara had refused to suckle the bladder he had tried to feed her with.

For three days as they traveled without stopping, she’d done nothing but scream and cry.

No matter what he tried, Ceara would not be placated.

Idiag had stared at him for so long that he was sure his uncle would send them to their deaths. The fire in the hall had crackled while the people held their collective breath, waiting for their king to pronounce judgment.

Talon had hated his mother then. Hated her for making him beg for his sister’s life. Making him suffer like this when he was just an untried lad who wanted only to run away and hide from his humiliation.

Hide from the screaming baby who never took pity on him.

But he had made a promise and he never broke his word. Without his uncle’s help, another sister would die.

When Idiag finally spoke, his eyes were blank. Unfeeling. "No, Parth," he’d said to his guard. "He has suffered much to travail the winter’s harshness to reach us, especially with nothing more than rags on his feet. We will give them shelter. Summon a wet nurse for the babe."

Talon had wanted to collapse in relief.

"And the boy?"

"If he survives the punishment his mother ran away from, then he will be allowed to stay here as well."

Grinding his teeth, Talon remembered the grueling torture they had meted out. The days of beatings and starvation.

The only thing that kept him alive was the fear that should he die, Ceara would be turned out after all.

He had lived solely for her.

Now he lived for nothing at all.

Talon forced his feet to carry him down the street away from Sunshine’s club and her comfort. Away from these memories that had somehow been set loose.

He had to find his peace.

He had to forget the past. To bury it.

But as he walked, repressed thoughts and memories tumbled through his mind.

Against his will, he remembered the day he had discovered his wife…

Nynia.

Even now, the mere mention of her name was enough to bring him to his knees. She had been everything to him. His best friend. His heart. His soul.

She, alone, had given him solace.

In her arms, he hadn’t cared what the others thought of him. Only the two of them had existed in the world.

As a mortal man, he had taken her as his first and only lover.

"How could I ever lay hands to another woman, Nyn, when I have you?"

Those words haunted him now along with the memory of how many women he’d slept with since his death. Women who had never meant anything to him. They had merely been passing flings designed to ease a physical craving.

He had never wanted to know anything about them.

Never really wanted to know any woman except his wife.

Nynia and the perfect love she had given him had touched something inside him and given it wings. She’d shown him things in the world that he’d never seen before.

Kindness.

Comfort.

Acceptance.

She had confused him, aggravated him, and made him deliriously happy.

When she had died, she had taken him with her. He had survived physically, but not his heart.

It had died that day too.

And he’d never thought to desire a woman that way again. Not until he had felt the warmth of a graceful artist’s hand on his skin.

The mere thought of Sunshine was enough to make him feel sucker-punched.

"Get her out of my head," he said between clenched teeth. He would never again let himself be open to so much excruciating pain. He would never again hold someone he cared for in his arms and watch her die.

Never.

He had been hurt enough in his life. He couldn’t stand any more.

Sunshine was a stranger to him and she would remain that way. He didn’t need anyone.

He never had.

Talon froze as an odd noise on the wind intruded on his thoughts. It sounded vaguely like a Daimon feeding…

He pulled his Palm Pilot out of his jacket pocket and opened up his tracking program. Designed to pick up traces of the Daimons’ elevated neuron activity that came from their psychic abilities, the tracking program allowed Dark-Hunters to pinpoint any concentration of Daimons after dark. During the daylight hours while the Daimons rested, their brain activity was too human for the trackers to be of any use.

But once the sun set…

Those little brains of theirs started snapping and humming.

Talon frowned at his findings.

It showed nothing and his Dark-Hunter senses didn’t pick up a Daimon either, but his gut instinct was off the radar.

He headed toward a dark alley. A woman stumbled out, falling against him. Her eyes were glazed as she glanced up at him. There was a small bite wound on her neck that was healing even as he looked at it and the collar of her blouse held traces of blood.

"Are you okay?" he asked as he righted her.

She smiled a smile that was delirious and vague. "I’m fine. Never better." She stumbled away from him and headed into the building to his right.

In that instant, he knew what had happened.

Unmitigated rage descended on him as he stalked farther into the alley where she’d been. He saw the dark shadow and knew it in a heartbeat.

"Damn you, Zarek. You better lay off the feeding crap while you’re in this city."

Zarek wiped the blood away from his lips with his hand. "Or what, Celt? You going to hit me?"

"I’ll rip your throat out."

He laughed at that. "And kill yourself in the process? You don’t have it in you."

"You have no idea what I’m capable of. And you better pray to whatever god you worship that you never find out."

His expression pure evil, Zarek smacked his lips in a way Talon knew was designed to piss him off thoroughly.

It worked.

"I didn’t hurt her. She won’t even remember it in three minutes. They never do."

Talon moved to grab him, but Zarek caught his hand. "I warned you not to touch me, Celt. No one touches me. Ever."

Talon shrugged off his hold. "You swore an oath, just like the rest of us. I won’t have you preying on innocents in my town."

"Oooo," Zarek breathed. "How cliche, little partner. Wanna tell me to be out by sunup, or better yet, this town ain’t big enough for the two of us?"

"What is your problem?"

Zarek started past him.

Unwilling to let him prey on someone else, Talon shoved him against the wall. His own back throbbed viciously as if he’d been slammed against the wall too, but he didn’t care.

He wasn’t about to let Zarek have free rein over the lives of innocent people.

Zarek’s eyes flared with hatred. "Let go of me, Celt, or I’ll rip your arm off. And you know what? I don’t care if I lose both of mine in the process. That’s the difference between us. Pain is my friend and ally. You fear it."

"Like hell I do."

He shoved Talon away from him. "Then where is it? Hmmm? You buried your pain the night you left your village in flames."