Night Embrace (Page 2)

Night Embrace (Dark-Hunter #3)(2)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"So, who got Mardi Gras duty this year?" Wulf asked.

Talon dropped the coin in his hand as he thought about the ancient Greco-Roman slave who would be temporarily moved into the city tomorrow to help combat the Daimon explosion that occurred every year at this time. Zarek was a known Feeder who preyed on human blood. He was unstable at best, psychotic at worst. No one trusted him.

And it was just Talon’s luck to have Zarek here, especially since he’d been hoping for a Dark-Huntress to come visit. It might drain his powers to be in the presence of another Dark-Hunter, but he would still rather have an attractive woman to look at than deal with Zarek’s psychosis.

Besides, for what he had in mind, he and a Huntress didn’t need their Dark-Hunter powers anyway…

"They’re importing Zarek."

Wulf cursed. "I didn’t think Acheron would ever let him leave Alaska."

"Yeah, I know, but word came from Artemis herself that she wanted him here. Looks like we’re having a psycho reunion this week… Oh wait, it’s Mardi Gras. Duh."

Wulf laughed again.

At last the waitress brought his coffee and a small plate of three beignets that were heavily covered with powdered sugar. Talon sighed appreciatively.

"Coffee arrived?" Wulf asked.

"Oh, yeah."

Talon took a whiff of his coffee, set it aside, and reached for a beignet. He’d barely touched the pastry when he saw something across the street, on the right side of Jackson Square down the Pedestrian Mall. "Ah, man."

"What?"

"Friggin’ Fabio alert."

"Hey, you’re not too far from the mark either, blondie."

"Bite me, Viking."

Peeved by the timing, Talon watched the group of four Daimons stalking the night. Tall and golden blonde Daimons who possessed the godlike beauty of their race. They strutted around like punkish peacocks, drunk on their own power as they scoped out tourists to kill.

By nature, Daimons were cowards. They only stood their ground and fought against Dark-Hunters when they were in groups and only then as a last resort. Because they were so much stronger than humans, they preyed openly on them, but let a Dark-Hunter near them and they ran for cover.

There had been a time once when it wasn’t like that. But the younger generations were more careful than their ancestors. They weren’t as well trained or as resourceful.

However, they were ten times cockier.

Talon narrowed his eyes. "You know, if I were a negative person, I would be seriously annoyed right now."

"You sound annoyed to me."

"No, this isn’t annoyed. This is mild perturbance. Besides, you should see these guys." Talon dropped his Celtic accent as he invented a conversation for the Daimons. He raised his voice to an unnaturally high level. "Hey, Gorgeous George, I think I smell a Dark-Hunter."

"Oh no, Dick," he said, dropping his voice two octaves, "don’t be a dick. There’s no Dark-Hunter here."

Talon returned to his falsetto. "I dunno…"

"Wait," Talon said, again in the deep voice. "I smell tourist. Tourist with big… strong soul."

"Would you stop?"

"Talk about inkblots," Talon said, using the derogatory term Dark-Hunters had for Daimons. It stemmed from the strange black mark that all Daimons developed on then-chests when they crossed over from being simple Apollites to human slayers. "Damn, all I wanted was a drink of coffee and one little beignet."

Talon glanced wistfully at his drink as he debated what should take priority. "Coffee… Daimons… Coffee… Daimons…"

"I think in this case the Daimons better win."

"Yeah, but it’s chicory coffee."

Wulf clucked his tongue. "Talon wanting to be toasted by Acheron for failure to protect humans."

"I know," he said with a disgusted sigh. "Let me go expire them. Talk to you later."

Talon stood up, zipped his phone into the pocket of his motorcycle jacket, and stared longingly at his beignets.

Oh, the Daimons would pay for this.

Taking a quick drink of coffee that scalded his tongue, he skirted through the tables and made his way toward the vampires, who were stalking toward the Presbytere building.

His Dark-Hunter senses alert, Talon headed to the opposite side of the square. He would head them off and make sure they paid for their soul-stealing ways.

And for his uneaten beignets.

Chapter 2

It was one of those nights. The kind that made Sunshine Runningwolf wonder why she bothered leaving her loft.

"How many times can a person get lost in a city where she’s lived the whole of her life?"

The number seemed to be infinite.

Of course, it would’ help if she could stay focused, but she had the attention span of a sick flea.

No, actually she had the attention span of an artist who seldom stayed focused on the here and now. Like an out-of-control slingshot, her thoughts drifted from one topic to the next and then back again. Her mind was constantly wandering and sifting through new ideas and techniques- the novelty of the world around her and how best to capture it.

To her there was beauty everywhere and in every little thing. It was her job to show that beauty to others.

And that neat building they were constructing, two or three, maybe four streets over, had distracted her and got her thinking up new designs for her pottery as she wandered through the French Quarter toward her favorite coffeehouse on St. Anne.

Not that she drank that noxious stuff. She hated it. But the retro-beatnik Coffee Stain had nice artwork on the walls and her friends seemed partial to drinking gallons of the tar-liquid.

Tonight she and Trina were going to go over…

Her mind flashed back to the building.

Pulling out her sketchbook, she made a few more notes and turned to her right, down a small alley.

She took two steps, and ran into a wall.

Only it wasn’t a wall, she realized, as two arms wrapped around her to keep her from stumbling.

Looking up, she froze.

Ay, Caramba! She stared into a face so well formed that she doubted even a Greek sculptor could do justice to it.

His wheat-colored hair seemed to glow in the night and the planes of his face…

Perfect. Simply perfect. Totally symmetrical. Wow.

Without thinking, she reached up, grabbed his chin and turned his face to see it from different angles.

No, not an optical illusion. No matter the angle, his features were perfection incarnate.

Wow, again. Absolutely flawless.

She needed to sketch this.

No. Oils. Oils would be better.

Pastels!

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"I’m fine," she said. "I’m sorry. I didn’t see you standing there. But do you know your face is pure eurythmy?"

He gave her a tight-lipped smile as he patted the shoulder of her red cape. "Yes, I do. And do you know, Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf is out tonight and he’s hungry?"

What was that?

She was talking about art and he…

The thought faded as she realized the man wasn’t alone.

There were four more men and one woman. All insanely beautiful. And all six eyed her as if she were a tasty morsel.

Uh-oh.

Her throat went dry.

Sunshine took a step back as every sense in her body told her to run.

They moved in even closer, penning her between them.

"Now, now, Little Red Riding Hood," the first one said. "You don’t want to be leaving so soon, do you?"

"Um, yes," she said, preparing to fight. Little did they know, a woman who made it her habit to date mean biker types was more than able to deliver a swift kick when she needed it. "I think it would be a really good idea."

He reached for her.

Out of nowhere a circular something whizzed past her face, grazing his outstretched arm. The man cursed as he pulled his bleeding arm to his chest. The thing ricocheted like Xena’s chakram, and returned to the opening of the alley where a shadow caught it.

Sunshine gaped at the outline of a man. Dressed all in black, he stood with his legs apart in a warrior’s stance while his weapon gleamed wickedly in the dim light.

Even though she could see nothing of his face, his ever-changing aura was mammoth, giving him a presence that was as startling as it was powerful.

This new stranger was dangerous.

Deadly.

A lethal shadow just waiting to strike.

He stood in silence, looking at her attackers, the weapon held nonchalantly, yet somehow threateningly, in his left hand.

Then, total chaos broke out as the men who surrounded her rushed the newcomer…

Talon fingered the release for his srad and folded its three blades into a single dagger. He tried to get to the woman, but the Daimons attacked him en masse. Normally, he’d have no trouble whatsoever obliterating them, but Dark-Hunter Code forbade him to reveal his powers to an uninitiated human.

Damn.

For a second, he considered summoning a fog to conceal them, but that would make fighting the Daimons more difficult.

No, he couldn’t give them any advantage. So long as the woman was here, he was fighting with his hands tied behind his back, and given the superhuman strength and power of the Daimons, that wasn’t a good thing at all. No doubt that was why they’d attacked.

For once they actually stood a chance against him.

"Run," he ordered the human woman.

She started to obey him when one of the Daimons grabbed her. With a kick to the groin and a whack across his back after he doubled over, she dropped the Daimon and ran.

Talon arched a brow at her move. Smooth, very smooth. He’d always appreciated a woman who could watch out for herself.

Using his Dark-Hunter powers, he summoned a fog wall behind her to help shield her from the Daimons, who were now more focused on him.

"Finally," he said to the group. "We’re all alone."

The one who appeared to be the leader rushed him. Talon used his telekinesis to lift the Daimon up, spin him head over heels, and slam him into a wall.

Two more came at him.

Talon caught one with his srad dagger, the other he kneed.

He tore through the two of them easily enough and was reaching for another one when he noticed the tallest of them running after the woman.

That momentary distraction cost him as another Daimon attacked and caught him in the solar plexus. The force of the blow knocked him back, off his feet.

Talon rolled with the punch, and shot upright.

"Now!" the female Daimon shouted.

Before Talon could catch his balance completely, another Daimon grabbed him by the waist and shoved him backward, into the street.

Straight into the path of a mammoth vehicle that was going so fast he couldn’t even identify it.

Something he assumed was the grill of it hit his right leg, shattering it instantly.

It pitched him forward, onto the pavement.

Talon rolled for about fifty yards, then came to rest under a streetlight on his stomach while the dark vehicle went careening down the street, out of sight. He lay with his left cheek against the pungent asphalt, his hands spread out beside him.

His entire body ached and throbbed and he could barely move from the pain. Worse, his head pulsed as he struggled to stay conscious.

But it was hard.

An unconscious Dark-Hunter is a dead one. The fifth rule of Acheron’s handbook came to mind. He had to stay awake.

With his powers waning from the pain of his injuries, the fog shield began to dissipate.

Talon cursed. Any time he felt any sort of negative emotion, his powers diminished. It was yet another reason he kept such a stranglehold on them.

Emotions were deadly to him in more ways than one.

Slowly, carefully, Talon pushed himself to his feet at the same time he saw the Daimons fleeing down another alley. There was nothing to be done about it. He’d never catch them in his current condition, and even if he did, the worst thing he could do to them was bleed on them.

Of course, Dark-Hunter blood was poisonous to Daimons…

Shit. He’d never failed before.

Grinding his teeth, Talon fought the wave of dizziness that consumed him.

The woman he’d saved ran to him. By the confused look on her face, he could tell she wasn’t sure how to help him.

Now that he could see her up close, he was taken by her pixielike face. Fire and intelligence burned deep in her large, dark brown eyes. She reminded him of the Morrigan, the raven goddess he had sworn his sword and loyalty to all those centuries before when he had been human.

Her long, straight black hair fell in braids of all sizes around her head. And she had a smear of charcoal across one cheek. Impulsively, he brushed his hand over it and wiped it from her face.

Her skin was so soft, so warm, and it smelled strangely like patchouli and turpentine.

What an odd combination…

"Oh my God, are you okay?" the woman asked.

"Yeah," Talon said quietly.

"I’ll call an ambulance," she said.

"Nae!" Talon said in his own language, his body protesting the gesture. "No ambulance," he added in English.

The woman frowned. "But you’re hurt…"

He met her gaze sternly. "No ambulance."

She scowled at him until a light appeared in her intelligent eyes, as if she had had an epiphany. "Are you an illegal alien?" she whispered.

Talon seized on the only excuse he could give her. With his heavy, ancient Celt accent it would be a natural assumption. He nodded.