Night Embrace (Page 21)

Night Embrace (Dark-Hunter #3)(21)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Unfortunately, it also made the man uncontrollable.

"You gonna keep staring at me, Great Acheron, or are you ready to chew me a new one?"

Ash sighed. Zarek still hadn’t moved. He lay there with his back to him, his arm tucked under his head.

"What do you want me to say to you, Z? You knew better than to attack a cop. Never mind three of them."

"So what? I was supposed to let them handcuff me and take me to jail where I could wait for sunup in a cell?"

He ignored Zarek’s rancor. "What happened?"

"They saw me kill the Daimons and tried to apprehend me. I merely protected myself."

"Protecting yourself doesn’t require giving one a concussion, one a set of broken ribs, and another one a busted jaw."

Zarek rolled to his feet and glared at him. "What happened to them was their own fault. They should have backed off when I told them to."

Ash returned Zarek’s glare even keel. Zarek possessed the ability to stir his anger even faster than Artemis did. "Dammit, Z, I’m tired of taking shit from Artemis because you can’t behave."

"What’s the matter, Highness? Can’t take the criticism? I guess that’s what happens when you grow up noble. You never have to worry about having your behavior censored. Everyone thinks you’re perfect. Meanwhile you’re free to frolic through your life. Tell me, what made you a Dark-Hunter? Someone scuff your boots and get away with it?"

Ash closed his eyes and counted to twenty. Slowly. He knew ten would never be enough to calm him.

Zarek raked him with that familiar sneer. The ex-slave had always hated him. But Ash didn’t take it personally. Zarek hated everyone.

"I know what you think of me, O Great Acheron. I know how much you pity me and I don’t need it. Do you honestly think I could ever forget the way you looked at me the first night we met? You stood there with horror in your eyes as you tried not to show it to me.

"Well, you achieved your good deed. You cleaned up your little foundling and made him all pretty and healthy. But don’t even think that means I have to lick your boots or kiss your ass for it. My days of subjugation are over."

Ash growled low in his throat as he fought down the urge to splinter the man against the far wall. "Don’t push me, Z. I’m the only thing standing between you and a deathly existence so bad it’s beyond even your comprehension."

"Go ahead then. Kill me. Do you really think I give a damn?"

No, he didn’t. Zarek had been born with a death wish. Both as a mortal man and as a Dark-Hunter. But Ash would never again kill a Dark-Hunter and send him into the agony of Shadedom. He knew firsthand the horrors of that existence.

"Shave your goatee, take the earring out, and keep your damn claws hidden. If you’re smart, you’ll stay away from the cops."

"Is that an order?"

Ash used his powers to lift Zarek from the floor and pin him roughly against the ceiling. "Stop pushing your luck, boy. I’ve had it with you."

Zarek actually laughed. "Have you ever thought of hiring yourself out to Disneyland? People would pay a fortune for this ride."

Ash growled louder, baring his fangs at the impudent ass.

It was seriously hard to intimidate a man who had nothing in life that meant anything to him. Dealing with Zarek made him feel like a parent with an out-of-control child.

Ash lowered him to the floor before he yielded to the temptation of strangling him.

Zarek narrowed his eyes as his feet connected with the floor. He walked nonchalantly to his duffel bag and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.

He knew better than to taunt the Atlantean. Acheron could extinguish him in a heartbeat if he chose to. But then, Acheron still held his humanity. He actually had compassion for other people, which was a weakness Zarek had never possessed. No one had ever given a damn about him so why should he care about anyone else?

He lit his cigarette as Acheron turned to leave.

"Talon will patrol around Canal, so I want you to take the area from Jackson Square to Esplanade."

Zarek exhaled the smoke. "Anything else?"

"Behave, Z. For the love of Zeus, behave."

Zarek took a long drag on his cigarette as Acheron opened the door without touching it and strode out of his house.

He held his cigarette between his teeth and raked his hands through his tousled black hair.

Behave.

He could almost laugh at the order.

It wasn’t his fault that trouble always came looking for him. But he’d never been one to dodge anything either. He’d learned a long time ago to take his hits and his pain.

He clenched his teeth as he remembered last night. He’d seen the Daimons on the street as they headed to Sunshine’s loft. Heard them talking about how they intended to damage her. So he’d followed them, until he had a chance to fight them without anyone seeing them.

The next thing he knew, he had four bullet wounds in his side and a cop screaming at him to freeze.

At first, he’d intended to let them arrest him and then call Nick to bail him out, but when one of the cops had hit him across the back with his nightstick, all good intentions had gone straight to hell.

His days as a whipping boy were over.

No one was ever going to touch him again.

Sunshine sat outside Talon’s cabin, working on the paintings Cameron Scott had commissioned from her. While Talon slept inside, she’d been out here for hours, trying to figure out why she was still here with him in his swamp.

Why she had come out here with him last night when she should have just gone over to her brother’s.

Her revelation about their past life together had really freaked her out.

She had been his passive, June Cleaver wife…

Sunshine shivered. She didn’t want to be anyone’s wife.

Not any more.

Marriage was a losing venture for a woman. Her ex-husband had taught her well that guys didn’t want a wife so much as a maid who could provide them with sex on tap.

An artist like her, Jerry Gagne had seemed the perfect match. They had met in art school and she had fallen in love with the moody, mysterious goth chicness of him.

At that time in her life, she had loved him zealously and couldn’t imagine a day without him in it.

She thought they were two comfortable peas who could carve out a pod that would last them for the rest of their lives. She’d assumed Jerry would understand her need to create and that he would respect her and give her the room she needed to grow as an artist.

What Jerry had wanted was for her to take care of him while he grew as an artist. Her needs and desires had always taken a backseat to his.

Their marriage had lasted two years, four months, and twenty-two days.

Not all of it had been bad. Part of her still loved him. She’d enjoyed having company and someone to share her life with, but she didn’t want to go back to being the one who was responsible for where someone else put his socks-she could barely remember where she put her own socks. Dropping her projects and going to the store because someone forgot to get the eggs that he had to have for his homemade paints.

It was always her plans that changed. Her stuff that could wait.

Jerry had never made any kind of concession to her.

She didn’t want to lose herself to a man again. She wanted her own life. Her own career.

Talon was a great guy, but he struck her as a creature like herself. A loner who valued his privacy. They had had a great time so far, but she was sure they weren’t compatible.

She was someone who actually liked to get up and paint in the daylight. Talon stayed up all night long. She loved tofu and granola. He loved junk food and coffee.

She and Jerry had kept the same schedule, had all the same likes, and look what had happened. If they couldn’t make a go of it, then it certainly didn’t bode well for any kind of real relationship with Talon.

No, she needed to get back to her life.

As soon as he got up and they ate, she was going to tell him to take her home.

Talon sighed in his sleep. It had been a long time since he had last dreamt of his wife. He hadn’t dared. Thoughts of Nynia had always had the ability to tear his heart out.

But today, she was there with him. There in his dreams where they could be together.

His throat tight, he watched her sitting before his hearth, her belly distended with his child while she sewed clothes for the baby. Even after five years of marriage and a lifetime of friendship, she was able to stir his blood and make his heart swell with love.

Growing up under his uncle’s scornful eye and the disdain of the clan, he had only found her to give him comfort. She alone had made him feel loved.

He listened to her hum the same lullaby his mother had once sung to him when he was a very small child.

Gods, how he needed her. Now more than ever before. He was weary of fighting, weary of the demands his people had placed upon him since the death of his uncle.

Weary of hearing the whispers about his mother and father.

He was a young man, but tonight he felt ancient. And cold.

Until he looked at Nynia. She warmed him deep inside and made everything better.

How he loved her for it.

Moving forward, he sank down in front of her chair and placed his head in her lap. He wrapped his arms around her as he was wont to do and felt the baby kick his arm in protest.

"You’ve returned," she said gently, brushing her hand through his hair.

He didn’t speak. He couldn’t. Normally he would have bathed the blood from his armor and body before he sought her out, but the grief of the day was still too raw in his heart.

He needed to feel her gentle, soothing touch on his body, needed to know that for the moment she was safe and still with him.

Only she could ease the aching pain inside his heart.

His aunt was dead. Mutilated. He’d found the body when he’d gone to look for her after she didn’t show up for the midday meal.

If he lived an eternity, he would never forget the grisly sight. It would live inside him along with the memory of his mother dying in his arms.

"It’s the gods’ curse," Parth had whispered earlier that evening, not knowing Talon was close enough to hear him speak to his brother. "He is the whore’s son. She lay with a Druid to beget a cursed lineage and now we’ll all pay for it. The gods will punish us all."

"Do you wish to challenge Speirr’s sword for leadership?"

"Only a fool would challenge one such as he. Not even Cuchulainn could equal him."

"Then you’d best pray to the gods that he never hears you."

Talon clenched his eyes shut, trying to dampen the whispers that had haunted him all the days of his life.

"Speirr?" Nynia stroked his face. "Are they all slain?"

He nodded. After he had brought his aunt home, he had gathered his men and ridden after the Northern Gaul tribe. He’d found one of their daggers near her body and had known instantly they were responsible.

"I really am cursed, Nyn." The words stuck in his throat. After a lifetime of trying to prove to others that he wasn’t cursed for his parents’ actions, he was now cursed because of his own. "I should have listened to you when my uncle died. I should never have taken vengeance against the Northern clan. Now all I can do is fear what their gods will take from me next."

But in his heart, he already knew. There was nothing on earth more precious than the woman he held.

She was going to die.

Because of him.

It was all his fault. All of it.

He alone had brought the wrath of the Northern clan’s gods down upon their heads.

There was no way to stop it. No way to keep her by his side.

The pain of it was more than he could bear. "I have offered up sacrifices to the Morrigan, but the Druids tell me it isn’t enough. What more can I do?"

"Maybe this is the last. Maybe it will end now."

He hoped so. The alternative…

Nae, he couldn’t lose his Nynia. Their gods could have anything but her…

Talon groaned as his dream shifted forward, into the future. He held his wife as she labored to bring their baby into the world.

They were both covered in sweat from the fire and hours of exertion. The midwife had opened a window and let in a cool breeze from the snow that was falling outside.

Nynia had always loved the snow, and the weather had given them both hope that maybe everything would work out. Maybe the baby would be a new chance for all of them.

"Push!" the woman ordered.

Nynia’s fingernails bit into his arms as she gripped him and screamed. Talon placed his cheek to hers, holding her close and whispering into her ear. "I’ve got you, my love. I’ll never let you go."

She groaned deep and then relaxed as their son rushed out from inside her, into the hands of the midwife.

Nynia laughed as he kissed her cheek and hugged her tight.

But their joy was cut short as the child refused to respond to the old woman’s attempts to wake him.

"The babe is dead." The woman’s words rang in his head.

"Nae!" he snarled. "He sleeps. Rouse him."

"Nae, my triath. The child is stillborn. I’m truly sorry."

Nynia wept in his arms. "I am so sorry, Speirr, that I couldn’t give you your son. I didn’t mean to fail you."

"You didn’t fail me, Nyn. You could never fail me."

Horrified and heartbroken, Talon held Nynia close as the midwife washed and dressed their son’s small body.