Night Embrace (Page 32)

Night Embrace (Dark-Hunter #3)(32)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Ash growled low in his throat. Of course, she would never come because he was hurt. She’d taught him long ago that his suffering meant nothing to her. "I’m handling it."

"Handling it how? He has been exposed and is now being sought by the human authorities. He jeopardizes everything. He must die."

"No." He snarled the word at her. "I will take care of it. I just need more time."

She had that familiar calculating look on her face. "And what will you give me for this time you request?"

"Dammit, Artemis, why must everything be a bargain with you? Can’t you, just once, do something because I asked it of you?"

"Nothing is free," she said as she walked a circle around him. He cringed as she raked her hand over his back. "You of all people should know that. A favor requires a favor in turn."

He took a deep breath and prepared himself for what was to come. Like it or not, he would have to play supplicant to her to keep Zarek safe. "What do you want?"

She pulled his hair back from the nape of his neck and nuzzled him with her lips and nose. Against his will, his body broke out in chills and hardened.

When she spoke, her voice was low and husky. "You know what I want."

"Fine," he said resignedly. "You can have me, just don’t send Thanatos in yet. Let me get Zarek back to Alaska."

"Mmm," she breathed against his neck. "See… it’s so much better when you cooperate."

He stiffened as she licked his skin.

"Question?" he said coldly. "Did you free Styxx just so you could screw me?"

She pulled back sharply and stepped around him to give him a shocked stare. "What?"

Ash watched her carefully, wanting to know the truth. "Styxx is loose in New Orleans."

Artemis appeared flabbergasted. "I would never do that to you, Acheron. I had no idea he had escaped. Are you sure?"

In spite of himself, he was relieved to know she hadn’t betrayed him. Again.

"Talon saw him and thought he was me."

Artemis pressed her hand to her lips. Her green eyes were terrified. "He’ll be coming for you."

"He already is. I’m sure that little dance with Zarek outside of the club was a setup to get you to kill Zarek. No doubt, Styxx is trying to neutralize my men. Either to keep them from protecting me or to keep me distracted."

"I won’t let him have you," she said emphatically.

"This is between me and my brother, Artie. I want you to stay put of it." Ash moved farther away from her. "I’ll be back at dawn to fulfill our bargain. In the meantime, leave Zarek to me."

Vane was still in human form as he helped his sister eat her gumbo.

She was the only living creature he had ever allowed to see the tender side of him. To the rest of the world, he must always be ruthless and harsh lest their pack prey on Anya and Fang because of their mixed heritage.

Vane clenched his hand against Anya’s thick, soft fur and fought down the pain inside him. She and Fang were all he really had in this world.

All that had ever meant anything to him.

On the day Anya had mated with the Strati warrior Orian, Vane had thrown a fit. He had always known her reckless and stupid mate would meet an early death.

A few weeks ago, the Fates had proven him right.

He could still hear the sound of her voice when she had learned of Orian’s death and had told him that she was more than mated to Orian. She had allowed the wolfswain to bond her to him as well. With their life forces melded into one, Orian’s death would normally have been hers, except for the fact that she carried Orian’s young.

But as soon as the pups came into this world, she would join her mate on the other side of eternity.

His heart broken, Vane blinked back tears.

Anya looked up and licked his face.

"You like the gumbo, huh?" he asked, stroking her ears with both of his hands.

He heard her laughter in his head. "Thank you for getting it."

He nodded. For her, he would walk through the fires of hell to claim a simple drink of water.

She sank down beside him and rested her head on his lap. "You should take wolf form before the others grow suspicious."

He watched the way her fur cradled his fingers. How he was going to miss her when she was gone. She was the most beautiful wolf swan he’d ever seen, and he didn’t mean her looks. It was her gentle heart he would miss most of all. The way she always worried after him.

"I will, Anya. I just want a few more minutes."

He sensed Fang coming up behind him in wolf form. His brother butted him in the back with his head, then nipped playfully at his shoulder.

A flash of light appeared to the right of them. Vane looked up to find Acheron standing in the swamp. The Atlantean glanced around to make sure they were alone, then spoke quietly. "Can I have a minute?"

Fang growled.

"It’s all right, adelfos," Vane said, pushing his brother back. "Watch over Anya."

Vane rose to his feet and walked Acheron into the woods, away from the den. If any of his pack learned he had brought a Dark-Hunter into it, his life was over.

"You should have called me, Ash."

"This couldn’t wait. I have a problem and you’re the only one I trust to help me."

Now that shocked him. Immensely. "You trust me?"

Ash gave him a wry look. "No, not really. But I have a renegade who is pretending to be me and threatening my Hunters."

"What’s that got to do with me?"

"You owe me one, Vane, and I need you and Fang to act as backup. I need some muscle that they won’t see coming."

"When?"

"Now."

Talon paced the floor of Sunshine’s loft. He’d quickly showered the blood from his body and changed into the clothes Nick had brought. He was staying calm, but it was a real challenge.

"She is unharmed, Speirr," Ceara said. "I swear it."

He let out a long, weary breath in relief. He was grateful Ceara had managed to come to him this time, but it was a hard struggle for her to stay with him. The power that was blocking her was one they had never before encountered.

He only hoped Ceara could battle it a little longer and continue to help him protect and watch over Sunshine.

"Can you tell me where she is exactly?" he asked his sister.

"Oh jeez," Nick said from the breakfast counter where he sat, waiting for Ash to return. "You’re not talking to the dead again, are you? I hate it when you do that."

"Shut up, Nick."

Nick curled his lip. " ‘Shut up, Nick, heel, sit, fetch.’ Love you too, Celt."

Talon glared at him. "Why don’t you go scrounge up something to eat so that your mouth is occupied?"

"That I can do." Nick scooted off the bar stool and headed into the kitchen.

"Nae, I can’t find her," Ceara said. "I can’t pinpoint her exact location. I told you, something powerful protects her. Something that is beginning to feel like a god’s power to me."

"Camulus?"

"I’m not sure. Part of it feels like it could be a Celtic god and yet there is something more."

"What?"

"It’s more like powers are commingled. Like two gods are protecting themselves."

"Why?"

She shrugged.

Nick cursed. "There’s no food in here. There’s nothing but grass and tofu and shit. There’s not even a Coke. Man, T, your girlfriend is whacked."

Nick pulled out the block of soy cheese and smelled it. "This looks kind of edible though. I mean, you can’t really screw up cheese, right?"

"Yeah, Nick. Eat the cheese." He turned back to Ceara. while Nick searched for a knife to slice it. "Will they free her?"

"I can’t tell you the future, Speirr, you know the rules."

"I have to know she’s going to live."

Ceara hesitated before she answered. "Today, she will."

"And tomorrow?"

Ceara looked away. "I can’t tell you that."

Talon cursed.

Suddenly, a bright flash of light entered the room. Talon shielded his eyes from the glare and watched as Acheron and two men appeared just inside the doorway. He’d never seen the two men before, but one look told him they were Katagaria. The air around them was rife with animalistic, psychic power.

"Oh man," Nick snapped. "I hate that pooling shit. You scared me so bad, Ash, you made me eat this crappy cheese." He looked back at Talon. "What is this stuff anyway?"

"Soy cheese."

The Katagaria exchanged a disgusted look.

"So much for my dinner," the taller Katagaria said. "Now his whole system is polluted. Be at least a week before it leaves his cell tissue and he’s edible again."

Nick paled considerably.

"You ready to go after Sunshine?" Acheron asked Talon.

Steeled with determination, Talon nodded. "Let’s do it."

Acheron glanced to Nick in the kitchen. "Nick, I want you to head over to Zarek’s and keep him out of sight for the time being. He’s under house arrest, so if I catch him out and about, he’s in deep shit and so are you."

Nick grimaced. "Okay, but for the record, I want you to know that if a woman’s life wasn’t on the line, I’d tell you to stuff that order."

Nick walked out the door, past the Katagaria, mumbling all the while. " ‘Nick, fetch my car, fetch my clothes, sweep the chimney, make my bed, watch my psychopath, fetch my slippers.’ Yeah, I’ll fetch those slippers and stick them someplace real uncomfortable." Just when Talon thought he was through, he heard one last parting comment. "I swear, my mother should have named me Fido."

"Hey, I’ll have you know my best friend is named Fido," the taller Katagaria said over his shoulder.

The other Katagaria shoved him lightly. "Would you stop?"

Acheron indicated the taller Katagaria with short black hair who had made the first comment. "Talon, meet Fang." He motioned to the one with longer hair and green eyes. "And his brother, Vane."

"Why are they here?" Talon asked Acheron.

"Let’s just say that if the bad guys are armed with halogen lights again, they won’t have the same effect on the Katagaria that they had on you."

"Yeah," Vane said, smiling evilly. "Lights just make us attack more."

Good, they had at least one surprise in their corner.

Now if he could just get his hands on Camulus.

"So, what’s the plan, girls?" Fang asked.

"For none of us to get killed," Acheron said.

Vane led them out of the loft, downstairs to Talon’s car. Talon saw the two black and gray Ninja motorcycles that must belong to the Katagaria. Since the were-animals had to move quickly to avoid their enemies, they tended to prefer racing bikes to running or walking, which depleted the strength they needed for fighting.

Talon checked his watch. It was twenty minutes to rendezvous. Part of him wished Ash would just poof them over to the warehouse, but he knew better than to ask.

Ash was capricious with that one power and got rather testy when asked to use it.

Talon got into the Viper while the other three started their bikes. He pulled out of the alley first, with the guys right behind him, and headed for Commerce Street.

They reached the Warehouse District a few minutes later.

The streets were bustling with activity, both tourist and local. This popular area was New Orleans’ premier art district and was often referred to as the SoHo of the South.

It didn’t take long for Talon to find the old abandoned warehouse that had been a popular art gallery during the 1980s. It had closed down in the early 1990s and been vacant ever since. The large-paned windows were dark, some partially boarded up and broken. The once red doors were now cracked and peeling, and held together by a thick chain and padlock.

There wasn’t a single sound coming from inside as the men left their vehicles and gathered into a group.

"Uh, guys," Fang said slowly as he removed his helmet, "you do realize this is most likely a trap?"

"No, you think so?" Talon asked sarcastically.

Fang rolled his eyes.

Talon summoned his powers, letting them surge and feeling just how fragmented they were. This wasn’t good.

He didn’t know what was waiting inside that building, but he would fight his way through hell itself to keep Sunshine safe. Powers or no powers.

They headed for the building with Ash pulling up the rear.

"Ooo," Fang said as Talon worked the padlock. "Breaking and entering. Brings back fond memories, eh, Vane?"

"Shut up, Scooby," Vane said, using the derogatory wolf Katagaria term for a brainless, cowardly pup. "And watch your back."

Talon snapped open the lock and opened the door. It creaked loudly as the door fell off its hinges.

Talon cursed, then irritably shoved the door aside.

Entering the building one by one, they fanned out, and then paused inside the dark, empty room that was covered with at least a decade’s worth of dust, spiderwebs, and grime.

Every so often, a car would go by outside, the headlights illuminating some of the dilapidated interior.

The place was totally silent except for a strange, rhythmic thumping coming from upstairs and the sound of rodents scurrying around the floor.