"E-mail?" Amanda asked. "Should I ask?"
Hunter shrugged. "We’ve come a long way. We used to pay runners to carry information between us."
"Ah," she said, then she noticed a solitary man standing across the street in the shadows. Instead of watching the fire, he seemed more concerned with Hunter and Talon.
Talon rejoined them.
"Question," Amanda whispered as she studied the gorgeous blond shadow across the street. "Are all Daimons blond?"
"Yes," Hunter said. "As are all Apollites."
"Then how can you tell an Apollite from a Daimon?"
"Unless they have us blocked, we can sense them," Talon said. "But the only way for a human to tell is that when an Apollite crosses over, a black tattoo-looking symbol appears in the center of their chest where the human souls gather."
"Ah," she said again, still watching the man who was watching them. "Tell me, do you think your targets are purposely putting the two of you together to drain your powers before they strike?"
The men gave her a puzzled look.
"Why do you say that?" Talon asked.
"Well, I’m no expert, but that guy behind you looks like a Daimon to me."
The words barely left her lips before a flash of light hit Talon straight in his back and sent him to the ground.
Hunter cursed as he shoved her toward the car. He leapt over it, and ran straight at the Daimon who had attacked Talon. The two of them locked arms and fell to the ground in a fierce struggle.
Amanda made her way to Talon. He was covered in blood. Her heart pounding, she tried to help him up, but before she could another Daimon attacked them.
Reacting on instinct, she grabbed the Celtic dagger from Talon’s belt and caught the Daimon across the chest. The man hissed, then shrank back.
Talon came to his feet. Grabbing his dagger from her hand, he sent it flying into the back of the Daimon as he fled. The Daimon vanished in a flash of light.
Hunter came out of the darkness, his breathing labored as he retrieved Talon’s dagger from the ground, then returned it to the Celt. "You all right?" he asked.
Talon grimaced as he flexed his arm. "I’ve bled worse. You?"
"I’ve bled worse."
Talon gave a curt nod to Amanda. "Thanks for the assist." He rubbed the back of his shoulder with his hand. "Secure your woman. We’ll talk later."
Amanda grimaced as she watched Talon sling his long leg over his motorcycle. His movements were slow and steady, and that alone was proof of the pain he must be in. "Is he really okay?"
"We heal fast. Most wounds vanish in less than twenty-four hours."
A siren sounded in the distance. Kyrian looked down the street where the lights were flashing. "The police are coming. We need to head out before they arrive."
"What about Allison?’
"She’ll be all right once she wakes. Talon’s touch can heal anything except death."
Hunter gave a whistle and opened the door to his car. He put Terminator in her seat. "It’ll be a tight squeeze, but I think we can manage."
Amanda got in the car and adjusted Terminator in her lap as best she could. It wasn’t until Hunter sat next to her that she saw the blood on his hand and arm. "You’re hurt?"
"Flesh wound on my forearm. It’ll heal."
"Jeez, Hunter. How can you stand doing what you do?"
He laughed. "I’ve done it for so long, I honestly don’t remember what life was like before I died."
His words sent a chill over her. "You’re not really dead, are you? I’m kind of fuzzy on all this. You have a heartbeat and you bleed, not to mention that your skin is warm to the touch. That implies life, right?"
He started the car and headed down the street away from the police. "Yes and no. Once a human dies, Artemis uses her powers to trap our souls. After the soul is contained, we are brought back to life."
"Since I was dead at the time, I have no idea. All I know is that I felt everything go black, then I woke up with powers and strengths I never knew before."
Amanda thought about that as she stroked Terminator’s ears and held the dog’s head against her stomach to keep him quiet. "Does that mean you can die again?"
"Then what happens?"
Hunter took a deep breath. "If we die before we reclaim our souls, we walk the earth eternally without powers. We are trapped as Shades in our corporeal bodies, but we have no real substance, which means we can’t touch anything or be heard by anyone other than the Oracles. We crave food and water, but have no way to appease the hunger or thirst. It’s a short trip from partial damnation to a total damnation."
Amanda gaped at the horror of such a fate. She couldn’t stand the thought of something like that happening to him. "Does that happen even if a Daimon kills you?"
"That’s not fair."
He glanced over at her. "What kind of life have you lived, little one, that everything seems to be a question of fair and unfair? Life and death just are. Fair has nothing to do with it."
There was something very telling about that statement.
Just how many times had he suffered injustice to feel that way?
That thought was quickly followed by another. "Julian said you can get your soul back."
"In theory, yes."
"In theory?" she asked as Terminator lifted his head to look at Hunter.
Hunter reached over and patted the dog’s head until Terminator settled down again.
"We are given an out clause, but in the last two thousand years, only a handful have succeeded. Most of the ones who tried ended up as Shades."
Amanda frowned. How horrible. By his tone she could tell Hunter had resigned himself to the fact he would never even attempt it. Why?
"What would you have to do to get your soul back?"
He shrugged. "I don’t know. None of us do since the path to redemption is different for each Dark-Hunter. All I know is that when the moment of truth comes, the Dark-Hunter is either set free or damned for eternity."
What Kyrian didn’t tell her was that in order to be free, the Dark-Hunter must place his or her soul into the hands of someone who loved them. Having been burned so severely by his wife, he would never again trust anyone with his body or heart, never mind his immortal soul.
He had seen too many of his brethren trapped as Shades because the person they trusted had failed the test.
And in the back of his mind was the knowledge that no woman could ever love him. Not even a tiny bit. Let alone love him enough to set him free.
"Why did you agree to this life?" she asked.
He arched a brow. "I told you, I have unlimited income and immortality. What’s not to like?"
Still, Amanda didn’t buy that. It was too easy and he didn’t seem so superficial. "You just don’t seem the greedy sort to me."
"No. You’re more grounded than that. More generous. Greedy people don’t leave the kind of thoughtful gifts you left for Julian and his family." She saw his jaw flex and she knew she’d pegged him perfectly. "How did you get his ring back, anyway? Julian said he had sold it a few years ago."
Hunter remained so quiet that she didn’t think he would answer. Finally he spoke. "I saved a man who was wearing it about a year ago from a Daimon attack. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it. I offered to buy it from him, but he let me have it for saving him."
Amanda narrowed her eyes on him, wishing she could see into him the way he was able to see into her. "Why did you want it?"
A veil fell over his face and she could tell just how much the topic bothered him.
"Well?" she prompted when it became evident he wouldn’t answer.
"What do you want me to say?" he asked, his voice sharp and moody. "That I had a moment of weakness when I saw it? That for an instant I felt the pang of being homesick? Yeah, I did. There, you now know the Dark-Hunter who has no soul has a heart. Are you happy?"
"I already knew you had a heart."
He stopped at a red light and looked at her. A fierce frown creased his brow as if he were trying to figure her out.
"Believe it or not," she continued, "it shows in everything you do."
He shook his head as if he couldn’t believe her, then he looked back at the light. "You know nothing about me."
It was true and yet…
She was intrigued by him. Captivated. This man who wasn’t a man called out to her and seduced her. All she had ever wanted in life was to be normal. To have a warm, loving home with children. A quiet life.
He could offer her none of that.
Yet when she looked at Kyrian, when she thought about him, the strangest things happened to her. It wasn’t just lust.
There was something more.
Something undefinable that made her heart just a little happier, a little more tender. Something about being around him that made her soar.
She wondered if he felt that, too.
If he did, he kept it well hidden behind that tough exterior of his.
"Can I ask you something else?"
He sighed irritably. "What the hell? You’ve asked me everything else."
She disregarded his caustic words. "Why did you become a Dark-Hunter?"
"I wanted vengeance at any cost."
This time there was no mistaking the pain on his face, the slight flaring of his nostrils. His hand was so tight on the steering wheel that she could see his knuckles protruding sharply against his skin.
Amanda took a deep breath as she stroked Terminator’s ears. She couldn’t fault him for wanting revenge against a woman who had been so cold-blooded as to turn him over to his enemies. "Julian told me the gods give you twenty-four hours to exact revenge. What did you do to her?"
A tic started in his jaw and when he spoke, his tone was rife with anger. "For her, I turned my back on my family. I gave up a kingdom and hurt the people who truly loved me. Because of Theone, the last words I spoke to my parents were hurtful and cruel. And when they delivered the news to my father that I had died, the grief of it drove him insane.
"He flung himself from the window of my childhood room onto the courtyard stones below, where he died a broken man, calling my name. My mother never spoke another word again until the day she died, and my youngest sister sheared her hair off to let the world know just how much she grieved.
"Without me to lead our forces, the Romans invaded and took over my homeland. My people lost their dignity, their nationality, and suffered for centuries under Roman occupation."
Hunter glanced at her. ‘Tell me, what would you have done to my wife?"
Tears welled in her eyes as she listened to the pain in his voice. How she ached for him. Dear Lord, no one deserved such punishment because they had mistakenly thought someone loved them.
But what struck her most was that there was no mention of what Theone had done to him. He was only sorry for what it had cost his family and country.
She wanted to touch him so badly that she wasn’t sure how she refrained. Instead, she kept her attention on Terminator. Holding the dog the way she wanted to hold Hunter.
"I don’t know," she whispered past the stinging lump in her throat. "I guess I would have killed her, too."
"One would think that, anyway."
A chill went up her spine. "You didn’t, did you?"
"No, I didn’t. I had my hands wrapped around her neck and was about to end her life when she looked up at me with those weepy, fearful eyes. One minute I wanted to kill her and the next thing I knew, I wiped her tears away, kissed her trembling lips, and left her there in peace."
He clenched his teeth. "So, you see, you sit beside the greatest fool ever born. A man who traded his soul for a vengeance he never took."
The full horror of his past hit her. After all he had suffered because of his wife, after all he had lost, he had still loved her. Greatly.
No matter what Theone had done to him, in the end he had forgiven her.
How could anyone have betrayed someone capable of so much love and loyalty?
Amanda couldn’t fathom it. "I’m sorry."
"Don’t be. As they say, I made my bed and I was crucified in it. I was the one who was blind and foolish. I realized too late that she had never, once, told me she loved me."
The regret and sorrow in his voice tore at her. "It wasn’t your fault," she said as they headed into the Garden District. "She had no right to betray you."
"Theone never betrayed me. I betrayed myself."
Good Lord, he was strong. She’d never known anyone who was so willing to shoulder such responsibility on his own shoulders. How she wished for a way to reach through that iron wall he kept around himself.
Her heart heavy, Amanda watched as they passed by the antebellum mansions where large oaks and pines were draped with tons of hanging Spanish moss.
Hunter pulled into a drive at the end of the street. Trees obscured her view to the house, and two large stone pedestals secured a heavy wrought-iron, twelve-foot-high gate. A tall redbrick wall surrounded the grounds and seemed to go on forever.