"Don’t you leave me!" she shouted, grabbing his arm through the thick plastic.
"Get me home, Tate."
Tate gave her a sad smile as he pushed the stretcher through the door.
Amanda growled her frustration. "Damn you, Kyrian Hunter. Damn you."
Kyrian heard her muffled words. They tore through him. He was such a godless fool.
Don’t leave her , his heart begged.
But he had no choice.
This was the path he had chosen. His decision had been made with full knowledge of the consequences and sacrifices.
Amanda belonged to the light and he belonged to the darkness. Somehow, he would find a way to reclaim his soul without her, and once he did, he would kill Desiderius.
Amanda and Tabitha would be free and he would return to the life he knew. The life he had sworn himself to.
But deep in his heart, he knew the truth. He loved her, too. More than he had ever loved anything else in his life.
And he had to let her go.
It was just after five o’clock and nearing dusk when Amanda reached Kyrian’s. She parked her dark blue Taurus in front of the house and walked up to the grand front door, then knocked.
She expected Nick to answer; instead, the door swung open slowly to show her no one at all.
Frowning, she walked inside.
The door instantly slammed shut behind her, making her gasp in startled alarm. Now that she thought about it, the front gates had done the same thing. Only then she had assumed Kyrian had seen her car on the video monitors and had opened the gates before she had a chance to buzz the house.
Now she wasn’t so sure.
Her heart hammering, she still didn’t see anyone about. The silent house appeared completely empty. "Hello?" she asked, entering the foyer slowly. "Nick? Kyrian?"
"So you’re Amanda Devereaux."
She froze when she heard the voice coming from the living room. It was deep and provocative, with an accent unlike anything she’d ever heard before. The rich sound reminded her of quiet thunder.
For an instant, she feared it might be a Daimon, until her eyes adjusted enough to where she could see the stunningly gorgeous man on the sofa. He was lying on his back with his legs dangling way over the arm of the sofa and his hands behind his head as he watched her from the darkness.
Shirtless and barefoot, he wore a pair of tight leather pants. He had long, dark green hair and a stylized small birdlike tattoo on his left shoulder, the tail of which curled down and around his biceps. His skin was the same golden tone as Kyrian’s and it set off to perfection the small gold necklace he wore around his neck.
"And you are?" she asked.
"Acheron Parthenopaeus," he said in that steady, deep voice. "Pleased to meet you." His words were devoid of any warmth or emotion.
Okay, this was no Yoda. Well, except they both had green heads.
The man on the sofa looked to be no more than in his early twenties and yet there was a hardness to him that belied his youthful appearance. It was as if he had seen hell firsthand and had returned from the journey forever wiser.
Even while lying down, he commanded awe, and a shiver of fear went down her spine. Something about Acheron was truly frightening, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was.
He just made her greatly uneasy.
"So you’re the infamous Acheron."
A smile played across his devastatingly handsome face. "Lord and master of the great barbarian horde that roams the night."
"Are you truly?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Not really. I would have better luck harnessing the winds."
She laughed nervously.
He rose slowly to his feet and approached her like a great, stalking beast. As he drew near, the force of his presence and the sheer size of him overwhelmed her.
At least six-foot-eight, he towered over her with an indescribably powerful essence.
"My God," she breathed as she craned her neck to look up at him. "Is there some unwritten law that you guys have to be giants?"
He laughed, showing her a glimpse of his fangs. "What can I say? Artemis likes her Dark-Hunters tall. Short men need not apply."
As he stopped before her, she saw his eyes.
Her jaw went slack. Unlike Kyrian’s, they shimmered. There was no other word for it. As she watched him, his eyes shifted through an entire blue and silver spectrum. Like quicksilver, the colors changed and blended. It reminded her of a turgid sea with shifting waves.
"Off-putting, aren’t they?" he asked as he watched her watch him.
"Are they supposed to do that?"
He smiled a tight-lipped smile, but didn’t respond as he pulled a pair of black opaque sunglasses from his back pocket and put them on. Now that his eyes were covered, she noticed the strange scar on his neck. It looked as if someone’s hand print had been burned into his throat while he was being throttled. Very, very strange.
"What brings you here, little human?" Acheron asked.
"I’ve come to see Kyrian."
"He doesn’t want to be seen."
"Well," she said, stiffening her spine to stand strong against this Dark-Hunter she was sure could splinter her in a nanosecond. "We don’t always know what’s best for us."
He laughed at that. "Very true. So you think you can save him?"
"You doubt me?"
He cocked his head as if assessing her mettle and walked a small circle around her. As he passed, she saw the healing wounds on his back. They overlapped and crisscrossed like some twisted river map. But the most peculiar part was that they seemed to form an intricate pattern that was as beautiful as it was horrifying.
Her heart lurched at the sight. He must have endured untold hours of agony for each visible welt.
Dropping her gaze from his lean, muscular back, she found the bow mark of Artemis that was identical to the one Kyrian had on his shoulder. Only Acheron’s was located over his right hipbone.
"You know," he said in a low, ominous tone. "I’ve walked this earth for over eleven thousand years, my lady." He paused and leaned to whisper in her ear. "I have seen things in my life that are unimaginable to you, and you ask if I doubt you?"
He took a step back so that he could watch her face before he finished his sentence. "Lady, I doubt the very air you breathe."
"I don’t understand you."
He ignored her confusion. "You want his soul."
"Excuse me?" she asked as a nervous tremor went through her.
"I feel you, lady. I hear you. Your mind is a whirlpool of feelings and fears: Can you have him? Does he love you? Could he ever love you? Do you honestly love him? Is there even the tiniest chance that the two of you can find a way to be together? Or are you just fooling yourself?"
She shivered as he laid bare the very thoughts and doubts in her heart.
He stopped in front of her and tilted her chin until she looked up at him. She could sense him probing her soul through her eyes, but she could see nothing of his liquid silver gaze. All she saw was herself reflected in the black lenses of his sunglasses.
When he spoke, his voice seemed to be coming from inside her head. "The one question that bothers you most is how to save him without killing your sister in the process."
"How do you know all that?"
He gave an odd half-smile. "My powers are unfathomable to you."
"Then why don’t you kill Desiderius before he hurts Kyrian again?"
He dropped his hand from her chin. "I can’t."
"For the same reason Kyrian can’t. I have no soul with which to fight him. He would kill me, and given the sins of my past, I shudder to think of the means he would use."
She thought about that for a moment. Desiderius had tried to kill Kyrian the same way Kyrian had died as a mortal, which meant Acheron must have suffered something even worse than crucifixion.
Just what had killed this fearsome Dark-Hunter?
And hard on the heels of that thought was another. "How does a Dark-Hunter get his soul back?"
He backed her against the wall like a lion cornering its prey. The very air around him seemed to sizzle with mystical energy and power. "Souls are strange things, lady. They can only be passed by free will. The one who owns it must willingly let it go."
"So I need to summon Artemis since she holds Kyrian’s soul?"
He laughed evilly at that. "She would eat you alive, little girl."
His tone set her anger off. He might be Mr. Badass, but she wasn’t a child. "Don’t patronize me."
"Oh, I’m not patronizing you. I am only warning you. You are incapable of taking on the goddess. She is the wind. The mistress of our destinies and you, little girl, are nothing more than a tiny morsel she would gobble up and spit out for fun."
"Thank you for that vivid imagery," she said, her stomach turning at the thought.
He smirked at that. Then his harsh features softened. "You do want to save him, don’t you?"
Again she had the feeling he was eavesdropping on her thoughts. "Of course I do. He means everything to me."
He nodded. "You are pure of heart. This might actually work."
Now that scared her more than anything else he’d said or done. Something in his tone told her his idea was the worst kind of risky. "What might work?"
Acheron moved to a black backpack that rested on the coffin coffee table. He reached inside and pulled out a black carved wooden box. Silver symbols and classical Greek writing covered it. "What you seek is in here."
He opened the box to show her rich black velvet lining that cradled a red medallion. Like Acheron’s eyes, it shimmered. But its colors turned from red to yellow to orange. Colors that seemed to lick the center carving that looked like a swirling wind.
"How beautiful," she breathed as she reached to touch it.
Acheron pulled it from her reach. "Touch it and it will burn you like the very fires of hell."
She dropped her hand instantly. "What is it?"
Her heart stopped beating when she heard his blase tone. Swallowing, she stared at the medallion. Could it really be his soul?
No, it wasn’t possible. "You’re lying to me."
"I never lie," Acheron said simply. "I have no need to."
Still, she wasn’t ready to believe he had possession of what she wanted more than anything. "What are you doing with it?"
"I was hoping you might help me return it to him so that he could kill Desiderius."
"Return it how?"
Acheron picked the medallion up, cradled it in his palm, and closed the box.
"It doesn’t burn you?" she asked.
He gave her a sly smile. "I told you, my powers are beyond your imagination."
"Then why don’t you return it to Kyrian?"
"Because he doesn’t trust me and, unlike you, I have no heart, pure or otherwise." He turned the medallion over as if studying it. "You see, there is only one way for a Dark-Hunter to regain his soul. A pure, loving heart must take the medallion into his or her palm and hold it while the Dark-Hunter is drained of his supernatural powers. Only when the human part of him remains can a Dark-Hunter die a normal death."
"I beg your pardon?"
He looked at her, and even though she couldn’t see his eyes, she knew he was staring at her. "The only way to give his soul back is to stop his human heart from beating. When it beats for the last time, the medallion must be placed against the mark where the soul was captured. It will leave the medallion and reenter his body."
Her head throbbed as she tried to come to terms with what he was saying. "I don’t understand. How do you stop his heart from beating?"
"You drain his Dark-Hunter powers, then you stake him through the heart."
She stepped back, her mind whirling. "No! He’ll vaporize like a Daimon. You’re trying to get me to kill him, aren’t you?"
"No," he said earnestly. "The Dark-Hunters are my children and I would sooner damn myself to a Shade before I ever let one be hurt. You asked how to return his soul to him and I’ve answered you. If you want to free him, you have to drain him and kill him."
Before she could say another word, Acheron took her hand and brought it over the medallion in his. The heat from it was excruciating. It was like holding her hand over a propane torch.
"Now imagine touching it," he whispered. "Then think of holding it. You will have to keep the medallion in your hand from the moment he is staked until his heart stops beating and you release it back into his body."
His grip tightened on her wrist and she could feel his hidden gaze boring into her. "Do you love him enough?"
"I…" Amanda hesitated. "How long do I have to hold it?"
"As long as it takes. I can’t tell you that. It is different for every Dark-Hunter."
"And if I let go of it before the soul is free?"
"Then Kyrian is doomed for eternity to walk as neither Dark-Hunter nor Human. He will be trapped between this world and the next as a Shade. He will yearn for food and never be able to eat. He will thirst and never drink. He will suffer eternally."
Amanda stared at the medallion in horror. "I can’t chance it."