To make up for the life that had been brutally cut short.
"You look pissed off tonight."
She cocked her head as she recognized the softly accented voice behind her.
Sam turned around slowly to face the delicate Chinese woman whose long black hair was secured into a tight braid down her back. But that fragility was extremely misleading. While Chi barely broke five feet in height and was as thin as a pencil, she was a skilled warrior who could take down anyone dumb enough to mistake her for an easy mark. Dressed in a tight pair of jeans and a black shirt and vest, Chi was exquisitely beautiful. The kind of perfect beauty Sam had ached for when she was human. But over the centuries she’d learned that that kind of beauty was as much a curse as a blessing.
Hence why Chi was now a Dark-Hunter.
Sam smiled. A fellow Dog of War, Chi was the only friend she’d allowed herself to have in the last five thousand years. She still wasn’t sure how it’d happened, but Chi was a hard person not to love–once you broke through her icy defenses. "What are you doing here?"
Knowing better than to touch her, Chi gestured around the club. "Same as you. Scoping Daimons. Looking for a good fight to take the edge off. Did the bear at the door tell you about their great hallucination of a Daywalker?"
"He did indeed."
"What do you think it was?"
Sam shrugged. "Maybe a demon they mistook for a Daimon."
Chi nodded in agreement. "Makes sense. They are sometimes hard for the untrained to differentiate." And Chi would know since she was an expert in demonology. "There are several subspecies of demon that are very Daimon-like. One of those could be mistaken by a Were."
Maybe, but Dev had seemed pretty sharp. Then again, Chi was the expert, which made Sam wonder why Chi was here in New Orleans. "When did they relocate you?"
"Three weeks ago."
Sam cocked her brow at that. "Why didn’t you tell me you were being relocated too?"
Chi tsked at her tone. "Ditch the suspicion. I wanted to surprise you, jie jie. Nothing more. Nothing less. Had I not come across you tonight, I would have called. This is my first trip in to look around and I was hoping I’d stumble on you, which I did." She grinned. "I wanted it to be a surprise. That’s all."
Sam inwardly cringed as Chi called her "big sister." In her world "sister" was an insult. And she knew Chi was being honest about the moving and not telling her–another blessing of her powers. Sam was a walking lie detector. "It’s really good to see you again."
Chi wrinkled her nose. "Let’s just hope this time is not as bloody as the last."
Sam laughed. "Like you don’t relish the fight as much as I do. Some days I think more so."
Chi joined her laughter. "True, very true."
Sam narrowed her eyes as she noticed the shiny silver sticks at the top of Chi’s braid. Reaching out, she touched one with her gloved fingertip. True to her intuition, it was sharp as a talon as it snagged the leather on her glove. "Nice weapon disguise."
Chi took a sip of her own drink. "You have to be creative these days. Humans are more suspicious than ever. If you want, I can give you a set."
"Love to have them. But I should probably pass." Wearing them on her body could be a major hassle since she’d pick up on the emotions of whoever had created them. It was why everything she wore, drove, or used had to be created by Acheron specifically for her–untouched by the hands of another creature. Thank the gods their fearless leader had the powers he did. Otherwise she’d be completely screwed. It was why she didn’t like food. Beverages weren’t so bad since most of them were done by machines.
Meat for her was out of the question. Gods, how she missed eating steak….
Pushing that thought away, Sam took another swig of beer as she considered what Chi had told her about her latest assignment. "So how many of us have been relocated to New Orleans now?"
"Last I heard, Acheron has eight of the Dogs here."
The number was impressive. "Eight? Isn’t that overkill?"
Chi shrugged. "I guess the Atlantean is expecting something big to happen." They’d all been sent here to guard one man in particular. Nick Gautier. That was the extent of what they knew.
Nick had to live even if it meant they had to die.
"But of course Acheron isn’t telling anyone what that is." There was more venom in Sam’s voice than she’d intended. All things considered, she loved Acheron. She just wished he’d be a little more open with all of them.
Chi held her bottle up in silent salute. "Exactly."
Typical Acheron. He lived for secrets and it made Sam wonder what exactly was up in the preternatural realm that the Atlantean would risk bringing in so many of the Dogs of War at one time. They weren’t exactly friendly and most of them were highly territorial. The last time there had been two Dogs in one city, they’d almost destroyed it.
And contrary to the online rumors, it hadn’t been her and Ethon going at it.
Chi narrowed a curious stare her way as if she picked up on that thought. "Have you seen Ethon yet?"
Sam grimaced at the reminder of the ancient Spartan general who, after a night of battle, had been forced to take refuge in her house centuries ago. "Not yet, but I did see Roman on the street a few nights back." She spat his name with all the disgust she felt scalding her throat. Roman was a gladiator and while she could appreciate his skills, she despised everything he stood for.
Chi gave her a gimlet stare. "You planning a rematch with Ethon?"
Sam shuddered at the thought. "Do I bring up your old flings?"
"He’s really gorgeous."
"And so not what I’m looking for in anything. Even for a single night." Not to mention Dark-Hunters were completely forbidden from sleeping together. She and Ethon had gotten caught up in a moment, spent one night together, and had regretted it ever since. If Acheron ever found out what they’d done, he’d probably kill them.
Artemis definitely would.
And that night had taught her to stay away from lovers forever and Ethon in particular. She still couldn’t get the images of Ethon’s brutal past out of her mind. Never again did she want to be that assaulted by someone else’s damage. She had enough of her own.
Guilt tore through her. She winced, shoving it away before it did any more harm to her.
Chi passed an amused glance over to the bar where the Dev lookalike was pouring a drink for another customer. "What about the bears?"
Sam forced herself not to react in the slightest. "What about the bears?"
"Oh c’mon, don’t tell me you haven’t thought about being a cub sandwich with them. Especially with the quads. Oh my God, the one at the door is absolutely droolicious."
Chi playfully rubbed up against her, making sure not to touch her skin. "Don’t play coy. I know you better than that. Dev is definitely worth a brush of emotions."
Sam snorted. "Yes, you do and yes, I thought about it."
"I’m having Ethon flashbacks and throwing up in my mouth as a result. I don’t want to relive that damage. Ever." Not even for something as scrumptious as Dev.
Chi snorted. "One night won’t kill you."
"Isn’t that what Geitara said right before the Battle of Tortulla? As I remember, it didn’t go well for her when they slaughtered her and all her troops." Sam jerked her chin toward the bartender. "If you’re so hungry, why don’t you take one home?"
"One? Honey, I’m waiting for the whole six-pack."
Sam laughed. "You are evil."
Chi sobered instantly as she jerked to her right and scanned the club with her gaze. "Did you feel that?"
Sam turned her head and lowered her chin, listening. There had been a strange sensation that cut through the air around them. Inhuman and feral. It’d gone down her spine like a razor. "I did." It was similar to a Daimon tremor, but different. More powerful. She looked around the club to see if anyone else felt it.
If they did, they didn’t react.
She met Chi’s narrowed gaze. "I’ll take the back."
"I’ll head out the front."
Sam used her powers to search the ether around them as she headed for the back door of Sanctuary. The Dark-Hunters also had an electronic tracker for Daimons, but she’d never needed one. Her senses and powers had always allowed her to hone right in on them.
But not tonight.
Tonight she lost the scent almost as soon as she walked outside.
How was that possible? And yet there was no denying what she felt. Or more to the point, didn’t feel. The air was crisp with a hint of autumn in it. She smelled the gumbo and steaks that were cooking in the kitchen and the scent of the river that was only a few blocks away. But there was nothing here to do with the Daimons.
With all her senses fully alert, she crept around the outside of the building, trying to locate what had called out to them.
Nothing was here. Everything appeared normal and yet in her gut she knew it wasn’t.
Chi doubled back to cut her off. She met Sam’s quizzical stare, then jerked her chin up toward the sky.
Sam followed the line of her gaze. The moment she focused on the sky, her stomach headed south. Above their heads hung a moon so red and cloudy, it appeared to be washed in blood.
Hunter’s Moon. Scientifically, she knew it meant nothing more than the way the sun’s light was bending around the earth to illuminate the lunar surface. But she’d lived long enough to know it wasn’t just that simple–that science didn’t explain everything. Mostly because science didn’t know about everything.
It definitely didn’t know about the protective veil that separated the worlds from each other. A veil that thinned during a blood moon. Most of all, it didn’t know that sometimes ancient man had feared ill omens with just cause.
In the heart and in the soul,
Evil takes its wicked toll.
When moonlight shines like flowing blood,
Over the earth the demons will flood.
The old Amazon poem went through her head. A moon just like that one had once shone down on her home. She’d dismissed it then as unfounded superstition.
And she’d died regretting that stupidity.
"I’ll call Acheron," Chi said, pulling out her cell phone.
Sam nodded as she felt the hand of evil slide over her. Something was coming for them, she could feel it. The only question was, what was it?
After texting the other Dark-Hunters in New Orleans about what was going on, Sam spent the next eight hours on patrol while keeping in touch intermittently with Chi. Neither of them found anything unusual. Not a single Daimon seemed to be out tonight. The only predators on the street were human and while Sam had chased the ones away she found, they weren’t the biggest threat in the world.
They just thought they were.
How she’d like to feed them to some of the things she’d killed over the centuries. Let them see what a badass really looked like up close and personal. They had no idea how insignificant and weak they really were. A dose of reality might serve them well.
Her phone buzzed. Looking down, she saw it was Chi. She flipped it open and answered.
Chi let out a long sigh. "Still bust. I’m heading back to my house to rest my feet and grab a bite. I’ll catch you later."
"All right," Sam said into her phone while she glanced back at the evil moon. A shiver ran down her spine. "See you tomorrow night. Sleep tight and don’t let the Daimons bite." She hung up the phone and checked the time.
Three A.M. Almost three hours until dawn. On the one hand, Chi was right and they were wasting their time out on the street. On the other…
She just couldn’t let it go.
Something was here and she wanted to beat it into the ground. The only clue to what it might be had come from Dev.
Deciding to question the bear again, Sam headed back to Sanctuary.
It didn’t take long to reach the red brick building where the Sanctuary sign–a dark hill silhouetted by a full moon with a motorcycle parked on it–hung over the doors. A couple of drunken human men staggered out and got into a cab while laughing and joking with each other.
She paused in the shadows to watch Dev leaning against the wall, ignoring them. He had a jacket on with his arms crossed over his chest. A casual observer might think he was catnapping on the job. But Sam recognized that his eyes were at half mast. Still open. Still alert. He was aware of everything around him and while he seemed to be in repose, he was tight and ready to spring into action in a single heartbeat.
Impressive. The warrior in her could appreciate how hard it was to look that relaxed while keeping all senses sharp. But that wasn’t the only thing that impressed her. There was an undeniable aura of power that clung to him. One that told everyone who came into contact with him that he was lethal when crossed. All of his humor aside, Dev was a predator to the core of his soul.
And a nasty one at that. He was the kind who could kill and feel no remorse.
A muscle flexed in his sculpted jaw making her wonder if he was hiding a yawn. More than that, the sight of that working muscle sent a shiver of heat through her. She didn’t know why he was so irresistible, yet something in her wanted to walk up to him and rub against that long hard body and feel every inch of it on her nak*d skin.