"Don’t Andy me. I believe her. She’s one of the best Oracles we have."
He was right about that. But …
"We all make mistakes." And Jess had made more than his fair share.
A tic started in Andy’s jaw. It was obvious he wanted to throttle Jess, but he knew better than to even try.
"Fine," he said, finally relenting on the matter. "Whatever. You’re the one they’re after, so it’s none of my business. Plenty of other Dark-Hunters to work for. They’re probably a lot less irritating, too." Then he changed the subject entirely. "I repaired your tracker and phone." He held Jess’s iPhone out to him. "Try not to get it wet tonight."
"Not my fault the Daimon I was chasing decided to run through a water fountain." Damnedest part about living here in Vegas, there were huge fountains all over the place, and for some reason, Daimons seemed to think Dark-Hunters were allergic to water. Or maybe it was their way to piss them off before getting killed.
Andy ignored his comment. "Mom overnighted some of her oatmeal cookies for you. They’re in the jar by the sink." He pointed to the container that looked like a Conestoga wagon, which was really out of place in the commercial-grade kitchen designed to feed a large army.
The thought of those cookies perked him up a lot. Cecilia made the best in the world. That was what he missed most about Andy’s pa working for him. C used to have a fresh batch cooling on the stove every evening when he came upstairs for coffee.
Andy continued his report. "I picked up your laundry and hung it in the hall closet. I checked with the company, and your horses will be transported out here next week from your ranch, so you can quit pouting every time you pass the saddles."
Wow, he had no idea he’d done that. Huh … he’d have to keep an eye on his expressions. He hated to be that obvious to anyone.
Andy gestured toward the door. "The boots you ordered are in the box on the hall table, as are the throwing knives Kell sent to replace the ones you broke the other night. I couldn’t get the black Stetson reblocked, so I have a new one on order. Your bike is fully gassed, and Sin has offered all of you free valet parking at his casino while you hunt. He’ll have his staff leave the bike parked in front so that you can grab it and go when you’re ready to head home, and if you get trapped in the city and can’t make it back here before dawn, you can hole up in one of his rooms-they’ll have a key at the concierge with your name on it. Is there anything else you need?"
That was the best part of Andy. Like his father, he was as efficient as the devil’s desk clerk. "Nope. Can’t think of anything."
"All right. I’ll have my cell phone if you need anything." The boy always said that.
Jess moved toward the cookies. "Have a good night."
Andy nodded before he went to the door. He paused as if he wanted to say something else-then he quickly took his exit to head to his apartment over the garage. For some reason, as the kid left, Jess had an image of Andy as a little boy chasing after his father. He could still see Andy’s chubby cheeks, wide eyes, and freckled face. Hear him asking in that youthful tone if Jess would teach him how to ride, and then picking the boy up from the dirt the first time Andy was thrown by the Shetland pony Jess had bought for him. Little booger had gotten right back up, dusted himself off, and then climbed into the saddle like a trouper.
Now that little boy was a man strangers thought was older than Jess.
That was the hardest part of being immortal. Watching people he cared about be kids, grow old, and die while he never changed. And just like with Andy, he’d known the boy’s father from the moment Ed was born. The Taylor family had been his Squires from the beginning of his Dark-Hunter life.
Even so, he’d kept a wall between him and them. Never letting them in too close. At least not until Andy. He didn’t know why, but that little shit had wormed his way past Jess’s best defenses. In many ways, Andy was like his son.
There was only one other person in his long life that Jess had felt that way about.
He winced at another memory he wished he could purge.
Aching with remorse and grief, Jess pulled his watch out of his pocket to check the time. The moment he opened it, he paused to stare at Matilda’s face in the worn-out sepia photograph that had been kept inside his watch since the day he was reborn. No matter how many years passed, he still ached over the loss of her.
That had been the only thing he truly hated about his rebirth. Knowing she was alive and not being able to see her. Dark-Hunters were forbidden from having families, and they were never to let anyone from their past know that they’d come back. It was part of what they swore to when Artemis created them.
Still he’d kept tabs on her while she lived and made sure that she never once wanted for anything. She’d gone on to marry and have six kids.
To the day she died, she’d never known who her benefactor was. The Squires told her it was a trust fund set up by a distant uncle who’d died and left it to her. She never knew that money came from a pact he’d made with a goddess to even a score that no amount of violence could tally.
Sometimes dead wasn’t dead enough.
His throat tightening, he closed his watch. There was no use thinking about what should have been. He’d done what he’d had to. Matilda had probably been better off without him, anyways. Sooner or later, his past would have caught up to them, and the result would have been the same.
At least that was the lie he told himself to make it all bearable. But inside, he knew the truth. No one could have loved her more than he had.
More than he did to this day.
"I miss you, Tilly." He always would. No one would ever again make him feel like she had.
Cursing, he curled his lip at his melancholy thoughts. "I’m turning into an old woman. Might as well start knitting and bitching about soap operas, gas prices, and rude drivers."
That wasn’t what Sundown Brady did.
Nope. It was killing time, and he was in the mood to bathe in blood tonight.
Ren Waya coasted on the breeze as he heard the heartbeat of the earth thrumming in his ears. It sounded like a tribal drum, summoning the ancient spirits out of their slumber to make ready for war. And as he flew, Sister Wind carried a new scent to him. One he’d never smelled before, and given his extreme old age, that said a lot.
Something was here, and it didn’t belong.
Unable to pinpoint it, he dipped down, then recognized a rider on the road far below. The motorcycle slowed from its feral speed as the rider came upon the Vegas traffic and lights. Ren let out a cry while he followed the sleek black motorcycle into town.
Swathed in a black duster, the rider was oblivious of being watched. Of course, the loud, thumping music inside the rider’s helmet that was turned to a level that should be deafening might have something to do with that. Styx’s "Renegade." The irony of that wasn’t lost on Ren. If he could smile in his current form, he would.
The rider skimmed past traffic and turned into the brightly lit Ishtar Casino, which was styled after an ancient Sumerian temple. Ren lost sight of the rider as he drove under the parking pavilion. He banked to the right to miss the wall and circled back.
* * *
Jess pulled his helmet off before he gave his name to the valet.
The attendant snapped to attention. "Mr. Brady, sir, we were told to give you white-glove treatment. You may park your bike anywhere you want, and we’ll make sure no one bothers it. If you have any problems or needs, have the concierge contact Damien Metaxas, and he’ll take care of it for you."
A man could get used to this level of service-it was like being at Disney World. "Thanks," he said, then handed the valet a twenty.
Jess slid into a tight space at the front of the line of cars and limos, where his motorcycle should be out of the way, then parked his 2006 MV Agusta F4CC on the curb. At $120,000 a pop, his ride was a gold mine for any thief who had knowledge of motorcycles. Not that the money was that big a deal to him. Replacing it, however, was another matter, since they were as rare as a loyal friend, and he’d long grown attached to it.
Hate to gut a human for being greedy. But back in the day, he’d done worse for less.
He locked it down, put his helmet on the seat, then dropped the keys in his pocket. It was a little warm for his duster, but he preferred it, since it helped hide the weapons he needed for his trade. No need in scaring the civilians any more than was necessary.
Bad thing about Vegas, you couldn’t spit without dropping germs on a Daimon. They practically owned this place. In fact, three of the valet drivers here were Apollites, including the one who’d spoken to him. And the casino manager, Damien Metaxas was, in fact, a full-blown Daimon that no Dark-Hunter was allowed to kill. They claimed Metaxas fed only on humans who deserved to die-rapists, murderers, pedophiles. But why would you take their word on it? Was anyone really checking?
Even when the casino owner, Sin, was a Dark-Hunter, he’d had them working for him.
"You’re a sick SOB, Sin," Jess muttered as he pulled his sunglasses out and put them on.
Keep your enemies close, I guess. Still …
Jess grinned, making sure to keep his fangs from showing as he did so. He turned at the deep, accented voice that had come from behind him. "Didn’t know Grandma was keeping tabs and setting curfew."
Two inches taller, Ren had his long, jet black hair pulled back into a single braid that trailed down his back. Even without that pissed-off expression, he was intimidating as all get out. At least to those who could be intimidated.
Jess definitely didn’t fit into that category.
The only color on Ren’s body was the bone and turquoise choker he wore as an homage to his Native American heritage-other than that, he was swathed all in black from head to toe. Jess asked him once what tribe he belonged to, but Ren had refused to answer. Since it didn’t matter to Jess, he’d never asked again, even though they’d been friends for well over a hundred years.
Jess scratched at his whiskers, wishing he’d shaved a little closer. "I thought you were communing with Chocolate tonight."
Ren shook his head. "Choo Co La Tah."
"Isn’t that what I said?"
Now, there was a pained expression for you. It was quite impressive. "For a man who was born speaking Cherokee, I don’t understand why you can’t pronounce things correctly."
"Ah, potato, potahto. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?"
"It does if you ever come into contact with him. Believe me, your mixed Cherokee blood won’t buy you any tolerance where he’s concerned."
Yeah, that was the thing about immortals. Many of them weren’t exactly good natured. Many more were downright intolerant. And as for Choo Co La Tah, Jess was more than acquainted with him, but it was one of those things he never talked about. "Then I’ll just make sure that I call him Exalted Being."
Ren laughed. "Wise choice."
Jess decided to change the topic to what had bothered him a few minutes ago. "So was that you flying above me as I rode in?"
"You saw me?"
Jess shrugged nonchalantly. "Don’t you know, I sense everything around me." Even before Artemis had bestowed him with psychic powers, that was one ability he’d had from birth. No one had ever been able to sneak up on him.
Pulling a gun behind his back and shooting him was another story. Only someone as close to him as Bart had been could have killed him that way. Had Bart been a stranger, it would never have happened.
"And here I thought I was being stealthy."
Jess snorted. "With that girly caw you let out? Did a frog crawl down your throat and die, or what?"
Ren let out a short heh sound. "You better be glad I like you."
"I am indeed, for I have seen how you throw a knife, and it is truly awe inspiring. Now, if you don’t mind…" Jess started away from him. If they stayed together too long, they’d deplete each other’s strength. It was a fail-safe the gods used to keep Dark-Hunters from combining their powers and taking over mankind.
"Choo Co La Tah wanted to warn me that something unnatural is coming from the west."
The direction of death for the Cherokee. He didn’t know if Ren’s people had the same beliefs as his mother’s or not. "Yeah, okay. I’ll watch for Daimons coming up the street."
"This is serious, Jess. We’re nearing the Time Untime when everything resets. Of all men, you know what happens if things get misaligned."
Yes, he did. The Mayans weren’t the only ancient Americans who had calendars. Many of the tribes had similar rotating cycles, including the Cherokee. "2012 ain’t here yet."
"No, but the return of the Pale One has been sped up by whatever is coming. Be careful tonight."
Now, this was getting annoying, with everyone pecking at him like a bunch of hens. "Andy told me the same thing earlier."
"Two warnings. One night."
Time to listen. He understood. Too bad he hadn’t had these warnings before he was gunned down as a human. That would have been a little more helpful than vague warnings to someone who was basically immortal and impervious now. But then, life was ever a study in a day late and a dollar short. "All right. I’ll pay attention."