Retribution (Page 35)

Retribution (Dark-Hunter #20)(35)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

She offered him a smile. "I will definitely marry you, Sundown Brady. And this time, I will kill anyone who tries to stop you from making it to that altar."

He leaned in and gave her the sweetest kiss of her life. And when he pulled back, her lips were still burning.

"So tell me…" she whispered. "How do we get you free from Artemis’s service?"

Chapter 19

A week later

The hardest part of living is making peace with your past. Most of all, it’s making peace with yourself. Ash’s words hung in Jess’s mind as a sober reminder of how hard the journey had been to get to this one perfect moment.

He’d never thought to have that peace, but as he watched Abigail napping on his couch after an entire day of exploring each other, he knew the past no longer mattered to him at all.

Only tomorrow did.

Smiling, he got up to find a blanket for her.

Abigail knew the moment Jess had left the room even though she was sound asleep. She wasn’t sure where that power came from. But it was there.

And it let her know that something else was here with her.

Her eyes flew open as she jumped to her feet to find an unknown man in front of her. She started to attack until she saw the double bow and arrow mark of a Dark-Hunter on his cheek. He was one of them and yet …

The demon in her recognized the demon in him. He was much more than what he appeared and what he appeared to be was a vicious predator. He wore his dark hair swept back from a handsome face that could only be described as pitiless. There was no compassion or even kindness evident in any part of him.

"Nick? What are you doing here?"

She turned to see Jess rejoining them.

That dark, scary gaze left hers to meet Jess’s. "I was told you wanted your soul back."

"I thought Ash would be the one to bring it."

Nick curled his lip at the mention of Ash’s name, but he didn’t say anything about him. He merely reached into his long black coat to pull out a small wooden box. Delicate scroll work decorated the top of it.

Without preamble, he handed it to Abigail. "Make sure you truly love him before you even attempt to restore it. If you fail, you will kill him and there are no second chances."

Before either of them could speak, Nick vanished.

Abigail shivered at the sudden coldness Nick had left in the air. "Is it just me or was that creepy and weird?"

"Yeah, Nick isn’t exactly … right. He’s the youngest of our kind and I guess he hasn’t settled in yet."

She started to mention the demon inside Nick that she’d sensed, but then thought better of it. If Nick didn’t want anyone else knowing about it, he might go to war with her over it. The last thing they needed was another enemy coming for them.

Curious about the contents, she opened the box. There on a nest of black velvet was the glowing red medallion that housed Jess’s soul. It was so beautiful that she instinctively wanted to touch it. But Jess had already warned her that it would sear her skin and leave a scar on her hand like the one Talon had.

Jess moved to stand in front of her. "What are you thinking?"

She smiled at the fact that he didn’t pry into her thoughts. "How much I love you."

"I love you, too." He peered over the lid to see the medallion. "You’ll have to kill me to restore my soul into my body."

"I know, but…"

He arched a brow at her hesitation. "But what?"

"I’m not so sure about this. We still have Coyote out there, gunning for both of us. If I put this in you, you’ll be mortal again and you’ll be able to die."

"I can die now."

She shook her head. "Not as easily and you know that."

"I’ll still have my powers though."

True, but she wasn’t sure it would be enough. There was no telling what tricks Coyote might come up with next. "It’s not the same. Do we have to do this?"

"No. I have my soul back. Technically, I’m out of Artemis’s service. As far as I know, there’s nothing that says I have to restore my soul once I have it again. But we won’t be able to start a family without it."

"We already have a family. You, me … and one irritated Squire."

He laughed at that. "Yeah, I guess Andy is our ill-mannered adopted son."

Abigail closed the box. She had a bad feeling deep inside that wouldn’t ease. Something more was out there and it would be coming for them. "I don’t want to take a chance on losing you, Jess. Not again. Let’s wait on this."

He took the box from her hand. "All right. We’ll wait."

That was one of the things she loved most about him. He never pushed his will onto hers. The decisions they made, they made as a team. Together.

She looked down at the simple wedding band that rested on her left hand. Even though Dark-Hunters couldn’t marry, they’d eloped six nights ago. It was Vegas, after all. And Sin had a small chapel inside his casino that had provided a perfect setting. Zarek had been the best man and Hannah her maid of honor. Kat, Sin, Sasha, Choo Co La Tah, Ren and Andy had also been there as witnesses.

Yes, they’d jumped the gun, but given everything that had happened to them, it’d seemed most appropriate. And neither of them had wanted to take a chance on anything else going wrong.

Carpe Noctem. Seize the night. That was exactly what they’d done.

"You sure you don’t want a diamond to go with that?" Jess had been nagging her about that since she’d declined an engagement ring. But that wasn’t her style.

"I have everything I need and he’s standing right in front of me."

Jess savored those words that had been her wedding vow. Even with her in front of him, he couldn’t believe she was here and that they were finally together. That it was her face he now carried in the watch she’d returned to him. "I will spend the rest of my life, however long it is, making damn sure you always feel that way."

In the deepest part of himself, he sensed that Coyote would be coming for them again. He didn’t know what tomorrow would hold, but today he knew what he would be holding.

Her.

And that was all he needed.

Chapter 20

Bonus Scene

New Orleans

April 16, 2011

Holding on to her husband’s huge, strong hand for dear life while they were surrounded by their closest friends and family in the bedroom of their home, Soteria Parthenopaeus leaned her head against the stacked pillows behind her and pushed with everything she had.

Ah, gah, it hurt.

It really, really hurt!

And it hadn’t stopped for hours or was it days or weeks? Funny thing about labor, it made time slow down so that one minute in human time equaled three hours to a laboring mom. Maybe longer.

Yeah, definitely longer.

She reverted to her breathing techniques that all three (because her husband’s paranoia feared one might not be good enough) of her midwives had taught her, but that was about as useful as all the pushing she’d been doing.

And the breathing was making her feel like a hyperventilating dog after a long race. Not to mention dizzy. She glanced at her husband who was coated in as much sweat as she was. He hadn’t left her side for a single second since it started. His long black hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail and his swirling silver eyes stared at her with pride and love.

She adored, loved, and worshiped him so incredibly much, would crawl nak*d over broken glass just to see him smile, but right now in the throes of ten hours of hard labor pains, she really wanted to grab the most tender part of his body in a set of pliers and squeeze his junk until he could fully understand how much childbirth sucked. "I swear if that’s a pair of demon horns digging into my belly and stabbing me right now, Ash, I’m going to beat you after it’s born."

‘Cause face it, horns on the head didn’t come from my side of the family or genetic code.

He actually had the nerve to laugh at her threat. Was he out of his mind? Just because he was an eleven-thousand-year-old Atlantean god with omnipotent powers didn’t mean she couldn’t make him suffer. Not that she ever would, but still. The least he could do was pretend to be afraid of her.

He kissed her cheek and brushed her hair back from her face. "It’s all right, Sota. I have you."

"Apostolos, adjust her pillows higher," her mother-in-law snapped at her husband. "She doesn’t look comfortable. I don’t want my daughter in any more pain than necessary. You men have no idea what you put us through." While Apollymi couldn’t physically leave her prison realm, her astral projection could travel without her. And it’d been pacing near Ash’s oldest daughter Simi since the labor had started.

Simi rolled back and forth and spun around on Ash’s wheeled desk chair. Dressed in a neon pink lab coat and black and white striped leggings with thigh high laced platform boots that went all the way up to her black lace miniskirt, she was adorable. Her face was mostly covered by a black surgical mask with a matching pink skull and crossbones on the right side of it. Her glowing red eyes were empathized by her solid jet-black pigtails and dark purple eyeliner. She’d been so excited about the impending birth of the baby, that she’d been dressing that way for a month and shadowing Tory’s every step. If Tory so much as hiccuped, Simi had whipped out a black baseball glove and asked, "is it time yet? The Simi’s gots her glove all ready to catch it if it is,’cause sometimes they come out flying."

Simi couldn’t wait to be a big sister again.

Kat, Ash’s other daughter who was married to Sin Nana, sat in the window seat, holding her sleeping daughter on her lap. Her long flowing blue jersey dress was as serene as she was. "Grandma, please. It’s okay. Dad’s doing a great job. I give him kudos for at least being calm and rational, and not losing his temper with everyone around him who isn’t in childbirth. And he has yet to start shooting lightning bolts at people. Poor Damien still has a burn scar."

That thought actually made Soteria laugh as she pictured it. Sin did have a temper where his wife was concerned.

Breathtaking, blond, and statuesque as the daughter of two gods should be, Kat smiled at Tory. "If it makes you feel any better Tory, they were just as bad when Mia was born. At least you don’t have Sin, Kish and Damien running around, trying to boil water for no other reason than that’s what someone had told Sin husbands are supposed to do and since Sin doesn’t know how to boil water, he had to micromanage the other two incompetents who’d never done it either. I’m amazed they didn’t band together to kill him during it or burn down the casino. And don’t get me started on my mother trying to murder my husband in the middle of it or her fighting with grandma over whose labors were more painful. Or," she cast a meaningful glance to Simi, "someone setting my mother’s hair on fire and trying to barbecue her to celebrate the birth."

Simi stopped rolling and pulled her black surgical mask down to show them her proud fanged grin. "That an old Charonte custom that go back forever ’cause we a really old race of demons who go back even before forever." She looked over to where Danger’s shade glittered in the opposite corner while the former Dark-Huntress was assisting Pam and Kim with the birth, and explained the custom to her. "When a new baby is born you kill off an old annoying family member who gets on everyone’s nerves which for all of us would be the heifer-goddess ’cause the only person who like her be you, Akra-Kat. I know she you mother and all, but sometimes you just gotta say no thank you. You a mean old heifer-goddess who need to go play in traffic and get run over by something big like a steamroller or bus or something else really painful that would hurt her a lot and make the rest of us laugh." She put her mask back on. "Not to mention the Simi barbecue would have been fun too if someone, Akra-Kat, hadn’t stopped the Simi from it. I personally think it would have been a most magnificent gift for the baby. Barbecued heifer-goddess Artemis. Yum! No better meal. Oh then again baby got a delicate constitution and that might give the poor thing indigestion. Artemis definitely give the Simi indigestion and I ain’t even ate her yet."

Kat let out an exaggerated sigh as she passed a bemused stare to Tory. "There’s a reason Mia is currently an only child. Family drama takes on a whole new meaning when they’re feuding gods who can’t stand the sight of each other and always try to kill one another whenever they’re in the same room."

Tory laughed, knowing just how right Kat was. It was why Xirena was downstairs with Alexian and Urian, eating her out of house and home. Simi’s older sister couldn’t stand Apollymi and the two of them had been fighting so badly that Alexian had volunteered to babysit the demon downstairs until the birth.

Tory loved her huge family, quirks, thorns, fangs, horns and all. She only wished her cousin, Geary, who was like a sister to her could have been here too. But Geary was about to give birth herself and was on bed rest for it.

She couldn’t wait. Their babies would be like twins.

Acheron brushed her damp hair back from her face and started massaging her temples. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

She grimaced as more agony lacerated her abdomen. "Stop the pain."

He pressed his cheek against hers and gave her a gentle squeeze. "You know I can’t."

Because they weren’t sure what it might do to the baby or how it might unknowingly affect it and they’d decided together, as a family, that no one was going to lay a preternatural hand on the infant no matter what.