It was a moonless night, and unlike most of New Orleans, there were no lights back here. He moved around the side of the building, knowing exactly what to expect.
The Daimons were lying in wait for him.
He could hear someone clucking his tongue.
"It’s been a long time since I faced a truly intelligent Dark-Hunter. This one already knows we’re here."
Valerius came around the shrubbery to find a group of nine Daimons waiting in the courtyard. The women he had thought were human weren’t.
They were fanged.
Valerius drew himself up to his entire, imperious height and arched a brow at the group. "Well, when one puts out a cosmic calling card, I assume one wants it answered."
A slow smile spread over the Daimon’s lips who’d spoken as he moved slowly through the group so that he could stand before Valerius. An inch shorter, the Daimon had a lean build and, like all of his kind, was perfect in his male form.
"The call wasn’t for you." The Daimon sighed wearily. Obviously disgusted, he looked at the group behind him. "I thought I told you to draw the woman out, not the Dark-Hunter."
"We tried, Desiderius," one of the women said. "She stayed behind."
Valerius saw red at the name of the Daimon who had scarred Tabitha’s face. He wanted to tear the Daimon to shreds, but knew better than to betray himself or Tabitha by acting as if she were special to him.
Had he maintained his composure the night his brothers had killed him, they would have left Agrippina alone. He wasn’t about to sacrifice Tabitha needlessly.
Desiderius frowned. "Tabitha Devereaux stayed behind?"
"The Dark-Hunter told her to," another Daimon supplied. "I heard them."
"Interesting." Desiderius turned to face him. "I find it hard to imagine Tabitha would listen to anyone. You must be special indeed."
"She didn’t think of you as a threat," Valerius said nonchalantly. "You weren’t worth her time." He yawned at them. "No more than you’re worth mine."
The Daimon moved to blast him.
Valerius caught his arm, whirled, and elbowed him in the throat. Desiderius staggered back, cursing.
"I know all about Greeks and their tricks," he snarled as he seized Desiderius’s neck in his fist and flipped the Daimon onto the street. "Most of all, I know to kill them."
Before he could move his dagger and kill Desiderius, the others swarmed him. One grabbed him from behind while one of the females moved in to stab him with a long, vicious-looking dagger.
Valerius kicked her back, then twisted to confront the ones behind him. One of the Daimons slugged him across the face. He ground his teeth as pain exploded along his cheek to his nose, and he tasted blood.
But then, pain was nothing new to him. As a mortal, he’d been well acquainted with beatings and pain.
Valerius returned the blow with one of his own that sent the Daimon to his knees.
Out of nowhere, a god-bolt struck him hard in the center of his chest. It knocked him off his feet and sent him slamming into the brick wall behind him. Valerius couldn’t breathe. He tried to stay standing, but the sheer agony of it overrode his desire and he crumpled to the ground.
"Hurts, doesn’t it?" Desiderius said. "It was a gift inherited from my father." Desiderius bent down and seized Valerius’s right hand and studied his Roman seal ring. "Now there’s something I find interesting, too. A Roman in New Orleans. Kyrian of Thrace must truly love you."
Valerius glared at him as he forced himself to roll.
He’d barely moved before Desiderius hit him with another shocking bolt.
"What are we going to do with him?" one of the women asked.
Desiderius laughed once again, then seized him.
But it was Valerius who laughed hardest as he kicked the Daimon back and shrugged off his pain.
He caught Desiderius and slung him against the wall where he rebounded with a thud. "The question isn’t what are you going to do with me. It’s what I’m going to do to you."
Tabitha couldn’t stand waiting any longer. But she wasn’t completely stupid, either. Pulling out her cell phone, she called Acheron, who answered on the first ring.
"Hey, Tabby," he said with a laugh, "Valerius’s cell is 204-555-6239."
"I really hate it when you do that, Ash."
"You know what you’re going to hate even more?"
"I can’t imagine."
She did and found him standing on the other side of the bar. At six feet eight and wearing a pair of tall Goth boots that added a good three inches to his height, he was impossible to miss.
In spite of what he said, she felt a wave of relief at seeing him there. Hanging up her phone, she crossed the room to meet him. "What are you doing here?"
"I knew you were going to head off after Valerius and I’m here to go with you."
"Then you think he’s in trouble, too."
"I know he is. Let’s go."
Tabitha didn’t ask him to elaborate. She knew him better than that. Acheron Parthenopaeus seldom ever answered anything. He lived life on his own terms and was eerily secretive about everything.
Ash led the way out of the club and into the street. Tabitha didn’t know where they were headed, but he seemed to know instinctively.
"I have a really bad feeling," she said to Ash as they practically ran down the street.
"So do I," he said, ducking into an open gate. Tabitha followed him inside, then skidded to a halt as she caught sight of the most incredible thing she’d ever seen in her life.
Valerius fighting. He held a sword in each hand as he fought off four Daimons who lunged and parried with consummate skill of their own. It was fluid, violent, and morbidly beautiful.
Spinning about, Valerius caught one of the blond Daimons with an uppercut that tore through his chest, piercing the dark spot over their hearts where the human souls gathered. It caused the Daimon to explode into a golden powder.
Ash joined the fight by catching two of the Daimons with a staff. He drove them away from Valerius, allowing the Roman to concentrate on the other Daimon.
Tabitha took a step forward only to feel something cold and evil brush up against her.
"Predictable," came that sinister, haunting voice again.
A flash of something sizzled past her, heading toward Acheron.
One moment Ash was piercing a Daimon with his staff and in the next, he was on his knees as Valerius killed his own Daimon.
The second Daimon Ash had been fighting moved to stab Ash, only to have his blow intercepted by Valerius, who kicked the Daimon back, then killed him.
Tabitha ran to Ash, who was on the ground, hissing as he held his arm as if it were broken.
"Simi," he panted. "Human form. Now!"
The large dragon tattoo on Ash’s forearm peeled itself off his skin into a dark red shadow that quickly transformed into the demon Tabitha knew so well.
"Akri?" Simi asked as she caught Ash’s head. "Akri, what hurts?"
Tabitha knelt down beside them and tried to see Ash’s arm. It was literally turning into stone, only it wasn’t growing hard. His skin was turning a grayish-white color and it was spreading up his arm, toward his shoulder.
His face battered from his fight, Valerius fell to his knees on the other side of Ash. "What is that?"
Ash writhed as if he were on fire. "Simi… Akra… Thea Kalosis. Biazomai, biazomai."
Tabitha saw the terrified look on Simi’s face before the demon vanished.
"Ash?" she asked, panicking. "What’s going on?"
"Nothing," he gasped. He grabbed Valerius’s shirt. "Get Tabitha home. Now!"
"We can’t leave you," they said in unison.
"Go!" Ash snapped an instant before the grayish stone-like skin crawled over more of his body.
Ash fought and screamed as the grayish color spread all over his body. Tabitha laid him out flat on the ground. Ash panted as if trying to fight off whatever had him.
It was a losing battle.
His swirling silver eyes bulged before they too turned gray and he was as still as a corpse. Ash wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t moving. It was as if something held him completely paralyzed.
"What do we do?" she asked Valerius.
Tabitha spun at the malevolent voice behind her to face the ghost again. It was surrounded by more Daimons.
"Good Lord, who spread the Daimon fertilizer around? They’re cropping up like a bad horror flick," Tabitha said.
Valerius rose to his feet.
Before she could move, Valerius engaged them.
Tabitha rushed to join the fight.
"Don’t kill the woman!" the ghost snarled to the Daimons. "I need her alive."
Another blond Daimon laughed. "Yeah, but feel free to rough her up all you want."
Tabitha turned to find yet another Daimon behind her. She struck out with her arm only to have him dodge her blow, then straighten up to deliver a staggering strike to her ribs.
The pain drove her straight to her knees.
Valerius cursed and started for her. Two Daimons cut him off.
With nothing more than sheer strength of will, Tabitha regained her feet.
The Daimon looked impressed.
Tabitha went to hit him, only to have him move away, lightning fast. This time when he tried to strike her, he was slammed into the building beside her.
"Leave her alone," Valerius snarled. He put himself between her and the rest of the Daimons.
Tabitha pulled her sleeve back and shot a crossbow bolt into the nearest Daimon. He disintegrated.
Suddenly, something ricocheted through the Daimons, killing two instantly before it vanished.
Tabitha looked past the Daimon horde to see a cavalry. Julian, Talon, and Kyrian were coming in, weapons drawn. She’d never been happier to see any of them. Alone each one of the blond men was dangerous. Together, they were invincible.
Side by side with Valerius, she fought the Daimons while Kyrian, Julian, and Talon joined the fight. With the five of them, it didn’t take any time at all to finish the Daimons off. In truth, it was a colorful display as one by one the Daimons disintegrated.
Except for the one who had struck her. The ghost wrapped itself around that particular Daimon and the two of them appeared to evaporate into nothing. Tabitha frowned at the peculiar sight. Until she heard Kyrian’s resonant curse. One moment Valerius was beside her, the next he was being slammed face-first into the wall.
"You bastard!" Kyrian snarled as he pummeled him. Valerius ducked the blows and whirled to the side. He slammed Kyrian into the wall and would have pinned him had Julian not grabbed him from behind.
The next thing she knew, Julian was hitting Valerius, too. Without thinking, Tabitha rushed Julian, knocking him back. She put herself between the Roman and the two Greeks.
"Get out of my way, Tabitha," Kyrian said as he glared his hatred at Valerius. "I don’t want Amanda pissed at me because I hurt you for being stupid."
"And I don’t want Amanda pissed at me because I permanently maimed you for being an idiot."
"This isn’t a game, Tabitha," Julian said sternly. In his human life, Julian had been the Greek general who had commanded Kyrian. Unfortunately, he’d run afoul of the gods, who had cursed him into a book to be a sex slave to whatever woman summoned him out.
Selena’s best friend Grace Alexander had set the half-god free.
Since then, Julian had often joined ranks with the Dark-Hunters to fight the Daimons, and now he was joining ranks with Kyrian to kill Valerius.
It was something she would never allow.
She held her arms out to keep them back. "No, it isn’t."
"It’s all right, Tabitha," Valerius said from behind her. "This is a confrontation that’s been a long time coming."
"Talon," Tabitha said, glancing over to the tall blond Celt who was standing behind his Greek friends. As always, Talon was dressed like a biker in a black motorcycle jacket, T-shirt, and leather pants. His hair was cut short except for two thin braids that hung from his left temple. "Are you going to help me?"
Talon grimaced. "Unfortunately, yes." He moved to stand with her.
"Celt-" Kyrian snarled.
His face determined, Talon crossed his arms over his chest.
"Look," Tabitha said between clenched teeth. "We have bigger problems right now than you two hating Valerius and his family."
"Like what?" Kyrian asked.
Tabitha pointed to the ground where Ash still lay.
Kyrian’s face went pale as his gaze focused on Ash’s body. "What happened?"
"I don’t know," Tabitha said. "One of the Daimons did that to him and we need to get him to safety."
Kyrian passed a grudging, angry look at Valerius. "We’re not through."
Valerius said nothing as he moved toward Ash.
When he started to lift Ash up, Kyrian shoved him back. "Get your filthy hands off him, Roman. We don’t need your help. We take care of our own."
"Valerius happens to be the only Dark-Hunter here," Tabitha snapped at her brother-in-law. "He has more right to help Ash-"
"Greeks don’t want or need Roman help," Julian said as he brushed roughly past Valerius.