What the hell had hit him?
"Simi, what am I doing here?"
She tackled him with a hug that left him flat on his back with her wrapped around his upper torso. "You scared the Simi, akri. She didn’t know what was wrong with you. You turned all gray and nasty like one of them statues or something. You not supposed to do that! You said so."
"I’m okay, Sim," he said, cradling her. "I think. Why am I in Kyrian’s house… with you in human form?"
"We brought you here."
Ash tensed at the sound of Kyrian’s voice. He sat up slowly with Simi still hugging him.
With his arms folded over his chest, Kyrian stood in the doorway with Julian and Amanda.
"You okay?" Kyrian asked.
Ash nodded. "I think so. Still a little fuzzy, but breathing." Or at least trying to given the fact Simi was latched onto him like a protective mother bear.
"Do you know what happened to you?" Tabitha asked from somewhere out in the hallway.
Unfortunately yes, but it wasn’t something they needed to know about since Simi had gone for the antidote and restored him. Thank the gods she’d understood his order.
If the others ever learned who and what he was…
But that begged the question: Who among the Daimons knew the truth of him? How did they know to strike him with the one compound that could actually neutralize him?
Not that it would work again. As long as he knew to expect it, he knew to guard against it.
Pain to the next one dumb enough to attempt hurting him.
"Okay, Simi," Ash said, patting the demon on her back. "You can let go."
"No, I can’t," she said as she tightened her hold. "You got all grisly, akri. Like one of them things at home. Ew! The Simi don’t like that. You gots to stay nice and pink like you’re supposed to. Or blue. I don’t mind it when you’re blue. In skin, that is. When you blue in spirit, it makes the Simi sad, too."
"Okay, Simi," Ash said, cutting her off before she told something she wasn’t supposed to.
"Your skin turns blue?" Kyrian asked.
"Everyone’s skin turns blue when they’re cold," he answered evasively.
Ash slid off the bed in spite of Simi’s hold, which had yet to lessen. He needed to get out of this room to distract them from the fact that he’d come about as close to dying as his kind could.
Simi moved to stand behind him and kept her arms locked tightly around his waist.
"I think someone’s attached to you, T-Rex," Talon said with a laugh.
"Yeah, just a little." Ash made his way from the room.
"Can we have some ice cream?" Simi asked as she finally let go. She started for the stairs, then veered off to Marissa’s nursery to peek inside the closed door. "Sh!" Simi said loudly as she straightened up. "The baby’s sleeping."
"Yeah, and Tabitha’s sneaking away," Kyrian said. "Are you running off to meet up with Valerius?"
Tabitha went rigid at his question. "Tell me something, Ash," she said in a low tone as she neared him on the stairs. "Would Artemis care if I killed an ex-Dark-Hunter?"
"No, but I think your sister would."
Tabitha looked over her shoulder to see Amanda. "Then she better up her insurance on him. ‘Cause he’s one step away from a nasty tumble down these stairs."
"Don’t threaten me, Tabby," Kyrian said. "You were so foul to me when you found out I was with Amanda. You actually tried to kill me. Now you’re hooking up with the worst sort of lowlife. Tell her, Ash. His kind killed without compassion."
Tabitha whirled at the top of the stairs to face him. "His kind? What, an ancient general? Seems like I know two other people who were his kind." She looked meaningfully from Kyrian to Julian.
"Tabitha," Amanda said. "Enough. You knew how Kyrian felt about Valerius. How could you do this to us?"
Ash rubbed his head as if he had a headache. "People, leave Tabitha alone. I’m the one who put her with Valerius."
"Why?" Kyrian, Julian, and Amanda asked in unison.
Ash paused on the top step to give Tabitha a dry stare. "Tabby, what’s your ideal man like?"
"You," she said without hesitation. "Someone tall, gorgeous, hip, and Goth."
"And what do you think of Valerius?"
She glanced hesitantly at her sister. "He’s a stick in the mud, but I really like him."
Kyrian and Julian cursed.
"Tabitha…" Amanda said in a warning tone.
"Don’t ‘Tabitha’ me. Jeez, I’m tired of all of you jumping on me." Tabitha descended the stairs and headed for the door to leave.
As soon as she opened it, she met Nick on the steps, who grinned at her before he entered the foyer. He brushed by her before she thought to warn him Ash was in the house…
Gawking, Tabitha turned.
"Hey, Nicky!" Simi said, her face beaming as she danced away from Ash finally to wave at Nick.
Tabitha went cold with dread.
And she knew the instant Ash realized Simi "knew" Nick. His face mottled red with fury.
Nick froze, then gaped.
Simi appeared oblivious to the mayhem she caused. "Nicky," she said, putting her hands on her h*ps as she pouted at him. "Why didn’t you meet me tonight like you said you would?"
Nick’s mouth opened and closed as Ash let out a bellow of rage. He grabbed Nick by the throat and slung him against the wall. Nick hit it so hard, he actually went through the plaster.
Tabitha cringed in sympathetic pain as Nick struggled to rise through the powder of the plaster. "I didn’t know she was your girlfriend, Ash," Nick panted. "I swear it."
Ash’s silver eyes turned a glowing shade of red. "She’s not my girlfriend, you ass**le. She’s my daughter."
Tabitha wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Nick turned even paler. "But she’s so… so young… you’re so young…" Nick swallowed audibly. "I’m so screwed."
Ash’s eyes appeared to boil red and yellow as he hit Nick so hard, Nick was knocked back twenty feet into Kyrian.
Marissa started crying from upstairs.
"Amanda, tend your baby," Ash snarled in a voice that wasn’t human. It was deep and rumbling. Frightening.
While he was distracted, Tabitha ran at Ash, but he held his hand out and she stopped dead in her tracks and was held there by some invisible force.
"Akri!" Simi shrieked. "No!"
Ash moved toward Nick, but before he could take more than two steps Simi was between them.
Tabitha cringed as Ash let out an agonized cry.
"You were never to have carnal knowledge!" he said to his demon.
While the rest of them feared for their lives, Simi was completely unperturbed by his anger.
"Why not?" Simi asked. "Everyone else has it."
Ash raked his hands through his black hair. "Because, dammit, Simi, now you’ll be like everyone else. I’ll never have any peace from you."
Simi screwed her face up as if that was the most disgusting thing she’d ever heard. "Pah-lease, akri. You got a big opinion of yourself. That just sick. You been hanging out with that heifer too long. Bleh! I mean, you a good-looking person and all, but you ain’t no Travis Fimmel. Now, he’s fine. But honestly, the Simi didn’t like all that heaving and sweating very much. It seems like an awful lot of work for such a short amount of pleasure. Personally, I’d rather go shopping. It much more fun and you don’t have to shower afterward. Well, not unless you go someplace dirty, but most malls are really clean nowadays."
Nick opened his mouth as if to refute her words, but was cut off by Talon, who shook his head.
"Boy," Talon said sharply. "Be damned glad you suck in bed and take the out she’s offering you before you lose your life."
"Yeah, Nick," Kyrian added. "Keep your damned mouth shut."
Ignoring the two of them, Ash pulled Simi to him and held her close as if afraid of letting her go.
Whatever invisible force held Tabitha released her. She took a deep breath as the very air around them seemed to settle down.
But when Ash looked back at Nick, his eyes were still blazing red. "You’re dead to me, Gautier. If I were you I’d kill myself to save me from the trouble of doing it later."
"Hey!" Tabitha snapped as Ash headed for the door.
"That was harsh."
"Back off, Tabitha," Ash snarled in warning. "Simi, return to me."
The demon turned into a fine, black mist before she laid herself over Ash’s arm and became a dragon-shaped tattoo.
Ash immediately slammed out of Kyrian’s house. Without hesitation, Tabitha ran after him. "Ash!" she snapped, pulling him to a stop in the driveway. "What are you doing?"
"I’m leaving before I kill Nick."
"You can’t blame this solely on him."
"Like hell I can’t. He slept with my Simi."
"Well, if you want to hate someone, then hate me. I was the one who left them alone together."
His eyes snapped fire at her. Literally. "Leave me, Tabitha. Now."
"No," she said earnestly. "If you want to hurt someone for this, then hurt the one who is really responsible. You and Nick are best friends. Don’t think I don’t know it. He loves you like a brother and you just crushed him."
"I heard you the first time. And I also know how ill Nick was when he found out Simi belonged to you. Tell me something, Ash. Why didn’t Nick know about her?"
His jaw worked furiously. "I didn’t want any man to know about her. I knew the day would come when she would…" He winced as if the thought cut through him. "You don’t understand."
"You’re right, I don’t. I don’t know what happened to you tonight. I don’t know what’s after me. I don’t understand what the hell you turned into a few minutes ago or why your eyes are doing the freaky fire dance now. What are you? ‘Cause right now, I’m wondering if you were ever human."
His eyes flashed red to silver. "I was human, once," he breathed.
"Now it’s time for you both to die."
The eerie, threatening words barely registered before something hot pierced Tabitha’s stomach.
Tabitha gasped as pain engulfed her. She’d never felt anything like this. It was as if something had invaded her body.
Ash cursed as he threw his hand out and blasted her.
Tabitha screamed from the agony of his blast. It was as if something was trying to rip her apart.
Unable to stand against it, she started to fall, only to realize someone was holding her against a strong chest.
"I’ve got you," Valerius said as he picked her up in his arms and held her close.
Tabitha’s heart soared at his nearness. She didn’t know how he’d gotten there to catch her, she was only grateful that he had.
"Careful," she said between the teeth she had clenched to keep from moaning out at the pain that overwhelmed her.
Her eyes blurred by tears, she feared the ghost was now trying to move into Ash or Valerius.
"Forget it," Ash said.
The spirit laughed, then vanished.
Ash was beside her in an instant. "Breathe easy," he whispered.
Tabitha couldn’t speak anymore as she laid her head against Valerius’s neck and inhaled the warm scent of his skin. She would have never thought to feel this way about anyone.
She felt strangely protected even though she couldn’t fight for herself.
"We need to get her to safety," Valerius said sharply.
One second they were in the driveway outside of Kyrian’s house and in the next they were in Valerius’s room in his home.
Valerius looked relieved as he laid her gently down on his mattress. "Are you all right?"
"I think so," she whispered. The pain was starting to abate a bit.
He offered her a warm smile before his face hardened and he turned to look at Ash. "What are we facing?"
Ash took a deep breath and appeared to debate what to say for several minutes. "That ghost outside of Kyrian’s house was Desiderius. The good news is he isn’t corporeal… yet."
"But I fought him in corporeal form," Valerius said. "He attacked me earlier."
"When?" Tabitha asked as her terror returned tenfold. "I didn’t see him."
"He was the one the ghost protected at the end of the fighting. Remember?"
Tabitha shook her head. "That wasn’t Desiderius. Believe me, I remember that bastard’s face." She touched the scar on her cheek.
"No," Ash said. "It was his eldest son. According to Urian, they share the same name."
Tabitha rolled her eyes. "What is it with you ancient people that you only had, what? Three names in the whole family lineage and everybody recycled them?"
"It was tradition," Valerius said. "One I’m glad to have seen broken. Believe me, I take no joy from a name that reminds you of a cheesy song and a man doing unspeakable things in a high school gym. But I suppose, all things considered, ‘Valerius’ is infinitely better than ‘Newbomb Turk.’"
Tabitha laughed at his unexpected comment, amazed that he’d actually understood her earlier reference to the movie The Hollywood Knights.