Seize the Night (Page 5)

Seize the Night (Dark-Hunter #7)(5)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Valerius was shocked.

Was she…

"No, she’s not my girlfriend," Acheron said from the other end as if he could hear Valerius’s thoughts. "I’m leaving that for some other poor sap."

"You have to help me, Acheron," Valerius said, tightening his grip on the sheet as he moved away from Tabitha, who continued to pursue him across the room.

"Okay, listen. Here’s some help. You know your prized cashmere coat?"

Valerius couldn’t imagine how that might help him, but at this point he was willing to try anything. "Yes?"

"Guard it well. Marla is about your size and she’ll definitely try to steal it if she sees it. She has this strange coat and jacket fetish, especially if they’ve been worn by men. Last time I was in town, she ended up with my favorite motorcycle jacket."

Valerius gaped. "And how is it that you associate with drag queens, Acheron?"

"I have many interesting friends, Valerius, and some of them are even complete and utter ass**les."

He stiffened. "Was that directed at me?"

"No. I just think you’re way too uptight for your own good. Now if you’re through wigging out on me, I’d like to go back to sleep."

Ash actually hung up the phone.

Valerius stood there, holding the cell phone. He felt like someone had just cut the line on his life preserver, and was leaving him to drift out into shark-infested waters.

Jaws herself was there, waiting to devour him.

Jupiter help him.

Tabitha picked the pillow up off the floor and returned it to the bed. She paused as she caught sight of Valerius’s backside. Damn, he had the nicest posterior she’d ever seen on any man. Someone should stamp Grade A Prime on it. It was all she could do not to walk over to him and cop a feel, but his rigid, frigid stance kept her well at bay.

That and the multitude of scars that marred his back. It looked as if someone had beaten him repeatedly.

But who would have dared do such a thing?

"You okay?" she asked as he walked to the dresser and set his phone down.

He raked his hand through his long hair and sighed. "How many hours to sundown?"

"A little over five." She sensed he was still angry and confused. "You want to go back to bed and sleep?"

He gave her a harsh, menacing glare. "I want to go home."

"Yeah, well, I would have taken you home had Otto answered his phone last night."

"I gave Guido time off for bad behavior," Valerius said under his breath. Then his face went suddenly pale.

Tabitha sensed dread, followed sharply by a pain so deep that it actually made her wince.

"What’s wrong?" she asked.

"I need to go home immediately."

"Well, unless you have some special relationship to Apollo that I need to know about, that’s about as likely as me winning the lottery, which would be highly likely if Ash would ever share those damn numbers with me. Vicious cur that he is. He won’t share squat."

She felt a wave of hopeless despair consume Valerius. Instinctively, she walked over to him and gently touched his arm. "It’s okay, really. I’ll take you back as soon as the sun goes down."

Valerius looked down at her hand on his biceps. No woman had laid a bare hand to him like that in centuries. It wasn’t sexual. It was soothing. The hand of someone who offered him comfort.

He lifted his gaze to hers. She had searingly blue eyes.

They were sharp and intelligent. Most of all, they were kind, and kindness wasn’t something Valerius was used to.

Most people took one look at him and instantly had a strong disliking for him. As a human, he’d attributed it to his regal status and his family’s well-earned reputation for brutality.

As a Dark-Hunter, it had stemmed from the fact that he was a Roman and since Rome and Greece had spent centuries warring against each other until Rome had finally brought Greece to her knees, it was only to be expected that the Greeks would hate him. Unfortunately, the Greeks and Amazons were a vocal group who had quickly turned all the other Dark-Hunters and Squires against their Roman-born brethren.

Over the centuries, Valerius had convinced himself that he didn’t need any brothers-in-arms and had even started getting a morbid kind of enjoyment from reminding them of his regal Roman status.

From the first year of his rebirth, he’d learned to strike out at them before they struck him.

He’d finally embraced the rigid formality and sense of propriety that his father had beaten into him as a child.

But that formality fled before the kindness of this woman’s soothing touch.

Tabitha swallowed as something passed between them. His dark, intense stare went through her and for the first time it wasn’t condemning or judgmental. It was almost tender, and tenderness was not something she expected from a man of Valerius’s reputation.

He laid his fingers against the scar on her cheek. She didn’t see the sneer on his face that most men got when they saw it. Instead, he gently traced its line. "What happened?" he asked.

"Car wreck" almost came out. She’d told that lie for so long that it was practically automatic now. Honestly, it was a lot easier to say the lie than it was to live the truth.

She knew just how hideous her face was. Her family had no idea how many times she had overheard them make comments about her scar. How many times Kyrian had told Amanda that he would gladly pay for her to have plastic surgery.

But Tabitha had been terrified of hospitals ever since her aunt had died of a simple tonsillectomy gone bad. She would never elect to have something done just because she wasn’t pretty anymore. If the rest of the world couldn’t deal with her, it was their problem, not hers.

"A Daimon," she said quietly. "He said he wanted to give me a special memento so that I would always remember him."

A tic started in his jaw at her words and she sensed his anger on her behalf.

"I’ll give him credit," she said past the lump in her throat. "He was right. I think of him every time I look in the mirror."

Valerius dropped his hand down to the scar on her neck where one of the Daimons had actually gotten a bite on her. If not for Kyrian coming to her rescue, she would most likely have died that night.

"I’m sorry," he whispered.

Those were words she was certain never crossed this man’s lips. "It’s okay. We all have scars. I’m just lucky that most of mine are on the outside."

Valerius was stunned by her wisdom. He’d never expected such depth of thought from a woman like her. She gave a light squeeze to his hand before she removed it from her neck and stepped back.

"Are you hungry?"

"Famished," he answered honestly. Like most Dark-Hunters he usually ate three meals a night. One not long after he awoke at sunset, another around ten or eleven at night, and the third one around three or four in the morning. Since he’d been wounded fairly early, he’d only eaten one meal last night.

"Okay, I have a well-stocked kitchen. What would you like?"

"Something Italian."

She nodded. "Sounds good. Go ahead and get dressed and I’ll meet you downstairs. The kitchen is the door on the left. Don’t open the one on the right that has a Bio-hazard sticker on it. That one leads to my shop and it’s nothing but daylight in there."

She started to pull the door closed behind her, then stopped. "By the way, you might want to put your coat in my closet until you leave. Marla-"

"Acheron already warned me."

"Ah, good. See you in a few."

Valerius waited until she was gone before he went to dress. As he hung his coat in her closet, he was struck by the fact that she owned as much black as he did. The only color in her closet was a bright pink satin dress that stood out harshly amidst the sea of darkness. That and a red plaid miniskirt.

It was the miniskirt that held his attention as an unwanted image of Tabitha in it went through him and he wondered if she had nice legs.

He’d always appreciated a pair of shapely, soft feminine legs. Especially when they were wrapped around him.

His body hardened instantly with that thought. Valerius grimaced as he felt suddenly like a pervert standing in her closet, daydreaming about her.

He shut the closet door instantly and left the room. The hallway was painted a bright yellow shade that was a bit harsh on his sensitive Dark-Hunter eyes. There was a room across the hall that had the door opened to display a well-kept, tastefully decorated bedroom. He saw a silver sequined dress lying across the antique bed and an ornate brunette wig resting on a foam head beside it.

"Oh, hi, cutie," Marla said as she left what must have been a bathroom. She was wearing a turban on her apparently bald head and a pink bathrobe. "Tabby’s downstairs."

"Thank you," he said, inclining his head to her.

"Ooo, manners. What a nice change for Tabby. Most of the men she drags home are all crude ruffians. Except for that Ash Parthenopaeus who is remarkably well-mannered. But he’s odd, too. Have you ever met him?"

"I am acquainted with him, yes."

She visibly shivered. "Ooo, I like the way you say ‘acquainted,’ shug. That’s some accent you have there. Now you better go on before I take up any more of your time. God knows, I’ll talk your ears off if you let me."

Smiling at her flamboyant gestures as she shooed him away, Valerius bid her adieu, then closed her door. There was something oddly charming about Marla.

He made his way down the beautiful cherry staircase that led to a small landing. He frowned at the Biohazard sticker that was right where Tabitha had said. He turned to the left where two French doors that could use a bit of repair led to a small dining room. Inside were an old brown-and-white farmer’s table and ladder-back chairs that had seen better days.

The walls were painted a harsh white and held framed black-and-white posters of European landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, and the Coliseum. Black plantation shutters had been pulled closed over the windows to block out the daylight for him. And a black buffet was set against the far wall. The top of it was littered with pictures and collectible plates, including ones of Elvis and Elvira. Two large, antique silver candelabrums stood at each end of it.

But what amazed him was an 8 x 10 picture in the center of the buffet of what appeared to be Tabitha in a wedding dress standing beside a man whose face was covered by a small cut-out picture of Russell Crowe’s head.

He reached out to remove the picture.

"There you are," Tabitha said from behind him.

Valerius straightened instantly. "You’re married?" he asked.

She frowned until she saw the picture. "Oh, good grief, no. That’s my sister Amanda at her wedding. The baby girl in the picture next to it is her daughter, Marissa."

Valerius studied the wedding picture. There was really no difference between the women except for the scar. "You have a twin sister?"


"And why is your sister married to Russell Crowe?"

Tabitha laughed. "Ah, it’s a goof on my brother-in-law, the self-righteous, proselytizing schlemiel."

He gave her an arch look. "I take it you don’t care for the man."

"Actually, I love him to death. He’s really good to my sister and niece, and is a real sweetheart in his own way. But, much like you, he takes himself entirely too seriously. You guys need to lighten up and enjoy yourselves more. Life’s too short… well, maybe not for you, but for the rest of us mortals it is."

Valerius was fascinated by this woman who should repulse him. She was tacky and uncouth and yet she was amusing and charming in a most unexpected way.

She plunked a small red can on the table that had a plastic spoon sticking out of what appeared to be some sort of elbow macaroni and marinara.

Valerius frowned. "What is that?"


He arched a brow at that. "That is not ravioli."

She looked down at it. "Well, okay. It’s Beefaroni. My niece calls anything that comes in these small microwavable cans ravioli." She pulled a chair out for him. "Eat up."

Valerius was aghast at what she was offering him. "I beg your pardon? You don’t actually expect me to eat that, do you?"

"Well, yeah. You said you wanted Italian. It’s Italian." She picked the can up and indicated the label. "See. Chef Boyardee. He makes only the best stuff."

Valerius had never been more appalled in his life. Surely she was joking. "I don’t eat out of paper cups with plastic cutlery."

"Well, la-di-da, Mr. Fancy Pants. Sorry if I offended you, but here on Planet Earth the rest of us plebeians tend to eat whatever’s handy, and when something is given to us, we don’t question it."

Tabitha crossed her arms over her chest as he went ramrod stiff. If looks could kill, her poor cup of Beefaroni would be splintered.

"I shall withdraw until nightfall." He gave her an imperious nod of his head before he headed back toward the stairs.

Tabitha gaped as he left her. He really was offended and deep inside, hurt. The latter made no sense whatsoever to her. She was the one who should be insulted. Picking up the Beefaroni, she sighed, took a bite, and headed back into the kitchen with it.

Valerius carefully closed the door to her room when what he really wanted to do was slam it. But then, nobility didn’t slam through the house. That was for commoners. Nobility held their emotions under careful restraint.