Seize the Night (Page 9)

Seize the Night (Dark-Hunter #7)(9)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"My store," Tabitha said. "Pandora’s Box on Bourbon. I cater to the strippers and drag queens."

"This is… it’s a…"

"Adult store, yes, I know. I inherited it from my aunt when she retired. Now close your mouth and stop gulping. I make a lot of money and friends in this place."

Valerius couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Tabitha owned a den of iniquity? Why was he even surprised?

"And this is exactly what has caused the Western world to decline," he said as she led him past a glass case of pasties and thongs.

"Oh, yeah, right," Tabitha said. "Like you wouldn’t give your right arm to have a woman dressed in my stuff strip for you. Good night, Franny," she called to the woman behind the register. "Make sure you give Marla the receipts and deposit when you close up tonight, okay?"

"You got it, boss. Have a good night."

Tabitha led the way to the street. The city was already placing the barricades at the intersections that would turn Bourbon into an after-hours pedestrian mall. She hung a left onto Bienville Street toward her sister’s house; all the while, she scanned for any suspicious activity.

Valerius remained remarkably silent.

As they neared the next intersection, she heard Valerius curse.

Two seconds later a lightning bolt struck him.

Chapter 4

Tabitha gasped as Valerius was thrown against a building from the lightning strike. Before she could take a step toward him, it literally started pounding rain on him and no one else. In fact, the only place it was raining was where Valerius lay on the ground.

"What on earth?" she asked.

Valerius took a deep breath as he slowly pushed himself to his feet. His lip was split, and he had a cut on his cheek from where he’d hit the building. Without a word, he wiped the blood off with the back of his hand, then felt the wound on his cheek.

He was soaking wet while the rain continued to fall on him in a pounding staccato beat. "It’ll stop in a minute."

And it did.

Valerius wiped the water from his face and then wrung out his ponytail.

Tabitha was aghast. "What just happened?"

"My brother, Zarek," he said wearily as he shook his arms and sent water flying. "He was made a god a couple of years ago and has since turned me into his full-time occupation. It’s why I no longer drive anywhere. I grew rather tired of my engine just falling out of my car for no apparent reason whenever I stopped for a light. The only safe mode of transportation I have is my feet and as you have just witnessed, not even it is completely safe." There was no missing the anger in his tone.

"Is my car safe?"

He nodded. "He only comes after me."

She started to approach him.

"Don’t," he said, his breath suddenly forming a small cloud as he spoke. "It’s freezing here."

Tabitha reached out her hand and felt the arctic air that surrounded Valerius. It was colder than a freezer where he stood. "Why does he do this to you?"

"He hates me."

"Why?" She felt a wave of shame come over him. "What did you do to him?"

He didn’t answer. Instead, he breathed into his hands and headed down the street again.

"Valerius," she said, stopping him even though she wasn’t sure she didn’t get frostbite to her hand for the effort. "Talk to me."

"And say what, Tabitha?" he asked quietly. "I felt sorry for Zarek when we were children and every time I tried to help him, I only ended up hurting him more. He’s right to hate me and everyone else in our family. I should have just left him alone and ignored him. It would have been better for all of us if I had."

"It’s not wrong to help someone."

He gave her a dry stare. "My father always said, ‘Nullus factum bonus incedo sinepoena’-No good deed goes unpunished. In Zarek’s case, he made a point of proving it."

She was dismayed at what he was telling her. "I thought my family was odd. You guys sound like you really were the dysfunctional crew."

"You’ve no idea." He started back down the street.

Tabitha followed, but to be honest, she felt really sorry for him. She couldn’t imagine having one of her siblings hate her. It was true they didn’t all get along all the time. With eight sisters and a wide assortment of fruits and nuts in the family, there was always someone who wasn’t talking to someone over something, but in the end, family was family and anyone who threatened them quickly got a dose of Devereaux solidarity.

Even if they weren’t technically speaking to each other, they could always count on the family in a pinch. Even as kids. In high school, Tabitha had sworn she would never talk to her older sister Trina again because Trina had gone out with a guy she knew Tabitha had a crush on.

When the jerk had broken Trina’s heart by two-timing her with a cheerleader, Tabitha had let loose Aunt Cora’s prized boa constrictor in the guy’s car. He’d been so scared, he’d wet his jeans before Tabitha had pulled the snake out.

It’d still taken two more days before she and her sister had reconciled. But they had reconciled. No one carried a grudge in their family for more than a few weeks. And no matter how angry they were, they would never, ever really hurt one another.

Goodness, what kind of family did Valerius have that two thousand years later his brother was still hurling lightning bolts at him?

By the time they reached her sister’s shop, Val’s eyebrows and lashes were frozen white. His skin had a terrible grayish tint to it.

"Are you okay?"

"It won’t kill me," he said quietly. "Don’t worry. He’ll get bored in a few minutes and leave me alone for awhile."

"How long?"

"Usually a few months, sometimes longer. I never really know when he’s going to strike. He likes to surprise me."

Tabitha was aghast at what she was witnessing. "Does Ash know he does this to you?"

"Zarek is a god now. What can Acheron do to stop it? Much like you with your brother-in-law, Zarek thinks it’s fun to ‘goof on me."

"I’m never deliberately cruel to him. Well, maybe just the one time I sent him a box of Rogaine on his birthday, but that was just a gag gift until he opened the real one." She touched his ice-cold hands and realized he was shivering unmercifully.

Her heart ached for him. She blew into her hands and rubbed them together before she placed them to his face, which was so cold that it instantly took the heat from her skin.

He gave her a grateful look before he pulled back.

Suddenly a cloud of sulphuric something engulfed them.

Tabitha coughed at the rank smell before she held her nose and turned to see her sister Tia mumbling something she couldn’t understand.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"He got the evil funk of death on him. You weren’t really going to bring him into my store like that, were you?"

"Yeah." She snatched the small wooden bowl out of Tia’s hand. "Would you please lay off the nasty voodoo crap? It’s stinks."

Tia reached for it. "Give me that."

"Quit grabbing or I’ll dump it in the street."

Tia stood back instantly.

Tabitha looked at the reddish-gold powder and curled her lip at the rancid smell of it. "You know I really could have done without the Shower to Shower in poop. And here I was telling Val that my family wasn’t so bad." She handed it back to Tia.

"You need protection," Tia said defensively. "There’s something here. I can feel it."

"That might be your sanity. You might actually want to invite it in."

Tia gave her a peeved glare.

Tabitha smiled. "I’m just kidding. I know what you mean. I can feel it, too."

Tia looked up at Valerius, who was still shivering. "Why is he frozen and wet?"

"Long story," Tabitha said. She had a feeling Valerius wouldn’t appreciate her telling her sister about his psycho brother. "This is my sister Tiyana. Tia for short."

"Hi," Tia said before she grabbed Valerius’s arm and pulled him toward the entrance to her store.

He gave Tabitha a panicked look.

"It’s okay. She’s mostly nuts, but doesn’t have a mean bone in her body."

"I don’t want to hear about my insanity from the loon who stalks vampires in her spare time. You should see her," Tia said to Valerius as she hauled him through the narrow shop that was lined with shelves of all manner of gris-gris, charms, voodoo dolls, candles, and tourist items. "She thinks any guy in black is a vampire. Have you any idea how many men in New Orleans wear black? She’s frightening. Really."

Tia turned toward her clerk. "Chelle, watch the store for a minute," she said to her employee, who was stickering a new batch of alligator-tooth key rings.

Tia led them through the back door to the storeroom. She sat Valerius down on a barstool and then pulled out a large box of Mexican ponchos, before she grabbed several of them and wrapped Valerius in them.

She went to the bathroom and came out with a towel. "Dry his hair while I make him something warm to drink."

"Thanks, sis," Tabitha said as she took the towel from her.

Valerius was taken aback by the untoward kindness. No one had ever treated him this way… like he mattered. Like they cared. "I can dry my own hair."

"Stay under the ponchos and get warmed up," Tabitha said as she pulled the tie from his ponytail. Her tenderness amazed him as she carefully towel-dried his hair, then combed it with her fingers.

Tia came back with a large, steaming skeleton mug that had a warm, odd smell to it. "Don’t worry. It’s not a potion. Just a homemade cinnamon-chocolate blend that I sell at Christmas that’s supposed to ward off melancholy." She handed it to him.

"Does it work?" he asked.

"On most people. The chocolate stimulates endorphins to perk you up and the cinnamon makes most people think of home and mother’s love." Tia smiled. "You’d be amazed how much science there is in magic."

Valerius took a hesitant drink. It was surprisingly good and did in fact warm him. "Thank you," he said.

Tia nodded. "You guys here for your car?" she asked Tabitha.

"Yeah. I didn’t mean for us to disturb you."

"It’s okay. I was waiting for Amanda to show up. I called her earlier and told her I made a talisman for her and Marissa."

Tabitha went cold. It wouldn’t do for Amanda to find Valerius here. She was sure her sister wouldn’t understand how she could be helping him. Not that Tabitha was ashamed for what she was doing, but it was still a complication she wanted to avoid for all their sakes. "Cool, but we need to get going. We have some things to do. Give Mandy a kiss for me."

"Will do."

Tabitha motioned for Valerius to follow her out the back door that led to the courtyard where Tia’s Mitsubishi was parked beside her Mini Cooper.

She unlocked the car for him. "Get in, I’ll be right back."

Valerius did as she asked and was surprised that the car had more leg room inside than what it appeared to have from the outside. Even so, he felt a bit cramped in it.

She ran back into the store and came out a few minutes later with a plastic sack. She got into the car and handed it to him.

"Your lamp oil," she said.

He was stunned that she had remembered it, especially since it had slipped his own mind. "Thank you."

She didn’t say anything as she started the car and backed them out of the driveway. As soon as they were on the street, she popped the gear into drive and squealed off.

He sat quietly while she weaved them in and out of traffic at a rate that would have left him terrified had he not been immortal.

The interior of the car was so tiny compared to what he was used to that it was hard not to notice her. She drove like she lived: fast and on the edge.

"Why are you so intense?" he asked as she took a corner he swore left the car with only two wheels on the ground.

"My mother says I was born that way. She thinks Amanda must have gotten both shares of restraint while I took all the courage."

She turned serious as she shifted gears and whipped around a slow-moving car. "Actually, that’s not true. The fact is that I’m what some call a magnet. My psychic powers don’t lie in special abilities like my sister Amanda’s do. Mine are more quiet. Intuition, psychometry. Things that are virtually useless to a human, but are highly prized by the Daimons."

She paused at a light on Canal Street and looked at him. "I was only thirteen when the first group of Daimons attacked me. I would be dead now if Talon hadn’t saved me."

Valerius frowned at her words. She was right. Magnets gave off a powerful lure to Daimons. With her fierce nature and zest for living, she would be all the more alluring to them.

"Unlike most humans, I wasn’t allowed to live in ignorance of your world. It was either learn to defend myself or end up dead. No offense, dead doesn’t appeal to me."

"No offense taken. Having been dead for more than two thousand years, I can’t exactly recommend it myself."

She laughed at that. "I don’t know. Dead and in Armani. I think most people would be hurling themselves off buildings if they could come back loaded like you."