“Well?” Stryker prompted. “How do I kill Apollo?”
She blinked at Stryker’s impatient tone as her mind replayed everything in sequence.
Zephyra sat forward on her throne. “What did you see? Can we break the curse?”
Sam shook her head. “It can’t be undone.”
Rage contorted Stryker’s handsome features. “You lie!”
“No, I swear. There is no way. Apollo would have undone it in the beginning had he been able to.”
Stryker cursed. “And his weakness? What will bring him to his knees?”
Oh he wasn’t going to like the answer to that question. She knew it. “The same thing that caused him to curse the Apollites to begin with.”
“His whore, Ryssa?” Stryker asked.
She shook her head. “The death of the son he loves more than anything.”
Scowling at her, Stryker sat back. “I don’t understand. What son?”
She licked her dry lips and braced herself for his wrath. “You, Stryker. You’re his weakness. You’re what he loves above everything else…. You’re the only thing he loves.”
Zephyra put her hand on his shoulder as Stryker sat there completely stone-faced. “She’s telling the truth.”
Stryker grabbed Sam by the arm and jerked her to him. “Are you playing with me?”
“Why would I?”
Snarling, he threw her away from him. One minute she was in the center of the hall and in the next, she was being sucked back into the vortex.
Sam fought against it with everything she had. Stryker had lied, there was no Dev. He was sending her back empty-handed.
Screaming, she tried to stop falling. Tried to get back to Kalosis so that she could hunt for him.
It was no use.
She found herself on the street just a few feet from where she’d gone into the vortex earlier.
“No!” she screamed as it closed right behind her and left her alone. She got up and ran around trying to find another opening.
There wasn’t one.
She was here and Dev…
Oh God, Dev…
Tears blinded her as that old helpless feeling ripped her apart. “You lying bastard!”
Guilt and grief tore through her. Dev was dead and it was all her fault. She’d caused this. Had she not thrown him out, she would have been there to protect him when Stryker came to get him.
How could she have let him go?
You’re a fool. Twice now she’d lost the man she loved.
And as she wept, she felt her Dark-Hunter powers waning. I don’t care. Nothing mattered to her anymore. Let them kill her.
Yet again the Daimons had taken everything from her. Only this time, she couldn’t blame her sister.
She could only blame herself.
Sick to her stomach, she didn’t know where to go or what to do. Aimless, she found herself back at Nick’s house, walking through the gate and then the back door.
How do I tell Dev’s family what I let happen? They would be crushed. All of them…
Nick stopped her as she reached the bottom of his staircase. “Where did you go?”
She ignored Nick’s question as she stepped past him.
“Sam?” Nick snapped. “What are you doing?”
Numb, she couldn’t think straight. “I need to be alone for a minute.”
Or a millennium.
I just want to die.
She stumbled up the stairs, wishing Stryker had killed her too. How could she have ever been so stupid as to trust a Daimon?
Her heart breaking, she opened the door to her room and froze.
Was it possible?
She blinked her eyes in disbelief as she saw Dev standing near her bed.
It couldn’t be.
He was looking around as if he was as dazed as she’d been in Kalosis. “How did I get here? I swear I’m not stalking you, Sam. I didn’t—”
Laughing, she launched herself at him and wrapped her body around his while she kissed him over and over again.
Dev staggered back as Sam assaulted him. He’d expected her to be mad for his breaking her “space,” but there was nothing even remotely angry about her giddiness as she kissed him senseless.
Yeah, the woman was nuts. But as she rained kisses over him, he was getting harder by the minute and forgetting why he wasn’t supposed to be here with her.
“I thought you were dead.”
She squeezed him so tight, he could barely breathe. “I’m so sorry if I hurt you, Dev. I’m so sorry.” But for someone apologizing, she got more aggressive as she shoved him back onto the bed and pinned him there under her body.
Then she gave him the hottest kiss he’d ever had in his life.
But he wasn’t playing this. As much as he hated doing it, he shoved her back. “I’m not your yo-yo, Sam. And you’re not going to play head games with me.”
Sam swallowed as she saw the fury in those precious blue eyes she’d never thought to see again. “I don’t want to bury you, Dev. I don’t. I love you and it terrifies me.”
Those words hit him like a vicious punch to his gut. “What did you say?”
“I love you.”
He cupped her cheek in his hand as he stared at her in disbelief. Those were the three words he’d never expected to hear from someone he wasn’t related to. “I don’t want to live without you, Sam.”
Tears glistened in her eyes. “I haven’t been alive in over five thousand years. Not until some bear made a smart-ass comment about my bad driving and followed me home.”
He bristled under her accusation. “You invited me.”
Her smile blinded him. “And I’m inviting you in again.”
“Are you sure?”
She nodded. “I know this is fast, but—”
A loud knock on the door interrupted her. “Clothes on, people, quick,” Nick said from the other side of the door. “Buckle up, buttercups. We have incoming and it’s about to get bloody.”
Dev opened the door to find Nick in the hallway, dressed for battle. “What’s going on?”
“My Spidey sense is off the radar. There’s a massive demon migration and it’s charting a course straight for us. Since I don’t want my house destroyed, I vote we take it where we’re least likely to be seen and where we have an advantage.”
“And that would be?” Dev asked.
“The St. Louis Cemetery. This time of night, it’ll be closed and empty.”
Sam shook her head. “I can’t go there. I’ll get possessed.”
Nick rolled his eyes. “Better you than my house.”
“I thought you had it shielded?” she shot back.
“I do, but this—”
A loud pop downstairs cut his words off.
Nick cursed as he stepped back and tilted his head. “Looks like we waited too long. Gird your loins, people, join the fight.” He vanished.
Dev sighed irritably. “That’s so not what I want to do with my loins right now.”
Sam laughed. “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll take care of your loins later. Right now, we fight.”
By the time they reached downstairs, Ethon, Chi, and Nick were standing with their backs to each other. Sam could hear the demons scratching, trying to break the shield around Nick’s house.
She looked back and forth between Chi and Ethon. “What are you two doing here?”
Ethon winked at her. “Nice seeing you, too. Thanks for the gracious welcome.”
Chi ignored him. “We came in at sunset to help guard you and Nick.”
“Thank you.” Sam turned to Nick. “Where’s Ash?”
Nick curled his lip. “He’s not welcome here and I refuse to have him in my home.”
Dev looked at him like he was crazy. “Is that good idea given what we’re facing?”
“My vote is double hell no,” Ethon said, swinging his sword around. “But I think we can handle them.”
Sam gave Captain Suicide a droll stare. “How did you die again? Oh wait, I know this. ‘I can take ’em. I don’t need to wait for reinforcements. I can do it myself.’ How’d that work out for you again?”
Ethon glared at her. “It wasn’t that cut and dry and I would have won had my best friend not stabbed me in the back. Literally.”
Nick growled at them. “They’re breaking through. You guys might want to get your heads out of your asses and pay attention for this.”
The sound of glass shattering echoed through the house an instant before it began crawling with demons.
Lazaros manifested in the center of the room. Ten feet tall and in the form of a twisted one legged serpent, he faced them. “Give me Samia and I’ll leave the rest of you in peace.”
“Why do you want her?” Nick asked.
“She killed my brother.”
Sam frowned as she searched her memory. “I’ve never killed a demon.”
“Liar!” Lazaros snarled. “Your sister sold her soul to him to kill you and your family so that she could be queen in your place. When you became a Dark-Hunter, you hunted him down and killed him.”
Frowning in confusion, she shook her head. “No, I didn’t. I killed a Daimon.”
“You killed an empusa, you moron. And I would have killed you then but I was told you were dead and then I was captured before I could confirm it.” He narrowed a blood red stare on her. “Tonight my brother will finally be avenged and I will bathe in your blood.” He lunged for her throat.
Dev caught him and drove him back.
The other demons attacked en masse. They swooped in like a dark cloud that wanted to consume them. Sam put her back to Dev’s as they fought with everything they had.
She cut the head off one, then drove another to Ethon who quickly dispatched him.
Lazaros whipped his tail, catching her across the back. It felt like a razor slicing through her flesh and it brought out agonizing memories of his brother killing her and her family.
Cursing, Sam stumbled.
Dev caught her and the memories instantly faded so that she had total clarity again. He blasted a shot with his powers straight at Lazaros who absorbed it and sent it back to him. It knocked Dev flying.
Sam caught herself, then gasped as she saw Dev bleeding on the floor. Her powers drained out of her immediately.
Please don’t die. Please don’t die…
Running to him, she saw that his eye and nose were cut. He had a gash in his side. But he was alive. Bloodied, but alive. Relief swept through her.
He moved to stand.
Over and over, she saw the premonition images of him lying dead in this room. Normally she took power from such things as her rage went through her like the Hulk, but right now…
Her fears paralyzed her. She couldn’t lose him.
Dev saw Sam’s eyes turn green and his breath was sucked out of his body as his fear mounted. She was human which meant she could die.
Terrified for her, he flipped to his feet and put himself between her and Lazaros. There was no way he was going to let her go down.
The demons had Ethon and Nick pinned. Chi was completely out of sight. And more demons were coming in.
Lazaros rushed for Sam.
With a battle cry, Dev lunged at him, but just as he reached the demon, it darted and swiped him with its tail. One minute he was about to stab it, in the next he was flying through the air, ass over tea kettle.
Sam snarled as she found her human power. Screw the Dark-Hunter crap. She didn’t need it.
The lioness in her roared to life and all she could focus on was saving the people in this room who meant the most to her. And Dev topped that list.
She picked up the fallen sword that Ethon had dropped and true to her Amazon nature, she attacked with every instinct and skill she possessed. She dodged and swerved, hacked and sliced. Lazaros blasted her and she ducked, letting the blasts fly past her and hit the couch, walls, and tables which started burning.
“I hate you bastards,” Nick snarled as he saw the damage. “Couldn’t you have attacked at Ash’s house?”
Not paying Nick’s outburst any attention, she completely disengaged herself to keep Dev safe.
Dev was impressed by Sam’s prowess as she met every attack with a counter. He’d never seen anything like it and when she came up and stabbed Lazaros in his side, his heart stopped.
Lazaros whipped his tail around and pinned her to the floor.
Rage consumed him as he went for the demon. Lazaros turned to confront him. Sam rolled out from under Lazaros’s tail and scrambled for the sword she’d dropped. The moment the hilt was in her hand, she threw it at the demon.
She pinned Lazaros’s head to the wall like a grisly trophy. The demon screamed out in agony, shuddered, and then died.
Still the others kept coming.
Sam picked up another sword as she met Dev. She kissed him quickly on the lips, then turned to keep fighting.
“How do we stop them?” Ethon shouted.
Nick cursed. “They’re not responding to my powers. There’s nothing I can do.”
Sam had no powers to use. She looked at Dev.
Dev shrugged. “I say we beat them down until they kill us.”
All of sudden, there was a bright flash of light as Acheron appeared in the center of the room. He swept his gaze around them and took in everything before he slammed his staff down and sent a shock of something reverberating through the entire house. It was like some kind of weird sonic boom that shook the very foundation and made the demons disintegrate.
Ethon, bleeding and sweating, glared at Acheron. “’Bout time, boss. What kept you?”
Chi appeared beside Acheron. “I didn’t want to bother him. But it was getting too close for my comfort level so I went for the big gun.”
Ash gave her an irritated smirk. “Next time someone unleashes a herd of demons, an early call would be nice. I don’t want to be scraping up my team’s entrails. Took too much to train all of you to start over with recruits.”
Nick scoffed. “We were handling it just fine. We didn’t need your help.”
“Really?” Ash arched his regal brow. “Let me clue you in on one of your powers, Nick. You can charge off the power of a demon. If you don’t, they charge off you and grow in strength.”
That took the cockiness right out of Nick. “What?”
“You are the Energizer Bunny for badasses.” Acheron looked at Chi. “I thought you were training him?”
“We haven’t gotten to that yet. He’s a stubborn pupil who doesn’t listen to me much.”
Acheron let out a sound of deep disgust before he turned back to Nick. “And I thought teaching you to drive sucked.” Then he mumbled under his breath. “Hardheaded…” the rest was in some language Sam couldn’t understand.
Nick held up his hand. “Stop bitching and make yourself useful for once. Clean up my house.”
Ash scoffed. “Do I look like a Merry Maid to you?”
“Yes, Bo-Peep. Chop chop. I have blood and entrails on my walls and it’s staining the wallpaper.”
Sam was stunned Ash let anyone talk to him like that.
Yet he seemed to take Nick’s fit in stride. “I should have left you in the coma.” He slammed his staff down and everything in the house went back to normal.
Nick licked at his fangs. “Thank you…Dick.”
Ash ignored him as he moved to Sam.
She swallowed hard as Artemis and Apollo’s words about him rang in her head. Acheron a whore…
In a weird way, she could see it. He did have the movements of a trained courtesan. Slow. Steady. A symphony of movement. Plus there was that unnatural sexual magnetism he put out. It was like a lion in the wild. Something so beautiful that you had an irresistible urge to pet it and yet you knew if you tried, it would tear off your arm.
Yeah, that was Acheron.
He picked up her hand and looked at her marked palm.