Dev moved to stand behind her.
Ash didn’t speak for several long seconds. He met Sam’s and then Dev’s gazes. “How do you feel about this?”
Sam bit her lip. “I think it’s more a question of how do you feel about it?”
Ash’s hand actually trembled as he held hers. “I can’t get your soul back, Sam. I can’t. Artemis won’t let me.”
Her stomach hit the floor at his news. “You’ve done it for others.”
He nodded. “I know, but things have changed and Artemis won’t release anymore to me.”
Fine, she didn’t want to be human anyway. “Can’t I be a Dark-Hunter and mated?”
Ash looked at Ethon and then Chi. “The rules were set in place for a reason. Artemis still owns you and she’s a jealous goddess. If she finds out about this…you don’t want to ever see her that angry. And honestly, I don’t know what she’d do over this. But in the end, it’s your decision. I can’t make it for you.”
Sam clenched her teeth. “You’re sure you can’t get my soul back?”
“I’m sure and I’m sorry.”
Nick curled his lip at Ash. “You better be glad I’m a better friend to you than you ever were to me or I’d tell them exactly why you can’t help her…Acheron. But I won’t steal from you what you love. My mama raised me better.”
Ash’s swirling silver eyes blazed. “You know, Nick, but you don’t understand. There’s a big difference. You have no idea what the world is like when you’re completely alone and unprotected in it. Pray to the gods that you never do. The one lesson I can’t teach you…that neither Chi nor Takeshi can teach you is not to judge others so harshly. As you said, you’re mama raised you better and you shame her memory every time you spit at me.”
Nick bellowed in rage before he lunged for Ash.
Ash threw his arm out and held him back with an invisible force field. “One day, Cajun, you will have the power to destroy me. But that day isn’t here yet.” And with that, he vanished.
Nick was so angry, he shook from it. “You’re all fools to blindly follow him when you don’t know what he is.”
Ethon shook his head. “You’re wrong, Gautier. I know exactly what he is.”
“Yeah?” Nick sneered. “And what is that?”
“My friend. That’s all that matters to me.”
Nick scoffed at him. “You’re a fucking idiot, Stark. He was my friend too and he ruined me.”
“For that I’m sorry. But until he betrays me, I owe him my loyalty.” Ethon moved to stand by Sam. A sad smile hovered over his lips as he took her marked hand into his.
In that moment, she returned to the day she’d married Ioel. Ethon had been there then too. Standing by her side just as he was now.
He kissed the back of her knuckles. “I’m happy for you, little sister. If Artemis comes for you, call me. I will stand and I will fight for you anytime.”
Because he loved her.
Sam’s lips trembled at a truth he didn’t want her to know but one she’d seen so clearly. He’d been in love with her since long before their deaths. He’d loved her so much that he was willing to say nothing about his feelings for her in order to keep from tainting her happiness. And it was a love she’d never been able to return to him.
He would never be more than a brother to her.
Life was unfair and as Acheron so often said, emotions had no brains. Ethon deserved someone who could return his love with the same passion that burned inside him and she hoped that one day he’d find her.
She squeezed his hand. “I love you, Ethon.”
He swallowed. “Like a brother. I know.” He held his hand out to Dev. “Take care of her, Bear. I’d say I’d kick your ass if you didn’t, but she’s a better fighter than I am.”
Dev laughed. “Thanks, E.”
Ethon inclined his head before he headed to the door. “Time to patrol. There are Daimons on the street and stupid humans willing to feed them. You coming, Chi?”
“I have Nick duty tonight.”
“Then good luck. May the gods be with you and don’t kill the lippy bastard.” Ethon left them.
His gaze bitterly amused, Nick stepped forward. “Congratulations, Dev. Sam.” To her amazement, he shook their hands.
And he was actually happy for them.
Chi smiled. “I’m so thrilled for you guys. And I hope Acheron is wrong and that Artemis is understanding about this.” She turned to Nick. “You ready to start our lessons?”
He shook his head. “Not tonight. I have something else I need to take care of.”
“Nick…” Her tone was thick with chiding. “You have to learn. You’re still extremely vulnerable.”
“Yeah, but a good friend once taught me that sometimes you have to put others first. Tonight is one of those.”
Sam scowled at the odd note in Nick’s voice as he teleported out and left them alone with Chi. “What are teaching him?”
Chi sighed. “Demonology.”
That was impressive and a rare talent. “Does he have your powers?”
“No. His powers make mine look weak. But he has to understand why the others are coming for him.” Chi pressed her lips together as she thought about something that troubled her. When she spoke, Sam heard the undercurrent in her voice. “The more I’m with him, the more he scares me. There are times when he’s so kind and then something comes over him. Something so evil that it gives me chills.” She shook her head. “Anyway, don’t let me taint your night. You two have a lot to discuss and decide. Shoo! Go and enjoy. We can catch up later.”
Sam inclined her head to her. “I love you, Chi.”
“I love you, too, babe.”
“You ready?” Dev asked her.
He teleported her to his room.
She cringed as a wave of nausea swept through her. “I really hate traveling that way. It does not like me.”
“Sorry. I just couldn’t wait to be alone with you and it was the quickest way to get here.”
Sam bit her lip as she scanned his lush, scrumptious body. “I know how you feel.”
He kissed her gently on the lips. “So what did Stryker want with you?”
“Information on his father and how to break their curse.”
“Did you tell him?”
She nodded. “I told him the truth. There’s no way to break their curse. And that his father, even after all that’s happened, still cares about him.”
Dev let out a low whistle. “I’ll bet he didn’t take that well.”
Sam fell silent as she considered that. “He took it better than I thought, but I have a feeling this isn’t over.”
“The Daimons can still walk in daylight and we’re their enemies. Sooner or later, they’ll be coming for all the Dark-Hunters and Stryker seems too determined to give up. I think he’s got something even more sinister brewing.”
“And I hope you’re wrong.”
So did she. But her gut was kicking and it had never been wrong in the past. They’d won this battle.
The war was still on.
Sam paused as someone knocked on the door right as dawn was breaking. She and Dev were just getting ready for bed. “Aimee?” She was the most likely candidate for someone disturbing them at this hour.
Dev shrugged. “Come in,” he called.
It wasn’t Aimee.
The door opened to show Nick. Once again, he had that sick pallor to his skin like he was in pain or about to hurl. He leaned heavily against the doorjamb as if he didn’t have the energy to stand on his own. “Sorry to disturb you guys. But I wanted to give you a mating present.”
Sam was touched by his kindness. The Weres had already been spoiling them with gifts and good wishes. “You didn’t have to do that, Nick.”
“Yeah, I did.” He handed her a small wooden box. One that looked ancient.
She took it and opened the lid. There inside was a green amulet that glowed with an ethereal power. “It’s beautiful.” She reached to pick it up, but Nick stopped her.
“That’s your soul, Sam.”
She gaped at him as Dev came forward to stand behind her. “I don’t understand.”
Nick gave her a wan smile. “You don’t have to. Suffice it to say, Artemis has agreed to let you go.”
She was incredulous. How could this be? “Did you do this?”
That familiar tic started in Nick’s jaw again. “Acheron set the terms. But that’s not important. I wanted to get it to you guys as soon as possible. Do you know how it works?”
She had a basic idea from what she’d heard as rumors from other Dark-Hunters who’d been set free. “I have to die and Dev has to release my soul back into my body.”
“That’s an Ash-type explanation. You have to figure out what drains your Dark-Hunter powers and then stop your heart from beating. At the moment of your last breath, the amulet has to be placed over the bow and arrow mark and held there until you come back to life. It’s going to burn like fire and if Dev lets go of it even one nanosecond before you start breathing again, you will spend eternity as a Shade.” They were frightening ghosts who could never be seen or heard by others. Invisible apparitions who spent eternity in perpetual hunger and agony. It was a frightening thing to be.
Nick replaced the lid. “Good luck to both of you.”
As he started to leave Sam stopped him. “I have one question.”
“Do I have to become human again?”
Nick hesitated before he answered. “No. It’s your soul to do with as you please. As of this moment, you’re technically free from Artemis and your powers are yours. But if you don’t return your soul to your body, you’ll have the same limitations as before. You won’t be able to have children and you won’t be able to walk in daylight. Worst of all, you’re off payroll.”
She laughed. That wasn’t the worst of it. She’d barely spent any of the money she’d made over the centuries so she was flush for at least a few hundred years.
Touched by his generosity, she stepped forward and did the one thing she hadn’t done in a long time. She kissed his cheek.
The pain he was in hit her hard and stole her breath. But she pushed it aside. “Thank you, Nick.”
He nodded before he withdrew and closed the door.
Dev took the box from her. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. I want to mate with you. To bond with you.” Bonding meant that their life forces would be joined and when one of them died, they both would. It was something Dev’s parents had refused to do while their children had been young—they’d been terrified of leaving them orphans. But once all their cubs were grown, they’d bonded and they’d died in each other’s arms.
Sam brushed his hair back from his face. “Your life span is finite. Mine isn’t. What say we bond and I stay immortal?” That way they’d never have to say goodbye to each other.
She hated the thought of death. This would be the best of all worlds.
Dev scratched his cheek. “We won’t be able to have children.”
She bit her lip, afraid of what he might say about her next proposal. “How do you feel about adoption?”
He smiled. “Works for me. All kids need love. But can you stand not being in daylight?”
And that would be different how? “Been five thousand years without it. I’m kind of used to it now and really have no patience with sunblock.” She kissed the tip of his nose.
“All right then.” He stepped back from her. “Let me go put this somewhere safe. Be right back.”
Sam laughed at his urgency as she climbed into bed to wait for him. While she lay there, she turned her palm over to see her mark.
She still couldn’t believe it was real. That her life had changed so drastically in such a short period of time. But then her birth as a Dark-Hunter had been every bit as quick and dramatic. One moment she’d been bathed in complete happiness and in the next everything had been shattered. It only seemed fair that the reverse could happen just as suddenly.
Dev popped into bed beside her.
She laughed. He was ever a horn dog. “That was fast.”
“We have a big safe inside a vault. I hid your soul well and now…” He pulled her close.
Sam let out a playful breath. “Why is it everything gets back to you being naked?”
“Nothing gets back to me being naked, baby. It’s all about your bare skin.” He kissed her stomach. Chills spread the entire length of her body. “Now let’s see about this mating thing.”
Three months went by faster than Dev could blink. Never in his life had he expected to be so happy. Sam was now working night shifts with him and they’d settled into an easy nocturnal lifestyle.
It was 3 A.M. and he was at the door, listening to Sam and Aimee talk over his headset. He was so glad they were friends. It made everything that much easier.
Yawning, he was about to comment on their lame joke when a flash to his left caught his attention. A fissure of supreme power rippled in the air around him.
He stiffened, prepared to battle.
The light above his head went out.
When it came back on again, he saw Savitar standing in front of him.
“What are you doing here?”
Savitar rolled his shoulders into an easy, laid back shrug. “Been hearing some things ’bout your club, Bear.”
Aimee, Fang, and Sam came to the door.
“Is there a problem?” Fang asked.
Savitar shook his head. “Au contraire. It seems you guys have a lot of friends who’ve been petitioning the council. Never let it be said that I’m without some form of mercy.” He handed Aimee a rolled up piece of paper. “You’re license is reinstated. Congratulations. Sanctuary is once again a protected limani. Welcome back to the fold.”
Part of Dev wanted to tell him to shove it up the darkest recess of his body. But this wasn’t about him. It was about their family.
So he swallowed his pride and forced out the words he knew Savitar wanted to hear. “Thanks.”
“I would say anytime, but I expect you to keep your noses clean.”
Aimee inclined her head to him. “We will. Thank you for giving us another chance.”
“No problem.” Savitar turned to leave, then stopped. He looked at Sam. “The Fates brought you and Dev together out of total malice. I can’t express to you how much I hate those bitches.”
Sam held her breath as she expected him to revoke their mating. They were bonded….
Could he break that?
Before she could blink, Savitar grabbed her hand. A jolt of electricity ran up her arm and through her body.
For several seconds, she couldn’t breathe. “What did you do?”
He let go of her and clapped Dev on the back. “I’m a vain creature. I fully expect you two to name at least one of those cubs after me.” Then he turned to Aimee. “You want a shot too?”
“Absolutely.” Aimee held her arm out to him.
He took her hand and repeated the jolt. “That should make the three of those bitches scream for a few days…. It’s the little things in life that mean so much. Adios, mi amigos. And don’t worry, Sam.” He pointed up at the blood red moon over their heads. “Sometimes it’s just the light bending around the earth.”
And with that, he was gone.
Sam stood there, completely stunned for several minutes. Until Dev leaned in and whispered in her ear.