Ravyn swallowed as he watched Susan turn around and head back to his office. He had a sneaking suspicion she was about to take the D.C. job. After all, it was her dream.
But her dream was killing him. He didn’t want her to leave. He wanted her to stay.
Be strong. As an animal, he knew that you couldn’t put someone in a cage and expect them to live. She had to be free to make her own life… with or without him.
His heart heavy, he went back to his bedroom and picked up the receiver. Part of him wanted to listen to her conversation, but he wouldn’t do that to her.
It was up to her to tell him the news.
Sitting down, he picked up the book he’d been reading and tried to focus on it. He couldn’t. All he kept doing was thinking of what his life would be like without her in it.
And he knew the answer. He’d been living that way for centuries.
The door opened to his room. He glanced up to see Susan coming in with a glum look on her face.
This was it. She was going to tell him and then pack. Bracing himself, he watched as she moved to the side of the bed and handed him her latest article. No doubt this one would solidify her as a legitimate reporter again.
He forced himself not to betray his hurt as he picked it up to read and his heart slid to his stomach.
I MARRIED THE CATMAN OF SEATTLE
So my husband has a litter box. At least he doesn’t stray at night…
“What the hell is this?”
“I don’t understand.”
She laughed. “I have to turn it in to Leo. I just called and he told me that I can have my old job back.”
“I thought you hated that job.”
“Not anymore. I just realized that I can have a lot more fun working for him than I ever could writing for the Post or Wall Street Journal. Not to mention, I get to cuddle up with the best-looking catman in town.”
Ravyn still couldn’t believe it. “You’re staying?”
“Are you deaf, kitty? Yes. Now are you going to make an honest woman of me, or what?”
Ravyn laughed as he pulled her to him and dissolved their clothes. “Yeah, baby. I intend to make sure that you never stray, either.”
Susan shivered as the cool air caressed her skin, followed immediately by the warmth of Ravyn’s hand as he glided it down her spine. His hair pulled itself back from his face into a ponytail so that he wouldn’t cause her to sneeze too much.
She laughed at his consideration. Pressing herself against him, she pulled his head down so that she could taste his lips. It was still hard for her to believe that after this she would never be alone again.
Ravyn would be here for her.
He was her family. So was Leo, and even Otto and Kyl. They were more like her homicidal cousins, but they were family. It was more than she’d ever hoped for.
No, Ravyn was more than she’d ever hoped for. How could Mr. Wrong, be so right? It didn’t make sense and yet he was. She couldn’t imagine ever being this comfortable with another man. He fit her perfectly.
The more she learned about him, the more she loved him.
Ravyn’s senses whirled as he tasted the sweetness of her mouth. In all these centuries, he’d never thought to have another mate and yet here she was.
Susan. Soft, irritating, beautiful. She was more than he’d ever dreamed of. Pulling back, he lay his cheek against hers and inhaled the floral scent of her hair…
At least until she sneezed.
He smiled before he turned her in his arms.
“What are we doing?” she asked.
“The ritual,” he breathed in her ear. He held his marked hand out before her. “Put your marked palm against mine.”
Susan did, then he laced his fingers with hers and nuzzled her neck with his whiskered cheek. She loved the sensation of his skin scraping hers. It sent chills all over her.
“Now I need you to guide me into your body.”
Susan snorted as she realized that with his arm across her chest while he was behind her, that was easier said than done. “For the record, I’m not Stretch Armstrong. How am I supposed to do that?”
He laughed before he kissed her cheek and made her entire body burn as he cupped her breast with his free hand and teased her nipple with the calluses on his palm.
“I can do it then, but you have to tell me that you accept me as your mate.”
“That’s why we’re naked, right?”
“Susan,” he said, his tone gravely serious. “This is a big step to my people. By our laws, I’m not allowed to take a woman as my mate unless she is one hundred percent accepting of me and our ways. I’m not a Katagari, forcing my will on you. I’m an Arcadian and we would never breach the sacredness of this.”
She leaned back so that she could meet his midnight gaze. “I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life, Ravyn. I want you as my mate.”
His features softened as he dipped his head down to nip her on the back of her neck. Susan shivered in pleasure an instant before he slid himself deep inside her. Her hand burned as she rose up on her tiptoes, then lowered herself down onto him, taking him in all the way to his hilt.
He kept one hand on her hip while his arm crossed her body, holding her against him. It was the most incredible moment of her life. So this was mating…
She liked it.
Ravyn growled deep in his throat as he thrust against her hips, and she met him stroke for stroke. She was so warm and wet that it almost drove him over the edge, but he wanted to time this carefully. This was the first time they would make love as mates and he wanted them to come together.
She was his. A wave of possessiveness consumed him. So long as they lived, he would never again be able to take another woman. Susan alone would sustain him, and it wasn’t just because the Fates decreed it. It was because he loved her. Deeply. With every part of himself.
There had been a time when that kind of commitment would have sent him running for the door, but after all these centuries, he was looking forward to having her in his life.
She wasn’t just another lover to come and go. She was a companion. A friend. She alone knew how much he liked to have his ears rubbed. And even though it made her hand itch, she always made sure to rub them at night while they lay in bed. Just as she was doing now.
Her touch sent chills over him, and when they came together, it was the most blissful moment in his entire life.
He quickly released her hand before their union went further. He wasn’t ready to bond with her just yet.
Not until she was as committed to him as he was to her. She still had her own life to live and he didn’t want to trespass there. Having had his life taken from him by one person’s selfishness, he wasn’t about to do that to her.
“I love you, Susan,” he said, kissing her gently on the cheek.
Susan purred as she continued to rub his ear with her hand. “I love you, too, Ravyn.”
Stryker sighed as he sat at his desk, looking for his cell phone, which was no place to be found. “Trates!”
He winced as he accidentally called for his old second in command. Damn, he was never going to get used to Davyn being here and Trates being gone.
It was almost as bad as having lost Urian.
Before he could call for Davyn, Satara appeared in the room beside him. “Hello, Brother.”
Her presence amused him and he wondered if either Artemis or Acheron knew that he had a direct link to whenever Ash visited Stryker’s auntie. “I take it Acheron is back on Olympus.”
She nodded as she leaned against his desk. “Have you thought about what I said earlier?”
She’d had one hell of a plan to give them an informant that no one would ever suspect. Of course it hinged on her being correct, and he wasn’t so sure that she was. “I have.”
“If he’s really alive and you can convince him to go through with it, I’ll convert him.”
She laughed deep in her throat as she tapped him on the chin. “Oh, Brother, you constantly underestimate me.” Leaning back, she snapped her fingers, and an instant later a Dark-Hunter was standing between them.
Stryker actually gaped at the sight. Satara had been right after all.
It was Acheron’s friend from New Orleans. The one Desiderius had caused to kill himself. “Gautier…”
Nick looked around as if confused. “Where am I?”
Satara licked her lips as she leaned against him and rested her arm on his shoulder. “I told you, sugar. This is where you can get what you need to kill Acheron. And this is the man who can do it.”
He narrowed his eyes on Stryker, but lucky for Stryker, Gautier didn’t know him by sight and it was obvious Satara hadn’t given his name to the man.
Good for her. She was a clever girl.
“He’s a Daimon,” Nick sneered.
Dub… Stryker masked his Daimon’s aura. “Not entirely, Dark-Hunter. Not entirely. I’m also the son of a god.”
He saw the confusion on Nick’s face now that he could no longer sense him as a Daimon. “How can you mask your essence?”
“I told you. I’m the son of a god, and I can share those powers with you. If you’re willing.”
Suspicion darkened his eyes. “At what price?”
“Submission to me. You have to agree to abide by my rules. Same as Artemis required of you… only with a twist.”
“Yes,” Satara said. “You’ll actually get your Act of Vengeance with us. Unlike Artemis, we won’t deny you.”
Nick’s eyes gleamed at the prospect. “Is that all I have to do?”
“Not quite,” Stryker said honestly. “Once I convert you over so that you can share my powers, you’ll be required to drink from me in order to live. If you go too long without feeding, you will die.”
Nick was silent as he considered that. The idea of drinking blood disgusted him. The idea of drinking it from a man…
He shivered in revulsion.
But you could kill Acheron.
That idea thrilled him. Ash had taken everything from him. Or if not taken, he’d allowed it to be taken by others. And Nick wanted revenge. A vengeance Artemis had refused him when she’d taken his soul. But for Ash, he would still be alive. More than that, his beloved mother would be alive. New Orleans would still be intact. Rage darkened his vision.
“Is it a deal?” the Daimon asked.
“Yes,” Nick said before he could chicken out. “Give me what I need to kill him.”
Stryker stood up slowly as he savored this victory. Now here was something Acheron wouldn’t see coming. Because he loved Nick, Nick’s future was shielded from him. He’d never know this man was going to betray him.
Not until it was too late and the death blow was upon him.
Thrilled, Stryker unbuttoned his shirt so that his neck was exposed. He sat down on the corner of the desk so that Nick would have an easier time reaching him. Though Dark-Hunter blood had been made poisonous to Daimons, Daimon blood wasn’t poisonous to Dark-Hunters. The fact that Dark-Hunters could drain emotions and powers from others was why they were banned from drinking blood. Nick was about to learn one of many secrets Acheron kept from his Hunters.
“Whenever you’re ready, Dark-Hunter.”
Nick stared at the Daimon’s neck and the vein that throbbed there. If he did this, there was no way back for him. None.
And then he saw his mother’s gentle face. Saw her sitting in her favorite chair, dead in their house on Bourbon Street.
Ash needed to pay for the people he’d allowed to die. The people he hadn’t brought back to life.
His breathing ragged, he took a step closer and sank his fangs into the Daimon’s neck.
Stryker laughed as heat poured through his body. He cupped Nick’s head in his hands and tilted his head so that Nick could drink his powers into him. Stryker knew what was happening to Nick’s body. The lust and craving the man was feeling as Stryker’s life force invaded him. There was nothing else like it.
And when Nick became more feral from his newfound strength, Stryker pushed him away, into Satara’s arms.
Nick whirled on her then and pinned her to the wall before he feverishly kissed her. He needed to release the fire in his body or it would consume him.
Wiping at the blood on his neck, Stryker licked it from his fingers. “Call me when he’s through with you.”
He wasn’t sure Satara could hear him as Nick furiously pulled at her clothes. Stryker left them alone to screw while he savored this moment.
He now had two of Ash’s Hunters. One Ash knew about. But the other…
He would be the death of the Atlantean.
Susan was still smiling from the mating ceremony with Ravyn as she entered the offices at the Daily Inquisitor.
“Hi, Joanie,” she said, heading for Leo’s office.
“Hi, Susan.” Joanie leaned over her desk to whisper loudly. “Did you hear that there are vampires who live here in Seattle?”
“Oh, yeah. A lot of them hang out at the Happy Hunting Ground, too.”
She watched as Joanie made a note. Shaking her head at the woman, she opened Leo’s door. “Hey, boss man, what’cha up to?”
He was sitting with Otto across his desk. “You look awful chipper, Sue. What’s up?”
Walking in and shutting the door, Susan handed him her article and watched his face as he read it, then laughed nervously.
“What is this?”
She smiled at him. “I have learned Ibsen. I now know how to embrace the absurd.”
Otto arched a brow at her. “I think she’s learned to embrace the bong.”
Susan slapped at his shoulder playfully. As she pulled her hand back, Otto grabbed her wrist. “What’s this?” he asked, turning it over to see her mark.
A pall went over the room.
Susan balled her hand up, but it was too late for that.
“You can’t mate with him,” Otto growled. “It’s against the rules. You’re a Squire.”
Susan’s heart pounded as she tried to think up a lie.
“Actually,” Leo said, leaning back in his chair. “That’s not true.”
Otto released her. “What do you mean?”
Leo squirmed a bit before he answered. “I kind of forgot to swear her in. She’s still technically a civilian.”
Otto was aghast. “Leo…”
“Hey, we had a tough week, you know? I was going to get around to it, but things came up.”
To her amazement, Otto visibly relaxed. “Damn. Another good Dark-Hunter lost. And I really liked the leopard, too.”
Susan went cold at his words. Were they going to kill Ravyn for mating with her? “What do you mean, you’re going to lose him?”
Leo gave her an agitated glare. “You haven’t read all the manual yet, have you?”
“Well, no. The thing’s something like five thousand pages long.”
Leo tsked at her. “You should read chapter fifty-six.”
It was Otto who answered. “That’s the chapter that tells you how you can free your Dark-Hunter and marry him.”
Susan gaped at that. Ravyn hadn’t said anything about that to her. “Are you serious?”
“Always. I don’t have a sense of humor… well, Roman general and Tabitha not withstanding.”
She had no idea what he was talking about and honestly she didn’t care.
“You know,” Leo said, distracting her. “I like this article, Sue. What say we make it front-page?”
Her head still spinning from her latest discovery, she nodded at him. “That’d be great. I’ll… um… I’ll see you guys later.”