How could she kill the man she loved? What kind of psycho had instituted that policy?
Then she looked to Rafael, who was standing behind Acheron, in the hallway. His handsome face betrayed nothing but trust. His black eyes were kind and gentle, encouraging, and that made the love she felt for him swell.
“I can’t kill him.”
Acheron let out a patient breath. “He won’t be dead long. You simply stop his heart from beating, then you hold the stone against his bow and arrow tattoo. His soul will leave the stone and return to his body.”
“You can do it, baby,” Rafael said with that decadent accent of his. “You told me just last night that you wanted to choke the life out of me.”
Instead of smiling, she grimaced at him. “That was for hogging the remote, and I wasn’t serious. This is entirely different.”
Acheron shrugged. “Fine then, he continues being a Dark-Hunter, and the Council will reassign you away from him.”
Her heart stopped at the mere thought of not seeing him anymore. “You can’t let them do that.”
“I control the Dark-Hunters. The Squires are their concern, not mine. I have no jurisdiction there, which is why Jeff is now cooling his heels in Squire jail for writing that story. I personally thought it was funny, but the Council doesn’t really have a sense of humor, do they?”
Frustrated, Celena wanted to argue, but she knew better. If she and Rafael were to ever have a normal life, he would have to be human again.
Right now, the Council knew nothing about their relationship, but sooner or later they were bound to find out and then there would be hell for her to pay.
Unless she and Rafael were already married. Then there was nothing the Council could do. There was no law prohibiting her from marrying a human male. It was the only loophole they could hope for.
“Okay,” she said with a determined sigh. “I can do this.”
This time it was Acheron who hesitated. “There’s one more thing you need to know.”
She gave Acheron a peeved stare. “And that would be?”
“The stone with his soul in it will burn your skin the minute you touch it, and it won’t stop until his soul has returned to his body. If you drop the stone before that time, he’ll be a Shade.”
Oh, that was a pleasant thought. In freeing him, she could very well be damning him to an eternity of hell. Shades couldn’t eat, couldn’t be seen or heard. It was a fate far worse than death.
And she could be the one to gift him with that oh, so not pleasant existence.
Still Rafael’s gaze burned into her. “I want to be with you, Celena. As a man.”
How could she argue with that? What’s more, she wanted it, too. So long as he remained a Dark-Hunter, they couldn’t have children. But if she freed him…
They could have a family. They could be married and grow old together. It was all she wanted.
“Okay,” she breathed. “Tell me what to do.”
Acheron pulled a long, evil-looking dagger from his boot and handed it to her. “Pierce his heart and leave the dagger in until he goes limp.” He shrugged his black backpack off his shoulder and took out a black box that was about the size of a softball. He opened the lid to show her a vibrant blue stone that was chiseled with intricate markings. It was a strange, compelling object that seemed to hum with life.
She reached for it only to have Acheron move it away.
“Remember, it burns. I’ll hand it to you and then you press it to Artemis’s mark.”
She gulped as she stared at the stone. It was hard to fathom that was Rafael’s human soul in there. “Are you sure this works?”
“Kyrian, Talon, Valerius – ”
“Okay,” she said as Acheron listed off the Dark-Hunters she knew had gone free. “Let’s do it.”
Rafael pulled his shirt off so that she could see the double bow and arrow mark on his left shoulder.
Her heart pounding, she gripped the dagger tight in her hand and met his obsidian gaze. The love there scorched her.
“You can do it,” he whispered. “Just pretend I’m Jeff.”
She wanted to laugh at his joke, but she couldn’t even muster it. Instead, she ground her teeth and did the hardest thing she’d ever done in her life.
She tried to stab him, but the dagger didn’t so much as pierce his skin. Stunned, she tried harder, but still it wouldn’t budge. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Acheron grimaced. “Damn. We forgot to drain his Dark-Hunter powers out of him. You can’t kill him while he’s immortal… at least not and leave his body whole.”
“Then what do we do?”
Acheron scratched the back of his neck. “I’m not supposed to interfere, but what the hell? For you two, I’ll make an exception.”
He took the dagger from her hand and plunged it into Rafael’s heart, up to its hilt.
Rafael staggered back before he slid slowly to the floor.
“Oh God,” she cried, horrified by what Acheron had done, as she knelt down beside him.
Rafael’s face was contorted by pain as a small trickle of blood left the corner of his mouth.
Instinctively, she reached for the dagger to pull it out.
“Not yet,” Acheron said, pulling her back. “He has to die or he can’t go free.”
Tears filled her eyes as she panted along with Rafael. He cupped her cheek in his palm as he offered her a small smile. “It’s okay, Celena.”
She only hoped he was right.
Covering his hand with hers, she held it tight as she watched the light fade from his eyes. And she gave a small cry as the last breath was expelled from his body.
Acheron took the stone from the box and held it out to her. His swirling silver eyes bore into hers. “Don’t drop it.”
Nodding, she took it from him only to scream out as a furious pain seared her skin. It burned worse than any imaginable fire and it was all she could do to maintain her hold. The only thing that kept her from releasing it was the knowledge that Rafael would die if she did.
She ground her teeth as Acheron helped her place the stone over the mark. Tears flowed down her cheeks from the pain and fear as she waited for Rafael to open his eyes.
It seemed an eternity had passed before Acheron pulled the dagger out of his chest.
An instant later, Rafael took a deep breath and blinked his eyes open to look at her.
Celena laughed in giddiness as she saw eyes that were no longer black. Now his eyes were a light amber brown that sparkled with human life. He was even more handsome than he’d been before.
Biting her lip, she pulled him into her arms and held him close.
Acheron moved away and returned the dagger to his boot.
“Thanks, boss,” Rafael said as he pushed himself to his feet.
Acheron gave him a kind grin. “I’m not your boss anymore, Rafael. She is.”
Rafael laughed. “That doesn’t bother me.”
Acheron snorted. “Yeah, be glad you’re human now. Nothing like answering to one single woman for eleven thousand years to make you wish for the end of time.”
Celena laughed again. “Thank you, Acheron.”
He inclined his head to them. “You kids have fun.”
Rafael looked down at the woman in his arms and tightened his hold on her. “Trust me, we will.”
And as soon as Acheron was gone, Celena pulled him down for a fierce kiss. Rafael’s head swam at the taste of her. It was a taste he would now spend the rest of his life savoring.
SHADOW OF THE MOON
Fury Kattalakis was about to walk straight into the dragon’s lair. Well, not exactly. There was a dragon in the attic of the building he was headed toward, but that dragon wasn’t nearly as dangerous to Fury as the bear guarding the door.
That nasty sonofabitch hated his guts.
Not that he cared. Most people and animals hated his guts which was fine by him. He didn’t have much use for the world anyway.
“The things you do for family,” Fury said under his breath. Though to be honest, this whole family concept was still new to him. He was more used to being screwed over by everyone around him. It wasn’t until his brother Vane had taken him in during the summer of ’04 that he’d realized not everyone in the universe was out to kill him.
The bear, however, still was…
Dev Peltier tensed as soon as he saw Fury step out of the shadows near the door of Sanctuary – a rough biker bar and dance club that stood at 688 Ursulines. Like that address hadn’t been chosen intentionally by the bear clan who owned it. They were nothing if not ironic.
Dressed in a black Sanctuary staff t-shirt and jeans, the bear looked human at present, complete with long curly blond hair, black biker boots, and a pair of sharp eyes that missed no detail or weakness, not that Fury had a weakness. But for all of Dev’s human appearance, to those lycanthropes such as Fury, Dev’s alternate form was like a thrumming beacon that warned all otherworldly types that Dev was ferocious.
Then again, so was Fury. What he lacked in magick abilities, he more than made up for in sheer strength…
And FU attitude and anger.
No one got the better of him. Ever.
“What are you doing here?” Dev growled.
Fury shrugged nonchalantly and decided that a fight wouldn’t get him inside – which was what he’d promised to do. Him… keeping a promise to someone other than himself… yeah. Right. Hell was freezing over. He still wasn’t really sure how he’d allowed his brother Fang to talk him into this act of blatant suicide.
The bastard owed him.
“Peace, brother.” Fury held his hands up in mock surrender. “I’m just here to see Sasha.”
Dev bared his teeth threateningly as he raked a glare over Fury’s body that normally would have caused Fury to slug him for the insult. Damn, his brother Vane was rubbing off on him. “The Kattalakis patria isn’t welcome here and you know it.”
Fury arched a brow as he looked up at the sign over Dev’s head. Flat black with electric blue and brown, it held a motorcycle on a hill that was silhouetted by a full moon. It also proclaimed Sanctuary to be the home of the Howlers, the house band. To the unobservant, it looked like any other club sign. But to those born cursed, like them, the shadows in the moon formed the outline of a dragon rising – a hidden symbol to the preternatural beings the world over.
This club wasn’t just named Sanctuary, it was one. And all paranormal entities were allowed inside where no one could harm them. At least so long as they obeyed the first rule of a limani. No spill blood.
Fury tsked at Dev. “You know the laws of our people. You can’t pick and choose who enters. All are welcomed equally.”
“Fuck you,” Dev snarled.
Fury shook his head as he bit back his natural caustic retort. Instead, he decided to handle it with biting sarcasm. “Thank you so much for the offer, but while you do have a certain feminine quality in your demeanor and a remarkable head of hair that any woman would envy, you’re far too hairy for my tastes. No offense.”
Dev curled his lip. “Since when does a dog care about what it humps?”
Fury sucked his breath in sharply. “I could go so low with that that even the gutter would envy us, but… I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to provoke a fight with me so that you can legally turn me away.”
He clenched his fists, and he made a show of struggling with what he wanted to do and what he’d promised to do. “I really, really want to give you that fight, too, but I have to see Sasha and it can’t wait. Sorry. We’ll have to hump and fight later.”
Dev growled threateningly, a pure grizzly sound. “You’re on thin ice, Wolf.”
Fury sobered and narrowed his gaze to that of his wolf form. When he spoke, his voice was low and feral and filled with the promise of whup-ass that was waiting if Dev wanted to continue this game. “Shut up, sod off, and let me in.”
Dev took a step toward him.
Faster than Fury could even tense in expectation of the hit Dev was about to deliver, Colt was there. A head taller than both of them, Colt had short, jet-black hair and lethal eyes. He put one large paw of a tattooed hand on Dev’s chest and held him back.
“Don’t do it, Dev,” Colt said in a low, even tone. “He’s not worth it.”
Fury should probably have been insulted, but the truth had never bothered him. “He’s right. I’m a worthless bastard fathered by a bastard even more worthless than I am. You definitely don’t want to have your sanctuary license pulled over the likes of me.”
Dev shrugged away Colt’s touch, which caused the sleeve of his shirt to pull up and expose the double bow and arrow tattoo on his arm. “Whatever. But we’re watching you, Wolf.”
Fury gave him a one-finger salute. “Then I’ll try not to piss on the floor or hump the furniture…” He glanced down at Dev’s black, silver-studded boot. “Your leg, though, might be another matter.”