You know, Susan thought wryly, it would really help if I bad a clue as to who and what they were talking about. But they were so absorbed and earnest, she didn’t want to interrupt them. Besides, what they were discussing seemed to be far more important than her ignorance and no doubt, if she lived, she’d begin to understand all of it soon enough.
Leo let out a frustrated breath as if he was way too tired. He turned toward Susan. "By the way, were you able to find anything out about Dark Angel before all this went down?"
"Yes. She’s a snotty little booger."
Leo looked ill at her description. "Oh gawd, it is Erika."
Otto frowned. "What are you talking about now?"
Leo let out another weary sigh. "Someone local has been Hogging that she works for an immortal shapeshifting warrior who hunts vampires. I had Sue check her out."
Otto looked even more perplexed. "Erika’s not a Squire."
"Not technically," Leo said, "but while her father’s off on his honeymoon, she’s subbing for him and running errands for Ravyn."
"Well, if you really think it’s Erika then why didn’t you have Tad run a trace on the blog?"
Leo cocked his head in an offended manner. "Because that would involve me actually talking to Tad now, wouldn’t it?"
Clearing his throat, Leo became sullen. In a low, almost embarrassed tone, he said, "I owe him money."
Otto gave him a droll stare. "What has that got to do with anything?"
Leo narrowed his eyes. "I owe him a lot of money."
"Good God, Leo," Kyl said angrily, "given how much you have, how much could you be into him for?"
"Everything, and I mean everything. Hell, I even owe him my Porsche."
Otto’s jaw went slack. "You jeopardized us because of debt? You’ve got to be kidding me."
"Do I look like I’m joking?" No, he looked completely pissed. "Besides, it’s not my fault. He cheats at cards."
Kyl made a disgusted noise. "You’ve been playing poker with him? Are you insane? That man’s brain functions like a computer."
"Now you tell me."
Otto disregarded his outburst. "And because of that you put a civilian on a case that should have been turned over to one of us? Jeez, man, what were you thinking?"
Leo rose to his feet. "Get off my back, Otto. I’m the one in charge here in Seattle."
Otto sat back with his arms folded over his chest in a demeanor that said he answered to no one else. "Not if I kill you for incompetence."
Jessica gave an evil smile. "Need us to turn a blind eye?"
Leo narrowed his eyes on her. "Ha, ha. But that doesn’t change the fact that we still need to find out definitively if Dark Angel is Erika. And if not Erika, then we need to know if Dark Angel is another one of us, or just a local lunatic."
Otto shook his head in disgust. "I’ll check into it."
Leo looked less than convinced Otto could handle it. "And what are you going to do, Otto?"
"What you should have done. I’ll simply ask her."
Leo laughed. "You haven’t met her, have you?"
He laughed even harder.
"Wear a Teflon jockstrap," Jessica said under her breath.
Otto rolled his eyes. "Oh, please."
"Please nothing," Leo said, "she’s a vicious piranha. She looks all cute and cuddly, then she opens that mouth and lets loose so much venom she could double as a nest of scorpions."
Still Otto looked less than intimidated. "I think I can handle her."
Leo glanced over at Kyl. "Add a call in to the florist to send flowers to either his hospital room or funeral parlor."
Otto shook his head before he stood up. "It looks like we all have our marching orders. Should we reconvene later tonight?"
Leo nodded. "Eight thirty. Be here."
Susan got up to leave with the others only to have Leo pull her to a stop.
"I’ll get a handbook from Patricia for you. You’ll also be stuck here for a while."
"Okay." Her gaze dropped down to his hand where the tattoo was. "Do I have to get one of those, too?"
He snorted. "No." He flexed his hand. "These are used solely for Blood Rites."
"Is that like special ed?"
She still couldn’t believe it. Oddly enough, it was easier to buy into the vampires than it was to believe Leo could hurt anyone. "Uh-huh, you who calls me into your office to kill spiders because you’re squeamish?"
"That’s different," he said defensively. "Those are disgusting."
"And yet you expect me to believe you’d kill a human?"
His eyes turned dark and forbidding. "I took an oath a long time ago, Susan, and I will abide by it. Whatever it takes. What we deal with is bigger than spiders. It’s bigger than you and me."
For the first time, she saw the man behind the teasing friend she’d known all these years. And in truth, she missed the old anal-retentive, smarmy boy she’d befriended in college.
"You know what I want, Leo?"
"Your life back."
She nodded. "I really need a do-over on this day. Then again, I could really use one for the last five years."
"I know." He gave her a gentle hug. "But it’ll be okay, Sue. I promise. We take care of our own and you’re here with us now. Don’t worry. You’re safe."
Stryker came to his feet as a rage so raw, so potent, went through him that he wasn’t sure how he managed to maintain himself.
"Kontis did what?" he asked in a low, calm tone that belied his turbulent mood.
"He escaped us, my lord," the Apollite vet, Theo, explained as he stood cringing before Stryker’s throne in Kalosis. Wearing a blue, blood-spattered lab coat, the half-Apollite should amuse him, but there was nothing amusing about the man’s news.
Stryker met Satara’s disgusted stare before he narrowed his eyes back on the worm who dared to deliver such news to him. "I told you, Theo, that you only had one thing to do. Keep him in a cage until I arrived."
Swallowing hard, Theo wrung his hands. "I know and I did just as you said. I swear it. I didn’t take him out of the cage. Not once. We just wanted to have a little fun with him until your Spathis killed him." He glanced up with imploring eyes. "It was the human I work with who took him out while I was speaking to you on the phone earlier. By the time I found out about it, he was already gone."
Did the fool honestly think that by indicting a human as an accomplice he would get leniency? These stupid tools were getting dumber and dumber every year.
Stryker curled his lip. "Where is Kontis now?"
"He was taken home by another human. The other vet we killed said her name was Susan Michaels. We have a team of humans out, looking for the two of them now. "
Stryker ground his teeth as all of his dreams of easily grabbing Seattle as a home base came sliding down around him. By now Kontis had no doubt notified all the other Dark-Hunters in Seattle. Every one of them would now be on high alert. So much for the element of surprise. Their job would now be a thousand times harder.
He wanted blood for this. "Do you have any idea what this means, Theo?"
"I do, but we still have enough daylight left that we should be able to get to him before he reaches the others."
Stryker scoffed. He knew better than that. Ravyn was like him-a survivor. If they wanted to take the city, they’d have to move quickly.
He turned toward his sister. "Gather Trates and the Illuminati."
"You’re planning to hunt?" Theo asked, his eyes sparking a degree of relief and hope.
"Yes," Stryker said slowly.
"Good. I’ll get my team ready."
"Don’t bother, Theo."
His nervousness returned tenfold. "My lord?"
Stryker approached him slowly, methodically. He reached out and cupped the man’s cheek in his palm. It was smooth and supple, as were all of theirs. Perfect. That was the beauty of never growing old.
Theo might be stupid, but he was as beautiful as the angels that many of the humans believed in. "How long have you served me now, Theo?"
"Almost eight years."
Stryker smiled at him. "Eight years and in all that time, tell me what you’ve learned about me."
He could feel the man shaking as he answered. The scent of fear and perspiration hung heavy in the air-gods, how he loved that smell. It was like an aphrodisiac to him.
"You’re the Daimon King. Our only hope."
"Yes." He stroked Theo’s cheek. "Anything else?"
Theo glanced nervously toward Satara before he returned to frown at Stryker. "I don’t know what you mean."
He sank his hand into Theo’s blond hair and balled his fist tightly in the strands so that the half-Apollite couldn’t escape him. "The one thing you should have learned, Theo, is that I don’t accept failure in any shape, form, or fashion. Your first mistake was letting the Dark-Hunter escape. Your second one was being stupid enough to come tell me about it."
Theo tried to pull away, but Stryker held him in place. "P-please, my lord, have mercy. I can find him! I can!"
Stryker smirked at his pathetic cries for clemency. "So can I. In fact, I intend to find more than just Ravyn. Before I’m through tonight, I intend to hunt and feed to my heart’s content. But it won’t be human." He licked his lips as he stared at the throbbing vein on Theo’s neck. "Tonight I feast on Apollite blood and carnage… On you and your entire family."
Before the man could speak again, Stryker sank his teeth into Theo’s neck, ripping out the carotid as he drank his fill.
Theo only fought for a second, before death finally claimed him. Stryker let Theo’s limp body fall to his feet before he wiped the blood from his lips with the back of his hand.
"You didn’t take his soul?" Satara asked incredulously.
Stryker scoffed. "Why bother? He was too weak to even whet my appetite."
"So what is our plan then?"
Stryker walked down the steps of his dais to stand beside his half-sister. "To run the bastards to ground. Ravyn has a Squire, right?"
"Then let’s put the fear of us into the Squire and he or she is bound to lead us straight to Ravyn."
"How do we do that?"
"Simple, sweet Satara. You’re not a Daimon. You can enter Ravyn’s house and then invite us in. Trates and the others will go for the Squire, and she will run to Ravyn for protection."
Satara considered that for a moment. "What if you’re wrong? The Squire might run to others of his kind."
Stryker shrugged nonchalantly. "Then we eat our fill of Squires. At best, it’ll put fear into the other humans who serve the Dark-Hunters and it’ll be an emotional blow to them. At worst, we just have a stomachache from the blood."
Susan was a bit confused by the vastness of the Addams layout. It wouldn’t take much to get lost in the ten-thousand-plus-square-foot building that had some secured areas and some that were open to the public.
One of the first things Leo did was take her to an electronic scanner for a hand and retinal imprint that would allow her access to their locked facilities. It would also allow them to find her if she ran, or, her favorite part of all, identify her remains should the Daimons get their hands on her for torture and mayhem. She would also need to get a copy of her dental records for their files… just in case.
Yes, she was really enjoying the prospect of being part of this world. Maybe they could even manage a few ritual slayings just for fun and practice!
But one of the more interesting parts of the building was the very front, which was a small coffee and pastry/deli shop that let out onto Pioneer Square. It was dark in tone, with pine paneling and a black ceiling. Even so, it still managed to have a homey, old-fashioned feel to it. And spookily enough, it was one she’d eaten at several times in the past with Angie and Jimmy whenever they came down here for the antique store on the corner that Angie had dearly loved.
While they showed her around the shopfront, from behind the scenes innocent people came and went without realizing that just past the business area was the Twilight Zone. Only a few hours ago, she would have been one of them, too.
In fact, with the exception of the small eating area, the counter, the bakery area, and one small storeroom, the rest of the monstrous building was essentially command central for the Seattle-based Squires. There were high-tech computers that kept tabs on virtually everything to do with them. Where they lived, shopped, and patrolled. There were databases of local businesses they owned. Lists of who worked for the city, state, and federal government, and those who were assigned to particular Dark-Hunters in the area.
Apparently, there were nine main Dark-Hunters in various parts of the city while another six were assigned to outlying areas such as Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and Redmond.
There was also a hospital set up to tend any Dark-Hunter or Squire who was injured in a way that didn’t lend itself to visiting a traditional medical facility without freaking out the "ords." Ords being a slang term for "ordinaries," who were people who had no clue about their world. Personally, Susan wanted to return to being an ord, but she knew better than to even ask.