She shrieked in outrage. "No! That wasn’t what we agreed. You-"
"Yes, it was," he said calmly, cutting her off before he returned the hourglass to its shelf. "That was the exact wording of our contract. You set up the terms and I abided by them. Now you have to free me for ten hours."
She balled her hands into fists as her face turned as red as her mussed hair. He knew she was having to mind her tongue to keep from calling him a liar. But then she knew what he did-he couldn’t lie. Once his word was given, it was unbreakable.
"I hate you!"
He snorted. "Don’t keep saying that, Artie. It’s cruel to get my hopes up."
In her anger, she threw her hair over her shoulder as she continued to fume at him. His gaze narrowed on her exposed neck, which caused his stomach to rumble.
She paused instantly. Her green eyes darkened as her heartbeat picked up.
Unable to stand the temptation, Ash jerked her to him with one arm, dipped his head down, and pressed his lips to the throbbing vein that enticed him like a Siren’s lure. The sweet fragrance of her blood made his own heart pick up speed as he opened his lips to taste her. He felt his incisors growing until he knew they were long enough to give him what he needed.
Growling deep in his throat, he sank his fangs into her neck and tasted the life that flowed inside her. Feeding was the only time he really wanted to be in her presence. The only time she didn’t infuriate him beyond his best tolerance.
Here, for a moment, he found her soothing. Her blood calmed him as it nourished his hunger. Without breaking from her, he separated her thighs again and drove himself back into her body.
Lifting her legs from the floor, she cried out in happiness as her hands roamed his back while he continued to take what he needed.
He would be free of her soon…
Susan looked up from the floor as Ravyn entered the room with an air of distraction hovering around him. There was something strange about his demeanor. It wasn’t like him to be so preoccupied. Normally when he was in a room, he was in the room.
"Are you all right?"
His face grim, he rubbed at the back of his neck. "I don’t know. Nick’s words keep chasing themselves around in my head. Kind of like ferrets or something else vile and evil. Not that ferrets are particularly vile, they’re actually kind of tasty when I’m in leopard form."
Susan screwed her face up. "That’s disgusting."
He winked at her. "I know and I’m only kidding. I don’t like anything raw in either form… except for female flesh."
"Ew! That’s worse, you cannibalistic necromaniac."
"You mean necrophiliac?"
"No. Necromaniac as in ‘lunatic with the dead.’ "
He appeared to consider that. "Actually, wouldn’t it be un-necromaniac, as in ‘the undead’?"
Susan held her hands up in surrender. She knew when she’d been bested verbally. "Switching topics back to Nick. What’s bothering you exactly?"
"After you left, he kept saying that he thought one of our own, a Dark-Hunter, would betray the rest of us."
That bothered her, too. It was really a scary thought, but she had a hard time believing the men and women she’d met upstairs would turn on one another. There seemed to be an unspoken respect and brotherhood that existed between them.
"Boy, as Erika said, he’s just a ray of sunshine, isn’t he?"
Ravyn didn’t seem to find the humor in her sarcasm. "Yeah, but I think he’s right. Can you imagine how much damage a Daimon could do if they possessed a Dark-Hunter?"
More than she really wanted to think about. The Daimons had done enough damage in Daimon form. Imagine one masquerading as a good guy… that could get ugly really fast. "How easy could that be to do? I mean you guys kick serious Daimon ass, right?"
"I don’t know-they’ve taken out two of us already and came too damned close to killing me. It’s enough to make me wonder how much of Nick’s crap is true and what isn’t." He cocked his head as if realizing that his words were really getting to her.
She didn’t like the thought of being Daimon bait. But then neither did he.
"Don’t worry about it, Susan. I’m just thinking out loud." He moved forward to hand her the manila folder in his hands.
"A present from Leo."
Susan set it aside as she watched Ravyn withdraw back toward the wall. Something really wasn’t right about him. It was like he sensed something that she couldn’t, and it reminded her of a pet that was staring at the wall. And just like that pet stare, it unnerved her. "Hey?"
He looked over at her.
"I wanted to ask you about something Erika said earlier where you’re concerned."
He scowled at her. "I don’t wear purple panties to bed and I don’t chase cat toys when they’re thrown down in front of me."
Susan was stunned by his unexpected response. Uh-huh. It was obvious the man had some hidden issues.
"What was that action? What are you talking about?" she asked with a laugh.
He looked baffled by her question. "Isn’t that what she said about me? It normally is… and it’s most definitely not true."
Susan couldn’t speak as she fought down her laughter. Most likely, he wouldn’t think it funny to be laughed at, but it was hard to bury. Her mouth merely opened and closed like a guppy as she sought a suitable answer.
Finally she got enough control to speak again. "Well, I can certainly vouch for the lack of panties myself. I’ve been down there enough to know. As for the other… that could be interesting. Maybe we should try an experiment?"
Ravyn shook his head at her. "So what was your question then?"
Susan hesitated as she considered what he might answer. Not to mention, she was a bit captivated by the rugged appearance he made standing in the room as if ready to battle someone. "Erika said that, as a rule, you don’t allow people around you for more than twenty-four hours."
He nodded. "It’s true."
She couldn’t imagine how he tolerated that kind of isolation. She liked to be alone, but not always. There were definite times when she liked having friends over. Or honestly, times when she needed someone around her. "Why is that?"
His face droll, he made an interesting noise. "Ever notice most people are major pains in the ass? I’d rather save myself the trouble of dealing with them and just avoid being around them to begin with."
In spite of the sincerity of his tone, she didn’t buy that answer. It came too automatically, as if he’d rehearsed it repeatedly. More to the point, she was learning a lot about this man. There was a weird blankness that came into his eyes whenever he wasn’t being honest, or whenever he was hiding something.
He had that look now.
Getting up, she walked over to him. They stood so close that she could feel the heat of his skin. Smell the sharp, tingling fragrance of his aftershave. His expression turned guarded.
"Talk to me, Ravyn."
He looked away as a veil descended over his features. Susan placed her hand against the muscle that was working in his jaw. The dark whiskers of his cheek gently scraped the palm of her hand as she felt an inner connection to him. It reminded her of taming a wild beast.
His eyes flared at that as if her action irritated him. "I don’t need you to soothe me, Susan. I’m not a child."
"Good," she said seriously. "I’m not a nanny. I personally like to avoid most children, since they’re rude, ill-mannered, and usually smell like freaky kinds of juice and mixed fruit." She frowned as those words struck her with a bit of humor. "Wait a second, given all that, you do remind of a child. "
He gave her a peeved glare.
She smiled at him as she patted his cheek playfully. Something that reminded her she was actually petting a wild leopard who could tear her arm off if he wanted to. That thought sent an odd sensation through her. She really was taunting the devil.
"Sorry," she said, not out of fear, but out of guilt that he didn’t find her comment funny. "I couldn’t resist." She lowered her hand from his face before taking his large, scarred hand into hers. "Now you know I’m a reporter, so you might as well answer my question truthfully, or I’ll just keep asking it until you lose your mind."
Ravyn growled low in the back of his throat. It wasn’t in his nature to confide in people. Even when he’d been mortal, he’d always preferred to keep his personal business just that-personal.
But he’d learned enough about Susan to realize she wasn’t joking. She would stay on his tail like a hound running a fox to ground. In a way, he actually respected her persistence and some alien part of him actually liked being honest with her. He liked having someone who knew him.
So to save both of them a lot of time and pain, he answered her. "Honestly? I don’t want people around me for two reasons-they ultimately betray you or they die on you. Either way, you’re screwed and you spend all your time obsessing on why you didn’t see it coming. Or that you did something or didn’t do something to cause it. No offense, but I don’t like to be hurt and I’d rather just avoid it."
He saw the compassion in her blue eyes as she stroked his hand with her thumb. "Tell me about it. My father ran out on us when I was too young to even remember what he looked like. He donated his sperm, then fled his responsibilities. My mother never mentioned him, but I knew she was never the same after he left. To the day she died, she refused to date anyone. And when I got into trouble with my career, all those people who’d been my so-called friends ran like frightened rats from a sinking ship. People I’d known and trusted for years, even the one person I thought I loved. The only ones who stayed were Jimmy and Angie, and strangely enough, Leo… and don’t get me started on the dying part. I’m trying hard enough not to have a breakdown."
Even though it was against his nature, Ravyn pulled her into his arms and held her quietly against him to give her whatever comfort he could. Looking down he saw the faint scar on her wrist.
"Tell me something, Susan."
"When did you try to kill yourself?"
Susan swallowed as she remembered that awful, cold November night. It’d been about a week after Alex had left her, and she’d been forced out of her house into a roach-infested dive.
They’d even repo’d her car that afternoon.
On a holiday.
"It was Thanksgiving," she whispered as she felt the tears pricking her eyes. "Jimmy and Angie hadn’t been able to spend it with me because his parents had come in from out of town. They’d invited me over, but the last thing I wanted was to put on a happy face when everything in my life was going wrong. Not to mention I didn’t want to answer any questions from his parents about the news reports they’d been watching, where I was served up raw.
"So there I was, in my crappy, rundown apartment. Alone, Thinking about my mother, and how much I missed her, and I realized at that moment, that all the things I’d wanted as a little girl-my dreams of having a family and career-were all gone. All the things I’d worked so damned hard for had been stripped away, one by one. There wasn’t someone to stand by me through the scandal. Someone to hold my hand and tell me it was going to be okay and that they would be there for me. I only had me, and I was just too tired to take another step alone. I hurt so badly and there was no one else who understood what I was going through. No one who’d seen their entire life crumble to nothing. So I decided the world would be better off without me in it."
He cradled her head against his chest. "But you didn’t die."
"No," she said, sniffing back her tears. "After I’d cut my wrists, I realized how stupid I was being. More than that, I realized that if I killed myself, then those bastards who set me up would win. They wouldn’t care that I was gone. They’d probably gloat, and that gave me the strength I needed to survive. After all they had taken from me, I wasn’t about to let them have that, too. So I called an ambulance and promised myself that I would never be that weak again. My enemies can take what they want, but my life is mine and so long as I breathe, it has value. I won’t ever give up. Not again."
Ravyn felt something warm go through him at her words. She was amazing. And she was stronger than anyone had a right to be.
It was weird, but of all the people he’d known in his long life, with the exception of Cael, she was the only one he really believed understood his feelings. She knew firsthand exactly what he was talking about when it came to loss.
"Damn, we’re a pair, aren’t we?" he said quietly.
"Could be worse."
Her words surprised him. "How so?"
"We could be Nick."
He laughed gently at her never-ending humor. Sometimes it was gallows and dark, but it never failed her. She wore it like armor. "Good point."
Clearing her throat, she pulled away. He didn’t miss the very subtle gesture of her wiping away a tear with her pinkie before she looked up at him. "What’s his deal anyway? Why does he have the bow and arrow mark on his face while the rest of you have them in more private areas?"
"I have no idea. I’ve never seen a Dark-Hunter have one in such an obvious spot before. I think Zoe might have had something when she asked if Artemis had slapped him. "