"Like an addiction …"
"Exactly." He set the towel aside. "The dream gods who lose control and begin craving emotions are called Skoti or Skotos in the singular."
Personally, she liked the idea of it being toe jam better, But at least now she understood what he really was. "Xypher also said he was dead."
"Well, the theory goes that if the Skoti become too addicted, they’ll be executed and sent to Tartarus for eternal punishment."
So that explained it. He’d been killed and then brought back. She wondered how that would be possible. Had he made a deal or something else?
It was scary to even contemplate.
Simone frowned as she noticed writing in a foreign script running down the length of Xypher’s arm. Curious, she took the arm in her hands, amazed by the steely feel of his skin, as she studied the flowing letters. "Can you read this?"
Carson came to stand beside her. "No, sorry. It looks like Greek and I only know French, Cajun, English, some Creole, and gibberish,"
She ran her hand over the dark red lettering, trying not to think about how strong the arm felt under her fingers. Why would he have it put here and what did it mean?
Releasing his arm, she looked Up at Carson. "Do you know anything about Xypher himself?"
"No. Never saw or heard of him until you guys brought him here. There are several thousand Dream-Hunters and most of them shy away from the human plane, preferring to hide out in dreams." Carson paused. "You want to leave him here so you can go home?"
She looked down at her bracelet. "I wish I could, but I can’t. Aphrodite said that so long as we both wear these"-she held it up to his view- "we’re bound together. If we get too far apart we die."
"Tell me about it."
He indicated the door behind him. "I have a more comfortable room for the two of you then. It’ll give you a comfortable place to sit while he sleeps."
Simone cringed at the very thought of flashing out again. "Please don’t disintegrate me. I’m feeling nauseated from the back and forthing, and am getting a whole new respect for Kirk and Spock."
He laughed. "I understand." He clicked the brake off the gurney with the toe of his boot. "I’ll wheel him over."
"A thousand blessings to you."
He paused to call for someone named Dev before he led her into an adjacent room that was furnished with antiques. The best of which was a long-size bed that had a bright red velvet spread. There were heavy drapes that made it very dark and yet strangely homey.
"Nice place," she said, running her hand over the top of a beautiful dies sing table.
"Only the best for Mama."
"Nicolette Peltier. She owns the place and everyone here calls her ‘Mama.’ "
Simone smiled, "That’s so sweet. She must be really caring."
"She can be. She can also be a bear at times."
A handsome man in his mid-twenties with long curly blond hair pushed open the door. "Whatcha need. Doc?"
Carson indicated Xypher. "Help moving him. I don’t want to jostle his side."
A stern frown creased Dev’s brow as he saw Xypher on the gurney. "Who is he?"
Dev looked stunned. "They bleed?"
"Dang," Dev said under Hid breath before he helped Carson to lift Xypher from the gurney onto the bed. Once Xypher was situated, Dev glanced at her, then wheeled the gurney away without another word.
Simone wasn’t sure what to make of him. "He’s standoffish, isn’t he?"
"Most of us are. Our survival hinges on secrecy." "Which I have breached." He nodded.
Simone wanted to let him know that she would never do anything to hurt them. Besides, who would believe her if she said there was a family of lyncanthropes calling New Orleans home? "Your secret really is safe with me, Carson. Believe me, keeping things to myself is a full-time occupation of mine. If the police department can trust me, so can you."
"I know. Otherwise we’d just kill you and devour your body parts."
She wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not, but something about him said he was dead serious.
He indicated the door behind him with his thumb. "If you need anything, I’ll be outside at my desk. Just make yourself at home." He indicated a door to her left with a jerk of his chin. "The bathroom is in here."
He closed the door.
Simone let out a long bream as exhaustion hit her. She was alone in a strange home-something she wasn’t used to. "Where are you, Jesse? I don’t like being alone." Their years of friendship had made solitude a rare thing. She was so used to him that when he was gone, she felt it like a physical ache.
Feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed, she moved to the bed to cover Xypher with the spread. He didn’t look quite so fierce now, but there was still an aura to him that said he was lethal. She dropped her gaze to his hands and the scars that marred his knuckles. They were old and healed over, vet she could tell that they weren’t caused by a single injury. They’d been opened up and scared by many fights . . .
Yeah, there were times when her job told her way too much about a person. Not to mention there were numerous other scars marring his chest and arms. Strangely enough, the only scar on his face was a faint one at his right temple.
"Who are you, Xypher?"
She smiled at the sound of Jesse’s voice. He reappeared right beside her. "Where have you been?"
"You guys left me," he said defensively. "Do you know how hard it is to trace a human through the ectoplasmic plane? No, you don’t. And trust me, you don’t want to learn. I’m just glad I found you this time and not the weird woman feeding Jell-O to her schnauzer."
Now, there was an image . . . "Ooookay. Sorry about that."
"You should be!" He narrowed his eyes on Xypher. "He doesn’t look good. Is he going to live?"
"I think so."
"I would say damn shame except that until we find a way to free you, you’d die, too."
"Glad you remembered that small fact." She frowned as she looked at him and remembered his earlier tirade. "Ectoplasmic plane? What the devil is that?"
"It’s jargon from those of us who are corporeally challenged. It’s the great beyond where we bounce into each other like floundering atoms. It’s really land of gross-which is why I hang out with you. But only because you’re less gross than they are."
Simone gaped at him and his criticism. "I beg your pardon. I’m not gross."
"Grody to the max. Gag me with a spoon. I’ve seen you in the mornings. You’re not exactly well coiffed."
She rolled her eyes at the old eighties expressions. "I really hate you."
"Sure you do." He grinned like the Cheshire cat. "It explains why you were so worried about me."
He was way too astute at times. Simone huffed playfully at him before she turned back to Xypher.
It was a pity she knew so little about him and it made her wonder about his past. What had made him fight all the battles that had left such horrific scars on an otherwise beautiful body? "You think he has a reason to be so hostile?"
"Not really. I personally think he thrives on being an ass**le. You know, there are a lot of those in the world."
It was true. She’d certainly met more than her fail’ share of them, too, and yet . . . There seemed to be something more, A person didn’t hate to the extent that Xypher appeared to without having the ability to love to the same degree.
And his need to kill to the exclusion of all else spoke of extreme betrayal. The only person she’d ever really wanted to kill was whoever had taken her mother’s life…
"There can never be hatred without love."
Jesse frowned. "What?"
"It’s something my mother used to say."
He screwed his face Up. "Oh, man, no … don’t you dare."
"Get that weepy-eyed look like you’re sympathizing with him." He made an irritated noise in the back of his throat. "You are such a bleeding heart- Hello? This is the man who has you bound to him while he’s trying to descend into hell to kill someone. He doesn’t care about your sensibilities. Don’t you dare care about his."
Simone waved his tirade off. "Oh, husk, you grump. I don’t even know him."
"And you better keep it that way."
She knew Jesse was right Even so, there was a part of her that was drawn to Xypher even against her common sense. She wasn’t even sure why. He just seemed lost somehow.
Oh, yeah, Mr. Badass temper was lost. . . Right. She was losing it. "Have you heard from Gloria?" she asked Jesse, trying to distract herself.
He shook his head. "Not even a groan. I’m thinking the Daimons ate her."
Simone hated the very thought. No one deserved such a fate. "I hope not. She seemed really nice."
"I hear you." Jesse floated back toward the curtains. Suddenly, someone knocked on the door.
"Come in," Simone called.
Carson entered the room carrying a small handsaw.
Simone took a step back, curious about his intentions. "What are you doing?"
He indicated her bracelet with the up of the saw. "I was wondering if this might work to get that bracelet off."
She smiled in relief. For a second, she was afraid he was going to make good on his threat to silence her. "You are my favorite person on the planet right now. Yes, please fry it."
Carson laughed as he moved to take her wrist into his hand. He paused a minute to examine the bracelet. "It looks like regular gold."
"Aphrodite said it was Atlantean. Something made by the gods." He drew his breath in sharply. "Oh …" He pulled back. "Is that bad?"
"Maybe. I don’t know enough about them to even guess what trying to cut this off might do to you. For all I know, I could end the world."
She pulled her arm out of his grasp. "Please don’t. There was a cliffhanger ending on Dexter last week and I have to see how it ends."
Her words seemed to surprise him. "You watch that?"
"Religiously. As an ME I’m morbidly fascinated by it."
"Given my job and life, that’s a show I avoid as much as the Animal Planet network." He backed away from her. "I’ll leave you two alone again."
He’d barely stepped through the door before she heard the rumble of a deep voice behind her. "Where am I?"
"Wow," Jesse said from the bed. "The dead has risen . . . again."
Ignoring Jesse, she went to Xypher’s side. His blue eyes were rimmed with red and bloodshot. His skin still had a grayish cast to it and by his shallow breathing she could tell he was in a lot of pain. "You’re at Sanctuary."
He drew a deep breath, men grimaced. "I smell Were-Hunter." "Were-Hunter?"
He shifted slightly under the blanket before he spoke again. "Lycanthrope."
"Oh." It actually made sense to her. Dark-Hunters limited the Daimon vampires. Dream-Hunters limited dreams and . . . well, it made her wonder what a Were-Hunter would hunt.
Yeah. She forced her thoughts away from that. "I think a Were-Hunter may have helped carry you in here."
Xypher tried to sit up, then hissed.
"Careful," she said, rushing toward him. She put her hands on his chest, men pulled back as an electrical shock went through her. She didn’t know why, but touching his chest was extremely disconcerting, and it made her breathless. "You took a nasty stab straight through your body and Carson said we couldn’t give you anything for the pain."
A tic worked in his jaw as he lay back on the bed and pulled the cloth from his forehead. He stared at it as if it were an alien form wanting to suck his brains out.
"You were feverish" she explained.
His scowl deepened. "You did this?"
She couldn’t understand his ire It was as if her kindness truly ticked him off. "I thought I was doing something nice for you. Sorry."
"Why would you do something nice for me?" "Because you were hurt and bleeding."
Still there was no reprieve in that cold, penetrating stare. "What do you care about that?"
"I went to medical school to help people. It’s why I do what I do."
Never in her life had she met someone who had this much trouble accepting help. Dear Lord, what had they done to the poor man that something as simple as putting a cloth on his feverish brow made him this suspicious? "I’m sensing here that you have a problem with my being nice to you."
"Yeah," he said. "I do. People aren’t nice. Especially not to me."
Something tugged deep inside her at those growled words. "Xypher -"
"I don’t want your pity." He flung the cloth on the floor. "Or your kindness. Just stay out of my way and don’t get killed until I find some way into Kalosis."
Wow. That just made her all warm and toasty inside. He was like an agitated porcupine in a balloon factory. "Why is it so important to you that you kill this person?"