"They’re not the Terminator, Daddy."
"The way your mother spoke of them, they are."
Well, that was true. Her mother had spent hours warning her and her sisters to stay away from three things: Dark-Hunters, Daimons, and Apollites-in that order.
"Mom never even met one. All she knew was what her parents had told her and I’ll wager they never met one either. Besides, what if this Dark-Hunter is the key to helping me find a way to live longer?"
His grip tightened on her hand. "What if he was sent to kill you just like the Daimons and Apollites who killed your mother? You know what the myth says. Kill you, and the curse is lifted from them."
She thought about that for a second. "What if they’re right? What if my death would allow all the other Apollites to live normally? Maybe I should die."
His face flushed with rage. His gaze burned into hers as he tightened his grip on her hand. "Cassandra Elaine Peters, I better never hear you say that again. Do you understand me?"
Cassandra nodded, contrite for having raised his blood pressure when that was the last thing she wanted to do. "I know, Daddy. I’m just upset."
He kissed her forehead. "I know, baby. I know."
She saw the torment on his face as he got up and returned to his chair.
He didn’t say what they both thought. Long ago he’d entrusted a small group of researchers with the duty of finding a "cure" for her rare disease only to learn modern science was helpless before the wrath of an ancient god.
Maybe he was right, maybe Wulf was as dangerous to her as everyone else. She knew the Dark-Hunters were sworn to kill Daimons, but she didn’t know how they would deal with Apollites.
Her mother had said to trust no one, most especially not the ones who made their living by killing their people.
Still, her gut told her that a race that had spent eternity hunting hers would know everything about them.
Then again, why would a Dark-Hunter ever help an Apollite when they were sworn enemies?
"It was a stupid idea, wasn’t it?"
"No, Cassie," her father said gently. "It wasn’t stupid at all. I just don’t want to see you hurt."
She got up and went to hug and kiss him. "I’ll go on to class and forget about it."
"I still wish you’d think about leaving for a while. If those Daimons saw you, they might have told someone else you were here."
"Trust me, Daddy, they didn’t have time. No one knows I’m here and I don’t want to leave."
The word hung unspoken between them. She saw her father’s lips quiver as they both thought about the fact that the clock was ticking for her.
"Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight?" her father asked. "I’ll leave work early and-"
"I promised Michelle we could do something. Catch you tomorrow?"
He nodded and gave her a squeeze so strong that she winced from the pressure of his arms around her waist. "You be careful."
By the look on his face, she could tell he didn’t want her to go any more than she wanted to leave. "I love you, Cassandra."
"I know. I love you too, Daddy." She offered him a smile and left him to his work.
Cassandra made her way from his office and out of the building, while her thoughts drifted back toward her dreams of Wulf and the way he’d felt in her arms.
Kat fell in behind her and remained completely silent, giving her the space she needed. It was what she loved most about her bodyguard.
Sometimes it seemed as if Kat were psychically linked to her.
"I need some Starbucks," Cassandra said to Kat over her shoulder. "What about you?"
"Always game for java. Give me ground-up beans or give me death."
As she walked down the street toward the coffee shop, Cassandra started thinking more and more about the Dark-Hunters.
Since she had discounted them before as myths her mother had used to frighten her, she’d never really researched them while she’d studied ancient Greece. Ever since she was a child, she’d spent her spare time looking into her mother’s history, and ancient legends.
She couldn’t recall ever finding a mention in her readings about the Dark-Hunters, which only confirmed in her mind that her mother was relaying stories of bogeymen and not real people.
But maybe she’d overlooked-
She looked up from her musings to see one of the guys from school waving at her as she drew near Starbucks. He was a couple of inches shorter than her and was cute in a very Boy Scout kind of way. His short black hair was curly and he had friendly blue eyes.
Something about him reminded her of Opie Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show and she half-expected him to call her "ma’am."
"Chris Eriksson," Kat whispered under her breath as he came over.
"Thanks," Cassandra said in an equally low tone, grateful Kat’s name recall was much better than her own. She could always remember faces, but names often eluded her.
He stopped before them.
"Hi, Chris," she said, smiling at him. He was really nice and always tried to help anyone who needed it. "What brings you here?"
He looked instantly uncomfortable. "I… uh… I was picking up something for someone."
Kat exchanged an interested look with her. "Sounds kind of dubious. I hope it’s not illegal."
He blushed profusely. "No, not illegal. Just kind of personal."
For some reason, Cassandra liked the sound of it being illegal better. She waited a minute or two while he looked rather awkward.
Chris was an undergraduate student in her Old English class. They hadn’t really spoken to each other much except to compare notes whenever she’d had trouble translating something. Chris was the professor’s pet and maintained a perfect score on all the tests.
Everyone in the class wanted to hang him for blowing the curve.
"Did you do the assignment for class this afternoon?" he asked finally.
"It was great, wasn’t it? Really exciting stuff." By his face, she could tell he truly meant that.
"Like having my teeth drilled without Novocain," she said, intending it to be funny and playful.
He didn’t take it that way.
His features fell. "I’m sorry. I’m being a geek again." He pulled nervously at his ear and dropped his gaze to the ground. "I better go. I have some other things I need to do."
As he started away from her, she called out to him, "Hey, Chris?"
He stopped and looked back at her.
"Overprotected Child Syndrome?"
"You’re an overprotected child too, aren’t you?"
He scratched the back of his neck. "How’d you know?"
"Trust me, you have the classic symptoms. I used to have them too, but after years of intensive therapy, I learned to hide them and can almost function normally now."
He laughed at that. "Got the name of that therapist handy?"
She smiled. "Sure." Cassandra inclined her head toward the coffee shop. "You got time to join us for a cup of coffee?"
He looked as if she had just handed him the keys to Fort Knox. "Yeah, thanks."
She and Kat led the way into Starbucks with Chris right behind them like a happy puppy whose owner had just come home.
After they had their drinks, they sat down in the back, away from the windows where the light couldn’t burn her.
"So why are you taking Old English?" Chris asked after Kat had excused herself to go to the restroom. "You don’t seem like the type who volunteers for that kind of punishment."
"I’m always trying to research old… things," she said for lack of a better term. It was hard to explain to a stranger that she researched ancient curses and spells in hopes of elongating her life. "What about you? You seem like you’d be more at home in a computer class."
He shrugged. "I was after the easy As this semester. I wanted something I could coast through."
"Yeah, but Old English? What kind of home do you have?"
"One where they actually speak it."
"Get out!" she said in disbelief. "Who in the world actually speaks that?"
"We do. Really." Then he said something to her that she couldn’t understand.
"Did you just insult me?"
"No," he said earnestly. "I would never do anything like that."
She smiled as she glanced down to his backpack where she did a double take. There was a distressed brown day planner exposed by an unzipped pouch. The planner held a burgundy ribbon hanging out with an interesting badge attached to it. The badge had the picture of a round shield with two swords crossed and over the swords were the initials D.H.
How strange to see that today when she had her mind on a whole other kind of D.H.
Maybe it was an omen…
"D.H.?" she asked, touching the emblem. She turned it over and her heart stopped as she saw the words "Dark-Hunter.com" engraved into it.
"Huh?" Chris looked to her hand. "Oh… Oh!" he said, getting instantly nervous again. He took it from her and tucked it back into his backpack, then zipped it closed. "That’s just something I play with sometimes."
Why did it make him so tense? So obviously uncomfortable? "You sure you’re not doing anything illegal, Chris?"
"Yeah, trust me. If I even had an illegal thought, I’d get busted and get my tail kicked."
Cassandra wasn’t so sure about that as Kat rejoined them.
She hadn’t tried to search them out with a hyphen between the words. And now she had a Web address to try.
They chatted a few more minutes about class and school, then parted ways so Chris could finish his errands before their late-afternoon Old English class and she could get back to campus before her next one.
She might blow off one class a day, but two classes…
Nah. Cassandra was nothing if not dedicated.
Before long, she was safely ensconced at her desk and waiting for her Classics professor to show while other students talked around her. Kat was just down the hall in a small waiting area where she was reading a Kinley MacGregor novel.
While Cassandra waited for the professor, she opened up her Palm Pilot and decided to do a little Web surfing. She typed in Dark-Hunter.com.
She waited as the page loaded.
The minute it did, she gasped.
Oh, this was getting good…
Chris sighed as he neared his Old English classroom. It was a typical day of suckage and blowage. His life should be great. He had all the money in the world. Every luxury known. There was nothing on the planet he could dream of that couldn’t be his for the asking.
For that matter, Wulf had even flown Britney Spears in to sing at Chris’s twenty-first-birthday party last spring. The only problem was that the attendees had consisted of him, his bodyguards, and Wulf, who ran around the whole time trying to make sure Chris didn’t get a head wound or racked.
Not to mention the three million times Wulf had urged him to make a pass at Britney. Or at the very least propose to her-which she had rejected with a great deal of laughter that still rang in his ears.
All Chris really wanted was a normal life. More than that, he wanted his freedom.
Those were the only two things he couldn’t have.
Wulf wouldn’t let him leave the house unless he was tagged and tailed. The only time Chris could fly anywhere was if Acheron himself, the leader of the Dark-Hunters, came and picked him up and kept him within his eyesight the entire time. Every member of the Squires’ Council understood that Chris was Wulf’s last blood link to his brother. As such, he was guarded more zealously than a national treasure.
He felt like such an alien species, he wished he could find someplace where he wouldn’t be a complete freak.
But it was impossible. There was no escaping his destiny.
No escaping what he was…
The last heir.
Without Chris and his children, Wulf would be alone for eternity because only a human born of Wulf’s blood could ever remember him.
The only problem with that was finding a mother for those kids, and no one wanted to volunteer.
His ears still rang with Belinda’s rejection from ten minutes ago.
"Go out with you? Pah-lease. Call me when you grow up and learn to dress right."
Grinding his teeth, he tried not to think about her harsh words. He’d put on his best khaki pants and navy sweater just to ask her out. But he knew he wasn’t suave or cool.
He had the social graces of an idiot. The average face of the boy next door and the confidence of a snail.
God, he was pathetic.
Chris paused at the door of his classroom to see the two male Theti Squires trailing him at a "discreet" distance. In their mid-thirties, both of them were over six feet tall, with dark hair and stern faces. Assigned to him by the Squires’ Council, their sole duty was to watch over him and make sure nothing happened to him until he spawned enough kids to make Wulf happy.
Not that there was any big threat during the daylight. On rare occasions a Doulos-human servants for the Apollites-might attack a Squire, but those were so rare these days as to be worthy of national news coverage.
At night, Chris was forbidden to leave the property unless he was on a date. Which seemed impossible after his one-and-only girlfriend had dumped him.