Night Embrace (Page 11)

Night Embrace (Dark-Hunter #3)(11)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"C’mon, stop messing with me, Mike. He can’t be that bad."

Nick changed his mind as soon as Mike slid open the passenger door and he caught his first look at Zarek of Moesia.

Zarek emerged from the opening like Lucifer from his deepest pit, with a chip on his shoulder so large, Nick was amazed they had managed to get the helicopter off the ground.

Dressed all in black, Zarek wore jeans, Harley biker boots, and a long-sleeved T-shirt. He seemed completely oblivious to the cold damp air that made up a New Orleans winter night. He had a long silver sword earring in his left ear, with a hilt made of a skull and crossbones.

Zarek stepped out with a sneer that was made more sinister by his black goatee. His straight black hair brushed his shoulders and his jet-black eyes were filled with contempt and hatred. Nick was used to bad attitude; hell, he’d been weaned on it. But he’d never met a man who had one worse than Zarek.

He reminded Nick of the murderers his father had brought home. Cold. Unfeeling. Lethal. Whenever Zarek looked at you, you got the feeling he was measuring you for your coffin size.

Zarek braced his left hand against the side of the chopper, and leaned back in long enough to grab a large black duffel bag. Nick stared at Zarek’s huge hand in awe. Each finger, including his thumb, was covered with a long, articulated silver claw and tipped with a point so sharp that Nick knew it must be Zarek’s weapon of choice.

This man liked to get down and dirty with his kills.

Shit, for Zarek, being called psychotic would be a step up.

As he walked away from the chopper, Zarek hissed at Mike, baring his fangs.

For once, Mike didn’t comment. That told Nick more than anything else just how vicious Zarek was. He’d never known Mike to take something like that and not make a smart-mouth comment.

"Well, if you’re through taunting poor Mike, are you ready to go?"

Nick regretted those words as soon as Zarek looked at him. The glacial, hostile glare chilled him even more than the frigid winds. "You give me any lip, little boy, and there won’t be enough left of you to run through a sieve."

Nick didn’t scare easily, but those words were said with such growling sincerity that he actually took a step back, and for once kept his big mouth shut.

Without another word, Zarek walked with a predator’s deadly grace toward the car, with his lips curled into a permanent snarl. He pitched his duffel bag onto the floorboard, then got in and slammed the car door shut.

In that moment, Nick seriously regretted buying a car with no backseat.

Then again, given Zarek’s vicious, unpredictable nature, Nick would much rather have him beside him than behind him.

Mike let out a relieved breath and clapped him on the back. "May God take a liking to you, kid. I damn sure wouldn’t want to be in your shoes tonight."

Nick had never been overly religious. But as he walked to his anthracite Jag, he found his religion all over again.

He got in and started the car, then headed toward the city. They were supposed to meet up with Talon, Valerius, and Acheron in about half an hour at Jackson Square. Damn, this was going to be the longest drive of his life.

He pushed the accelerator down even more-warp speed would suit him just fine.

As he drove, Nick couldn’t keep his gaze from repeatedly wandering over to Zarek’s left hand, covered with the silver claws, which was splayed out over his left knee.

The silence was deafening and stagnant, and was relieved only by Zarek flexing his claws against the black denim. After a time, the metallic scratching sound started to get on Nick’s nerves. He turned on the radio.

"You like rock?" he asked.

The radio shut off immediately.

Nick swallowed as he realized one of Zarek’s Dark-Hunter powers was telekinesis.

"Little boy, I’m not your friend. I’m not your Dark-Hunter and I’m not your friggin’ date. You only speak to me when I ask you a question. Otherwise you keep your mouth shut, your eyes off me, and you might live long enough to get me to the French Quarter."

Nick gripped the wheel. Okay, now that pissed him off, but not to the point it made him suicidal. Only an absolute fool would tangle with a man this lethal.

Zarek flipped open his duffel bag and pulled out a credit-card-sized MP3 player and a pair of dark sunglasses. He put on his headphones and sunglasses, then leaned his head back against the seat. Nick heard Nazareth’s Hair of the Dog playing in a whisper from the headphones. The true antisocial anthem. How incredibly apropos.

When the car radio unexpectedly flipped back on, Nick actually jumped.

Oh yeah, Zarek was one psychotic SOB and the sooner he got him out of his car and to Acheron, the happier Nick would be.

Talon was still thinking of Sunshine when he crossed the Pedestrian Mall to meet with Acheron. He glanced down the street to where he had met Sunshine the night before, and his gut wrenched.

How he missed her. And that was the craziest part of all. He barely knew her. She had swept into his life like a hurricane, wreaking total destruction and chaos, and still…

He sighed. She’d been a nice diversion. But he had business to attend to.

His excursion with her was over. He would never see her again.

That was that.

As of this moment, she no longer existed.

Yeah, right.

Talon ignored the derisive voice in his head. He had no choice but to forget her. He’d made a pact centuries ago and it was a pact he would honor for the rest of eternity. For him there would never be a home, a family, and most definitely not a girlfriend or a wife. Even if he hadn’t taken Artemis’s oath, those things would be forbidden to him.

Besides, he liked his life as it was. He had a lot of freedom. Time to do what he wanted and enough money to purchase anything that appealed to him.

Life as a Dark-Hunter was good.

Very good.

Entering the square, he caught sight of Acheron Parthenopaeus standing against the wall of a building with his arms folded over his chest. The tall Atlantean warrior stood apart from a crowd that was listening to a street performer sing his rendition of the Scooby-Doo theme.

Standing six feet eight with long metallic purple hair and wearing black wraparound sunglasses long after sundown, Acheron was a hard man to miss.

Talon usually referred to Acheron as T-Rex. The nickname stemmed more from the man’s intimidating, carnivorous presence than from his ancient age.

There was something truly eerie about Acheron’s lethal aura. It flowed out of him like a dangerous tsunami. The very air around the man seemed charged with mystical energy so powerful that it could make the skin on your arms or back of your neck crawl if you stood too close to him.

And judging by the berth the crowd had given T-Rex, Talon would say he wasn’t the only one to feel it.

Then again, Talon amended, as he noted Acheron’s black motorcycle jacket with silver chain mail draped over one sleeve and his leather pants that had laces instead of seams, maybe it was Acheron’s eccentric, unorthodox looks that made people leave him alone.

Whatever it was, no one wanted to get in that man’s way.

Acheron turned his head.

Even with the black wraparound sunglasses covering his eyes, Talon knew T-Rex was staring straight at him. Talon gave a short laugh as he noticed Acheron’s new facial addition. A silver nose stud.

T-Rex had two very strange penchants: he was always finding new places to pierce his body, and his hair color changed faster than the unpredictable Louisiana weather.

T-Rex also had a strange scar of a hand print that came and went on his neck. No one was sure if the scar was real or if it was some weird trick to throw them off guard that Acheron used. His accent was the same way. There were times when Acheron’s voice was heavy with an odd melodic accent Talon assumed to be his native one from Atlantis, and other times T-Rex sounded just like any other television-programmed American.

The ancient warrior seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in keeping people guessing about him. He was even more private than Talon and that was saying something.

Acheron retrieved his black suede backpack, which was decorated with an anarchy logo from the street. He slung it over his shoulder, then tossed a few bills into the musician’s guitar case and headed over.

Several members of the crowd visibly tensed and recoiled as Acheron moved through them with the fluid long-legged gait of a dangerous predator. Those who dared to look at him quickly averted their gazes.

It was ironic, really, since Acheron was the last person on earth who would ever harm a mortal. He was the oldest protector mankind had.

For centuries he had fought the Daimons single-handedly.

Alone.

Without friend or Squire.

Talon had heard rumors that Acheron had been trained to fight by Ares himself. Other rumors claimed Acheron was the son of a god and a legendary Atlantean hero.

But basically no one knew anything about Acheron other than he was tall, private, intimidating, and very, very strange.

As Acheron drew near, Talon inclined his head toward Acheron’s purple hair with its four small braids that framed his face. "You know, I think I need to drop the T-Rex and start calling you Barney."

One corner of Acheron’s mouth quirked up. "Don’t start on me, Celt." He raked an amused look over Talon’s leather pants, T-shirt, and jacket. "Nice to see you fully dressed for the occasion."

Talon winced at the underlying meaning of that comment. "Kyrian told on me, huh?"

"Oh, yeah. The pink towel bit was my favorite part."

Kyrian would pay for this. Even if Talon had to hunt him down. "I swear… Does Nick know?"

Acheron smiled a real smile that flashed a tiny bit of fang.

Damn, he was screwed now.

Oh, what the hell, it’d been worth it. Spending the afternoon with Sunshine had more than made up for any embarrassment.

T-Rex looked over his shoulder as if sensing something, and a corner of his leather jacket fell away from his throat to show the hand print was gone again.

Talon followed his line of vision to see Valerius approaching them. He’d only met the Roman general one other time when Valerius had first arrived to assume Kyrian’s Dark-Hunter duties.

Valerius had taken one look at Talon’s jacket and tore, and sneered the word Celt, thus letting Talon know friendship with this Dark-Hunter was about as likely as finding a parking space for a tank on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.

And just think, he was doomed to spend eternity in New Orleans with this prick. As Nick would say, yee-freakin’-haw.

The Roman’s black hair was pulled back into an impeccable queue. He wore black pleated pants, loafers, turtle-neck, and a long cashmere coat. If one didn’t know better, he would appear to be an affluent attorney, not a Daimon executioner.

And it was all Talon could do not to laugh at how out of place Valerius looked standing next to him, and most especially Acheron, who was a poster boy for the goth movement. Right down to the silver stud in Acheron’s nose and the silver buckles that decorated the side of his pointy-toed boots.

"How very punctual you are," Acheron said to Valerius as he looked at the cracked pocket watch he’d pulled out of his jacket pocket. The watch had suffered a mishap about a hundred years ago during a major Daimon uprising. The watch had survived, the Daimons hadn’t.

Valerius’s black eyes smoldered with resentment as he looked up at Acheron. "I might not like the fact that you are my commander, Greek, but as a soldier I will obey you regardless of my personal distaste for your company."

Talon smirked. "Gee, T-Rex, doesn’t it make you all warm and fuzzy just to be near him?"

"Show respect to your betters, Celt," Valerius snarled, curling his upper lip. "Or I’ll show you how we Romans dealt with your barbaric kind."

The words didn’t elicit any emotion other than bored amusement, but Talon had never been the kind of man to let an insult pass without comment.

He was certainly too old now to change his ways.

"Ah, respect this," he said, flipping Valerius off.

Acheron barely caught Valerius as he lunged for Talon. He placed himself physically between them; not that Talon needed it, but judging by the fury in Valerius’s eyes, the Roman certainly did.

"Children, don’t make me separate you again." Acheron glared at Valerius and forced the Roman to take a step back. "Believe me, Val, I don’t need you to fight my battles and I take no offense to Talon."

"My name is Valerius." Valerius straightened his coat with a regal, arrogant jerk. "And I do take offense to him."

Yeah, well, what was new? The man seemed to take offense at everything.

As usual, whenever two or more Dark-Hunters came together, Talon felt his powers weakening. It was a safeguard Artemis used to ensure her Dark-Hunters couldn’t combine strengths and go after the gods or prey on mankind. The only exception to that was Acheron. As the designated trainer and the eldest of their breed, his presence didn’t drain their powers, but everyone else’s did.

They wouldn’t be able to stay together much longer or they would be depleted for the night.

Talon glanced past Valerius’s shoulder to see Nick and Zarek walking past the bakery on the corner and heading toward them. "Look unalive, men," he said to Acheron and Valerius, "here comes our reinforcement."

Valerius turned around and let out a vulgar curse that seemed at odds with his regal Roman air of refinement and good breeding.