And right now, she was human. At least temporarily. "Is that why you pulled me from the fight?"
Because he knew the one truth she did. In this form, she could be killed.
Ethon Stark had cut his teeth on battle. It was what had succored him as a human being. As a Dark-Hunter, that need for blood always simmered just below his surface. Nothing gave him more pleasure than stomping his enemies into the ground and watching them bleed all over his expensive shoes. It was what the warrior in him lived for.
All it lived for.
His friends were counted on the fingers of one hand and right now one of them was in serious trouble.
She hated him, he knew that. But he didn’t blame her. He was a monster and she’d glimpsed the darkness that lived inside him. The darkness that made him insane on his best day.
Even so, he still counted her as a friend. He always would no matter what her feelings might be for him. So he would give his life to keep her safe–even if it meant eternal damnation and an existence so foul that he would spend the rest of time screaming in utter misery.
She was worth that to him.
With that thought foremost in his mind, he teleported from Sanctuary to Nick’s house on Bourbon Street. It was a power he didn’t use often since he didn’t like for anyone to know what he was capable of. Knowledge was power and the less anyone knew about his powers, the fewer people he’d have to kill to keep his secrets.
He materialized at the foot of a hand-carved staircase. "Nick!" he shouted, stalking up the stairs and through the house in search of the one who’d betrayed them and jeopardized Samia’s life.
No one answered.
Again it was silent.
Closing his eyes, Ethon used his powers to crawl through the house.
There wasn’t anyone here.
Nick must still be with the Daimons, plotting who knew what against them. Rage over that ripped through him as it opened wounds that Ethon struggled every day to keep closed.
"Fine, you little bastard. You better stay in hiding."
Sooner or later, Nick would be back and Ethon would kill him.
Dev stared down as Sam finally slept. Even though she was tall and a fierce fighter, something about her looked incredibly vulnerable while she slept.
Why am I so attracted to you?
All he wanted was to keep her safe and that made no sense whatsoever. It was like she was under his skin and just being near her made him feel more alive than he ever had before. In fact it was taking all of his willpower not to strip his clothes off, lie down beside her, and wrap her in his arms.
This was so not him. He was normally more than content to have his one-night stands and then send them on their way as soon as he could.
He heard a light knock on the door.
Stepping away from the bed, he opened it to find Ethon on the other side. "Chi and I are downstairs. The Charonte are beginning to stir so that they can get the club ready to open. Do you guys need anything?"
Ethon inclined his head to him. "Acheron said to keep her here even if she protests."
"And she will."
Ethon laughed. "Yeah, probably." He moved to close the door.
Dev stopped him before he withdrew completely. "You and Sam seem a little tight. Do you know how she became a Dark-Hunter?"
Ethon’s expression was as dry as his tone. "She sold her soul to Artemis."
Dev let out an irritated breath at his smart-ass comment. "I’m being serious, Ethon."
He glanced to the bed as indecision marked his dark gaze. Finally he looked back at Dev and answered. "Her sister betrayed her. Sam had just been voted in as queen and her sister wanted the crown. So she made a pact with a group of Daimons for them to kill Sam and her immediate family to remove them from the line of succession."
That news hit him like a blow to his gut. The cruelty of it was unfathomable. What kind of bitch would do such a thing? "You’ve got to be kidding me."
"I would never kid about this. I think it’s why Sam has the power of psychometry."
Dev frowned. "I don’t follow."
Ethon swallowed hard before he lowered his voice. "Had she known what her sister was thinking and planning, she’d have been able to save her family."
In a weird way, that did make sense. "So who all did her sister kill? Sam and her other sisters?"
"Sam only had the one sister." Ethon’s features turned sharp. Deadly. "They killed her husband, Dev, and her three-year-old daughter, right in front of her eyes as she lay dying."
Pain slammed into him with those words. For an entire minute, he couldn’t breathe. How had she stood it? He wanted her sister’s blood for her. What kind of bitch could do that to her own family?
Her own sister? Her niece.
And he hoped with every part of him that Sam had gone for her sister’s throat and ripped it out.
"No wonder she fights like she does."
Ethon nodded. "It’s why she can’t stand to feel powerless. Had she not been pregnant, about to deliver her next kid, they would never have–"
"What?" Dev’s heart stopped beating.
Ethon’s expression told him that the Spartan was every bit as sickened by what had happened to her as Dev was. "She was pregnant when they killed her. I thought you knew."
"How would I know that?" He scowled at Ethon. "How do you know that?"
There was no mistaking the agony in Ethon’s dark eyes. The grief and guilt. "Her husband was my little brother."
Just when he thought nothing else could shock him…that sent him to the floor. "What?"
A tic started in Ethon’s jaw. "Ioel, her husband, was my brother."
Dev gaped. No wonder Ethon protected her the way he did. It made complete sense now.
Ethon fell silent as his emotions churned. He’d been so jealous of Ioel’s happiness with his Amazon bride. The two of them had had the most incredible relationship. And while he was happy for his brother, he’d been bitter. Ioel had been raised by their mother away from the Spartan culture. While Ioel was a fierce warrior, he’d lived a pampered life of luxury and kind doting.
Everything Ioel had ever wanted had come to him. And Ethon had been forced to claw and fight for every table scrap he could find in the gutter. And to this day, he could still remember the first time he’d met Sam.
In full armor, she’d been breathtaking. Her zest for life was infectious as she joked with her friends and his brother.
But she’d only had eyes for Ioel.
So he’d buried his feelings for her and stood back to watch as they married and started their family. Anything they’d needed, he’d given them to make their life easier and happier. His brother didn’t need to know the harsh lessons that had been rammed down his throat.
And when Agaria had been born, he’d loved his niece so much…. She’d looked just like her mother. There was nothing he wouldn’t have done for any of them.
Until the night they’d died. He’d been in battle when the news of their deaths had arrived. Wounded and bleeding, he’d headed straight for his horse instead of the physician. Stupidly, he’d thought that if he could just reach them that he might be able to change it.
To save them. That maybe it was a lie and they weren’t really dead.
By the time he’d reached them, Ioel and Ree had been cremated and Sam’s body had been missing.
They’d found her sister’s slaughtered remains the next day. The viciousness of that kill had told him well that Sam had had her vengeance. However the truth was, her sister had gotten off easy. What Sam had done to her had been a mercy killing compared to what Ethon would have done had he found her first.
He’d hunted for Sam after that, but he’d never found her. Not until centuries after his own death when they’d both been stationed in Athens.
They’d met in battle against the Daimons and then, with the dawn coming, she’d taken him into her house.
The bloodlust and their past ties had overwhelmed them. He looked enough like his brother that Sam had welcomed him to her bed.
For one single instant, he’d almost had a moment of peace.
Until she’d come to her senses.
By then it’d been too late. The guilt and pain had been more than either of them could bear. So they’d gone their own ways, crossing paths every now and again.
Still Ethon loved her. Even though she couldn’t stand him. Even though he had no right to. He loved her.
He always would. But that was the past. And right now, Sam needed him.
Ethon would not fail her again.
He met Dev’s stare. "I’ll be downstairs if you need me."
Dev didn’t speak as Ethon withdrew. His head was still reeling from what he’d learned about Sam. Gods, how painful it must have been for her to see the bond he shared with his family while knowing her sister had taken everything from her.
Even her life.
His gut knotting, he sat down on the bed beside her and brushed his hand through her curls. His poor Amazon. So fierce and proud.
Unable to protect the things she loved most.
Now he understood why she’d freaked out in the fight and locked him out in the hallway. It’d probably reminded her of the night she’d died and she’d reacted on instinct. But he wasn’t a human.
He was a bear.
And it would take more than a Daimon to kill him. A lot more.
"I won’t let them hurt you, Sam," he whispered as her curls tugged at his fingers. The silken strands wrapped around his skin the same way foreign emotions for her wrapped around his heart.
If the Daimons wanted her, they were about to get the fight of their lives. And yet as that thought went through him, it was followed by another.
An image of her dying in front of him the way his mother had while he was powerless to stop it. Pain lacerated him.
This wasn’t a fear, he knew it.
It was a premonition.
Dev stalked through Nick’s Bourbon Street mansion searching for a sign of the little prick. He had to have gone somewhere. It wasn’t like Nick had simply vanished into nothing. And this was still the most likely place to find him. No matter what, Nick would always return to his home. The fact he was here as a Dark-Hunter after only having died a couple of years ago said it all. Artemis normally required a minimum of a hundred years to pass before a Dark-Hunter returned to the city he’d been killed in–the idea was that after that amount of time any immediate friends and family would be dead and the memories wouldn’t be quite so harsh. But Nick needed his touchstone–this house and this city. He couldn’t function without them. It was like New Orleans fed his soul, which Dev could understand. And right now he was grateful for that because it would bring Nick back into his circle.
Yeah, Ethon had told him he’d stopped by earlier looking for him and he wasn’t here, but it wasn’t the same.
Ethon wasn’t out to kill him. He only wanted to hurt the Cajun.
Dev intended to use Nick’s entrails as shoelaces, but first he needed Nick’s fresh scent. No one betrays me. No one. There was too much history between him and Nick for Dev to let this one go. The fact that the little Cajun guttersnipe had brought Daimons into his home–no, his room–was a declaration of war. Nick had offered all of them up to the Daimons and Dev wanted a piece of him so bad he could already savor it. Not to mention the small fact that Nick had hurt Sam.
Yeah, the bastard was going to pay with his life.
But Nick wasn’t here and from the looks and faint smell of things, he hadn’t been in here in a couple of days. The house appeared to have been abandoned. The bed wasn’t slept in. There were no dirty towels or even a wet sink to say he’d brushed his teeth or bathed. His Jaguar XK-R was still parked in the garage. None of his clothes or shoes seemed to be missing.
Weird. Where could he have gone? Nick had told his guard Dogs that he was going to bed. No one had seen him since and that had been four days ago.
Leaving the immaculate bedroom, Dev paused in the upstairs hallway as he spied one of the pictures on the wall that made up a huge montage of Nick’s early life–something his mom must have placed here. While Nick could be an arrogant ass, he usually wasn’t conceited.
The photo that drew his attention was one of him, Nick’s mom, Aimee, and Nick, who’d been around the age of fifteen at the time. The women had been trying to get a good photo with him, but Nick had been Nick–goofing off and cutting up. So Dev had come up behind him and wrapped him in a headlock. Dev’s mom had snapped the photo that had Nick laughing while Dev pretended to choke him and Aimee and Nick’s mother had feigned shock. It was a really cute photo.
And that one moment made him take a step back from what was going on. How could that boy have grown into a man who’d threaten Dev’s family? Nick had fought on their side against the wolf pack just a few months back. Sanctuary was as much his home as this house was and while Nick wasn’t quite right anymore, he wasn’t that different.
Was he? Could he really have betrayed them all?
What if he didn’t and you’re wrong about him? What if he had a reason for what he’d done?
Something strange was going on. In his gut, he knew it.
Now that he thought more about it, Nick wouldn’t have breached Sanctuary without a damn good reason. The Cajun might be a lot of things, but he’d never been a turncoat.
"Boy, what have you gotten yourself into?"
"We have a problem."