Talon woke up to find his arm on fire.
Hissing, he jerked his hand away from the sunlight that was streaming in through the window, across an extremely pink bed. He pushed himself back against the white wicker headboard to avoid any more of his body from coming into contact with the deadly rays.
He blew cool air across his hand, but still it burned and ached.
Where the hell was he?
For the first time in centuries, he felt a wave of uncertainty run through him.
Talon was never out of his element. Never out of control. His entire life was one of extreme balance and moderation.
Never in his Dark-Hunter existence had he found himself unsure or confounded.
But right now, he had no idea where he was, the time of day or who the women were he heard on the other side of the pink drapes.
Squinting against the bright sunlight that pierced his eyes with pain, he looked around the odd room and realized he was trapped between two open windows. His heart hammered. There was no safe way off the bed. The only direction he could go was to his left and into the corner that was occupied by a frothy pink nightstand.
Through the pounding pain in his head, the night before came flooding back to him with stunning clarity. The attack.
The great big whatever slamming into him.
Though his body ached and was sore, his Dark-Hunter powers had allowed him to heal while he slept. In a few hours, even the soreness would be gone.
Until then, he needed out of this death trap of sunlight. Closing his eyes, Talon willed a dark cloud to cover the sun so that the bright daylight would no longer play havoc with his eyesight.
If he wanted to, he could summon enough clouds to turn the day sky as dark as night. But it wouldn’t do him any good.
Daylight was still daylight.
His unique Dark-Hunter powers gave him a great deal of control over the elements, weather and healing, but not control over Apollo’s domain. Light or dark, the daytime still belonged to Apollo and even though Apollo was technically retired, the Greek god would never tolerate a Dark-Hunter walking about on his shift.
If Apollo caught sight of him outside or near a window during the light of day, Talon would be nothing more than a strip of fried bacon on the sidewalk
Extra crispy Celt didn’t appeal to him in the least.
His eyes no longer burning, Talon started to leave the bed, then paused. There was nothing between him and the patchouli and turpentine scented sheets.
What had happened to his clothes? He was quite sure he hadn’t undressed himself last night.
He frowned as he searched his memory. No, it wasn’t possible. If he’d been awake enough to have sex with her, he would have been awake enough to leave this place long before sunup.
“Where is it?”
He looked up at the unfamiliar voice on the other side of the pink tie-dyed fabric which was hung to form a wall around the bed.
Two seconds later, the fabric slid open to reveal an attractive woman who appeared to be in her late thirties. Her long, black hair was pulled into a thick braid and she wore a long flowing black skirt and tunic.
She looked remarkably similar to the woman he’d met last night. And at first glance, would be easy to mistake for her younger counterpart.
“Hey, Sunshine, your friend’s awake. What’s his name?”
“I don’t know, Starla. I didn’t ask.”
Oh, but this just kept getting stranger and stranger.
Unperturbed by his presence, the woman walked into the room to the side of the bed where the nightstand was set. “You look like a Steve,” she said as she bent down, lifted up the pink scarves and started digging through a stack of magazines that was hidden beneath it. “Are you hungry, Steve?”
Before he could answer, she raised her voice. “It’s not here.”
“It’s under the old copies of Art Papers.”
“It’s not here.”
Sunshine entered the room. Walking with the grace of a fairy princess, she wore a long-sleeved purple dress so bright, he had to squint from the hue. As she crossed in front of the window, he realized the material was rather sheer, gifting him with a pleasant view of her lush, ample curves and the fact that she wore nothing beneath that dress.
Nothing except her tanned skin.
His throat went dry.
She was wiping paint from her hands with a towel as she moved to the nightstand without even glancing his way.
“It’s right here,” she said, pulling out a magazine and handing it to the older woman.
Finally, Sunshine looked to the bed and met his gaze. “Are you hungry?”
“Where are my clothes?”
She cast a sheepish look to Starla. “Did you ask his name?”
“It’s not Steve.”
Sunshine paid him no attention as she turned Starla to face him. Both women stared at him lying there on the bed as if he were some inanimate curiosity.
Talon moved the pink sheet up higher over his waist. Then, suddenly self- conscious, he moved his bare leg under the cover as well, and bent his knee so that the center part of his body wasn’t quite so obvious underneath the thin cotton.
Still the two women stared at him.
“You see what I was telling you?” Sunshine asked, “Does he not have the most incredible aura you’ve ever seen?”
“He’s definitely an old soul. With Druid blood. I’m sure of it.”
“You think?” Sunshine asked.
“Oh yeah. We need to talk him into letting us do a past life regression and see what we come up with.”
Okay, they were both nuts.
“Women,” he said sharply. “I need my clothes, and I need them now.”
“See,” Sunshine said. “See the way his aura changes. It’s absolutely living.”
“You know, I’ve never seen that before. It’s really different.” Then Starla drifted off, out of the room while she flipped through the magazine.
Sunshine was still wiping paint off her hands. “Hungry?”
How did she do that? How could she drift from one thing to the other and then back again?
“No,” he said, trying to keep her on the main point. “I want my clothes.”
She actually cringed. “What happened to the tags in your pants?”
Talon frowned at the odd question. He was keeping a rein on his irritation and temper, but something about being around this woman made it difficult. “I beg your pardon?”
“Well, you know they were covered in blood…”
A bad feeling settled into his stomach. “And?”
“I was going to clean them, and-”
“Oh shit, you washed them?”
“It wasn’t the washing that damaged them so much as the drying.”
“You dried my leather pants?”
“Well, I didn’t know they were leather,” she said softly. “They felt really soft and strange so I thought they were pleather or something. I wash my pleather dress all the time without it disintegrating and shrinking like your pants did.”
Talon rubbed his forehead with his hand. This was so not good. How on earth could he get out of her apartment in the middle of the day with no clothes on?
“You know,” she continued, “you really shouldn’t cut the tags out of your clothes.”
It had been a long time since he had felt real, deep aggravation, but he was starting to feel it now. “Those were custom, handmade leather pants. They never have tags.”
“Oh,” she said, looking even more sheepish. “I would have bought you some more, but since they didn’t have tags in them, I didn’t know what size to buy.”
“Great. I live to be stuck in strange places, naked.”
She started to smile at him, then pressed her lips together as if thinking better of it. “I have some pink sweat pants that really wouldn’t fit you and even if they did, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to wear them anyway, would you?”
“No. Did you wash my wallet too?”
“Oh, no. I took it out of your pants.”
“Good. Where is it?”
She got quiet again and a feeling of doomed dread consumed him.
“Do I want to know?” he asked.
“Well…” He was beginning to hate that word since it seemed portend doom for him and his belongings. “I put it on the washing machine at the Laundromat with your keys and then I realized that I didn’t have change for the washer, so I went to the change machine. I was only gone a second, but when I got back your wallet was gone.”
Talon grimaced. “And my keys?”
“Well, you know when you wash just one thing it unbalances the machine? Your keys ended up getting jarred off the top of it and they went down a small drain.”
“Didn’t you get them back?”
“I tried, but I couldn’t reach them. I had three other people try, but they’re gone too.”
Talon sat in stunned disbelief. Worse, he couldn’t even get mad at her since she’d only been trying to help him. But he really, really wanted to be mad.
“I have no money, no pants, no keys. Do I still have my jacket?”
“Yes, it’s safe. And I saved your Snoopy Pez dispenser from the washer, too. And your boots are right here,” she said, holding them up from the floor by the bed.
Talon nodded, feeling strangely relieved by the knowledge that she hadn’t destroyed everything he’d had on him last night. Thank the gods his motorcycle had been left by the Brewery. He shuddered to think what she might have done to it. “Is there a phone I can use?”
“In the kitchen.”
“Could you please bring it to me?”
“It’s not cordless. I always lose those things or I drop them someplace and break them. The last one I had ended up drowning in the toilet.”
Talon looked uneasily at the woman and the faint sunlight in the room. He wondered which one of them was the most lethal to him.
“Would you mind pulling down the shades?” he asked.
She frowned. “Does the sunlight bother you?”
“I’m allergic to it,” he said, falling into the lie Dark-Hunters used when caught in similar situations.
Although, he doubted if any Dark-Hunter had ever found himself in a situation similar to this one.
“Really? I’ve never known anyone allergic to sunlight before.”
“Well, I am.”
“So what, you’re like a vampire?”
The word hit just a little too close to home. “Not exactly.”
She moved to the window, but when she pulled the shade down, it fell. Gray sunlight spilled across the bed.
With a curse, Talon shot into the corner, narrowly missing the pale sunbeams.
“Sunshine, I…” Starla’s voice broke off as she entered the room and caught sight of him standing naked in the corner. She eyed him in an odd, detached way like he was an interesting piece of furniture.
Talon and modesty were strangers, but the way she stared at him made him damn uncomfortable.
In spite of the sunlight, Talon grabbed the pink blanket off the bed and clutched it to his middle.
“You know, Sunshine, you need to find a man like that to marry. Someone so well hung that even after three or four kids, he’d still be wall to wall.”
Talon gaped at her words.
Sunshine laughed. “Starla, you’re embarrassing him.”
“Oh believe me, that’s nothing to be embarrassed over. You ought to be proud. Strut it. Trust me, young man, women your age would love to have some of that.”
Talon snapped his gaping jaw shut. These were the strangest two women he’d ever had the misfortune of being near.
Gods, get him out of here.
Starla looked up at Sunshine in the window. “What are you doing?”
“He’s allergic to the sun.”
“It’s so cloudy outside, it’s almost dark.”
“I know, but he says he can’t be in it.”
“Really? So, you brought home a vampire? Cool.”
“I’m not a vampire,” he reiterated.
“Exactly, he said earlier,” Sunshine said. “What’s not exactly a vampire?”
“A werewolf,” Starla said. “With his aura, it makes sense. Wow, Sunny, you found yourself a werewolf.”
“I’m not a werewolf.”
Starla looked really disappointed by the news. “What a pity. You know when you live in New Orleans, you expect to meet the undead or damned at least once in awhile.” She looked back to Sunshine. “You think we should move? Maybe if we lived over by Anne Rice we might catch sight of a vampire or werewolf.”
Sunshine replaced the shade. “I’d be happy to see a zombie.”
“Oh yeah,” the older woman concurred. “You know, your Dad said he saw one out on the bayou right before we got married.”
“That was probably the peyote, Mom.”
“Oh. Good point.”
Talon’s jaw went slack again as he looked back and forth between them. Mother and daughter? They certainly didn’t act that way, and Starla didn’t look that much older than Sunshine, but there was no denying the similarities of their features. Or the oddity of them both.
Oh yeah, insanity ran deep in the roots of that family tree.
Sunshine lowered the shade for the other window.
Wrapping the comforter around him, Talon carefully stepped through the room and was relieved to find a rather bare, wide open loft on the other side of the drapes.
There was another row of windows on his left where Sunshine had sectioned off a small drawing studio. But the rest of the loft was blissfully dark and devoid of sunlight. Keeping the blanket wrapped around his hips, he made his way toward the phone in the kitchen.
“Well Sunshine, now that he’s awake and I agree he’s not threateningÃ¢â‚¬””
Talon arched a brow at that comment. There had never been a time in his life he had been anything other than threatening! He was a Dark-Hunter. That term alone inspired terror in the things that gave evil a bad name.
“-I’m going to go down to the club and pay some bills, make some orders and do real work.”
“Okay, Starla, I’ll see you later.”
He had to get out of this place. These women not only lacked sense, but they were too weird for words.
Starla kissed Sunshine’s cheek and left.
After several minutes of looking, Talon found the phone cord in the wall and trailed it to the old fashioned dial phone which was hiding in a kitchen drawer that also contained a wide assortment of dry paintbrushes and tubes of acrylics.
He pulled the phone that had been painted with wild flourescent colors, out of the drawer and placed it on the counter next to a pink pig-shaped cookie jar that held small, cinnamon scented rice cakes.
Picking up the receiver, he dialed Nick Gautier who had once been the Squire, or human helper, for Kyrian of Thrace. Since Kyrian had married Amanda Devereaux a few months ago and had left behind his official Dark-Hunter status, Nick had become Talon’s unofficial, part-time Squire. Not that Talon wanted a Squire. Humans had a nasty way of dying around him, and Nick had a mouth on him that was guaranteed to get the boy killed one day.
Still, there were times when a Squire came in handy. Now was definitely one of them.
The phone rang until the message came on that the cellular customer was unavailable.
Damn. That meant making the one call he’d rather be killed again than make. If the other Dark-Hunters ever found out about this, he’d never hear the end of it. Squires were sworn to an oath of secrecy. They were forbidden to ever reveal anything that was embarrassing about a Dark-Hunter or anything that could endanger them.
Unfortunately, other non-squired human helpers didn’t make such an oath.
Oh yeah, Nick Gautier was a dead man when he got his hands on him.
Preparing himself mentally for what was to come, he called Kyrian of Thrace who answered on the first ring.
“Talon?” Kyrian said as soon as he recognized his voice, “It’s noon, what’s wrong?”
Talon slid a glance to Sunshine who was singing Puff the Magic Dragon as she passed him to enter the kitchen. “I…uh…I need a favor.”
“I need you to go to my place and get my spare keys, another cell phone and some money.”
“Yeah, okay. Did you have to ditch your bike?”
“Yeah, she’s in the Brewery parking lot so I need you to bring her to me for tonight.”
“Okay, where do I bring her?”
“Hang on,” Talon pulled the phone away from his ear. “Sunshine?”
She turned to look at him.
“Where the hell am I?” Even with the phone on his shoulder, he heard Kyrian’s mocking laughter.
“You know the nightclub, Runningwolf’s that’s on Canal Street?”
“We’re directly over it.”
“Thanks.” He relayed the information to Kyrian.
“Talon, I swear, your hormones are going to get you killed some day.”
He didn’t bother to correct Kyrian. They’d known each other for over a thousand years and Talon had never before been caught out like this. Kyrian wouldn’t believe the truth of how he came to be in this loft. Hell, he barely believed it himself. “I also need you to bring some clothes to me.”
The silence in his ear was deafening.
Oh yeah, Nick was such a dead man when Talon got his hands on him.
“What?” Kyrian asked hesitantly.
“I lost my clothes.”
Kyrian laughed. Hard.
“Shut-up, Kyrian, it’s not funny.”
“Hey, from where I’m standing it’s funny as hell.”
Yeah well, from where Talon was standing with a pink blanket wrapped around his hips, it wasn’t.
“Okay,” Kyrian said, sobering. “We’ll be over there as soon as we can.”
“Me and Julian.”
Talon cringed again. An ex-Dark-Hunter and an Oracle. Great. Just great. They would never let him live this down and by nightfall one of them would be guaranteed to post this on the Dark-Hunter.com website for everyone to laugh about.
“All right,” Talon said, stamping down his ire. “See you in a little while.”
“You know,” Sunshine said as soon as he hung up. “I could just go buy you some clothes. I do owe you.”
Talon glanced around the loft. It looked like a bottle of Pepto Bismal had exploded, or the Cat in the Hat had come for a visit. There was pink everywhere. But what struck him most was the dilapidated condition of her furniture and her piecemeal decorations. Definitely a starving artist, the last thing this woman could afford was a pair of two thousand dollar pants, and the earth would stand still and shatter before Talon ever put denim on his body.
“It’s all right,” he told her. “My friends will take care of it.”
She brought him a plate of muffins and what appeared to be grass. “What’s this?”
“Breakfast…or lunch.” When he didn’t take it, she added. “You need to eat. It’s good for you. It’s a cranberry bran muffin with flaxseed and alfalfa sprouts.”
There was nothing on that plate that came close to resembling food. Especially to a man who was born and bred to be a Celtic chieftain.
Okay, Talon, you can cope with this. “Do you have any coffee?”
“Ew! No, that stuff will kill you. I have herbal teas though.”
“Herbal teas? That’s mulch, not a beverage.”
“Oooo, Mr. Picky woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”
No human had ever been so flippant with him. Even Nick knew better.
Feeling totally out of his element, Talon gave up.
“Fine. Where’s your bathroom?”
Then right behind that came the thought, please tell me you have one inside this loft and not out back in a parking lot.
She pointed to a dark corner of the loft. “Right there.”
It was another area sectioned off by a hanging curtain. How wonderful was this?
And he’d mistakenly thought the Middle Ages were over.
Oh what fond memories… not.