“If you like him, then go up and introduce yourself.”
Michelle was horrified. “I can’t do that.”
“Why not?” Cassandra asked.
“What if he thinks I’m a fat or ugly?”
Cassandra rolled her eyes. Michelle was a very thin brunette who was a far cry from ugly. “Life is short, Michelle. Too short. For all you know, he might be the man of your dreams, but if you stay back here, drooling and not acting, you’ll never know.”
“God,” Michelle breathed, “how I envy you that live-for-today attitude. But I can’t.”
Cassandra grabbed her by the hand and hauled her through the crowd, over to the man.
She tapped him on the shoulder.
Startled, he turned around.
His eyes widened as he looked up at Cassandra. At six foot one, she was used to being a freak of nature. To his credit, the guy didn’t appear offended by the fact she was a good two inches taller than him.
He looked down at Michelle who was a normal five foot four.
“Hi,” Cassandra said, drawing his gaze back to her. “I’m taking a quick survey. Are you married?”
He frowned. “No.”
He passed a puzzled look to his friend. “No.”
His jaw dropped. “Excuse me?”
“Cassandra!” Michelle snapped.
She ignored both of them and held tight to Michelle’s hand while her friend was trying to run away. “You like women, yes?”
“Yes,” he said, his tone offended.
“Good because my friend Michelle here thinks you’re exceptionally cute and she’d like to meet you.” She pulled Michelle between them. “Michelle, this is…”
He smiled as he met Michelle’s stunned gaze. “Tom Cody.”
“Tom Cody,” Cassandra repeated. “Tom, this is Michelle.”
“Hi,” he said, extending his hand to her.
By Michelle’s face, Cassandra could tell her friend wasn’t sure if she should strangle her or thank her.
“Hi,” Michelle said, shaking his hand.
Assured that they were semi-compatible and that he didn’t bite on the first date, Cassandra left them and headed back to Brenda and Kat, both of whom had their mouths hanging wide open as they stared at her in disbelief.
“I can’t believe you just did that to her,” Kat said as soon as Cassandra rejoined them. “She’s going to kill you later.”
Brenda cringed. “If you ever do that to me, I will kill you.”
Kat draped an arm over Brenda’s shoulders and gave her an affectionate hug. “You can yell at her all you want to, hon, but I can’t let you kill her.”
Brenda laughed at Kat’s comment, not knowing that Kat spoke from her heart. She was Cassandra’s covert bodyguard and had been with her for five years now. A record. Most of Cassandra’s bodyguards had a job-expectancy of about eight months.
They either ended up dead or quitting the minute they caught a look at exactly who and what was after her. To their way of thinking, not even the exorbitant amount of money her father paid them to keep her alive was worth the risk.
But not Kat. She had more tenacity and chutzpah than anyone Cassandra had ever met. Not to mention the fact that Kat was the only woman Cassandra had ever known who was actually taller than her. At six foot four and stunningly beautiful, Kat made quite an entrance everywhere she went. Her blond hair hung just past her shoulders and she had eyes so green they didn’t look real.
“You know,” Brenda said to Cassandra while she watched Tom and Michelle talking and laughing. “I would give anything to have your confidence. Do you ever doubt yourself?”
Cassandra answered truthfully. “All the time.”
“You never show it.”
That’s because, unlike her companions, there was more than just a slim chance Cassandra might only have another eight months left to live. She couldn’t afford to be scared or timid of life. Her motto was to grab everything by both hands, and run with it.
Then again, she’d been running all her life. Running from those who would kill her if they had a chance.
But most of all, she’d been running from her destiny, hoping that somehow, some way she could avert the inevitable.
Even though she’d traveled the world since she was six years old, she was no closer to discovering the truth about her heritage than her mother had been before her.
Still, with every day that dawned, she was hopeful. Hopeful that someone would tell her that her life didn’t have to end on her twenty-seventh birthday. Hopeful that she would be able to stay some place for more than a few months or even days.
“Hub-ba!” Brenda said, her eyes wide as she looked at the entrance. “I think I just found our cookies! And ladies, there are three of them.”
Laughing at her awed tone, Cassandra turned around to see three incredibly sexy men entering the club. They were all well over six feet in height, golden in skin and hair, and drop-dead gorgeous.
Her laughter died instantly as she felt a horrible, stinging tingle run through her. It was a sensation she was all too familiar with.
And it was one that branded terror into her heart.
Dressed in expensive sweaters, jeans and ski jackets, the three men scanned the bar’s occupants like the deadly predators they were. Cassandra trembled. The people in the bar had no idea how much danger they were in.
None of them.
Oh dear God…
“Hey, Cass,” Brenda said. “Go introduce me to them.”
Cassandra shook her head as she made eye contact with Kat to warn her. She tried to herd Brenda in the opposite direction of the men and out of their dark, hungry sights. “They’re bad news, Bren. Really, bad news.”
The one virtue of being half-Apollite was her ability to spot others of her mother’s kind. And something in her gut told her the men walking through the crowd, scanning women with seductive smiles were no longer simple Apollites.
They were Daimons- a vicious breed of Apollite who chose to prolong their short lives by killing humans and stealing their souls.
The powerful Daimon charisma that was unique to them and their hunger for souls bled from every pore of the newcomer’s bodies.
They were here for victims.
Cassandra swallowed her panic. She had to find some way to get out of here before they got too close to her and discovered who she really was.
She reached for the small handgun in her purse, and looked for an escape.
“Out the back,” Kat said, pulling her toward the rear of the club.
“What’s going on?” Brenda asked.
Suddenly, the tallest of the Daimons stopped dead in his tracks.
He turned to face them.
His steely eyes narrowed on Cassandra with intense interest and she could feel him trying to penetrate her mind. She blocked his intrusion, but it was too late.
He grabbed his friends’ arms and inclined his head toward them.
Damn. This sucked.
With the bar’s crowd, she couldn’t open fire on them and neither could Kat. The hand grenades were in the car and she had opted to leave her daggers under the seat.
“Now would be a good time to tell me you have your sais with you, Kat.”
“Nada. You got your kamas on you?”
“Yeah,” she said sarcastically, thinking of her weapons that looked like small hand-held scythes. “I tucked them into my bra before I left home.”
She felt Kat force something cold into her hand. Looking down, she saw the closed uchiwa fighting fan. Made of steel, the fan was sharpened on one side so that it was as dangerous as a ginsu knife. Folded up and only eleven inches long, it looked like any other innocuous Japanese folding fan, but in the hands of either Kat or Cassandra, it was lethal.
Cassandra tightened her grip on the fan as Kat pulled her toward the stage where a fire exit was placed. She drifted back into the crowd, away from the Daimons, and away from Brenda before she endangered her by being close to her when the Daimons struck.
She cursed both their heights as she realized there was no way to hide. No way to keep the Daimons from seeing them even in this heavy crowd when she and Kat stood so tall against everyone else.
Kat stopped dead in her tracks as another tall, blond man cut off their escape.
Two seconds later, all hell broke loose in the club as they both became aware of the fact that there was more than just three Daimons in the bar.
There were at least a dozen of them.
Kat shoved her toward the door, then kicked the Daimon back, into a group of people who shouted or shrieked at the disturbance.
Cassandra opened her fan as another Daimon came for her with a hunting knife. She caught the blade between the slats and twisted it from his hands, then used the dagger to stab the Daimon in the chest.
He disintegrated instantly.
“You’ll pay for that, bitch,” one of the Daimons growled as he charged her.
Several men in the bar moved to help her, but the Daimons made quick work of them while other patrons headed for the exits.
Four Daimons surrounded Kat.
Cassandra tried to get to her to help fight them off, but couldn’t. One of the Daimons caught her bodyguard with a vicious blow that sent Kat flying into a nearby wall.
Kat hit it with a thud, then landed on the floor in a heap. Cassandra wanted to help her, but the best way to do that would be to get the Daimons out of the bar and away from her friend.
She turned to run, only to find two more Daimons standing directly behind her.
The collision of their bodies distracted her enough so that one of the Daimons could wrench the fan and dagger from her hand.
He put his arms around her to keep her from falling.
Tall, blond, and handsome, the Daimon held a rare sexual aura that pulled anything female toward him. It was that essence that enabled them to prey effectively on humans.
“Going some place, Princess?” he asked, taking her wrists into his hands and blocking her ability to fight for her weapon.
Cassandra tried to speak, but his deep, dark eyes held her completely captive. She felt his powers reaching into her mind, numbing her ability to flee.
The others joined him.
Still, the one before her kept his hands on her wrists, his mesmerizing gaze on hers.
“Well, well,” the tallest said as he dragged a cold finger down her cheek. “When I came out to feed tonight, the last thing I expected to find was our missing heiress.”
She snapped her head away from his touch. “Killing me won’t free you,” she said. “It’s only a myth.”
The one holding her, turned her around to face his leader.
The Daimon leader laughed. “Aren’t we all? Ask any human in this bar if vampires exist and what will they say?” He ran his tongue over his long canine teeth as he eyed her evilly. “Now, come outside and die alone, or we’ll feast off your newfound friends.”
He slid his predator’s gaze over to Michelle who was far enough away and so captivated by Tom that she wasn’t even aware of the fight that had gone on over on Cassandra’s side of the bar. “The brunette is strong. Her soul alone should sustain us for at least six months. As for the blonde…”
His gaze drifted over to where Kat lay surrounded by humans who didn’t appear aware of how she’d gotten hurt. No doubt the Daimons were using their powers to fog the minds of the humans around them to keep them from interfering.
“Well,” he continued ominously, “a little snack never hurt anyone.”
He grabbed her arm at the same time the Daimon holding her let go.
Unwilling to go quietly to her slaughter, Cassandra reverted to her strict and intensive training. She stepped back into the arms of the Daimon behind her and brought her heel down on his instep.
She buried her fist into the stomach of the Daimon before her, then darted between the other two and headed for the door.
With his inhuman speed, the tallest Daimon cut her off halfway there. A cruel smile curved his lips as he pulled her viciously to a stop.
She kicked out, but he prevented her from hurting him.
“Don’t.” His deep voice was mesmerizing and filled with the promise of lethal harm should she disobey him.
Several people in the bar turned to look at them, but one vicious glare from the Daimon and they headed off.
No one would help her.
But it wasn’t over yet… She would never surrender to them.
Before she could move to attack again, the front door of the club swung open with an arctic blast.
As if he sensed something even more evil than himself, the Daimon turned his head toward the door.
His eyes widened in panic.
Cassandra turned to see what held him transfixed and then she, too, couldn’t tear her gaze away.
The wind and snow swirled into the entranceway around a man who stood at least six foot six.
Unlike most people who walked around in ten degree weather, the newcomer wore only a long, thin black leather coat that rippled with the wind. He had on a solid black sweater, and a pair of tight black leather pants and biker boots that hugged a lean, hard body which beckoned with wild, sexual promise.
He had the confident, deadly swagger of a man who knew he had no equal. Of a man who dared the world to try and take him on.
It was the gait of a predator.
And it made her blood run cold.
Had he possessed blond hair, she would have presumed him another Daimon. But this man was something else entirely.
His shoulder length, jet-black hair was blown back from a perfectly sculpted face that caused her heart to pound. His black eyes were cold. Steely. His face set and impassive.
Neither pretty, nor feminine, the man was such a Powdered Donut that he wouldn’t even have to share it in her bed!
As if drawn like a homing beacon and oblivious to the crowd in the bar, the newcomer swept his dark, deadly gaze from one Daimon to the next, until it settled on the one by her side.
A slow, evil smile spread over his handsome face, displaying the tiniest hint of fangs.
He headed straight for them.
The Daimon cursed, then pulled her in front of him.
Cassandra fought his hold, until he took a gun out of his pocket and held it to her temple.
Screams and shouts erupted in the bar as people ran for cover.
The other Daimons moved to stand by his side into what appeared a battle formation of some kind.
The newcomer gave a low, sinister laugh as he sized them up. By the light in his jet eyes, she could see how much he looked forward to the fight.
His gaze actually goaded them.
“Bad form to take a hostage,” he said in a deep, smoothly accented voice that rumbled like thunder. “Especially when you know I’m going to kill you anyway.”
In that instant, Cassandra knew who and what the newcomer was.
He was a Dark-Hunter- immortal warriors who spent eternity hunting down and executing the Daimons who fed off human souls. They were the defenders of mankind and the personification of Satan for her people.
She’d heard of them all her life, but much like the boogie-man she’d attributed them to urban legends.
But the man before her wasn’t a figment of her imagination. He was real, and he was every bit as deadly as the stories she’d heard.
“Out of my way, Dark-Hunter,” the Daimon holding her said, “or I’ll kill her.”
Appearing amused by the threat, the Dark-Hunter shook his head like a parent scolding an angry child. “You know, you should have stayed in your bolt-hole one more day. Tonight’s Buffy night, and it’s a whole new episode, too.”
The Dark-Hunter paused to sigh irritably. “Have you any idea how angry it makes me that I have to come out here in the freezing cold to slay you when I could be at home all toasty warm and watching Sarah Michelle Gellar kick-ass in a halter top?”
The Daimon’s arms shook as he tightened his grip on her. “Get him!”
The Daimons attacked at once. The Dark-Hunter caught the first one by the throat. In one fluid motion, he picked the Daimon up and slammed him against the wall where he held him in a tight fist.
The Daimon whimpered.
“What are you, a baby?” the Dark-Hunter asked. “Jeez, if you’re going to kill humans, the least you could do is learn to die with some dignity.”
A second Daimon dove for his back. As the Dark-Hunter twisted his lower body, a long, evil-looking knife shot out of the toe of his boot. He buried the blade into the center of the Daimon’s chest.
Instantly, the Daimon exploded into powder.
The Daimon in the Dark-Hunter’s hand flashed his long, canine teeth as he tried to bite and kick him. The Dark-Hunter tossed him into the arms of the third Daimon.
They stumbled back and landed in a heap on the floor.
The Dark-Hunter shook his head at the two Daimons as they stumbled over each other, trying to regain their feet.
More attacked and he cut through them with an ease that was as scary as it was morbidly beautiful.
“Come on, where did you learn to fight?” he asked as he killed two more. “Miss Manner’s School for Girls?” He sneered contemptuously at the Daimons. “My baby sister could hit harder than you when she was three years old. Damn, if you’re going to turn Daimon, the least you could do is take a few fighting lessons so you can make my boring job more interesting.” He sighed wearily and looked up at the ceiling. “Where are the Spathi Daimons when you need them?”
While the Dark-Hunter was distracted, the Daimon holding her moved the gun from her temple and fired four shots into him.
The Dark-Hunter turned very slowly toward them.
Fury descending over his face, he glared at the Daimon who had shot him. “Have you no honor? No decency? No damn brains? You don’t kill me with bullets. You just piss me off.”
He looked down at the wounds in his side that were bleeding, then pulled his coat out so that light shone through the holes in the leather and cursed again. “And you just ruined my friggin, favorite coat.”
The Dark-Hunter growled at the Daimon. “For that, you die.”
Before Cassandra could move, the Dark-Hunter whipped his hand toward them. A thin black cord shot out and wrapped itself around the Daimon’s wrist.
Faster than she could blink, the Dark-Hunter closed the distance between them, jerked the Daimon’s wrist and wrung the Daimon’s forearm.
She stumbled away from the Daimon and pressed herself against the broken jukebox, out of their way.
With one hand still on the Daimon’s arm, the Dark-Hunter grabbed the Daimon by the throat and lifted him off his feet. In a graceful arc, he slung the Daimon onto a table. Glasses shattered under the weight of the Daimon’s back. The gun hit the wooden floor with a cold, metallic thud.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you the only way to kill us is to cut us into pieces?” the Dark-Hunter asked. “You should have brought a wood chipper instead of a gun.”
He glared at the Daimon who fought desperately against his hold. “Now, let’s see about freeing the human souls you’ve stolen.” The Dark-Hunter pulled a butterfly knife from his boot, twirled it open, and plunged it into the Daimon’s chest.
The Daimon decayed instantly, leaving nothing behind.
The last two ran for the door.
They didn’t get far before the Dark-Hunter pulled a set of throwing knives out from under his coat and sent them flying with deadly precision into the backs of the fleeing killers. They exploded, and his knives hit the floor ominously.
With an unbelievable deliberate calmness, the Dark-Hunter headed for the exit. He paused only long enough to retrieve his knives from the floor.
Then, he left as quickly and silently as he’d come.
Cassandra struggled to breathe as the people in the bar came out of hiding and went berserk. Thankfully, even Kat pushed herself up and stumbled toward her.
Her friends came running up to her.
“Are you okay?”
“Did you see what he did?”
“I thought you were dead!”
“Thank God, you’re still alive!”
“What did they want with you?”
“Who were those guys?”
“What happened to them?”
She barely heard the voices that hit her ears so fast and blended that she couldn’t tell who asked what question. Cassandra’s mind was still on the Dark-Hunter who’d come to her rescue. Why had he bothered to save her?
She had to know more about him…
Before she could think better of it, Cassandra ran after him, looking for a man who shouldn’t be real.
Outside, blaring sirens filled the air and were getting progressively louder. Someone in the bar must have called the police.
The Dark-Hunter was halfway down the block before she caught up to him and pulled him to a stop.
His face impassive, he looked down at her with those deep, dark eyes. Eyes so black that she couldn’t detect the pupils. The wind whipped his hair around his chiseled features and the cloud from his breath mingled with hers.
It was freezing out, but his presence warmed her so much that she didn’t even feel it.
“What are you going to do about the police?” she asked. “They’ll be looking for you.”
A bitter smile tugged at the edges of his lips. “In five minutes no human in that bar will ever remember they saw me.”
His words surprised her. Was that true of all Dark-Hunters? “Will I forget, too?”
“In that case, thank you for saving my life.”
Wulf paused at her words. It was the first time anyone had ever thanked him for being a Dark-Hunter.
He stared at the wealth of tight, strawberry blond curls that cascaded without order around her oval face. She wore her long hair plaited down her back. And her hazel green eyes were filled with a brilliant vitality and warmth.
Though she wasn’t a great beauty, she held a quiet charm to her features that was inviting. Tempting.
Against his will, he reached his hand up to touch her jaw, just below her ear. Softer than velvet, her delicate skin warmed his cold fingers.
It had been so long since he last touched a woman.
So long since he had last tasted one.
Before he could stop himself, he leaned down and captured those parted lips with his own.
Wulf growled at the taste of her as his body roared to life. He’d never sampled anything sweeter than the honey of her mouth. Never smelled anything more intoxicating than her clean, rose-scented flesh.
Her tongue danced with his as her hands clutched at his shoulders, pressing him closer to her. Making him hard and stiff with the thought of how soft her body would be in other places.
And in that moment, he wanted her with an urgency that stunned him. It was a desperate need he hadn’t felt in a long, long time.
Cassandra’s senses swirled at the unexpected contact of his lips on hers. She’d never known anything like the power and hunger of his kiss.
The faint smell of sandalwood clung to his flesh and he tasted of beer and wild, untamed masculinity.
It was the only word to describe him.
His arms flexed around her as he plundered her mouth masterfully.
He wasn’t just deadly to Daimons. He was deadly to a woman’s senses. Her heart hammered as her entire body burned, wanting a mad taste of his strength inside her.
She kissed him desperately.
He cupped her face in his hands while he nibbled her lips with his teeth. His fangs. Suddenly, he deepened his kiss as he ran his hands over her back, pressing her closer to those lean, masculine hips so that she could feel just how hard and ready he was for her.
She felt him all the way down her entire being. Every hormone in her body sizzled.
She wanted him with a ferocity that terrified her. Not once in her life had she ever known such hot, wrenching desire, especially not for a stranger.
She should be pushing him away.
Instead, she wrapped her arms around his broad, rock-hard shoulders and held him tight. It was all she could do to not reach down, unzip those pants and guide him straight into the part of her that throbbed with demanding need.
Part of her didn’t even care that they were on the street. It wanted him right here. Right now. No matter who or what saw them. It was an alien part of herself that scared her.
Wulf fought the urgency inside him that demanded her pin her to the brick wall beside them and have her wrap those long, shapely legs of hers around his waist. To push her sinfully short skirt up over her hips and bury himself deep inside her body until she screamed out his name in sweet release.
Dear gods, how he ached to possess her.
If only he could…
Reluctantly, he pulled back from her embrace. He ran his thumb over her swollen lips and wondered what she would feel like writhing beneath him.
Worse, he knew he could have her. He had tasted her desire fully. But once he was finished with her, she would have no memory of him.
No memory of his touch. His kiss.
Her body would only soothe his for a few minutes.
It would do nothing to ease the loneliness in his heart that yearned for someone to recall him.
“Good-bye, my sweet,” he whispered, touching her lightly on the cheek before he turned around.
He would remember their kiss forever.
She wouldn’t remember him at all…
Cassandra couldn’t move as the Dark-Hunter walked away from her.
By the time he had vanished into the night, she had completely forgotten he’d ever existed.
“How did I get out here?” she asked as she wrapped her arms around her to banish the biting cold.
Her teeth chattering, she ran back into the bar