Fear the Darkness
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But Nick Gautier wasn’t heaven-sent. Like the worthless bastard who’d fathered him and then run off, he was hell-born.
He set the suitcase down by the door and laid the key on the countertop. The last time he’d been here, he’d been calling out for his mother. Screaming her name as he ran through the house, trying to locate her.
He’d found her upstairs.
Against his will, his feet took him right to the spot. He stood in the doorway, looking at his mother’s favorite chair. In his mind, he could see her lifeless body still there. But in reality, there was no trace of her death...
Or his own. Just before where he now stood, he’d called out to the Greek goddess Artemis to make him a Dark-Hunter. When she refused and told him he’d have to be dead rst, he’d blown his brains out right in front of her.
Afraid of how Acheron would react to his death, Artemis had made him immortal and marked him with the Dark-Hunter bow-and-arrow brand on his face, but he wasn’t one of her army who protected mankind. He had powers greater than the others. He could walk in daylight.
And now he shared powers with Stryker...
Nick frowned as he saw a half-empty Coke bottle on the sidetable. His mother had never touched regular Coke, only Diet, and he would never have dared left a drink in her secret sanctum.
Someone else had been in the house, and since there was an opened paper from today, he would say that someone had moved in and made themselves at home.
In his house.
Anger tore through him. Who would dare?
Wanting blood, he stormed through the rooms, but found each one empty with no sign of who had dared trespass here. “Fine,” he snarled. “I’ll deal with you later.”
First he wanted to visit his mom. He winced at the thought. He hadn’t been to the cemetery since his worthless father had died. Even though he’d passed the St. Louis cemetery almost every day, it just hadn’t been a place where he’d ever spent much time. It reminded him of his father and of the gang he once ran with. A gang that used to rob tourists who dared to enter the cemetery alone.
But he would go now to visit his mother. He hadn’t been there for the funeral. The least he could do now was let her know he still missed her.
His heart heavy, he walked the few blocks that separated his house from Basin Street and walked through the stone entrance of the St. Louis Cemetery. The rains had already moved on as they often did in New Orleans. Now it was sticky and hot.
Since it was morning, the wrought-iron gates were open and chained back. As a Daimon and a Dark-Hunter, Nick shouldn’t have been allowed to walk in daylight, but a higher power had spared him that curse. Like Ash, he could walk in daylight, and unlike other Dark-Hunters, he could walk in a cemetery and not be possessed by the wandering souls that were trapped there.
Without pausing, he walked toward the Gautier family mausoleum. As he passed the raised tombs that had caused New Orleans cemeteries to be called the cities of the dead, he noted how many of them still bore traces of hurricane damage. Even Marie Laveau’s tomb wasn’t as colorful as it’d been before. Many of the tombs were missing names and stones.
Fear crept into him at what he’d nd waiting for him at his mother’s resting place. But as he turned the corner toward his mother’s grave, he froze.
Menyara Chartier, a tiny, frail African American woman was sitting in front of the grave, talking in a whisper to his mother while she arranged bouquets of white lilies. The Voodoo High Priestess paused mid-sentence and turned her head as if she knew who would be there.
“Ni...” she frowned, catching herself from saying the rest of his name.
“Aunt Mennie,” he said, his voice catching as he closed the distance between them. She’d been the tenant in the room next to theirs where he’d grown up and she’d been the woman who had delivered him since his mother hadn’t been able to afford a hospital stay. Menyara had been the closest thing to family he and Cherise had known. “You’re still here.”
She rose slowly to her feet. At four feet ten, she shouldn’t have been intimidating to anyone above the age of ve and yet there was something so powerful about her that it had never failed to quell him. Without thinking, he swept her up into his arms and held her close.
“I knew you would return,” she breathed, before she kissed him on his branded cheek. “Your mother, she told me to watch for you.”
To anyone else, that comment might have seemed odd. But Menyara was a gifted clairvoyant. She knew things no one else did.
“I didn’t kill my mother,” he said as he set her down again. That had been the vicious rumor that had been going around.
She patted his arm. “I know, Ambrosius. I know.” She turned and indicated the tomb. “Every day I have come for you to let Cherise know she wasn’t alone.”
He looked down at the stacks of owers that were arranged around the tomb and saw where a small group of black roses were blooming in a tiny patch of earth. “You bring her owers?”
“No. I only arrange those the dark-haired man sends.”
Nick frowned. “Dark-haired man?”
“Your friend. Acheron. Whenever he’s in town, he comes and he visits too. And every day without fail, he sends over owers for your mother to see.”
His blood ran cold. “He’s not my friend, Menyara.”
“You may not be his friend, Ambrosius, but he is yours.”
Yeah, right. Friends didn’t screw each other over the way Nick had been screwed by Ash. “You don’t know him. What he’s capable of.”
She shook her head at him. “Ah, but I do. Even better than you, I think. I know exactly who and what he is. I know exactly what he can do. And more to the point, I know what he cannot do. Or what he dare not do.” Her features softened as she touched his brand, but said nothing about its presence. “All your life, I have watched you. Your mama always say that you react without thought. You feel too deep. Mourn too great. But one day, Ambrosius, you will see that you and your friend are not so different. That there is much of you inside him.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t walk out on my friends, and I damn sure don’t hurt them.”
She indicated the owers with a wave of her hand. “He didn’t walk out. He was here when the devil unleashed his wrath on us. Acheron saved my life and those of many others. He brought food to us when we had nothing to eat and kept your home from being burned. Don’t judge him by one bad act when he has done so many good ones.”
Nick didn’t want to forgive Ash. Not after all that had happened, but in spite of his anger, he felt his heart softening at the knowledge that Ash had been here—that he hadn’t abandoned the city. “Why are you calling me Ambrosius?”
“Because that is what you are now. Immortal.” She touched the bite mark on his neck. “My Nicky has gone. Buried by emotions so great they mock the depth of the ocean. Can you tell me if my boy will ever come home again?”
Nick wanted to curse at her. He wanted to shout, but in the end he felt like a lost child who only craved his mother’s touch. A deep-seated sob escaped, and before he could stop it, he did what he hadn’t done since the night he’d found his mother dead.
He cried. All he wanted was for the unrelenting pain inside him to stop. He wanted time to go back to the way it’d been before when his mother had been alive and Ash had been his friend.
But how could it? So much had changed…
Menyara pulled him into her arms and held him close. She didn’t speak. But her touch soothed him even more than words could.
She pressed her lips to the top of his head and gave a light kiss. “You were a good boy, Ambrosius. Cherise still believes in you and so do I. She say for you to let go of your anger. Be happy again.”
He pulled back with a curse at her words that reminded him of something his mother would say. “How can I let everything go while my mother is dead?”
“How can you not?” she insisted. “It was your mother’s time to leave this world. She is happier now that she can watch over you and—“
“Don’t say that to me,” he said from between clenched teeth. “I hate it when people say that shit. She’s not happier. How could she be?”
Menyara shook her head. “Then go from this place and don’t taint her peace with your hatred. It doesn’t belong here. Your mother deserves better than that from you.”
He opened his mouth to speak.
“I don’t want to hear it and neither does your poor mother, God rest her soul. You go on now and get out of here. Don’t come back until you get your head on straight and think of someone other than yourself. You hear me?”
Nick narrowed his eyes. He’d argue with her, but he knew her better than that. There was no talking to Menyara when she was in a mood like this.
Disgusted with the whole thing, he turned and left with no real destination in mind. He merely slinked off toward Conti. The streets were eerily familiar and at the same time they were so empty. This time of year, there should have been tons of tourists about. Shopkeepers should have been hosing off the balconies and streets.