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Just do what I say! This time he got the demon tone from Ambrose. That deep, guttural growl that actually made him jump. After a second, he heard Ambrose sigh. Sorry, Nick. But there are things you have to trust me on. Things I can’t explain. Believe me when I say I am truly the only person in your life, besides your mother and Kyrian, who truly has your back. When everyone else turns on you and seeks to bring you down, I’m the only one who will never betray you. You have to believe that.
“You say that, and yet where have you been all my life?”
I’ve always been with you. From the moment you were born. There’s never been a time in your life when I wasn’t there beside you. Just like now. I see everything you see. Hear what you hear and feel what you feel.
I’ll teach you that power in time. For now, trust me. One day you’ll understand why I’ve been hidden all these years and why I had to wait for certain things to happen before I made my presence known.
His mom always said that trust was something you earned. And it wasn’t something you gave easy. Too often, it was a tool your enemies used to hurt you with. Give them nothing, baby. Not until you have no choice. The world is harsh and it is cold. People can be good and decent, but most of them are only out for themselves and they’ll hurt anyone they can.
Sad thing was, he knew his mom didn’t say things like that lightly. Criticism wasn’t in her nature, so whenever she did it, he knew to pay attention.
Go live your life, Nick, Ambrose said, intruding into his thoughts. Enjoy your day and stop worrying so much. Check on your mom and go to work.
He felt Ambrose leave him.
Nick looked up at the perfect blue sky above. It was a beautiful day. “And I am certifiably insane. I’m seeing demons in my friends, shape-shifters, and hearing voices from lunatic uncles.” How had this nut farm become his?
Sighing, he turned the corner and crossed the street to Sanctuary. This time, he saw the difference in the bouncers. While this one looked just like Rémi, he had his hair down around his shoulders and an easy smile that somehow managed to be both friendly and intimidating all at once. As Aimee had told him about earlier, this one had a cool double bow and arrow tattoo on his biceps.
“You must be Dev.”
His grin widened. “You must be Pain in the Nick.”
“Huh?” A wave of apprehensive nervousness went through him.
“Don’t wet your pets. Just a figure of speech. Your mom’s been talking about you all day, boy. You are her favorite topic.”
“Well, I try hard not to be her favorite hemorrhoid.”
Dev laughed. “She said you were sharp and entertaining. I can see she’s right. Go on in and make yourself at home.”
Their friendliness amazed him. Mostly because he had a feeling they weren’t like that with everyone. How could they be? They had one heck of a secret they kept from the public.
Nick wandered inside. It was a lot busier now. Wren was still busing tables, but the bartenders had been changed out. They were two more Dev clones, which should make one of them Cherif and the other Quinn. But the coolest thing was that the band was onstage doing a sound check.
Mesmerized, Nick wandered over to watch them. So this was the Howlers. He’d never seen a live band perform before. It was actually kind of neat.
“Hey, Colt, your mic’s not on,” the lead singer said to the guitarist.
“Done on purpose, Angel. I don’t need to be singing backup, anyway. We don’t want to clear the house.”
The drummer laughed as he adjusted the wing nut on his snare.
They were so cool. Aside from the fact that they were all shape-shifters, they were dressed in clothes his mom would throw away. Torn jeans and ragged shirts. And when they played, it was magic.
Oh yeah, he wanted to be in a band.
He turned at the sound of his mom’s voice. “Hey, Ma. How’s it going?”
She was beaming and her face was bright. “It’s been a great day. How about you?”
“Generic.” Not entirely true, but she didn’t need to know about his weirdness. Otherwise, she’d ban him from leaving the house until he was ninety.
She ruffled his hair. “I have about an hour before I get off work.”
“Oh, okay. I need to get to Kyrian’s, anyway. I’ll catch a streetcar over.”
“I’ll drive you.”
Nick jumped at the sound of Acheron’s deep, scary voice right behind him. If that wasn’t terrifying enough, Acheron stood an even six feet eight. Swathed in Goth black from the top of his long hair to the tips of his biker boots, he had an aura of I’ll kill you for breathing that was more intimidating than Grim’s. “Dude! Put a bell on. You don’t walk up on a brother like that and scare the crap out of him.”
“Sorry. Didn’t realize you scared like a little girl.”
Nick stiffened in indignation. “Ain’t no little girl here, honcho. Maybe you. Definitely not me.”
Shaking his head, Ash laughed.
His mom looked at the two of them skeptically. “Be careful with my baby, Ash. He’s all I got, so drive like you’re hauling eggs.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Ash indicated the door with his head. “You coming?”
“Depends. You going to drive at Warp Speed One or Ten?” ’Cause the last time Nick was in Ash’s Porsche, the ancient immortal had done things a car shouldn’t be able to do.
“I’ll keep it under ninety.”
“Then I’ll try not to claw the interior.” Nick waved at his mom as he followed Ash out the rear side door to the lot in back, where his black Porsche made an awesome sight.
One day, he needed to get him one of those. Of course, that was after he managed to get his license. For now, though, he was content to ride in Ash’s.
“Do I have to open the door for you again?” Ash asked as he pressed the button to unlock it.
Nick gave him a droll stare. “Nah, I think I can manage.” He’d been afraid of tarnishing it before. Now he was getting a little used to it.
As soon as he was in and buckled tight, he looked over at Acheron. “Kyrian said you have fangs. Do you?”
Ash tilted his head down, but since he was still wearing those black opaque sunglasses that never left his face, Nick couldn’t see his eyes. “Is it important?”
Ash opened his mouth, and sure enough, there they were.
“Wow. You are good at hiding them.”
“You have no idea.” He tore out of the lot and gunned the engine.
“So have you ever drunk blood?”
Ash downshifted to get around a cab. “What did the two of you talk about?”
“Kyrian said he doesn’t drink blood. Made me wonder if you do.”
Ash ignored the question as he slowed down. Frowning, Nick looked to see what had caught the immortal Atlantean’s attention. To the right, down a side alley, the police had gathered and cordoned off a section of the street. Unfortunately, such sights tended to be common in New Orleans.
“Looks like a burglary.”
“No, Nick. That’s a murder scene.”
“How can you tell?”
“Psychic powers, remember?”
Oh yeah. How could he forget?
Acheron pulled to the corner and parked his car. “You stay put. I want to check this out.”
You know, for an immortal being with eleven thousand years of living, Acheron could be mighty stupid. Like Nick was going to wait in the car while there was something to see …
He did at least give Ash time to get out of sight before he opened the car door and headed over to the scene. There were a bunch of tourists and locals loitering as well as several journalists and camera people. Nick sidled along the edge of them until he could see the outline of where the body lay, covered by a black tarp. The sight of blood on the street was disconcerting. Man, it looked brutal, and it made him wonder what had happened.
“How many does this make?” one of the officers asked another.
“Second one in twenty-four hours.”
“Did they notify the parents?”
“Not yet. No one wants to have to go knock on the door and tell someone their fourteen-year-old son won’t be coming for dinner. Damn. I hate it when it’s a kid. Friggin’ senseless. I got a son the same age. Makes me want to go home and hug him, then lock him in his room until he’s grown.”
Those words slammed hard into Nick. The vic had been his age.
And no sooner had that thought gone through his head than he felt his pendulum heat up to a burning level.
The book, too.
Hissing from the pain of it, Nick snatched the book out of his back pocket and flipped it open. “What Lassie? You going to tell Timmy about the well?”
On the page where he’d dropped his blood the night before, the words rearranged themselves.
Look and you will see,
That which was can never be.
When they seek a boy your age,
Run, you flippin moron, run!
So much for rhyming, but at the moment, Nick wasn’t going to argue with the book. If it told him to run, run he’d do. He started for the car, then stopped.
Safest place would be with Acheron. With his epic Jedi powers, Ash would be able to put down anyone or anything that came after him. And lucky for him, Ash was so tall, he was easy to spot even in this crowd.
Nick headed straight for him as fast as he could without drawing the attention of the police—his past experiences had shown him that even if innocent, it was never good to grab their attention. Especially not when you were related to someone on death row for multiple homicides and there was a body on the ground nearby.
Ash did a double take as he joined him. “I would ask what it is you think you’re doing, but … you are a teenager. I should have known better than to leave you in the car unattended. Next time, I’ll seal you in there … probably with bricks. Maybe even mortar.”
Nick ignored his dry tone. “Just so long as you make sure nothing can get inside to kill me, I’m good with that.”
Ash frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“The kid dead on the ground. Fourteen, Ash. Fourteen. I’m fourteen.”
“Ash, I’m fourteen.”
“Got it. You’re fourteen. I’m so proud you can count that high. It’s a testament to the modern American educational system. But I should probably point out that you’re not the only one. I’m told you go to a school with a whole class of—get this—kids who are fourteen.”
Nick rolled his eyes at the sarcasm. No wonder his mom wanted to hurt him for it. He finally understood. “Yeah, but they’re not dead. Someone’s killing fourteen-year-old boys, which I happen to be one. The cops said so. This is the second one in a day who’s been murdered.”
“Yeah, well, given the lippiness of the average teenager, I can understand the urge.”
“You’re not funny.”
“And you need to calm down. The only person you need to fear killing you when I’m around is me.”
A chill went down his spine at words that seemed oddly prophetic. Was this the precog sensation Grim had told him about earlier?
Not to mention the small fact that Ambrose’s warning echoed in his head.
Don’t trust Ash.… He’s not what he seems.
Ash put one hand on each of his shoulders. “Nick, take a deep breath and look around. You’re safe here. There are police everywhere. It’s all good.”
Not what his book had said. He started to tell Ash about that, but something inside told him to keep it quiet.
For once, he decided to listen to his instincts.
“Why are they killing teenage boys?”
Ash gestured to the bloody graffiti that the killer or killers had left on the street. It was a circle around the body with strange symbols he’d never seen before. “Whoever killed him was hunting a demon. My guess is they thought the boy on the street was possessed, although I don’t know why they’d kill him.”
“Who are they?”
“I’m not sure. I was trying to get a fix on it when you came running up and broke my concentration. It’s not normal for me to be blind to things like this, but that being said, these kind of demons aren’t my specialty.”
Nick was confused by that. “What do you mean?”
“I’m a Dark-Hunter, Nick. Not a demonologist. There are thousands of species of demons in a variety of belief systems, and while I may be fluent in all languages and customs, some—not many, but some—of the world’s demons are alien to me because they don’t come out and play often. Some are so terrifying that their own people don’t speak of them or have forgotten them. As a result, I don’t stay on top of it. Now wishing I had.”