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That made sense. Nick glanced over at the weird design on the street. “What about those symbols? What are they?”
“A language that was dead before I was born.”
Whoa. Given Ash’s geriatrics, if that predated him … that was scary. “How can that be?”
“Contrary to popular misbelief, I wasn’t born with the dinosaurs, Nick. As old as I am, I know many beings who make me look like an infant. Whoever did this might be one of them, or it’s something or someone who’s had recent contact with them.” He looked back at the symbols. “I honestly haven’t seen that writing since I passed ruins in Atlantis when I was about your age.”
“You can remember that far back?”
An angry tic started in Ash’s jaw. “With a clarity I wish to the gods I could burn out of my mind.” There was a lot of hidden pain in Ash’s tone. Kyrian had told him that Ash didn’t like talking about his past. From his tone of voice, Nick would guess that Ash hadn’t had a very happy childhood.
Then again, it had to be gruesome for Ash to have died so brutally at age twenty-one that he’d sold his soul to the goddess Artemis for vengeance.
“So what do we do?” Nick asked.
“Give me a few more minutes, then I’ll take you to Kyrian’s.”
Nick looked around Ash to see a young African-American guy rushing over to them.
Ash turned to face him. “Hey, Tate. You investigating?”
He nodded. “I was out with my dad when the call came in.” He gestured to the medical examiner, who was talking to the police. Then his gaze went to Nick.
“This is Nick Gautier. He’s working for Kyrian and knows about our darker side.”
“Ah…” He smiled at Nick. “Tate Bennett. Nice to meet you.” He seemed friendly enough as he held his hand out.
Nick shook it. “You, too.”
Tate leaned in to speak in a low tone with Ash. “It’s a demon thing, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. But I don’t think a demon killed him. I’m pretty sure the killer was human and so was the kid.”
Tate appeared confused. “How do you mean?”
Ash gestured toward the circle. “That’s a containment and destruction spell. The kind meant to trap and weaken a demon so that you can kill it easily.”
Tate’s eyes widened. “The kid was possessed?”
“I don’t think so. It’s a weird vibe. I’m really not sure what went on. All I know is it ain’t right.”
Tate’s frown deepened. “How can you not know what happened?”
Ash lowered his tone even more. “That’s what I’m trying to say. Whatever human did this has me blocked and with those symbols.… I don’t know. But I’m thinking the kid was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In spite of the fact that the kid is dead, I don’t think he was the target. I think the killer was after something else. What about you? You have anything?”
“Only the vic’s description: Caucasian. Male. Fourteen years old. We think he was killed this morning around eight. No ID at all, but he did have—”
“Hey, I know those shoes.”
Tate and Ash turned to him as Nick pointed at the body they were now moving. As they’d lifted the kid, the tarp had been pulled back from his feet.
“What?” Ash asked.
Nick inclined his head to the lime green Converse they were zipping the body bag around, which were decorated with a Magic Marker. “That’s Barry Thornton. He sits behind me in study hall.”
Tate stepped toward him. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Those shoes are distinctive. No one else in high school draws Pokémon on their clothes.” Not to mention the green was pretty neon, and most of the kids he knew preferred more sedate colors.
Tate considered that for a second before he spoke. “Has he been messing with the occult?”
Nick gave Tate an agitated stare. “Let’s go back to the Pokémon on his shoes, shall we? Dead giveaway. He wouldn’t even play D&D, ’cause he thought it was Satanic. He didn’t believe in anything paranormal.” Which was ironic when you thought about how many preternatural beings went to their high school. “He was the captain of the chess club and an A-plus student.”
Tate met Ash’s gaze. “Why would anyone think he’s a demon?”
Ash shrugged. “The world is insane, and you’re asking me for the reasoning of a psycho? I’m not a profiler.”
“But you are omniscient,” Tate reminded him.
“It, like my immortality, has its limitations. I can’t see everything, unfortunately.” Ash sighed. “Nick said this was the second boy found?”
“Yeah. There was a kid named Alistair Sloan found last night.”
They both looked over at Nick.
“Why y’all looking at me for? I don’t know him at all.”
Ash snorted. “You seem to know everyone else in town.”
“Well, I do get around.” Nick grinned.
Ash shook his head before he returned his attention to Tate. “This entire event isn’t adding up.”
Tate agreed. “Could be a zealot on a killing spree. Sometimes the weird crap is human. I know it doesn’t happen often in this town. But … every now and again, we do find humans being insane.”
Ash appeared less than convinced. “Maybe.”
Tate gestured over his shoulder. “I better get back to it. Let me know if you uncover something.”
As soon as Tate was gone, Ash turned back to Nick. “Do me a favor.”
“Don’t lick your seat belt?”
Ash’s expression was total confusion. “Huh? Where did that randomness come from?”
“When I was a kid, I did that once in my aunt Mennie’s new car. Now every time I get in her car and she’s driving, she says do me a favor, and that’s what always follows after it. Sorry. Habit.”
“Okay. If your bizarre flashbacks are over, can I have your attention for a second?”
Nick straightened up. “Absolutely.”
“All right. Keep your eyes open, and don’t go anywhere alone until we figure out what’s happening and why someone is killing fourteen-year-old boys.”
“You got it.”
Ash started toward the body, then seemed to think better of it. “Let’s get you to Kyrian’s.”
“Fine with me.” He liked the idea of being safe and alive.
Ash waved to Tate to let him know they were leaving before he led Nick back to the gleaming black Porsche. Nick got in and buckled his seat belt while Ash started the car.
They didn’t speak at all while Ash took him the rest of the way to the Garden District, where row after row of antebellum homes paid tribute to and housed some of the wealthiest people in New Orleans.
Man, the size of Kyrian’s place never failed to impress him. It was one heck of a house. In the classical Greek revival style, it kind of reminded Nick of a wedding cake, what with the wraparound porches, the ornate flourishes, and white color. Ash opened the gate, then parked in front of the marble steps that led up to the front door.
Nick got out and headed up the stairs. When he started to ring the bell, Ash materialized beside him and pushed the door open.
He arched a brow at that. “Were you raised in a barn? You don’t just walk into someone’s house.”
Ash laughed. “I have an open invitation to enter whenever I’m here.”
“Yeah, but what if he’s naked or something?”
Ash led him into the foyer. “I’ve known Kyrian for over two thousand years, and I can honestly say that I have never once caught him naked in his living room.” The door closed behind them without Ash or Nick touching it—something that always unnerved Nick when Ash did it. “Besides, Rosa’s still here. I know he’s not walking around bare-assed with her on duty.”
“Oh yeah.” There was that.
As if she’d heard them come in, Rosa entered the hall from the direction of the kitchen. “Ah, Acheron, good to see you again.”
“Hola, Rosa. Is Kyrian upstairs still?”
While Ash headed up, Nick went toward Rosa with a hopeful look on his face. “Do I smell something … sweet?”
She laughed. “You live on your stomach, mi’jo. Go, there are cookies waiting for you.”
Nick gave her a Roman salute. “Rosa, I am your eternal servant. So long as you feed me cookies, you may ask and I will do without any complaint.”
“Good. I have a list of your chores on the counter beside the plate.”
Ah, man … Nick bit back a whine. This was his job, and he wouldn’t complain. At least not to Rosa, maker of great food.
Kyrian was another matter. He was subject to the full whiny teenager moodiness.
Nick headed into the kitchen and grabbed a cookie before he glanced over his list. Chewing the cookie, he scratched at his chin.
1. Replace upstairs hall bathroom lightbulb.
2. Get online and research Ferragamo shoes, then e-mail someone named Kell to see if he could convert Ferragamos into weapons.
3. Order a replacement coat for the one that was torn. (See closet for coat.) Make sure it matches exactly.
4. Wash cars.
5. Take out trash for Rosa.
6. Most important, don’t bitch.
She arched a brow as she came into the kitchen. “Sí?”
“How many cars does Kyrian own?”
She paused to consider it. “I believe there are six of them, but I don’t know for sure. I don’t go into the garage.”
Six. Kyrian wanted him to wash six? Was he out of his friggin’ mind? No way. That was too much. It’d take him all night.
Grumbling under his breath, Nick headed for the garage to see just how big these things were. In spite of what Kyrian thought, he wasn’t a slave. He had …
His thoughts scattered as he opened the door.
* * *
“You’re sure they’re not Daimon attacks?” Kyrian asked Acheron as he shrugged on his coat.
“Oh yeah. What I really hate is that one of the kids was killed on our watch. I don’t want that to happen again. So keep your eyes open tonight for predators other than Daimons.”
“Definitely. Speaking of demon spawn … where’s Nick?”
Ash shrugged. “He came in with me, and that was the last I paid attention to him.”
“Yeah, and I was fully expecting him to object to his list of assignments.” Kyrian paused to listen with his psychic hearing. He furrowed his brow as he heard nothing. “It’s too quiet. I better go make sure he’s not harassing Rosa. My luck, she’s put a choke hold on him and I’ll have to explain the bruising to his overly protective, paranoid mother.”
Acheron laughed. “Don’t worry, General. I’ll bail you out before dawn.”
“Thanks.” Leaving Acheron, Kyrian headed straight downstairs and searched for his pain, who never ceased to irritate him.
There was no sign of him.
Not even in Nick’s office. Where could he be?
Kyrian grimaced as he entered the kitchen. “Where’s Nick?” he asked Rosa, who was putting away dishes.
She wiped her hands on a white dishcloth before she answered. “He went out to the garage, and I’ve not seen him since.”
Strange. There was no sound of running water or any sign of the kid out there that he could hear.
A surge of panic seized him. Had the preternatural killer found the kid? Could Nick be lying dead out there, right now?
He rushed to the door and yanked it open, then froze at the last thing he expected to find.
Nick sat on the stairs, completely comatose. He stared straight ahead as if he’d been frozen in place.
“Nick? You all right?”
He didn’t respond.
Kyrian moved around him until he stood in front of him. He snapped his fingers in front of Nick’s face. “Kid?”
Nick blinked before he met Kyrian’s gaze. “I’m not worthy,” he said in a breathless tone.
Baffled by his comment, Kyrian stared at him. “What?”
Nick gestured toward his cars. “Dude, that’s a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, and Bentley. And I’m not talking the cheap models. Those are the top of the top of the top of the line, fully loaded. I swear, that’s real gold trim in the Bugatti. There’s more money in metal in here than my brain can even tabulate. Oh my God! I shouldn’t even be breathing the same air.”
Kyrian laughed at his awed tone. “It’s all right, Nick. I need you to clean them.”