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“Are you out of your ever-loving mind? What if I scratch them?”
“Nah, I might. Those aren’t cars, Kyrian. Those are works of art. I’m talking serious modes of transportation.”
“I know, and I drive them all the time.”
“No, no, no, no, no. I can’t touch something so fine. I can’t.”
Kyrian cuffed him on the shoulder. “Yes, you can. They don’t bite, and they need to be washed.”
Nick let out a sound of appreciation. “I ought to be paying you for this.”
Kyrian snorted. “Then I’ll dock your pay.” He held his hand out to help Nick stand. “C’mon.”
Nick allowed him to pull him to his feet, but he was still intimidated by the cars around him. He’d never even thought to see one in real life, never mind touch it. These were sweet. “How much money you make, anyway?”
“Obviously a lot.”
“Dude, make me a Dark-Hunter.”
Something cold and painful flickered through Kyrian’s eyes. “Don’t even joke about that, Nick. You don’t ever want to become what I am. It all looks great from the outside, but two thousand years gets hard. All my family is long gone, and while I have my Dark-Hunter brethren and Acheron, it’s not the same. I’d give everything I have and then some if I could just see my parents one more time. Tell my dad that I’m sorry for things I said to him. Never, ever leave your mother after a fight. Whatever you do, don’t let the last words you say to her be hurtful.”
“You fought with your father?”
He nodded. “Acheron has a saying, and it’s so true. There are some things sorry can’t fix. Life is all about regrets. Don’t let those regrets be that you’ve hurt someone who really loves you. Keep those to a minimum. It’s bad enough when you have to carry them through a single lifetime. When you have to carry them through thousands, it’s brutal.”
He’d never thought of it that way. Still, he’d give anything to have an eternal life with this kind of wealth. Heck, he’d settle for having it for ten minutes.
“Don’t worry about getting to all the cars tonight. You can do the Lamborghini and then save the others for tomorrow. Just make sure you get the rest of the list done.”
Kyrian inclined his head to him before he went back inside.
Nick walked down the three steps to get a closer look at the Bugatti. Yeah … that was a car. “I would hug you, but I don’t want to get my skin oils on your paint.”
But as Nick stared into the tinted window, he didn’t see the inside of the car. He saw something that looked more like a movie playing on it. Mesmerized, he stepped closer so that he could see it more clearly.
It was a battle in Kyrian’s house. He saw his boss with a woman who looked a lot like an older version of Tabitha Devereaux, only she had dark auburn hair and was dressed in a nightgown. There were fanged blond Daimons attacking them on the stairs. Kyrian was trying to keep them away from the woman who stood behind him on the landing with a sword.
There was another Dark-Hunter there. One he didn’t recognize. He wasn’t even sure how he knew it was a Dark-Hunter, and yet …
The stranger was beheaded by the Daimons.
He flinched at the horror and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the scene had changed.
This time, he saw something far worse.…
He was the kid on the street who was lying dead while a hooded man absorbed some kind of energy that was spewing out his chest like a laser light show. But it was Nick’s eyes that haunted him most. They were solid black, like something out of a horror movie, and in his open hand, resting against his palm, was the diamond necklace that Nekoda always wore.…
Your destiny is shaped by choice, never by chance. Beware the decisions you make, no matter how small, for they will be your salvation …
Or your death.
Nick lay low for several days as those visions haunted him. With Grim’s help, he was trying to hone his ability to see if he could get anything more or see more clearly. But it wasn’t easy. Much like with the perspicacity, it came and went on its own timetable, not his.
Bloody inconsiderate powers.
Grim kept promising that he’d be able to control them with practice.
He was much more optimistic than Nick was. Of course, he wasn’t the one hallucinating and spazzing.
For now, it was just another aggravation in a life that was already irritating. Puberty was bad enough with his body doing things he didn’t want it to do at inconvenient times. Now his mind was doing it, too. One minute he’d be fine; in the next he’d see someone “normal” shift into something not, or he’d have some psychedelic flash of an event to come.
It was getting so bad, his mom was starting with the drug inquisition again every time he had one around her. At this rate, she’d be after him with a specimen jar to pee in.
The only good news was that they hadn’t found any more kids slain by whatever had killed the other two.
And Nick wasn’t dead.
But that came into question as he walked into his schoolyard to find Stone and his crew of crotch-sniffing sycophants waiting for him.
Great. Just what he needed. Another suspension. Any time Stone neared him, he went to the principal’s office, and it never went well for him. It was a given, like the golden shower that inevitably followed the lifting of a dog’s leg.
Sure enough, right as he neared the bottom step that led up to the door of the redbrick building, Stone, who was a huge brute of a knuckle-dragging Cro-Mag, stepped forward to block his path.
Stone crossed his beefy arms and looked down his nose at Nick. Something that really set his ire off.
“Not in the mood.” Jackweed. Nick refrained from the insult that really wanted to spill out and tried to brush past him. Always best to avoid a fight.
Too late. The rest of his merd (herd of morons), surrounded Nick. He felt his blood pressure rising even more as they did that we’re invading your personal space ’cause we’re dickheads maneuver. Nick ground his teeth, trying to hold his temper back.
Something that wasn’t helped when Stone shoved him.
“Someone’s been stealing our stuff out of the lockers, Gautier. Makes me think of only one person I know who’d be that desperate.” He raked a sneer over Nick’s tacky blue Hawaiian shirt that his mother made him wear and faded jeans. Both of which had been bought from Goodwill for the staggering price of a dollar each.
Nick snorted at Stone’s insult. “I don’t know. Word around the girls’ locker room is that all of you are so hard up, you were cruising the senior center, trying to find a prom date.”
Stone bellowed in rage. He started forward, only to have Caleb come out of nowhere to shove him back.
Dang, the demon could move. No wonder he was the star of the football team.
Then again, Caleb had an unfair advantage. Superhuman strength and centuries of soldier training.
Caleb sneered at Stone. “It’s too early in the day to have to wash blood out of my clothes, Blakemore. But I am willing to smell Tide if that’s what it takes to get you to act human.” A hysterical comment, given the fact that Stone was a werewolf.
“What’s going on here?”
Nick stepped back as a huge bear of a man moved forward to break everyone apart.
He sneered at both of the combatants. “Stone? Caleb? Don’t you dare start fighting. I’ll make you run laps until you drop if you do. Last thing we need is for a player to get suspended. We’re already about to have to forfeit as it is. Right now, I can’t afford to lose even a single man. You hear me?”
Caleb held his hands up in surrender. “I wasn’t looking for trouble, but I’m not about to run either. You push me and I will push back.”
The coach shook his head. “Blakemore, get your girls and leave. Now.”
Curling his lip, Stone took off with his zoo crew of thugs following after him.
The coach narrowed his eyes on Nick. “Who are you?” Scum-sucking dog. He didn’t say those words, but his tone implied it.
Forcing himself not to say or do anything to get himself added to detention, he spoke carefully. “Nick Gautier.”
Recognition lit the coach’s deep blue eyes. He actually appeared impressed. “You were first-string running back last year. What happened?”
Nick shrugged. “Stone’s mouth happened. It needed to be closed, and I was a little too obliging to shut it.”
The coach scratched his chin. “Your file says you were kicked off the team for your attitude.”
“File’s wrong. I was kicked off the team for Stone’s attitude. Mine was just fine. Still is, to be honest.”
The man made a sound that might be a laugh. Or a growl. “You interested in playing again?”
Nick gestured to his arm that was in the sling. “Can’t. I’m still recovering. Doc doesn’t want me to do anything to stress it.” An excuse he was milking for everything it was worth. One that worked with his mother, but not so much on Kyrian, who was a pitiless taskmaster. Every time he said something, Kyrian always shot back with, “Boy, I’ve gutted men who whined less than you. Now, move it.”
And apparently, the coach was in the latter category, too. “Yeah, but I can add you to the roster. Even if you don’t play. You are a legitimate player. C’mon, Gautier. I need just three more jerseys, and we’re all set for the play-offs. Do it for the school, or if not that, do it for Malphas. He’s worked hard this year. You gonna deprive him of a championship game because of a minor injury?”
Minor injury? He’d been shot and almost beaten to death by people he’d thought were his friends.
He looked at Caleb.
Go ahead and say yes. It’ll make it easier for me to keep an eye on you if you’re at practice with me.
He hated when Caleb and Ambrose played in his head. But Caleb was right. Since it was his fault Caleb was on the team in the first place, the least he could do was rejoin. Not to mention, he did look good in the black and gold jersey, and it kept him out of the hideous shirts his mother insisted he wear. At least on game days.
“All right. I’ll do it.”
“Great.” The coach grinned. “I’ll bring a jersey to you and see you after school today.”
Nick opened his mouth to tell him he was supposed to work, but the coach was gone before he could do more than gape. He met Caleb’s gaze. “Kyrian’s going to kill me.”
“Nah, he won’t. I’m sure he’ll understand.”
Nick wished he had that kind of confidence. In anything. But he didn’t. Life and jerks had basically kicked it out of him about the time he was two … maybe three. Sighing, he started up the stairs with Caleb one step behind him. As they entered the building, it seemed like everyone was chattering about items that had been stolen while the school was closed.
There were times when being poor was a blessing. Since he didn’t have anything to steal …
Even so, he remembered once a few years ago when his mom had splurged and bought them two five-dollar lawn chairs at Walmart. Dang if someone hadn’t stolen them off the back porch of their run-down condo. His mom had cried for a week, and if he could lay hands on the thief, they’d spend eternity limping. What kind of human being would steal plastic lawn chairs from someone who was so obviously poor? Surely there was a special corner of hell waiting with their name engraved on a plaque.
He froze at his locker as Nekoda came up to him. “Hi, Kody. How you doing?”
She gave him that smile that never failed to heat his body up to an equatorial level. “Better now that I get to see you. I tried to call last night, but you didn’t answer. Did you get my message?”
Nick scowled. “My phone didn’t ring.” Pulling it out, he checked the log. “See.” He held it out for her inspection.
“Weird. I rang it three times.”
That was odd. Then again … “There might be something with our condo.” Other than the fact that it lived under a perpetual dismal cloud and was infested with roaches the size of his fist. It was probably over a hellmouth, too, that didn’t allow for any kind of reception other than two cans joined by a lengthy string. “Sorry I missed it. Did you need anything?”
“Just wanted to talk to you.”
He didn’t know why, but those words made his face heat up. Even though he kept having nightmares about her, there was something that drew him to her. She was irresistible, and the taste of her kiss was perpetually branded on his lips. He’d give anything to have another one.