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“Fantastic. When the shoes come in, make sure they get sent to him.”
“You got it.” Nick paused to watch as Kyrian pulled the curtain back to look outside at the dark yard—something that was highly unusual for him. Not to mention, he was surrounded by an air of melancholy. “Is something wrong, boss?”
Kyrian hesitated before he answered. “Not sure. I have a … I don’t know. Bad feeling, I guess.”
His words caused Nick to have one, too. “About me?”
He shook his head. “Ash would quote the song, there’s a bad moon on the rise. I have a feeling it’s summoning something that should be left alone.” He met Nick’s gaze. “Why don’t you let me take you home tonight?”
Yeah okay, Kyrian’s strange behavior was starting to freak him out a little. “Sure.” Another fear went through him. “Did they find another kid murdered?”
“No. It’s not that. I’d feel better making sure you and your mom are safe. Get your stuff, and I’ll take you now.”
He wouldn’t argue that. Nothing better than heading home early. He shoved his books back into his pack, then slung it over his shoulder. “Did Rosa leave already?”
“About an hour ago. Did you get dinner?”
“Oh yeah. Never had turkey tetrazzini before. It was really good.”
“You want to take some home for your mom?”
Kyrian’s generosity never failed to surprise him. The man was always thinking of other people. Good thing I didn’t stake him when I discovered his fangs. “Can I?”
Nick headed to the kitchen with Kyrian right behind him. As he was pulling out the container and contemplating his employer’s unorthodox existence, a thought struck him. “How do you keep your anonymity in this day and age? Don’t people get suspicious over the fact that you don’t age?”
“Ironically, it’s easier now than in the past. People today don’t want to believe in the paranormal. Back when, you had a serious problem with Bubba and the mob and their pitchforks.”
Nick laughed. “I know you don’t mean Bubba Burdette, but the image in my head … Highly entertaining.”
Kyrian smiled before he continued his explanation. “That’s why Dark-Hunters have human Squires.” Which was what Nick would become once he was old enough to be sworn into the council. They were humans who made it their life’s task to protect their immortal bosses and the world that mankind as a whole wasn’t ready to accept. “With you guys coming and going during the daylight hours, it cuts down on people being curious. Our property is also listed under the Squire’s name.”
“Ah, I get it. So no one knows you exist.”
“Exactly. Rule number one. Be a part of the world, but not in it.”
Nick frowned. “Rule number one?”
“When we’re created and Acheron comes to train us, we’re all given a Dark-Hunter handbook. It has a list of rules we have to abide by, and that’s the first one Acheron teaches us.”
Dark-Hunters with a handbook. Who knew? But then it made sense that they’d have a code of conduct to abide by.
Which made Nick wonder about Kyrian’s past and his experiences. “Has the world changed all that much?”
Kyrian shrugged. “The toys are infinitely better. But people haven’t changed at all. Same concerns, same hang-ups. Different clothes. Different century.”
He made it sound so simple, but Nick had a feeling it was anything but. There was no telling all the changes and marvels Kyrian had lived through. The discovery of electricity, flying, television … toilet paper.
“It must be amazing to live so long.”
“Sometimes.” Kyrian put the container back in the fridge while Nick fastened the lid on his mom’s dish.
“Did you ever have a wife and kids?” Nick asked.
Kyrian hesitated as if the question bothered him. “Had the wife. Wanted the kids.”
Part of Nick told him to keep quiet, but he wanted to understand Kyrian’s strange reaction. “You miss her?”
His eyes darkened angrily. “No offense, I don’t want to talk about her.”
That told Nick much about Kyrian and his relationship with his wife. It made him wonder if she was the one who’d betrayed him and made him become a Dark-Hunter. Man, that had to suck to have your wife betray you, bad enough you’d trade your own soul for vengeance. “Sorry. I won’t mention her ever again.”
Kyrian’s features softened. “Be careful whom you give your heart to, Nick. Make sure when you hand yours off, you get hers in return.”
“Yeah, but how do you know?” Obviously Kyrian had been tricked. How could Nick avoid it when someone as smart and savvy as Kyrian had been taken?
Kyrian sighed. “That’s the trick. People deceive and they lie. The more you have, the more they scheme to take and the more often they try. The world’s an ugly place, and apparently many people think it’s easier and better to take from others than it is to earn it themselves.”
Nick frowned at the bitterness in Kyrian’s voice. “Then why do you fight to protect us?”
Kyrian gave an odd half smile. “Because every time I think that it’s not worth it—that the people in it deserve the misery of their lives—I come across someone who makes me rethink that.”
He ruffled Nick’s hair as they left the kitchen and went to Kyrian’s Lamborghini. “A smart-mouth Cajun who worships the ground his mother walks on. One who was willing to lay down his life to protect two strangers from his best friends, even though he needed the money to eat. A woman who’s willing to debase herself to feed her son. Another who faced down a drug cartel in order to protect her family and her small town. That kind of love reminds me of the human I once was. People like you, your mom, and Rosa deserve someone to watch your backs.”
Nick thought about that as a warm feeling rushed through him. No one had ever said anything kinder to him, especially not someone so respectable and decent. Kyrian was the type of man he wanted to be.
“What were you when you were human?” he asked.
“An ancient Greek general.”
“Really?” For some reason, that surprised him.
Kyrian inclined his head as he pulled out of the driveway and headed toward Nick’s condo.
“Did you win any big battles?”
“Oh yeah. I was the scourge of Rome. Me and my friend and mentor Julian Augustus held them back and fought them off like machines. During our human lives, we were regaled as Greek heroes, and our stories were told for centuries after we’d died.”
That was truly impressive. “Did you die in battle?”
Kyrian let out a bitter laugh. “Hardly. There was no man alive who could defeat me. None.”
Suddenly Nick understood, as he remembered the one thing he had learned from his convict father. “It’s never the enemy without who brings you down. It’s always the enemy within.”
He nodded. “Guard your back, Nick. It’s the one you don’t see coming. The one you trust whose betrayal is most lethal. They know your weakness and they know how to hit the lowest. It’s when your back is turned and your guard is down that they move in for the kill.”
His dad had told him the same thing. “Sorry.”
Kyrian shrugged before he made a right turn. “Don’t be. Everyone suffers at least one bad betrayal in their lifetime. It’s what unites us. The trick is not to let it destroy your trust in others when it happens. Don’t let them take that from you, too.”
Nick nodded. “You think you’ll ever get married again?”
“No. Dark-Hunters aren’t allowed to date or have girlfriends. Marriage is absolutely off the table.”
“What about kids?”
“I’m dead, Nick. No ability to procreate.”
Nick cringed and cupped his boys in horror. “So you can’t—?”
“I didn’t say that,” Kyrian snapped as if completely offended. “We can sleep with someone. We just can’t impregnate them.”
Ah, okay. That made sense. “Can you get any diseases?”
Nick fell silent as he contemplated what it would be like to be impervious to illness. He watched the traffic speed past them as Kyrian turned into his neighborhood. Dilapidated and junked up with broken-down cars and browned-out lawns, it was a stark contrast to Kyrian’s immaculate stomping grounds.
Sighing, Nick saw the stark, weathered duplex he and his mom called home.
Kyrian parked out front. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Stay safe.”
“Always. Call me if you need anything.”
Nick nodded as he opened the door and got out. He didn’t move until Kyrian had gone, then he turned around and headed up the broken sidewalk that led to his house.
Menyara came out of her side to greet him. Tiny and beautiful, she’d been the midwife who brought him into this world. For reasons she never really went into, she’d taken his mom in when his mom had been pregnant with him. Aunt Mennie had been with him the whole of his life, and she was the only family he and his mom had. Dressed in a flowing white skirt and light blue top, she had her Sisterlocks pulled back from her face with a white scarf.
“Hi, Aunt Mennie.”
She hugged him as he drew near her. “Where you been, boo?”
“At work. Mom home?”
She nodded. “I was heading over to see if she wanted to watch TV tonight.”
Since they didn’t have a set of their own, Mennie often let them watch it at her place. She also shared her phone with them.
Nick opened the door to their tiny condo, which was basically two rooms. His mom’s small bedroom and then the “big” room that had a kitchen area in it. On the far wall was his room, which consisted of blue blankets strung up on a wire. His mom and Mennie had made it for him once he hit puberty so that he could have some degree of privacy.
His mom sat on their one and only barstool at the breakfast counter, reading the paper. She looked up and smiled at their entrance.
Nick dropped his backpack by the door before he crossed the small area to hug her. “What are you doing?”
Mennie closed the door, then moved to join them.
“I was looking to see if there might be an apartment for rent in the Quarter.”
He didn’t know who was the most stunned by his mom’s unexpected words. Him or Menyara. “Really?”
Mennie arched a brow, but she didn’t say anything.
“Nothing against you, Menyara,” his mom said quickly. “You know how much I love you and how grateful I am for everything you’ve done.”
“But you want to be closer to work,” Mennie’s Creole accent was thicker than normal.
His mom nodded. “And Nick’s school. He’s always having to run for the streetcar. I’d like for him not to have to start the day off in such a panic.”
“The devil is sitting on icicles, isn’t he?” Nick asked.
She laughed. “No, sweetie. It’s just … you wouldn’t believe what people tip at Sanctuary. Oh my God, I had no idea. Between my salary and tips, I’m making four times the money I used to.”
Nick gave her a hopeful grin.
She screwed her face up at him. “All right. Both you and Bubba are forgiven for getting me fired.”
“Absolutely. In fact, I was thinking of taking you and Mennie out to eat tonight to celebrate.”
That sounded great, but there was one little problem. “I’m stuffed. Rosa made this turkey tetrazzini that is unbelievably tasty. I brought some home for you, too. There’s even enough for Mennie.” He returned to his backpack to dig it out.
No sooner had he put his jersey on the floor than his mother sucked her breath in sharply.
Nick froze at the sound that usually heralded him getting into trouble. “Something wrong?”
“What are you doing with that?” She pointed at his shirt.
He glanced down at it and wondered why its presence had warranted her reaction. “The coach wants me back on the team.”
His mom appeared skeptical. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah. They’re short a few guys for the team, so…”
“You don’t seem happy about it,” Menyara said. That was the only drawback to Mennie. She had the gift of second sight and knew all kinds of things about him that he didn’t say.
He gave them both a fake smile. The last thing he needed was for them to find out what the coach wanted from him. God help him if Mennie figured that out. “I’m happy.”