Night Embrace

Chapter 6


By the time Talon reached Sunshine's club again, it was complete chaos on the street outside the club's entrance and in the alley behind it.
A large crowd of people stood around outside where two ambulances were parked while medics tended three wounded officers. Someone had beaten them to a pulp.
He paused near one ambulance as he heard the officer giving his report to a detective.
"He was at least six feet six. Lean, muscular build. Caucasian male dressed in black, with long black hair and a goatee. Mid- to late twenties with this huge silver claw thing on his hand. He looked like the devil himself when we came up on him. Man, he tore through us like we was nothing. I got at least two bullets into him and he didn't even flinch when I shot him. He just kept on coming at us. He must be on PCP or something."
Talon froze.
Zarek. There was no one else who could fit that description.
Damn. He shouldn't have left the area while Zarek was here. Zarek must have attacked them just a few minutes after he left.
"So what happened?" the detective asked.
"Me and Gabe had a disturbance call about a fight in the alley. We got here in time to see the claw guy fighting two men. We yelled for them to stop, but the guy ignored us. He ripped their hearts right out of them. Right in front of us."
Talon groaned. They had seen Zarek take out a pair of Daimons. Great. Just great. He closed his eyes and cursed. This night was starting to rate right up there with abscessed teeth.
"Johnny got here right as I pulled my weapon and ordered the claw guy to stop. He turned on us like a wild beast. Next thing I know, I'm on the ground bleeding, you guys are here, and he's gone."
"And the bodies?"
"He must have taken them with him while we were trying to get to the cars for safety. I'm telling you, Bob, the man was insane."
Talon raked his hands through his hair. Not even in town one night and now Zarek had the entire police force looking for him.
How had the man managed to last so long?
His phone rang again, but the caller ID didn't display the caller's identity. Expecting it to be Acheron since Acheron's phone almost never registered a number, he was surprised to hear Zarek's thick Greek accent on the other end. "The Daimons wanted to party with your girlfriend, Celt. Don't leave her unprotected."
The phone went dead.
An eerie chill went up Talon's spine. How could Zarek have known about him and Sunshine?
The man's powers were rating right up there with Acheron's.
His instincts on alert, Talon looked up to the roof above his head-to the old abandoned drugstore next door to the club. Silhouetted against the dark sky was a figure. To a human's eyes, the man standing on the rooftop would be invisible, but Talon's honed Dark-Hunter vision saw him clearly.
It was Zarek.
Zarek inclined his head to him, put the phone in his pocket, then stepped back and vanished into the darkness.
Talon frowned. Psycho Zarek had been watching over Sunshine all this time? Even while the cops were looking for him?
How unlike Zarek was that?
Talon immediately hit the automatic call-back feature on his phone.
"What?" Zarek asked, his voice surly. "Can't you see I'm trying to get out of here before the cops find me?"
"What were you doing at Runningwolf's?"
"Picking my nose, Celt. What do you think? I saw the Daimons on the street and I tracked them inside."
That explained that, but Talon had a bigger concern. "How did you know about me and Sunshine?"
"I overheard the Daimons talking about the two of you. You should be more careful, Celt. A mistake like that one could be costly."
"Costly how, Zarek? I've just seen the body of a woman who'd been drained of her blood and her soul."
"Ooo," Zarek breathed. "Here's a news flash. It was a Daimon attack. Ever notice that tends to be their MO?"
"Yeah, but I've never known a Daimon to claw a woman up while killing her. Have you?"
There was a brief pause. "What are you saying?"
"I think you know, Zarek."
"Yeah, and you can kiss my ass, Celt. Maybe I should have left your bitch to them after all."
The phone went dead again.
Talon ground his teeth, torn between the deep need to find Zarek, beat the crap out of him, and wash his mouth out, and a deeper need to make sure Sunshine was okay.
Putting his phone in his pocket, he decided to leave Zarek to Acheron, who'd already said he was going to talk to him. Acheron was much better at handling Zarek anyway.
At least Ash could kill the bastard and not die in the process.
Talon expelled a long breath as he thought over Zarek's warning that the Daimons were after Sunshine. It didn't make a bit of sense.
Why would the Daimons be after her? And how could the Daimons know about the two of them?
This made the second attack on her in as many nights. Daimons took their victims where they found them. They didn't stalk someone who got away. They just moved on to the next handy meal.
He didn't know what they wanted with her, but until he found out, he wasn't going to leave her in danger.
Scanning the crowd, Talon found Sunshine standing just under a light outside the club, next to a large, muscular man with black hair who was speaking to a uniformed police officer. She wore only her thin black sweater without the fuchsia one she'd had on earlier. Her arms were crossed over her chest as if she were cold.
Talon made his way through the crowd to her side.
Her face lit up the moment she saw him. "Talon? What are you doing here?"
He was more relieved than he would have thought possible. Just seeing her here, unharmed, and hearing his name on her lips...
He shouldn't feel anything for her and yet there was no denying the raw emotions he felt every time she met his gaze.
"Are you okay?" he asked, shrugging off his jacket and holding it up for her.
She nodded as she allowed him to help her into his jacket. "Did you hear what happened? Some guy went nuts in the alley where I park my car and killed two men. Then, he attacked the police. It's terrible!"
Before he could think, Talon pulled her into his arms and held her close. She was shaking and cold, but she still felt so wonderful that he didn't want to let go of her. "I'm glad you weren't hurt."
The man who'd been talking to the police officer looked at them with a stern scowl. "You know, bud, I don't know you from Adam, but that's my baby sister you're hanging on to. So I'm thinking the wisest course of action for you is to let her go and introduce yourself. Pronto."
Talon bit back a smile. He knew exactly what the man meant. Some things were very sacred and little sisters were one of them.
Reluctantly, he withdrew from her.
Sunshine punched her brother gently on his arm. "Talon, this is my brother Rain. Rain, meet Talon."
Her brother snorted. "God, with a name like Talon your parents must have been holdover hippies too."
"Something like that."
"That's his pet phrase," Sunshine told her brother. "That and not exactly."
Rain sized him up, then offered him his hand. "Nice meeting you, Talon. I better get back to work. Sunny, yell if you need one of us."
The implied threat wasn't lost on Talon, who bit back a smile. If the man only knew how much power a Dark-Hunter wielded...
"Us?" Talon repeated.
Her brother indicated two men over Talon's shoulder who were also talking to the police. The older man was a Native American whose shamanic powers were easily discernible, and her other brother was almost a facial clone of Sunshine. "Our father and older brother, Storm, work in the club too."
Talon gave a tight-lipped smile as he turned back to face Rain. "Storm, Rain, and Sunshine, huh?"
She grimaced. "My mother's doing. I'm just glad she stopped at three. I was told the next one would have been named Cloudy Day."
He laughed at that. Gods, how he'd missed her. All he wanted to do right now was take her into his arms and run her up to her bed and inspect every inch of her to make sure she was unhurt.
Yeah, okay, so he had another, less pure, motive for that thought too. But still he felt an insane need to prove to himself that no one had touched her.
That she was completely whole and safe.
He darted his gaze all over her body, assuring himself that she was fine. His concern for her was so unlike anything he'd experienced in such a long time that he wasn't really sure how to cope with it.
Rain excused himself and drifted back into the club, leaving them alone.
An awkwardness fell between them as he tried to think of something to say to her.
Finally, she cleared her throat. "I didn't think I'd see you again."
He didn't know what to respond to that, especially since that had been his intention. "I... um..."
"Oh, you want Snoopy back."
"No," he said quickly. "I came back for you."
A slow, seductive smile spread over her face. "Really?" she asked.
"Yeah. I heard about the attack and was worried," he said before he could stop himself.
"Really?" she repeated.
He nodded.
Smiling wider, she walked herself into his arms. "That was very sweet of you."
Not really, Talon thought as he held her and inhaled her warm patchouli scent. But he had to admit she felt good in his arms. Her breasts were flattened against him and all he could think about was how delicious they had tasted, how soft and good they had felt in his hands.
He groaned inwardly at the thought.
Walk away from her...
I have to protect her.
He was sworn to protect humans. Especially those the Daimons would prey upon. It was his duty to keep her with him. To watch over her.
Hey, how stupid do you think I am, Talon? This is yourself you're talking to and all the lies in the world aren't going to convince me that you have a moral or noble reason for this. You want in her bed again. Admit it.
Oh, come on, I can control myself for a few days. She has to be protected and who else could do it?
Zarek was out of the question. He'd end up feeding off her and Talon would kill him if the psycho dared to touch her. Valerius would sooner die than watch over a "plebeian." Nick would make a move on her, and he'd have to kill the horny toad. Kyrian had a new baby and was too exhausted to think, and Acheron...
He had too many responsibilities pulling at him to worry about baby-sitting.
That left him and him alone.
"You know, Sunshine, I don't think you should stay in your loft alone."
She stepped away from him. "Believe me, I'm not. I'm going home with Storm tonight."
Talon paused. That wasn't an option either. Her brother was a big man, but no match for a Daimon.
"I don't know, Sunshine. I'm thinking..." Well, he couldn't really say what he was thinking, especially the part that bordered on salaciousness.
But then he didn't have to. She smiled a wicked smile. "You know, if you want me to go home with you, all you have to do is ask."
"I didn't think it would be that easy."
She rose up on her tiptoes and gave him a devilish look. "For anyone other than you, it wouldn't be."
Those words made his heart soar. He really liked this woman. She was bold, quirky, and sassy.
Sunshine took his hand and led him into, and through, the club to a door in the far right rear corner. It opened into the back hallway that Talon recognized from earlier in the evening. On the right was the door to the outside where her car was parked and on the left was the steel staircase that led up to her loft. She headed for the stairs.
Sunshine held tight to Talon's hand as she mentally castigated herself. She probably shouldn't be doing this, especially since two murders had been committed tonight. But instinctively she knew Talon would never hurt her.
He'd saved her life and he'd done nothing even remotely harmful to her.
Besides, she liked being with him. She could take her art supplies with her and get back on schedule tomorrow.
Tonight, she just wanted a few more minutes with him. One more evening to bask in his warmth before she went back to the rigors of her life.
It had been so considerate of him to offer her his jacket. His warmth and scent clung to it, making her want to snuggle in deep.
She entered her loft, gave him back his jacket, and left him by her white and pink striped couch while she went to pack an overnight bag. In all honesty, she'd rather stay with him than Storm anyway.
Storm snored.
Not to mention that the last time she had gone to her brother's place, she'd had to spend two hours cleaning it before she was able to touch anything in the apartment without cringing. He was an absolute pig and he didn't care about making her feel welcome. Rather, he treated her as a live-in servant who should be happy to do for ole big brother.
And ole big brother stunk. Not literally, but in the figurative sense.
She grabbed a change of clothes, shoes, and hair ties and shoved them into her wicker tote bag along with her toothbrush and moisturizer-a woman always needed her moisturizer-then she rejoined Talon.
He stood at the rear of the loft, near the windows, looking through the landscape paintings she'd done of Jackson Square. Her breath caught in her throat.
What was it about this man that was so powerful? His wavy blond hair fell around his face while his two thin braids hung down to his shoulder. His black leather pants cupped a butt so fine that it should be stamped with Grade A Prime on each cheek. And his back... Even with his jacket on, she knew how perfect and well sculpted it was.
She stared at his large, tawny hands that held her work. They were so strong and at the same time tender. She loved the way they had felt on her body, the way his fingers had tasted when she nibbled them.
The man was simply scrumptious from the top of his blond head to the bottom of his black biker boots.
He turned slightly as she joined him. "I like the way you painted the sun coming in over the cathedral. I can almost feel the sun when I look at it."
His compliment warmed her. An artist never heard enough compliments on her work. "Thank you. My favorite is the sunset over it. I love to watch the light fading around the buildings. When it hits some of the signs and glass, it makes them glow and sparkle like fire."
He reached out and cupped her face in his warm palm. "You have such an incredible way of capturing things."
She bit her lip and gave him an impish smile. "Yes, I do." And little did he know it, but she fully intended to capture him as well. At least for a little while.
He was like some wild, untamed creature that you could keep and feed for a time, but in the end you knew you'd have to let it go for its own sake as well as yours.
"So, tell me, where do you live?" she asked.
He cleared his throat and dropped his hand from her cheek.
The uncomfortable look on his face made her stomach sink. "Oh Lord, you do have your own place, don't you? You don't happen to live with your mom or some creepy old aunt?"
He looked offended by that. "Of course I have my own place. It's just..." His voice trailed off and he looked away.
Oh sheez, here it comes... "You have a live-in girlfriend?"
Ugh! It was even worse than she thought. "Live-in boyfriend?"
He gaped at her while his midnight eyes flashed with indignation. "Jeez, Sunshine, what do you think I am?"
"I don't know, Talon. I asked a simple question and you got all weird on me. What am I supposed to think?" She swept her gaze down the expensive biker's outfit he wore. The man had a body to beat the band and was too bodacious to be real. That tended to make a woman go, hmmm...
"And you do wear a lot of leather."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
She gave him a duh stare. "I am an artist, you know. I tend to hang out with an awful lot of homosexual and bisexual guys."
If he had looked offended before, it was nothing compared to the look on his face now. "Now there's a stereotype I hadn't even considered. Thank you very much. For your information, I happen to like leather since it tends to protect my hide on the occasions when I wreck my motorcycle and go skidding down asphalt."
"Well, that's true too. So why did you get all weird on me when I asked you where you live?"
"Because I figured if I told you where I lived, you'd get all weird on me."
She hesitated as a million scary locations came to her mind. He lived in a cemetery or crypt. A run-down shack. A cardboard box. A dock house. A broken-down camper or bus. Good Lord, in this city there was no telling where he might make his home. "Okay, you live somewhere freaky, don't you?"
"I live out in the bayou."
Relieved, she scoffed at his evasiveness over something so silly. "Oh please, I know several people who live out by the bayou."
"Not by the bayou, Sunshine. I live in the bayou."
Was he serious? Who in their right mind lived in the bayou with the snakes and gators and other things she didn't want to even think about? Things that carried guns and did lots of illegal activities like feeding murdered bodies to gators.
"You live in the bayou?"
He nodded. "It's really peaceful out there. No modern sounds to intrude on you. No neighbors. No traffic. You can almost feel like you're living centuries ago."
There was a wistful look to him as he said that. "That means a lot to you, doesn't it?"
"Yes. It does."
She smiled. Yeah, she could see Talon out in the bayou all alone. He reminded her a lot of her father, who loved to spend hours outside just soaking up nature. They both shared that quiet kind of peace-with-the-universe attitude.
"How long have you lived there?"
He avoided looking at her. "A really long time."
Sunshine nodded.
As they started for the door, she dropped her wicker tote and retrieved her Studiopack French Easel Backpack from the corner. She always kept it well stocked in case she decided on a whim to go some place else and paint.
"What is that?" he asked.
She winked at him. "An artist on the go, that's me. I never go anywhere without supplies."
He smiled as he took the backpack from her. "So, you're still feeling adventurous, huh?"
"Always. Just bring the gator-be-gone spray and I'm all yours."
Talon stared at her as he felt another stupid urge to grin. His face was starting to ache from the effort it took to not expose his fangs to her. She was extremely funny and amusing.
If not, to an extent, insulting.
He was still chafing over her assumptions about his clothes. The things this woman got into her head...
But he liked that about her. She didn't play games with him, but spoke whatever thought, no matter how outrageous, was on her mind.
Sunshine locked the door, got halfway down the stairs, then stopped. "Oh man, I forgot my overnight bag." She made a disgusted sound before sprinting up the stairs and rushing back inside her loft.
She came out a few minutes later with her wicker bag, reached the top of the stairs, then remembered she had no coat.
One more time, she went back inside before she rejoined him. "I swear I'd be wearing a pumpkin on my shoulders."
It took a second for her words to sink in-she'd lose her head if it ever came off her body.
Laughing, he paused on the stairs as she walked past him. "By the way, I don't look gay in leather."
Sunshine turned to look up at him. She passed a hot, lustful glance over his body that made him harden instantly. "No, baby, you don't. I honestly have to say you wear that outfit like nobody's business."
A slow smile spread across his face as he followed her the rest of the way out of the club.
Oh yeah, the two of them had some unfinished business to take care of once he got her home.
Business he shouldn't even be contemplating, but he had his reputation to uphold. Besides which, he owed her a payback. When she left his cabin, she'd never again doubt his sexual orientation or his attraction to her.
As they reached the outside doors, Sunshine led Talon away from the club.
"Are you going to tell your brother where you're going?"
She shook her head. "I'll call him in a little bit and tell him. Believe me, it's not something I want to do face to face."
"Stern, is he?"
"You've no idea."
Talon led her to his bike and pulled out a spare helmet from the saddlebags. "You want to put your backpack in here?"
She shook her head as she took the backpack from him and shrugged it on. "It's designed for motorcycles and hiking. I'm fine wearing it. It's really not that heavy."
"Ride many bikes, do you?"
"Yup, I do."
Talon watched her pull her helmet on and fasten it. Man, the woman was beautiful to him. Her long, graceful fingers tucked her braids in easily and her dark brown eyes glowed.
He removed the small sunglasses that he wore at night and pulled his own helmet on, then got on the bike and kick-started it. Sunshine joined him on the bike. Her arms came around his waist as she slid her body closer to his.
Talon almost moaned. He could feel every inch of her pressed intimately, erotically against him. Her breasts on his back, her inner thighs against his hips.
And the way her arms held him...
He could just imagine her sliding her hand down from his waist to the hard bulge in his pants where she could cup and stroke him through the leather. Of her unzipping his pants and kneading him gently with her hand as he hardened and strained to possess her.
Better yet, he could see her down on her knees in front of him, taking him into her mouth...
Unknown feelings swirled inside him, turning him inside out. All he wanted was to keep her here like this for eternity. To stop the bike and sample every inch of her lush, full figure with his mouth and fangs.
He wanted to devour her.
To taste and tease her until she called out his name while her body shook from ultimate pleasure.
Unbidden, he mentally felt her body arch against his as she clutched at his back in the midst of an orgasm.
He'd learned today that she always tensed her body until the last orgasmic shudder had subsided, and then she relaxed and rained kisses on his skin.
It was a sweet sensation that had no equal.
Talon clenched his teeth in an effort to control himself from yielding to the craving he felt for her body. He drove them through town, out toward the bayou where he lived.
As they rode, Sunshine leaned her head to rest between his shoulder blades and tightened her hold around Talon's lean, muscular abs. She remembered how he'd looked standing naked in her loft. The way he'd looked leaning over her as they made love. Slow. Easy. Then fast and furious.
This man had an indefinable way with his body. He knew every way and then some to give a woman pleasure.
Sunshine could feel his chest rise and fall under her arms as they rode through the dark night. What she was doing with him was insane and yet she couldn't seem to stop herself.
Talon was compelling. Dangerous. Dark and mysterious. Something about him made her just want to crawl inside him and stay there forever.
Crazy, huh?
Yet there was no denying what he did to her. What she felt every time she thought about him. The way she wanted to yell at him to stop the bike so that she could tear off his jacket and lick every inch of his tattoo.
Every inch of his powerful, masculine body.
Oh, how she wanted this man.
"Are you okay?"
She tensed at the sound of Talon's deeply accented voice in her ears. "Hey, your helmets are microphoned."
"Yeah, I know. But are you okay?"
She smiled at his concern. "I'm fine."
"You sure? You kind of jumped a second ago like something startled you."
"No, really. I'm fine."
Talon wasn't so sure and at the moment he wished one of his Dark-Hunter powers included mind-reading. Unfortunately, his powers ran more along the lines of commanding the elements, healing, projection, and telekinesis. He was better able to shield himself and others, which was why, unlike Zarek, he never had to worry about cops or anyone else seeing him slay a Daimon.
He could summon the elements to shield him from people's sight or to confuse them. If need be, he could even project new thoughts to someone to alter their perceptions of reality.
But he preferred not to do that. The human mind was frail and such tactics had been known to leave lasting damage.
With his arcane powers came a great deal of responsibility. Acheron had taught him that.
Having been abused as a child by those who had more strength and power than he did, Talon had no wish to victimize anyone else. There was nothing he wanted or needed so badly that he would violate someone else to get it.
They didn't speak again until he reached his garage at the end of a long, winding dirt road. There were no lights out here, no pavement. Nothing but Louisiana wildlife.
Sunshine frowned as their headlight illuminated a strange mailbox out in the middle of nowhere. It was a black box that appeared to be pierced by two long silver nails. One was going horizontally through the box, the other diagonally.
She cringed at the sight of the dilapidated shack they neared and she hoped this wasn't his house. It looked like it was ready to cave in.
If not for the clean, crisp mailbox, she wouldn't have believed anyone had been out here in a hundred or more years.
Talon stopped the bike and held it upright between his muscular thighs. He pulled a small remote from his pocket and used it to open the dilapidated shack door. It lifted up slowly.
Sunshine gaped as the lights came on and she saw inside the "shack."
There was nothing run-down about the inside of the building. It was high tech and sparkling, and filled with a fortune in motorcycles and one sleek black Viper.
Oh God, he was a drug dealer!
Her stomach knotted in fear of what she had let herself in for. She should never have come out here with him!
He parked the motorcycle next to the car, then helped her off the seat.
"Um... Talon?" she asked, looking around his collection of vintage Harleys. "What do you do for a living? You said you were an illegal alien, right?"
He gave that familiar tight-lipped smile as he placed his helmet on a rack that contained twelve helmets she was sure cost a minimum of a thousand dollars each. "Yes, and to answer your first question, I'm independently wealthy."
"And you got that way how?"
"I was born into it."
Sunshine felt a little better, but she still had to ask the one question that was nagging her most. "So you don't do anything illegal like run drugs, right?"
Once again, he looked offended. "Good Lord no, woman. Why would you think that?"
Her eyes wide, she looked around the expensive garage and high-tech male toys. "I have no idea."
He pressed a button and closed the main door, sealing them in.
She followed after him while he led her to the back of the garage where he had two very nice, expensive catamarans docked. Everything in this building was truly state-of-the-art. "If you have all this money, why are you an illegal alien?"
Talon snorted. He could tell her that he was in this bayou before America was even a country, and that he didn't need any stinking piece of paper to make him legal, but as a Dark-Hunter he was forbidden to tell her anything about their lifestyle or existence. So he opted for an easy and true excuse. "You have go to the courthouse during daylight hours to fill out the paperwork. Since I can't go out into sunlight..."
She looked at him skeptically. "Are you sure you're not a vampire?"
"I wasn't until the moment I saw you."
He moved to stand next to her so that she had to crane her neck to look up at him. His jaw flexed as he stared down at her while his body craved hers in a way most desperate. "Meaning I would love nothing more than to sink my teeth into your skin and devour you."
She bit her lower lip and gave him an impish, heated once-over. "Mmm, I like it when you talk like that."
She stepped into his arms.
Talon's body burned as he dipped his head down to kiss her.
Sunshine moaned at the taste of him. What was it about this man that attracted her so and made her want to gobble him up?
He pulled back suddenly and she pouted in protest.
"We'd best hurry," he said. "It'll be dawn before much longer and it's still a ride to my cabin."
"Your cabin? Is it anything like this shack?"
"You'll see." He moved away from her to start the catamaran.
Sunshine took a seat and strapped herself in. Once she was secured, they left the comfort of the garage and headed out into the eerie darkness of the swamp. The engine's motor was so loud, it made her ears ache as they sped toward his cabin.
It was so dark out here that she couldn't focus her eyes on anything at all.
How could Talon see to drive the boat? Any minute, she half expected them to plow into a tree or stump.
And yet Talon maneuvered them effortlessly without any hesitation or slowing of speed.
After a few minutes, her eyes adjusted to the blackness and she was able to see outlines and swamp gas. Mostly, she just saw fog and a few things that looked vaguely like animals falling into the water.
Maybe she was better off blind after all.
At long last, they reached a small isolated cabin set deep in the swamp. Alone. Isolated. Spanish moss hung down from the top of the porch and the wood of the place had lightened to a faint gray that stood out even in the darkness of the night.
Talon parked the catamaran beside a small dock and got out. He helped her onto the dock and as she followed him up the narrow plank toward the dark porch, she realized there were two alligators in front of the door.
She screamed.
"Shh," Talon said with a laugh. "There's nothing to fear."
To her extreme astonishment, he bent down and patted the biggest gator on the head. "Hey Beth, how's it going tonight?"
The gator snapped its jaw and hissed at him as if it had understood his question.
"I know, girl. I'm sorry, I forgot."
"What are you? Dr. Dolittle?"
He laughed again. "No. I found these two when they were small hatchlings and raised them. We're family. I've known them so long that I can almost read their minds."
Well, she had reptiles in her family tree too. Only hers walked on two legs.
The big one came up to her and eyeballed her like she was the daily special at the Crocodile Cafe. "I don't think she likes me."
"Be nice, Beth," Talon said.
The gator swished its tail, then ambled off the porch, into the swamp water. The other one looked at her, snapped its jaws, then joined its friend.
Talon opened the door to his cabin and turned on a dim desk lamp. Sunshine stepped inside hesitantly, half afraid he'd have the housekeeping abilities of her brother.
Or that there would be something worse than gators inside. Something like a monster anaconda he intended to feed her to.
She hesitated in the doorway.
The place was bigger inside than it appeared from the outside, but it was still basically only one room. There was a small kitchen off to her left and a door to her right she assumed was the bathroom.
He had three big tables set up with computers and other electronic equipment. And there was a large black futon on the floor to the rear of the cabin.
She was thankful everything was clean and sanitary. How wonderfully refreshing to know that all men weren't the pigs her brothers were.
"Interesting place you have here, Talon. Have to say I love the blank, black walls."
He snorted at her tone. "This from a woman who lives inside a pink cloud?"
"True, but everything here is so dark. Don't you find it depressing?"
He shrugged. "Not really. I no longer think about it at all."
"Not to be rude, but it seems to me that you do that a lot."
"Do what?"
"Not think about things. You're one of those guys who just exists, aren't you? No thought about the past or tomorrow. Just what you plan on doing in the next hour or so."
Talon dropped his keys on the table next to his primary computer. She was very astute. One of the drawbacks of immortality was the fact that you weren't really goal-oriented. His world existed of getting up, tracking and slaying Daimons, and then returning home.
A Dark-Hunter never thought about the future. It just kept on coming regardless.
As for the past...
There was no need to go there. All that would do was dredge up memories he was much better off not remembering.
He looked at her and the passionate gleam in her dark brown eyes. She had a love of life that glowed and it captivated him. What would it be like to live that way again? To actually look forward to the future and plan for it?
"You probably think about the future all the time," he said quietly.
"Of course."
"And what do you see in your future?"
She shrugged her backpack off and placed it by his desk. "It depends. Sometimes I dream of having my art hung in the Guggenheim or the Met."
"Do you ever dream of having a family?"
"Everyone has those dreams."
"No, not everyone."
She frowned. "You really don't?"
Talon fell quiet as he recalled his wife's face and remembered the nights he'd lain awake while she slept by his side with his hand on her belly so that he could feel their son moving inside her.
The dreams he'd had then.
When he had looked into Nynia's eyes, he had seen into forever. Had imagined the two of them old and happy and surrounded by their children and grandchildren.
And with one overwrought emotional act, he had damned both of them and ruined every dream the two of them had shared.
Every hope they'd had.
He winced as pain lacerated his chest.
"No," he whispered past the sudden lump in his throat. "I don't think about having a family at all."
Sunshine frowned at the thickness she heard in his voice. He cleared his throat.
What about her question could have possibly hurt him?
As he showed her where to store her bag and backpack, the phone rang.
Talon moved to answer it while she set about unpacking a few essentials and laying them about the cabin.
"Hey Nick... yeah, I heard about Zarek." He gave her a sheepish look as he listened. "Nah, man. I... um. I'm not alone right now, okay?"
He moved away from her, but still she could hear him plainly. He was acting kind of nervous and she wondered why.
"I spoke with Zarek earlier, and he had definitely been sucking on the red mojo juice right before that happened. I don't know what got into him, but he was in a foul mood." He paused for several minutes. "Yeah, and listen, I have a woman here, her name is Sunshine. If she calls you for anything, get it for her without shooting off your mouth... Yeah, back at you." He hung up the phone.
"Who's Nick?" she asked.
"He's my personal assistant. He's on payroll, so anything you need, you just push four and the pound sign and it'll ring his cell phone."
Ooo that was neat. "Really? You have a personal assistant?"
"Unbelievable, isn't it?"
"Well, I have to say you are the first biker I've ever met who has a stock portfolio and an assistant."
He laughed.
"So, what's 'red mojo juice'?" she asked. "Some kind of wine?"
He looked very uncomfortable. "Something like that."
There he went again with his secrets. Ugh! The man needed to loosen up a bit. Be more trusting.
She'd definitely have to work on him.
Talon headed for the small kitchen. "I don't know about you, but I'm kind of wired. I don't normally go to sleep until a couple of hours after dawn. You hungry?"
She watched him search through his cabinets and pull out a couple of pans. "Not really, but I can make you something if you like."
He looked up, his face startled by her offer. "Thanks. That'd be nice."
She took the pan from his hand and set it on the stove. "So what are you in the mood for?"
He licked his lips sinfully as his gaze roamed over her body, making her instantly hot. Needful.
"How about naked Sunshine al dente covered in whipped cream and chocolate?" He brushed the hair back from her neck. "We could even put a cherry on top."
She laughed at that. "That could be arranged."
Sunshine moaned as he dipped his head down and nuzzled her neck while he cupped her breasts in his hands.
Her breasts tingled and swelled as desire swept through her, making her instantly wet and throbbing for him.
"Are you always this insatiable?" she asked.
"Only when I see something I want," he said, moving his hand to cup her between her legs. "And you I want most of all."
She hissed at how good his fingers felt stroking her through the denim.
Her heart pounding, she looked down to watch his hands as he unfastened her jeans. His long, finely shaped fingers opened her fly, pushing the flaps aside until her lacy white panties showed. He teased her ear with his tongue, his breath hot against her skin, as he dipped his hand under the elastic band and found the center of her body.
Sunshine reeled at the sight of his hand there, of his fingers gently caressing her nether lips. His tanned skin stood out darkly against the white as he slid his fingers inside her.
Groaning, she rubbed herself against him, needing to feel him deep inside her again.
He growled like a ferocious beast before he knelt down behind her and pulled her jeans and panties free.
At his bidding, Sunshine allowed him to remove her shoes and jeans.
He was on his knees and still completely dressed as he turned her to face him and stared at the dark triangle between her legs.
His obsidian gaze met hers and she saw the fire inside him. "Open yourself for me, Sunshine. I want you to invite me in."
She blushed at what he was asking. She'd never in her life done anything like this and yet she wanted to please him.
Swallowing her inhibitions, she parted her legs and reached down to open her nether lips for him. "I'm all yours, baby."
He was like a wild, hungry beast as he buried his face between her legs and took her into his mouth.
Sunshine cried out in pleasure. She leaned back against the counter for support. His tongue swirled, then he gently sucked and nibbled. She buried her hands in his soft hair, her body burning at his touch.
Her nipples were so tight they hurt. "Oh yes, Talon, yes," she breathed, pressing him closer to her.
Talon growled deep and low in his throat as he tasted her. Her feminine scent invaded his head as her graceful hand tugged at his hair.
He ran his tongue over the hard edge of her cleft, sampling and tasting the woman before him. It had been so long since anyone or anything had given him this much pleasure.
But please him she did.
Her passion, her creativity, her quirkiness. All of it was a magnet that drew him against his will.
He licked and teased her. Tasted her. Let her murmurs of pleasure become his and when she came, calling out his name, he swore that he saw stars from it.
Sunshine's breath came in short, sharp gasps as she looked down to see Talon rising up from the floor. He towered over her, his eyes dark, his face still hungry.
"What is it about you that I can't resist?" he asked. "Every time I get near you, all I can think of is tasting you."
He led her hand to his groin where she felt him hard and throbbing for her.
"I don't know," she said, her voice ragged as she dipped her hand below his waistband and trailed her fingers through his short, crisp hairs until she could wrap her fingers around his swollen manhood.
He drew his breath in sharply.
"But I feel the same for you," she said, sinking her hand lower, seeking out his soft sac.
He closed his eyes, his jaw flexing, as she caressed him. She knew she gave him pleasure and yet he acted as if her touch pained him.
She felt strangely vulnerable as she stood there with her lower body exposed while she wore her sweater and bra. Talon was still fully clothed.
It was erotic and disconcerting.
As if sensing her thoughts, Talon removed the rest of her clothes. She was completely naked now.
He was not.
He ran his hands over her, masterfully, tenderly. "Tell me your fantasies, Sunshine. Tell me what you dream about late at night when you're lying in bed alone."
She'd never in her life shared such an intimacy and yet before she realized what she was doing, she found herself confiding in him. "I dream of a handsome stranger approaching me."
He circled behind her. "And?"
"It's dark and hot. I imagine him standing behind me and pulling me against him. Feeling him take me from behind while I can't see him at all, I can only feel him."
Talon moved away from her and turned out the light.
Sunshine shivered in the darkness. "Talon?"
"Shh." His deep, accented voice seemed to engulf her.
Then she felt his hands on her. Completely blind, she was all sensation as he pulled her back to his front and she realized he'd removed his jacket and shirt. He ran his hands over her breasts, cupping them while he nibbled the back of her neck.
She'd had this fantasy for years, but never before had it been real. Never had she seen her dream man's face. Tonight, she envisioned Talon. She imagined what his hand looked like as he resumed stroking her between her legs.
She heard him unzip his pants. The heat of his body warmed hers as he whispered to her in a language she didn't understand. It deepened his voice, made it even more enticing.
Then, he was inside her, hot and hard. She moaned, arching her back, as he sank himself deep into her over and over again.
He buried his hands in her hair while nibbling her shoulders. Her neck.
His touch was hot, scorching.
He bent her forward.
Sunshine gasped as he penetrated her even deeper than before. He thrust himself against her, pounding pleasure into her body with such intensity that she found herself moaning and gasping in time to his movements.
Talon clenched his teeth as he felt her body clutching his. She was so wet and hot, so silky. It was crazy but when he was inside her, he could almost feel his missing soul.
"Come for me, Sunshine," he whispered in Gaelic, then he remembered that she couldn't understand him so he offered her the translation.
"Talon." Her voice was a mixture of pain and pleasure. Of hot, demanding need. She was on the edge of climax.
Seeking to help her reach it, he reached his hand down to her cleft and stroked her in time to his thrusts.
She screamed out almost immediately as she came in his arms. Talon quickly joined her in that place of divine pleasure.
They were both sweaty and panting as he pulled her naked body back against his. He laughed in her ear, grateful that for once he didn't have to hide his fangs when he smiled.
In the dark, she couldn't see him.
But he could see her plainly. Her long, black braids were hanging down, trapped between her back and his chest. The scent of them hung thick in the air and she was wet and hot against him.
He carried her to a chair and sat down with her in his lap. They were both still panting and weak.
She leaned back against him, then reached her arm up around his neck to hold him close. He ran his mouth and tongue over her cheek, nibbling her gently.
Sunshine had never before been like this with a man.
Sure, she'd had sex and her ex-husband had been a horny toad, but she'd never wanted anyone the way she wanted Talon.
His body was so warm and hard beneath her, so innately masculine, that she had no desire to ever move again from his lap.
She sighed contentedly.
"Talon, do you do this with every woman you meet?"
"No," he whispered in her ear. "I don't, and I've never brought a woman out to my cabin before. You're definitely a special case."
"You sure?"
"Positive. What about you? Do you go home with every guy you meet?"
She leaned back, wishing she could see his face. "No. I promise you, you're a special case too."
He kissed her gently.
They sat like that for a long time, just holding each other, lost in the quiet stillness of the dawn.
Sunshine wasn't sure what she felt for Talon. There was a part of her that wanted to hold on to him like this forever and another part of her that told her she was an idiot for thinking any such thing about a guy she had just met.
Yeah, he looked great in leather pants and could rock every piece of her body, but at the end of the day would he bother hanging around, or would he be just like every other guy she'd known? Selfish. Possessive.
She didn't know for sure.
She wasn't sure if she wanted to wait around and find out.
Sunshine yawned. It had been a long night, emotionally and physically draining.
Now all she wanted to do was cuddle up to that warm masculine body and sleep.
Talon felt suddenly awkward. Bringing her here had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that he thought about actually going to bed with her to sleep...
It was an intimacy that he hadn't experienced since the death of his wife. There were plenty of times he'd had sex with women and afterward they had both drifted off to sleep for a little while, but this was entirely different.
They would actually spend the day together. Sleeping. Their bodies touching...
She yawned again. "I'll be right back."
Turning on the light for her, Talon didn't say anything as she grabbed a T-shirt from her bag and headed to his bathroom.
While she was gone, he listened to her in the other room. He could hear the water running as she washed her face and brushed her teeth.
This felt so strange.
Memories drifted through his head. Memories of a life he'd purposely forgotten.
Memories of a man he'd buried.
He remembered countless nights when he had climbed into bed to wait for his wife as she readied herself for sleep. Nights when he had watched her brush her hair until it gleamed in the firelight and then braided it before she joined him.
Nights of listening to her hum while she sewed before the fire...
He gazed over to his dresser where Sunshine had placed a small cosmetics bag, a pink hairbrush, and a small bottle that probably contained her patchouli oil.
He stared at the dainty items that looked so out of place among his belongings. Items that were feminine and foreign, and that wrung his gut.
How he'd missed sharing his life with someone. Having someone to care for, someone who cared for him.
It was something he hadn't thought about in a long, long time. Something he hadn't dared think about.
Now that he thought about it, he had to admit life as a Dark-Hunter did have moments of profound loneliness.
Sunshine came out with her black hair still braided and her legs peeking out from the hem of the shirt. The smile on her face tugged at his warrior's heart.
Centuries ago, he'd looked forward to battle, knowing that if he survived, he would return to the warm embrace of loving arms. The comfort of a friend.
As a Dark-Hunter the best he could hope for after battle was curling up to the computer or phone and sharing the fight with someone who lived hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.
That had never bothered him before.
Tonight for some reason, it did.
"You okay?" she asked.
He nodded.
Sunshine wasn't so sure of his answer. There was a haunted look to his face. "Have you changed your mind about me staying over?"
"No," he said quickly. "It's just been a long night."
She nodded. "Tell me about it."
She climbed into his bed and pulled the black comforter over her body, then turned out the lamp by the bed.
Talon turned to look at her. She lay on her side, facing the wall. Her head looked small against his king-sized pillow and she looked so tiny and womanly against the blackness of his bed.
Most of all, she looked delectable.
He lay down beside her. Before he could stop himself, he pulled her into his arms, spooning up behind her.
"Mmm," she breathed sleepily. "I really like it when you do that."
Pain ripped through him as he closed his eyes and inhaled her unique scent. She felt so incredibly good in his arms.
Nae! his mind roared. He couldn't do it. He couldn't let himself care for her that way.
There could never be anything between them. Tomorrow he would have to let her go back to her life while he returned to his.
That was the way of things.
Kissing her gently on the back of her head, he sighed and forced himself to sleep. He could never have her; she could never be more than a passing whim for him.
Sunshine lay there for quite some time listening to Talon breathe. There were no words to convey exactly what she felt lying beside this man. It was as if they fit. As if they were meant to be together.
Why was that?
She wasn't sure how long she lay there before sleep overtook her, but when she finally slept, she found herself having the strangest dream...
She saw Talon as a young man, probably no older than twenty. His long golden-blond hair was braided down his back while the two shorter, thinner braids dangled from his left temple. His youthful face was covered in a thick dark blond beard, but still she recognized him.
Recognized him as a young man who meant the entire world to her.
He held himself above her, his hard, masculine body naked and pressed against her own as he slid himself in and out of her with such tenderness that it made her heart soar and ache at the same time.
"Oh, precious Nyn," he breathed in her ear. He drove himself deep and hard into her, punctuating each word he spoke. "How can I leave you?"
She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him, then forced him back so that she could look into his amber eyes as he made love to her. "You've no choice, Speirr. You've fought too hard and suffered too much to be heir not to do this. This will ensure that the clan will take you as their king when your uncle dies."
She saw the anguish in his eyes and felt his body grow rigid around hers. "I know."
They loved each other so much. They always had. Ever since the day when she was six and he eight, and he had nobly saved her from a flogging by a rooster.
He had been the hero of her heart.
They'd grown up apart and yet never parted.
Even as children, they had known their friendship would be stopped or ridiculed, and Speirr had suffered enough ridicule to last ten thousand lifetimes.
She would never hurt him more.
So they had never told anyone of the times when they would sneak away from their famines and duties to be together.
For years their meetings had been innocent. Meeting to play a game or to fish. Sometimes to swim, or to share the heartbreaks they felt.
It had only been during this last year that they had dared touch each other's bodies.
She was the daughter of a fishmonger-the lowest of the low. Even so, Speirr had never treated her as the others did. He never mentioned that she smelled of fish oil or wore clothes that were threadbare and patched.
He'd respected her and treasured her friendship as much as she treasured his.
She had given him her virginity gladly, knowing there could never be anything between them. Knowing the day would come when he would have to marry another.
And though it broke her heart, she knew she had no choice except to let him go now. He needed to marry another to erase the taint his mother had left with him. To prove to everyone that he was noble in blood as well as in spirit.
"You will make a fine husband, Speirr. She is lucky to have you."
"Don't," he said, holding her tighter. "I don't want to think of anyone else while I'm with you. Just hold me, Nyn. Let me pretend for one moment that I'm not my mother's son. Let me pretend that there's only you and I in the world and no one and nothing to ever separate us."
She clenched her eyes shut as pain assailed her.
How she wished it were true.
He pulled back to look down at her. He cupped her face tenderly. "You are the only warmth in my heart. The only sunshine my winter has ever known."
Oh, how she loved him like this. When he, the fierce, bold warrior-prince, dared to be the bard who lived in his heart. Only she knew this side of him. Only she had ever known he had the talent of a poet.
To the rest of the world he must always be fierce and strong. A fighter of unquestionable prowess and skill.
But it was his poet's heart she loved best.
"And you are my fire," she breathed. "And if you don't go off and meet with your uncle now, he'll extinguish you."
He cursed as he pulled away from her.
She watched him dress and helped lace him back into his armor. He was a prince. Not just in title, but in bearing and form. There had never been a more noble man.
After she was dressed, he pulled her into his arms and gave her one last scorching kiss. "Meet me tonight?"
She looked away. "If you wish it, Speirr. I will do anything you ask, but I don't think it will be fair to your new wife to meet you on your wedding night."
He flinched as if she'd slapped him. "You're right, Nyn. Most of all, it wouldn't be fair to you."
Sunshine moaned as she felt herself leaving Nynia and moving toward Speirr. They were still by the loch, only now it was him she felt. His emotions.
It was through his eyes she saw them.
Speirr was heartbroken as he watched Nynia step out of his embrace. The pain inside him was so intense that he feared it would cripple him.
He reached his hand out for her, knowing she was gone.
Lost to him forever.
Just as his mother had been.
Just as his sisters and father were.
Gods, it was so unfair.
But then, life was never fair. Especially not to a man who had duties and responsibilities. A man who had to force respect for himself and his sister at the point of his sword.
His life had never been his own.
Turning away from her, he mounted his horse and rode to meet his aunt and uncle so that they could finalize the marriage between their clan and the Gaulish-Celt tribe that bordered them to the north.
This marriage would finally silence the tongues of the gossips and doomsayers who wanted someone else to be named heir.
Sunshine thrashed in her sleep as her dream shifted. She saw Talon later that day, standing between a beautiful woman in her early thirties and a man only a few years older. The woman had the same blond hair and blue eyes as Talon while the man was black haired and black eyed.
They stood in the middle of an old wood hall. The room was crowded with people who were strangers to the three of them. Everyone was dressed in fine plaids and wore gold jewelry.
Speirr's uncle was dressed in black leather armor and his aunt in gold armor with a long, plaid skirt.
To the people gathered there, Talon looked strong and proud. Fierce and princely.
The Gauls' whispered voices echoed in the room as they retold stories of his prowess in battle, told each other that he was the Morrigan's favored warrior.
It was said the goddess herself walked beside him in battle and dared anyone to mar his beauty or dull his sword.
What no one knew was that Speirr was ready to bolt as he waited to meet his bride.
"I swear, lad, you're as skittish as a colt," his aunt whispered with a laugh.
"You were too, Ora," his uncle teased her. "I remember your father threatened to tie you to his side if you didn't stop fidgeting while our parents bound us together."
"Aye, but I was much younger than he is."
His aunt placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Speirr took a deep breath as a young woman was brought forward to stand before him.
"My daughter Deirdre," King Llewd said.
She was beautiful. That was Speirr's first thought. With hair as golden fair as any he'd ever seen and blue eyes that were kind and gentle.
But she was no match for his Nynia. No other woman could ever come close to her.
Speirr stepped back instinctively.
His uncle pushed him forward.
Deirdre smiled invitingly. Her eyes warm and accepting.
He stepped back again.
This time, his aunt nudged him toward his bride. "What have you to say to her, lad?"
"I..." Speirr knew the words that would bind them together. He'd rehearsed them incessantly.
But now they lodged in his throat.
He couldn't breathe.
He stepped back again, and again his aunt and uncle moved him forward, toward her and a destiny that seemed suddenly bleak. Cold.
"Speirr," his uncle said with a warning note in his voice. "Say the words."
Do it, or you will lose everything-
Do it, and I will lose the only thing.
In his mind, he saw the hurt in Nynia's eyes. Saw the tears she'd tried to hide.
Speirr clenched his teeth, flexing his jaw with determination. "I willna do this." He whirled around and left the hall, hearing the shocked gasps as he made his way to the door and out into the village.
A few seconds later, his aunt and uncle came rushing out behind him. He was halfway to his horse when his uncle grabbed his arm and pulled him roughly to a stop.
"What is wrong with you?" he demanded.
"Speirr?" his aunt said in a gentler tone. "What is it?"
He looked back and forth between them, searching for the words to make them understand what was in his heart. "I willna marry her."
"Oh aye, you will," his uncle said sternly. His dark eyes snapped fire at him. "Now march yourself back in there and finish this."
"Nae," he said stubbornly. "I willna marry her while I love someone else."
"Who?" they asked in unison.
They exchanged a deep frown.
"Who the blazes is Nynia?" his uncle asked.
"The fishmonger's daughter?" his aunt said.
The two questions came at him at once. Until his aunt's comment registered in his uncle's mind.
"The fishmonger's daughter?" he repeated.
His uncle moved to pop him on the back of his head, but Speirr caught his hand and glared at him. His days of being hit by his uncle were long over.
"Are you mad?" his uncle demanded, wrenching his arm free. "How do you even know her?"
Speirr tensed, expecting his uncle's condemnation. No doubt they would finally banish him from their clan just as they had done his mother.
None of that mattered.
Nynia was the only person who had ever really accepted him.
He would not fail her by marrying someone else while she had to go back to the misery of her life.
He refused to grow old without her.
"I know you don't understand and I know I should just go and marry the Gaul's daughter, but I can't." He looked at his aunt, hoping someone would understand his plight. "I love Nynia. I don't want to live without her."
"You are young and foolish," his uncle said. "Just like your mother, you let your heart rule you. If you fail to do this, you will never live down your mother's shame. You will be seen as nothing more than a ridiculed whoreson. Now get back in that hall and marry Deirdre. Now!"
"Nae," he said firmly.
"So help me, Speirr, fail to do this and I will see you banished for it."
"Then banish me."
"Nae," his aunt said, intruding on their argument.
She held that distant, faraway look that she got whenever she saw through the natural world into a higher level. "The gods are at work here, Idiag. Look into his eyes. Nynia is his soulmate. They are meant to be together."
His uncle cursed. "This would have been a great alliance for our clan," he muttered bitterly. "It would have ensured peace between our peoples and guaranteed that no one would have contested Speirr as my heir. But I won't argue with the will of the gods."
He patted Speirr on the arm. "Go, Speirr. Go claim your Nynia while I try and salvage what I can from this meeting and hopefully avert a war."
Speirr blinked in disbelief. It was the first time in his life that his uncle had ever been kind or merciful toward him. "Do you mean it?"
He narrowed his eyes at him. "Lad, you'd best be off before common sense returns to me."
Speirr shouted as he raced for his horse. Then he ran back and hugged his aunt, then his uncle. "Thank you. Thank you both."
As fast as he could, he ran to his horse and jumped up onto the back of it. He set his heels into its flanks and headed toward their own lands.
Speirr tore through the forest at a dead run. His black stallion flew through the tangled underbrush and weeds, kicking up dirt in their wake. The sunlight drifted through the trees, dappling his armor as he urged the horse faster.
He had to reach his Nynia...
Nynia sighed as her mother handed her the tattered old basket that held ten nasty-smelling fish. "Must I deliver this?" she asked her mother, her voice pleading for clemency.
"Your brother is off on an errand and they be wanting it. Now go, child. I'll brook no more arguments from you."
Nynia clenched her teeth as she took the basket. How she hated this. She would rather be beaten than travel to the smith's home where Eala would no doubt be waiting to take her delivery. Her own age, Eala was the smith's daughter but she acted as if she were descended from a line as noble as Speirr's.
The girl took great pleasure in humiliating her.
And today, Nynia was in no mood for it. Not while her heart was so sore from its loss.
By now her Speirr would be married to another. He would be lost to her forever.
Blinking back tears, she left the tiny hut she shared with her mother, father, and brother, and headed for the nicer side of the village where the rest of the people resided, upwind from the fishmonger, tanner, and butcher.
"Oh, Speirr," she whispered as she wiped away her tears. How could she make it through a single day without him? All her life she'd had him to see her through the misery of her work. She'd always looked forward to their meetings. Looked forward to sharing laughter and fun with him down by the loch.
Now those days were gone forever.
When he returned, it would be with a new wife.
One day, his queen would bear his children...
Pain assailed her even more. Nynia walked aimlessly through the village, her thoughts on the only man she would ever love and on the fact that she would never bear his children. Never be able to hold him again.
She drew near the smith's cottage and saw Eala wasn't alone today. She stood with a small group of friends, talking. She recognized three of the boys, and the girls would have been her friends, too, had she, as they so often reminded her, not smelled of fish.
"Oh bother," Eala said disgustedly. "It's the fish girl with her fetid stench. Quick, everyone, hold your breath or you'll turn blue."
Nynia lifted her chin. They couldn't hurt her with their words. Not today. She was hurt enough.
She shoved the basket into Eala's hands.
Eala shrieked. "You're vile, Nynia!" she shouted, dropping the basket and dancing away from it. "No man will ever want so smelly a woman. Will he, Dearg?"
Dearg turned a speculative eye on Nynia. "I don't know. From what we saw her giving to Speirr the other day, I'd be willing to hold my nose."
Her face on fire, Nynia was horrified that someone had stumbled upon her and Speirr while they were making love in the woods.
"What say you, Aberth?" Dearg asked another handsome youth.
"Aye. She'd be good for a tup or two, especially since she's sheathed a strong sword, but you can marry her if you're like Speirr and common filth is to your taste. I'd rather not."
Their mean laughter rang in her ears.
Humiliated and embarrassed, Nynia had started away from them when she caught the sound of a horse approaching at a dead run.
Everyone in the village grew quiet at the sound. It was obvious the rider was in a dire hurry. His thick, deep voice could be heard urging the horse onward toward the village.
The instant Speirr came flying out of the woods, people scattered out of his way.
Nynia couldn't move as she watched him.
He had his head bent low, and both he and the horse were covered in sweat. United in power, beauty, and form, the two of them were a fierce and frightening sight to behold.
They flew as if the demons of Annwn were hot on their heels.
She expected him to keep riding past her, toward his home.
He didn't.
Instead, Speirr reined his horse in sharply before her, the fierce beast rearing and pawing at the air.
He jumped from his saddle and swept her up into his arms.
Her heart pounded with joy, but she was scared of this. Scared of what his disheveled appearance here meant.
"Fiu?" she asked hesitantly, using the proper term for prince, knowing that with so many witnesses, she could never call him by his given name. "What is it you would have of me?"
His amber eyes were shiny and bright and filled with his heart as he stared at her. "I would have you, my love," he breathed. "Every day for the rest of my life. I've come to marry you, Nyn. If you'll have me."
Tears filled her eyes. "Your uncle?"
"He wishes us well and will meet you when he returns."
Her hands shook as she held him tight.
"You are mine, precious Nyn," he whispered. "I want no other in my life."
"Even though I smell like a fish?"
He laughed at that. "And I smell like a sweaty horse. We're a perfect pair, you and I."
Only he would say such a thing.
Tears rolled down her face as she held him close and wept from happiness.
Her Speirr had come back to her and she would never let him go. They were meant to be together.
Sunshine woke up with a feeling of warm serenity deep in her heart. She felt the weight of Talon behind her and smiled sleepily.
She didn't really remember her dream other than the fact that it had been about Talon.
And it had comforted her.
She checked her wristwatch and saw it was just after noon. She should be at work by now, hawking her artwork in the square.
Yet she had no desire to get out of this futon.
Rolling over, she snuggled into Talon's body.
She laid her head on his shoulder and traced the tattoo on his chest. He was so warm and inviting.
"It's good to have you home, love." He whispered those words to her in a language she'd only heard once before when they had been making love last night, and yet she understood him.
She lifted herself up and realized he was still sound asleep. "Talon?"
He didn't budge.
"Speirr?" she asked, wondering why that name came to her mind, but somehow it seemed only right that she should call him that.
His eyes fluttered open. He frowned at her. "Do you need something?"
Sunshine shook her head.
He closed his eyes, rolled over and returned to sleep.
Oh, this was just too friggin' weird.
Why did she know that name and why did he respond to it?
Had it been part of her dream?
She tried to recall it, and for her life she couldn't.
As he lay there with his back to her, she saw something in her mind's eye. It was like a vague childhood memory.
She saw Talon as an adolescent youth, stretched out over a large stone table. There were other monolithic stones around them, forming something that vaguely reminded her of Stonehenge.
Talon was lying on his stomach, his arms under his head, as a tall, dark-haired man leaned over him. The man's black robes billowed as he beat Talon with a frayed whip.
Talon was looking straight at her, his eyes shining with unshed tears while he kept his jaw firmly locked.
Meet me later. He mouthed the words to her and she nodded.
Sunshine pulled back, alarmed.
Her dream rushing back to her, she scrambled from the bed and grabbed Talon's cell phone, then called her mother. She stepped outside the cabin's door so that Talon couldn't overhear her conversation.
"Sunshine?" her mother asked as soon as she recognized Sunshine's voice. "Where are you? Storm said you blew him off last night without calling."
"I'm sorry, Mom. You know me. I got distracted and forgot to call. Listen, I need to know something. Do you remember years ago when you and Grandma did that whole past-life regression thing on me?"
"I remember you and Grandma telling me that I was an ancient Celt, right?"
"Do you remember anything more specific than that?"
"No, not really. I'd have to call Mom and see if she remembers. Knowing her, she might. Why? You sound panicked."
"I am panicked. I'm having some bizarre flashback kind of thing. I don't know what else to call it. It's just very, very weird."
"Are you with Steve?"
"Talon, Mom, his name is Talon. And yes, I am."
"You think you knew him in a previous life?"
Sunshine looked back at the door and swallowed. "Honestly, Mom, I'm thinking I was married to him."