Raphael bent down and tapped the card. “Alex was a patient there. I know what this is: when there is nothing more they can do, they send you the ‘set your affairs in order’ flowers.”

“She was dying.”

“Looks that way.”

“At least we’ve established the connection between her and Alex.” I looked at the card.

We searched the rest of the house. In the office we found a filing cabinet full of medical records. Spider Lynn was diagnosed with Niemann-Pick disease, type C. A progressive, incurable disease, it affected her spleen and liver and damaged her brain. Simple things like walking and swallowing had become increasingly difficult. She had trouble looking up and down. Her vision and hearing were fading. Soon she would be a prisoner in her own body, and then she would die.

“Come see this,” Raphael called.

I followed him to the library. Open books covered the floor. Raphael picked up one. “And so Hades seized Persephone and bore her away in his chariot to the depths of the bleak realm of the dead. In vain her mother, the generous Demeter, searched for her daughter. Alone the Goddess of Harvest wandered the world, clothed in rags, like a common woman, and in her sorrow she had forgotten to tend to the soil and cultivate plants. Denied her precious gifts, the flowers withered on their stalks, the trees shed their leaves in mourning, and everything that had been green and alive shriveled and died. Winter had come upon the world and the people wailed in hunger. Even the golden apples in Hera’s orchard had fallen off the bare branches of the sacred tree.”

“Cheery.” I checked a couple of other books. “Same thing.”

“This one is in Greek.” Raphael held up a huge, dusty tome and pointed to the page. On it was a picture of an apple.

“So she is obsessed with Hades and apples. What do we know about these apples?” I looked through the book.

“Here’s one,” Raphael said. “‘Eris, the Goddess of Discord, alone was not invited to attend the wedding. Quietly she sulked until, consumed by her need for revenge, she picked a golden apple, wrote “Kallistri,” meaning “To the Fairest,” upon its golden skin, and tossed it in the midst of the celebrating Olympians. And thus began the Trojan War . . .’”

“Well, that was slick, but it doesn’t help us any.” I searched through my book. “Here is the eleventh labor of Hercules. He needs to get the golden apples of immortality from Hera’s orchard.” I stopped and looked at Raphael.

“Immortality apples,” he said. “How about that.”

I tapped the book. “What do we know so far? Spider Lynn is terminally ill. She’s obsessed with apples of immortality, probably because she thinks they can cure her. She’s holding the shade of Alex Doulos hostage for unknown purposes. Alex was the priest of Hades.”

“Hades stole Persephone, who was the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of Harvest, who controlled the seasons, which affected Hera’s apples of immortality. It’s like playing six degrees of separation.” Raphael flipped through his book. “It says here that apples are the food of the gods. They and ambrosia keep the gods young and immortal. What do you suppose happens if that bitch eats them?”

“Nothing good.” We had both dealt with two wannabe gods during the flare. I still had nightmares. I could tell by Raphael’s face that he didn’t care to repeat the experience either.

“We’re going to have to break into that house.”

“Yes.” Raphael’s face was grim.

A house guarded by a giant hellhound, surrounded by an electric fence and a strong ward, and hiding at least three vampires, piloted by a woman overcome by anger and terrified of death.

It’s good that I had Boom Baby.

We stood leaning against the Jeep, on the very edge of Cerberus’s territory, waiting for the magic to drain from the world. Raphael leaned next to me, still engrossed in the book of Greek myths. He read, playing with a small knife, flipping it absent mindedly with his left hand, his fingers catching whichever end happened to point down. Tip, handle, tip, handle. The sun set, bleeding orange blood onto the pale sky. I sampled the evening breeze and petted my giant gun.

Being a professional meant you nurtured your fear. You struggled with your terror until you tamed it and made it serve you. It made you sharper and helped you stay alive. But no matter how tame your fear became, it still gnawed on your soul. I didn’t want to go into the house full of vampires. I didn’t want Raphael to be hurt.

I had fought so hard not to fall for him, but I had anyway, and now, having been with him, having woken up next to him, I knew we had something. It was a very small, fragile something, and I would rip through a hundred vampires to keep it safe.

“You’re my Artemis,” Raphael said.

I blinked.

“Fierce, prickly, beautiful huntress, forever pure and uncompromising.”

Prickly? More like bitchy. “I’m not that pure.”

He leaned over. His hand brushed the back of my neck and I felt the light press of teeth on skin. Every nerve in my body tingled. My ni**les went tight, and a slow, hungry heat blossomed below my stomach.

Raphael’s voice was a smooth whispery seduction in my ear. “There is nobody to see us for miles and miles, but you’re blushing. How is that not pure?”

His smile was pure sin. I shifted closer to him and leaned against his chest, resting my head on his shoulder. He stiffened, surprised, and I snuggled closer, soaking up the warmth of his body with my back. He raised his arm and put it around my shoulders. I concentrated and heard the steady beating of his heart, strong and a little too fast. He was anxious, too.

“If we get out of this mess alive and undamaged, would you like to spend the night in my apartment or do you want me to stay with you?”

“Either way will work,” he said softly.

The six-month storming of my castle had put a definite dent in Raphael’s body armor. It would take me a long time to convince him that he didn’t have to be charming, witty, and sexy around me twenty-four-seven. Some part of me had hoped that once we had sex, everything would smooth itself out. But in the end, he was still insecure and I was still broken. Sex was simple. Being together was a lot more complicated.

We stood together and watched the sunset.

The magic crashed.

“Time to pry Doulos’s shade from that bitch,” Raphael said.

“You realize that if we’re right and Cerberus is after his corpse, he will follow Doulos wherever we take him?”

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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