Acheron (Page 20)

Acheron (Dark-Hunter #15)(20)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"Why not?"

He glanced to his closed bedroom doors that had been slammed and locked since the last time he’d been thrown in here and left to rot. Oh wait, that would have been yesterday. "My previous guards were beheaded for allowing me to leave. The new set is much more cautious. If I try to speak to them, they draw their swords and push me back into my room, then lock the doors."

She shrugged. "They’re no problem for me. I can take you into town."

Acheron swung his legs down from the railing as hope swelled inside him. He hated being trapped like a rabid animal. He always had. All he’d been doing for the last two days was dreaming of escaping this place if only for a brief time. But the only two ways to leave his room were through the doors behind Artemis or jumping from the stone balcony that dropped a hundred feet to the rocks below. "Really?"

She nodded. "If you’d like to go, yes."

It felt as if something in his chest was lifted at her words. He could actually kiss her for this. "I’ll get my cloak."

Artemis followed her new friend into his room and watched as he pulled a cloak from beneath his straw mattress. "Why do you keep your cloak under your bed?"

He shook it out as he answered. "I have to hide my cloak or else the maids will burn it."


He gave her a blank look. "I told you I’m not supposed to leave here."

She didn’t understand that. Why would they keep him locked inside this small room? "Did you do something wrong to be imprisoned?"

"My only crime was being born to parents who have no use for me. My father doesn’t want anyone to know his eldest son is deformed so here I’m to stay until I die of old age."

A foreign pain fluttered in her stomach as she felt sad for him. There were times when she felt imprisoned, too, though no one had ever made her feel freakish by any means.

She looked down at his muscular legs. "Is that why your feet are bare?"

He nodded as he wrapped the cloak around his body and raised the cowl over his head. "I’m ready."

"What about your shoes?"

He looked baffled by her question. "I haven’t any. I told you, I’m forbidden to leave."

Now that she thought about it, she realized he hadn’t been wearing any shoes in her temple either. "Won’t your feet be cold?"

"I’m used to it."

She curled her toes in her shoes as she considered walking over winter stones barefoot. It would be a miserable feeling that not even a human should bear. Shaking her head, she manifested a pair of warm leather shoes on his feet. "There now, much better."

Acheron looked down in amazement at the dark brown shoes lined in fur. They felt so strange against his skin. But they were incredibly warm and soft. "Thank you."

She smiled at him as if the shoes pleased her as much as they did him. "You’re welcome."

The next thing he knew, they were in the center of town. Acheron gaped at the sight of them standing by a well. No one in the busy crowd seemed to notice the fact that they’d just appeared out of nowhere. He immediately drew his cowl lower over his face to make sure he was shielded from those around them.

"What are you doing?" Artemis asked.

"I don’t want anyone to see me."

"Oh, that’s a good idea." An instant later, she wore a richly woven cloak that was pulled up around her face in a way identical to his. "How do I look?"

Before he could prevent it, a smile curved his lips at her innocent question. He quickly banished it. He knew better than to smile. It always got him into trouble. "You’re beautiful."

"Why does saying that make you uncomfortable?"

Acheron clenched his teeth at the simple truth that had haunted him the whole of his life. "People destroy beauty when they find it."

She cocked her head. "How so?"

"By nature, people are petty and jealous. They envy what they lack and because they don’t know how to acquire something, they try to destroy anyone who has it. Beauty is one of those things they hate most in others."

"Do you really believe that?"

"I’ve been attacked enough to know it for a fact. Whatever people can’t possess, they try to ruin."

Artemis was stunned by his cynicism. She’d heard such comments from some of the gods. Her father, Zeus, was always making similar statements. But for such a young human . . .

Acheron was strangely astute at times. She could almost believe his claim of divinity, but she knew better. He was just a little more perceptive than most humans.

"Where do we go?" she asked, changing the subject.

"The common gate is over here." He led her toward a small door where a group of unwashed and filthy humans gathered.

Curling her lip in repugnance, she pulled him to a stop. "Should we be going through the common gate with common people?"

"It costs to go through the others."

How could that possibly be a problem? "Don’t you have any money?"

He frowned at her. "No."

Sighing, she manifested a small purse and held it out to him. "Here. Get us decent seats. I’m a goddess. I don’t sit with common people."

He hesitated before he obeyed her. Hesitated. No one did that. Yet he seemed oblivious to the fact that she was divinity. On one level it insulted her that he could be so cavalier and on another it intrigued her. She liked the feeling of being nothing more than a woman with a man.

Especially one so incredibly handsome.

But he did need to respect her godhood. She was, after all, the daughter of Zeus. She could kill him if she chose to.

Then why didn’t you? His dare echoed in her head and she again saw him so proud and defiant in her temple. He was definitely an odd human.

And she liked that second only to his beauty.

Artemis stayed by his side as he purchased their seats and led her to an area that was sectioned off from the peasants. The seats here were less crowded and filled with nobles and the families of senators. Acheron paid more money to buy her a stuffed pillow that he set down on the stone for her comfort.

"Aren’t you getting one for yourself?" she asked as she took a seat on it.

"I don’t need one." He returned the purse to her.

Wrinkling her nose, she stared at the hard stone where he sat oblivious to the cold. "Aren’t you uncomfortable?"

"Not really. I’m used to it."

He was used to a lot of things that weren’t natural. Something odd went through her chest. It actually bothered her that he was abusing himself. He shouldn’t have to do without things and most definitely not while he was with her. Snapping her fingers, she created a pillow underneath him.

He looked up with a startled expression that was almost comical.

"You shouldn’t have to sit on cold stone, Acheron."

Acheron touched the padded blue cushion beneath him in disbelief. Only Ryssa had ever cared about his comfort. Well, and at times Catera. But Catera’s care had come from a desire to make more money from him. Artemis had no reason to care whether or not he was bruised or cold. He was nothing to her and yet she’d done something truly kind for him. It made him want to smile, but he didn’t trust her fully yet. He’d been fooled too many times by people’s kindness that had been motivated only by their selfishness.

His chest tightened as his memories surged and he recalled the time he’d been homeless after his father had cast him out of Estes’s house.

"I’ll give you work, boy . . ."

He squeezed his eyes shut in an effort to banish the horror that followed his blind trust. Truthfully, he hated people. They were users and they were cruel to others.

All of them were cruel to him.

"Wine for my lord and lady?"

It took Acheron a moment to realize the old vendor was speaking to him. Stunned by the show of respect, he couldn’t formulate an answer.

"Yes," Artemis said imperiously. She handed him coin and he in turn gave her two goblets of wine.

The vendor bowed low before them. "Thank you, my lady. My lord. I hope you enjoy the show."

Acheron couldn’t speak as he took the cup from Artemis’s hand. No one had treated him with such regard since the time he’d spent with Ryssa and Maia at the summer palace. And no one had ever bowed to him before.

No one.

His throat tight, he slowly sipped the wine.

Artemis paused to study him. "Is something the matter?"

Acheron shook his head, unable to believe that he was actually seated next to a goddess. In public. Wearing clothes. What a strange turn of events.

Artemis dipped her head, trying to meet his gaze.

Out of habit, Acheron averted his eyes.

"Why don’t you look at me?" Artemis asked.

"I do look at you."

"No, you don’t. You always avert your gaze whenever someone comes near."

"I see you though. I learned how to see without looking directly at things a long time ago."

"I don’t understand."

Acheron sighed as he turned the cup in his hands. "My eyes make people uncomfortable so I try to keep them hidden as best I can. It prevents people from becoming angry at me."

"People get angry at you for looking at them?"

Acheron nodded.

"What does that feel like?"

He swallowed at the memories that cut him all the way to his soul. "It hurts."

"Then you should tell them not to do it."

If only it were so easy. "I’m not a god, Artemis. No one listens to me when I speak."

"I listen."

She seemed to, and that meant a lot to him. "You’re unique."

"True. Perhaps you should spend more time around the gods."

He snorted at the very idea. "I hate the gods, remember?"

"You don’t hate me, do you?"


Artemis smiled. His words relieved her and she wasn’t sure why. Intrigued by him, she reached over to touch his back. The moment she did, he sucked his breath in sharply between his teeth and pulled away. "What’s the matter?"

"My back’s still tender."

"Tender from what?"

Somehow he managed to give her an insolently droll stare without looking directly at her. "I told you I was forbidden to leave my room. My trip to your temple cost me."

"Cost you what?"

He sighed as the play started. "Let’s watch the play, please."

Turning her attention to the actors, she listened as they told some insipid story that held no real interest for her. The human beside her . . . that was another matter. He intrigued her greatly.

Anytime she’d ever approached a human of any stature, he or she would grovel and beg for her approval. Even royalty. Or they’d stare at her as if she were sublime, which, of course, she was. But this one didn’t do any of that. He seemed oblivious of the fact that she could kill him with a glance. Even now he was ignoring her completely.

How very strange.

"Why does that group keep singing?"

"It’s the chorus," he whispered, his attention firmly on the actors below them.

"They’re key-off."

He frowned at her. "Key-off?"

"Their tune . . . it’s not right."

"Off-key," he corrected as he turned away from her again. "No, they’re not. They sound fine."

She arched a brow at his peeved tone. "Are you arguing with me?"

"I’m not trying to argue with you, Goddess. I’m trying to hear what the actors are saying. Shh."

No . . . no, he hadn’t really shushed her! Anger whipped through her. "Excuse me? Acheron? Shh?"

For once he met her gaze and there was no mistaking the agitation in those swirling silver eyes. "I’m not the one talking, Artemis." He turned back toward the stage.

Aggravated at him, she snatched the cowl from his head to get his full attention. The instant she did, she realized she’d made a mistake. Every person near them was suddenly fascinated by Acheron whose face had lost all color.

Without a word to her, he covered himself and rushed for the exit. Several of the people around her headed after him.

Curious, she followed up the stairs and out of the stadium to find Acheron as he was becoming surrounded by people. He appeared panicked as he tried to push his way through the crowd that continued to try and talk to him.

One of the men grabbed him roughly by the arm.

"Let me go," Acheron snarled, shoving at the stranger.

The man tightened his grip so much that Acheron flinched from it.

Chapter 10

Enraged over the abuse of her friend, Artemis sank her nails into the hand of the man who then grimaced in pain. He let go of Acheron and the moment he did, she took Acheron’s hand and teleported him back to his room.

She expected his gratitude.

He gave her none of that. Instead, he turned on her with fury pouring out of his entire being. "How dare you do that to me!"

"I saved you."

His intolerant gaze was as accusatory as his tone even though he kept it at her feet. "You exposed me!"

She didn’t understand why he was blaming her for something that wasn’t her fault. "You were ignoring me."

"I was trying to watch the play. That was why we were there, wasn’t it?"