Kim whirled on Ash with a malevolent glare. "How could you bring this to her?"
"She said she was hungry."
Kim popped him hard on his butt. "Don’t do it again! You clear her diet through her doctor or a nurse. You don’t just bring food to someone in a hospital. Are you out of your mind?"
Ash was too stunned to even react as Kim went back to the sack on the tray and rifled through it.
"You two are awful, just awful." Kim started to roll the top down.
Tory glared at her like a feral lion. "You take that bag, Kim, and I’ll make you regret it."
"Tory, be reasonable."
"My stomach wants food."
Kim held her hand up. "And when you’re being attacked by vicious gastric pain later, remember I tried to stop you." She turned back to Ash who made sure his ass was covered. Literally. "If you two weren’t being chased by homicidal loons, I’d order you out of here."
Ash backed up another step. "You’re not going to hit me again, are you?"
"I ought to. If you were a couple of feet shorter, I’d take you over my knee." Kim made one last sound of disgust before she left them alone again.
Pam shook her head as she met Ash’s gaze. "Want me to kiss your boo-boo and make it better?"
"Pam!" Tory snapped.
"Oh like you didn’t have that thought, too. Relax both of you, I’m only kidding. Let me go calm down Nursezilla before she gets you two in trouble with your doctor."
Tory sighed as Pam left. "I am so sorry about my friends, Ash. I really did attempt to give them some home training growing up, but obviously it didn’t take."
Ash laughed at her words. Truthfully, he found the ease they had in his company refreshing. Most people were either intimidated or frightened by him. Only kids seemed indifferent and treated him like anyone else on the street. "It’s okay. I like them."
She took one last bite of her burger before she wrapped it up. "I better stop before I hurt myself. But it is good. Thank you so much for getting this for me."
"There’s a ham sandwich, pickles, chips and yogurt also in the bag."
"What a sweetie you are. You really did get some of everything. You sure you don’t want a bite?"
She handed him the bag. "All right then. How about I swap you the food for the journal?"
Ash hesitated. Since his name was all over it . . . I could tell her it’s another name. True. She didn’t know what the letters were. If he could convince her it was something like Archon and not Acheron, that would work.
Shrugging his backpack off, he unzipped the top and pulled the journal out. "Here."
She opened it where they’d left off. "Now where were we?"
"Ryssa was talking about her brother in Atlantis."
She drew her brow together in confusion. "Ryssa? How do you know her name was Ryssa?"
Ash tensed as he realized that his sister hadn’t written her name anywhere in it. "Uh . . . I don’t. I just gave her a name. It seemed more polite than calling her ‘hey you, ancient chick.’ "
She wrinkled her nose up at him. "FYI, I hate the word chick."
"Then I shall delete it from my vocabulary."
Smiling she put her hand on his arm and leaned against him. "You’re so accommodating. Was this the spot?"
It took him a full second to catch his breath at the casual way she touched him. At the way her lips looked so inviting and sweet.
"Yeah," he said, forcing himself to look at the page.
She pointed to a line a few down from where he’d been reading. "I miss him?"
Her finger went to the next sentence. "He was sent away?"
"You’re an incredibly fast learner."
"That’s what my father used to say. His nickname for me was Athena."
Ash was surprised by that. She was nothing like the Greek goddess. "Athena?"
"You know, she sprang fully formed out of the head of Zeus. My dad used to say that I did the same thing and, like Athena, I gave my father a splitting headache." She smiled widely. "Show me a little of anything and bam, instant expertise. But this language is hard to learn. Beautiful, but difficult. Could you read in it for a moment so I can hear the way it lilts?"
Ash nodded before he obliged the request.
Tory listened to the inflections in his voice, mesmerized not only by how sexy it was, but by his intelligence. Before she could stop herself, she placed her hand to his jaw to feel the way his muscles worked while he spoke.
Ash paused at the tenderness of her touch and met her gaze.
"Don’t stop speaking it," she whispered. "I love to hear your accent."
Little did she know he’d do anything she wanted so long as she touched him like this. He swallowed before he spoke again. "I wish Soteria. I wish I could make love to you like a human man. With no pasts to get in our way and no regrets. I would sell my soul for it."
Tory frowned at the words that seemed to come from his heart. "What did you say?"
"That you are an inquisitive imp."
She snorted. "No you didn’t."
"Maybe, but you don’t know for sure, now do you?"
She growled at him even though she enjoyed the fact that when he spoke in English, his accent was thick and lilting. "You know when you use that accent of yours, you could get away with murder." She pulled his sunglasses off, then folded them and put them in his pocket. "I like looking at your eyes."
"You’re a very strange woman."
Perhaps, but there was something about him that made her feel warm and safe. She brushed the pad of her thumb over his lips. "Why do you hide from the world?"
"I don’t hide from anything."
"Yes you do. The clothes you wear . . . they’re your armor that you use to keep everyone away. You like to look dangerous and rebellious . . . it’s like there’s a part of you that thinks, if you give people a cause not to like you, then, when they don’t it’s okay because you were the one who decided they weren’t allowed to like you anyway."
He started to pull away, but she stopped him.
"I would be a friend to you, Ash. A good one, if you’d let me."
Ash looked away as he remembered Artemis offering her friendship to him. "No offense, Tory, people say that with all good intentions. Unfortunately when the test comes, we inevitably fail it."
"Have you ever failed it?"
"Yes, I have." His sister had trusted him to protect her and he’d let Artemis get in the way of that. Nick had been the closest thing to a real friend and he’d cursed him to die.
As a friend, he sucked and he wouldn’t wish his friendship on anyone.
"Well I haven’t failed," Tory said firmly. "Not once. But the only way for you to know that is to trust me. And since I know you can’t give me your trust, I’ll forget we had this discussion." She looked back at the book. "What’s this word?"
Ash hesitated as he saw his name in Ryssa’s handwriting. He started to lie to her, but it caught in his throat. He wanted to trust her. He didn’t understand it. But he couldn’t help himself. With a deep breath, he did what he hadn’t done in centuries. He trusted. "It’s Acheron."
Tory looked at him intently. "It’s your name?"
"Yes," he said, making sure he kept all emotion out of his voice. "She had two brothers. Acheron and Styxx."
"Named for the rivers of woe and hate? How morbid of their parents."
"More apropos perhaps."
"That would be worse, I think." She turned the page. "It’s so weird reading this. She seems like anyone you’d meet today walking down the street. Her main concerns are pleasing her father and she misses her brother. She has the same fears as modern women-being taken seriously. Being listened to." She let out a wistful sigh. "Can you imagine the world she lived in? I wonder what kind of clothes she wore. What kind of bed she slept in . . ."
"I imagine she was a lot like you. Gentle and unassuming. Determined and protective of those she loved. And she probably annoyed both of her brothers from time to time."
His words touched her. "Is that what you see when you look at me?"
"No. I see a homicidal maniac who hates my guts."
She laughed. "Seriously?"
His teasing look sobered. "Yes, Soteria. That is what I see when I look at you."
She laced her fingers with his.
Ash stared at their hands entwined. It was the most incredible sight he’d ever witnessed.
Pam rejoined them. He expected Tory to let go of him and stiffen uncomfortably as everyone else did. She didn’t. She kept her hand in his.
"Did you save our skin for the burger?" she asked Pam.
"You’re off the hook for the moment. What can I say? Super Pam to the rescue."
Ash put his sunglasses back on as Pam moved to the other side of the bed. She saw their hands and smiled. "I’m glad you two made up."
"Hey, the man saved my life. That ought to be worth a bump or two on my ego."
Pam arched both brows. "Who are you and what have you done to my best friend?"
Tory looked up at Ash. "Dying tends to put a few things into perspective."
She had no idea.
"Have you ever had a near-death experience, Ash?" Pam asked.
"You could say that."
Pam snorted. "What? You get caught sneaking out of the house by your dad, too?"
If the woman only knew. "That one definitely left a lasting impression on me."
"Yeah. I ended up grounded for a month."
Tory was watching Ash. There was a note in his voice that told her there was a lot more to his story than he was letting on. But if he wouldn’t tell her anything in private there was no chance he’d say anything in front of Pam.
His phone started ringing. Releasing her hand, he stepped back to check the ID. "I have to take this. Excuse me."
Tory watched as he walked into the hallway.
Pam let out a low, appreciative whistle. "Jiminy Cricket, that man has the finest ass I’ve ever seen. No wonder he wears long coats. We should swathe him head to foot just to save human sanity."
Tory playfully slapped at her friend’s arm. "Would you stop."
Pam gestured toward the door. "You have your glasses on. Do you not see how fine an ass that is? And he’s Goth too." She made a purring sound deep in her throat.
"We’ve got to get you hooked up with someone soon. The extra hormones are eating away your brain."
"I know. It’s so sad, isn’t it?"
Tory laughed as she returned to staring after Acheron and wondered what was going on with his call.
"Are you sure about this, Urian?"
"Absolutely-it pays to have friends on the dark side. Stryker is sending out scouts even as I speak to find the journal. He wants to take down Artemis and Apollo and absorb their powers. He’s also hoping there’s something in the journal to hurt you, which now has your mom going ape shit and sending out her demons to look for it too." Urian laughed evilly. "Welcome to Armageddon, buddy. Looks like they’re starting without you."
Ash had just stepped back into Tory’s room when his phone rang again. Looking at the ID, he sighed. "Excuse me. I’m having to answer another round of ‘Help me, Mr. Wizard’ calls."
Tory shook her head at the poor man whose phone seemed to be a constant source of irritation for him.
Pam sat down in the chair where Ash had been eariler. "How many friends does he have?"
"I think they’re work-related calls."
"Ah, so what does he do?"
"He’s a wrangler."
"Uh-huh . . ." Pam’s voice was filled with doubt.
"I know. He hasn’t told me exactly what he does either, but apparently they’re always calling him for it."
Pam’s eyes sparked with interest. "Maybe he’s an international assassin. Oooo wouldn’t that be cool?"
"We have got to get you away from movies."
Ash paused mid-sentence as a unique fissure of power went down his spine. The sensation was unmistakable . . . there were demons in the hospital. And he would pretty much stake his life on who they were after.
Hanging up, he backed into Tory’s room. "We have to go."
"Uh, hello?" Tory said sarcastically. "Hooked to an IV here. Not going anyplace in the near future."
He moved to the bed and pulled it out of her arm before she could even blink.
Tory was aghast at his actions and was stunned when her arm stopped bleeding. "What’s going on?"
"People who want us dead are closing in. And if we don’t get moving, it’s going to get ugly."
Her heart hammered at the thought of someone coming after them. "There’s only one other problem-clothes. I don’t have any."
Pam stepped forward. "Yes, you do. Ash guard the door and give us a minute."
"You have twenty seconds." He hit the door and closed it tight.
"Can you move?" Pam asked.
"Okay, switch clothes with me and let’s be quick."
Tory was out of her gown in an instant. She was a little sore from the wreck, but not nearly as much as she should be for someone who’d just been operated on. It didn’t make a bit of sense.