Tory cocked her head as he closed his eyes and let out one long breath. Even with his ravaged cheek and the bruise on his lip, he was still one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen. The fact that he’d have any interest in her at all amazed her. Honestly, she was no Artemis. The goddess was stunningly beautiful.
What human could compare to that?
Yet Ash was here with her. He trusted her when he trusted no one else. That alone touched her heart. And the more she read about his past, the more she wished she could wrap her arms around him and just hold him until all the bad memories were wiped away.
She looked down at the journal in her hand. There was so much sadness in it. Not only with Acheron, but with his sister too. Ryssa had tried so hard to help him while Apollo had been every bit as cruel to her as Artemis was to Ash.
And while she was fascinated by the history and glimpses of daily life she’d seen through Ryssa’s words, she’d read enough. Ash’s past was tragic and it said a lot for him that he could have any compassion at all.
She was through spying on him.
Tucking the journal into his backpack, she made sure it was completely zipped before she went downstairs to check on Simi.
Ash felt Tory’s absence like an ache in his soul. There was something about her presence that lifted his spirits and made him happy just to be near her, which, given how much pain he was in, said much.
You should leave her.
He’d bought her a reprieve from Artemis’s wrath, but for how long? The longer he stayed with Tory, the greater the danger to her. Not to mention Artemis wasn’t the only one he had to deal with.
Stryker would kill Tory in an instant and by now Nick had most likely told the Daimon overlord about her. She was a human who didn’t fit into his world of viciousness. Of beings who held no regard for anyone or anything.
But the mere thought of not seeing her was enough to bring him to his knees. Why couldn’t he have something for himself?
You’re a worthless whore. You deserve nothing but scorn and ridicule.
How could anyone ever love him?
Simi was blind to his faults because he’d raised her. He’d protected her. His mother loved him, but again, it was a parent-child bond. And Katra . . .
They were still learning each other.
"Stop it," he growled at himself. He wasn’t a child. He wasn’t the same pathetic creature who’d begged his father for a mercy that had never come to him.
He was a god.
She was human.
It was that simple and that impossible. He’d survived for eleven thousand years alone. By comparison, she was an embryo. What did she know about life? How to survive in the world he knew?
This would have to end. He was old enough to know better. There was no way for a happy ending for him. He’d willingly sold himself to Artemis when he’d been nothing more than a boy and there was no way out. His existence was too complicated. Once he healed, he’d end this and send her on her way. It was the best for all of them.
Tory laughed as she watched Simi pour hot sauce over her ice cream. More than that, she was grateful she didn’t have to eat it-even if Simi did keep taunting her "wimpy" tastebuds. Better that than the stomach ache she was sure the demon would have later.
She was just about to tease Simi over that when there was a sudden rush of air around her.
Not sure what the sensation was, she stopped speaking mid-sentence and saw the color fade from Aimee’s face as she stared in horror of what was behind Tory’s back.
Dev and Katherine rushed forward.
Tory turned to see a group of extremely tall, handsome men there. The leader had eyes as black as space . . . and just as vast and empty.
He laughed at the bear clan before he seized her and everything went dark.
Ash heard the door to the room open again. Expecting Tory, he didn’t move until he felt Dev’s presence near him. He opened his eyes to find the bear looking down, his expression a mixture of dread, fear and anger.
"What?" Ash asked, half afraid of the answer.
"A group of demons just seized Tory."
It took a full minute for those words to penetrate the denial inside him. When they did, a rage so volatile Ash could taste it, rose up. Grinding his teeth against the pain, he clothed himself before he threw the covers back and stood against the injuries that made every molecule of his body throb. "Where did they go?"
He let out an expletive so crude, Dev actually blushed. It took every ounce of willpower not to lash out at the bear for allowing them to take her out of here. Lucky for Dev, he knew it wasn’t the bear’s fault. Sanctuaries only protected Apollites, Daimons and Were-Hunters.
Demons existed outside their rules.
And they’d gone to the one place Ash couldn’t follow. The plan had been carefully thought out and executed. He’d congratulate them except for the fact he wanted their blood.
Simi popped in directly behind Dev. "I can go to Kalosis, akri. The Simi will get Akra-Tory back for you."
"No!" his voice came out completely demonic at the thought of what they might do to her. The gallu demons and the Charonte were natural enemies and while Simi could hold her own against virtually anyone, she couldn’t fight all the gallu by herself. She was still a very young demon in terms of power and strength. "I won’t risk you."
If they’d taken Tory to use against him, they’d take Simi in an instant. Honestly, he was amazed they hadn’t tried. Of course even young, Simi had the powers to put up a strong fight and though they would have taken her, they would have paid for her abduction.
Tory on the other hand was completely at their mercy.
"Simi, return to me."
Her eyes large, she obeyed and placed herself back on his forearm. Ash turned back to Dev. "How many were there?"
"Six. They popped into the bar, right behind her and homed in as if she’d been marked by something. Before I could reach her, she was gone through a bolt hole. I’m really sorry. We did our best."
"I know you did." It was why the bear was still breathing. "Now it’s between me and them." Ash flashed himself to Katoteros. His body throbbing, he walked through the main foyer and allowed his human clothes to melt away into the flowing silk formesta that was easier to bear on his bruised body.
He walked out onto the balcony that overlooked a tranquil sea. Even so, he wasn’t overly fond of this spot. It reminded him too much of the balcony to the room where his adopted father had kept him in Didymos. But he needed the clarity of the balcony right now.
"Matera?" he called, summoning her from the depths of the hell realm where she lived.
He counted to ten to get his temper under control so that he could talk to his mother without the fury he felt offending her. Even though they fought against each other over mankind, she was still his mother and he loved her enough to keep his tone respectful. "I forgave you for sending Stryker after Marissa Hunter in an effort to lure me into Kalosis to free you, but this . . ." He paused before he exploded in anger. "How could you?" he asked from between clenched teeth.
"How could I what?" Her tone showed genuine surprise. "What are you talking about?"
"Demons entered Sanctuary and took Soteria into Kalosis. Are you telling me that you have no knowledge of this?"
"That’s exactly what I’m saying." The angry denial in her tone was too sincere to be feigned. Her shade appeared beside him and there he saw for himself her anger on his behalf. "I will take care of them, Apostolos. Have no fear. I’ll be right back."
Ash inclined his head to her shade respectfully, but something inside him warned him that it wouldn’t be that easy.
Apollymi left her dark garden with a swirl of fury as she teleported from her area of the palace to the hall where Stryker held court over his Daimons. He was sitting there, nonchalantly, as a group of them were feeding on some hapless human at his feet that they’d no doubt kidnaped and brought here.
Stryker looked up with a frown at her approach. "To what do I owe this honor?"
She ignored his sarcasm as she looked around at the Daimon horde. "I want them out of here. Now."
Stryker made a noise of irritation before he nodded. "You heard the goddess. Out."
They obeyed instantly, taking the human with them. Apollymi felt badly for the person they’d killed, but it was the state of nature that one life form invariably fed on another. While it wasn’t fair the human had been prematurely killed, the Daimons had it even worse. They were cursed to watch themselves and everyone they loved decay over a twenty-four hour period because eleven thousand years ago a god had been angry over the actions of only a dozen Apollites.
No, life wasn’t a balance sheet of fairness. It was survival of the fittest, smartest and swiftest.
And right now, that was her.
As soon as she was alone with Stryker, she narrowed her eyes on him. "Where is she?"
Stryker gave her a blank stare. "She would be?"
"Soteria Kafieri. Your demons took her out of Sanctuary in New Orleans. Where are they holding her?"
Stryker scowled as if he had no idea what she was talking about. "What do you mean my demons took her?"
Why was he playing this game with her? "The Sumerian gallus you welcomed here. Surely, not even you can miss their stench. They violated the Chthonian laws of Sanctuary and they took her hostage to hold against Apostolos. Don’t you dare feign ignorance in this."
"I’m not feigning anything." He stood up indignantly. "Kessar!" He shouted, summoning the gallu leader who was as evil as any being Apollymi have ever met.
The demon appeared before him with an arrogance that was commendable given the fact Kessar would have been dead had Strykerius not taken him in. Tall and lean with brown hair and red eyes, he looked more like a fashion model than a demon and he used those good looks to his advantage whenever he sought humans to eat.
He curled his lip in repugnance as he faced Stryker. "I despise whenever you do that, Daimon. I’m not one of your pathetic minions to come when you call my name."
Stryker wasn’t intimidated in the least. "So long as you reside here and benefit from my protection, you’ll come when I call."
Kessar’s eyes narrowed dangerously. "What can I do for you, my lord?"
His sarcasm made a mockery of the tone Stryker had used on him.
"I want to know about this woman you’ve taken hostage. How dare you move into the human realm without my knowledge."
Kessar shrugged. "We did what your sister asked us to do. I assumed she had your ear. If you have issue with what’s happened. Perhaps you should have a family meeting." He vanished.
Stryker cursed. "I hate that sonofabitch."
"Then why did you offer him refuge?" Apollymi asked.
He looked at her with a coldness she could feel all the way through her. "You have your demons for protection, it seemed only fair I should have mine. We both know I no longer have your favor, Apollymi. Even though I killed my own son to make you happy. Even though I’ve spent a million lifetimes in blind service to you, I’m only a means to an end. You want to hurt my father for what he did to your son and I’m the chosen tool for it. Honestly, I didn’t mind your using me so long as I thought of you as a mother. But you declared war on me and so here we are. Neither of us happy. Both of us alienated from our children." He let out a bitter laugh. "We’re a pair, aren’t we?"
Apollymi approached him slowly as her restrained emotions roiled through her. It wasn’t as simple as he made it sound. "In spite of what you think, Strykerius, I did love you. But I’m a goddess of vengeance and you made the mistake of forgetting that. The moment you went after Apostolos to harm him, you drew the battle declaration, not I. Where my son is concerned, I have no reason or loyalty to anyone above him. He is what I cherish most and he and his daughter and grandchild are the only things in this world I would die to protect. Now you hold what is sacred to him. Release her immediately, or not even your demons will be able to save you from me."
Stryker eyed her angrily as he realized this was no bluff. "Satara!"
His sister appeared instantly in a pique. "Don’t take that tone with me."
Apollymi glared at her. "Where’s Soteria?"
The stupid child didn’t even have the sense to fear her. Instead, she shrugged. "She’s safe for the moment."
"Release her," Apollymi demanded.
Apollymi threw her arm out and brought Satara into her grasp so that she could choke her with one hand. "I’m not into games, little one. Release her or I will kill you."
Satara sputtered and choked as she tried to pull Apollymi’s hand from her throat. It was useless. No one outpowered Apollymi. "You kill me and she dies, too."
Apollymi squeezed her neck tighter.
"Apollymi, wait!" Stryker snapped. "She’s not lying. Look at her wrist. She’s wearing the Atlantean cuffs. And I’m willing to bet the other one is on Soteria. You kill her and Soteria dies with her."
Satara smiled evilly. "And you would be correct, brother."
Cursing, Apollymi threw her against Strykerius. "I want Soteria freed."
Satara straightened and met her anger with a smugness that made her want to blast the chit into oblivion. "When I have my journal from Acheron, she will be freed. Trust me, I don’t want her harmed any more than you do." The taunt in her voice didn’t fail to register with Apollymi, who also recognized the fact the bitch was lying. "I merely want what Acheron has."