Dance with the Devil (Page 10)

Dance with the Devil (Dark-Hunter #4)(10)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

He felt a grudging respect for her. The woman had a lot of guts, he’d give her that.

But at the end of the day, guts didn’t account for much, and all they would do is get her killed if Thanatos found them before he had a chance to leave.

His gaze turned dull as he remembered the demon or Daimon or whatever he was who had been sent to kill him.

All this time, the Dark-Hunters had assumed Acheron was the bloodhound Artemis used to track and kill rogue Dark-Hunters.

All the men who knew the truth were now roaming the earth as Shades. Soulless, bodiless entities who could feel hunger and thirst and yet were never allowed to sate it.

They could feel and sense the world, but no one could feel or sense them.

He understood that existence. For the twenty-six years he had lived as a mortal human, he’d been one himself.

Only then, a world that didn’t know he existed would have been preferable. Because when people had realized he was around, they had gone out of their way to increase his pain.

Gone out of their way to hurt and humiliate him.

Rage flooded him as his gaze sharpened once more. He looked around the immaculate cabin where every detail showed Astrid’s wealth. In his human existence a woman like her would have spat in his face for no other reason than that he dared to cross her path. He would have been so far beneath her that he would have been beaten for even daring to lift his gaze to her face.

To look her in the eyes would have been his death.

"Is this slave bothering you, mistress?"

He winced as the memory ran through his mind.

At age twelve he had been foolish enough to listen to his brothers as they pointed out a woman who was in the marketplace.

"She’s your mother, slave. Didn’t you know? Uncle freed her just last year,"

"Why not go to her, Zarek? Maybe she’ll take pity on you and have you freed, too."

Too young and too stupid to know better, he had stared at the woman they showed him. She had hair as black as his and perfect blue eyes. He’d never seen his mother before. Had never known she was so beautiful.

But in his heart, she had always been more beautiful than Venus. He had envisioned her as a slave like himself who had no choice but to do as her master said. He’d built up a whole dream of how he’d been ripped from her arms after birth. How she had wept for him to be returned to her.

How she had pined every day for her lost son.

Meanwhile, he had been given to his merciless father who had vengefully kept him away from her caring arms.

Zarek was sure she would love him. All mothers loved their children. It was why the other female slaves had no use for him. They were saving all their rations and affections for their own.

But this woman… she was his.

And she would love him.

Zarek had run to her and embraced her, telling her who he was and how much he loved her.

But there had been no warm welcome. No motherly affection.

She had looked at him with abject disgust and horror. Her lips had curled cruelly as she hissed to him, "I paid that whore good money to see you dead."

His brothers had laughed at him.

Zarek had been too crushed by her rejection to move or breathe. He had been devastated to learn that his mother had bribed another slave to kill him.

When a soldier approached them to ask if he were disturbing her, she had said coldly, "This worthless slave touched me. I want him beaten for it."

Even after two thousand years those words resonated through him. As did the pitiless look on her face as she turned and left him to the soldiers, who had gleefully carried out her order…

"You are worthless, slave. Good for nothing at all. You’re not even worth the scraps it takes to keep you alive. If we’re lucky mayhap you’ll die and save us the winter rations for a slave who has some value."

Zarek growled as his memories took hold of him. Unable to deal with the pain they caused, he lashed out with his powers. Every lightbulb in the den shattered, the fire roared in the hearth, narrowly missing Sasha, who had been lying before it. Pictures fell from the walls.

All he wanted was for the pain to stop…

Astrid screamed as her ears were assailed with foreign sounds. "Sasha, what’s happening?"

"The bastard tried to kill me."

"How?"

"He shot a fireball from the fireplace into my hindquarters. Man, my fur is singed. He’s having a fit of some kind and using his powers."

"Zarek?"

The entire cabin shook with such ferocity that she half-expected it to burst apart.

"Zarek!"

Total silence descended.

All Astrid could hear was her heart pounding.

"What’s happening?" she asked Sasha.

"I don’t know. The fire went out and I can’t see anything. It’s totally black. He shattered the lights."

"Zarek?" she tried again.

Again no one answered. Her panic tripled. He could kill her and neither she nor Sasha would see him coming.

He could do anything to her.

"Why did you save me?"

She jumped at the sound of his voice right beside her ear as she sat on the couch. He was so close to her that she could feel his warm breath on her skin.

"You were hurt."

"How did you know I was hurt?"

"I didn’t until after I got you inside. I… I thought you might be drunk."

"Only an absolute idiot would bring a strange man into her home when she’s blind and lives alone. You don’t strike me as an idiot."

She swallowed. He was a lot smarter than she had given him credit for.

And a lot scarier.

"Why am I here?" he demanded.

"I told you."

He shoved the couch so hard that it skidded forward several inches. Then he was in front of her, pinning her to the cushions. Making her tremble from his fierce presence. "How did you get me inside?"

"I dragged you."

"Alone?"

"Of course."

"You don’t look strong enough."

She gasped in terror. What was he going for? What did he intend to do to her? "I’m stronger than I look."

"Prove it." He grabbed her wrists.

She wrestled with him for several seconds. "Let me go."

"Why? Do I repulse you?"

Sasha growled. Loudly.

She stopped moving and glared at where she hoped his face was.

"Zarek," she said firmly. "You’re hurting me. Let me go."

To her shock, he did. He moved back ever so slightly but his angry presence was still tangible. Oppressive. Frightening.

"Do something smart, princess," he growled in her ear. "Stay far away from me."

She heard him walk away from her.

"He’s guilty" Sasha snapped. "Astrid. Judge him."

She couldn’t. Not yet. Even though Zarek scared her. Even though at this moment he did seem unbalanced and terrifying.

He hadn’t really hurt her. He’d only frightened her, and that wasn’t something anyone should die for.

After this, she could well understand how he could have snapped one night and killed everyone in the village he had been entrusted to guard.

Would he snap like that with her?

Because she was immortal, he couldn’t kill her, but he could hurt her.

A lesser judge might go ahead and render verdict based on his actions tonight alone. She was tempted herself, but she wouldn’t. Not yet.

"Are you all right?" Sasha asked after she refused to respond to his demand for a verdict.

"Yes."

But she was lying and she had a feeling Sasha knew it. Zarek terrified her in a way no one ever had before.

Over the centuries, she had judged countless men and women. Murderers, traitors, blasphemers. You name it.

But none of them had ever scared her. None of them had ever made her want to go running to her sisters for protection.

Zarek did.

There was something about him that really wasn’t sane. She was used to dealing with people who tried to hide their insanity. Men who could play gallant heroes while inside they were cold and cruel.

Zarek lashed out and yet he hadn’t hurt her.

At least not yet.

But his bullying tactics were going to have to go.

She remembered Acheron’s words to her: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly…"

What was inside Zarek’s heart?

Expelling a long breath, Astrid reached out with her senses and tried to locate Zarek.

As before, she couldn’t find him at all. It was as if he were so used to keeping himself hidden that he didn’t register on anyone’s radar. Not even her heightened one.

"Where is he?" she asked Sasha.

"In his room, I think."

"Where are you?"

Sasha came and sat at her feet. "Artemis is right. For the sake of mankind, he should be put down. There’s something seriously wrong with that man."

Astrid rubbed his ears as she considered that. "I don’t know. Acheron bartered with Artemis so that I could judge Zarek. He wouldn’t have done that for no reason. Only a fool barters with Artemis for anything. And Acheron is far from foolish. There has to be something good in Zarek or else-"

"Acheron will always sacrifice for his men. It’s what he does," Sasha scoffed.

"Perhaps…"

But she knew better. Acheron would always do whatever was the greater good for all involved. He had never before interfered when it was time to judge or execute a rogue Dark-Hunter, and yet he had asked her personally to judge this one…

He hadn’t allowed Zarek to be killed nine hundred years ago for destroying his village and killing innocent humans.

If Zarek truly posed a danger, Acheron would never have bargained with them for a hearing or allowed the Dark-Hunter to live. There had to be more to this.

She had to believe Acheron.

She had to.

Zarek sat alone in his room, watching the snow fall outside through the open curtains. He was seated in the rocking chair, but remained motionless. After his "meltdown," he’d gone through the house replacing bulbs and picking up the broken pictures. Now everything was eerily quiet.

He had to get out of here before he snapped again. Why wouldn’t the storm break?

The hall light came on, temporarily blinding him.

He frowned at that. Why did Astrid use lights when she was blind?

He heard her padding down the hallway toward the den. Part of him wanted to join her, to talk to her. But he had never been one for idle conversation.

He didn’t know how to make small talk. No one had ever been interested in anything he had to say.

So he kept to himself and that suited him just fine.

"Sasha?"

The sound of her melodic voice went through him like shattered glass.

"Sit here while I make another fire."

He almost got up to help, but forced himself to stay in his chair. His days as a servant to the rich were over. If she wanted a fire, then she was just as able to make one as he was.

Of course he could see to light the kindling and his hands were rough from hard work.

Hers were soft. Delicate.

Fragile hands that could soothe…

Before he realized it, he was headed for the den.

He found Astrid kneeling before the hearth, trying to push new logs onto the iron grate. She was struggling with it and doing her best not to get burned in the process.

Without a word, he pulled her back.

She gasped in alarm.

"Move out of my way," he snarled.

"I wasn’t in your way. You got into mine."

When she refused to move, he picked her up and dropped her into the dark green armchair.

"What are you doing?" she asked, her expression startled.

"Nothing." He returned to the hearth and made the fire. "I can’t believe that with all the money you have, you don’t have someone here to help you."

"I don’t need anyone to help me."

He paused at her words. "No? How do you get around on your own?"

"I just do. I can’t stand for anyone to treat me like I’m helpless. I happen to be just as capable as anyone else."

"Bully for you, princess." But he felt the swell of another wave of respect for her. In the world he’d grown up in, women like her never did anything for themselves. They’d bought people like him to serve their every whim.

"Why do you call me ‘princess’ all the time?"

"It’s what you are, aren’t you? Your parents’ shining darling."

She frowned. "How do you know that?"

"I can smell it on you. You’re one of those people who has never had a moment’s worry in your life. Everything you’ve ever wanted, you’ve gotten."

"Not everything."

"No? What have you ever lacked?"

"My eyesight."

Zarek fell silent as her words rang in his ears. "Yeah, being blind sucks."

"How would you know?"

"Been there, done that."

Chapter 6

"You were blind?" Astrid asked.

Zarek didn’t answer. He couldn’t believe he’d allowed that to slip out. It was something he’d never spoken of, not even to Jess.

Only Acheron knew and Acheron had thankfully kept the secret.

Unwilling to visit his past again tonight and the pain that waited there, Zarek left the den and returned to his room where he locked the door so that he could wait out the storm in peace.

At least alone he didn’t have to worry about betraying himself or hurting anyone.