Rise of the Gryphon (Belador #4) (Page 3)

Rise of the Gryphon (Belador #4)(3)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

“Pretty much.” Then to take the edge off her stress, he tried to lighten her mood with, “I wouldn’t mind being a love slave.”

She rolled her eyes and huffed, all an act to hide the brush of awareness that sparked from her. “In your dreams.”

“Always.”

“You’re impossible.” But a smile tugged at her lips and happiness swirled from her.

Seeing her smile gave his heart a punch. From what he’d gathered, she hadn’t had a lot of reasons to laugh before he met her. He didn’t know why it mattered so much to see her happy, but it did.

This night couldn’t end soon enough so they could get back to his house. He wanted to give her another reason to smile.

Eyes locked on the valley they were approaching, Evalle asked, “Who came up with this demeaning event?”

“Greedy people.” He forced his mind back to preparing her. “This is all about posturing, so you need to walk in there like you own the place. No one touches a sponsor.” Which was why she should be safe. “But some people get mouthy. Don’t get physical with anyone, but don’t let them shove you around verbally either.” Or I’ll have to hurt them.

“Got it.” Evalle raised both hands, smoothing loose hairs off her face, then she tightened the elastic band holding her long black ponytail. A simple, yet adorable, look. At five-ten she was a lot of woman, all packed in one fine carry case. Snug jeans covered long legs capable of drop-kicking a demon. She wore a steel-gray Gore-Tex motorcycle jacket, and her black leather boots concealed fighting blades.

Lethal and hot. She was damn hot.

And if he kept thinking how much better she’d look out of those clothes, he’d be limping soon. But, son of a bitch, he wanted her. Had since the first time they’d met. But she’d been hurt by someone, and he would not rush her.

She was a jewel worthy of the wait, whatever time it took for her to feel comfortable with being touched and loved, but it might not be too much longer. She’d been making encouraging noises lately, a sign that she wanted more.

The minute she was ready, he’d give her everything and then some.

Evalle stared off into the distance, muttering, “I wish I’d known about these Beast Clubs. I’d have studied up.”

“You’ll be fine.” He gauged how far they had left to go and took in the stand of trees they were passing. “Stop for a minute and let me have your dagger.”

She pulled the blade out of her boot, whispered something to it and passed the dagger to him.

He felt a buzz of energy coming off the spelled weapon. Pushing aside one side of his knee-length leather jacket, he used the blade tip to pop a yellow diamond the size of a half marble from where it had been inserted as one of the jaguar eyes carved in his silver belt buckle.

He handed the stone to Evalle. “This is your buy-in stake.”

She studied the gem through dark sunglasses she wore even at night, which would seem strange to anyone who didn’t know her. The sunglasses hid her glowing green Alterant eyes that were uber sensitive to any light and offered night vision similar to his.

Except that he had no problem with daylight, or the sun that would kill her as well as blind her.

He unbuckled his belt and pulled it through the loops. “I don’t want to wear anything of value around this crowd. Do me a favor and use your kinetics to toss this up in that tree to your right.”

Closing the jewel in her fist, she asked suspiciously, “What’s this worth?”

A rare canary-yellow diamond? Lot of zeroes for the matched set. “Enough to get us into this event.”

She pointed her finger at the belt he held in an open palm and flicked her hand up toward an old oak tree that had lost its leaves. The belt flew up and double wrapped a branch.

He nodded. “We’ll get it on the way out. Ready?”

She hesitated, saying nothing, but worry rushed off her and raced across his senses. If he tried to console her, she’d just get pissed off. “Make sure you stay close to me without my asking you or they’ll suspect we’re not sponsor and fighter.”

She started walking again. “What would happen then?”

“They’d assume we’re not here to fight, which would be interpreted as a threat. Wouldn’t take much for the organizers to make the leap to us being VIPER agents and the entire place would turn on us.”

“Lovely.” She grumbled something under her breath. “Tristan better appreciate this. If you don’t walk out under your own power tonight, I’ll be the one dragging him to Macha by his family jewels.”

That might be worth getting bloody.

Hiding his smile, Storm turned back toward the raucous crowd surrounded by bright lights and kept coaching her as they moved toward the battles. “Think superior attitude, because in this circle sponsors are power brokers. I’ll enter ahead of you as if I’m doubling as your bodyguard. When we find the Domjon, just say you’re requesting a fight.”

“What’s a Domjon?”

“The ringmaster, man in charge who pockets the buy-in stakes. His word is final on anything that happens in a Beast Club, even an altercation between sponsors. Once he takes your stake, we move around and check out the competition. The minute we locate Imogenia, we’ll scope out her demon for a challenge. That’ll give you a chance to cut your deal with the witch.”

“Sounds too easy.”

And anything that sounded easy was usually far from it, but Storm wasn’t through giving her instructions. “The Domjon will throw out anyone who abuses power in his arena, but even so, remember not to let the witch touch you, and tell her nothing personal about yourself.”

“My friend Nicole has warned me about dealing with witches.”

“Nicole isn’t a dark witch.”

“No, but she’s not your average witch either.” Evalle shoved her hands in the pockets of her jacket and fell silent. “Don’t take this wrong, but what’s the best way to gain an easy match?”

He could use the concern playing through her words to motivate her for pulling off this role. “Do what I told you. Bring plenty of attitude. The more arrogant you are, the better shot you’ll have at getting your choice of who I fight.”

That brought her chin up with a bold jut. “No problem.”

Had he said she was hot? Smoking body, exotic eyes and legs that went on forever, but he found her confidence sexy as hell. It also kept him constantly worried for her safety.

She whispered out the side of her mouth, “Anything else before we’re too close to talk?”

“I’ll get us to the Domjon. Once a deal is made, you take the lead when we walk around looking for a fight. That’s a clear statement that I’m your muscle and you call the shots.” Storm slowed when they reached the perimeter of the fighting zone and he noticed flashes of green and blue lights flickering in a halo that circled the valley. “There’s a ward protecting the event.”

“We can’t get in?”

“I’ll know in a minute.” When Storm reached the outer mist circling the area, he pushed his hand into the halo. Light sparked across his dark skin, and tiny fireworks of white and blue burst away from him until an arch formed above his head wide enough for two people to pass through.

Just to keep humans out and probably prevent them from seeing any of the fight or attendees as well.

He nodded at Evalle, then stepped in ahead of her, holding his hand up to keep the arch open.

The thud of fists and legs hitting bodies had been evident as they’d drawn near, but inside the warding the sounds were painful and rocked the air between shouts from the jeering crowd. Something in the ring released a high-pitched squealing sound. Bodies pressed close, blocking their view of the fight.

Striding a step ahead of Evalle, Storm recognized the familiar smell of sweat, alcohol, incense and unusual nicotine odors as he entered the fight camp.

Some days he wished his olfactory senses weren’t so sharp and his memory so close to the surface.

He slapped a look of threat back at the curious gazes, warning them he was just as deadly as he looked, and off the leash.

Evalle strolled close enough behind him he could scent her. Good. The less he checked on her, the more convincing a team they would be, since this crowd would assume he had some ability to keep track of her without requiring her to be in sight, or better yet . . . that she might be just as deadly as he was.

As he scouted the jumble of faces for the Domjon, Storm caught a whiff of something that could be smoke and licorice. A smell that belonged to some who practiced witchcraft on demons, like the witch doctor from South America.

Storm followed the scent, angling through the crowd until he found the origin of the smell.

An old woman wrapped in a blanket covered with Asian symbols sat on the ground with several incense burners in front of her that pumped out the sharp smell. She waved a red-tipped incense stick in the air. “Pure Fenghuang at special Beast Club price.”

An opiate. Now he understood the licorice smell.

Rolling his eyes, Storm muttered, “Vendors,” and led Evalle back toward the area of congestion, where he should find the Domjon. He spotted the Beast Club host standing an easy head taller than the crowd. Upon closer inspection, Storm realized the little round man wearing a red wool sport coat with yellow collar and cuffs was perched on the back of a massive tortoise. Curly brown hair fringed beneath a black bowler hat. Nickel-sized earrings with laughing skull carvings stretched and distorted each earlobe. Piles of necklaces of rare metals adorned with flashy jewels hung around his neck.

The Domjon called out in an auctioneer’s voice, “Demons two, quads one, unknown are playing the edge, step up, step up, step up and take a mad chance, no challenge too small, no death too fast, but we love ya when you make it last.”

Storm stopped in front of the squawker. He spread his feet apart and crossed his arms, waiting for Evalle to sidle up beside him. When she did, she sniffed and wrinkled her nose in distaste.

Nice touch.

The Domjon noticed her with the speed of a rattlesnake picking up the heat of a prey. His beady eyes lit with interest that had nothing to do with money.

Storm thought about shoving the yellow diamond down the Domjon’s throat—with his fist attached. But he had a role to play, too.

“Okay, okay, okay, fresh meat,” the Domjon chortled, grinning at Evalle. “Whadda ya want, little lady?”

Evalle smiled right back at him and expelled a sound of sinister amusement. “Your throat if you call me little lady again.”

That took a notch off the Domjon’s leering. “No insult, none a’tall, gotta go with the flow, have a sense of humor, don’t be gettin’ mean ’lessen you’re inside the ring. Whadda ya have?”

“I request a fight.”

“Buy-in’s high, but lower than the sky. Show your flash for a chance at a mash.”

Withdrawing her fingers from her coat pocket, Evalle flipped the sparkling yellow stone to the Domjon as if it was no more than a coin she’d found.

He snagged the jewel from the air. Holding the rock up to his moon-shaped face, one eye ran out on a stem and studied the gem all over before sucking back into his eye socket.

The crowd had quieted to a low rumble. Some turned from the fight going on to find out what new meat had entered the fray.

Storm had a momentary concern the Domjon might try to pull a fast one and declare the gem not worth enough for an entry spot, but the mouthy little turd told Evalle, “He’s in.”

“Rules.” Evalle gave that one word as an order.

“Fight to the death, no draws allowed, unless your opponent’s sponsor accepts a trade. A deal’s a deal, without a will.” The Domjon swung his beady eyes to Storm. “Declare yourself.”

Decision time.

Declaring himself as anything other than Skinwalker, which meant in his case that he could shift and had majik in his arsenal, was reason for disqualification if caught. Fighting as a shifter allowed for no majik in the ring, but he shouldn’t need it to win against most were-animals. Bring majik into the picture and the odds of winning went up significantly in favor of those who wielded far more majik than he did.

Besides, he only needed one fight to give Evalle time to talk to the witch. Getting disqualified or forfeiting after that would work in their favor to offer a quick exit.

He took the gamble and said, “Dual form. Animal.”

“Shifter?” the Domjon asked.

“Yes.” Storm’s chest tightened with a quick twist of pain he barely kept from betraying with his expression. A mild reaction to lying, since he was technically correct about shifting into animal form and the Domjon had not specifically asked, “Are you a shifter?   ”

An “ah” floated through the crowd.

The Domjon snapped his fingers three times. “All right, all right, all right, go find yourself a fight.”

He flipped a silver disc that Storm caught in the air and lifted into view. A skull with two horns had been carved into the center, and a clip dangled from a hole at the top. Storm clipped the coin on one of his belt loops, declaring himself a contender.