"You implied it."
Maybe. But … "I’m just trying to understand your role here. What does a Guardian do?"
The shame she’d seen earlier was again mirrored in his eyes. "I enforce Noir’s laws."
"What do you think? I punish the ones who break them." He was arguing in circles and refusing to answer her question. She couldn’t tell if it was deliberate or so ingrained in him that he couldn’t help it.
"How do you decide what punishment to give them?"
Now she got it completely. "You do what Noir says."
He nodded slowly and it was obvious how much he hated what he was forced to do. It bled from every molecule of his body.
But that only confused her more. "As powerful as you are, why don’t you leave this place?"
He clenched his teeth before he answered. "I can’t leave any more than you can."
"You’re a prisoner, too?"
"I’m his slave," he hissed with enough venom to bring down an elephant on PCP.
Oh. That changed things a lot. She didn’t know how Noir kept him here, but it must be strong stuff. No wonder he was so miserable.
No wonder he’d wanted to see sunlight.
Lydia swallowed hard as pain for him moved deep inside her heart. He didn’t deserve this.
No one did.
"If you return my powers to me, I can free you."
He curled his lip at her. "I know better. I fell for that lie once. I won’t do it again."
"Fell for what lie?"
Seth moved away from her as he tried not to remember the last time someone had promised to free him. He’d upheld his part of the bargain, and …
No one would ever help him. No one. It was the one lesson he’d learned most while pinned in hell. And it was a mistake he would never be so stupid as to repeat.
He was here to stay. Nothing could be done about that and all fighting did was get him hurt more. Every time he’d attempted to run, Noir had brought him back and made him regret it.
I’m through being stupid.
And that meant finding what Noir required before the bastard summoned him again. "I need information on the key. Show me how to search."
She sighed heavily. "Yes, Master." Her voice was strange and staccato as she said that. "Whatever it is you require." She narrowed her gaze on him, then returned to her regular voice. "You could say please once in a while, you know? It won’t hurt you. Kindness never does."
He scoffed at that bullshit. "You’re a naive fool if you believe that. Kindness destroys the one who gives it, every time."
"I’m not a demon."
"You don’t have to be. Trust me."
Lydia hesitated in her typing as she caught the odd note in his voice. It gave her a sudden insight into him. "Has no one ever been kind to you?"
Seth didn’t speak as he remembered the handful of years after he’d been saved from the desert. He’d been happy there for a time. His foster family had been kind.
Or so he thought.
But in the end, all that had done was make their betrayal even more cruel than his mother’s and father’s. At least to his memory his parents had never pretended to care for him. He’d always known where he stood with them.
It was the lies that had hurt the most.
No, it was the belief that his adoptive family had cared. That he’d meant something to them when he hadn’t. How else could they have turned on him the way they had when all he’d ever done was love and cherish them? He’d always done his chores without being asked and without complaint. Not a day had gone by when he hadn’t told them how grateful he was to have them in his life.
And for what purpose?
He had loved them and they had only used him for free labor. And in the end, they’d sold him like he was nothing but an unwanted piece of furniture.
Seth swallowed hard against the bitterness that was his constant companion. "Kindness is a lie and I don’t want anything to do with it."
Her features indecipherable, she didn’t speak as she ran his search. When she started clicking on things, he couldn’t make them out.
"I don’t understand what that is."
She read over the results for him. "Olympus is also a brand of camera. All of these hits have to do with it and not the mountain in Greece. What exactly are you after?"
"I don’t know. Noir said it was something that belonged to Solin. Something he can use to access Olympus and kill Zeus."
Lydia widened her eyes in shock. "You would make Noir even more powerful than he already is? Why?"
"Because when I tried to weaken him, it didn’t go so well for me."
"What do you mean?"
Seth flinched as he saw Noir’s face all those years ago when he’d discovered what Seth had done. It was not a moment he ever wanted repeated. "Nothing."
Lydia yearned to kick him for his blind stupidity where Noir was concerned. "Don’t you understand what Noir will do if he regains his full powers?"
He cut a glare at her that seared her to her seat. "What I understand is what he’ll do to me if I don’t get him what he wants." He ran his hand under his chin where that ugly scar lay. "I have to have that key."
"And you don’t care who you hurt to get it?"
"Why should I?"
She couldn’t believe the honest sincerity behind that one question. "Because it’s wrong. You don’t hurt people."
"They hurt me."
"No. They don’t. People are decent and-"
"Wretch!" A female screech echoed through his room, cutting Lydia’s words off. "Here. Now!"
"Azura," he whispered. "I have to go."
He vanished instantly.
Lydia sighed in disgust. She couldn’t believe she was trapped here. With him. But at least she wasn’t being beaten.
However, as she sat there, listening to a silence that was deafening, she had a bad feeling that wasn’t going to last much longer.
Something horrible was coming for her.
She knew it.
Lydia tapped her fingers against the Guardian’s desk in total boredom, waiting for him to return.
You still have the laptop, you know.
Yes, yes, she did …
And with it, she could e-mail Solin! Why hadn’t she thought of that earlier?
‘Cause I’m an idiot. And honestly, she didn’t want to get caught doing something that would get her hurt.
He wasn’t here right now.
Her heart pounding, she went to her gmail account and prayed she had enough time to finish before the Guardian returned.
Her fingers flew over the keys.
I’m still here in Azmodea. I know you didn’t abandon me by choice, but I need a way home. My powers are gone. I can’t get them back by myself. I don’t know how long the Guardian intends to keep me. For now, I’m safe and unharmed. Please tell me what you’re planning.
Whatever you do, do not give him the key, whatever it is. I’m not worth it.
Love you always,
He was the only one who’d ever called her that and it was her way of letting him know that e-mail was really coming from her. She hit the send button and held her breath until she was sure it’d gone through.
With any luck, he’d check his mail soon and get back to her.
Even though it hadn’t been said explicitly, she had a really good idea that the Guardian was holding her until Solin handed that key over.
And to save her life and free her, Solin would. Without hesitation.
Please don’t. Her life wasn’t worth what would happen to the world should Noir tap the power of Zeus. Under no circumstances could that be allowed.
She reloaded her e-mail, hoping for a response.
For over an hour, she did that to no avail … until she felt the Guardian’s return. There was no way to miss the change in the air whenever he was near. His powers were tangible.
As was that fierce presence.
But he didn’t come into the bedroom. Rather he was in the shower.
At least she assumed he was the one running the water in there.
After logging out of her e-mail, she went to check for sure. ‘Cause if it wasn’t him, she was going to give someone a lot to regret.
She crept slowly toward the closed door, ready to bolt if it was another demon in there. Not sure if she should do this, she shouldered it open, then froze.
The Guardian’s armor lay in a heap on the floor outside of the shower. A shower she hadn’t realized earlier had a glass door.
Now she saw it.
And she saw him.
All of him.
The hot water slid over a magnificent body that rippled with chiseled muscles and sinewy grace. Oh yeah, baby. He’d make a fortune with a Web cam.
Holy cow … Not even the bruises and scars detracted from the absolute beauty of him.
Oh my word. I want a piece of that. Never in her life had she wanted to bite a heinie so badly.
Her throat went dry as a wave of desire burned through her blood like lava. Unaware of her presence, he scrubbed at himself with such vigor that she was surprised he didn’t remove skin with it.
He turned slightly to get more soap, then froze as he caught sight of her.
Time hung still as they stared at each other through the glass and steam. Her eyes widened the instant his c**k began to swell.
"Sorry!" she shouted before she jumped back through the door and slammed it shut.
Oh good grief! She was mortified at being caught …
* * *
Seth still didn’t move. He couldn’t get the sight of Lydia standing there out of his mind. Why had she watched him?
How long had she watched him?
Did it matter?
Sighing, he returned to bathing. It stunned him that he could get hard again, given what Azura had just put him through. But all he had to do was think of Lydia and his body reacted against his will.
Damn treacherous beast.
He turned the water off and summoned his loose black pants and a loose, long-sleeved black shirt. He’d never liked showing off any part of his body. Not after what had been done to him.
Grabbing a towel off the bar, he considered putting his makeup back on, but why bother? She’d already seen his real face and hair.
And hopefully both Noir and Azura were through with him for at least a day.
I just want a some peace. If only it was possible.
He rubbed the towel against his wet hair as he opened the door to find Lydia, still red-faced, sitting in his chair. "Did you need something?"
She shook her head, refusing to look at him.
It was just as well. "Is there anything I can get you?"
"Besides my powers?" The sass in her tone caught him off guard.
She was ever persistent. Not that he blamed her. "Yes, besides your powers."
"I’m good. Really, really good."
But he wasn’t. He wanted to walk over to her and brush his hand through her dark hair to feel its softness again. More than that, he wanted to bury his face in the hollow of her throat and inhale her scent until he was dizzy with pleasure.
He’d also want to kiss her again if her kisses weren’t as violent and painful as everyone else’s. Between Azura’s mouth and Noir’s fist, his lips were always burning and aching. And when it came to a she-demon …
Yeah. At least Lydia’s bite hadn’t left a scar.
It made him wonder if she bit Solin like that whenever she kissed him.
And for some reason, the thought of her with the dream god made his blood boil. He had no idea why. She was Solin’s, after all.
But he didn’t like it. Not one bit.
Lydia swallowed as she felt him draw near her. Every molecule of her body perked up, aching for her to reach out and rub herself against that long, hard body.
She glanced up, hoping his war paint would settle her desire, and remind her of who and what he was. But when she met those light blue eyes set into an unbelievably handsome face that was framed with thick, unruly spiral curls, she melted even more. Until then, she hadn’t realized how young he was in appearance. He didn’t look any older than his midtwenties. Actually, if not for his whiskers and the sprinkling of hairs on his chest, and the cut definition of his muscles, he’d probably look even younger.
And how much more handsome would he be without the bruises and cuts on his cheeks and lips? Without his jaw swollen and the broken blood vessels in his eye?
Her heart aching for his pain, she dropped her gaze to the swallow’s tail and wing tip that peeked out from beneath his shirt. "Does that have any special meaning?"
In response to her question, he began clawing at it as if he wanted to scrape it off. "No."
"Then why did you-"
"I don’t want to talk about it."
He moved the towel to cover the tattoo, and it was then she saw the additional bite marks on the other side of his neck and along the underside of his jaw. Two of them were over what appeared to be really bad hickeys. She also realized his lips were more swollen than before, and the upper one was bleeding again. And when he brushed his hand through his thick hair, there were bleeding fingernail marks on the back of his neck.
"Are you all right?"
He nodded, but didn’t speak as he paused by her side. That familiar scowl returned to his beautiful features. "What is that noise?"
She listened carefully, but didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. "What noise?"
He pulled the laptop closer so that he could bend over and place his ear near it.