Kat flinched at the memory. Sin had been unconscious at the time. Too young and gullible, she’d done what her mother had requested.
And she had ruined the man before her.
He’d kill her if he ever learned that truth.
"What happened to your father?" she asked.
Sin stroked her fingers with his thumb before he pulled away from her. "Infighting and out-fighting. What’s the old saying? ‘Beware Greeks bearing gifts’? Apollo and your mother came in as friends to spread lies. They systematically turned each of us against the other until there was no trust left. Not that I’d ever had much to begin with. After I was drained and degodded, I tried to warn the others, but they didn’t think it could happen to them. I was a fool after all and deserved what happened. They were all smarter than I was. Or so they thought."
"And yet here you are while they’re all gone."
He nodded. "Survival is the best revenge. Me and the cock-roach."
"And the gallu?"
He laughed at that. "Probably. It would serve me right to have to fight those bastards for the rest of eternity."
Kat smiled at his humor. He really was a smart, funny ex-god. There was something about him that was absolutely infectious, and it made her giddy just to be around him. It wasn’t often that she liked someone so readily. But even in spite of everything she’d heard about him, she wanted to believe in him.
It made no sense.
And yet all she wanted to do was reach out and touch him. To kiss him again and see what would have happened had Apollymi not blasted them apart.
Instinctively she took a step toward him. And she would have probably made a move had a strange shiver not gone down her spine. It was a tingle she knew all too well.
Born of the cursed Apollite race that was forced to die painfully at the tender age of twenty-seven, Daimons could only survive if they began feeding on human souls. It was why they had to be hunted and killed. As soon as a soul was taken, it would begin to die in the foreign body. The only way to save that soul and send it to its proper place was to kill the Daimon before the soul died.
Now one of the Daimons was nearby.
A knock sounded on the door. It made her blood run cold. There was a Daimon outside. She knew it.
She tried to stop Sin as he went to answer the knock, but he didn’t listen. He swung the door open, and sure enough, there was a tall blond Daimon standing there in a black suit.
Manifesting a knife in her hand, she ran for him.
Sin caught Kat against him before she could reach Damien Gatopoulos and stab him through the heart. "Whoa, Kat."
As Damien jumped back in a way that was reminiscent of a pogo stick, his eyes widened. But he quickly caught his composure once he realized Sin wasn’t going to let go of Kat and allow her to kill him.
"He’s a Daimon!" she snarled. Damien gave her an indignant stare.
"Yes," Sin said slowly, tightening his hold on her, "and he’s my casino manager."
Kat went limp against Sin as she looked up at his face. Total astonishment colored her pale features as she gaped at him. Even though her grip slackened on the knife, he still kept his hold on her wrist tight lest she go after Damien again and ruin both their nights.
"Excuse me?" she demanded. "He’s my casino manager."
Her anger returned as she started struggling again. Even though it shouldn’t, the friction of her body rubbing against Sin’s set him on fire. It was hard to concentrate on anything other than how kissable her lips were while her cheeks pinkened from her anger. "You have a Daimon working for you?"
Sin tilted his knee to keep her from colliding any more with his groin before he laughed at her rage. "A couple of them, actually."
"Don’t worry," Damien said, straightening his jacket with a slight tug at the lapels. "I only eat humans who deserve it."
That really didn’t help.
Kat screwed her face up in distaste as she turned from Damien to look again at Sin. "And to think I was actually beginning to like you. I can’t believe you tolerate a Daimon to work for you. "
He didn’t really expect her to understand, but he had no problem with Damien or any of the others who worked for him. They were men and women whose lives had been ruined because of a Greek god’s anger. To him, they were kindred spirits. Apollo had cursed the Apollite race because some distant ancestor had killed the Greek god’s mistress and child. While tragic, it should never have led to Apollo’s cursing anyone born of their race to die painfully at age twenty-seven. The god had also banned them from daylight and had forced them to live only on the blood of one another. It was harsh and unbecoming of a god who should have had more compassion for the race he’d created, then turned his back on.
Besides, what Damien said was true. Neither he nor any of the others who worked here preyed on the souls of decent humans. They only destroyed the souls of people who deserved to die. And the gods knew there were many humans in this world who needed annihilation and it was only fitting they become victims of a noble predator. That, for once, fate handed to them a just sentence.
Sin smiled at Kat. "Yeah, but he’s incredibly honest. Since he took over, no one tries to cheat me anymore. If they do, he eats them."
She grimaced at Sin’s words. "Oh, you’re both disgusting."
Damien made a noise of deep aggravation. "You know, I really resent the fact that you judge me based on one unfortunate fact. Honestly, I’m not a bad guy."
She wasn’t buying it. "You eat people’s souls. How can you not be bad?"
"Trust me, these aren’t people you want reincarnated. The guy I ate yesterday was a wife-abusing hit man. Good, strong soul… rotten human being."
Sin had to force himself not to laugh when it was obvious Kat wasn’t amused. But he knew for a fact that Damien was right. He only took the lives of those who deserved to die, and so long as he did, Sin had no problem with him.
Kat shook her head. "And if you eat enough of those souls, they begin to corrupt you until you become one of them. Everyone knows that."
Damien scoffed. "Only if you’re stupid. I’m two hundred years old and I haven’t turned yet. You just have to learn to hum a lot so you don’t hear their bullshit echoing in your head. It gets really loud and ugly the closer to final death they go. But then you eat a new soul and it usually finishes off the old one, so there’s no real danger of turning evil yourself."
She tried again to shrug off Sin’s hold. "You disgust me."
Damien took it in stride. "Like you don’t have any revolting habits."
"I don’t eat people."
"Technically, I don’t, either. I only swallow their souls. Which, I might add, you should try someday… Finger-lickin’ good."
She let out a shriek before she lunged again.
Sin wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her up from the floor, which was a really stupid move, since she then proceeded to kick him in the legs. "Why don’t you go back downstairs, Damien? I’ll call you when I have a minute."
Sin waited until the door was safely shut before he released Kat. She turned on him with her nostrils flared and her green eyes snapping fury. "Don’t you ever keep me from teleporting again."
"Why not? You did it to me."
Kat calmed a degree as she realized he was right. She’d done that to him. Funny, it hadn’t seemed like a personal invasion until it’d happened to her. No wonder he’d been so angry in Kalosis. But that didn’t change the fact that he was in the wrong where the Daimon was concerned.
"How can you condone what that man does to stay alive?"
"Me? I’m not the one whose uncle went wild on an entire innocent race. If not for Apollo and his condemnation and curse, none of the Daimons would even exist."
"They killed his son and his mistress," she said as if that warranted the god’s unreasonable anger.
"Three soldiers killed his son and mistress," Sin reminded her. "The rest of them were completely innocent. How many of the Apollites did Apollo kill as children the day he went wild on them? Does he even care? Oh, wait a second, I forgot. How many of the Apollites were his own flesh-and-blood children and grandchildren that he condemned to death? Did he care they were damned over something they had no part in? He killed more of his own blood family in anger than the three soldiers who killed that mistress and child. A lot more."
Kat cringed. Again, Sin was right. The Stryker who served Apollymi was Apollo’s own son. Originally, Stryker had had ten children who had been cursed along with him. Out of that ten, all of them had gone Daimon and been killed.
All of them.
"Tell me something, Kat?" Sin said, his voice deep and tense. "If you were going to die at twenty-seven and someone showed you how to live another day, would you really choose the life of a complete stranger over your own?"
"Of course I would."
"Then you’re a better person than I am. Or maybe you just haven’t had to fight for survival so you can’t truly understand what it’s like to look death in the face and have him stare right back at you." The heat in his voice sent a shiver over her.
Still she wasn’t swayed to his side. "You’re immortal. What do you know of dying?"
A cold look descended on his features as pain glowed in those golden depths. "Immortals can and do die. Some of us more than once."
There was something there… something she needed to know the answer to.
"And have you ever taken the life of an innocent to live another day?"
His eyes were harsh and cold. "I’ve done many things in my life that I didn’t want to. I’m not proud of them, but I’m still here and I intend to be here for a long time to come. So don’t you dare sit in judgment of people when you haven’t been in their shoes."
Kat reached out to touch him even though she knew she shouldn’t. The instant she did, she felt the rawness of his grief. But more than that, she saw him with his daughter, screaming out her name as she was killed by demons. His black hair was plastered by sweat against his dark skin. Blood ran down his rage-contorted face and body in thick, crimson rivulets.
She could see him cradling Ishtar against him and feel the searing ache that made her gasp.
Then Kat felt the sharp, crisp pain of something piercing her heart.
She looked down, choking on what seemed to be her own blood, expecting to see a wound. But it wasn’t her body she saw. It was Sin’s. There was a sword stuck through him and it burned like the very fires of hell. Every beat of her heart sent more agony pounding through her until she wanted to scream from it.
And it wasn’t the only painful memory he kept buried. She was in a long, open hallway that was light and airy, with thin white curtains billowing in the breeze. Sunshine poured through it as Sin walked toward the back of his temple in Ur. There was a feeling of happiness in his heart until the sounds of grinding sex intruded on it. The joy turned to vengeful rage as he entered his bedroom. He approached the bed in the corner and parted the heavy red curtains.
What she saw there jolted her into releasing Sin’s arm. Kat gasped as she stepped back in shock.
She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t see or hear anything other than the unbelievable agony inside her. It hurt… it hurt… Over and over images continued to flash in her mind. Sin’s memories. She saw his wife in the arms of another man. Saw his son, Utu, and his daughter, Ishtar, as they died fighting the demons Sin’s own father had created.
The agony was unbearable…
How could Sin stand all that had happened to him? How? They had laughed at him and they had shamed him.
Then they had died and left him completely alone…
Kat wanted peace, but there was no comfort to be found. All she could see was bitter images that ate at her. Bitter images of guilt and betrayal.
"Help me," she whispered, her heart breaking.
Sin stood beside Kat, watching her shake. The sadistic part of himself enjoyed the sight of her there like that. It was what she deserved for intruding on his emotions and memories.
But he wasn’t the bastard he wanted to be and the joy only lasted a millisecond of a heartbeat before he was gathering her into his arms. She was sobbing against him.
"Sh," he whispered as he rocked her. "Let it go. It’s not yours to feel." Closing his eyes, he cradled her against his chest and reached out with his powers to ease the pain she’d taken from him.
Kat continued to tremble uncontrollably as the images receded. She felt the comfort of Sin’s arms that warred against the residual emotions that continued to sting her.
There was so much pain inside him. So much betrayal. How could he stand it?
But then she knew. It was what fueled his fight against the gallu. He channeled all the anger and pain and used it to strengthen him.
It was also what kept him isolated from everyone around him. Even Kish and Damien. And she finally understood what he’d said to her earlier. "There is more than one kind of death," she whispered.
"Yes." His own voice was low and that single word carried more emotion than a lovesick poet. "Cowards aren’t the only ones who die a thousand deaths. Sometimes heroes do, too."
It was true. She’d seen it firsthand and she now understood so much about him.