The loss of the friendship stall made him ache.
He took Kat’s hand in his. "I’m glad her anger at me never spilled over onto you."
She gave him a teasing smile. "Me, too." She reached up and brushed a strand of hair away from his face. "I can’t believe this is real. That you’re here, seeing me."
Neither could he. It was surreal.
But for a quirk of fate, they wouldn’t be here now.
Which brought another question to him. "Why were you with my mother in her garden?"
"I was trying to help Sin fight the gallu and Dimme. He has a brother-"
She didn’t know why, but she was surprised he knew about Zakar. "You know him?"
Ash nodded. "I’ve met him a few times. He’s a decent enough guy."
That was nice to know. The last thing she wanted to do was unleash another enemy into the world. "Well, he’s missing. One of the gallu says that they have him held prisoner. Sin needs to know if that’s true."
"Did my mother help you find him?"
"We saw something, but I don’t know if that was him or not. It was blurry."
"Yeah, the sfora has its moments." He reached under his hair and removed his necklace. It was a small red glass ball, and it wasn’t until he put it around her neck that she realized it was a tiny sfora. "This is a bit stronger than the pond. It has a part of me in it."
Her heart hammering, she closed her hand around it, unable to believe he’d give her something so valuable. With his DNA in it, she could use it not only to see what she needed, but to destroy him.
Given how little he trusted anyone, she understood the total significance of his gift.
He stepped back. "Tell it what you need and it’ll guide you to it."
He inclined his head to her.
Smiling up at him, Kat lifted herself on her tiptoes and placed a kiss to his cheek.
Ash couldn’t breathe as he felt her gentle kiss. His daughter’s kiss. It was tender and sweet and it made a wave of love well up inside him that he’d only ever known whenever Simi was near him.
He wanted to crush Kat to him, but she was too old to be held like a little girl. His daughter was grown and he’d have to respect her as a woman.
"Be careful," he whispered in her ear.
Ash took another step back and did the hardest thing he’d ever done. He let go of his daughter’s hand. "If you need me, call and I will come no matter the cost."
"I know… Thanks, Daddy."
With tears in his eyes, he watched as she vanished and left him alone again in Artemis’s room. He wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand.
I have a daughter…
It seemed so unbelievable.
"Are you angry at me, Apostolos?"
He clenched his teeth at the sound of his mother’s voice in his head. "No, Metera. I’m just hurt that you kept her from me."
"I would rather you be angry at me. Your hurt makes me ache."
"Why do you apologize when I’m the one in the wrong?"
"Because I would never hurt you for anything."
His mother appeared to him then as a pale Shade. "Come home, Apostolos. Free me and I will make sure you never hurt again."
He shook his head. "I can’t, Metera. You know that."
She let out a tired breath. "One day, my child, you will seize the destiny you were born to."
Ash hoped not. If he did, the world would end.
Kat manifested back in Sin’s penthouse. He was right where she’d left him by his bar, looking just as gorgeous.
He stood up from the bar stool and crossed the short distance between them. She could see the worry in his eyes. "Did you find him?" he asked anxiously.
She shook her head at the irony. She’d gone to find his brother and instead had found her father.
"Not exactly. But my father gave me this." She lifted the tiny red ball on her chest up so that Sin could see it. "He said it would lead us to Zakar."
A deep scowl marred his brow. "You met your father?"
"Are you all right?" His concern warned her a lot more than it should have. It was so touching.
"Yeah. In a weird way, I think I am."
He approached her slowly and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I really am."
There was a tenderness on his face that she couldn’t even begin to fathom. But it only lasted until his next question.
"So did he kill Artemis?"
Well, that was certainly an "ah" mood killer that wasn’t helped by the eagerness of his tone. "Sin!"
"What?" he asked, his face a mask of innocence. "It’s a legitimate question. I hope he cut her head off and stuck on a pike."
Men! Or more to the point, Sin! He was terrible. "Sorry to disappoint you, but she’s still breathing."
"Damn," he said in a low tone. "Just once couldn’t he give that-"
She arched a warning brow at him before he used the noun she despised.
"Woman," he said with an expression that let her know he really resented using that word, "that she deserves?"
"Would you punish the mother of your daughter?" No sooner were those words out of her mouth than she realized she’d hit a hard chord in his heart. She could feel his pain and it stung her deep.
Honestly, he looked as if she’d struck him.
"Sin…" She took a step toward him, but he quickly stepped back.
"We need to find Zakar," he said from between clenched teeth.
"Sin, don’t change the subject. I want to know what’s wrong. Why did my comment hurt you? "
"Let’s just say you gave me clarity with one comment and leave it at that."
But she didn’t want to leave it at that. She wanted to understand him. "I know your wife cheated on you. I saw it."
"And now you know why I never killed her over it. She was the mother of my children. Any other sore spots you wish to salt? I was once humiliated when I first tried to use my powers of flight as a kid. Instead of soaring over the mountain, I fell down and busted my chin. Why don’t we call me incompetent all the way around? I assure you it was much less embarrassing than being a fertility god who couldn’t satisfy his own wife."
So that was the source of it…
His shame made her ache for him. She cupped his face in her hands and stared at him so that he could see her sincerity. "And having been in your bed, I can honestly say that there had to have been something profoundly wrong with a woman who wasn’t satisfied by you. Maybe it was a birth defect."
He looked at her with hooded eyes. Even so, she could feel the comfort her words had given him. He reached up and covered her hands with his. "I can’t believe you’re related to… what was the term Simi used? ‘Bitch-goddess’?"
She rolled her eyes at him. "I know. I’m the watered-down version and you’re lucky for that."
He took her right hand and placed a gentle kiss on her knuckles. "Thank you, Kat."
"Hey, I never say anything I don’t mean. It’s a curse I inherited from my father."
Sin grinned at her. "I don’t think it’s a curse so much as refreshing."
Her heart pounded at the light in his dark golden eyes. She had a bad feeling where he was concerned. There was something about him that she found so comforting and she didn’t even know why. Something about him that just called out to her. She wanted to ease the pain in his gaze, and at the same time he gave her so much by doing nothing more than looking at her like he was doing right now.
It made her uncomfortable. She brushed her thumb over his fingers before she took a step back. Looking down, she picked up the small sfora. "I don’t know if this will work, but are you ready to try?"
"More than ready."
Kat closed her eyes and summoned Simi and Xirena to her side. Sin stiffened as they appeared in the room looking a bit peeved.
Kat smiled at him and his reservations. "We’re having to go into who knows what. While I know you can kick serious demon ass and I can kick most demon ass, I still like the idea of having a little cavalry standing at our backs. Especially since they’re probably hungry."
He shook his head but didn’t say anything.
"Where are we going, akra-Kat?" Simi asked.
"Food?" Xirena asked hopefully. "Watching all that Diamonique made me hungry."
Kat wrinkled her nose at Xirena. "Knowing my luck, there will be many gallu for your dining pleasure tonight "
Xirena and Simi rubbed their hands together in delight.
Kat laughed before she covered the sfora with her hand. "Okay, folks. Fasten your seat belts. This could very well be a bumpy ride." She concentrated and waited with bated breath.
"You’re not doing it right," Simi said petulantly. "Akra-Kat has to take it off, put it in her palm, and think of who you’re trying to find."
"Oh." She glanced to Sin. "Your brother looks like you?"
"Since we’re twins… yeah."
"Okay. One sexy Sumerian coming up." Kat took the necklace off and closed her hand around the orb. As soon as she began to imagine Sin in her mind with Zakar’s name, the orb began to glow. The rays spread out from between her fingers and danced along the walls like a strobe.
Then the red light slowly encompassed them. Two seconds later, they were in a damp cave. By the heavy earthen smell, it seemed to be deep underground. The sfora’s light faded and left them encased in the darkness.
In fact, it was so dark that the only way she could see Simi and Xirena was by their glowing eyes. The silence was only broken by the sound of heavy, angry breathing. Kat tried to peer through the darkness to the source of the sound, but her eyes couldn’t focus on it at all.
She reached out and felt Sin’s biceps under her hand.
Sin lifted his hand and a small flame appeared from his palm so that they could see in the darkness.
At first all she could see was the earthen walls of the cave. Then the breathing stopped.
And so did hers.
There on the other side of the cave was the body of a man lying on a stone slab. But that wasn’t what horrified her. It was how he’d been laid out. His left shoulder was pinned to the slab by a sword that had been buried through his body to the hilt in the stone. His right arm had been lifted and a smaller sword driven through his wrist to pin it down. His legs had been done in a similar fashion, only the swords had been planted through the fleshy parts of his calves.
Bile rose in her throat as they moved toward him.
Sin was silent, but she could feel the anger rolling through him. And once they were close enough, she saw the blood that was running from the wounds and the scars that marred every inch of the man’s nak*d body. His hair was matted and long, as if it’d been years since anyone had washed or combed it. He was clean shaven, but it was easy to see why that one bit of hygiene had been observed.
There were bite marks all over his neck. Some of them were long and jagged, as if the gallu had torn themselves away from his flesh in an effort to cause him as much pain as possible after their feedings.
But the worst was his eyes. Someone or something had seared them shut.
Xirena accidentally touched his leg as she neared him.
The man jerked his head toward her. "Fuck you, gallu," he snarled in Sumerian before spitting in Xirena’s direction. He tried to fight.
Kat winced as the swords tore into his flesh.
"Stop it, Zakar," Sin said, moving closer to his brother so that he could hold his brother in place.
Zakar tried to bite him.
Sin cupped his brother’s head in his hands. "Stop it. It’s me. Sin. I’m here to free you."
"Fuck you," Zakar spat again.
Sin wiped the spittle off his face with the back of his hand. "Stop fighting. You’re only hurting yourself more."
Kat cringed as Zakar pulled his wrist up and the sword made a slight scraping noise against the stone. The pain of that action had to be killing him.
Sin held his brother’s arm in place before Sin jerked the sword free. Instead of being grateful, Zakar tried to punch him. When that failed, Zakar grabbed Sin by his hair and slammed his head into the stone by his side.
Sin cursed before he twisted out of Zakar’s grasp. "Dammit, boy, you better be glad I love you."
As Zakar continued to fight, he ignored Sin.
Kat stepped forward to help Sin. "I’ll get the ones in his legs."
"Let us," Simi said as she pushed her back. "Charontes are stronger. We can pull them out in one clean motion and it’ll hurt him less."
Kat was grateful for their help–anything to spare the poor man more pain.
Moving to the side, she watched as Simi, Xirena, and Sin pulled the remaining swords free of the stone and Zakar’s body. Zakar let out an echoing scream that sent a chill all the way to Kat’s soul as he thrashed about in utter misery.
And as soon as he was free, he rolled to the floor and crouched to attack.
"Zakar!" Sin snapped, trying to make him understand. "It’s Sin."
Zakar lunged at Sin and wrapped his arms about him before tackling him to the floor.
Kat wanted to help but wasn’t sure what would be the best course of action. More than that, she didn’t want to hurt Zakar any more.