"What are you doing?" His deep voice was a sleepy rumble.
"I thought you were asleep."
"I was until your hip touched my groin." Those piercing gold eyes opened to stare at her. "Kind of hard to stay asleep with the smell of you so close and your body rubbing against mine." He rolled over, onto his back. "It’s actually cruel."
"I’m sorry." She moved to snuggle up to his side. She laid her head on his chest and just inhaled the masculine scent of his body. She stared at her hand, which was incredibly pale on top of his dark skin. Kissing him just above his nipple, she closed her eyes.
Sin’s body jerked at the sweetness of her actions. He still couldn’t believe he was sharing his bed with her and they weren’t doing anything other than sleeping in it.
What the hell was wrong with him? He’d never done this with a woman before.
"We’re adults. You’ll live." Her glib words rang in his head now. And he wasn’t so sure he’d survive this.
And yet at the same time, it was wonderful to feel her lying against him. He ran his hand through her pale hair. He didn’t know why, but he’d always been fascinated by blond hair. Hers was like spun gold whispering against his skin. He fanned it over her shoulders and smiled at the sight of her pink flannel pajamas.
Pajamas… in his bed. Would the indignities never cease? The least she could have done was wear a negligee.
"Those aren’t comfortable. They crawl up your nether regions while you sleep."
But who cares? You would have and you wouldn’t have been able to keep your hands off her in that case.
Yeah, she’d pegged him on that.
Sin sighed as he pulled at the flannel sleeve. Personally, he wanted to go back in time, find whoever had created pajamas for sleepwear, and beat the hell out of him. Surely he wasn’t the only man who’d ever felt that way.
Of course it wouldn’t be nearly so bad if Kat couldn’t conjure her own clothes. Then he could have insisted she sleep nak*d or at the very least in one of his T-shirts.
That was easier said than done. Honestly, this felt like a whole new kind of torture. His body was white-hot and aching, with no relief in sight. No wonder some men begged for castration.
But before long, his exhaustion overtook him and he found himself falling asleep again. His dreams drifted through his battles, then back further in time…
He could see Anu, looking proud as the first of the gallu were born-not of a mother’s loins but of eggs so that they could survive and be born even if the mother was killed.
After sex, one female could lay two dozen fertilized eggs. Eggs that would survive heat or cold. They were virtually indestructible.
Anu had stood on a precipice high above the nest as the first hatchlings began cracking open their shells. "Look at them, Sin. This is the ultimate weapon. Let any pantheon try to defeat us now."
"They are beautiful," Anatum had said, her perfect smile beaming on her patrician face. Not only Anu’s wife, she was the goddess of creation. Tall and graceful, she’d been a vision standing by her husband’s side.
She’d also been the first victim of the gallu. As soon as they’d broken free of their eggs, they had rushed up the cavern walls to the three of them.
Sin had killed two while six had attacked Anatum. They’d gotten her free, but not before she’d been bitten. At first they’d thought nothing about it. At the time, no one knew the gallu bites could create others of their kind.
Because the demons were young and their venom weak, Anatum hadn’t turned right away. She’d merely been ill. It wasn’t until nightfall that they’d learned the true horror of what had been created.
Anatum had gone after Anu in his sleep. He’d barely been able to keep her from biting him and converting him. After a brief fight, he’d confined her to a cage.
Even though they were gods, there was no way to save her. And because of her god powers, she was even more dangerous than the others.
With no choice, Sin had taken his daughter, Ishtar, and they had destroyed Anatum and allowed Ishtar to absorb her powers and replace her in the pantheon. Anu had been sick over the loss. Sick with guilt over what he’d unleashed.
At least until Enlil had come forward.
Because of his powers over demon kind, Enlil was able to weaken the demons enough so that they could gain control of them.
Sin had begged them all to destroy them.
"Why would you kill something so valuable?" Enlil was emphatic that the gallu be saved. "They are the only thing we have to fight the Atlanteans with. Imagine if they were to ever come after us.
"They’re not a warring pantheon," Sin had argued.
"Tell that to the Greeks who are locked in war with them even as we speak."
Still, Sin had tried to talk sense into his father. "The Greeks Gods were the aggressors."
"Mark my words, one day the Atlanteans will come for us and we need to strike the first blow. Let our gallu destroy their Charonte demons before their gods unleash the Charonte on us."
But Sin had known the future. He’d sensed it, and no one would believe him. "There’s only so long you can hold a jackal by its ears before it turns on you, Father. We can’t let these creatures live. Sooner or later, they will destroy us."
Enlil had scoffed at him. "You are a fool, Nana. We need them. You’ve seen the Atlanteans. This will keep them out of our beds… if you know what I mean." He’d looked past Sin to where Sin’s wife sat with Ishtar. "And I know that you do."
Shamed to the depth of his soul, Sin had to catch himself before he attacked his father. So long as Enlil had possession of the Tablet, there was no way to defeat him. "My manhood doesn’t need the backing of a demon army to secure it. You are sowing the seed of our own destruction."
"I am securing our future survival."
Disgusted with his father’s unreasonableness, Sin had walked off. There was no convincing those who refused to see what they were shown.
On his way out, he’d passed by his wife. Ningal’s gaze had met his aloofly until he’d glanced to her chest where she wore an Atlantean sun symbol. The seal of their pantheon. One corner of her mouth had turned up in a mocking smile.
He’d felt slapped to the core of his soul. How dare she flaunt her affairs so openly. But then Archon was a full god and he was not.
So be it.
Sin had continued on his way with Zakar, invisible to the others, by his side. It was a trick that Zakar had learned as a child. Even though it was dangerous, Sin was grateful for his brother’s support. "Easier said than done."
"Ningal is a faithless bitch. Don’t worry about her. I’ll make her dream of snakes and gorgons every night when she tries to sleep."
Sin had smiled at the thought. But it didn’t distract him from what troubled him most. "I’m right about this, Zakar. I know it."
"I’m sure you are. But none of them are going to listen to you. They’re so afraid of the enemy outside that they are blind to the one they’re creating in their own house. It’s never the invader from outside who destroys the kingdom. It’s always the one from within. That one person trusted who didn’t deserve it. The one liar who smiles in your face and then spits on your charity because they think they deserve more for no other reason than they want it."
Zakar was right. But it changed nothing.
Sin had paused in the garden to look at him. "What can I do to stop this?"
"Be the last one standing, Brother. Let them play their games and spew their venom. In the end, they are the ones their poison will destroy. Nothing negative survives for long. They will turn on each other because they know no other way."
"And the world outside? What of it? The humans who look to us for protection? What will happen to them once the gallu are released?"
"They will have their champions. We will be there, you and I. We won’t let the demons hurt them."
Only Zakar wasn’t standing anymore and neither were the warriors they had once trained to fight the gallu. The humans were all dead and the demons had torn Zakar down and tortured him until there was nothing left but a shell of a man who had once walked with the powers of a god.
It was sobering and horrifying.
Suddenly Sin felt a warm hand on his shoulder. He turned with his lip curled, expecting to see his wife.
Instead, it was Kat. She looked like an angel standing there, and it made his entire body burn. He’d never been happier to see anyone.
"What are you doing here?" he asked her.
"I brought her to you."
Sin turned back to his brother, who was now circling them. "I don’t understand."
"This isn’t a dream, Sin. It’s a war." Zakar shot a blast of fire at him.
Even though it was a dream, it knocked him off his feet and burned his chest. Gasping, Sin rolled until the fire was out. He looked up at Zakar. "What are you doing?"
Zakar threw out his hand and a barbed whip coiled around Sin’s forearm. He hissed in pain as Zakar jerked the whip and wrenched his arm out of joint.
Kat turned on Zakar.
"No! Don’t hurt him."
Zakar moved to blast Kat. She ducked and shot back a blast that sent him reeling.
"You got any more tricks? How about this?" She blasted him with ice.
Sin pushed himself to his feet and ran to her. "Kat, stop. You’re hurting him."
"He doesn’t care about hurting you or me. I say let him have it."
To his surprise, Zakar started laughing. Rising up from the ground, he floated toward Kat, who tensed, ready to fight.
"Listen to her, Sin. She’s right. How do you even know this is me?" He changed into the form of Kessar. "Maybe I’m here to destroy you." The apparition ran at him.
Sin caught him by the throat and threw him to the ground. "What are you?"
"I’m fractured, brother. I’ve come here because this is the only realm where I’m what I want to be. I’m no longer in control of myself when I’m in my body. I can’t trust me when I’m awake, and neither can you."
Sin sat back on his haunches. "You’re infected?"
"Not exactly." Zakar pushed himself up so that he could sit in front of Sin. "Because of my immunity, the gallu don’t have full control of me, but then neither do I. It’s something else… something dark and deadly, and it lives inside me. I don’t know who I am anymore and I can’t control it. The only place you can trust me is here." Zakar hung his head. "I’m sorry I ended up being the coward Father always suspected me to be."
Kat scowled at him. "Coward? Are you serious? My God, we saw how cruel and vicious these things are. You fought them alone, even when you were held down. How could you ever consider yourself a coward?"
"I failed." He returned his gaze to Sin. "The gallu are worse than even you know. They can weaken you in this realm and learn how to attack you here. It’s here they’ll find your weaknesses."
Sin found that hard to believe. "Why have you never come for me in my sleep to tell me what was going on with you?"
"I couldn’t. Because of them I’m weak even here. You were dreaming of me just now and summoned me. It’s the only reason I’m here. I couldn’t have come on my own. I don’t have those powers anymore."
Kat stepped forward to stand in front of them as his words haunted her. "You have to explain to me how this works. I know the Greek sleep gods, the Oneroi, can enter anyone’s dreams at any time. They have potions they can use to seduce a waking person to sleep. Are the gallu the same?"
Zakar shook his head. "Unlike your gods, they can’t infiltrate the dreams of someone they haven’t met. They must have physical contact first."
Sin winced as he remembered Kessar earlier. So that was what had brought him into the building. "The casino today. I knew there was something more to that bastard’s visit."
Zakar nodded. "They touch you and then they can find you when you sleep."
Kat cursed. "And I let him touch me. Smooth move."
Sin patted her on the arm. "Don’t feel bad. You’re not the only one who screwed this up." He clenched his teeth as rage washed through him. "I could kill Enlil for this."
"You warned them," Zakar said. "But he thought he was too smart to be victimized. At least you didn’t see what the gallu did to him when they killed him."
Sin could just imagine the horror and he was grateful he’d missed it. "What became of his powers?"
"Most were locked in the Tablet."
Thank the gods that Sin had been able to recover that from the museum. With those powers inside the Tablet, there was no telling what the gallu could do with it. "And the rest?"
"Kessar took them. He sent his agents out to take Enlil and then bring him to the caverns. Enlil had long enough to hide the Tablet before he was captured, and once he was in Kessar’s presence Kessar bled him dry… in more ways than one. Kessar is even more dangerous than you think. And now that he’s been freed…"
"What freed him?" Sin asked.
"The locks on their prison are weakening along with the Dimme."
Kat frowned. "But why hasn’t Kessar come out before this?"
"He was being held in a different part of the cavern that had a separate locking system. Now that system has weakened to the point he and his worst disciples are able to be free. He wants total mayhem and bloodshed. Most of all, he wants Sin to suffer for helping to lock him in there."