Sin hesitated. He wanted to make sure he understood exactly what Ash was saying. "But not a gallu."
"No. She’ll be just as she was… unless she goes too long without feeding. Then she’ll turn cold and will feed from anyone who’s capable of sustaining her."
"Then what are you waiting for?"
Still Ash was hesitant. It was obvious he didn’t like the thought of bonding them together, and Sin couldn’t understand why until Ash continued. "Blood bonds like this are very sexual. She’s my daughter. For an obvious reason, I don’t want to bond her to me… That leaves"-he hesitated-"you."
Could he have growled that last word and spoken it with any more distaste?
But Sin could understand what had put a burr up Ash’s saddle. As a father he’d have felt the same way. "You’re offering your daughter to me?"
A muscle worked in Ash’s jaw as he averted his gaze from Sin. "I condemned my best friend to death for taking the innocence of the only daughter I’ve ever known." His eyes misting, he looked at Katra, and the love he had for his daughter actually choked Sin up and it gave him a new respect for Ash.
Ash cleared his throat before he spoke again. "I try to always learn from my mistakes. I don’t like what you’ve done, but I’m not going to see either of you die for it. I’ve let my emotions do enough damage to people I care about. But before I intrust her life to you, I have to know how much she means to you."
Sin held his arms out like a supplicant as he admitted something to Ash he didn’t even want to admit to himself. But it was the truth. "I’m standing before you in the temple of my worst enemy and I’m not trying to kill Artemis. What do you think Katra means to me?"
Ash inclined his head to Sin. "This isn’t a typical blood bond I’m doing. Once this is done, there will be no way to undo it. You understand?"
Yes, he did. "Whatever it takes, Acheron, save her."
Ash actually looked relieved, but it passed by his face so quickly that Sin wasn’t sure if he saw it or imagined it. "Hold her legs."
Sin went to her feet and held her ankles while Ash took her hands into his. Then, in the blink of an eye, Ash changed forms. No longer human, he had mottled blue skin and black lips and horns. His eyes were a monstrous red that swirled with yellow. And while Sin watched, Ash’s incisors grew to long, razor-sharp fangs.
Gaping, Sin had never seen anything like this. "What are you?"
Ash gave a bitter laugh. "I am death and sorrow." And then he leaned over Kat and bit into her neck.
Kat screamed and tried to fight, but Ash didn’t stop. Sin held her feet as tight as he could without hurting her while Ash drew back and spat her blood onto the floor. Only it didn’t hit the marble. Instead, it splashed into what appeared to be an invisible jar of some kind. Her blood swirled around before it slid to pool in the bottom.
Sin curled his lip as Ash repeated the gesture again and again like someone siphoning gas from a car. And as Ash continued to spit the blood into the jar, the blood congealed. Before long, it was forming a small, angry demon. It tried to run at Ash, but it couldn’t. It seemed to be stuck to the jar’s bottom like an insect on flypaper. Even though it was headless, it managed to shout in a language Sin had never heard before as it raised a fist, then slapped against the side of the jar, wanting release.
Ash ignored it.
Sin focused his gaze on the mottled blue skin of Ash’s hand as he held Kat’s hands in place. Ash’s long black hair was draped over both of them while Ash’s red eyes glowed.
"Kat doesn’t turn blue like you, does she?"
Ash cut Sin a harsh glare with those spooky fire eyes that made his weird-ass silver eyes suddenly attractive by comparison. "I have no idea," he said before he returned to suck more blood from her.
As Ash continued to drain her Sin cringed and hoped it wasn’t causing her pain. He couldn’t stand the thought of her being hurt because of him.
Once the demon was completely formed in the jar, Ash released Kat and sat back on his haunches. Kat had long since stopped fighting them. Now she lay quietly against the white cushions, serene and unmoving.
Sin held his breath in fear. She was so pale… her skin was no longer healthy looking. It held a grayish cast, and her lips appeared to be turning bluish.
She was dying.
"Acheron?" He hated the note of panic in his voice.
Ash grabbed Sin’s arm and pulled it across Kat’s body. "She’ll most likely attack you. Don’t let her take too much blood or she could kill you."
"You sound like you’re going somewhere."
"I have to take care of the gallu spirit."
Sin sucked his breath in sharply as Acheron used a long black claw to slash open his wrist. He hissed in pain. Acheron held Sin’s arm over Kat’s lips to let the blood drip into her mouth. As soon as the first drop touched her teeth, her eyes opened.
Frantically she grabbed Sin’s wrist and held it to her mouth so that she could drink. Her breath scorched him as her tongue tickled his skin while she sought to get as much of his blood as she could.
Without looking at them, Acheron picked up the invisible jar with the demon who kept screaming at them, and vanished.
Sin was so relieved by Kat’s recovery that all he could do was watch her. He should be disgusted by what she was doing, but his gratitude was such that it didn’t faze him at all. If bleeding for her would save her, then he’d gladly open a vein anytime.
At least that was his thought until she released his wrist and pulled him against her. He saw the hunger in her eyes an instant before she sank her teeth into his neck. The pain was only brief before a deeply erotic pleasure tore through him.
And when it did, a million images began filling his mind. He saw all kinds of moments from Kat’s past. Her as a child, an adolescent… as a woman.
It took him a minute to realize they were her memories.
Suddenly the images slowed and he could hear actual sound bites while they danced through his mind.
He saw her in her mother’s garden, laughing with other handmaidens. Saw her in Greece on a boat with a woman named Geary as they discussed Atlantis. Then the memories changed to a club in Minnesota where Kat was dancing with a blond woman…
It was so strange to be inside Kat like this and it gave him insight into what it must have been like for her when she’d viewed his dreams. Surreal and dizzying, he had a hard time sorting through the memories.
Cradling her head in his hands while she fed, he saw her as a young woman in a girl’s white and light blue bedroom, sitting at a white table, reading a small leather-bound scroll.
She jumped at the sound of Artemis’s frantic call. "What now?" she muttered under her breath.
"Katra, please. I need your help."
Kat flashed herself from her room to Artemis’s bedroom. She drew up short as she saw…
Sin lying on the bed, half-dressed.
He flinched at the image that hit him through his own memories and through hers, but curiosity kept him from banishing it. He wanted to know what had happened that night.
Artemis was panicked as she pulled Kat into the room, her eyes damp from tears. "You must help me, Katra. He… he broke into my chambers and tried to rape me."
Artemis was covered in blood, her gown torn. And for the first time in centuries, Sin remembered the past that his mind had buried.
He remembered Artemis smiling at him and handing him a goblet. "Yes, it is a shame about Ningal. I saw her earlier tonight sleeping with my brother in his temple. She is a faithless whore, isn’t she?"
Sin had refused to answer. His and Ningal’s relationship wasn’t any of Artemis’s business, and it was something that never failed to cut him to the bone. "I don’t want to discuss it, Artemis."
Part of him had suspected she’d mentioned it hoping he’d kill his wife in anger and unleash the Chthonians on him.
But Artemis surprised him with her reason. "I have a proposition for you, Sin. You solve my problem and I solve yours."
"And what problem do I have?"
She’d wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Don’t be stupid, Sin. Everyone knows your wife cheats with anyone she can drag to her bed… that the children you claim as yours aren’t. That your own pantheon looks down on you even though you control the moon, the calendar, and their fertility. I can’t imagine how terrible it must feel to be laughed at by everyone, especially given how much power you have."
It was much more complicated than that. As much power as he held, he knew it could be negated in an instant by the Tablet of Destiny. Without power, he’d be an easy kill. Not to mention, he was kept at bay by loyalty to Zakar. If Sin died, they’d soon learn Zakar was still alive and in no time they’d kill him, too.
Artemis had leaned against Sin and breathed in his ear. "Haven’t you ever wanted to get back at them?"
More than she could imagine.
However, his hands were tied and he knew it-better he be unhappy than his brother be dead. And as that thought went through Sin, he realized he didn’t want to be here tonight… with her.
This all felt wrong and he needed to leave.
Sin had set the goblet aside. "I made a mistake coming here."
Artemis had pulled him to a stop and smiled prettily at him in a way no goddess had done in centuries. "No, love, you didn’t. You belong here with me." She’d pulled him toward her room. "Like you, I’m tired of being alone all the time." She’d raised his hand and placed a tender kiss on his knuckles as her eyes seduced him. "Stay with me, Sin, and I will make you the next reigning king of the gods."
"I don’t need to be king."
She’d left him to get more wine. "Of course you don’t. But think of the others bowing down before you. Imagine them all doing any- and everything they can to please you… wouldn’t it be fantastic?" Returning to his side, she held the goblet to his lips. "Drink, my sweet. It’s good for you."
Sin had downed it all. But no sooner had he finished it than the room began to swim. Too late, he’d realized that she had drugged him.
He’d tried to walk but stumbled to his knees. "What have you done to me?"
Her face had hardened. "I want your powers, Sin. I need them."
"You lying bitch," Sin had growled, and lunged at her.
She’d slapped him hard. Sin had grabbed her and thrown her to the bed, intending to kill her. But no sooner had he wrapped his hands around her throat than he’d passed out.
Now he saw himself on the bed through Kat’s eyes. Artemis’s throat was bruised from his attack. Her dress torn, but he hadn’t done it.
Artemis gestured toward him. "You have to strip his powers from him, Katra. If you don’t…" She started crying. "He’ll return and may Zeus have mercy on me then. He’ll kill me when he wakes. I know it."
"You what?" she asked angrily, "Don’t tell me you won’t protect your own mother from an attacker? Look at him, spread out on my bed, sleeping peacefully as if this was nothing to him. Look at me! If I hadn’t blasted him, he’d have violated me and taken my powers and left me as weak as a babe. Who do you think would protect you from the other gods then?" She’d begun sobbing hysterically.
He could feel the pain inside Kat at seeing her mother hurt, at hearing her tears. Artemis never cried, and it broke Kat’s heart. She wanted to soothe her mother.
"Please, Matisera, don’t cry."
"How can I not? My own child doesn’t love me."
"I do love you."
"Then prove it! Give me his powers!"
He could see the indecision in Kat’s eyes and feel it inside her as she walked to the bed and touched his arm. The minute she touched him, his wrath and anger had seared her. She’d dropped his arm instantly. "He wants you dead."
"I told you that! If he’s still a god when he wakes, I won’t be here to protect you anymore."
Kat was terrified. Her mother meant everything to her. The thought of losing her… she couldn’t deal with it. "I won’t let anyone hurt you, Matisera. I promise." Cringing, Kat had reached for him again and then held her hand out for her mother.
Artemis joined her by the bed and took her hand into hers. Kat covered the center of his chest with her palm, then closed her eyes.
Sin gasped as he felt his powers traveling from his body, through Kat to Artemis. And with every beat of his heart, he grew weaker while Artemis grew stronger…
Anger and betrayal tore through him as he realized the truth. Artemis hadn’t taken his powers from him.
She had been the one to cover him in the diktyon so that her mother could dump his body…
He couldn’t even go there. Even after all these centuries that pain was too raw. The humiliation too severe. Damn them both for it!
Unable to breathe, he opened his eyes and saw Kat still drinking from him. He cursed before he shoved her away.
Kat was dazed as she looked up at Sin and saw the fury on his face. It didn’t matter. The bloodlust was turning into something more.
Her entire body was on fire and she needed him. It was more than she could deny. She had to have him.
Rising from the chaise, she stalked toward him.
"Don’t touch me," he growled, holding her back.
She was baffled by his anger as she wrapped her arms around him, trying to pull him back toward her lips. "I need you, Sin."