Her tone offended him to the core of his being and it took everything he had not to lash back at her. If it wasn’t for the fact that he knew something inside her was hurting, he would have. But he wouldn’t be that cold. He didn’t believe in kicking anyone when they were down.
If there was one thing in life he understood, it was concealed pain. That core part of the soul that hurt so bad all it knew to do was lash out against anyone unlucky enough to be there when it snapped out of control.
Guess I was nothing but a booty call after all. He didn’t know why that thought cut him, but it did. He felt used. How weird.
What ever. He wasn’t about to sit around here and beg. It wasn’t in him.
Sam watched as Dev vanished from her bed. Part of her wanted to call him back and apologize. The other part wished she could return to the night Ioel died and have stayed dead instead of making her bargain with Artemis.
Yes, it’d given her vengeance against the ones who’d killed those she loved. But her family was still dead. And eternity without them was brutal. Their pain had ended. Hers went on to infinity. There was no hope of it ever ending and that was what had made her a Dog of War. That rage and fury over the injustice of it all that screamed out for some semblance of solace when there was none to be had.
Trust no one. Not even blood.
In the end, everyone had a price and for the right amount, anyone would betray even those they loved most. It was harsh, but true.
Dev had been a nice distraction for a few hours. Now real work began and he wasn’t part of her world. Her life was her job. She didn’t want any kind of emotional attachment. She didn’t want to be normal or have anything like other people.
She was a Dog and she bled their spirit.
A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi.
Age. Fac ut gaudeam.
Between a rock and a hard place.
Go ahead. Make my day. Loosely translated, but the meaning was the same. When cornered, the Dogs fought until they died. No one touched them.
They were the ultimate killing machine. The ultimate protectors of the world. She would stand and she would fight.
Forever alone. To the death.
–either with her shield or upon it.
Those words resonated deep inside her as she went to shower. But as she let her mind wander, she saw a new enemy appear. One far deadlier than any they’d ever faced before.
And this particular one would be coming for her.
Things were about to get bloody and she would be in the very center of it.
"We have a problem."
Sitting in his leather chair in front of the fire in his study, Stryker looked up from the book he was reading to find his newest High General and second-in-command standing in front of him. He didn’t like for his soldiers to materialize without warning. If she wasn’t his daughter and if she didn’t look so much like her mother whom he loved more than anything, he’d kill her for the intrusion.
Irritated at her, he turned the page slowly before he responded to her emotional outburst. "I don’t have a problem, Medea. Care to tell me yours?"
With an annoyed expression that twisted her beautiful features into a fierce scowl, Medea glared furiously at him–another trait she shared with her fiery mother. "The demon who escaped your party that Phrix blasted with your latest toy? He went from here to Sanctuary where he exploded all over one of the bears."
He had to keep one corner of his mouth from quirking up in amusement. Too bad he’d missed seeing the bear doused with demon entrails. That had to have been entertaining. "And that concerns me how?"
"The Dark-Hunters now not only know for a fact, but believe we walk in daylight. The proverbial cat has escaped his bag and taken a dump all over your carefully laid plans…Father."
Oh, now that was truly upsetting and it made him want to rip out someone’s heart. Lucky for Medea, he loved her enough to curb that impulse.
For the moment.
Stryker cursed at their lost advantage against their enemies. It was one they really couldn’t afford. "And you know this how?"
"I have a spy in the club who heard the bears and wolves talking about it. Congratulations, Father. We’re officially screwed."
He ignored her sarcasm. "You have a spy in Sanctuary?" He was impressed by her drive and resourcefulness. That was one of many reasons he’d replaced Davyn with her. Davyn had yet to say a word about being replaced. Of course he had no choice except to live with it.
If not, Stryker would kill him for daring to protest. Though to be honest, Davyn had seemed rather relieved to be removed from command. But that was neither here nor there.
Medea crossed her arms over her chest. "I have a lot of friends in low places." She gave him a look that was definitely inherited from her mother’s mostly acerbic personality. "Family too."
And he couldn’t be prouder even though it was an obvious dig. Another reason he’d promoted her. Unlike Davyn, he didn’t get the impression she was about to wet herself every time she had an audience with him. "Good girl. Did this spy tell you anything else pertinent?"
"Acheron’s wife is three months pregnant."
Stryker went completely still as raw anger overtook him. One cause was jealousy, pure and simple. It wasn’t fair that Acheron could breed while that ability had been taken from Stryker and his fellow Daimons over something none of them had done or even participated in. As Apollites, they could have children–for a brief period during their seriously truncated lives. But the moment they refused to lie down and die horribly at age twenty-seven, when they crossed over to being Daimons that right ended.
Bastard Apollo. For that, among many reasons, he wanted to hold Apollo’s heart in his fist and feast on it.
The second cause of his anger was that he couldn’t touch Acheron’s wife no matter how much he might want to. Gods how alliances sucked.
Acheron’s mother, the goddess Apollymi, was their benefactor and Stryker’s adoptive mother. But for Apollymi, he’d have a way to cripple the Dark-Hunters forever. Take out their weakened queen–Acheron’s wife–and their king would follow. Pregnant women were always an easy target and Acheron loved her to such an extent that he’d never get over losing her. It was such a twofer that it was hard to resist.
But Stryker had enough self-preservation to let it go. Killing Soteria would anger the goddess he served and no one with a brain angered Apollymi. As the Atlantean goddess of destruction, she wielded a nasty tendency to disembowel anyone who irked her.
Yet not completely bad. If Soteria was pregnant, Acheron would be distracted and wouldn’t venture far from home. He’d be too worried about his enemies, especially Artemis, coming after his wife to harm her or the baby. And given what had happened to Acheron’s sister and nephew when he’d left them alone and his own guilt over their deaths–The Atlantean would be semi-neutralized by that fear….
Stryker could work with that.
"What’s that grin mean, Father?"
"It means he’s plotting something, dearest. Something bloody and foul. The only question is who is his target, and pray to the gods the answer isn’t you."
Stryker smiled wider as Zephyra joined them. She was without a doubt the most beautiful woman to ever live. The mere sight or scent of her made him so hard that it was all he could do not to strip her nak*d and take her no matter the audience.
That woman moved like a flowing breeze, graceful and slow. Seductive. And just as quick to turn vicious without warning. Her long blond hair made his fingers itch to touch it. She stopped beside Medea to give her a hug and the sight of them together made his heart rush. His girls. They looked more like sisters than mother and daughter and they were the only thing in the universe that meant anything to him.
Except for his son.
Pain lacerated his happiness as he tried not to think of how much Urian hated him and why.
But that wasn’t the focus of this. He had matters far more pressing than his son’s abject hatred over something he couldn’t change. "The Dark-Hunters are now acutely aware of our newly acquired powers."
Zephyra growled in anger as she moved away from Medea to stand in front of his chair. "That puts a crimp in our plans. They’ll be fortifying now. Rotten bastard scum."
Medea scoffed. "Their protectors are pathetic humans. Since when do we concern ourselves with cattle? I say we feast on them and massacre the Hunters while they sleep."
Ah, her bloodthirsty, fighting spirit made him proud.
But Zephyra shook her head. She knew the same lesson Stryker did. "Don’t get cocky, child. Never underestimate a human in survival mode. They can be quite resourceful when cornered. Capable of anything."
Stryker concurred. "The key is to not attack them yet. They’ll be looking for it right now. Keep them guessing and eventually, they’ll drop their guards. It’s just too exhausting for them to stay tense. Not to mention the fact that we’re still in the process of converting our army."
Speaking of resourceful and highly aggravating creatures, the demons they had to use to make their people walk in daylight were now hiding from them.
Cowardly bastards. Why couldn’t they just lie down and die for them? Not like the demons had anything to live for anyway. They were disgusting and had no real use in the world. He and his people were doing them a favor by slaughtering them so that the ugly buggers would no longer have to look at themselves in the mirror.
Stryker turned his attention back to his daughter. "Once our numbers are strong, we’ll…" He paused as her earlier words went through him again and it jarred something in his brain. "Medea…how do the Were-Hunters know about us? Did the demon talk before he exploded?"
"No. I was told there was a Dark-Huntress there who was able to touch his slimy remains and see what happened."
"Really?" Now that was interesting. Stryker fell silent as his mind kicked into high gear. A Huntress with psychometry…That was an extremely rare talent. So rare that he’d never heard of a Dark-Hunter with it before. Oh, this could be a blessing in disguise and then some. "How deep do her powers go?"
"I don’t know. Why?"
He met Zephyra’s gaze. Like Medea, she was scowling at him. "We need her."
Phyra’s eyes darkened with irate suspicion. "What exactly do you need her for?"
He bit back a laugh before he offended her and she attacked him over it. His wife was ever jealous. Not that she had any worries where he was concerned. There was no other woman in the entire universe who was her equal in his eyes. "If she can touch someone or their belongings and pick out secrets, she could very well have the ability to tell us how to capture Apollo. Or better yet, uncover a way to break our curse and free our people."
The new light in her eyes told him that she not only understood but agreed. "I’ll get our best on it."
Stryker nodded. If what he suspected was true…they’d not only be able to kill all the Dark-Hunters, but the father of his race.
Then the world would be theirs and nothing could stop them. At long last, he’d make Apollo bleed the same way Apollo had bled him.
And all the Dark-Hunters would die.
By the sword, he would untie the knot. And the Apollites and Daimons would take their place as the rulers of all subspecies–which was everyone.
He couldn’t wait.
Sam stifled a yawn as she sat at her computer. She’d posted notes to every Dark-Hunter and Squire message board, loop, Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook account she could think of. Even the sites that on the surface appeared to be role-playing games but in reality were their people hiding in plain sight. She’d been texting and leaving messages for hours, warning her brethren and their employees what was brewing.
The Daimons would be coming for them. And they were pissed off.
On the one hand, she could understand their anger. The Daimons were born as Apollites–a race of superhumans that had been created by the god Apollo. Then, because of the actions of their jealous queen who’d ordered the death of Apollo’s human mistress and son, they’d been cursed by him to die horribly at age twenty-seven–the same age his mistress had been when the queen had her killed. Their only hope to live past that date was to start sucking human souls into their bodies, but the problem with that was that souls weren’t meant to live in them. As soon as a Daimon took the soul, it started to wither and die and if a Dark-Hunter didn’t find and kill a Daimon before that soul expired, it would cease to exist.
But on the other hand, having watched the Daimons slaughter her entire family, Sam wanted them completely wiped from the earth. They were disgusting animals with no regard for human life and for that they deserved total extermination. And if it was by her own hands, then all the better.
"You want a war, Stryker…I’m ready to give you one."
Just not until the sun went down. Damn the gods for that restriction on the Dark-Hunters and Daimons alike. For the next few hours, there was nothing she could do except wait.
Sam ground her teeth as she saw the tiny rays peeking in through the slats in her blinds. She was on the other side of the room, safe from their reach.
For now. But one well-placed brick or baseball and those dangerous rays could pose the ultimate threat to her. If they touched her skin, she’d burn up like a B-grade movie vampire.