"Around the block’s okay. Just don’t stop and knock on her door."
Deimos gave him a sinister smirk. "She’s special. We used to unleash her on ancient battlefields just to see soldiers chop their best friends into pieces before falling on their own swords."
Leta screwed her face up at his brutal imagery. "You’re so sick, Demon."
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Trust me, they deserved it or I wouldn’t have been so mean. Besides, my mother is a Fury and my father War. What more would you expect of me?"
"Compassion," she said softly. "The Erinyes aren’t always cruel."
"True, but not for the wicked. Our job is to punish and that, my cousin, I’m more than capable of doing. Grisly though you may think it." He indicated the door with a jerk of his chin. "See Lyssa. If Pain has a weakness, she alone would know it."
"But will she share?"
He shrugged. "You know her as well as I do. Depends on her mood and degree of clarity when you speak to her."
Aidan frowned. "Degree of what?"
Instead of answering, Leta took his arm before she flashed them into an Escheresque garden. It was so complicatedly intricate, with twisting staircases that defied logic, misaligned arches, and backward-growing shrubs, that Aidan couldn’t even grasp it. He literally felt as if he’d just stepped into Escher’s Other World engraving. It made him dizzy to try and make sense of the nonsense around him.
No wonder Lyssa was nuts. Trying to walk through her garden would drive anyone crazy.
Leta led him up a small set of stairs that twisted into a dragon’s scales before dissolving into a river of blood that lapped against the small rock they both stood on.
"What is this place?" he asked.
"Lyssa’s home. Like Deimos warned, she’s not exactly right in the head and hers is a very unique view of reality. The garden reflects her quirky nature."
Quirky? Yeah, she’d blown right past quirky to dive headfirst into all-out strange. He was beginning to understand that as the rail under his hand licked his palm. Curling his lip in disgust, he jerked his hand away to find eyes watching him instead of the tongue he’d felt an instant before.
Yeah… if this was true insanity, he suddenly felt normal.
"Lyssa, Lyssa," Leta called. "Light and fair, ’tis Leta come to you with words to share."
Well, this was a new side to Leta. That being said, she did have a beautiful voice when she sang out the words. "What are you doing?"
Her smile dazzled him. "Lyssa likes rhymes. She will only speak in them."
"You’ve got to be kidding me?"
Before she could answer, a swirling blue ball appeared in front of them. The ball moved in a jagged path until it touched the top of the stairs behind him. There it grew until it formed a young, beautiful woman. Her long, curly blond hair shone as if it were made of pure spun gold and she stood with the regal demeanor of a queen. More than that, each feature of her face was so carefully sculpted that she didn’t appear real.
Until one looked at her eyes. They were jet black and cold. Soulless. There was no white, or color of any kind. And when she turned them on him, he could feel the chill of madness all the way to his soul.
When she spoke, Lyssa’s voice was as light and delicate as the goddess herself. "Leta,Leta, born of dreams,
"Through the centuries you have screamed.
"Now you come to my fair land,
"Only to ask for my helping hand
Aidan leaned forward to whisper in Leta’s ear. "Nice stanza."
She elbowed him hard in the ribs. "Can you help me, dear cousin?"
A whimsical smile curved Lyssa’s red lips.
"Help is all they ever say,
"Even though it seldom stays.
"It’ll leave you too you’ll see
"And then alone you will bleed
Infuriated with her cryptic words, Aidan stepped around Leta. "Look, we don’t have time for this. We need-" His words stopped instantly as his lips were sealed shut.
Lyssa shook her head in reproach. "Men will ever speak their way,
"Regardless of those who hold sway.
" ‘Tis time you pause to listen instead of hear,
"Only that will save what you hold dear."
Leta placed a tender hand on his arm, before she looked back at Lyssa. "Are you telling me that we can defeat Dolor?"
"Pain is here,
"Sharp and clear.
"Even so, it must fade,
"And a new way should be made."
He saw the relief on Leta’s face even though he was having a hard time following the nonsense. And not being able to open his mouth was seriously starting to piss him off.
"How do I defeat him?" Leta asked.
Lyssa lifted her hand so that a bird that was flying backward could rest on her extended finger. Picasso would have been proud of the bizarre image the two of them made. "True pain is born,
"When the heart is worn,
"On the sleeve
"For all to see."
By the aggravated look on her face, he could tell Leta wasn’t any more satisfied with that answer than he was. "But how does it end?"
"An ending is a beginning in disguise.
"But it is seen only by those who are wise.
"For pain to be returned to its place,
"You must confront it to its face.
Leta shook her head. "I don’t understand, Lyssa."
She gave Leta the same look a kindergarten teacher would give an aggravating child. "In time there is clarity to be found.
"But not now on this most hallowed ground.
"You have the answers you have sought.
"Now it is time for battles to be fought."
And with those words, the bird let out the croak of a frog, then dissolved into dust. Lyssa raised her arms skyward before she sank into the ground.
Aidan sucked his breath in sharply as he was finally able to open his mouth again. He gave Leta a deadly stare. "Interesting woman. Must get tiring though trying to always rhyme everything you want to say."
"Not after as much experience as she’s had."
He didn’t want to argue that point. He was just glad Lyssa was gone. "Did you learn anything from this?"
"Yes. I learned that we can defeat him before he kills you. That’s at least a start."
She was definitely an optimist. He on the other hand… "Call me crazy, then again compared to Lyssa, Sybil was normal, but all I got out of this meeting was a headache. Actual directions on how to kill him would have been nice."
"True, but in this case, I think we got the best we could hope for."
"Then why did we waste our time?"
She patted him indulgently on his cheek. "Who said we wasted time?"
"I do, for the record."
"And for the record, you’re wrong. Trust me."
Yeah, sure. He wasn’t about to make that mistake. "No offense, but the last person I trusted tried to barbecue me-personally and professionally."
Instead of angering her, his words turned her expression soft and gentle. "I’m not a jerk, Aidan. I wouldn’t have come to you if I wanted you hurt."
It made sense when she said it, but he couldn’t shake the bitterness inside him that didn’t want to get burned again. He was so tired of people playing him, using him to get what they wanted, then casting him aside the minute he displeased them.
He wasn’t disposable waste. He was a human being with feelings just like everyone else.
Afraid of what Leta might do to him and afraid of his past, he reached out to touch her cheek. Her skin was so soft, her lips inviting. There had been a time in his life when he wouldn’t have hesitated to make a move on a woman like this. A time when he’d have had her laughing and nak*d in his bed.
Now that part of himself was dead. He would never again be so carefree and full of life. His soul had been kicked to the ground where it was still mired by memories and pain so profound that he wondered if he would ever be able to resuscitate any part of the man he’d once been.
Did he even want to?
There was something to be said for being numb. There was no liability. No harm to himself or anyone else. It was a nice place to live once you got past the loneliness.
But as he stared into those eyes so blue and sincere, all the isolation of his life hit him square in the chest.
If I have gone insane would it be so bad to kiss her?
And before he could second-guess himself, he dipped his head to taste the sweetest lips he’d ever known.
Leta buried her hands in Aidan’s soft hair as her breath mingled with his. For a mortal man, he knew how to kiss. She could feel the steel of his body pressing against hers, feel the heat of his embrace all the way to her immortal soul.
She shouldn’t be doing this. Yet she couldn’t make herself stop. It’d been way too long since she last touched any man. Since she’d allowed any passion to touch her life. She was supposed to be devoid of emotions, but here she stood, feeling his presence with every part of herself.
Was she siphoning from him? That was the most logical explanation for these emotions and yet that didn’t seem right. Her feelings were too vivid. They felt like hers. This wasn’t his anger. It wasn’t his lust. It was a longing that she, herself, had and it came from deep inside her battered heart. A need to be close to him.
Afraid of losing her feelings, she wrapped her arms around him and transported them back to his cabin. She deepened her kiss as her heartbeat quickened and her blood fired. This was what she needed most.
She pulled back to stare up at him. "I want to be with you, Aidan," she whispered as her hands paused at the hem of his shirt.
Honestly, she expected him to push her away again. She certainly wouldn’t blame him if he did after everything he’d been through. No one would blame him for it.
But he didn’t. His green eyes blazing with heat, he jerked his shirt off over his head, and pulled her back into his arms to continue their kiss.
Closing her eyes, she savored the taste of him, the feel of his hands skimming over her body as she held him against her. His muscles bunched and tightened under her palms, reminding her of a time long ago when she’d been afraid of touching a man like this. But that had been eons ago and she’d changed so much since then.
For centuries, she’d fought Dolor alone, trying to save as many humans from him as she could. She’d felt it was her duty even though she was numb to everything but pain.
After a while that absence of feeling had worn on her and weakened her resolve. She’d learned to siphon emotions from humans in their dreams. For a time, she’d started relying on those emotions and had been afraid of turning Skoti-one of the dread dream gods who preyed on humans so that they would have feelings. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, except when they took too much and drove the human hosts insane and shattered their lives. It was something she couldn’t allow herself to do to an innocent person. The moment she’d truly seen herself slipping into the Skoti mindset, she’d locked Dolor and herself away.
Now she wasn’t afraid of her emotions or of Aidan’s. She wanted them. Needing to feel more, she flashed them into the bedroom and onto the bed.
Aidan pulled away from her lips as he realized where he was. "Nifty trick."
"I can do one better."
Their clothes vanished.
Aidan laughed deep in his throat. "Yeah, that could definitely come in handy."
She rolled him over, onto his back. He looked up at her, drinking in the sight of her bare body against his. Her br**sts were the most beautiful he’d ever seen, and he’d seen some of the best in the world. His mouth watering, he pulled her closer so that he could draw her puckered nipple into his mouth.
Leta shivered at the sensation of his hot tongue teasing her. She cupped his head to her as her mind reeled with forgotten sensations. It’d been too long since she’d been intimate with someone. Too long since any man had touched her…
He growled deep in his throat before he pulled back and rubbed his whiskered cheek against her sensitive breast. She sucked her breath in sharply as chills erupted all over her.
She was drunk with her lust as she skimmed his body with her gaze. Every part of him was sculpted with muscles. There was so much strength to him, inside and out. And all she wanted to do was to touch that strength and hold him close.
More than that, she wanted to taste him.
Aidan watched her as she kissed her way down his body. Her long black hair teased against his skin, giving him chills and setting him on fire. It’d been so long since he’d last had a woman that he was actually afraid of coming before he even really touched her.
That was all his bruised ego needed. He’d rather die than embarrass himself like some jacked-up high school kid seeing his first nak*d woman.
Closing his eyes, he tried to think of anything else besides those dainty lips that brushed against his flesh. Of her tongue flicking over his body. His heart hammering, he wanted this moment to last.
And when he felt her nibble the tip of his cock, it was all he could do not to scream out in pleasure. He opened his eyes to watch as she took him even deeper into her mouth. It was the most incredible sight he’d ever beheld. Her tongue teased and tormented him to the highest level.
Leta smiled at the salty taste of Aidan and at the joy she could feel coming from inside him. It was unbelievable. And most special of all was the feeling she had from him that he was afraid of disappointing her. The fact that he even cared made her heart light.