Sam cursed as she used her telekinetic powers to open the bedroom door and shove Dev through it so that she could face the Daimons.
With a bellow of rage, Dev kicked the door open and charged back to the fight.
Throwing her hand up to get more punch behind her mental powers, she tossed him out again and this time put the bed in front of the door to keep him out.
Dev stood in the empty hallway, gaping. What the hell? He tried to go back into his room, but couldn’t. He heard things breaking and people cursing, but he was effectively locked out.
Anger ripped through him. “Ah no you di’in’t.”
His powers surging, he used them to teleport into the room where Sam was surrounded by Daimons. He manifested two KA-BARs and went after the Daimons with everything he had.
Sam turned as she felt a new presence in the room. Expecting it to be another Daimon, she froze at the sight of Dev taking out two Daimons with one powerful blow. Her heart hammered and in that one instant she felt her Dark-Hunter powers wane as old memories ripped through her and left her brutalized.
It wasn’t Dev she saw now. It was Ioel.
The firelight had flickered against his dark skin and hair as Ioel had gently pushed her toward their daughter’s room. “Take Ree and get to safety.”
She’d stubbornly refused. “Not without you.”
He’d placed his hand on her stomach where their baby was kicking and kissed her on the lips while the attacking Daimons broke into their home. “Go, Samia. Now. Think of our children, not the battle.”
Amazons never retreat. They don’t fall back.
The sound of splintering wood echoed through the house as the Daimons broke in, shouting in victory.
Her daughter’s terrified scream had pulled her away from her husband and she’d run to her daughter’s room with everything she had. But her advanced pregnancy had left her winded and unstable on her feet. Trembling, she’d pulled her frightened daughter into her arms and held her close as her anger sizzled inside her. She wanted blood for this.
The sound of furniture breaking and clashing steel rang in her ears as she looked about for an escape.
There wasn’t one.
She had to get her baby to safety….
Sam started for the hall, but was stopped by a flash in the fire-lit room.
And then she’d seen it. That one sword stroke that had pierced Ioel’s chest and left him staggering back. Blood poured over him as the Daimons moved to take his soul.
Her own scream had lodged in her throat while she clung to her daughter and felt the life of her unborn baby in her stomach. In this condition, she wasn’t strong enough to carry her daughter through the hall—not if she was to outrun the Daimons.
She rushed back into her daughter’s room. “Under the bed, Ree. Now.” She’d set her daughter down on the floor and watched her scamper to hide. “Not a sound, baby, what ever you do.”
Sam had barely grabbed the lamp from the table before the Daimons stormed the room. She’d flung the oil and fire at the first one who reached her. Lunging at him, she’d grabbed his sword and whirled, stabbing the one right behind him. But her distended belly had unbalanced a move she’d made a thousand times in battle.
She’d stumbled back and they’d fallen on her in such a number that she’d been unable to fight them off.
The last thing she’d seen before she died had been her own sister’s face at the back of the Daimons.
“There’s one more brat to kill. What ever you do, don’t let her live. She has to be here somewhere. Find her and make sure she can’t inherit anything except a burial.”
Brutal, impotent rage and betrayal had ripped her asunder. Even now Sam could hear the scream of it as it radiated inside her. So fierce. So terrible, it had summoned the goddess Artemis to her side. And before the Daimons had had a chance to capture her soul, Sam had sold it.
But it’d come too late to save her daughter….
The piercing agony of that ripped her apart now and it left her dizzy as she watched Dev fighting to protect her.
No! Never again!
Throwing her head back, she let loose with a fierce battle cry before she laid into the Daimons.
Dev paused as he heard the sound a banshee made when it buried a loved one. Haunting and piercing, that baleful screech went down his spine like a shredder. In the blink of an eye, Sam sprung forward, slashing and tearing through the Daimons with a power and skill that was unrivaled. Never in his life had he seen anything like it.
And he’d pissed her off? What the hell had he been thinking?
More Daimons came through the bolt-hole to attack. Dev caught the one going for Sam’s back and expired him where he stood. Still they kept coming.
Just when he was sure both he and Sam would go down, the bed against the door went skittering sideways. He grabbed Sam and leapt over it an instant before the door was splintered.
Ethon and Chi, along with Fang, came running in to help with the fight.
With his arm around Sam, Dev tried to guide her into the hallway where she wouldn’t be in the thick of it. But she was having none of that.
She turned around to fight.
He tightened his grip on her and forced her to move through the door.
“What are you doing?” She looked up at him.
Dev gasped as he saw her green eyes. By that, he knew she’d lost her Dark-Hunter powers. They could kill her. “Getting you out of harm’s way.”
“I run from no one.”
“We’re not running,” he said as one of the Daimons broke the window and spilled daylight all over his room. “We’re regrouping to fight another day.”
Sam wanted to choke him as he tossed her over his shoulder and headed for the stairs. If she still had her powers, she would have, but without them she was relegated to holding on like some pathetic little girl—something that set her temper on fire even more.
One second they were in Peltier House, the next they were inside a strange warehouse-looking place that she’d never seen before. Unlit neon signs that formed an intricate pattern were hung all over the walls. To her left was an industrial bar that was well stocked with alcohol. A large mirror, also wrapped in unlit neon, was behind it. It appeared to be another club, only it wasn’t open. And there was no one here. Not even a whisper of a sound.
Dev set her down.
Sam immediately slapped at his hands. “Get away from me! I’m so mad at you I could claw out your eyes!”
He stepped back to give her a peeved glare. “You’re welcome.”
“For what? Pissing me off?”
“I saved your life.”
She scoffed at that. “No. You didn’t. You pulled me out of a fight I needed to finish. Gah! I can’t believe you left Chi and Ethon there while carrying me off like some helpless child. How dare you!”
Dev took a deep breath to calm himself before he escalated this fight to nuclear proportions. One of them needed to have a calm head until he figured out what was going on. Something during the fight had triggered a profound and unexpected consequence for Sam. The one thing he knew about Dark-Hunters was that they only lost their powers whenever they confronted a memory from the event that had caused them to sell their souls.
Sam was hurting and all he wanted was to help her. Her uncharacteristic screech had told him that. No one made that sound unless they were torn completely up.
“I saw them going for the windows and knew I had to pull you out of daylight before they shattered them. Which they did. Had I not grabbed you when I did, you’d have been killed or at least severely burned.” Even with her Dark-Hunter powers drained, she still wouldn’t have been able to stand in daylight.
She made a sound of profound aggravation as she surveyed the concrete floor and light blue, riveted metal walls around them. “Where are we anyway? Hell?”
He flashed a charming grin at her. “It’s much cooler than that. Club Charonte.”
“Which is what?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he pulled his phone out and made a call.
Crossing her arms over her chest, Sam glared at him.
Dev recklessly ignored her seething fury at him as Ethon picked up the phone. He wanted to make sure his family was all right before they carried this conversation any further. At least Ethon answered—that in and of itself was a good sign that Sanctuary was still standing. “Hey, what happened when we left?”
“The cowardly bastards vacated right after you did. Chi and I tried to take as many down as we could, but we had to exit the range of that seriously annoying yellow ball in the sky that was dancing all over your room. You know, Bear, you should have smaller windows. Fang went after them, but they vanished back into their hole and he withdrew to protect the family in case they returned to another area for vengeance’s sake. Anyway, the fanged brigade is probably tracking you guys right now, so watch your back.”
Like Dev cared? “Bring it if they dare, which I doubt.” Either way, his family was clear and that made him deliriously happy. His evil plan had worked and the Daimons had withdrawn—at least for the moment.
“Don’t be so cocky, Bear. They were open for business.” The humor vanished out of his tone. “Is Samia all right? They didn’t hurt her, did they?” There was a note of concern in Ethon’s voice that seemed deeper than just one Dark-Hunter worried about another one.
Dev couldn’t put his finger on it, but it made the bear in him sit up with suspicion as to why Ethon would feel so deeply about a colleague. “She’s fine. I got her out of there before they toasted her any. What about you guys? Any of my family get hurt?”
“Fang’s fine. As for us, nothing that won’t heal.” Then Ethon changed the subject. “So where are you now?”
Ethon gave a short laugh. “Nice. Very nice. I highly commend your choice.” The Charontes were the mortal enemies of the Daimons and the Daimons wouldn’t dare come near this place. At least not right away. The one thing about a Charonte, they were perpetually hungry and lived to eat things that wouldn’t get them arrested.
Daimons were one of the things they could lavishly feast on with immunity.
Ethon sobered before he spoke again. “Are you sure Sam’s safe there?”
“Oh yeah. But I might not be in a few minutes. She looks like she’s about to gouge out my eyes and beat my ass until I’m a quivering bear mat.”
“Tell me about it. I don’t envy me right now.”
Ethon spoke to Fang in a muffled tone that suggested he had his hand cupped over the receiver. “It’s not important. I’ll be all right.” Then he returned to Dev. “We’ll get over there to you as soon as we can.”
“Sounds good. By the way…what happened with Gautier?”
“Nick? What’s he got to do with anything?”
What’s he got to do with it? The little bastard would be lucky to live next time Dev ran into him. “He’s the one who summoned the Daimons.”
“Nick?” Ethon repeated.
“Nick.” Dev snapped the syllable. He was getting tired of the Spartan’s obtuseness.
“Sorry, man. I just can’t wrap my mind around that. He hates the Daimons with a passion to rival your Charonte buds. Trust me. You say that word and the man flips. I had to pull him off the ceiling just a few days ago when the subject came up. I can’t imagine him summoning them unless it’s to kill one.”
“Yeah, well, I know what I saw. Nick was in league with them.”
Ethon let out a low whistle. “I’ll notify Acheron then and we’ll get to you immediately. Just in case.”
Dev glanced to Sam, who was still eyeballing him like she wanted to carve off some vital piece of his anatomy. The weird thing was, she was strangely attractive with that fire in her eyes and it turned him on.
I am so messed up.
“You guys be careful moving in daylight. See you soon.” Dev hung up his phone.
Sam gestured around the room. “You brought me to an empty club? Why?”
Dev turned her stiff body to the left and pointed up toward the steel rafters where two dozen demons were hanging like vampire bats. The rest would be sleeping in contorted positions in the upstairs rooms. He had no idea why the Charonte slept like that, but they did.
Sam’s jaw went slack as she saw the demons, whose flesh was a bicolor swirl of reds, oranges, and blues. Their yellow, white, and red eyes glowed from the ceiling as they silently watched them as if trying to decide if they were friend or foe. She knew they were demons, but had no idea what classification or pantheon they belonged to. “What are those?”
“Charontes,” Dev said in her ear. “Ever been around them?”
His breath tickled her ear and even though she couldn’t see him, she had the distinct impression he was grinning at her. “They’re not exactly sociable and not particularly fond of me.”
That made her curious about his choosing this place. “Then why are we here?”
“’Cause I’m betting Dev has some shit he wants to drag me into and you can friggin’ forget it, Bear.” There was no missing the venom in that deep masculine tone. “I’m done with you and your sister and don’t even mention that worthless Wolf’s name to me ’cause I’m not your bitch and I ain’t leaving here. Stick a fork in me, Bear, ’cause I repeat, I am done. D to the O and you know the rest so get the hell out of my club before I feed you to my boys.”
Dev laughed as he turned to face the demon who’d flashed in behind them. “Nice seeing you too, Xedrix. Always a pleasure.”
“Yeah, for you. Never for me.”
Sam had to force herself not to gape at the spectacle in front of her.
With swirling blue skin and black hair, Xedrix dwarfed Dev’s height. Something that wasn’t easy to do. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, Xedrix had a pair of oversized wings that twitched behind him. Whether it was from a need to attack or fly or strictly from irritation, she wasn’t sure. But there was no missing the malice in his glowing eyes.
The strangest thing, though, was that even with a small pair of horns jutting out of his head and his short black hair that was tousled from sleep, the demon was incredibly beautiful and very masculine. There was just something about him that made you want to reach out and touch him.
Xedrix narrowed his stare on her. “Why you bring a Dark-Hunter here, Bear? You know how we feel about them and they’re not even on the menu, which double sucks for us.”
“We have Daimons after us.”
That got Xedrix to widen his eyes. Several of the demons dropped from the ceiling. They twisted in midair so that they landed gracefully on their feet around Xedrix.
Their happy expressions were almost comical. “Dinner!” The tallest one started licking his lips in eager expectation as he high-fived one of the other demons.
The shortest one shook his head. “No. Snack time. Unless there’s a bunch of them. Let’s hope there is.”
“Need some sauce,” the orange demon said to the other two. He shoved at the short red one. “Ceres, grab a bottle. Extra hot.”
Xedrix held his hand up to silence them. “We’re not lucky enough for home delivery, guys. Trust me. They won’t come here.”
The demons around him actually pouted.
Ceres didn’t seem to buy his argument. “One of them might be stupid. Daimons not real bright. They could come here. Maybe we could lure them in with a tourist or two?”
The tall one brightened. “We could tie some Dark-Hunters outside as bait.”
They all seemed to like that thought.
Except Xedrix, who rolled his eyes. “They’re not that dumb. Believe me and you tie a Dark-Hunter outside, Acheron will go Atlantean on us and the last thing we want is to be sent home to mama. Or do you guys really want to go back into slavery under the Destroyer’s not-so-delicate fist?”
“Fine,” Ceres said petulantly, his wings drooping. “Should have known it was too good to be true.” He sighed.
The demons shot back to their places in the rafters, but not before they muttered a few choice insults for Dev getting their hopes up.
Sam looked at them as they wrapped their wings around themselves and seemed to cocoon into the ceiling. That was interesting…Odd, but intriguing.
Xedrix stood with his hands on his hips. “Why you here, Bear?”
“The Daimons want Sam. I don’t know why—”
“Duh.” Xedrix gestured at her. “She’s their mortal enemy. Of course they want her. In pieces, I’m sure.”
Dev shook his head. “That’s just it. They don’t want her dead. They’ve tried twice now to kidnap—”
“You both realize that I’m right here and I don’t need either of you talking about me like I’m mentally defective, right? I can speak for myself.”
At least Dev had the decency to look sheepish. “Sorry, Sam. We know. I’m just trying to get Xedrix on our side.” He looked back at the demon. “They want her alive. Do you have any idea why?”
“’Cause she’d be tastier that way?”
Sam ignored the demon and scowled at Dev. “Why are you asking him that? He’s not a Daimon.”
Dev gave her a droll stare. “He used to live with Stryker and serve Stryker’s mistress in hell so he might have some indication why they’re after you.”
Xedrix made a rude sound. “They’re not exactly my favorite people and I have no idea why they’d be after her. Bad luck?”
“Don’t growl at me, Bear. It’s early and I haven’t eaten yet.” He passed a pointed look at both of them as if sizing them for his pot.
Dev let out a deep sigh. “What ever they want her for, you have to figure it’s not good. For any of us. I need someplace safe to keep her until night.”
Xedrix pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “The door’s that way.”
“Show her to a guest room.”
Xedrix flashed his fangs at the soft, gentle voice.
Sam looked past him to see a tiny, ethereal woman. Her features were pale and absolutely stunning. Her blond hair seemed to glow and her eyes…white and vibrant, they were truly eerie.
Xedrix didn’t appear all that happy to see her either. “Kerryna…you should still be asleep.”
She approached him slowly and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder before she rose on her tiptoes to lovingly kiss his cheek. “My fierce protector. Don’t worry. I’m fine.” She held her hand out to Sam. “I’m Xedrix’s mate, Kerryna.”
“Sam.” She looked down at Kerryna’s peace offering and cringed. Even though her powers were down, she still didn’t want to chance pulling something out of the demon’s past. “Sorry I can’t touch you. Not to be offensive. My powers won’t allow that.”
Kerryna dropped her arm. “Understood and no offense taken.”
Xedrix pulled Kerryna’s hand in his and held it against his heart as he glared at Sam and Dev. “You bring war to my family and I will eat both your hearts…without sauce.”
The way he said that, Sam had a feeling it meant something.
Dev inclined his head to Xedrix. “Got it.”
Sam hesitated as she had a memory flash in her mind from the night Dev’s parents had died. It was brief, gone in an instant, but clear. She frowned at Xedrix. “You fought with us when the wolves attacked Sanctuary. But you were human then.” Which was why she hadn’t recognized him. His features had been similar, but the differences without the marbled blue skin were marked.
In one heartbeat, Xedrix turned from a demon into a handsome human with black hair and no wings that she remembered from the battle. “Not human. I just looked like one. Kind of hard to walk around the streets in my real form. Halloween notwithstanding. It tends to freak out the humans and I don’t want to deal with their crap.”
“Unless you barbecue them,” Ceres called down from the ceiling. “Then humans are quite tasty.”
Xedrix looked up at him. “So are Charontes who don’t mind their own business.”
Ceres covered himself completely with his wings.
Xedrix returned his attention to Sam and Dev. “And if I kill the humans, I violate the treaty that allows us to stay here and we all get sent back to Daimon hell to serve the biggest bitch-goddess you ever met.” He started for the stairs that were set off in the far corner of the bar. “Now follow me.”
As they moved across the floor, Sam realized something. She was walking barefoot and not picking up anything from the floor.
Her head was still completely quiet. Was it from Dev or something the Charonte did? She had no idea, but she was grateful for it. It was really nice to live as a normal human again.
Even for a few minutes. For that alone, it was worth being a Daimon magnet. But the madness did need to cease soon—she was tired of them popping in without an invitation.
Rude, insensitive bastards.
Xedrix took them to a small room halfway down the upstairs hall where there was a bed, a chest of drawers, and a small nightstand with an old-style electric lamp. One that was decorated in pinks and Victorian frills—very feminine and sweet—a complete dichotomy to the testy, overtly masculine demon.
Pausing in the door frame, Kerryna gestured toward the door over her shoulder. “Our room is just across the hall if you need anything.”
Xedrix made a noise of protest, but Kerryna ignored him.
Sam tensed as she heard the sudden cry of a toddler wanting its mother coming from the room next to theirs.
Kerryna vanished immediately while Xedrix’s look turned even more fierce. “Like I said, Bear, you bring war to my family and I will make sure it’s the last mistake you make.”
Dev held his hands up. “Peace, brother. I would never hurt anyone’s family. You know that.”
His features stern, Xedrix closed their door and vanished.
Sam pushed away the pain inside her as the toddler stopped crying. Bittersweet memories washed through her, making her wish again for one more second of time with her daughter. Gods, how aggravating those cries had seemed at the time, especially when Agaria had colic. Sam had feared she’d lose her mind as she dreamed of a time when she wouldn’t hear that sound ever again.
Now she’d give anything to hear it one more time. To be able to carry her screaming infant and rock her through the night even with frazzled nerves and sleep deprivation.
If only she’d known at the time just how precious it was, she’d have savored every heartbeat and headache. Every messy diaper…
She flinched, wishing mistakes had a do-over. It was the cruelest act of Fate that there was no rewind at all.
And thinking of the past achieved nothing. So she made herself focus on the present and what was important now. “Kerryna’s not a Charonte, is she?”
Dev shook his head as he made sure there was no window under the faux curtains that opened onto a brick wall. “No. The Charonte are Atlantean. Kerryna’s a Sumerian dimme demon.”
Now that was a combination you didn’t find often and there had to be a story in how the two of them had met and ended up mated with a child. “How did she get to New Orleans?” It was a long way here from ancient Sumeria.
Dev turned to face her. “Like you, she was being chased by her enemies and wound up here. Actually that’s an oversimplification. Kerryna and her sisters are fierce killing machines and they were cursed and bound.”
Ah, now that didn’t sound good. “Where are her sisters?”
“They’re still trapped. She alone escaped.”
“And she’s okay with that?”
Dev laughed. “Yeah, freaky, huh? Apparently family togetherness wasn’t her forte. I’m not sure what drew her to New Orleans, but once here, she met the Charonte and more to the point, Xedrix. Somehow they settled in and decided to protect her. Makes me glad I’m not a demon. ’Cause I don’t want to know what kind of funky monkey stuff went down that they let her in…if you know what I mean and I know that you do.”
Sam let out a “heh” at his semi-humorous words. “And her enemies? Are they still after her?”
“Probably, but only a fool would try to pull her out of a home filled with Charontes ready to lay down their lives for her.”
That made the least amount of sense to her. “Where did they come from? Why are the Charonte here in the middle of the city?”
He laughed. “Mardi Gras, baby. Mardi Gras. Time when all manner of weird shit cuts loose and parties down.”
He sobered before he gave her the real answer. “A few years back, one of the gods opened the portal between their realm and this one, wanting to unleash destruction on the world. They escaped and Acheron sealed it, then allowed them to stay. They’ve been living here happily ever since.”
“Even though they were going to destroy us?”
“Well, not them per se. Their mistress was. They were just following orders and now that they’re here, they obey Acheron, who set up the rules they have to follow—such as no eating humans—or he’ll send them back to their realm. They’ve been here for a while so the arrangement seems to be working.” He gave her a cute grin.
Shaking her head, Sam was still trying to get a handle on all of this. “And how do you know them?”
“They tried to eat my kid brother, Kyle, who talked them out of it. He showed them how to start a club and function in the human world as normal citizens—the hanging from the ceiling thing notwithstanding. They’ve been friendly with us ever since…at least most of the time.”
Sam sighed. “This town is so strange.”
Dev laughed as he pulled her to him. “Yes, but…there’s no place else quite as exciting.”
True. Very true.
He traced the line of her lips with his finger. “We’ve got to find out what the Daimons want from you.”
“Well, we both know it’s not world peace.”
“Definitely not.” Dev traced the line from her mouth up to the corner of her eyes. “Are you aware of the fact that your eyes are green?”
Sam gasped. “What?”
“Your eyes are green.”
She pulled away from him to run to the mirror. Sure enough he was right. No wonder she’d been unable to pull anything from the floor. She had no Dark-Hunter powers left. The very fact that she could see herself in the mirror was testament to that. To help them retain their stealth while they hunted, no Dark-Hunter could cast a reflection unless they used their powers to do it.
And right now, she was human. At least temporarily. “Is that why you pulled me from the fight?”
Because he knew the one truth she did. In this form, she could be killed.
Ethon Stark had cut his teeth on battle. It was what had succored him as a human being. As a Dark-Hunter, that need for blood always simmered just below his surface. Nothing gave him more pleasure than stomping his enemies into the ground and watching them bleed all over his expensive shoes. It was what the warrior in him lived for.
All it lived for.
His friends were counted on the fingers of one hand and right now one of them was in serious trouble.
She hated him, he knew that. But he didn’t blame her. He was a monster and she’d glimpsed the darkness that lived inside him. The darkness that made him insane on his best day.
Even so, he still counted her as a friend. He always would no matter what her feelings might be for him. So he would give his life to keep her safe—even if it meant eternal damnation and an existence so foul that he would spend the rest of time screaming in utter misery.
She was worth that to him.
With that thought foremost in his mind, he teleported from Sanctuary to Nick’s house on Bourbon Street. It was a power he didn’t use often since he didn’t like for anyone to know what he was capable of. Knowledge was power and the less anyone knew about his powers, the fewer people he’d have to kill to keep his secrets.
He materialized at the foot of a hand-carved staircase. “Nick!” he shouted, stalking up the stairs and through the house in search of the one who’d betrayed them and jeopardized Samia’s life.
No one answered.
Again it was silent.
Closing his eyes, Ethon used his powers to crawl through the house.
There wasn’t anyone here.
Nick must still be with the Daimons, plotting who knew what against them. Rage over that ripped through him as it opened wounds that Ethon struggled every day to keep closed.
“Fine, you little bastard. You better stay in hiding.”
Sooner or later, Nick would be back and Ethon would kill him.
Dev stared down as Sam finally slept. Even though she was tall and a fierce fighter, something about her looked incredibly vulnerable while she slept.
Why am I so attracted to you?
All he wanted was to keep her safe and that made no sense whatsoever. It was like she was under his skin and just being near her made him feel more alive than he ever had before. In fact it was taking all of his willpower not to strip his clothes off, lie down beside her, and wrap her in his arms.
This was so not him. He was normally more than content to have his one-night stands and then send them on their way as soon as he could.
He heard a light knock on the door.
Stepping away from the bed, he opened it to find Ethon on the other side. “Chi and I are downstairs. The Charonte are beginning to stir so that they can get the club ready to open. Do you guys need anything?”
Ethon inclined his head to him. “Acheron said to keep her here even if she protests.”
“And she will.”
Ethon laughed. “Yeah, probably.” He moved to close the door.
Dev stopped him before he withdrew completely. “You and Sam seem a little tight. Do you know how she became a Dark-Hunter?”
Ethon’s expression was as dry as his tone. “She sold her soul to Artemis.”
Dev let out an irritated breath at his smart-ass comment. “I’m being serious, Ethon.”
He glanced to the bed as indecision marked his dark gaze. Finally he looked back at Dev and answered. “Her sister betrayed her. Sam had just been voted in as queen and her sister wanted the crown. So she made a pact with a group of Daimons for them to kill Sam and her immediate family to remove them from the line of succession.”
That news hit him like a blow to his gut. The cruelty of it was unfathomable. What kind of bitch would do such a thing? “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I would never kid about this. I think it’s why Sam has the power of psychometry.”
Dev frowned. “I don’t follow.”
Ethon swallowed hard before he lowered his voice. “Had she known what her sister was thinking and planning, she’d have been able to save her family.”
In a weird way, that did make sense. “So who all did her sister kill? Sam and her other sisters?”
“Sam only had the one sister.” Ethon’s features turned sharp. Deadly. “They killed her husband, Dev, and her three-year-old daughter, right in front of her eyes as she lay dying.”
Pain slammed into him with those words. For an entire minute, he couldn’t breathe. How had she stood it? He wanted her sister’s blood for her. What kind of bitch could do that to her own family?
Her own sister? Her niece.
And he hoped with every part of him that Sam had gone for her sister’s throat and ripped it out.
“No wonder she fights like she does.”
Ethon nodded. “It’s why she can’t stand to feel powerless. Had she not been pregnant, about to deliver her next kid, they would never have—”
“What?” Dev’s heart stopped beating.
Ethon’s expression told him that the Spartan was every bit as sickened by what had happened to her as Dev was. “She was pregnant when they killed her. I thought you knew.”
“How would I know that?” He scowled at Ethon. “How do you know that?”
There was no mistaking the agony in Ethon’s dark eyes. The grief and guilt. “Her husband was my little brother.”
Just when he thought nothing else could shock him…that sent him to the floor. “What?”
A tic started in Ethon’s jaw. “Ioel, her husband, was my brother.”
Dev gaped. No wonder Ethon protected her the way he did. It made complete sense now.
Ethon fell silent as his emotions churned. He’d been so jealous of Ioel’s happiness with his Amazon bride. The two of them had had the most incredible relationship. And while he was happy for his brother, he’d been bitter. Ioel had been raised by their mother away from the Spartan culture. While Ioel was a fierce warrior, he’d lived a pampered life of luxury and kind doting.
Everything Ioel had ever wanted had come to him. And Ethon had been forced to claw and fight for every table scrap he could find in the gutter. And to this day, he could still remember the first time he’d met Sam.
In full armor, she’d been breathtaking. Her zest for life was infectious as she joked with her friends and his brother.
But she’d only had eyes for Ioel.
So he’d buried his feelings for her and stood back to watch as they married and started their family. Anything they’d needed, he’d given them to make their life easier and happier. His brother didn’t need to know the harsh lessons that had been rammed down his throat.
And when Agaria had been born, he’d loved his niece so much…. She’d looked just like her mother. There was nothing he wouldn’t have done for any of them.
Until the night they’d died. He’d been in battle when the news of their deaths had arrived. Wounded and bleeding, he’d headed straight for his horse instead of the physician. Stupidly, he’d thought that if he could just reach them that he might be able to change it.
To save them. That maybe it was a lie and they weren’t really dead.
By the time he’d reached them, Ioel and Ree had been cremated and Sam’s body had been missing.
They’d found her sister’s slaughtered remains the next day. The viciousness of that kill had told him well that Sam had had her vengeance. However the truth was, her sister had gotten off easy. What Sam had done to her had been a mercy killing compared to what Ethon would have done had he found her first.
He’d hunted for Sam after that, but he’d never found her. Not until centuries after his own death when they’d both been stationed in Athens.
They’d met in battle against the Daimons and then, with the dawn coming, she’d taken him into her house.
The bloodlust and their past ties had overwhelmed them. He looked enough like his brother that Sam had welcomed him to her bed.
For one single instant, he’d almost had a moment of peace.
Until she’d come to her senses.
By then it’d been too late. The guilt and pain had been more than either of them could bear. So they’d gone their own ways, crossing paths every now and again.
Still Ethon loved her. Even though she couldn’t stand him. Even though he had no right to. He loved her.
He always would. But that was the past. And right now, Sam needed him.
Ethon would not fail her again.
He met Dev’s stare. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”
Dev didn’t speak as Ethon withdrew. His head was still reeling from what he’d learned about Sam. Gods, how painful it must have been for her to see the bond he shared with his family while knowing her sister had taken everything from her.
Even her life.
His gut knotting, he sat down on the bed beside her and brushed his hand through her curls. His poor Amazon. So fierce and proud.
Unable to protect the things she loved most.
Now he understood why she’d freaked out in the fight and locked him out in the hallway. It’d probably reminded her of the night she’d died and she’d reacted on instinct. But he wasn’t a human.
He was a bear.
And it would take more than a Daimon to kill him. A lot more.
“I won’t let them hurt you, Sam,” he whispered as her curls tugged at his fingers. The silken strands wrapped around his skin the same way foreign emotions for her wrapped around his heart.
If the Daimons wanted her, they were about to get the fight of their lives. And yet as that thought went through him, it was followed by another.
An image of her dying in front of him the way his mother had while he was powerless to stop it. Pain lacerated him.
This wasn’t a fear, he knew it.
It was a premonition.