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Delphine stiffened as she came awake to herself sprawled face down on a cold marble floor. Naked. Mortified. Terrified.
Rising slightly, she tried to cover herself with her hands, but she lacked enough hands to do it. And if that wasn't bad enough, she was more than aware of the pair of black men's boots she couldn't take her gaze off of. Mostly because she didn't want to see this man, whoever he was, eye to eye after he'd seen her completely naked.
Heat spread over her as she wanted to crawl into a hole, one that hopefully had some clothes in it, and hide.
Cursing so foully he made her jump, the man knelt down. She tensed, expecting the worst and ready to fight him to the death.
But he didn't touch her.
Instead he pricked his finger with a small knife, and the blood from his fingertip wove itself around her to form a warm crimson cloak that covered her completely. She still didn't look at him. She couldn't while she was this embarrassed.
"That was unnecessary," he growled in that deeply masculine tone she'd recently learned belonged to Cratus. His voice rumbled like angry thunder.
It was Azura who answered him. "She's our offering to you to show you our thanks for your loyalty."
Completely covered now and finding some semblance of dignity, Delphine rose to find Jericho glaring at Azura, who stood in the corner by the door. The evil goddess looked entirely too pleased with herself.
Smirking at Delphine, Azura gestured toward her. "She's your slave."
Delphine gaped at her disclosure even though Jericho didn't say anything.
"I've bound her powers and delivered her to you," Azura continued. "Do with her as you please. But you should know she's one of the Oneroi and friend to the Dolophoni you hate so much . . . the ones who have tortured you for centuries. I've restored all of her emotions so that you can take pleasure however you see fit. . ." She started to leave, then paused. "Oh, and you'll probably want to know she's one of Zeus's favorites among the goddesses. I'm told he values her greatly."
Delphine opened her mouth to deny it, but no words would come out. Azura had her voice blocked.
Oh, to have one second of her powers . . .
And a minute alone with that deceitful bitch.
Her features smug, Azura vanished in a cloud of blue smoke.
Jericho glanced at his new "present," intending to return the woman to Azura immediately, but the moment his gaze met hers, he was frozen in place.
Long, wavy blond hair contrasted sharply with the red cloak he'd made for her. But it was her eyes that held him prisoner. A deep hazel green, they showed him a potent fear that she, as a Dream-Hunter, shouldn't have been able to experience. More than that, they showed her spirit and her fight. She was tensed to hold her own even though she had to know she didn't stand a chance against him. The fact that she was willing to fight anyway said a lot about her.
Her form was slight, her face porcelain smooth with high cheekbones and a small widow's peak. She looked so much like a Dream-Hunter he'd once known that he couldn't help asking, "Leta?"
She frowned at him. "My name is Delphine."
Delphine . . .
She took a step back and again he was aware of exactly how frail she was in appearance. He could crush her and yet, even given her relationship with Zeus, he couldn't bear the thought of harming her and damned if he knew why. Kindness wasn't something he made a practice of. It was his nature to strike the first blow.
As if sensing his thoughts, she put more room between them. "I won't be your slave."
Her defiance amused him. "I don't think you have much choice."
She lifted her chin defiantly. "I will fight you until one of us is dead."
He was consumed by an overwhelming urge to soothe her. It was something he hadn't felt since he'd comforted his sister when they were younger—and he'd never felt that for another person. Until now.
It made no sense that he'd want to reassure Zeus's pet after what that bastard had done to him, and yet he couldn't stand the thought of her being afraid of him. "I won't hurt you."
Delphine wanted to believe that, but she was having a hard time, especially since the rawness of her new emotions was making her dizzy. They were sharp and so confusing. How did people cope with this? "Where am I?"
Delphine cringed at the name, which translated into "furious demon." This was where Noir and Azura made their home and where they gleefully tortured their unfortunate victims. She had no doubt that's exactly what would become of her now that they'd taken her hostage, too.
Her gaze fell to his sword on the highly polished dresser. "You would really fight at the side of such unrelenting evil?"
His one eye flashed with the weight of his anger as he snarled at her. "You know nothing about me."
"That's not true. I know you were cursed by Zeus and that you've lived every day since completely alone."
He laughed bitterly. "Only when I was lucky."
She scowled. "What do you mean?"
All the emotion left his face. Still raw hatred bled from his pores with a tangible heat so potent, she could swear it singed the air between them. "I owe you nothing."
Delphine couldn't breathe at the fury that glared at her from his one good eye. It was palpable and terrifying. "I've never hurt you."
Faster than she could blink, he grabbed her by the throat and pushed her against the wall. Yet for the quickness and ferocity of his action, he didn't hurt her. He merely held her neck in the large paw of his hand in a gentle grip while that one deep blue eye pierced her.
Jericho wanted to snap her neck in two. His pent-up fury begged him to do it. Send her back to Zeus in pieces.
But he couldn't bring himself to kill her.
Grinding his teeth, he released her. "Don't push me."
She met his gaze unflinchingly. "I didn't realize pushing you would involve me stating a simple fact."
He was appalled by her unending temerity that seemed to prevent her from being silent even when it was the prudent thing to do. "Have you no concept of self-preservation?"
"Have you no concept of decent behavior?"
That made him really want to hurt her because deep inside it cut him harshly. There had been a time when he'd been decent. Even courteous. But his past degradations had killed that long ago. No one had showed him mercy, so why should he ever give it to another?
"No, I don't."
Delphine felt a whisper of wind before he vanished out of the room. She looked around, but there was no sign of him. Even his sword was gone. Yet what surprised her was that in its place was a set of clothes for her. A pair of jeans, shoes and a pink top.
Why would he bother?
Grateful even though it didn't make sense, she dropped the cloak and reached for them. The moment she did, she became aware of just how cold it was here in his room. Chills ran over her body, making her teeth chatter.
It was absolutely frigid.
Frowning, she touched the cloak that vibrated with warmth. It truly felt like living body heat. . . .
Was it from his blood? She had no idea, but she was grateful for the warmth. And right now, she wanted to have something on besides her skin and his cloak.
With her hands shaking, she quickly dressed. She kept trying to use her powers, but the containment collar was more than effective.
Bloody dogs . . .
Furious with her predicament, she opened the door to leave, then pulled up sharply. There in the hallway was what had to be the largest, ugliest demon she'd ever seen in her life. At least ten feet tall, he had bulbous skin and a stench so foul she had to hold her breath.
She immediately took a step back and slammed the door shut.
His evil laughter echoed outside.
Delphine rolled her eyes. "What are you? Stupid? Of course they have a guard. What part of 'You're a prisoner' did you miss?" she castigated herself out loud.
Feeling ill, frustrated and upset, she wrapped her arms around her chest and wondered what she could do to help the others from here. This had to be where the Skoti were taking them. If she could find their prison, maybe she could set the hostages free . . .
Then she could focus on converting Jericho back to their side. That would be the best of all worlds.
But how did one go about seducing someone? She truly had no idea. Most of her interactions with people were through dreams and since she wasn't an erotic Skotos, she'd never been sexually involved with them. She'd gone in only as a warrior to combat the Skoti and free the dreamer from their spell.
As a human . . .
Well, that had been a long time ago. And while she remembered having an appreciation for some of the boys in her village, those feelings had been muted.
Now her emotions were something else. Raw. Hurtful. Painful.
Anger burned her over their holding her captive and she wanted to hurt someone. Luckily, she understood that it was only an exaggerated fury inside her and not real anger. She had to calm down and think rationally.
The window . . .
She went over to it and drew the curtains back. Rain soundlessly pelted the glass. Gray skies stretched out endlessly with puffed and ugly clouds. Her view looked out on a sea that boiled and crashed upon black stones. Placing her hand to the pane, she snatched it back immediately. It was so cold that it burned her.
"Calm down," she whispered, trying to remember everything she knew about Azmodea. Honestly, it wasn't much. It was said to be the primordial ooze that had been left over when the universe had been created. Afraid it might taint the beauty of the rest of the universe, the Source had banished it to the deepest part of the earth, never to be seen again.
When Noir and his sisters had risen to power, they had profaned the light and taken up residence here. It was said that the walls of their palace were painted red with the blood of the victims they had tortured.
She looked at the burgundy paint. No, it wasn't dried blood. That was just a story meant to frighten.
It's doing a superbly good job.
Stop it! She was rational and not given to panic attacks even though a chill went down her spine. While the room was large and well-dressed with intricately carved furniture, the austere ambiance made it less than inviting. Honestly, she preferred the hole Jericho had lived in on earth to this place. At least the hovel hadn't been insidious and so icy cold. Creepy. She kept expecting something to jump out of the walls and grab her.
Nervous and out of sorts, she went to the mirror and tried to pry her collar off even though she knew just what a waste of time it would be. It was better than doing nothing. It'd never been in her nature to not fight.
But after a few minutes, her frustration grew and left her snatching at it until she had a bruise forming.
So much for that.
"Where are you, Jericho?" And most importantly, what was he doing?
Jericho paused outside the door to the where Azura had first taken him. She'd called it their war room, which made sense. But as he stood there, he felt a sharp pain in his chest. It was so hard to breathe. To think.
Images flashed through his mind. Quick and intense, he saw himself as he'd been in the human realm. He felt the hunger and the pain of it.
Bet you wish you'd never turned on Zeus now, huh?
He didn't know the name of the Dolophonos who'd killed him that time, but if he ever found that bastard, he'd bathe in his blood.
He gripped the hilt of his sword, dying to use it on anyone who dared to cross him. Again, he was surprised by the warmth of it. It really was as if it were alive, and he knew this was a sword meant for killing.
Why would Azura have given him so valuable a gift? Such creatures as she and Noir weren't stupid. They wanted something more from him than just a warrior. He could feel it deep inside his soul.
But what exactly were they after? And why was he so important to them?
Wanting to find out, he pushed open the door to find Azura alone in the room.
She turned toward him with an arched brow. "Is something wrong?"
"Where is Noir?"
She tsked at him. "We don't answer to you, love. You fight for us and that is all you do. Don't ever forget your place."
Those were not the right words to make him happy. It was all he could do not to tell her to go screw herself.
Her features softened as she jerked her chin toward the door behind him. "Now why aren't you entertaining yourself with your new pet?"
Her tone and attitude didn't sit well with him. But he wasn't about to let her know that. . . yet. He had a few things he wanted to investigate first. "I want to see the Oneroi who were brought in."
She scowled in displeasure. "Why?"
Her incessant questions were beginning to piss him off. "I have a score to settle with most of them."
"Have no fear. They are being made adequately miserable for you. I assure you, you would be impressed with their current conditions."
His suspicions snapped to the forefront at her continued denial. "Are telling me I'm a prisoner, too?"
"I didn't say that. But you have to remember that we are as unsure of your loyalty to us as you are of ours to you. You, Noir and I have only a shaky alliance at present. One that is untested."
"Yet you gave me a rare sword?"
"A token of trust and a hope for our future together."
Something wasn't right in this scenario. Every instinct he had was on guard. There was something more to this sword. Something she wasn't telling him. "Why?"
"I told you. We want you on our side. So long as you're with us, all you desire will be given to you."
And if he displeased them, they would make him pay. It was an unstated threat that hung heavy around him. One he didn't take kindly to. He'd been down that road and crashed hard.
But if she wanted to give him his every wish . . . "I desire to see the Oneroi."
She laughed. "Insistent child. In time we will be open with you and you can do as you please. But not yet. Now return to your pet. Or if you'd rather, I can return you to your garage and remove your powers again."
Tempted to tell her to shove it all up her sphincter, he withdrew from her even though he wanted to attack her for her patronizing tone.
That would be suicide.
Rest now, gain bearings. Attack only when you're in a position of strength. He knew the warrior's code by heart.
Still, he couldn't shake the feeling of dread inside him. Something was seriously wrong here. He just didn't know what.
Unsettled and unhappy, he returned to his room to find Delphine dressed in the jeans and pink top he'd left for her. She also wore his cloak wrapped around her like an armored shield. Little did she know, it was. Nothing would be able to penetrate it.
She sat nervously on the bed, watching the door as if expecting someone to come in and attack her. Which, given this place, wasn't that unlikely a fear.
He stopped halfway to the bed, unsure of what to say to her. Idle chatter hadn't been something he'd participated in even before he'd left Olympus.
Hell, he'd barely spoken to anyone in centuries.
And especially not to an attractive woman. His cock hardened from need just looking at her. One of Zeus's crudest punishments had been to make him burn for a woman whenever he saw one, and then the minute he was alone with her, his body went soft. The frustration of wanting sex and never being able to have it had driven him insane. He couldn't even take care of it himself.
That alone was enough to make him want to crush the Olympian god's throat.
So he'd learned to not even think about it. To keep as far away from a woman and her scent as he could lest he make himself ache any worse than he already did. But honestly, he'd missed being touched and held. Missed the softness of a woman naked in his arms.
Yet there she sat, so pretty. So tempting.
One touch . . .
But he couldn't. For all he knew, his body would still go soft on him. And that made him even angrier.
"Are you hungry?" he growled at her.
She frowned. Her expression was one of worry and fear.
Was that the wrong thing to ask her? Instead of soothing her it put her more on guard. Or maybe it was his tone. How should he reassure her?
Someone really ought to write a manual. Then again, gods trying to communicate with hostages was probably something so rare no one would think to create it.
"I want this collar off me," she said, her tone stern. "1 can't do that."
"Why not? Are you afraid of me having my powers?"
He snorted. "Yeah, right. Calling me a coward won't accomplish anything. Believe me, you're an amateur in that field and I've been called a lot worse."
Delphine didn't miss the note of pain in his voice that he tried to hide. Given what she'd seen of his life, she was sure he'd been insulted and then some. But it didn't change the fact that she was his prisoner and she hated it.
Most of all, she couldn't understand why he was here. "Why did you join them?'
Jericho paused at her question as he considered how to best answer. If she would even understand his reasoning or motivation. In the end, he knew the truth. She'd have had to experience the hell he'd been through to comprehend it.
He raised his hands and created an arc of bright power that pulsed between his palms. For the first time in centuries, he could make and throw a god bolt to fry any and everything. That invigorating sensation. . . knowing he would never be stepped on again . . .
For that alone he'd sell his soul, his life and anything else they wanted. How could he have said no to what Azura offered? But he had no intention of sharing that with Delphine. "None of your business." He dropped his hands down and rested one on the hilt of his sword.
She gave him a frustrated glower. "Noir will destroy the world."
"So what? Who says it's worth saving?"
Delphine wanted to shake him for his obstinacy. She'd never met anyone so dense and so unforgiving. What had they done to him to make him like this? "You would kill or enslave everyone? There is so much beauty in the world that they'd destroy. How do you not see it?"
He scoffed at her as if she were a child. "Spoken like someone who has only lived in the cushioned world of dreams. You have no idea what the real world is like. What people will do to you when they know they can get away with it. People are absolutely cruel and I say more power to Noir for tearing it down."
"They can be cruel at times." she admitted. "But I've seen the best in people. Their hopes and dreams." That was why she fought so hard for mankind.
"And I've lived through their worst." The pain in his eye scorched her.
It also explained a lot about him and his reasoning, But that didn't make it right. "So anything you do is justified, is that it? They were mean to you so it's okay for you to be mean back?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Sounds justifiable to me."
She let out a long breath. What would it take to get through to him? To make him understand and most of all care about what he was doing? "Were you always this bitter?"
Jericho paused at her unexpected question. No one had ever asked him that before. No one. And it forced him to take a hard look inward.
He'd never really liked himself. Not when he served Zeus and definitely not after his banishment. From the moment of his birth, he'd been a god with a destiny that had been forced on him.
Balance your siblings. Serve your master. Do as you're told. No questions. No life . . .
And so he'd existed until that one moment when he couldn't blindly obey anymore.
All things ended. Birth, destruction, death and rebirth. It was the law of the universe. The code of the Source. Who was he to fight against it?
But the truth was still harsh. "Yes," he said, his tone cold. "I've always been this bitter."
She let out a tired breath. "Then I'm very sorry for you."
"Don't be. I don't need pity from someone who knows so little about living."
Delphine shook her head. "That's not true. Every time I've stepped into a dream, I've seen life. I've seen love and joy in its purest forms. They're beautiful to behold even if they are muted by the dream state."
He made a rude noise of disagreement. "You live like a by-product."
That set her ire off to a level of rage she'd never experienced before. "And you don't? I saw you, too, you know. You didn't interact with anyone. Not even to say good-bye to them when you left. What kind of living is that?"
His nostrils flaring with anger, he sucked his breath in sharply as he advanced on her with a fury so potent, she tried to flee only to have him trap her in a corner. She had to crane her neck to look up at him. He was so incredibly large. So fierce. And that one eye glowed with absolute hatred.
Jericho wanted to tell her exactly why he couldn't interact with people. He wanted to lash out and make her pay for what Zeus had done to him. But as he stood there and the scent of her hit him, it paralyzed his entire body.
Worst of all, it evaporated his fury and it made his cock so hard, he was sure he could use it as a hammer. She became the focus of his reasoning, not his hatred.
She and that soft skin and delicate body that he wanted to taste so desperately . . .
His gaze focused on her lips, which were parted by her rapid breathing. Were they as soft as they appeared? Would they give him the pleasure he hadn't known since he'd been damned and cursed?
He hadn't kissed a woman in centuries. . . . Could he even remember how?
Kill the bitch and get on with your revenge. Deliver her to Zeus in pieces. Let him know what it feels like to suffer. Take from him what he took from you.
But he couldn't. Even with her words and his rage, it wasn't enough to make him hurt her. And damned if he knew why.
Her hazel eyes still had that fire and joy . . . even though she was afraid. He couldn't take that from her.
No, he didn't want to take that from her.
Before he even realized what he was doing, he picked up a fat curl from her shoulder. Her hair was so unbelievably soft. It wrapped around his finger, teasing his flesh. Lifting it to his face, he closed his eyes and inhaled the sweet scent of it and imagined what it would be like to make love to her until they were both sated.
His cock jerked with need as he imagined her naked in his arms.
Delphine couldn't breathe as she watched him. Part of her expected him to attack her still. But he didn't.
Instead he rubbed her hair against his lips. Lips that were so close to hers . . .
Never had she been kissed. Until this moment she'd never even thought about it. Since she didn't really feel lust, it hadn't been a problem. Now for the first time, she felt her body flush with heat. Felt her heart quicken along with a deep heaviness she'd never experienced before.
She wanted him to touch her. . . .
He dipped his head as if he'd kiss her. But just as their lips would have touched, he buried his face in her hair and inhaled.
Not sure what to do, she cupped his head in her hand and wrapped her other arm around him. She was unprepared for just how good it would feel to hold him like this. He smelled of leather and sharp spices, of all man. His thick white hair was feather soft as it brushed against her face and made her shiver. She could feel his muscles rippling under her hand, the softness of his blond hair in her palm. . ..
Jericho buried his face in the crook of her neck as he imagined all the things he wanted to do to her. As he tried to imagine how good she would taste. He wanted desperately to breathe her in.
The sensation of her hands on his body right now. . . It was heaven. And it was hell.
He didn't want to feel like this. He didn't want to be weak ever again and definitely not for another person. To have someone control him. The last time he'd allowed himself to feel for someone, he'd lost everything.
Even his dignity.
Angry at the thought, he growled low in his throat and tore himself out of her grasp. He didn't need softness or comfort. He didn't need to be touched. Zeus had taught him that. He could survive well enough on his own with no one around him.
He was stronger that way.
"Stay away from me," he snarled at her.
She looked baffled by his words. "You came at me."
"Don't press me, woman!"
She narrowed her eyes. "You know, this whole emotion thing is new to me, too. I don't know how to cope with all these conflicting things, and you yelling at me isn't exactly helping . . . Man!"
"Don't raise your voice to me!"
"Ditto, buddy. Ditto." She hadn't realized she'd drawn near him again until she was looking up at him, toe to toe.
The rage inside him actually hurt her, but there was nothing she could do for him. Nothing at all, and the frustration of that made her want to withdraw to someplace where she could feel safe again. "I just want to go home."
Jericho did a mental flinch at those softly spoken words. It was a cry that he'd echoed so many times the first century he'd been banished that it was still a raw aching need in his heart. How many times had he closed his eyes and remembered the sound of Nike's laughter? The beauty of being respected?
All he'd wanted was to change what he'd done and to beg forgiveness from them so that he could go home, too.
But over time, he'd learned not to want. Learned not to remember.
At least he wasn't degrading or torturing her like they'd done to him.
"You'd better get used to it here. Soon there won't be a home for you to return to."
She was aghast. "You would kill your own mother?"
There was nothing but coldness inside him where the goddess Styx was concerned. "My mother was the one who stripped my powers from me and turned me out into the world. What do you think?"
"I think your mother should be beaten for her cruelty and probably Zeus, too, but the rest of us shouldn't have to die because the two of them were wrong."
Yes, but that wasn't good enough to appease his anger. Not by a long shot. "You know nothing about revenge."
"You're right. I don't. All I know is how to protect people. It's all I've ever done."
"Because you're a mindless automaton."
She lifted her chin. "Better a mindless automaton who protects than a rampaging murderer without any regard for others. Just because my emotions were bound, it doesn't make me mindless any more than you were while you carried out Zeus's punishments before your banishment. Hephaestus told me how he begged you not to hurt Prometheus. Yet you stood over Hephaestus, making him shackle the god to the rock so that he could be torn apart every single day for the rest of eternity."
"And you see how well that turned out. Believe me, I have paid dearly for my mindless obedience. If I could go back. I would have driven my sword through Zeus when I had the chance."
Delphine put her hands up and choked the air between them. "But you didn't. You did the right thing, and now I ask you to do the right thing again. Join our side in this battle. Don't let evil take over the world."
He laughed bitterly. "You do realize that the one and only time in my life I did the right thing, I was cursed for it? That fact doesn't really motivate me to repeat the experience. When Zeus asked if any god would stand up for me, they all turned their backs. They're the ones who started this. All of them. Now I intend to finish it and them. The world be damned."
"And it will be," she said choking on the hopeless grief that welled up inside her. "It will be." She drew a deep breath before she spoke again. "Then what will become of you?"
"Does it matter?"
"If it doesn't matter to you, how could it possibly matter to someone else?"
He curled his lip. "Don't twist my words with your bullshit psychology. No one likes me. Boo-hoo. I really don't give a shit. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an army to meet and train." He vanished.
Delphine expelled a long breath as the air around her cleared. His anger and pain was so thick, it was virtually tangible.
What would it take to reach him?
Was it even possible?
But the saddest part was that she couldn't blame him even a little for his reaction. What had been done to him had been wrong. Unforgivable. How would she have reacted in his place? To save a life and have it min yours . . .
The trade-off seemed so unfair.
And the clock was ticking. Time would be up soon.
If he can't be turned, he must be destroyed. . . .
There was no other way.
Äàòà äîáàâëåíèÿ: 2015-09-13; ïðîñìîòðîâ: 7; Íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ