Authors: Elisabeth Naughton
Copyright © 2012 by Elisabeth Naughton
Cover and internal design © 2012 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover illustration by Patricia Schmitt aka Pickyme
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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For the Running Girls:
Connie, Stephani, and Sara.
Because you kick my butt into gear and make me run even when I don’t want to,
Because you listen to me grumble about characters and plots and all things writing related while we’re on those runs,
And because you’re awesome friends who not only love me, but the crazy worlds I create.
For all these reasons and so many more too numerous to list,
You girls totally rock!
So mighty is the hidden power of truth…
For the one achieved high heaven,
And the other…on sounding wings hovered a conqueror in the fluent air.
Death growls, devil horns, and a mosh pit. Not Orpheus’s idea of a good time. Not by a long shot.
As he maneuvered through the metalheads in the crowd of outdoor concertgoers banging to the beat of the pounding bass, he couldn’t help but be slightly amused by their stupidity. They had no idea what they were opening themselves up to with the satanic lyrics and black-magic worship. But Orpheus did.
Boy, did he ever.
He glanced around the crowd again, searching for the familiar darkness he knew was hovering somewhere close. His urgency ratchetted up about ten notches. After tracking her for the last three months, he’d finally found her at this outdoor concert in western Washington. What she was doing with a bunch of headbangers, he didn’t know, but he wasn’t about to lose her. Not to the chase, and definitely not to them.
A blur of black crossed his line of sight four people over, and his adrenaline amped. He pushed past a man wearing leather pants and a dog collar.
Beer sloshed over the man’s T-shirt. He turned and glared Orpheus’s way. “Hey, dickhead, watch it!”
Normally Orpheus would be right up in the guy’s face, but not tonight. Tonight he had more important matters to deal with. He scanned the crowd again, searching for her. She was petite, and dressed all in black with that long dark hair, not easy to find, but he caught sight of her again when she looked back to see if he was still following. The whites of her eyes all but glowed in the darkness, and the recognition and fear on her pale face told him she knew just what he was.
Smart girl to run. In any other situation, that might amuse him. But he’d had it with playing cat and mouse.
She picked up her pace, maneuvered easily through the crowd as she headed away from the stage. Orpheus wasn’t so lucky. His size kept him from weaving through the throng of people. He muscled his way past the pulsing fans, intent on not losing her.
She brushed by a woman with long blond hair. The blond turned to look after her, said something Orpheus couldn’t hear, but his target didn’t even slow. She disappeared again in the crowd. The blond, however, turned to look his way as if she sensed him. Their eyes held for the briefest of seconds.
Violet eyes. The color so startling, he faltered. Like polished amethyst. Déjà vu struck him square in the chest. He didn’t know how or where, but he’d seen this human before.
Before he thought better of it, he took in the long hair that fell to the center of her back. She wasn’t dressed outrageously, like some of the others in the crowd—no chains or dog collars, just a denim jacket that covered a fitted scoop-necked black shirt and slim black pants. But the clothes accentuated her curves in all the right places. And the knee-high black goth boots that propped her up a good four inches were sexier than hell.
She wasn’t headbanging or jumping to the beat, but she was obviously here for the show. One corner of her glossed lips curled into a wicked smirk as she studied him back. As much as he would have liked to let her look her fill, the longer he distracted himself with this human the farther away his target would get.
And yet…where the hell had he seen her before?
He turned away from the blond, scanned the crowd again. Called himself ten kinds of stupid for being distracted by a measly human. He let his senses guide him. The darkness within his target he could stomach. It was the light that repelled him. That odd light that marked her as one of Zeus’s own and told him exactly where she was located in the mass of people.
His daemon surged forward. He moved to see past a couple with spiked purple hair and caught sight of the ends of her long black locks waving in the wind as she ran past the last concertgoers and dropped down over the other side of the hill.
He picked up his pace and finally reached the peak of the grassy incline. She was already at the fence some thirty yards below, nothing more than a shadow climbing up and over the chain link like a seasoned cat burglar. Where had this female trained? With the Argonauts themselves?
He shoved that thought aside and followed. Darkness pressed in, but the eerie orange lights spaced every so often across the vast parking lot made her easy to see. That and his heightened night vision, now that they were out of the chaos of the concert.
He was over the fence in moments, this time easily weaving through cars in the lot. She didn’t look back, but his highly attuned hearing caught every pound of her heart and each push and pull of air in her lungs as she ran toward the trees.
The music faded to a dim thump. The crowd’s screams died in the background. His boots crunched across the pavement, then turned quiet as he moved from asphalt to forest floor to mix with the scents of earth and moss wafting on the air. Did she think she could outrun him? Hide in the trees? It didn’t matter that she could trace her roots back to Zeus himself. The female was about to learn there was no hiding from him. Not when she was the key to his getting what he needed most.
Douglas fir rose up around him. In the distance, the White River gurgled over rocks and downed limbs. He slowed when he saw her standing in filtered moonlight twenty yards away, still as stone and staring into the darkness as if she were nothing more than a statue.
For a second, he wondered if she’d been frozen in place by some sort of dark magic. His brother Gryphon possessed that gift—the ability to freeze those around him for miniscule seconds—but Gryphon was now dead, his soul rotting somewhere in Hades, all thanks to Orpheus. No way his brother had cast any kind of power from the other side, and not once in three hundred years had Orpheus come across another with the same gift. Which meant something else had stopped her. Or spooked her more than he had.
The familiar darkness he’d sensed earlier stirred his daemon within. Anxious to get to her before it did, he stepped cautiously toward her, was just about to tell her who he was so they could end this idiotic game of chase, when a voice at his back drew him to a stop.
“Step away from her, daemon.”
He turned—as did his target—toward the blond in the goth boots, who stood near a cluster of trees.
His quarry gasped. He reached out and wrapped his hand around her upper arm before she could get away. The female was nothing but skin and bones. Though she was definitely quick.
She struggled, but he held her firm and dragged her toward his chest. To the blond he growled, “Go back to the concert, woman.”
But before he could send the blond packing, Orpheus realized something besides him had spooked the female in his arms.
He whipped around, spotted the three massive males walking their way. His target tensed, sucked in a breath. Orpheus cursed his dumbass luck and pushed her behind him. He wanted to tell the blond to run, but there was nothing these dogs liked better than a chase. He’d take care of them, then her.
“Look what we have here,” the one in the middle said. All three wore sunglasses, even though it was night. But Orpheus didn’t need to see their eyes to know they were glowing. He could
it. Just as he could feel his own eyes begin to glow in response.
. And damn his target for running straight for them.
“Looks to me like he has plenty to share,” the one to the left said, the one with the shaved head and double gold hoop earrings. “We’re hungry too, brother.”
Oh, Orpheus didn’t doubt these three daemons were hungry. Atalanta, their leader, may be trapped in the Fields of Asphodel, but her new breed of daemon—monsters who looked human but weren’t—lived on. And they needed to feed to regain the strength they were no longer getting from the Underworld. What Atalanta didn’t know was that she couldn’t control hybrids the way she could her army of ordinary daemons. They weren’t brainless soldiers. They were part human, and as such retained that human characteristic that all the gods hated—free will.
Yeah, Orpheus knew that better than anyone, didn’t he? Cursing his luck all over again, he scanned the trees, focused on his senses. Didn’t pick up any other threat around them, which meant these three dickheads were alone.
“Look, guys. The chick and I were just about to get nice and friendly, so why don’t you just turn right around and go find some unsuspecting sheep to toy with. I’m sure that’s right up your alley.”
“Come on, man. You don’t need two. We’ll take the blond.” The leader licked his lips and stepped forward.
. Stupid human with her stupid curiosity. Behind him he heard the female he’d been chasing shuffle backward. She obviously knew what they faced, but the human probably didn’t. In a minute though—unless he figured a way out of this mess—she was going to discover just what kind of nightmare she’d wandered into.
Man, his day was heading right for the shitter.
He reached back for the blade he kept sheathed against his spine beneath his coat, the one as long as his forearm. The one that had belonged to his brother and bore the marking of their forefather on the handle. Then he whispered, “Run. Take the human and run.”
“That,” the male to the right growled, taking a step away from the others and puffing up his chest, “is an unwise move, daemon.”
Yeah, no shit, Sherlock.
But Orpheus was out of options, as far as he could see. If his target died, he was screwed, and daemon hybrid himself or not, he didn’t want to see the stupid human female get eaten either. Maybe because she was hot and he didn’t like seeing hot chicks sliced and diced. Maybe because he still felt like he knew her from somewhere. Either way, it meant she was a burden he just didn’t need. And the sooner she got gone, the sooner she’d be someone else’s burden.
He gripped his blade with both hands. While he wasn’t thrilled with his odds against three blood-starved beasts, he was pretty sure he could take them. If he shifted. He just hoped it didn’t come to that.
“You boys have been warned,” Orpheus said.
The leader chuckled and pulled his sunglasses from his face. His eyes were already glowing a blinding green that lit up the small clearing.
A whir echoed near Orpheus’s ear before he could move. The leader gasped, his feet stilling midstep. His eyes flew wide. He looked down at the arrow protruding from the middle of his chest. With shaking hands he grasped it, pulled it free with a grunt. Blood gushed from the wound as he slumped to the forest floor.
Stunned, Orpheus glanced over his shoulder and saw the blond standing with her boots shoulder-width apart, a bow she’d pulled from somewhere in that obscenely tight getup poised at her shoulder, her hand already gripping and aiming the next arrow. “He told you to leave. I suggest you listen.”
Growls echoed in unison. Clothing ripped, bones cracked. The other two hybrids morphed and shifted, growing in size until they were at least seven and a half feet tall. Claws sprouted from their hands as their faces twisted and transformed. The human features disappeared until what stared back at Orpheus in the dark was a grotesque mix of cat and goat and dog, with protruding fangs.
Blade in hand, Orpheus dropped back four steps and grasped the dark-haired female by the arm, shoving her in the direction of the amphitheater they’d just come from. “Run!”
He reached for the blond, tried to push her back too, but she stepped away from him, lined up another shot, and released a second arrow. It sailed through the air with a deafening whir, struck the beast on the left with a thwack. The daemon growled in response, stumbled, but then roared and found his footing.
“Sonofabitch,” Orpheus muttered, lifting his weapon as the daemon charged. “Get back!”
Another whir sounded. This arrow embedded itself in the chest of the charging daemon. The blond released two more arrows in rapid succession as if she’d done it a thousand times. The daemon stumbled. The blond moved her weapon to the left and hit the third daemon near the shoulder.
Her expert marksmanship meant Orpheus might get through this without shifting after all. Instead of questioning who she was and why she was there, he jerked the knife from his belt and hurled it end over end toward the daemon with three arrows sticking out of his chest still trying to get to the blond. Then he arced out with the blade in his hand and struck the other advancing daemon, catching it across the chest. Blood spurted, the daemon howled. Again Orpheus yelled, “Run!”
The first hybrid, the one still in human form, lay writhing on the ground. Two daemons Orpheus could handle—they weren’t trained warriors; they were scrappy fighters—so long as the females fled. He chanced one look over his shoulder as he fought against the monsters, couldn’t see his target. She’d obviously taken off, but the blond was still there, lining up her arrows and pulling a throwing star from her waistband, then hurling it like a pro.
Throwing stars? Who the bloody hell was this chick?
Not his concern, he told himself as he sliced out with his blade, used his legs for leverage, knocked one beast to the ground and whirled on the other. If she wasn’t going to listen and split, he couldn’t be responsible for what happened to her. But he kept her at the edge of his vision just the same. Made sure the daemon close to her stayed on the ground. Blood spurted, howls echoed, and just when he thought the fight was almost over, the hybrid she’d originally hit with her arrows—the one who hadn’t yet shifted—let out a bone-chilling scream and morphed from human form into the biggest damn daemon Orpheus had ever seen.
The blond cursed. Orpheus looked just in time to see the daemon closest to her scramble to his feet, then backhand her across the face and send her sailing twenty feet. Her body slammed into the ground. Her bow and arrow went flying. The throwing star in her hand became a whir of silver as it ricocheted against a tree trunk. From across the clearing, the big daemon—the leader—growled, “She’s mine.”
Orpheus had a split second to decide what to do.
He let go of his daemon. The glow consumed him. Clothing ripped, bones cracked, and another roar echoed through the forest, only this one, he knew, came from him. From that part hidden deep inside. The part he rarely let out. The part he’d been cursed with from birth. The part that, even now after three hundred years, he couldn’t totally control.