CHAPTER 4

MEDEA SHRIEKED IN ANGER AS SHE TRIED TO flash herself out of Kalosis.

Stryker tsked at her. “I’ve closed the channel. You can’t get out until I open it again.”

Her black eyes flared with fury, reminding him all the more of her mother. “Matera will kill you for this.”

He released her and took a step back. “She was going to kill me anyway. What difference does it make?”

“Her plan hadn’t included torturing you first. This . . . this will make her change her mind.”

He shrugged nonchalantly. “You wanted to spend time with your father. Here I am.” His features hardened as he met her gaze and showed her his resolve. “You should know one thing about me. I do nothing on other people’s terms. I am and will always be a commander. No one tells me what to do.” The last person he’d obeyed—his own father—had betrayed him. Since that night, he’d vowed that in the future his life was his own and no one else’s.

Medea curled her lip. “Matera was right. You are an asshole.”

Her anger amused him. “Not true. An asshole would throw you to his demons. I am your father, and honestly, I miss having my children with me. That weakness is the only reason you’re still alive after threatening me.”

He reached out to cup her face in his hand. The way she tensed, he was actually surprised she didn’t sink her fangs into his palm. Instead, she continued to glare her contempt at him. She reminded him so much of his daughter who’d died eleven thousand years ago. Only Tannis had never been a fighter. She’d never shared her brother Urian’s love of life. Not like Medea.

Tannis had blithely allowed herself to decay on her twenty-seventh birthday while Stryker held her in his arms, begging her to take a human life so that she could live another day. She’d steadfastly refused. And her screams for mercy echoed in his ears to this day.

Medea turned her face into his hand, then kneed him hard in the groin.

Cursing, Stryker caught her hand before she could hit him again and shoved her back. His body aching, he wanted to kill her for what she’d done. But she was her mother’s daughter.

And his.

Using his powers, he pinned her to the wall behind her. “You’ve no idea how lucky you are that I’ve been regretting killing my son for doing a lot less to me than you just did. But for that, you’d be dead already.”

“I love you, too, Dad.” The sarcastic tone was acerbic and cold.

But at least she wasn’t like Urian, telling him how much she hated his guts and wanted to kill him.

“Davyn!” he shouted, calling in one of his commanders. He stood upright and refused to let his man see the fact that he was in pain. No one would ever know his weaknesses.

Davyn entered the room. “My lord?”

He jerked his chin toward Medea. “Take our guest to my quarters and lock her in until I have time to deal with her.” He lifted his hand, letting her fall free from the wall before he manifested a pair of shackles on her wrists.

She sucked her breath in as she tried to break them. “I’ll get you for this.”

“And your little dog, too,” he added snidely.

Davyn wisely ignored their comments. “Yes, sir. I’m on it.”

Medea didn’t speak as the handsome man stepped forward. To his credit, he didn’t touch her.

“If you’ll follow me.” He held his hand out toward the door.

As if she had a choice? Bugger bastards!

Furious, she glared at her father before she allowed Davyn to lead her from the room. “You always obey him?” she asked as soon as they were alone.

Davyn glanced back at her over his shoulder. Tall and blond, he had short hair and a small goatee. “If I didn’t want to live, I’d stop taking human souls and expire. It would be a lot less painful than crossing Stryker.”

“So you fear him?”

Davyn snorted. “Everyone fears him. The man killed his own son.”

“So he keeps telling me.”

“Yeah, well, I was there when it happened. We were facing our enemies when Stryker walked up to him all calm and collected, hugged him close, then cut his throat and left him to die.”

That description actually sent a shiver down her spine. How could any father be so coldblooded? The fact that he was hers was even more chilling.

Davyn turned left and headed down another hallway. “Urian was one of my best friends and he loved his father more than anything. He’d served him for centuries with absolute loyalty. Believe me, he didn’t deserve what he got.”

What had her half brother done to cause so severe a punishment? “Why did Stryker kill him?”

“He married one of our enemies behind his back.”

She stumbled at his low words, unable to believe so slight an offense would be worth taking a life over, never mind that of one’s own child. “That was it?”

Davyn paused to open a door. “That was it.”

Unable to believe the man’s cruelty, Medea hesitated as she sensed something about her escort. “You’re Anglekos.” They were Daimons who only preyed on evil humans. Daimons who vowed to take only the souls that deserved to die. Pedophiles. Rapists. Murderers. The lowest of the low.

He blanched. “How do you know that?”

“I can sense the souls inside you. You took three kills recently.” It was then she realized another fact about him. He wasn’t like her father. He still had a heart that hadn’t been destroyed.

Yet.

“I know why you pick the ones you do, but let me give you some advice. Those souls will wear you down. They will corrupt you until you become the very thing you feed on.”

Davyn watched her warily. “How do you know?”

That was one question she had no intention of answering.

STRYKER SAT IN HIS OFFICE, WATCHING ZEPHYRA pace furiously through his new sfora. That woman moved like liquid silver. Hot. Fluid. Graceful. It made every hormone in his body fire into overdrive as he remembered how she’d felt in his arms. How it felt to make love to such a hellbrand. Her scent and touch were seared into his memories.

He’d always loved it when she was angry. One time not long after they’d married, he’d pissed her off by flirting with another woman. When they’d returned home, she’d grabbed him and shoved him to the floor, then made love to him until he’d all but gone blind from the pleasure of it. He’d had rug burns on his knees for a solid week afterward.

“You ever look at another woman and I’ll claw your eyes out.”

Instead, she’d clawed most of the skin off his back as they made love the entire night. His heart raced at the memory of her skills and he was instantly hard as he ached for another taste of her.

Walking away from her had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. But had he stayed, his father would have mercilessly killed her. There was no way Apollo would have allowed them as mortals to defy his divine plans. He was even less forgiving than Stryker was.

And so he’d done the noble thing. The right thing. Rather than try to fight a losing battle that would have cost them both their lives, he’d left her alive, thinking that she’d be able to find a man worthy of her.

And in all these centuries since then, Stryker had thought of her every day and missed her. He’d regretted every moment they had been denied.

But he’d never regretted saving her life from his father’s wrath.

Unable to stand being away from her for another instant, Stryker flashed himself to her temple in Greece. One of the last remaining temples of Artemis that was still used to worship her, it was as cold and timeless as the goddess herself.

As soon as Zephyra felt his presence, she turned on him with the full weight of her fury. Her black eyes blazing, she snatched the dagger from its sheath in her boot and advanced toward him.

“Don’t,” he said calmly, even though his body was on fire for a taste of her. “Kill me and my men will destroy Medea.”

Zephyra’s grip tightened on the dagger as she froze before him. “You would use your own daughter as a bargaining chip?”

He shrugged. “Agamemnon killed his just to sail a ship to attack his enemy. We are ancient Greeks, are we not?”

“You were a half Greek pig. I’m an Atlantean Apollite.” She returned her dagger to its sheath, then straightened. Her tough stance let him know that she was more than ready to fight. “So what do you want?”

Before he stopped himself, he jerked her into his arms to kiss her.

Zephyra had thought she’d stab him the moment he touched her, but the instant his lips were on hers she remembered why she’d married him. Insufferably arrogant, dismally loyal, and unbelievably sexy, Stryker had always made her hot. No one kissed like he did. No one felt the way he did. His warrior’s body was sculpted by hard, taut muscles that moved like water. Muscles that beckoned to be stroked and licked.

And with his arms around her, she could forgive him anything.

Almost.

She shoved him back. “That won’t work with me anymore, asshole. I’m not the little girl you left behind.”

His swirling eyes darkened. “No, you’re not. She was beautiful, but you . . . you’re a goddess.”

Retrieving her weapon again, Zephyra held her dagger against his neck, just below his Adam’s apple. She wanted to slice his throat and yet some foreign part of her couldn’t quite complete the task. What was wrong with her? She never hesitated. “Don’t come any closer.”

His gorgeous features taunted her. Gods, but no man had ever been born more handsome. Black eyebrows arched over a pair of pale swirling silver eyes. And his lips . . . all too well she remembered how well they’d pleased her and for how long. He’d been an insatiable, skilled, and thoughtful lover. One who’d never left her wanting.

“Would you really cut my throat?” he asked, his voice dropping an octave.

She stood strong against her volatile emotions. “Release my daughter and you’ll find out.”

He rubbed his neck against the sharp blade, letting it cut a fine line into his skin. Zephyra stared at the blood, her mouth watering for a taste of it. That was one of the things she hated most about what Apollo had done to them. The lure of Apollite blood was a madness that made them have to feed whenever they smelled it. It was a compulsion no one born of her race could deny.

Unable to stand it, she pulled the dagger back, grabbed Stryker by the hair, and drew him close.

Stryker sucked his breath in sharply as she clamped her fangs into his skin. Chills spread through his body while he welcomed her arms holding him close. The sensation of her breath on his neck heated his entire body.

“Gods, how I’ve missed you.”

She bit harder, drawing the blood into her mouth until it pained him. “I hate you with every beat of my heart.”

Those words hurt him more than her feeding. Yet he took pleasure from the pain. He deserved her hatred. “I wish I could go back and change the night I left.”

Zephyra pulled back with a curse. “You were always a coward.”

He grabbed her arm and jerked her closer. “Never a coward. A fool maybe, but I’ve never run from anything.”

“If you really think that, you’re even dumber than I thought. Now give me Medea.”

He shook his head. “My daughter stays with me.”

Growling, Zephyra went for his throat.

Stryker caught her and held her back. “Still so unreasonable.” But worse, she was delectable and he wanted her with a madness that was allconsuming. He leaned close enough to her hair that he could inhale the delicate scent of valerian mixed with lavender. That smell slammed into him. Gods, how he wanted her. “I’ll tell you what. You want me dead and I want to taste you. What say we settle this like the warriors we are?”

“How so?”

“We fight and if you win, you kill me.”

She cocked her head suspiciously. “If I lose?”

“You give me two weeks to win you back. If at the end of two weeks you still loathe me, I’ll let you execute me.”

Zephyra froze at his offer. She eyed him suspiciously. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“I’m a man of my word. Of all people, you know my honor means everything to me. If I haven’t won you back in two weeks, then I deserve nothing better than to die by your hand.”

“You know I’m not the same weak-kneed fool who couldn’t cut her own meat that you married. I will kill you.”

“I know.”

“Then I accept your terms.” She stepped back. “Now prepare to die.”

Stryker manifested two ancient Greek swords and handed one to her.

Her eyes glowing with anger, she took it from his hand and readied herself. Stryker saluted her with his.

She charged, slicing at his throat. He caught the blade with his and forced her back. Twirling, he changed hands to catch her on an upswing that almost succeeded in disarming her. But she was quick and strong. And like him, she changed hands, and drove him back with the ferocity of her attack.

“You’re incredible,” he breathed, impressed with her skill and passion.

“And you’re not.” She scissor-kicked him back and swung the blade at his neck.

Stryker felt the burn of it as he dodged left and dropped to the floor, where he swept her feet out from under her. Cursing him, she flipped to land back on her feet before she thrust at his outstretched arm. Stryker smiled in appreciation as he continued to press his attack. She feinted left, then right. He caught her blade with his and swung it high, out of her grasp.

She shoved him back, sank her teeth into his arm, then rolled on the ground so that she could scoop the hilt back into her hand and rise with the sword held at ready.

Stryker cursed as he covered the wound on his arm with his hand. “You bit me?”

“We use what we have.” She came at him swinging.

“That’s such a girl move,” he said, disappointed that she’d used those tactics.

“But it works. Maybe if you fought like a girl and not a stunted baboon, you’d actually win.”

His arm throbbing, he caught her blow and pressed her to his left. Out of instinct, he lifted his hand to strike her face, then stopped.

He would never lay hand to the mother of his child. Never lay hand to the woman he’d once loved more than his own life.

That hesitation cost him, as she jerked the sword free and laid open the skin on his shoulder. Hissing in pain, he staggered back. Like a true warrior, she pressed her advantage, slamming her sword against his over and over again.

The ferocity of her attack did more than just damage his injured arm. It cut him deep in his heart. “You really want me dead?”

“With every part of me.”

Unwilling to concede that to her, he renewed his attack, sweeping his blade under hers and then wringing it from her hand. It arced up.

Pushing her away, he yanked it from the air and then angled both blades at her throat.

“Yield.”

Her eyes flared with anger. “I hate you, you bastard!”

“And I’ve won in all fairness. Concede the fight.”

She spat on the ground at his feet. “I’ll abide by my word, but you will never win me back. Believe me, in two weeks I will slice open your throat, drink from your blood, and then pierce your heart and laugh while your body explodes into dust.”

“Beautiful imagery. You should write for Hallmark.” He used his powers to dissolve the swords. “I want you to know that I fought you fairly. Equal to equal. I could have used my powers against you, but I didn’t.”

She gave him extremely sarcastic applause. “Should I warm the oven and bake you a batch of hero cookies?”

He let out a long breath. “I have my work cut out for me where you’re concerned, don’t I?”

“Not really. Hate you today. Will hate you tomorrow. What say we don’t waste any time? Give me the sword and let me have your throat now. You told me once that you’d die for me. How about you keep that one promise?”

He scoffed at her rancor. “Why keep one now after I’ve broken so many?”

That brought color to her cheeks as her eyes glistened with her rage. “Just as I thought. A liar and a coward. You’ll never submit yourself to me in two weeks, will you?”

“This isn’t about promises. It’s a matter of honor. I’ve never sacrificed my honor for anyone.”

“No, only your love,” she sneered. “Tell me something, Strykerius. Was it worth it?”

That was always the one question in life, wasn’t it? One of the priestesses who’d tended him when he was a child had once told him the biggest regrets were those that hadn’t been done. And she was right. He wished he’d never left Zephyra.

His heart softened as he remembered the past. “I had ten beautiful children. Strong. Determined. And I loved every one of them. How could I ever regret that?”

“And your wife? What of her?”

She had been beautiful, too. Docile and quiet. Never questioning. A true lady of the ancient world. “She was dutiful and faithful. I would never besmirch the honor of or insult the mother of my children.”

Her eyes flared an even darker shade. He’d struck her without meaning to.

And he would never take away from her what they’d had between them. “But she was never you, Phyra. Not in face, form, or passion. You were always the light in my darkness.”

Zephyra moved toward him slowly. Cautiously.

His shoulder still aching and bleeding, Stryker tensed, expecting her to attack him again. Reaching up, she sank her hand into his hair and pulled his lips down to hers so that she could give him a kiss so feral and hot it set fire to his blood. His body roared to life as he returned it with every part of himself that had missed her.

Growling, she pulled back and glared at him before she shoved him away. “That is only to remind you what you gave up. My heart is dead except for Medea. She alone keeps that last piece of me.”

“Then I will release her.”

She snorted contemptuously. “Your tricks won’t work on me.”

“No trick. You gave me your word and I’m giving you my faith. I trust you to abide by our terms and so I release her back into your custody.”

Zephyra narrowed her eyes on him, not trusting him for a moment. He was smarter than any man she’d ever known. Cunning. He knew how to manipulate people to get what he wanted. He always had.

Everyone except his worthless father.

More handsome than any of the gods, her Strykerius had once made her body burn with insatiable lust. Now she only felt anger and hatred.

It was so strange to see him now with those eerie swirling eyes. As a mortal, his eyes had been the clearest blue. She’d wanted to bear sons and daughters with those eyes to remind her of how much she loved him.

Medea’s eyes had been green like hers, and while they’d been mortal she’d been grateful to the gods for that small mercy. Until the night Apollo had cursed every member of her race because a group of Atlantean soldiers had slaughtered his Greek mistress and bastard son.

It had been on Medea’s sixth birthday, and there while they celebrated Zephyra had watched her daughter’s eyes turn black. Unaware at that time of what had caused the curse, Zephyra had held her daughter as she had vomited food and started craving blood.

Once Zephyra understood what had been done to them—what they’d been cursed to—she’d hated everything to do with Stryker and his father, Apollo.

“Tell me. Do you still worship your father?”

Bitter disgust flared deep in his eyes. “I hate him with every breath I take.”

“Then we do have one thing in common.”

“We also have a daughter.”

She curled her lip at his audacity. “No. I have a daughter. I won’t let you claim Medea when you were never there for her. She is mine.”

Stryker shook his head. “Children are willful. No matter how much you love them and no matter how hard you try, they will have their own way. Parents be damned.”

“But that wasn’t true of you, was it?”

He winced at the truth. “I was only a boy, Zephyra. My father would have killed me and you had I denied him his plan. Or at the very least he would have cursed us.”

“He cursed us anyway, didn’t he?”

“He did and I watched as every child and grandchild I had decayed into nothing before my eyes. I held my daughter while she screamed for a mercy that was hours in coming. I should have killed her and saved her that, but I was young and kept hoping she’d turn Daimon like her brothers. But she refused until she finally turned to dust. One by one, every member of my family perished and suffered. I have nothing now. No one.”

Zephyra wanted to insult him for his womanish maudlin. But the truth was it touched a part of her that she’d reserved only for her daughter. She actually wanted to comfort him for his losses. Her worst fear had been to watch her daughter age and die.

Luckily, Medea was stronger than that.

“Does Medea have any children?”

Zephyra steeled herself against the pain that innocent question evoked. The bitter memories that burned deep inside her. “She had a son.” More beautiful than any baby ever born. Praxis had been precious and sweet. Always laughing. Always hugging.

“Where is he now?”

She forced all emotion out of her voice. “Dead.”

Stryker’s eyes darkened at her monosyllabic answer. “Her husband?”

“Ironic really. Against my wishes, she and her husband were members of the Cult of Pollux.” Those were Apollites who believed in doing nothing to circumvent Apollo’s curse. They lived peacefully among the humans, waiting to die horribly on their birthdays. Each member of the cult took a vow to harm no human or any other life-form.

“Her husband was killed by the same angry humans who feared his fangs. He tried to distract the humans so that she and their child could get to safety. They beat him down and ripped his heart out of his chest, then they captured her and tortured her for days. They tore her son out of her arms and killed him before her eyes.” Indignant rage burned deep inside her. “He was only five years old. And they would have killed her, too, had I not found her in time. It’s what made her the warrior she is. She hates all humans for their cruelty, just as I do. They are all animals fit for nothing but slaughter, and I enjoy wholeheartedly playing the butcher.”

Stryker understood those sentiments. He’d seen their cruelty firsthand against his people and his children. It was why he had no sympathy for mankind. Why he had no mercy on them. Why should they live in peace while his own people had no future?

But her words confused him as he looked around the stone temple where the walls were decorated with peaceful scenes of women dancing with deer. This was where Artemis’s human worshipers still paid tribute to her. “Yet you live here with them?”

“Only a small group. Servants to Artemis who gave us shelter when we needed it. They have watched over us for centuries, and so we let them live.”

He scowled. “Why would the goddess do that?”

“Artemis has always been good to us. And in return for her shelter, I do a few odd jobs for her.”

“Such as?”

“Killing you.”

Humor flickered in his eyes as he drew near her. “Back to that, are we?”

“We will always come back to that.”

“Fair enough.” He sighed. “Come, Phyra, let’s find our daughter.” He held his hand out to her.

She curled her lip in repugnance. “You can keep that“—she sneered at his proffered hand—”to yourself.”

He tsked at her. “There was a time when you would have kissed my palm with loving tenderness. But in all honesty, I have to say that I’m surprised at you. A clever enemy would kiss my hand, then stab at my back while I was distracted.”

She scoffed as she shoved his hand to the side. “A coward’s action. Truly. Don’t insult either one of us with such a suggestion. I don’t believe in petty juvenile attacks. I go after what I want, and when it’s the life of an enemy I don’t want there to be any mistaking my intention. If you’re worth my hatred, then you’re worth my letting you know that I’m coming for you.”

Stryker smiled at her angry words, grateful to hear them from her. “A true warrior’s code.” He respected her all the more for it. “Take my hand, Zephyra.”

She spat at it.

Unamused, Stryker grabbed her and pulled her close. He wanted to strangle her for her obstinacy. Most of all he wanted to kiss her.

“I’m going to gut you,” she warned.

He wiped her spittle off on her shirt even while she slapped at his hand. “So long as you do it naked, you’ll have no complaints from me.”

“You’re a faithless pig.” She moved to slap him.

He captured her hand in his and met her challenging glare. “And you are a beautiful shrew. One who should be grateful that I’m nostalgic enough to not do to her what I would to anyone else who spat on me.”

Zephyra held her breath as she saw the raw fury in his eyes. He was one step away from hitting her, and though a part of her wanted him to, his restraint surprised her. In the world where they’d been born, a man had a right to beat a woman. Yet he’d refrained from striking her with his hand even in their fight.

Even in the year when they’d been married in ancient Greece, he’d never harmed her. Never lifted a finger against her while he was merciless to others. It was what she’d loved most about him.

He’d made her feel safe. Protected. If anyone had so much as glanced askance at her, Stryker gutted them.

She missed that stupid little boy whose eyes had glowed with love every time he looked at her.

The man before her was formidable. This wasn’t a callow youth trying to please her. He was an accomplished warrior with eleven thousand years of survival training behind him. Of commanding an army of the damned that waged war against mankind and the immortal Dark-Hunters who protected them.

Though she’d wanted to kill Stryker many times over the centuries, she’d never been able to get to him until now. All these years, he’d been holed up in Kalosis and the only way in was an invitation from either Stryker or Apollymi.

So long as she served Artemis, Apollymi would have nothing to do with her. And asking him for it would have ruined her surprise attack.

However, his reputation among their people was legendary. The Apollites worshiped him and his band of elite Spathi warriors. Even she respected him for his battles.

But it didn’t change what he’d done to her and Medea. To this day, Zephyra could see him turning around and slinking out of their cottage to be with the woman his father had wanted him to marry. However, she’d given him her word to stay her fight and be damned if she’d break it. She was better than that.

“I hate your hair black,” she snarled before she took his hand.

Stryker laughed at her capitulation and barb. She wasn’t giving in and she didn’t hesitate to let him know it. Closing his hand around hers, he took her into Kalosis, where he ruled.

As soon as they were safely in the hell realm, she snatched her hand away as she turned around the dark room where he held court over all the Daimons who called this place home. “Rather glum, isn’t it?”

“It works for me.”

She didn’t comment as she returned to face him. “Where’s Medea?”

“In my chambers. Come and I’ll take you to her.”

WAR PAUSED AS HE MATERIALIZED IN THE BACK hallway of a mansion that reminded him of an old Greek villa. The dark gray shutters were drawn tight against an unforgiving sun that spilled through the slats to highlight the breezy distance. White walls held old photos of a young boy and a very attractive woman with blond hair and laughing blue eyes.

A strange sound of foreign music drifted through the walls, along with laughter and cars from outside. But there was no laughter inside. All was silent and still.

Closing his eyes, War searched the house with his powers until he found the one he’d been sent to kill.

Nick Gautier.

But he wasn’t alone. There was a woman lying in bed with him. Both naked. Both sweaty from sex.

Centuries ago, War would have slaughtered the woman without hesitation.

No doubt he still should. . . .

Lowering his head, he walked through the walls until he came to the room where a large four-poster bed housed the two of them. They were entwined in black silk sheets. A tray holding a bottle of half-empty wine was on the nightstand, where red roses were strewn as if they’d been tossed down.

The man, Nick, lay atop the woman, nibbling at her ribs while she drew circles over his back. Shoulder-length brown hair obscured the man’s face. The woman, however, was beautiful. Long black hair spilled across the pillows as she arched her back and kept her eyes tightly closed.

War paused at the sight of her naked, sculpted body. He hadn’t tasted a woman in centuries. Hadn’t felt a kind caress since . . .

The mere thought of that bitch threw his temper into overdrive. Wanting blood, he closed the distance between them. He grabbed Nick by his throat and threw him into the wall.

“Get out,” he ordered the woman, who drew back with a scream.

“Go, Jennifer. Now!”

She didn’t hesitate. Wrapping the sheet around her, she scrambled from the large plantation bed and ran for the door.

Gautier straightened up to glare at him. He had three days’ growth of beard on his face, which was marked by a double bow and arrow mark. The sign of Artemis.

War frowned at its presence. And its significance.

Not that it mattered. He’d been born to piss off the gods.

“Who the fuck are you?” Nick asked. Throwing his arms out, he manifested clothes on his body.

War laughed. “Call me Death.”

“No offense, I’d rather call you pathetic.” He slung his hand out.

War tsked as he saw the shurikens headed for him. “Talk about pathetic.” He flashed himself across the room and grabbed Gautier by his throat as the shurikens planted themselves harmlessly into the bedposts. War lifted him up from the floor and held him against the wall.

Nick choked as he tried to break the man’s hold on him. “What are you?”

“I told you. I’m Death. Now be a good little boy and die.”

Nick’s breathing intensified.

War slammed him back against the wall three times, trying to crush his windpipe. The plaster of the wall cracked into a spiderweb pattern. War’s actions split Nick’s lips and the knuckles of the hand he held him by, causing their blood to mix. He tightened his grip, waiting for the light to fade from the man’s eyes as he died.

It didn’t. Instead, red laced itself through Nick’s dark pupils, turning them the color of blood before the red spread through the swirling silver of his irises.

Before War could move, Gautier slammed his hand against his arm, breaking his hold.

Shocked, War stumbled back.

Nick’s skin darkened three shades. Panting, he looked at War. “What’s happening to me? What’d you do?”

War attacked.

Gautier blocked his punch with his arm, then head-butted War hard. He staggered back as he realized the impossible.

He was about to seriously get his ass kicked.

STRYKER HAD ONLY TAKEN TWO STEPS TOWARD his room with Zephyra to release Medea when a bright light illuminated the hallway. No one should be able to breach the sanctity of this hall without his invitation. . . .

Frowning, he turned to find War, who looked extremely pissed as the spirit appeared before them.

“Is something wrong?” he asked War.

“Is something wrong?” he repeated. “Surely you’re not that stupid, are you?”

“Apparently I am, because unless Acheron and Nick are dead, I can think of no reason for your presence here.”

War walked slowly toward him, nostrils flaring. “Dead? You fool, are you really so stupid?”

Stryker narrowed his eyes as his anger ignited. “At least I’m not the one wasting time with repetitious insults. Either explain yourself or get out.”

“Fine. Let me try this in a manner that even an imbecile can comprehend. When you summoned me, you forgot to tell me a couple of extremely important facts. Acheron isn’t just a god. He’s Chthonian, protected by another Chthonian and a Charonte army.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Stryker let out an agitated breath. Why would that matter to something like War? It was why Stryker had gone to him to begin with. If Acheron wasn’t so damned hard to kill, he’d have done it himself centuries ago. “You were created to kill the Chthonians. That shouldn’t be a problem for you.”

“You should have warned me.”

As if that would matter? “Trivial details. I thought you could handle it.”

“I can kill him. It will just take more time.”

“And?”

“You neglected to tell me about Nick Gautier.”

“What about him? He’s a Dark-Hunter. A worthless human who sold his soul to Artemis to serve in her army. Surely the great War isn’t afraid of the likes of him.”

War scoffed. “Dark-Hunter, my ass. Gautier is a Malachai, you stupid son of a bitch.”

Stryker bristled under the insult. “A what?”

“Malachai,” Zephyra repeated, her tone reverent. “Are you sure?”

War turned his dark gaze on her and nodded. “In all the universe a Malachai is the only thing that can kill me.

Stryker made a sound of disgust deep in his throat. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I thought you were the most powerful of beings. Even the gods fear you.”

“We all have predators,” War growled. “The entire universe exists in a system of checks and balances. I just met my zero balance.”

Stryker cursed. “Are you honestly telling me that the most powerful creature on this planet is a pathetic Cajun guttersnipe who offed himself because one of my men killed his mommy?”

His sarcasm was equally matched by War’s. “Unless you happen to have a Sephiroth just lying around here someplace sunning himself, yeah.”

“What the hell’s a Sephiroth?”

Zephyra laughed as she came up behind him to place her hand on his shoulder. “Stryker, you poor baby, you have been living in this hole for far too long.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean, dear man, is if you want Gautier dead, then come talk to Mama. It seems your negotiating power over me just ended. Oooo, baby, this is going to get good now.”

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