Eternal Guardians, Book Four

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Orpheus followed Skyla up a flight of stairs and paused outside a blue metal door in the run-down rent-by-the-week motel on the edge of town.

As he stared at the back of her head, a waft of honeysuckle met his senses. The same fragrance he’d noticed in the concert crowd, in that clearing, and every second since. A scent that was oddly…familiar.

She reached up to the doorframe, felt around, flashed him a one-sided grin as her hand lowered with a key. “Stay here. I’ll be right back out.”

He didn’t know what she was up to, but he waited in the hallway while she disappeared into the apartment, then came out seconds later with folded jeans and a T-shirt slung over her forearm. She locked the door, replaced the key, then motioned for him to follow her again down the hall.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Neighbor. He’s about your size. Works nights. Way too trusting.”

He smirked as she stopped in front of another blue door and pulled a key from her pocket. A schemer, like him. Who’d have thought it? “I thought you said they were your clothes.”

“I never said that,” she answered, pushing the door open with her hip. “And no way you’d fit into my pants. If you did, I’d have to kill myself.”

He eyed her pants. And her sexy backside. Told himself trying to find a way into her pants was a really dumb idea. He didn’t have time to play with the blond, no matter what she was. He should be back out there already, searching for the dark-haired female again. But he didn’t want to be. For just a few minutes, he wanted a break. Craved something just for him. Needed that connection with another person to remember he wasn’t dead. Like Gryphon.

Thoughts of Gryphon brought back the tightness to his chest he’d been living with the last three months. He thought of the female he’d been chasing earlier. And the way the blond had talked to her in the crowd at that concert.

The two knew each other somehow. Why else would the blond have followed them into the trees?

She closed the door after him, flipped on the kitchen light. The place was a far cry from the Ritz. The kitchen spilled into a tiny living room with a wall of windows that looked out to an enclosed deck and the darkness beyond. The furniture was old, covered in brown and orange checked fabric that looked like something straight out of the seventies. The tables were wood veneer, and the draperies hanging on one side of the windows were made of some heavy off-white, smoke-stained material.

He turned a slow circle, took in the closet-sized kitchen with its avocado green Formica and matching fridge that barely reached Skyla’s shoulder, the cracked vinyl brown chairs and matching table. And the short hallway off to his left, with its thick, brown shag carpet that was bracketed by two doors, both dented and scarred from time and abuse.

He didn’t doubt for a minute that this was nothing more than a stopping place for her, one that suited her as much as the Argonauts suited him.

“The bathroom’s here.” She moved down the hall, pushed the door to the left open, flipped on the light.

More avocado green countertop and a mirror over the sink that reflected hollow cheeks streaked with blood, pale skin, and hair standing out every which way.

He looked away from his reflection, moved into the doorway of the other room, where she’d disappeared. A full-sized bed with an ugly, burnt-orange bedspread filled the space. A small dresser, nightstand, and lamp rounded out the room. “Gorgeous. You do the decorating yourself?”

She crouched in front of the dresser, pulled the bottom drawer open, and extracted a clean towel. “Oh yeah. Shit brown and puke green are my favorite colors. Aren’t they yours?”

“Obviously. I’m a daemon, right?”

One corner of her lips curved. A sexy little grin that supercharged his blood. And again he was struck by the fact she didn’t seem the least bit afraid of him.

She stood, held out the towel and clothes. “While you get cleaned up, I’ll find bandages for your head.”

He didn’t bother telling her he didn’t need bandages. Instead he took the clothes, pulled them against his chest so she could pass. Was just about to ask why she wasn’t scared as a normal person would be, when her body grazed his in the doorway.

Her heat seared every inch of him, reigniting the arousal he’d felt back in the trees. Only this wasn’t just sexual. No, this was something more. An awareness. A déjà vu feeling. A memory he couldn’t quite bring into focus.

Her feet stilled. Her smile faded. And his stomach felt as if it flipped over when he realized she felt it too.

Who was she? What was she to him? And why the hell couldn’t he figure out how he knew her?

She turned back toward the kitchen. “Take your time.”

Why the hell was he so rattled around her?

Skata. Maybe that last shift had been one too many. Maybe he’d finally suffered some serious brain damage in the process.

Stepping into the bathroom, he shook off the thought, avoided the mirror. He didn’t need to see his reflection to know he looked like shit. He felt like it too. And not just from the change. Months of searching, only to be met with disappointment, were taking their toll. He needed food. A couple hours of shut-eye. And to find that damn dark-haired female before he lost the Orb for good.

Steam filled the room as he let the water beat down on his battered body. He rubbed soap all over his skin, washed his hair with shampoo from a purple bottle that smelled way too girlie, then flipped off the water and dried with a towel from the rack. As he did, he caught sight of the ancient Greek text on his forearms that ran down to entwine his fingers.

Man, if the Argonauts could see him now. No, nix that. He already knew exactly what they’d say or do if they’d seen the switcheroo he pulled in that clearing. Daemons weren’t just discriminated against in their world, they were the bitter enemy. If word got out he was half daemon, the Argonauts would be the first to crucify him, likely in Tiyrns Square, for all Argoleans to see. Forget the fact he was the last living descendant of the famed hero Perseus. And never mind that he’d helped their queen and all the Argonauts more times than he could count. He tossed the towel away in disgust, jerked on the fresh jeans. To them he’d forever be nothing more than a daemon. Useful one way: dead.

He tugged on the dark blue T-shirt that barely fit, shoved his feet back into his boots, and finger-combed his hair. Screw what he thought he wanted. There was only one thing he needed right now. The Orb of Krónos. Once he had that…well, then the tide would finally turn.

As for the blond…yeah, she was hot, but he didn’t have time for this. And the weird sensations pinging around in his chest when he looked at her weren’t just delaying him, they were distracting him. So he’d go out there, find out what she knew about his target, then be on his way.

Decision made, he grabbed his weapon from the counter where he’d left it and opened the bathroom door. Steam preceded him into the hall, where the scent of bacon filled the air. His stomach growled, and he turned the corner to find the blond—shit, he should have asked for her name—standing at the stove, flipping bacon and scrambling eggs. She’d dressed in fresh clothes: another black shirt—this one short sleeved—a fresh pair of slim black pants and the same kick-ass goth boot she’d worn earlier. But it wasn’t her outfit that made the room spin. It was the modern appliances fading into the background that tipped the world out from under him.

Weathered stone, a baking hearth, and an old scarred table filled the space. And at the counter, the same female, stirring something in a ceramic bowl. Only this time she was barefoot, wearing a slip of a dress made of gauzy white and tied at her narrow waist with a woven gold braid.

He reached out and gripped the hallway wall to steady himself.

She looked up. Her hand stopped moving. The bowl sat cradled in the nook of her other arm. A streak of flour ran across her right cheek.

A warm smile spread across her face. One filled with heat and mischief and knowledge. “Stop looking at me like that. Thou knowest that is playing with fire.”

She went back to stirring. Looked back down at her work with a victorious grin. Turned to reach for something behind her.

But Orpheus felt like he’d just been sucker punched in the gut.

The air left his lungs on a gasp. The room spun again, flipped his stomach end over end. The scabbard fell from his hand as he reached for the wall with his other hand. He felt himself going down. Saw shadows barreling in from all sides. But was powerless to keep from fainting like a giant pussy.

“Daemon? Can you hear me?” The voice was muffled. Distant. Something hard pressed down on his chest. “Come on, already. Wake up!”

A crack echoed around him. His eyes flew open.

“That’s it. Yeah, that’s right, keep looking at me.”

He couldn’t do anything else. He stared up into amethyst eyes that sparkled like the Aegis Mountains in the early-morning sunshine. And felt that rush of familiarity all over again.

“There you go. See? Not so bad after all.” Her voice wasn’t so muffled anymore. “Let’s get you up.”

He didn’t fight her when she pulled on his shoulders, maneuvering him around to lean against the wall, his legs kicked out in front of him. While his head continued to spin like a top, she went back into the kitchen, flipped off the stove, reached for bandages and other supplies, then came back and knelt next to him.

Honeysuckle wafted around him as she leaned close to look at the side of his head. But that vision of her in that old-time kitchen wouldn’t leave his head. That and the knowing smile she’d sent him that spoke of familiarity on a personal level. An intimate level.

Shards of heat ricocheted everywhere she touched, sending a tingle down his spine that left him more off-kilter than before. “This looks like it’s finally scabbed over,” she said. “I know daemons heal quickly, but…well, you are not what I expected.”

Neither was she. Whatever she was doing to him, though, he was about to put a stop to it.

He grasped her wrist, ignored the heat that flared beneath his fingers. “I want…answers.”

Another jolt of déjà vu rippled through him. She looked down where he held her, and something akin to shock washed over her face. Then she pulled her hand free with a quick snap of her wrist, a motion that told him she was stronger than she appeared, and pushed to her feet. “You need food. We’ll talk after you eat.”

Screw that.

He’d never fainted in his life. Couldn’t believe he’d done so now, especially in front of her. Whatever she was—witch, sorceress, immortal—she was playing some kind of mind fuck on him. Getting him to see and feel things that weren’t real. His mother had been Medean. He’d studied her craft, knew how to cast spells himself when the time was right, and was well aware of the power the dark arts could harness. He wasn’t about to be manipulated by this female, in any way.

He pushed to his feet. Before she reached the end of the hall, he flashed in front of her, bringing her feet to a dead stop.

Surprise lit her eyes. Confusion followed quickly on its tail. Argonauts could only flash in Argolea. In the human realm they were limited to the same laws of nature as humans. But not him.

She dropped her supplies, eased back. “What…? How did you do that?”

“I’m full of surprises.” He took a step toward her.

She moved back more. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’ve had a shitty day and I’m tired of the head games.” Her back hit the wall. He knew his eyes were glowing green, illuminating the dark hallway around them, but he didn’t force his daemon back as he normally would. Right now he needed its strength. “I want answers, and I want them now.”

He pressed a hand against the wall and leaned in close. Until the heat from her skin slid over his and the beat of her heart was all he could hear. “I want to know who the hell you really are. And I want to know what your being here has to do with me.”

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