Awakened (Eternal Guardians Book 8) (2 page)

Damon looked up at the goddess of love and desire and tried to feign disappointment, though inside, excitement leapt at the possibility of a break. Aphrodite’s temple wasn’t a bad place to spend your days—wide soaring rooms, tall stately pillars, marble everything, fountains and baths that promised both pleasure and relaxation, and the sweet scent of heliotrope wafting on the air, awakening the senses. But lately he couldn’t help thinking there had to be more to life than this. More than meaningless pleasure. More than casual sex. More than catering to Aphrodite, a goddess who cared only about herself.

“A new class, huh?” He rolled back into the mountain of pillows and laced his fingers behind his head, remembering that Athena and Aphrodite didn’t always get along. Jealousy was forever an issue between them—between any of the ruling Olympians—and he’d learned long ago not to show interest in any immortal other than the one currently in his line of sight.

“You don’t want to go, do you?” Aphrodite slid her finger down his throat and across the dusting of hair on his bare chest. “I could tell Athena you’re too valuable, which you are.”

This was where he needed to be careful. He couldn’t show too much enthusiasm, or Aphrodite would never let him leave. “Of course not. Training new Sirens is as enjoyable for me as spending time with your husband is for you.”

Aphrodite’s lips curled. Everyone knew she couldn’t stand her husband, Hephaestus. Her gaze hovered on Damon’s face. “That boring?”

She was beautiful, even Damon couldn’t deny that. Meadow-green eyes, flawless skin, high cheekbones, and lips made only for seduction. But though physically he was still attracted to her, more and more lately, he was finding it difficult to be aroused in her company. Sex with Aphrodite was as empty as his life these days. There had to be more. A reason he was here. A future that held some kind of purpose. Something other than…immortal perfection.

He drew his hand from behind his head and brushed the back of his fingers against the smooth curve of her jawline. “Infinitely boring. When I’m with the Sirens, I count the days until I return to your temple.”

Which was a flat-out lie. Working with Athena’s Sirens, training them in combat, strategy, warfare—even seduction—was a thousand times more fun than being stuck in Aphrodite’s claustrophobic pleasure palace.

Aphrodite sighed and smoothed her hand over his chest again, dropping her gaze to where she touched him. “I suppose I could consider letting you go. So long as I know you’re pining away for me. Absence, they say, does make the heart grow fonder.”

Damon had never found that to be true, but he refrained from saying so. He wasn’t about to do anything to jeopardize this chance to escape, however short his respite might be. “It does. Very much so.”

She leaned down and kissed him, sliding her tongue along his at the first touch and tasting him deeply. He didn’t pull away, didn’t say no, knew it was pointless to do so. Instead, he slid his fingers into the curly mass of auburn hair framing her face and kissed her back. Her mouth turned greedy against his, and she wriggled out of the robe she’d just pulled on, then pushed the sheet from his hips.

Yeah, there has to be more than this
, he thought as she climbed over him
.
More than aphrodisiacs to keep him hard, more than meaningless sex, more than immortals using him for their pleasure. There had to be a hell of a lot more. Somewhere.

He just hoped he found it before he went mad.

CHAPTER TWO

M
ax flashed to the meadow outside the witches’ tent city. A burst of light behind him illuminated the grass. The light returned to the hazy normal of mid morning as the portal closed and Talisa stepped up at his side.

“How do you know this is where she went?” Talisa asked.

“Because I’ve seen that look in her eyes before. You’ve seen it too.”

“The running look.” Talisa’s jaw clenched. “
Skata
. If she crossed into the human realm, we’re going to have a hard time finding her.”

Max agreed, and that was his biggest fear. Elysia occasionally crossed into the human realm when she needed to get away from the craziness of royal life, but he couldn’t really blame her for that. Life in the castle was nuts on a good day, which was the major reason Max spent as little time there as possible. People were always hovering, watching what you were doing, waiting on you like an invalid. As heir to the throne, Elysia had to live up to an impossibly high standard, one that would drive him batshit crazy if he had to live it on a daily basis.

No, he couldn’t blame her for running, but she knew not to cross into the human realm alone. Hades’s daemons still patrolled that realm. Argoleans—especially any linked to the monarchy or the Argonauts—were not safe there. The fact she’d flashed so impulsively didn’t just set him on edge, it set off every protective instinct he had as an Argonaut.

Or—since he wasn’t a full-fledged Argonaut yet—as a
guardian-in-training
.

Resentment bubbled inside him. He was thirty-five fucking years old now; he’d trained long enough, but the Argonauts still treated him like a freakin’ kid. And he didn’t see that changing anytime soon.

Pushing down the bitterness as best he could, he headed toward the tent city. “Come on. Maybe she hasn’t crossed yet and we can catch her before she gets herself into trouble.”

Behind him, Talisa huffed, her black boots crunching over twigs and rocks. “Dream on. I heard my parents talking last night. My father thinks the only way they’re going to head off a coup is through a political binding.”

Max stopped and looked toward his cousin. Talisa’s father was the leader of the Argonauts, and he was bound to the queen’s half sister, just as Max’s father, Zander, was bound to the queen’s other half sister. The three female cousins—Elysia, Talisa, and Max’s younger sister, Zakara—had all been born within a few months of each other, but where Elysia and Zakara were somewhat soft and naïve, Talisa was not. At just under six feet, with jet-black hair pulled back into a messy tail and porcelain skin she wished people didn’t notice, Talisa was as tough as anyone Max had ever met.

“They’re going to marry her off? To whom?”

Talisa’s violet eyes held Max’s. Eyes that were so captivating, people often forgot she was a weapon just waiting to be fine-tuned. Like him. “Nereus.”


Skata
.” Nereus was the absolute worst match for Elysia. The
ándras
had picked on her back when they were kids, and Max had needed to step in to scare the living crap out of the asshat on more than one occasion. He seriously doubted Nereus had changed his ways in fifteen years.

He headed back up the hill, a new frustration burning through him. “No wonder she fucking ran.”

Talisa’s long legs ate up the space to catch up. “Maybe we’re wrong. Maybe she just had an argument with her parents. It could be nothing.”

“Not if our luck holds,” Max muttered.

They reached the outskirts of the tent city, but the second they stepped onto the dirt road, Max knew something was wrong.

Nothing moved in the village. No witches milled through the streets. The laughing children who normally played around the tents were nowhere to be seen. In fact, no sound echoed from the city save for the colorful flags high above, flapping in the morning breeze.

Max reached back for the parazonium—the ancient Greek sword all Argonauts carried—in the sheath concealed at his back. At his side, Talisa quietly pulled twin daggers from their holders on her lower spine. Slowly, they moved into the village and drew to a stop the moment they rounded the first corner.

A witch wearing a long pink skirt and dark jacket lay sprawled at the entrance to a tent, an arrow sticking out of her chest. Talisa knelt to feel for a pulse. A grim expression crossed her face as she looked up at Max and shook her head.

The hair on Max’s nape stood straight. He stepped past the dead witch and moved to another body, this one in the middle of the road, and felt for a pulse. Nothing. Picking up his pace, he rounded another corner and gasped at the scene laid out before him.

Bodies littered the ground, some sprawled in the middle of the street, others halfway out of tents as if they’d been fleeing. All with arrows protruding from them.

“Holy gods,” Talisa whispered as she came up behind him. “What happened here?”

“I don’t know.” A blinding red rage colored Max’s vision. A rage he’d inherited from his forefather Achilles but which he could usually control. Moving toward the closest body, he pulled an arrow from the witch’s back and stared at the weapon.

“What army in our realm uses arrows?” Talisa muttered.

The rage inside grew hotter. “They weren’t from our realm. They—”

A cough echoed from a nearby tent. Talisa whipped in that direction and darted for the tent flap.

“Godsdammit. Talisa. Wait.” Fear rushed in, overtaking the rage as Max dropped the arrow and followed. They could still be in that tent. Talisa could be walking into a trap. Talisa didn’t listen, though, and disappeared into the tent before he could stop her. Gripping the blade tightly, Max readied himself for a battle, but when he stepped inside, fear gave way to relief.

A female lay sprawled on the ground near the far tent wall. Blood seeped from a wound in her abdomen. An arrow lay broken on the ground at her side. She twisted to look toward them, her face as pale as snow. “It’s you. I thought…”

“Shh.” Talisa moved quickly to the witch’s side. “Try not to move.” She sheathed her daggers, then pressed her hand against the witch’s wound. “What happened here?”

“The young. Delia took…the young.” The witch’s face scrunched in pain. Bright purple hair hung limply around her face. “Need to…make sure they’re okay.”

Delia was the leader of the coven. Max breathed slightly easier knowing she’d managed to get the young out in time.

“We’ll find them,” Talisa said. “Don’t worry. Can you tell us who did this?”

The witch exhaled a long breath and closed her eyes. “They…came through the portal. We didn’t…expect them.”

Max tugged off his jacket and handed it to Talisa, who pressed it against the witch’s wound. Kneeling on the witch’s other side, he laid a hand over the witch’s brow. Her skin was cool and clammy. “Sirens?”

Talisa’s wide-eyed gaze darted to his.

“Y-yes,” the witch breathed.

“What the hell are Sirens doing in Argolea?” Talisa whispered.

Max didn’t know, but whatever their reason, it clearly wasn’t good. “We have to warn the Argonauts. They could be halfway to Tiyrns by now.”

He pushed up, but the witch grasped his arm, stopping him. Her cold fingers closed over the ancient Greek text that ran down his forearms and entwined his fingers. “They’re not…going to Tiyrns. They…left.”

Max focused on the witch’s jet-black eyes. “What do you mean, left?”

“They went”—the witch cringed—“back through the portal. With her.”

A warning tingle rushed down Max’s spine.

“Her who?” Talisa asked. “Who did they take with them?”

“The…princess. They took…the princess.”

The rage came storming back, coloring everything red. Max jerked to his feet, but before he reached the tent door, Talisa was in front of him, her hand pressed against his chest, her violet eyes as hard and focused as he’d ever seen them. The same ancient Greek markings that branded his forearms stained hers as well. “You’re not going after them.”

“Like hell I’m not.”

“These are Sirens, Max.
Sirens
. Zeus’s lethal warriors.”

“I don’t care.”

“Well, I do. You’ll not last ten minutes with a pack of Sirens, no matter how tough you think you are. Use your brain, dammit. We need more than you and me for this.”

A muscle in his jaw ticked as he stared down at her. She was right. As always, she used logic before reflex, a trait he’d yet to perfect. “We’ll get the Argonauts. Then we’ll go after them and kill every single Siren.”

Talisa dropped her hand, but her expression said she wasn’t sure even that would be enough. “Fine, but we’re taking the witch with us. We can leave her at the castle for your mother.”

“No,” the witch croaked.

They both looked back her. The witch stared at them with clouded dark eyes. Talisa moved back to her side and pressed her hand over the jacket against the witch’s wound again. “It’s okay. Max’s mother is a healer. The best in the land. She’ll help you.”

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