Authors: Elisabeth Naughton
He sucked in a deep breath. Warm liquid gushed from the cut on his leg, telling him he’d ripped open the wound. His vision grew spotty. He was losing blood fast. The monster would smell that. More would likely come. He wasn’t making it to that tree fort. He had to find a place to hide and wait. Somewhere he could regroup and give his body time to heal.
Somehow, he managed to drag himself forward, but his head was so light, he had trouble focusing. And before he was able to pull himself into the brush, the edges of his vision darkened.
Oh yeah. This was definitely the dumbest thing he’d ever agreed to do. Because as much as he hated Aphrodite’s pleasure palace, at least there he’d been in one piece. And alive.
In a matter of minutes, he’d be neither.
lysia stilled in the trees where she’d been hiding since she’d heard the roar above on the hillside.
That groan didn’t sound like a monster, though. It sounded like a man.
Another roar echoed, shooting her heart rate into the stratosphere. She dropped the paper she’d fished out of the latest box to fall from the sky—the one that had arrived just after she’d located one of those illustrious spears in a pile of rocks at the bottom of the hill she’d tumbled down—and wrapped her fingers around the hilt of the weapon.
Kill an animal and prepare your first meal.
That was her fourth labor. Until she’d heard the roar, she hadn’t truly believed there were any animals on this island. Now she knew differently. But from the sound of that roar, she’d be smart to avoid that particular animal. Or thing. Or monster.
She stepped to her left, intent on heading back to the shelter she’d built in the trees, but as she moved out from behind the tree, she spotted the body.
It was male, sprawled facedown on the ground, unmoving. Eyeing the hillside where she’d heard that roar, she cautiously nudged the man’s shoulder with her foot.
He didn’t move. Heart pounding, she knelt and searched for a pulse against his wrist.
He was alive, just out cold. Judging from the blood against the rocks near his right leg, though, badly wounded.
Common sense told Elysia to leave him. He looked to outweigh her by at least a hundred pounds. Even if he could walk, injured the way he was, he’d just slow her down. And right now, the only thing she cared about was getting back to safety. But her conscience kept her from walking away. What had her mother always said?
Power does not come from strength of arm, but in a ruler’s ability to show compassion to those in need
She frowned, because—again—she could remember words and information, just not the person saying them.
Looking back at the man, she bit her lip.
, she couldn’t leave him. At least not until she got him somewhere safe.
She circled him, knelt at his side, and ripped off one bottom leg of his pants. After tying it quickly around his upper thigh to slow the bleeding, she scanned the small valley they’d both tumbled into. A sheer rock wall rose to the right, at least eighty feet in the air.
The hillside climbed to the left. Behind her, the valley narrowed as it curved down and away.
She looked back at the rock wall. The light was starting to wane, and from her position, it was hard to see, but a shadow to the right could be the opening to a cave.
All kinds of monsters might be living in that cave. Apprehension kept her from moving forward. Another roar echoed from the ridge above, sending a shiver down her spine.
Monsters or not, whatever lived in that cave had to be better than what was waiting out here to eat them.
Hooking the spear in the tie at her waist, she leaned down, slid her arms under the man’s shoulders, and pulled him with her as she stepped back toward the shelter.
Her muscles ached. Pain shot up her back while sweat beaded every inch of her skin. Clenching her jaw, she pulled harder, dragging his body along the ground, trying to make as little sound as possible. Long minutes passed. When she finally reached the mouth of the cave, she laid him on the ground, drew a deep breath, then pulled out her spear—just in case—and stepped cautiously into the space.
No signs of life. No bones or weird smells. Slowly, she moved deeper into the cave.
The ground was mostly sand, the walls smooth stone. The cave ran back about fifteen feet and stopped. Breathing easier, she leaned her spear against the wall, returned to the man, and dragged him inside. When she was six feet in, her bare foot slipped. She grunted as her weight went out from under her and she hit the sand on her butt. The man landed on top of her legs, pinning her to the ground. Her grunt turned to a moan of frustration and flat-out annoyance.
She was hot, sweaty, and ready to be done with this guy—whoever he was. All she wanted to do was get back to the beach and her hammock high above the ground. Using every last bit of strength she had, she managed to roll him off her, swiped at the sweat from her forehead, and knelt in the sand beside him.
Shaggy light brown hair framed a weathered face that was both masculine and striking. His nose was straight, his cheekbones strong. A thin layer of scruff covered a square jaw and chin, making him more ruggedly sexy than handsome. Bruises marred the skin near his right temple, but they didn’t detract from his mesmerizing looks, and the thin scar that ran across his upper lip only made her wonder what had happened to him in the past.
Her gaze drifted down his thick neck to strong, toned, bare shoulders. An intricate rose tattoo covered his right biceps and shoulder. The rose was the symbol of love, of beauty, purity, and passion. Roses were usually associated with females, especially those who worshipped the goddess Aphrodite.
She frowned, unsure how she knew that, and let her gaze drift lower, over his pecs, down his strong, carved abs to a tapered waist, and finally the dark pants covering his narrow hips and strong legs.
Her throat grew dry as she visualized what was under those pants. Forcing her gaze to his legs, she shook her head. The man was unconscious, and she was ogling him like a piece of meat. Yeah, that wasn’t creepy or anything.
Still…he was seriously hot.
Her gaze slid back up to his stunning face, and out of nowhere, déjà vu hit her square in the chest. She’d seen him before, she was sure of it. Not in person, but in a picture or a book.
Although that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. How would she know any man on this island? If he was here, it meant he was somehow linked to the Sirens—and through them to the gods. Her people made it a point to stay as far from the gods as possible.
“Twenty-five years is nothing but a blink of an eye to the gods. And peace is as fleeting as the wind. It will end. It will end soon.”
Her mother had said those words to her. She remembered hearing them as clearly as she’d heard that monster roar. But she didn’t know why they’d been said. Or when. Or even where. She couldn’t remember the context or what her mother had looked like saying them, but she knew they were real. Just as she knew her mother had said them sometime recently.
A dim roar echoed from outside, shaking Elysia from her scattered thoughts. She looked toward the cave opening. The monster sounded as if it were still up on the hillside, but she didn’t want to take any chances. Pushing to her feet, she grasped the spear and headed for the mouth of the cave. If she had any hope of making it safely to morning, she needed to find firewood and enough brush to camouflage her location.
She stopped outside the cave and frowned. Common sense told her to forget about the mystery hottie inside and hoof it back to her shelter high in the trees. Sirens attacked, they didn’t rescue.
But something in the center of her chest wouldn’t let her walk away. She didn’t know if it was duty or honor or sympathy or weakness, but she couldn’t leave him. He was as much a victim in all this as she was. Which meant…
She was fucked. When the monsters came to eat them in the middle of the night, she’d have no one to blame but herself.
“Yeah,” she muttered, marching into the trees. “You’re perfect Siren material, Elysia. Way to go.”
here are three phases to Siren training.”
Demetrius watched as Skyla leaned against Theron’s desk, crossed her arms over her chest, and looked out at the group assembled in the Argonaut leader’s office. As Athena’s right-hand Siren for over three hundred years, Skyla had firsthand knowledge of the Siren training schedule, but hearing the details didn’t tame the darkness swirling inside Demetrius. And sitting here chatting about what was happening on Olympus wasn’t doing shit to save his daughter.
“The first,” Skyla went on, “is a series of tests designed to push a recruit to the limit to see if they’re worthy of the Order. The second deals with basic training in a variety of areas—warfare, strategy, marksmanship, physical endurance, etcetera. The third focuses on sharpening and honing the skills learned earlier.”
“How long does each phase last?” Isadora asked from where she stood near the windows.
Demetrius heard the strain in his mate’s voice. She was as worried about their daughter as he was. He glanced at her delicate jaw clenched with worry, and the tense line of her shoulders. But where she, as queen of their realm, had to stress not only about what was happening with Elysia but about the repercussions of any kind of rescue attempt on Argolea, all Demetrius could do was focus on the ways he was going to make Zeus and Athena pay for fucking with his family.
“The first phase is an undetermined length of time.” Skyla tucked a lock of long blonde hair behind her ear as she glanced the queen’s way with green eyes tinged with sadness. “Basically, it lasts however long it takes the recruit to pass the given tests. Phase two covers the first three and a half years of training, while phase three covers the last three and a half years. Upon completion of the full seven years, each recruit is then tested in each area until their skills match Athena’s expectations.”
“Her expectations differ from one recruit to the next,” Daphne cut in from where she stood next to her mate near the wall. “The tests in the first phase are not static. They change from one recruit to the next. There is no fairness in the world of the Sirens.”
While Daphne had never been inducted as a Siren, she’d been chosen by Zeus to become one. She’d completed the full seven years of training and had passed every test except marksmanship. In lieu of another exam, Zeus had asked her to carry out a mission for him—to find and destroy the rogue Argonaut Aristokles. But instead of destroying Ari, she’d fallen in love with the guardian. And it was because of her that Ari, who’d once been thought dead by his kin, had returned to Argolea and to the Argonauts.
Ari wrapped an arm around Daphne’s shoulder and drew the nymph protectively to his side.
“That is true. She does. And”—Skyla looked back at the queen—“even if a recruit completes the first test, that’s not a guarantee she’ll be passed on to the second level of training.”
“What do you mean?” Demetrius asked, his concern growing by the second.
Skyla drew in a breath. “The first level is all about survival. A recruit—in this case, Elysia—is dropped into a harsh and dangerous environment and given the opportunity to showcase her survival skills.”
“Pandora.” Demetrius’s jaw hardened. The witch had told Max the Sirens had taken his daughter to Pandora. He knew all too well about the dangers on that godsforsaken island. Both he and Isadora had been trapped on Pandora long ago and had barely survived. The island was inhabited by all the worst creatures in Ancient Greece—hydras, keres, harpies, manticores…and those were only the ones Demetrius and Isadora had encountered. There were hundreds more lurking in the shadows, just waiting to attack his unsuspecting daughter.