- The Darkest Whisper
But without food and without sleep, her health would continue to decline. Soon the Harpy would take over, determined to force her into wellness.
The Harpy. While they were one and the same, she considered them separate entities. The Harpy liked to kill; she didn’t. The Harpy preferred the dark; she preferred the light. The Harpy enjoyed chaos; she enjoyed tranquility. Can’t let her out.
Gwen gazed around the plane, searching for those Twinkies. Her eyes, however, stopped on Amun. He was the darkest of the warriors, and someone she’d never heard speak a word. He hunched in the seat farthest from her, his hands over his temples, moaning as though in great pain. Paris, the one with the brown and black hair—the seductive one, as she’d come to think of him, with his azure eyes and pale skin—was beside him, staring pensively out the window.
Across from them was Aeron, the one covered from head to foot in tattoos. He, too, was silent, stoic. The three of them could have been spokesmen for misery. And I thought I had it bad. What was wrong with them? she wondered. And did they know where the Twinkies were?
Strider’s voice pulled her from her thoughts with a jolt. “Yes?”
“Lost you again.”
“Oh, sorry.” Had he asked her something?
The plane hit another bump. A lock of sandy hair fell over Strider’s forehead, and he brushed it aside. Another cinnamon-scented breeze followed the motion. Her stomach grumbled. “I know you won’t eat,” he said, “but are you thirsty? Would you like something to drink?”
Yes. Please, yes. Her mouth watered even more, but she said, “No, thanks.”
“At least accept a bottle of water. It’s capped, so you don’t have to worry that we’ve done something to it.” He produced a glistening, ice-cold bottle from the cup holder beside him and waved it in front of her face. Had it been there the entire time?
Inside, she wept. Looked so good…“Maybe later.” The words were croaked.
He shrugged as if he didn’t care, but there was disappointment in his eyes. “Your loss.”
Surely there was something nearby that she could steal. Once again, she searched the plane. Her gaze snagged on the half-drunk cherry-flavored water beside Sabin. She licked her lips. No, it will be Sabin’s loss. Soon as Strider left her, she’d go for it, damn the consequences.
Maybe. No, she would. But he was here now, and she might as well get some answers out of him. She could also use the time to build her courage. “Why are we flying?” she asked. “I saw the one called Lucien disappear with the other women. We could have reached Budapest in seconds.”
“Some of us don’t handle flashing all that well.” His eyes darted pointedly to Sabin.
“So some of you are babies?” The words were out before she could stop them. It was something she would have said to her sisters, the only people in the world she could be herself around without fear of recrimination. Bianka, Taliyah and Kaia understood her, loved her and would do anything to protect her.
Rather than offend Strider, however, her words amused him. He barked out a laugh. “Something like that, though Sabin, Reyes and Paris prefer to think they catch a virus whenever they’re flashed somewhere.”
Twins Bianka and Kaia were the same way. They’d rather believe they were stricken by infirmity than cop to a limitation. Taliyah, cold as ice and twice as hard, simply didn’t react to anything.
Slowly Strider’s merriment faded and he studied Gwen intently from head to toe. “You know, you’re different than I expected.”
Hold your ground. Don’t squirm. “What do you mean?”
“Well…wait, will what I say offend you?”
And cause her to erupt, was what he was really asking. Seemed he was as afraid of her dark side as she was. “No.” Maybe.
His intense stare probed all the deeper as he weighed the legitimacy of her claim. He must have seen the determination in her features because he nodded. “I think I’ve said this before, but from what little I know, Harpies are hideous creatures with misshapen faces, sharp beaks and the lower half of a bird. They’re spiteful and pitiless. You…you’re none of those things.”
Had he so easily forgotten what she’d done to Chris?
She glanced over at Sabin, who hadn’t budged. His breathing was deep, even, his lemon and mint scent wafting to her. Hadn’t he reminded Strider that not all legends were completely true? “We have a bad rap, that’s all.”
“No, it’s more than that.”
For her, yeah. Not that she could tell him. Her sisters—lucky as they were—had shape-shifter fathers. Taliyah’s was a snake, the twins’ a phoenix. Hers, on the other hand, was an angel—a fact she was forbidden to talk about. Ever. Angels were too pure, too good for her kind to respect, and Gwen had enough weaknesses. As always, the thought of her father had her flattening a palm over her heart.
While Harpies were mainly a matriarchal society, fathers were allowed to see their children if they so wished. Both of her sisters’ fathers had chosen to be part of their daughters’ lives. Gwen’s hadn’t gotten the chance. Her mother had forbidden it. She’d merely given Gwen a portrait of him to warn Gwen of what she would become—too morally superior even to steal her own food, unable to lie, concerned about others rather than herself—if she wasn’t careful. And after Tabitha had washed her hands of Gwen, labeling her a lost cause, Gwen’s father still hadn’t tried to make contact. Did he even know she existed? A tide of longing swept through her.
All her life she’d had dreams of her father fighting any and everything to reach her, to whisk her into his arms and fly her away. Dreams of his love and devotion. Dreams of living in the heavens with him, protected forevermore from the world’s evil and her own dark side.
She sighed. Only one name was to be mentioned when speaking of her lineage and that was Lucifer. He was strong, wily, vengeful, violent—in short, a poor enemy to have. People were less likely to mess with her, with any of them, if they thought the prince of darkness would be gunning for them.
And, to be honest, claiming him as family wasn’t technically a lie. Lucifer was her great-grandfather. Her mother’s grandfather. Gwen had never met him, for his year on earth had ended long before her birth, and she hoped they never crossed paths. Even the thought made her shudder.
Carefully considering her next words, she breathed deeply, taking in Strider’s aroma of wood smoke and all that delicious cinnamon. Sadly, even that lacked the decadence of Sabin’s scent. “Humans place a negative connotation on everything they cannot understand,” she said. “In their minds, good always conquers evil, so anything stronger than they are is evil. And evil is, of course, ugly.”
There was a wealth of understanding in his tone. Now was as good a time as any to determine just what he understood, she supposed. “I know you are immortal, like me,” she began, “but I haven’t figured out exactly what you are.”
He shifted uncomfortably, glancing at his friends for support. Everyone listening quickly looked away. Strider sighed, an echo of the one she’d released earlier. “We were once soldiers for the gods.”
Once, but no longer. “But what—”
“How old are you?” he asked, cutting her off.
Gwen wanted to protest the abrupt change of topic. Instead, coward that she was, she weighed the pros and cons of admitting the truth, asking herself the three questions every Harpy mother taught her daughters: Was it information that could be used against her? Would keeping it secret award her some type of advantage? Would a lie serve just as well, if not better?
No harm, she decided. No advantage, either, but she didn’t mind. “Twenty-seven.”
His brow puckered, and he blinked over at her. “Twenty-seven hundred years, right?”
If he were speaking to Taliyah, yes. “No. Just twenty-seven plain, ordinary years.”
“You don’t mean human years, do you?”
“No. I mean dog years,” she said dryly, then pressed her lips together. Where was the filter that was usually poised over her mouth? Strider didn’t seem to mind, though. Rather, he seemed stupefied. Would Sabin have had the same reaction were he awake? “What’s so hard to believe about my age?” As the question echoed between them, a thought occurred to her and she blanched. “Do I look ancient?”
“No, no. Of course not. But you’re immortal. Powerful.”
And powerful immortals couldn’t be young? Wait. He thought she was powerful? Pleasure bloomed inside her chest. In the past, that word had only been used to describe her sisters. “Yeah, but I’m still only twenty-seven.”
He reached out—to do what, Gwen didn’t know, didn’t care—and she shrank back in her seat. While she’d craved Sabin’s touch from the beginning—why, why, why?—and had even pictured herself doing those very wicked things to him this morning, the thought of anyone else putting their hands on her held no appeal.
Strider’s arm dropped back to his side.
She relaxed, her eyes once again seeking Sabin. He was now red-faced, his jaw clenched. Bad dreams? Did all the men he’d killed clamor inside his head, tormenting him? Perhaps it was a blessing Gwen wasn’t allowing herself to sleep. She had experienced those types of nightmares herself and hated every second of them.
“Are all Harpies as young as you?” Strider asked, reclaiming her attention.
Was this information that could be used against her? Would keeping it secret award her some type of advantage? Would a lie serve just as well, if not better? “No,” she answered truthfully. “My three sisters are quite a bit older. Prettier and stronger, too.” She loved them too much to be jealous. Much. “They wouldn’t have been captured. No one can make them do anything they don’t want. Nothing scares them.”
Okay, she needed to shut up now. The more she spoke, the more her own failures and limitations were brought to light. It’d be better if these men assumed she had some cojones. But why can I not be like my sisters? Why do I run from danger when they race to it? If one of them had been attracted to Sabin, they would have viewed his distance as a challenge and seduced him.