- The Darkest Whisper
Sabin’s arm tightened around Gwen, squeezing, and she expelled a pained puff of air. Instantly he forced his grip to loosen, and placed a block on his mind to silence his demon. There’d been no thoughts of the ex-boyfriend, emphasis on ex; he was sure of it, and neither Doubt nor Gwen’s own earlier words would convince him otherwise. It had been Sabin’s name Gwen had called. Doubt was surly, that was all, and lashing out at him, desperate for a target. At least, like him, Gwen could distinguish the demon from her own insecurities.
“Can we stop pretending to relax like happy lovers now?” Gwen asked suddenly, once again cutting through the quiet.
He sighed, dislodging several strands of her hair and causing them to dance over his chest, tickling the skin. If only they were happy lovers. No demon, no Harpy, no war, just two people enjoying their time together.
Sabin blinked, the thought completely foreign to him. Never, in all his thousands of years, had he wished to be anything other than what he was. An immortal warrior. Powerful, extraordinary, eternal. Yes, he’d made a mistake, helping the other Lords steal and open Pandora’s box. And yes, he’d been kicked from the heavens and suffered constantly because of the demon inside him. But it was a suffering he accepted and deserved. A suffering he willingly endured because it made him stronger than he’d ever been while serving Zeus. So why wish otherwise now?
“Yes, we can stop pretending. We can even talk. And by talk, of course I mean I’ll ask the questions and you’ll answer them. Let’s begin now, shall we? You never sleep. Why?”
“Bossy baggage,” she muttered. “For your information, I don’t need to sleep.” In a fluid move she must have been waiting hours to perform, she rolled to her back so that only their shoulders touched. He’d noticed that usually she wanted all the contact she could get. What had changed?
Didn’t matter, he supposed. After Darla, he’d promised himself he’d always keep his distance from the females he found himself attracted to. For eleven years, he had. Now Gwen was helping him with that. There was a definite spark of irritation in his chest at the thought that she had been the one to get them back on track.
“You refused to eat though you were hungry. You refused to shower though you were dirty. Not for one moment do I believe your body—” your luscious body “—needs no rest.”
Is he saying that because you resemble the walking dead? Because you appear tired, worn out, haggard?
Sabin heard the degrading thought leave him and drift to Gwen, unable to stop it.
A moment later, she stiffened. “Your demon is a bastard.”
“Yes.” And you had better shut up, you rotten piece of shit. You’ve already been warned. Remember the box?
There was a heavy pause, then an aggravated growl of acceptance.
“Well?” she gasped out. “Do I?”
Resemble the walking dead? Hardly. “You are the loveliest woman I’ve ever beheld.” Truth. And it didn’t even bother him that he sounded like Lucien when the warrior spouted pretty nonsense to Anya. Nonsense Sabin had always rolled his eyes at.
“I don’t believe you.” Gwen shifted to her side, peering over at him and tucking her hand under her cheek. “You have to say I’m pretty.”
“Yeah, because I’m a gentleman,” he said dryly. He, too, shifted to his side so that he could meet her gaze. Those exotic curls framed her face and delicate shoulders, her dazzling skin catching the red hue and making her look deliciously flushed. “You think it can be said that I’m always polite, never want to hurt anyone’s feelings and spout sweet lies because I like the people around me to be docile? Oh, and if I do accidentally insult someone, because I’d never do it on purpose, I absolutely refuse to take what I want from them by force?”
Lush lips twitched into a half smile—lips he’d kissed, sucked and nibbled—and her eyes swirled hypnotically. Eyes he’d nearly drowned in. Seeing that smile Sabin experienced an instant, unwanted hard-on, immensely grateful for the sheet that covered his lower half. And he was supposed to be the dangerous one in this relationship, he mused darkly.
Not a relationship, self-preservation piped up. He wouldn’t let it be anything more than a business transaction. He would convince her to fight for him, protect her from his friends while she did so, and when the war was at last over he would stop thinking about her, stop lusting for her.
“Maybe you don’t care about other people’s feelings, but you do want my help. You’re trying to butter me up like toast.”
“You’ll agree to fight the Hunters whether I butter you up or not,” he said, striving for a confident tone. It was a confidence he didn’t feel, but had to believe in. He could accept no less. “Need I remind you that you’ve already promised to help?”
Tired of lying dormant, Doubt pounced. She nearly faints at the sight of blood. Help you fight? I think not!
“You will,” he reiterated for the demon, for himself.
“I don’t mind helping you with the clerical aspects of your campaign. Like researching on the Internet and filing paperwork. If you keep records of your, uh, kills, I could be in charge of that. I could even research those artifacts you’re looking for. That’s what I did before I was abducted. I worked in an office, taking notes, fact-checking, that sort of thing. And I was damn good at it.”
Never had he heard more pride in someone’s tone. But was she proud of her work or her ability to fit into the normal world?
“And you liked this work?” he asked.
“You weren’t bored?” The real question was, how had her Harpy handled the monotony? Sabin considered Gwen’s dark side very much like his own, a driving force, a curse, a sickness, but a part of her that craved excitement and danger. A part of her that grew twitchy if ignored for too long.
“Well, maybe a little,” she admitted, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.
He almost laughed. He’d place money on the fact that she’d been bored out of her freaking mind. “I’ll pay you for your aid,” he said, recalling Anya’s words about the Harpies’ need to steal or earn their food. He wanted her in the field, fighting, but wouldn’t mind using her for research, as well. At least at first. “Name what you want and it’s yours.”
Several minutes passed in silence before she said, “I’m drawing a blank. I’ll have to think about it.”
“There’s nothing you want?”
Knowing how badly he craved victory, she could have asked him for anything, the moon and the stars even. Yet she couldn’t think of a single thing. Odd. Most people would toss out an astronomical sum and bargain from there. He wondered what sort of thing was prized among her people. Money? Jewels? “What do your sisters do for a living?”
Her lips pressed together in a thin line.
What was this? She didn’t want to tell him or she didn’t like what they did? “Hookers?” he guessed, not just to get a rise out of her but also to test how far he could push her before the Harpy began demanding his head on a platter.
She gasped, slapped him, then jerked her hand back quickly, as if she couldn’t believe she’d done such a thing. Afraid he’d retaliate for such a puny action? Silly girl.
“You deserved to be hit, so I won’t apologize. They aren’t hookers.”
No gasp. No slap. A simple narrowing of her eyes, lashes fusing together. Bingo.
“They’re mercenaries.” Not a question. What amazing luck.
“Yes,” she said through gritted teeth. “They are.”
Sabin wanted to laugh. If one Harpy could destroy an entire army, what could four do? He could pay for their services. He had the money, no matter their price.
“I see the wheels turning in your head.” Her free hand drummed the pillow cushioning her own head. “But you should know that they love me and won’t take a job if I ask them to turn it down.”
Now his eyes narrowed, probing. She wore an innocent expression, if edged with tendrils of anger. “Is that a threat, darling?”
“Take it however you wish. I don’t want them fighting those despicable Hunters for any reason.”
“Why? Like you said, they’re despicable. Evil. They would have found a way to drug you into a stupor, rape you and steal your baby if I hadn’t saved you. You should be begging your sisters to fight them.”
“You’ve already tortured them for what they did to me and the others.” The words rasped from her.
“And that’s enough for you? When someone hurts me, I want to be the one to hurt them back. I want to make sure it’s done right. Didn’t you feel some satisfaction when you tore the throat out of—”
“Yes, okay. Yes. But allowing someone else to do it has to be enough. Otherwise I’ll spend my life hunting them, killing them, never really living.” Her nostrils were flared, her chest heaving. With every inhalation, the sheet slipped and revealed the top of a pink nipple. He had to force himself to look away before he ended their conversation.
Was she saying his life was empty? Well, it wasn’t. It was full, damn it. “Better to live a life of hunting and killing than to bury yourself in fear.”
She raised her palm as if she meant to strike him once more. She was shaking, the muted anger she’d radiated before now a red-hot fury. He’d finally pushed her hard enough. The Harpy was there, in her eyes.
“Do it,” he told her. It would be good for her. Show her that she could lash out and he wouldn’t break. He hoped.
Slowly her hand lowered; the shaking ceased. With a deep breath, her eyes returned to normal. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Like me to be like you? Well, it’s not going to happen. No one would survive if it did. No one. Not even my sisters.”
He caught the hidden meaning and arched a brow. “Fought them and hurt them, have you?”