- The Darkest Whisper
Gwen leaned a hip against the taillight. “Your demon is very close to ruining my entire day.”
“I know. I’m sorry. For the record, you look amazing, your breath is fresh, I haven’t been with that many and there are none prettier or smarter than you.”
He didn’t mention braver, she noticed. “Distract me. Tell me more about the artifacts you’re looking for.”
He paused, a bag suspended midair. Sunlight cascaded all around him, dark hair shimmering, lifting in the breeze. His eyes narrowed on her—something they did a lot, she mused. “That isn’t something I can discuss out in the open like this.”
Was that just an excuse to keep her in the dark?
Or was his demon rubbing off on her, and she doubted him just because?
Argh! “You can tell me. I’m working for you now.” Wasn’t she? Hadn’t they decided she would do the clerical stuff? She hadn’t named her price, but that was because the first thing that had come to mind was room and board in his fortress. For, like, ever. How dumb was that? “I’m helping you find them.”
“And I’ll tell you about them. Later.”
Okay, so maybe the demon was rubbing off on her.
Sabin returned to the bags, finesse gone as he tossed them inside with a flick of his wrist. She winced when she heard the eggs crack.
“By the way, we never reached an agreement about your duties,” he said.
Gwen propped her elbow above her head, resting her head in her hand, nails digging into her scalp. “Do you not think I’m capable of clerical work or do you just not respect me enough to let me prove myself in that way?”
“Wait. Did you just throw out the R word in a discussion about clerical work?” His jaw worked left and right, popping. “What is it with women? Make out a little, and suddenly everything you do means you lack respect for them.”
“That’s not true.” He’d had to go there, hadn’t he? Just talking about it, she felt the hot drops of water on her skin, felt his hands caressing her, his teeth biting at her. He’s not the kind of man you want for yourself. It was sad that she needed the reminder. And would probably need it again. And again. “One, I’ve been offering to help and you claim you want me to, but you’ve never actually told me how I can get started. Two, the shower has nothing to do with anything. In fact, let’s make a pact never to discuss what happened in there again.”
He turned to her, bags completely forgotten now. “Why?”
“Because I don’t want to physically fight your enemy.”
“No, not why do you think I don’t respect you or why do I want you to do clerical work, but why don’t you want to discuss the shower?”
Cheeks heating, she straightened, looked away. “Because.”
“Why?” he insisted.
Because I’ll want more. “Mixing business with pleasure is more dangerous than we are,” she said dryly.
A muscle ticked below his eye and he stared over at her, taking her measure, she was sure, and waiting for her to back down. She didn’t, and that surprised her. She wasn’t afraid of him, she realized. Not even a little.
“Get in the car,” he commanded.
A curse on domineering men!
When they were buckled inside, he started the engine but didn’t pull out onto the road. He shielded his eyes with sunglasses, placed a hand on her thigh and faced her. “Now that we’re alone, I don’t mind telling you about the artifacts. But the moment you know, it means you’re stuck with me. You’re not leaving with your sisters, you’re not venturing away from the fortress by yourself. Understood?”
Wait. What? “Just how long are we talking about here?”
“Until they’re found.”
Which could be a few days. Or eternity. Which she’d secretly wanted, but not because she had no choice. “I’m not agreeing to any such thing. I was imprisoned for a year already and have no desire to live that way again. I do have a life to return to, you know.” Well, kind of. Not that she’d even tried. Or wanted to. “There are things to do, people to see.”
He shrugged. “Then you’ll get nothing out of me.” With that, he maneuvered the vehicle onto the road. He drove slowly, easing into traffic. His caution seemed…odd. Against his live-on-the-edge personality. Was this for her benefit? To keep her safe? The thought was kind of sweet.
Don’t you dare soften toward him!
“You like staying at the fortress. Admit it,” he said.
Was this information that could be used against her? Yes. Would keeping it secret award her some type of advantage? Yes. Would a lie serve just as well, if not better? Yes. But when she opened her mouth, the truth spilled out. “Fine. I admit it. I’ve been alone and afraid for a year. You and your friends came and suddenly I wasn’t alone. I was still afraid, but no one hurt me or threatened me, and that feeling of safety is just so wonderful I can’t bring myself to leave.”
“You could have gotten the same feelings from your sisters.” His tone had softened; his fingers massaged her leg. “Right?”
“Right.” Kind of. “I could have lied about what happened, I suppose, so there’d be no tension, but they’ve always been able to see right through me. I can lie to anyone but them.” And Sabin, it seemed. “You guys are like a vacation away from life. Only, you want me to work on my vacation. And that’s okay,” she rushed out, “as long as it’s desk work.”
He sighed, loud and long, the sound of it echoing through the vehicle. “Listen up, because I’ll only offer this information once. There are four artifacts. The Cage of Compulsion, the Paring Rod, the Cloak of Invisibility and the All-Seeing Eye. Somehow, when all four are together, they’ll point the way to Pandora’s box. We own two. The cage and the eye.”
“What are they, exactly? I’ve never heard of them.”
“Whoever’s locked inside the cage is forced to do whatever is commanded of them. Anything and everything, nothing is too sacred, as long as it doesn’t hurt Cronus. Since he had the thing constructed, he somehow made sure it couldn’t be used against him.”
Wow. Gwen had to admire anyone with that level of power. She couldn’t even control her own dark side.
“We’re not sure what the rod does. The cloak is pretty self-explanatory and the eye shows us what’s happening in heaven. And hell.” He rested his head on the back of the seat, eyes still on the road. “Danika is the eye.”
Okay, double wow. The petite blonde who looked so normal could see the wonders of heaven and the horrors of hell? Poor thing. Gwen knew what it was like to be different, to be…more. Maybe they could be friends, throw back a few cold ones and whine about their troubles. How cool would that be? She’d never had that before. “So how’d you find the cage and the eye?”
“We followed clues Zeus left behind so that he himself could one day reclaim them.”
Like a treasure hunt. Trés badass. “Can I see the cage?” She couldn’t disguise the excitement that laced her voice. Her sisters, paid mercenaries that they were, had often left her home, alone, while they traipsed the world on hunts of their own. She’d always wanted to go. Or, at the very least, enjoy the spoils of their victories with them. But they’d always passed the item to its new owner before returning home, so she’d never gotten her wish.
Sabin’s attention flicked briefly to her, and she could feel the heat of his gaze. “There’s no need,” he said sternly.
“What could it hurt?”
“A lot, actually.”
“Fine.” Once again, she was to be left out. She tried to hide her disappointment. “What are you going to do with Pandora’s box when you find it?”
His fingers whitened around the wheel. “Smash it to pieces.”
The answer of a warrior. She was glad. “Anya mentioned it could draw the demon out of you, killing you and locking away the demon.”
“What happens if you’re killed without the box? Does the demon die, too?”
“So many questions,” he tsked.
“Sorry.” She traced a circle over her knee. “I’ve always been too curious for my own good.” That curiosity had nearly gotten her killed a few times. Once, as a young child, she’d been exploring her family’s mountain and she’d stumbled upon a calm, serene river. If she were submerged, would she be able to see the fish swimming through it? she’d wondered. And if so, how many would there be, what color would they be and would she be able to catch one?
The moment she dove in, the icy water had completely depleted her strength. It hadn’t mattered that there was no current. She hadn’t had the energy to keep herself afloat. The Harpy had taken over, but the water had frozen her wings to her back, preventing her from flying out.
Kaia had heard her panicked cries and saved her, and she’d received the thrashing of a lifetime. But that hadn’t stopped her from wondering about those silly fish.
“—listening to me?” Sabin said, his voice cutting into her thoughts.
His lips twitched. She loved when they did that. Made the larger-than-life male seem, well, human. “What I’m telling you is privileged information, Gwen. You do understand that, don’t you?”
Oh, yes. She understood. It could be used against him, given to Hunters to hurt him. “You saved me. I’m not going to betray you, Sabin. But if you think I’m capable of that, why do you even want me on your team?” The fact that he didn’t believe in her bruised her more than she would have thought possible. Maybe he can’t help himself. Maybe his demon keeps him from trusting in anyone. She blinked at that. Made sense, and didn’t sting quite so much.