“Anyway, the first of my kind learned through trial and error that they could still eat, but only what they’d stolen or what was given to them in payment. The gods didn’t succeed in destroying us, just making our lives difficult. So pay me. I gave you the answer you wanted, now you owe me.”

Her demand for payment suddenly made sense. And hadn’t Anya mentioned something about eating what they earned? Gods, he had to smarten up and listen better. “For the secret.” He tossed the brownie at her and she caught it with a too-quick flick of her wrist. The dessert was consumed a second later. This was yet another similarity they shared, he reflected. Both their lives had been affected by a curse.

“You should have told me I could pay you with food,” he chided. “I could have been feeding you all along.”

“I didn’t know you well enough to share the fundamentals of my race. And as my sisters say, knowledge is power. You didn’t need more power over me.”

He’d often said the same thing, though he thought he did need more power over her. “But now you do?” he asked softly, foolishly pleased with her. “Know me, that is?”

Her cheeks burned bright red. “Well, now I know you better.”

Fair enough. Sabin dangled the bag of chips from pinched fingers. “Tell me who you didn’t want to see you, what you didn’t want them to see.”

“My sisters. I didn’t want them to see me sleeping.”

So that had been the reason. “Wait. Tell me how you rested with your chicken, and then you’ll get these.”

“Sabin. Chips!”

“You haven’t answered to my satisfaction.”

“I never rested with a chick—Oh, you mean Tyson. For a long time, I didn’t. Didn’t rest, I mean. Does that count? Did I earn the chips?” She reached out, fingers waving eagerly.

He held firm. “How long were you with him?”

“Six months.”

Six. Months. He gritted his teeth, not liking the thought of her with anyone that long. “You remained awake for all that time?”

“No. At first, I let him think I had insomnia. I’d stay up all night. But when the fatigue would get to be too much, I would call in sick at work and sleep in the trees. That’s the only location we’re supposed to sleep, since it’s nearly impossible to be seen or reached. But as the months passed, I thought, why not rest with this man I trusted? So I started sleeping in bed with him. And before you ask, not sleeping around other people wasn’t a command or curse of the gods, but a safety measure every Harpy is taught from birth.”

He didn’t recall her sisters leaving at night to head for the forest, but as silently as they moved, they certainly could have. “Why?”

She pushed out a frustrated breath. “Our wings can be bound while we sleep, as proven by my time in captivity. Now give. Me. The. Chips.”

He tossed the bag.

Plastic ripped and orange-stained chips sprayed. Gwen popped one in her mouth, closed her eyes and moaned. Sabin had to swallow a moan of his own.

“Do you want to earn the apple?”

The tip of her tongue emerged, swiping over her lips. “Yes. Please.”

“Tell me your thoughts about me. About what we did in the forest. And don’t lie. I’m only paying for the truth.”

She hesitated.

Why didn’t she want him to know? What didn’t she want him to know? A minute ticked by in silence, and he feared she would simply content herself with the food she already had. Then she surprised him.

“I like you. More than I should. I’m attracted to you and want to be with you. When I’m not with you, I’m thinking about you. It’s stupid. I’m stupid. But I love the way I feel when I’m with you. When your demon’s quiet, I don’t feel ashamed or forgettable or scared. I feel worthy, desired and protected.”

Sabin tossed the apple at her and she caught it, her gaze avoiding him. “I feel the same about you,” he admitted gruffly.

“You do?” Her eyes snapped to him, bright with hope.

“I do.”

Slowly she grinned, but that grin soon fell away and her shoulders slumped. She bit into the apple, chewed, swallowed.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he said.

“I don’t know if we can make anything work. You once said you could betray the woman you loved if it meant winning a battle. Not that I think you love me. I just, well, if you were to be with someone else, I would kill her. Then you.” There at the end, there had been steel in her tone. Steel sharpened to a razor point.

“I won’t. I wouldn’t. I don’t think I can.” He scrubbed a hand down his face. “You’re the only thing I can think about anymore. I doubt I could even fake it with someone else.”

“But for how long will that last?” she asked softly, rolling the apple in her palms.

Forever, he suspected, guilt filling him. He’d already devoted more time to her than he should have. He hadn’t studied the names on Cronus’s scrolls or done anything to find the two remaining artifacts. He hadn’t been searching for Galen.

For so many years, he’d placed the war with the Hunters above everything else—and demanded the same from his men. Distractions hadn’t been tolerated. They’d given him everything he’d asked for, and more. How could he, as their leader, now give himself fully to Gwen?

So, rather than answer her, he pushed to his feet, said, “I’ve neglected my duties to watch over you and now have a lot to do,” and left her. If he hoped to keep her, he had a lot of shit to figure out first.


AND I WANTED TO BE A SOLDIER? Gwen wondered for the thousandth time after another grueling session. She was panting, sweaty and bruised as she flopped atop Sabin’s bed.

The last few days, Sabin had divided his time between his duties—whatever those were—and her training. She’d just spent the past few hours getting the crap beaten out of her. Again. He gave no quarter, showed no mercy. It sucked!“You’re stronger, aren’t you?” he said, as if he could read her thoughts.

“Yes.” And she was.

“I won’t apologize. You know you can take a punch now.”

“And dish out my own,” she said smugly, recalling how she’d sent the muscled warrior flying into the trees, gasping for breath, only an hour ago. She also knew when to duck and when to attack.

“You just have to learn how to summon your Harpy faster. Good things happen when you do.” He sat at the edge of the bed, cupped a hand around the base of her neck and drew her toward him. “Now drink.”

As she sank her teeth into his artery, her cheeks heated at the reminder of the way she’d taken him in the forest. Then her eyelids drifted shut and she simply enjoyed the taste of this man.

He lifted her to his lap without breaking contact, and she immediately spread her legs, welcoming him against her body. He rubbed his erection between her thighs. She moaned at the bliss, the decadence. But when she tangled her fingers in his hair, withdrawing her teeth to lick and nip at him, he flung her back on the mattress, stood to shaky legs and strode toward the door.

“Time for round two,” he said. “I’ll meet you outside.” He disappeared around the corner.

“You’re really starting to piss me off,” she called.

No reply.

She almost screeched in frustration. Twice before, he’d done this to her. Trained with her, brought her to his room to heal her injuries with that delicious blood, got her hot and ready, and then abandoned her for his “duties” or more training. Why? Since their little chat, he hadn’t made love to her again. Again, why?

They’d declared their feelings for each other. Hadn’t they? She knew she wanted him, however she could get him, for however long she could have him. No use denying that anymore. If they didn’t last, at least she’d tried. And of course, it would be his fault so she’d have no regrets.

The thought of blaming him for any future discord caused her frustration to fade; she grinned. And the thought of a future with him had her sighing dreamily as she curled into a pillow. He was the kind of man every Harpy craved. Powerful, a little wild, a lot wicked. He could kill an enemy without guilt. He wasn’t afraid of hard work. He could be ruthless, without mercy, yet he was tender with her.

The only question was, would he put Gwen before his war?

Wait. Two questions: Did she want him to?

With another sigh, she rose and headed back outside. The sun was high and warm as she searched for Sabin. The moment she saw him, she experienced a wave of pride. Mine. He was hunched over two daggers, sharpening them to razor points.

No reason to practice with fakes, he’d told her. Tomorrow, they planned to work with guns. Golden light caressed his bare chest, deepening his tan. Sweat beaded over his muscles, making them gleam—and her mouth water. The puncture wounds were already healing on his neck; she wished they’d remain forever, her brand on him.

I’ve had all that strength over me, inside me.

She wanted it again. Soon. The nights were the most difficult of all. He wouldn’t enter the bedroom until close to morning—it didn’t take his demon to make her wonder where he’d been, what he’d been doing—and then he would crawl in beside her, though he refused to touch her. She would feel his heat, hear his soft inhalations, and she would ache all over. Then she would fall asleep before she could do anything about it.

Tonight, if he continued to resist her, she would take matters into her own hands. Literally. He’d tangled with her Harpy once and survived; he could damn well do it again.

“Damn it,” Ashlyn, wife to the keeper of Violence, said. It was surprising, hearing the gentle woman curse. “Not again!”

As usual, Ashlyn and Danika sat on the sidelines to cheer for her. They also liked to boo when Sabin knocked her down. Though she hadn’t spent a lot of time with them, she already adored them. They were open and honest, kind and witty, and had somehow, despite everything, managed to make a relationship work with a Lord of the Underworld. Gwen planned to get the lowdown from them as to how they’d achieved such a feat, but hadn’t yet had the time.