- The Darkest Whisper
“What?” Cameo asked.
“I found Galen. And, shit, you aren’t going to believe where he is.”
“YOU’RE NOT LEAVING ME,” Sabin told Gwen. Then, to her sisters, he said, “You’re not taking her away from me.” They’d spent the last hour packing their stuff—and some of his—and were now standing in the foyer of the fortress.
They were ready to leave, but Gwen kept stalling, “remembering” something she’d left in his room.He knew the Harpies meant to take her away, for now and always. Right in front of him, they’d talked about how they didn’t want him around Gwen anymore. They thought she was breaking too many rules, softening too much for a man who could never place her first on his list of priorities. More than that, they didn’t like that he’d made love to her out in the open, where anyone, even an enemy, could have snuck up on him.
They liked him, appreciated what he’d done to toughen Gwen up—that had been admitted grudgingly—but still considered him bad for her. And not the good kind of bad.
Hearing them talk, thinking about being without her, was screwing with his head. He couldn’t be without her. Wouldn’t be without her. He wouldn’t lose her to her sisters and he damn sure wouldn’t lose her to his war. He needed her.
“We’ll do anything we damn well please,” Bianka said, her tone daring him to contradict her again. “Soon as Gwen finds her…whatever she mentioned this time…we’re gone.”
“We’ll see about that.” His phone beeped, signaling a message. Frowning, he withdrew the device from his pocket. A text from Torin.
Galen in Buda. With an army. Prepare.
Then Cameo was racing down the stairs. “Did you hear?” she demanded.
“What?” the Harpies asked. Even though they were planning to leave, they still felt entitled to know his business. Figured.
“He probably never left,” Cameo continued as if they hadn’t spoken. She stopped in front of him. “He’s probably been here the whole time, waiting, watching, growing his numbers. And now that we’re down half our number…”
“Shit.” Sabin scoured his face with a hard hand. “What better time to punish us for what happened in Egypt. And let’s not forget he wants those women back.” Gwen included.
“Yeah. Torin’s alerting the others,” she said. “They’re not headed here, at least, but they are assembling in town.”
“What the hell is going on?” Bianka demanded.
“Hunters are here and ready for battle,” Sabin told her. “You said you’d fight for me, help me defeat them. Well, now’s your chance.” First, though, he had to figure out what to do about Gwen while he—they?—were gone. If they dared try to abscond with her while his back was turned…
A snarl rose in his throat, tickling his voice box.
And yeah, the thought of leaving a strong, capable warrior behind was foreign to him. Even straight-up ridiculous. Especially since he’d thought to send Gwen into battle from the very beginning. But he wasn’t going to change his mind. Somehow, some way, Gwen had become the most important thing in his life.
He’d left her alone these past few days, trying to diminish her importance to him, as well as straighten out his priorities. Hadn’t worked. She’d become more important—and his number one priority.
Just then Kane rushed past them. He was carrying the still-broken portrait of Galen that Danika had painted, one half in each hand.
“What are you doing with that?” Sabin called.
“Torin wants me to lock it up,” was the reply. “Just in case.”
Gaping, Kaia grabbed Kane by the arm, stopping him. “How did you get that? I hope you know you’re going to pay for breaking it, you bast—” She released him with a yelp and rubbed her palm. “How the hell did you shock me like that?”
“I have no—”
“Oh, my God!” Gwen pounded down the steps, her gaze riveted on the portrait. Her skin was pale, her mouth hanging open. “How did you get that?”
“What’s wrong?” Sabin crossed the threshold to stand beside her. He wrapped an arm around her waist. She was trembling.
Taliyah’s cool gaze shot from Gwen to the portrait, the portrait to Gwen. She, too, was paling, her already pallid skin revealing deep blue veins. “We need to go,” she said, and for the first time since Sabin had met her, there was emotion in her tone. Dread. Worry.
Bianka pounded forward and grabbed for Gwen’s wrist. “Don’t say a word. Let’s get out of here, go home.”
“Gwen,” Sabin said, holding tight. What the hell was going on?
A tug-of-war began, but Gwen barely seemed to notice.
“My father,” she finally said, the words so quiet he had to strain to hear.
“What about your father?” he prompted. She’d never spoken of the man before, so he’d just assumed whoever it was was not a part of her life.
“They don’t like me to talk about him. He’s not like us. But how did you get this? It was hanging in my room in Alaska.”
“Wait.” He glanced at the portrait. “Are you saying…”
“That man is my father, yes.”
No. No. “That’s not possible. Look more closely and you’ll see that you’re mistaken.” Be mistaken. Please be mistaken. He gripped her shoulders and forced her to face the painting.
“I’m not mistaken. That’s him. I never knew him, but I’ve studied this painting my entire life.” Her tone was wistful. “It’s the only link I have to my good side.”
“Gwen!” the Harpies shouted as one. “Enough.”
She ignored them. “I’m telling you, that’s my father. Why? What’s wrong with you? And how did you get the painting? Why is it broken?”
Another wave of denial burst through him, followed quickly by shock and more slowly by acceptance. With the acceptance came fury. So much fury, blended with the very dread and worry Taliyah had expressed. Galen was Gwen’s father. Galen, his greatest enemy, the immortal responsible for the worst days of his long, long life, was Gwen’s fucking father.
“Shit,” Kane said. “Shit, shit, shit. This is bad. Very bad.”
Sabin popped his jaw and did his best to gather his composure. “The portrait is hanging in your room? This exact portrait?”
She nodded. “My mother gave it to me. She painted it years ago, when she realized she carried me. She wanted me to see the angel, to want to be different from him.”
“Gwen,” Kaia snapped, pulling on her sister all the harder. “We told you to stop.”
She didn’t. It was as though the words were leaving her of their own free will, bottled up too long and spilling over. And maybe, having learned to fight, she was no longer afraid to stand up for what she desired. “She had a broken wing and crawled into a cave to heal. He was chasing a demon disguised as a human, a demon who ran inside that cave and tried to use her as a shield. He saved her, got rid of the demon.
“He doctored her, and she slept with him, even though she hated what he was. She said she couldn’t help herself, that she felt hopeful of a future with him. A future she had somehow convinced herself she wanted. Afterward, the dark-haired woman you see there arrived with a message, something about catching sight of a spirit, and he had to leave. He told her to wait, that he’d come back for her. But when he was gone, my mother regained her senses, realized she wanted nothing to do with a real live angel, and left. She’s an artist, and when I was born she painted his portrait with the woman. The last vision she had of him was to be my first, she said.”
Dear. Gods. “Do you know who your father is, Gwen?” he demanded.
Finally her eyes tore from the portrait and landed on him, confusion swimming in their depths. “Yes. An angel, like I said. An angel my mother seduced. That’s why I’m the way I am. Weaker, less aggressive.”
She wasn’t that way any longer, but now was hardly the time to point that out. “Galen is no angel,” Sabin said, his disgust loud and clear. “The man you’re looking at, naming your father, is a demon, the keeper of Hope. I guarantee he’s the reason your mother experienced that false sense of hope for a future with him and why she wised up so soon after he left.”
A heavy gasp escaped her, and she shook her head violently. “No. No, that can’t be right. If I possessed demon blood, I would have been strong like my sisters.”
“You always were, you just refused to see it,” Bianka said. “Mom beat down your confidence, is my guess.”
Sabin closed his eyes, opened them. Why did this have to happen now?
“That man is just like me, except for one important distinction. He’s the leader of the Hunters. He’s responsible for the rape of those women. He’s commander of the men who captured you. He’s here, in Buda, and he’s itching for battle.” As he spoke, he realized his mistake. Delight sparked in her eyes at the knowledge that her father was nearby.
Not so long ago, Sabin had entertained the thought that the Hunters had planted her in that cell, thinking to use her as Bait to learn his secrets and lure him to his death. He’d discarded that thought immediately. He still discarded it, even though Doubt was shouting in his head, tossing out other possibilities.
She was more dangerous than Bait. Galen could play the father card to get her to betray Sabin.
“That just can’t be right,” Gwen repeated, delight replaced by disbelief as she faced her sisters. “I’ve never been like you, despite what Bianka said. I’ve always been too soft. Like an angel. How could my father be a demon? I would have been worse than you! Right? I mean…I can’t…did you know anything about this?”
Ignoring her, Kaia stepped forward, getting in Sabin’s face, placing them nose to nose. “You’re lying. Much as we have always wished otherwise, her father is not a demon. And he’s certainly not leading those Hunters. If Gwen were half demon, we would have known it. She wouldn’t have—there’s just been some sort of mistake. Gwen’s father is not the leader of your enemy, so don’t even think about hurting her!”