The Guardian

Chapter 6


Lydia paused as the demon reappeared in the room with her. Even though he stood as proud and fierce as he always did, she saw the shame and self-loathing in his icy blue eyes before he blinked and averted his gaze, then slowly limped to his desk.
As he sat down in the ornately carved chair, she started to ask him if he was all right, but didn't want to wound his pride any worse than it already appeared to be. There was no need to ask that when she could already tell he was embarrassed and upset.
And it was painfully obvious that he wasn't all right. He was hurting and she didn't mean the physical pain of his injuries. An air of hopeless despair, and utter grief and sadness clung to him. She'd never seen anything like it. Not even in nightmares.
Without a word, he carefully wiped at the fresh blood trickling from the corner of his nose and swollen mouth. There was more blood from his ear, running down his neck in a bright red stripe that matched his makeup. The fact that he ignored it completely told her just how often this happened to him. He no longer reacted to it.
For some reason she couldn't name, that image of him sitting there, looking so lost and yet fierce, touched a part of her heart and made her ache for him as if it were her own pain.
He wore a mask of tough, unshakable power and yet ...
She didn't see the demon's painted-on face right now. She only saw the man who hid himself behind it. And even though they were enemies, she wanted to soothe that side of him.
Maybe, just maybe, if she could reach it, he might help her and Solin. The gods knew he had no reason to side with Noir. Not when the bastard abused him so.
There was a flesh and blood man inside his soul. One in eternal pain. And having been wounded and orphaned in a world that was suspicious of and angry at her kind, and hateful beyond belief, she understood the need to draw inward and hide. The proclivity to strike out and hurt them before they hurt her.
It was a survivor's instinct. A fighter's way.
But for Solin and his love, she wouldn't have been any better or kinder than the demon was. There was no telling what she would have become ultimately.
One person could make such a difference in someone's life. Either good or bad. With their actions and words, a single individual had the power to save or destroy another.
She'd been so lucky. Solin had appeared when she needed him and taken away her pain. He'd taught her to laugh again and to love, even when her past told her to keep her heart closed.
But the demon ...
He didn't have a Solin to hold him and tell him that everything would be all right. That he would kill anyone who harmed him, and protect him no matter the threat. A Solin who promised him that in time the pain of the past would fade to a dull ache and that he would learn to love and laugh again.
Solin had been her greatest gift.
Instead, too many had attacked this demon and tried to destroy him, and they had failed.
Perhaps it was time someone tried another tactic besides violence. One he might not be able to defend against.
She crossed halfway to where he sat, afraid to get too close lest he put his defenses in place and repel her. "What's your name?"
Licking at the cut on his lip, he furrowed his brow as he finally turned his attention to her. "Excuse me?"
So the beast had manners after all. It was refreshing to see them.
"Your name. What is it?"
Seth sat in silence as he pondered how to answer what should be a simple thing. No one other than Azura's servant, Jaden, had used his given name since he'd left the human realm.
To his face-whenever he wasn't pinned down and unable to strike back-the demons called him Guardian or Master. Noir and Azura only called him by insults or Slave, so much so that he wasn't even sure if they knew his name.
Bastard was probably the most common or least offensive epitaph he bore.
Still ...
Why would she want to know his name when no one else ever had? Not even Jaden had asked. He'd merely plucked it out of Seth's head, without his permission, the first time they met.
Honestly, he wasn't sure if he wanted to hear it on her lips. A part of him was even afraid of that small intimacy and what it might do to him. No good could come of her calling him by name.
"Why do you want to know it?"
Lydia sighed wearily. "You are ever suspicious of everything. Are you really that afraid of me? What in the name of Olympus could I, as small as I am, do to you?"
She could weaken him, and here, in this hell where he was forced to live, that could get him hurt a lot worse. To care about anything or anyone ...
Those were the most lethal of weapons. It was exactly why he was holding her.
To weaken and control Solin.
I will never be such a fool. Not for anyone or anything.
He'd come into this world alone and alone he would forever remain.
"I'm not afraid of you, woman," he sneered. "I fear nothing." How could he? His entire life was nightmare after nightmare. If he feared something, it was used against him.
So any fear he might have once held had been purged centuries ago.
Now ...
He was empty at best and furious at worst. Those were the only two emotions he had. The only two he was capable of understanding anymore.
Her topaz eyes filled with sadness, she shook her head. "Exchanging names is what people do when they meet."
"Yes, but I'm not a..." he stopped just short of saying "person." They had long ago stripped that last bit of dignity out of him. He didn't know what he was anymore. Not really. But she didn't need to know that either.
"You're not what?" she asked after a minute.
Lydia sensed that that wasn't what he'd started to say. "But you do have a name, don't you?"
He nodded. "You may call me Master."
Fire burned bright in her eyes as she curled her lip derisively. "I call no man Master. Ever. And that includes you, for the record, buster. So get over yourself. Gah! I can't believe the nerve of you."
Those words angered him. "Are you mocking me?"
Lydia seethed at his ridiculous question. "Aren't you mocking me?"
He actually managed to appear stunned by that. Several other emotions she couldn't identify flickered over his features as more blood trickled from his nose. Absently, he wiped it away before he spoke again. "How so?"
She closed the distance between them, wanting to strangle him for it. Was he really that dense? "Telling me to call you Master? What kind of bullshit is that? No one owns me and they damn sure don't control me."
Her anger didn't seem to faze him at all. Of course, he lived and served Noir who, she'd been told, lived in a state of constant PMS. He was probably immune to any form of heated words.
"Fine then," he said in a calmer tone. "Call me Guardian."
She made a deep sound of disgust. Like that was any better? Good grief. Was that really the only choice she had? Master or Guardian?
She shook her head at him. "Your mother named you Guardian? Really? She must not have thought much of you for that." She'd meant it as a joking barb, but he went ramrod stiff as pain flared deep in his eyes-something that told her she'd unintentionally struck a nerve.
Crap ...
"I'm sorry, Guardian. I didn't mean anything by that." She reached out to touch him.
He shot to his feet and stepped back so fast, he almost tripped over his chair. "Don't touch me." Those snarled, angry words came out like rapid gunfire.
She balled her hand into a fist as she saw a huge, fresh, ugly bruise on his cheek through the white makeup. It reminded her of all the others marring his flesh-the bite marks she'd seen on his chest, thighs, and neck. And it was then she fully understood his secret.
His true pain.
"Has anyone ever given you a touch that didn't cause you pain?"
Seth didn't move as her question slapped him hard in the face. But the most painful of all was the harsh truth. Once, a long time ago, he'd lived like a normal person. He'd had people he thought loved him. A family who said he was a part of them.
But that had been a cruel lie. He'd have been far better off without knowing their fake kindness. All that had done was show him what he was missing. Show him what other people took for granted.
Show him what he was unworthy of having.
It doesn't deserve to breathe the same air as I, never mind share my name! How dare you name such a wretch after me. If you think by whelping it you would endear yourself to me, think again.
With his father's words ringing in his ears, Seth started away from her.
But she stepped in front of him, cutting off his retreat. Before he realized her intent, she laid a gentle hand on his cheek that still burned from Noir's fist. The tenderness of it shocked him.
Closing his eyes, he savored the warmth of her touch, and tried to imagine a life where such a thing wasn't a rarity. But the truth wouldn't let him have even that much comfort. It shouted angrily in his head, reminding him of who and what he was.
Who could ever love a mongrel like you?
You're disgusting. Pathetic.
Get out of my sight, wretch, before I vomit. Even when he pleased Azura or a she-demon, they threw him out of bed the minute they were finished with him. He was only a tool to pacify a bodily urge.
Nothing more.
He mattered to no one and no one mattered to him.
Seth opened his eyes to see her staring up at him with kindness burning bright in her topaz gaze.
That lie slammed into his stomach with the force of Noir putting him through a wall. She didn't give a single shit about him and he knew it.
Solin was the one she loved. He was the one she'd come here to save.
A woman like her would never risk her life to save something like him.
Rage tore through him as he realized her ruse. He knew what she was trying to do and he hated her for it.
He snatched her hand away from his face. "What kind of fool do you take me for?"
She actually managed to look shocked. "I don't understand."
Yeah, right. She knew and she was trying to play him. To weaken him. "I'm nothing to you, but an enemy to get past. Don't insult either of us by pretending otherwise."
Lydia winced as his grip tightened on her wrist and he dragged her toward his bed. Panic swelled inside her as she feared his intent.
She started to fight him, until she realized he wasn't going to attack her. Rather he manifested a chain that ran from the bedpost to her ankle.
His eyes glittered like ice as he released her and then returned to his desk.
"You're just going to leave me chained here?"
"Yes." He opened his laptop.
He refused to look at her. "Is that not what I said?" He started typing something.
She was flabbergasted by his overreaction to a simple question. "Are you honestly that afraid of a touch?"
Turning his head, he glared at her over his shoulder. "I told you, I fear nothing."
But she knew better. He wouldn't give her his name. He wouldn't let her see his real face or offer him comfort of any sort ...
"You can lie to yourself all you want to, Guardian. I know the truth about you."
A deep scowl lined his brow. "What truth?"
"You fear people. Why else would you live like this?"
He slammed his hands down on his desk with enough force that it made her jump, and it lifted the laptop a good inch before it clamored down and landed sideways on the desk.
"I don't fear people," he said between his clenched teeth. "I fucking hate them." She could taste the venom he spat out with that one word. "Do you understand? They lie. They steal. They cheat and deceive. There is absolutely nothing about them that I can stand ... And if you don't leave me alone, I'm going to take your voice away again."
A part of her was tempted to test him on that, but the saner part of herself won out.
He wasn't one to bluff.
Fine. Whatever. Let him stew in his misery. It didn't really concern her anyway.
Not like I have to deal with you much longer. Sooner or later, Solin would free her. She knew it.
With nothing else to do, she sat on the bed and watched as he worked on whatever it was he had on his laptop. She tilted her head as minutes dragged by and he hit the keys so hard, she was rather surprised it didn't lock up or break.
It was woefully obvious that he had no idea what he was doing, and he became more agitated by the second. Boy, did she understand that. As the old saying went, a TV can insult your intelligence, but nothing rubs it in like a computer.
And for some reason she couldn't name, she felt a smug satisfaction over it.
Good. I hope you stew in frustration until you're pruny from it.
That'd teach him to be nicer to her.
Seth tried to focus on his research, but all he really noticed was the faint sound of Lydia's breathing. Every time she made the smallest move, his body reacted to it against his wishes.
Why had she touched him? Between that and his kiss when he'd given her her voice, he'd screwed himself. Now he couldn't help wondering what it would be like to have sex with a woman and not a demon.
Were all non-demonic women like Lydia? Did they smell that good? Feel so soft?
Don't look at her.
He heard his inner sanity and yet he couldn't resist glancing over his shoulder to catch her staring at his back from where she sat cross-legged on his bed. With her elbows braced on her knees, she rested her chin on her folded hands. He had no idea why he found that adorable, but he did.
"What are you doing?" he asked her.
"Trying to read through your big head."
She gave him a droll look. "Oh, I don't know. Maybe because I'm bored out of my friggin' mind and there's really nothing else to do since I'm not sleepy. What do you do for entertainment? Other than surf online porn, that is."
"Porn?" She used a lot of words he didn't have a definition for.
"You know? Pornography? Naked women showing off their happy places to lonely men who can't get dates? Or, in your case, guys who live under rocks and never get to see a normal woman's happy place."
He was both appalled and intrigued by what she described. Did women really do such a thing? And you could actually see it?
Of course, during his brief time in the human realm, people had been very open sexually. Obviously, they still were.
"I'm not surfing porn." He didn't realize he could do that, but now that she brought it up ...
Where would he go to find it? He hadn't had the computer long. Only a little more than a week. He wouldn't have even known they existed but for one of the slug demons who'd mentioned it while he'd been questioning Solin.
Once he got back to his room, he'd manifested one and it'd taken him awhile to figure out how to use his powers to make it connect to the human world.
The rest of it, though ...
Some special kind of sadistic demon must have invented this damn thing.
But Lydia seemed to know how to work it. "Do you..."
Don't ask. Don't do it.
She arched a brow at him. "What?"
He hesitated. He'd stopped asking others for help a long time ago. Either he was ignored, or humiliated over it. It was a no-win situation for him.
And he'd been kicked in his teeth and insulted enough for one day. "Never mind."
A knowing light sparkled in her eyes. His cock jerked at that playful expression.
"You want me to help you, don't you?"
Yes. But he'd never admit that. "I can figure it out on my own."
She tsked at him. "It doesn't make you weak to ask for help when you need it. Rather, it's a strong man who knows and acknowledges his limitations."
And it was a fool who exposed himself to ridicule. "Do you mind? I need to concentrate." He turned away from her.
Lydia wanted desperately to tell him where to shove that laptop. But the almost boyish shyness about him kept her from being hostile.
He'd started to reach out to her and then something had made him pull back.
Something? Hell, girl, you've seen his body. It wasn't an intangible thing that reeled him in. It was years of abuse that had taught him to stay inside himself.
There came a point in everyone's life when they'd been slapped too many times for reaching out. After a few concussions, they stopped doing it. She understood that better than most.
A tic started in his jaw as he turned toward her with a scowl so fearsomely evil, she wondered if it was one he'd practiced in a mirror to scare the other demons of this place.
Good thing she didn't scare easily.
Instead, she smiled at him. "Computers are extremely annoying and hard to operate if you're not used to them. Sometimes even if you are. If you'll let me go, I don't mind helping you do whatever it is you're trying to do." She jiggled the chain expectantly.
Seth didn't move for a full minute as he debated with himself. It was safer for his sanity when she stayed away from him.
Who are you fooling? She might as well be on top of you, the way you react to every breath she takes, even when it's across the room.
And he needed to get this done. His time was running fast through an hourglass he couldn't stop or break. Noir wouldn't give him any kind of extension and he knew it.
Steeling himself, he nodded.
Lydia finally breathed again as her chain vanished instantly. Whoa ... those were some scary powers he had and she still didn't know the full extent of them.
Trying not to think about it, she got up and went to his desk.
He moved out of his seat and offered it to her.
Cracking her knuckles, she sat down, then hesitated as she reached for the laptop. "This thing isn't going to eat my fingers is it?"
"I tried to use it earlier and it slammed shut on me. It almost took a couple of my phalanges with it."
Something twitched at the side of his mouth that might have become a smile had he allowed it. "No, it won't hurt you."
Still a little skeptical, she carefully pulled it over to her. But he was right. It wasn't hungry anymore and she was able to type in safety.
She looked up, and saw another new lumpy bruise on his temple that wasn't visible until you got close to him. Her stomach clenched. Knowing he would never talk to her about it, she focused on what they were doing. "Okay, what do you want to know?"
He took a step away from her. "I need to learn more about the key to Olympus."
Okay. She had no idea why and had never heard the term before. But then there were a lot of things she didn't know about her native culture. Solin had raised her in other parts of Europe. For reasons he wouldn't name, he kept her away from her heritage. While he'd schooled her on the gods and her Were-Hunter branch, he'd always been insistent that she never try to contact them.
And since she hadn't interacted with others of her kind after her family had died ...
She was pretty ignorant of anything other than the major facts.
"Did you Google it?" she asked him.
He frowned. "Google?"
"Yeah, Google. You know, the search engine."
He sniffed and jerked his head as if he'd had a pain shoot through his nose. Then he placed the heel of his hand over his left eye and held it there. "What's a search engine?"
"Are you okay?" Even though he didn't complain, she had a sneaking suspicion that he was really hurting right now.
"It'll go away in a minute." He lowered his hand and blinked his eye open.
Lydia gasped as she saw that the entire white of his eye was now completely red. Blood red. "Oh my God. Does that hurt?"
Seth had no answer to her question. Every part of him currently hurt. Especially his inflamed cock that kept begging him to take her regardless of her protests.
But he wasn't that much of an animal. Having been raped on several occasions, he wasn't about to do that to anyone else. For that matter, he couldn't even remember the last time he'd had sex that hadn't raped either his body or his soul.
As she'd noted earlier, after age thirteen, he'd never known a touch that wasn't angry or bruising.
Not until her ...
She reached up to touch him.
For an instant, he was frozen by the desperate need he had to feel her skin on his.
Don't. All it will do is remind you of things you can never have.
She belonged to Solin. Not him.
He quickly moved away.
But she didn't take the hint. Instead, she pursued him across the room.
What the hell? Every time he moved, she was there, trying to touch his injured eye. He didn't even want to know how stupid he must look while he dodged her.
"Stop!" he finally snarled.
She pulled back as if he'd slapped her and that made him feel like a total ass. "I just wanted to help you."
"Help me do what?" Die of unsated lust? That was his biggest threat in the room at present.
She shook her head. "Your eye is completely red. It's like it's filled with blood."
That explained the haze over his vision, but the pain he felt was from his eye socket where Noir had punched the shit out of him after Seth had given in to the incessant need to question Noir's parentage. "I must have broken a blood vessel. It happens."
Lydia felt sick about the nonchalant way he spoke of something so horrible. Broken blood vessels didn't just happen. Anymore than his bruises had just appeared on his face. She took a step toward him.
He took one back.
Fine. He wasn't going to allow her near him again. And to think, she'd actually been afraid of him forcing himself on her. Yeah ...
"You still haven't told me what a search engine is." He licked, then sucked at his busted lip right before he ran his hand across it.
How could something so ferocious look so vulnerable and uncertain? These small glimpses of the real him were actually sweet. And even worse, they were charming her a lot more than she was charming him.
"You really don't know what it is? I mean, I realize you live in..." she glanced around the dreary room. "Or rather under a rock, but you do have a computer."
"I haven't had it long and I didn't figure out how to make it connect to the human world until about an hour before you arrived. And you know how little time I've had to work it since then."
That explained a lot. And yet ... "You had one before this, right?"
He shook his head. "I'd never heard of one until a demon told me about them. He said it would help me learn things quicker. But I honestly don't see how. Books are much faster to navigate. I figured out how to open up one of those the instant I touched it. It took two days just to find the on switch for that damn thing."
His words stunned her. Had he honestly made a joke? She laughed, hoping it didn't offend him.
Seth froze at the sweetest sound he'd ever heard. A true and sincere laugh. And it wasn't at his expense.
No one had laughed like that around him in ...
He had no idea. Had he ever heard laughter that wasn't mocking or cruel? If he did, he had no memory of it. Nor had he seen anyone's eyes light up like hers did.
She was so beautiful that it took his breath away. Worse, it drew him toward her when he knew he should be running for the door.
His lips twitched as if they wanted to smile, but that, too, was something he had no memory of. Surely he'd smiled as a child? Hadn't he?
Why couldn't he remember?
She pressed her lips together and sobered. "Sorry."
Her apology confused him even more than her laughter had. It, too, was something he couldn't remember hearing from anyone. Ever. "For what?"
"I don't know. You looked upset. I wasn't laughing at you, I swear."
"I know."
Lydia felt suddenly very awkward. Even though he had an extremely expressive face, she had a hard time reading it. And he never reacted the way she thought he would. Things that should make him happy made him angry and things she thought would offend him, didn't.
She offered him a smile. "If it makes you feel better, you're not alone with that thought. Computers make fools of us all. But I have to say that I'm highly impressed."
"By what?"
"You got it up and running when you'd never seen one before? That's impressive. I have to call the Geek Squad every time I buy a new one and I've had one for years."
Again with the dancing, indecipherable emotions on his face. Finally, he settled on a stricken look that she didn't understand the source of. "Did you just compliment me?"
She widened her eyes as she debated how to answer. Was he offended that she'd complimented him? It was how he acted. But that made no sense whatsoever.
"Um ... yes."
This time there was no mistaking the fury in those accusatory blue eyes. "You mock me."
"How?" She was completely baffled by his behavior and attack. "By saying I think you're intelligent?"
His breathing turned ragged as fury darkened his gaze. "I'm well aware of my flaws. All of them. The last thing I need or want is you patronizing me for it."
What had they done to him that he couldn't even take a well-meant compliment? It broke her heart that she'd hurt him with an innocent comment that she'd intended to make him feel good. "I wasn't patronizing you. I promise. It was my honest opinion."
Still, the angry doubt lingered in his eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said again, then returned to his desk. "I really wasn't trying to offend or anger you."
Seth hated himself for stealing her happiness. Had she really meant that as she'd said? Was it possible she thought him intelligent?
Why would she? No one else ever had. He knew he was slow to learn. He'd always been stubborn that way. It was why it'd taken him so long to understand that machine. Why he still couldn't get it to work.
It was why Noir beat on him all the time. He could never learn to counsel his tongue or keep his eyes down. Never learn when to shut up and not speak. Only an absolute idiot would keep confronting someone he knew was going to hurt him.
Subdued and wary, he joined her at the desk and watched as she opened things he couldn't read or understand. "What are you doing now?"
"Well, I was looking for your bookmarks."
"But it's not a book."
She looked up at him with an irritated twitch in her eye. "You know, if I made that comment to you, especially in that tone of voice, you'd get all testy with me and stalk off." In a tiff, she turned back in her chair. "I'm well aware of the fact that it's not a book. Jeez!"
Seth took a minute to think about that. She was right. He'd been rude to her without meaning to. "I'm only trying to understand."
She was still pissed, but at least she explained it to him. "You bookmark favorite pages so that you can go back to them if you want."
"Like bookmarking a book."
She nodded. "Hence the term. But you don't have any."
"I know. I told you I had trouble setting it up and turning it on."
Lydia frowned at him. "Did you follow the instructions?" Not that it ever really helped her, but still ...
"I couldn't."
"You didn't have a manual?"
"No. I didn't understand the language it was written in."
Her jaw went slack. He was illiterate? "But you speak English flawlessly." Granted it was with a thick accent she'd never heard before, but she'd met natural-born speakers who were less fluent.
Some days even her.
"Yes. I can understand spoken languages easily. I just can't read them."
Good grief, he was even more intelligent than she'd guessed. How he could have gotten as far with a computer as he had without a manual or while he was unable to read the language was beyond her. "Did one of the demons help you?"
He shook his head.
"Did you ask one of them for help?"
"No. No one here really talks to me."
Surrounded by many, yet always alone. In that moment, he reminded her so much of Solin that it choked her. "Is that why you gave me a voice?"
His features turned to stone as that familiar anger sparked in his chilling gaze. "I don't need anyone to talk to me. Ever."
She had to force herself not to roll her eyes. At this point, she didn't think she'd ever get past his defenses when he was so determined to misread her every comment and intention. "It doesn't make you weak, you know? Everyone needs someone to confide in."
"I don't."
But she knew better. Even Solin, who didn't like people as a rule, did occasionally talk to them. He'd even learned to become friends with Arik, another Dream-Hunter he'd helped out a few years back.
However, those kind of changes only happened when the person who had the issues decided to move forward. The Guardian was nowhere near that level.
And who could blame him?
It was a wonder he was even sane. The fact that he had any form of compassion was nothing short of a miracle.
Sighing, she went back to the computer.
"What are you doing?" the Guardian asked.
"I'm typing in so that we can get to the site that will allow us to search for your term."
He actually moved closer to her so that he could see better. "How do you know how to do all of this?"
"I spend ungodly amounts of time surfing."
He glanced at her. "You keep saying that word. What does it mean?" His enthusiastic curiosity reminded her of a little kid.
"We're surfing the Web right now. It's a term people use whenever they're online."
"Ah. So where do they surf to?"
She smiled at him. "Anywhere they want to go."
Surprise widened his eyes. "Anywhere?"
"Yeah. Name me something you'd like to see."
He fell silent for a few seconds as he pondered it, giving her time to realize that his eye was even redder than it'd been before.
Did it really not hurt?
He blinked twice, then met her gaze. "Can we see sunlight on it?"
"Sure." She did an image search.
The moment the photos displayed on the screen, his jaw went slack. Dropping to his knees, he reached for the laptop and reverently touched the first image of the sun shining through a set of clouds. "Does it still look like that?" He spoke as if he were whispering a prayer.
That sense of wonder in his voice and on his face brought tears to her eyes as she realized something else about him. "How long has it been since you last saw daylight?"
He refused to take his gaze off the images. "I don't know. A long time." His awed expression made her want to cry for him. She couldn't imagine being banned from daylight and the rest of the world.
"Can you show me more?"
"Sure." She leaned forward to take his hand.
He hissed as if she'd burned him, and jerked it out of her grasp.
"I was only going to show you how to navigate the browser. Don't you want to learn how to do this without me?"
Seth hesitated. No. He didn't want think of a time when she wouldn't be here to do this for him.
But he couldn't keep her and he knew it.
"Okay." He slowly held his hand out for her.
Lydia would have laughed had it not been so tragic that he was so reluctant for her touch. She brushed her hand over his bruised, swollen knuckles and laid his hand on the touchpad. The cuts there scraped her palm as she showed him how to use the pointer and click to get to what he wanted to see. There were vicious scars on his wrist that looked like someone had tried to cut off his hand.
What had they done to him?
She could feel every one of his tendons and muscles moving. More than that, she could smell the masculine scent of his skin and hair. Those two things combined were enough to make her salivate.
Even worse was the sudden desire she had to tease his earlobe with her tongue.
He'd probably hit the ceiling like a rocket if she tried. That thought made her laugh.
Until he grimaced at her. "What did I do wrong?"
"I wasn't laughing at you. It was just a silly thought I had that had nothing to do with the laptop."
Leaning back in the hard chair, she watched him explore every photo in great detail.
Her gaze went to the bruises on his face and the vicious dark blue handprint on his throat. Injuries that reminded her of where and how they'd met.
A part of her wanted to strike him over what he'd done to Solin. It'd been so cruel.
Worse, he would have killed Solin had she not been there to stop him. How could she have forgotten that?
Don't let him fool you. He's evil to the core of his being.
And yet, she'd seen more to him than just a soulless killer. Besides, she knew plenty of people who thought Solin was the epitome of darkness. Those who had tried their best to kill him. In turn, he'd killed others.
Things were never black-and-white. But rather varying shades of gray.
"Why did you torture Solin?"
He paused as a muscle began to thump a steady rhythm in his jaw. "Noir told me to."
"Do you do everything Noir tells you to do?"
He turned that cold gaze to her with a fury that terrified her. "I'm not weak," he growled between clenched teeth.
The horrendous scars all over his body testified to that. Those wounds would have killed anyone else. Or at least left them hiding in a hole somewhere. "I didn't say you were."
"You implied it."
Maybe. But ... "I'm just trying to understand your role here. What does a Guardian do?"
The shame she'd seen earlier was again mirrored in his eyes. "I enforce Noir's laws."
"How so?"
"What do you think? I punish the ones who break them." He was arguing in circles and refusing to answer her question. She couldn't tell if it was deliberate or so ingrained in him that he couldn't help it.
"How do you decide what punishment to give them?"
"I don't."
Now she got it completely. "You do what Noir says."
He nodded slowly and it was obvious how much he hated what he was forced to do. It bled from every molecule of his body.
But that only confused her more. "As powerful as you are, why don't you leave this place?"
He clenched his teeth before he answered. "I can't leave any more than you can."
"You're a prisoner, too?"
"I'm his slave," he hissed with enough venom to bring down an elephant on PCP.
Oh. That changed things a lot. She didn't know how Noir kept him here, but it must be strong stuff. No wonder he was so miserable.
No wonder he'd wanted to see sunlight.
Lydia swallowed hard as pain for him moved deep inside her heart. He didn't deserve this.
No one did.
"If you return my powers to me, I can free you."
He curled his lip at her. "I know better. I fell for that lie once. I won't do it again."
"Fell for what lie?"
Seth moved away from her as he tried not to remember the last time someone had promised to free him. He'd upheld his part of the bargain, and ...
No one would ever help him. No one. It was the one lesson he'd learned most while pinned in hell. And it was a mistake he would never be so stupid as to repeat.
Not ever.
He was here to stay. Nothing could be done about that and all fighting did was get him hurt more. Every time he'd attempted to run, Noir had brought him back and made him regret it.
I'm through being stupid.
And that meant finding what Noir required before the bastard summoned him again. "I need information on the key. Show me how to search."
She sighed heavily. "Yes, Master." Her voice was strange and staccato as she said that. "Whatever it is you require." She narrowed her gaze on him, then returned to her regular voice. "You could say please once in a while, you know? It won't hurt you. Kindness never does."
He scoffed at that bullshit. "You're a naive fool if you believe that. Kindness destroys the one who gives it, every time."
"I'm not a demon."
"You don't have to be. Trust me."
Lydia hesitated in her typing as she caught the odd note in his voice. It gave her a sudden insight into him. "Has no one ever been kind to you?"
Seth didn't speak as he remembered the handful of years after he'd been saved from the desert. He'd been happy there for a time. His foster family had been kind.
Or so he thought.
But in the end, all that had done was make their betrayal even more cruel than his mother's and father's. At least to his memory his parents had never pretended to care for him. He'd always known where he stood with them.
It was the lies that had hurt the most.
No, it was the belief that his adoptive family had cared. That he'd meant something to them when he hadn't. How else could they have turned on him the way they had when all he'd ever done was love and cherish them? He'd always done his chores without being asked and without complaint. Not a day had gone by when he hadn't told them how grateful he was to have them in his life.
And for what purpose?
He had loved them and they had only used him for free labor. And in the end, they'd sold him like he was nothing but an unwanted piece of furniture.
Seth swallowed hard against the bitterness that was his constant companion. "Kindness is a lie and I don't want anything to do with it."
Her features indecipherable, she didn't speak as she ran his search. When she started clicking on things, he couldn't make them out.
"I don't understand what that is."
She read over the results for him. "Olympus is also a brand of camera. All of these hits have to do with it and not the mountain in Greece. What exactly are you after?"
"I don't know. Noir said it was something that belonged to Solin. Something he can use to access Olympus and kill Zeus."
Lydia widened her eyes in shock. "You would make Noir even more powerful than he already is? Why?"
"Because when I tried to weaken him, it didn't go so well for me."
"What do you mean?"
Seth flinched as he saw Noir's face all those years ago when he'd discovered what Seth had done. It was not a moment he ever wanted repeated. "Nothing."
Lydia yearned to kick him for his blind stupidity where Noir was concerned. "Don't you understand what Noir will do if he regains his full powers?"
He cut a glare at her that seared her to her seat. "What I understand is what he'll do to me if I don't get him what he wants." He ran his hand under his chin where that ugly scar lay. "I have to have that key."
"And you don't care who you hurt to get it?"
"Why should I?"
She couldn't believe the honest sincerity behind that one question. "Because it's wrong. You don't hurt people."
"They hurt me."
"No. They don't. People are decent and-"
"Wretch!" A female screech echoed through his room, cutting Lydia's words off. "Here. Now!"
"Azura," he whispered. "I have to go."
He vanished instantly.
Lydia sighed in disgust. She couldn't believe she was trapped here. With him. But at least she wasn't being beaten.
However, as she sat there, listening to a silence that was deafening, she had a bad feeling that wasn't going to last much longer.
Something horrible was coming for her.
She knew it.