Seth stared at Lydia in a state of complete and utter shock as the sight of her sent fire burning through every part of his body. And that heat concentrated itself right in his groin. Why did I give her that one?
Why did she have to choose it?
A low-cut, rust-colored dress, it hugged her curves in a way that should be illegal. More than that, the color heightened the gold in her eyes, making them all the more vibrant.
As if she needed that.
His cock swelled against the metal plates to the point it caused him pain. Vicious, biting pain. But not even that was enough to distract him from the deep V that showed the swell of her breasts. Breasts with nipples that were tight and jutting through the silken material. He could see every outline of them. His throat went dry even as his mouth salivated for a taste.
He rose to his feet.
Lydia hesitated as she felt the weight of his icy stare on every part of her. The way he looked at her ...
It was terrifying.
"Did I do something wrong?"
When he didn't answer right away, she really started to panic.
Finally, after an extremely long minute, he blinked. "No, not at all." He picked his book up and returned it to the desk. "I ... um ... I saw those on the computer last night. I wasn't sure if they were right or not."
"I don't know how you did it, but they all fit perfectly." As if they'd been tailored to her body. "Thank you."
Still, she hated that his makeup was back in place and his hair straightened out again with that small ponytail holding his bangs back out of his eyes.
She missed the kinder looking Guardian. The fearsome one was ...
Well, scary as all get out. And as hard as it was to decipher his emotions without the makeup, it was ten times harder with those red and black lines that kept his face in a perpetual snarl.
With his mercurial mood swings, she didn't like being without those facial clues.
Completely stoic, he stepped away from the desk so that she could see he had a tray waiting for her. One with banana pancakes, muffins, eggs, bacon, and juice. Her stomach rumbled at the abundance.
"I hope all of this means you're planning to join me."
He shook his head.
Lydia sat down and reached for the empty plate. "Don't you ever eat?"
"Sometimes." There was a peculiar note in his voice that made her wary.
"You do consume food for nourishment, right?"
His eyes flashed angrily. "I don't eat babies or drink blood if that's what you're implying."
She held her hands up in surrender. "It didn't even cross my mind. Why are you so defensive about everything?"
That familiar tic started in his jaw. "I get tired of being accused of things that I'm not. Of doing things I haven't done."
She could understand that. No one liked being misjudged, though it might help if he looked a little less terrifying. "I'm not accusing you of anything. I was only curious about you. You don't eat. You don't sleep. How do you live?"
When he spoke, his voice was completely flat and empty. "I don't die."
His answer confused her. "Huh?"
He looked away as he paced the same path she'd worn out the first night she'd been here. "It's not that I live so much as it is I can't die. So it doesn't matter if I eat or sleep. My body will continue functioning without either."
"Were you born immortal?"
"Apparently. I certainly wouldn't have chosen this existence otherwise."
Yeah, she could believe that. Who would want to live here? Even for immortality. It wasn't worth it.
She, too, was immortal. A gift from her father. It was something she hadn't realized until she'd lived long after most Were-Hunters died.
And, like the Guardian, she'd never physically aged past her midtwenties. "When did you find out you were immortal?"
"When I was seven."
She poured syrup over her pancakes and savored the delectable scent. "What happened? Did you get sick or have an accident?"
The anguish in his eyes broke her heart. "I have to attend my duties. I shall return when I can. If you need me, just call and I will hear you."
Lydia sighed as he vanished. He was such a mystery to her. And his kindness belied the cruelty she knew he was capable of. She pulled the laptop over to her and turned it on to see if Solin had responded.
She smiled the moment she saw his e-mail in her inbox. He'd written to her in the Greek she'd learned as a child.
My most precious one,
I won't leave you there. Stay strong for me and I will free you just as soon as I can. I love you more than anything and I swear to you that I will come for you no matter what.
She touched the words on the screen, grateful more than ever that she had him in her life. There was nothing she wouldn't do for him.
Soon she would be home again.
And the Guardian would still be trapped here ...
* * *
Seth stayed at his post, which was three steps behind Noir, as the ancient prick did his rounds with the prisoners Noir kept chained in the lowest pits of his golden castle. For now his master's attention was focused on their abuse and not his.
But how long would that last?
As if he heard the question, Noir glanced at him over his shoulder. "How goes your quest, maggot?"
"I'm close to having it, my lord. Of course it would be easier to find it if I could leave this realm, and-"
Noir ended his words with a vicious backhand. "You know better than to ask that of me."
Seth wiped the blood away that ran down his chin as he used his tongue to see if he'd lost any teeth from the blow. Though several were loosened, all remained.
And Lydia wanted to know why he didn't eat ... It was hard to chew when his mouth and throat were forever damaged. Biting into anything, even something as soft and bland as a banana, hurt too much. Not to mention the juices and spices went straight into the cuts on his lips and into the tenderest part of his sore gums and throat-something that always set them to throbbing in the worst sort of way.
The unrelenting hunger and thirst pangs were so much easier to bear than any of that.
"Forgive me, Master."
Noir sneered at him. "There is no forgiveness for something as pathetic and stupid as you. No wonder your father refused to claim you. If I'd been your mother, I'd have left you to die, too."
Seth didn't speak as Noir continued to rail against him. It was a litany he'd heard so often that it played perpetually in his head even when Noir wasn't around.
But this time, he thought of Lydia in his bed and that image drove away the pain of Noir's words. The pain of his next blow.
Would she be reading right now? Or perhaps listening to her music while she ... surfed, that was the word, the Internet?
He was so focused on the comfort of her, that he didn't see Noir stop at the door of one of the questioning chambers.
Noir grabbed him by the throat in a grip so fierce, it instantly dropped him to his knees. Seth knelt in front of him, wheezing through his damaged windpipe. His vision dimmed.
Don't lose consciousness. If he did, Noir might pull him into one of those rooms again.
Panic set his heart racing. He couldn't take another minute pinned to one of those tables. He couldn't.
"Are you paying attention to me, dog?"
Before he could answer, an alarm blared.
Noir let go, leaving him to gasp air back into his lungs.
"Summon my legion! We have intruders."
Coughing and still wheezing, Seth pushed himself up and disobeyed his master to go to his room, and make sure Lydia was safe from harm. He had a bad feeling about who was here and what they wanted.
Surely Solin wouldn't have been able to assemble an army so quickly. But what if he had?
He'd never see Lydia again. That thought hurt even more than Noir's beatings. Indeed, it felt as if someone was tearing his heart into pieces.
Seth shimmered in the corner and looked around.
She wasn't here.
For the first time since he lay in the desert begging to die, he wanted to cry from the pain of it.
But after he'd materialized fully in the room, she ran out of the shadows with her breakfast knife held tight in her fist.
The rush of joy and relief in seeing her there overwhelmed him. Before he even realized what he was doing, he pulled her into his arms and held her close.
Lydia was absolutely stunned as she found herself crushed against those cold metal plates. The only person who'd ever held her like this was Solin.
As if she was the most precious thing in the world to him.
If she didn't know better, she would swear she felt the Guardian shaking while he held her. He had one hand cradling her head and the other arm wrapped so tight around her waist that she couldn't breathe.
She was so small next to him that her head only reached to the middle of his chest.
"You're ... crushing ... me." Her words came out in desperate gasps.
His hold tightened even more before he released her and stepped back. Panic radiated from his gaze as he bent down to inspect her for damage. "Are you all right?"
Whoa, that was actual concern.
"Uh, yeah. What's going on?"
He finally realized he was still touching her. The moment he did, he let go and moved back another step. "Someone's attacking us."
"I don't know." He reached out to touch her face, then stopped his hand just before he made contact.
But before he could withdraw it, she took it into hers and held it tight. "Were you afraid he'd taken me?"
His brows lowered into one of his fiercest expressions. It was so dark and deadly that she thought he was angry at her-that he might actually damage her. "I was afraid you were hurt."
Seth had no idea why he let her know that. It was a weakness he shouldn't have. He shouldn't care whether she lived or died.
And yet ...
He would do anything to keep her safe. He knew that now.
She wasn't a tool to be used against Solin.
Lydia was the woman who could be used to destroy him. He winced at the undeniable truth. How could I have been so stupid? Never had he cared about anyone or anything other than his books, and look at how Noir had tormented him over those.
The bastard had made him watch as he burned them in front of him and dared him to try and save them. Page by page, one by one. Noir took his only pleasure from making others suffer.
He would torture and kill Lydia and in turn, that would destroy him.
How would he be able to live if he knew he'd caused her harm? How?
Before he could gather his thoughts, the door he'd banished from his room reappeared to his left. He pulled Lydia behind him, then turned to face whoever was pounding against it.
An instant later it crashed open.
Lydia gasped as she saw the demons that were spilling into the room. They definitely weren't Greek. She'd never seen anything like them in real life or in nightmares.
Suddenly, some unseen force pulled her back toward the bed and held her there as the Guardian attacked the demons.
She had a newfound respect for his prowess as she watched him battle them. They would get a wound in here or there, but he paid no attention to it as he cut them into pieces with his sword.
Dang, he was a great fighter. Probably one of the best she'd ever seen. How awful it had to be for a man so strong and skilled to be forced to subjugate himself to the cruel whims of Noir and Azura. She hadn't realized the true horror of his predicament until now.
To know you had the ability to fight like that and to be tortured the way he was ...
How could he stand it?
He stabbed the last one through the heart, then turned toward her. The shield holding her fell and her high heels melted into a pair of running shoes. "Come, Lydia. It's not safe here anymore." To her complete shock, he held his hand out to her.
Hoping that wasn't a sign of the Apocalypse, she ran to him and took it.
He pulled her out into the hallway, where the sounds of fighting echoed loudly. An instant later, a full suit of armor covered her.
She looked up at the Guardian, who handed her a sword.
"Do you know how to use one of these?"
"Of course. Pointy end goes into the other guy, hopefully through the heart."
He inclined his head respectfully to her. She didn't miss the look in his eyes that said he half expected her to use it on him-like she'd done with her dagger the first time they met. The fact that he gave it to her when he didn't trust her said a lot.
"Who's attacking us?"
He sighed. "It looks like Thorn's people."
"He lives on the other side of the Divide. Normally he and Noir have a truce. But every now and again..." His voice trailed off as a winged demon swooped down at them.
Lydia caught the demon just as it went past, stabbing it through the heart.
The demon shrieked before it hit the ground behind her.
Without a single comment, the Guardian led her away from the fighting. She wasn't sure where they were heading until he opened a door and shoved her through it.
"What the hell?" a man growled in a tone so deadly, it startled her.
Her heart pounding in stark terror, she turned to see a tall dark-haired man on the other side of the room. He would have been every bit as handsome as the Guardian except for his eyes, which were so off-putting and unnerving they completely took him down several slots on the hotness scale. One was a vivid green while the other a deep, dark brown.
She shivered at the sight of them. And like the Guardian, the ferocity of his powers thrummed through the ether. She didn't know who he was or what he did here, but it was obvious he could eat her for lunch if he wanted to.
The Guardian locked the door and confronted the other man with his bloodied sword held out to his side. "You owe me, Jaden. Watch her and make sure she doesn't leave here."
Jaden laughed sarcastically. "Are you out of your freaking mind, Egyptian?"
The Guardian's nostrils flared. "It's the least you can do after what you did to me."
Whatever Jaden had done in the past caused him to wince. "I would ask if you have any idea what would happen to me if those assholes found her in my custody, but you know better than anyone the tab on that. Gods damn you for it."
"You're a little late, they already did." The Guardian glanced at her, then looked back at Jaden. "You're the only one here besides me who has the powers to protect her. Don't you dare betray me."
Jaden cocked his jaw as if he was considering betrayal after all. Or more to the point, putting the Guardian through a wall for daring to threaten him. "It's pathetic when you and I have to become allies." He sighed in disgust. "My enemy's enemy, I guess ... Fine, I'll watch her. But only because it's you. I wouldn't put my ass on the line for anyone else."
The Guardian inclined his head to him, then used an expression Lydia hadn't even known he knew. "Thank you. I won't forget this."
His face unreadable, Jaden looked past the Guardian to the doorway. Shouts and metal clanking against metal and stone echoed through the wooden door. "What's going on out there?"
"I'm not sure. I'll be back as soon as I can." The Guardian left them, then slammed the door closed, and bolted it from the outside.
Like the Guardian's, this room was dismal and bleak. Only Jaden had a fire blazing in his stone hearth, and his bed looked like he actually used it.
Jaden's gaze darkened as he scanned her from head to toe in a less than friendly manner. One that made her hackles rise.
"Seth doesn't know, does he?"
She scowled at his question. "Who's Seth?"
Jaden twisted his face up into an expression that questioned her mental capacity. "Hello? The Guardian who was just here, the big-ass guy with red hair, holding your hand and stupidly threatening me? Did you miss seeing him somehow?"
So that was the Guardian's name ... Seth.
Strong and sinister, just like the man who bore it.
Jaden rolled his eyes. "He never told it to you, huh? Typical ... Just typical."
"He said no one used it."
"Then how do you know it?"
Jaden laughed cruelly. "I know everything. Unlike Seth, I have my full powers most of the time. And you're really lucky he doesn't."
"'Cause when he finds out you're a jackal, he will kill you where you stand and bathe joyfully in your blood."