There’s nothing like breaking things to lift a girl’s spirits when she’s had a lousy day. I’d been having a lot of lousy days lately.
I hefted a fat ballpoint pen, wondering if it was heavy enough to break one of the bottles I’d lined up on the opposite side of the clearing. Only one way to find out.
I sighted at a little eight-ounce Coke bottle, then pulled back my arm and threw the pen at it with all the strength I could muster. Pens aren’t exactly aerodynamic, so my weapon’s flight path was erratic at best. But seeing as I was a descendant of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, I had infallible aim. The pen tinked against the Coke bottle, making it waver on the fallen log I’d dragged into the clearing to hold my targets. Waver but not fall or break. Having infallible aim didn’t mean I had the pitching arm of a Major League Baseball player.
Regular throwing practice was definitely making my arm stronger—when I’d first started, I never would have hit the bottle from this distance—but I was out here to break things, not just prove I could hit them. I bent over and dug into the tote bag I’d stuffed full of small, throwable household items. I pulled out a satisfyingly heavy ceramic coaster. Not exactly something you’d think of as a deadly weapon, but I was betting it would do the trick.
Instead of throwing overhand, this time I threw sidearm, thinking the coaster would fly more like a Frisbee. It wasn’t the prettiest throw in the world, but it was accurate and hard. The bottle shattered into a satisfying spray of glass fragments, the force of the hit strong enough to break the coaster in two. Much more satisfying than the pen toss. If I’d been aiming at a person, I’d have done significant damage.
“I thought a petty thief had robbed the house, but now I see you were just gathering ammunition.”
The voice came from behind me, and I couldn’t help a little squeal of surprise as I whirled around to find Anderson Kane watching me.
Anderson was the leader of a small band of Liberi—immortal descendants of the ancient gods—who held to the lofty ideal that the Liberi should use their supernatural powers to help make the world a better place. I was the newest and most reluctant member of that band. We all lived together in Anderson’s enormous mansion, although I had yet to acknowledge the place as home. I wasn’t planning to give up my condo anytime soon, and I tried to spend the night there, in my own bed, at least once a week.
Anderson was also a god—not just the descendant of a god like the rest of his people but a real god, son of Thanatos and Alecto. Death and Vengeance, to their friends. He was also the only being in the universe—that I knew of, at least—who could destroy a Liberi’s seed of immortality. Mortal descendants of the gods could steal a seed by killing a Liberi, but only Anderson could actually destroy it, as I’d learned when I’d seen him reduce two Liberi to nothing more than a pile of empty clothes. I was one of only two people who knew his secret identity, and I hadn’t been able to look at him the same way since I’d found out.
“Do you know how hard it is for me to find any time to myself in this place?” I grumbled at him, because even though he intimidated the hell out of me, I tried not to show it.
Anderson glanced at his watch. “I saw you storm out here about a half hour ago. I figured I’d given you enough time to do whatever brooding you needed to do.”
I clamped my jaws shut to keep from saying anything I might regret. Anderson looked like such a normal, unprepossessing guy, everything about him “medium.” Medium height, medium build, medium brown hair . . . You get the picture. But I’d seen him without his human disguise, and I knew beyond a doubt that I didn’t want to piss him off.
“I’m not brooding,” I ground out. “I’m doing target practice.”
“Yes, I can see that. But I’ve noticed a strong correlation between you doing target practice and you being out of sorts about something. So tell me what’s wrong.”
The way he phrased that—like a command, not a question—rubbed me the wrong way, but then, just about everything was rubbing me the wrong way this afternoon.
“Nothing that matters to you,” I said, sounding a little more sullen than I’d have liked. Have I mentioned it had been a really lousy day?
Anderson gave me one of his reproving looks. He was really good at them, and I decided I’d get rid of him sooner if I just told him what was eating me.
“There was a fire at my office building,” I said, kicking at a patch of crabgrass. I was still nominally a private investigator. It said so on the door to my office. I’d had to put my work on hiatus when I’d first become Liberi, but now I was trying to resume at least part of my normal life. Which involved making money to live on. I might be getting free room and board at Anderson’s mansion, but I was still paying rent and utilities on my condo, not to mention making car payments. I’d managed to work two whole jobs before today’s setback. No, not setback, disaster.
“Some idiot left his space heater running when he went home for the night. Between the smoke damage and the dousing from the sprinkler system, my office is pretty much DOA,” I continued. Insurance would reimburse me for the damages but not for the lost business or for the cost of the temporary office space I was going to have to find.
I kicked at the crabgrass again. Not that long ago, I’d been in a horrendous car accident. Well, it was an accident on my part, at least. Emmitt Cartwright, one of Anderson’s Liberi, had strolled right into the middle of an ice-slicked road. He knew I was a mortal Descendant and therefore one of the only people in the world who could kill him. He’d used me to commit suicide, and by killing him, I’d inadvertently stolen his seed of immortality and turned life as I knew it on its ear.
The ripple effect of that accident was still causing me unexpected headaches. For example, I’d practically emptied my savings account to make the down payment on my new car, the old one having been totaled. Normally, that wouldn’t have been a hardship, but now that I no longer had any money coming in, it was a different story. It sure looked like I was going to have to do something I’d vowed never to do: dip into my trust fund.
My adoptive parents had set up trust funds for me and their daughter, Steph, when we were kids. Steph had no qualms about living on that money, but I had steadfastly refused to touch it. It felt too much like charity, and as much as I loved them, I could never quite get over the feeling that I wasn’t their “real” daughter. It was all right for their real daughter to use their money but not for me. Neurotic, maybe, but there you have it.
“Do you need some money?” Anderson asked.
“I’ll be fine,” I said, and it was true. I was going to have to swallow my pride, and I was going to feel like a hypocrite for touching that trust fund, but I wasn’t facing financial ruin. All I had to do was get over my stupid hang-up. “I don’t need charity.”
There was a spark of something that might have been anger in Anderson’s eyes, and I reminded myself who I was talking to. This was not someone I wanted to pick a fight with.
“I wasn’t offering you charity,” he said. “I was offering you a job.”
That took me entirely by surprise. “Huh?”
He smiled faintly at the face I must have made. “I was trying to give you more time to acclimate before springing this on you, but it seems fate had a different idea. One of the things I and my people do is help other Liberi and their families who are trying to escape the Olympians.”
The Olympians are a group of Liberi descended from Greek gods. They do some truly awful things, slaughtering whole families of Descendants to protect their own immortality. Occasionally, they spare a small child and raise it as one of their own, indoctrinating it to their values of superiority, privilege, and cruelty. They had a whole flock of Descendant toadies, all vying for the privilege of being given a sacrificial Liberi from whom to steal the seed of immortality. Whenever the Olympians stumbled on Liberi who weren’t descended from Greek gods or who refused to accept the natural order of things as dictated by the Olympians, they gave those Liberi to their pet Descendants to kill, and a new Olympian was born.
“Not everyone we help wants to join us,” Anderson continued, then smiled ruefully. “And sometimes I’m not inclined to issue an invitation.”
I frowned. “Then how is it you help them, exactly? Financially?”
He nodded. “That’s one thing. But most important, we help them go into hiding, make sure the Olympians can never find them.”
“You mean like a Liberi witness protection program?”
He grinned. “Exactly.” The grin faded. “We’ve been doing this for years, and we’ve helped a lot of people. I think we do a damn good job, but we’re not pros at this, and we’ve lost a couple of people.”
“So what is it you want me to do?”
“I want you to go over the records for everyone we’ve hidden. See if you find any flaws in their cover, and then help us move them again with better cover if necessary. I’ll pay you a retainer for as long as it takes to get all of the covers examined and patched.”
The clanging sound in my head was the peal of warning bells. I had already been sucked into Anderson’s merry band more deeply than I could ever have imagined. I was living in the freaking mansion, for Pete’s sake! I’d spent too much time in foster care as a kid to allow myself to depend on anyone too much. The idea of fitting in somewhere, of being part of a family, of belonging, was my Holy Grail. But the Holy Grail wasn’t real, and I knew better than to seek it. The last thing I needed was to let Anderson get even more hooks into me than he already had.
“Thanks for the offer,” I said, “but I’d rather go it on my own. I haven’t spent all this time building up my business just to abandon it at the first sign of trouble.”
Anderson probably heard the falseness in my words. It wasn’t commitment to my own business that made me refuse, but that was the most convenient excuse I could come up with off the cuff. Of course, I should have known better than to think Anderson would take no for an answer.
“Perhaps I wasn’t completely clear about what I was asking,” Anderson said. “People have gotten killed because we didn’t do a good enough job of hiding them. I’m asking you to help me protect people who will be murdered—or worse—if their covers are blown. Surely, saving lives is more important than maintaining your independence.”
Ah, the guilt trip. It was a highly effective tactic against me, and yet . . .
“Wait a minute. You want me to examine your records to see if these people are well enough hidden?”
Anderson was not an idiot, and I was sure he knew exactly what I was getting at. However, he didn’t budge, giving me a look of polite, bland inquiry. Making me put it into words.
“Why the hell would you keep records on people you’re trying to make disappear? It’s like burying your treasure and then spray-painting a giant X on the spot.”
“Only if the Olympians got hold of those records, and of course, we’re very careful with them.”
“You know why.”
Of course I did. Anderson was capable of being a nice guy, but he was also a ruthless and manipulative son of a bitch when it served his purpose. “You want to make sure you can find them if you ever need them for something.”
Hiding these Liberi fugitives gave Anderson a huge amount of power over them. If he needed something, and they refused him, he could hand them over to the Olympians. I didn’t know if even he was ruthless enough to do such a thing, but it would make for a compelling threat.
“Nikki, you might not like how I go about things, but I am trying to keep these people safe, and I could sure use your help.”
And I needed the money, unless I dipped into the trust fund. Which was the lesser of two evils: tapping the trust fund or letting Anderson draw me ever deeper into his world?
I was already being forced to live in the mansion because of the treaty Anderson had crafted with the Olympians. The Olympians had agreed that Anderson’s Liberi and their families would be off limits, and living in the mansion was what made someone “Anderson’s Liberi.” If I didn’t live in the mansion, the Olympians would be free to continue their efforts to recruit me—efforts that included tactics like raping my sister. The Olympians had justified the attack by saying that Steph didn’t count as family because we weren’t blood relatives. Anderson had killed the bastard who hurt Steph, and Konstantin—the self-styled “king” of the Olympians—had sent a specious apology along with a promise to leave my adoptive family alone as long as I was one of Anderson’s Liberi.
“Did you set the fire at my office to twist my arm into accepting this offer?” I asked, wondering at my ability to see Anderson as one of the good guys and yet still suspect him of something like that.
“No,” he said, completely unoffended by the accusation. “You’ll do it because you want to save lives, not because you need the money.”
Anderson hadn’t known me all that long, but he already had me pegged. If there weren’t lives at stake, I’d have chosen taking money from the trust fund as the lesser of two evils in the end. I was already forced to depend on Anderson for room and board, thanks to his stupid treaty with the Olympians. To be forced to depend on him for my salary, too, was something I’d have greatly preferred to avoid.
But seriously, money aside, how could I justify using my abilities to track down deadbeat dads and people who skipped out on their bills when people’s lives were potentially at risk? I knew I was being manipulated. But I also knew I couldn’t live with myself if people got killed because of my selfish desire not to be subsumed.
“I want my old life back,” I said sourly.
Anderson just gave me that knowing look of his
Early January is not the best time to enjoy the outdoors in Arlington, but Anderson and his bitchy wife, Emma, were having a screaming argument in the house, and outside seemed the best place to be to avoid hearing it. I closed the front door behind me, and the shouting voices were muffled down to a low buzz. The winter air bit at my cheeks, and I stuffed my hands into the pockets of my jacket to keep them warm. Definitely not my favorite kind of weather, but the silence was sweet and soothing.
Figuring that I could handle the cold for a while, I sat on the picturesque porch swing and tried to pretend my life was my own. The illusion was hard to uphold when I lived in the mansion and spent my days working for Anderson, examining the covers he had built for the Liberi he had hidden.
He’d actually done a surprisingly good job, in large part thanks to Leo, our resident descendant of Hermes, who had become a computer genius in order to better keep his finger on the pulse of the financial world. I hadn’t found too many blatant holes in the covers so far, though I’d patched many small ones and still had a long way to go before I was finished.
My feet had gone numb, and I was beginning to think it was time to go in, when I noticed an unfamiliar car navigating the long driveway. I shivered in the freezing air as I watched the car approach, wondering who it could be. We didn’t exactly get a lot of visitors at the mansion. That was sort of the point of the place. Whoever this was, someone was expecting them, since they had to be buzzed through the front gate.
I heard the door open behind me and turned to find Anderson stepping out to join me on the porch.
“Back inside, Nikki,” he said, jerking his thumb at the house. “We’re meeting in the formal living room.”
I swallowed to contain my instinctive retort. I wasn’t fond of being ordered around. A few weeks ago, when I’d thought Anderson was “just” a Liberi, I probably would have told him so. I wasn’t a timid person, but I found I couldn’t look at Anderson anymore without picturing him as the pillar of white fire he had turned into when he’d shed his disguise, and that image was more than enough to discourage my smart mouth.
I stifled my urge to protest and ducked back inside the mansion as Anderson waited on the porch for our mysterious visitors. The warm air flushed my cheeks, and they were probably red enough to look sunburned. Guess I’d been outside longer than I’d realized.
I made my way to the formal living room. I think the last time I’d set foot in there had been when Maggie gave me the grand tour of the house the night I’d moved in. It really was a formal living room, and Anderson’s Liberi were a decidedly informal bunch.
The sofa and many of the chairs were already filled with other members of Anderson’s household, with the notable exception of Emma. I guessed that meant her fight with Anderson was over—or at least on temporary hiatus. It was well nigh impossible to win a fight with Anderson, and Emma didn’t take well to losing. Often, she flounced off in a huff afterward; other times, she’d go completely nonresponsive, staring off into space. She’d been Konstantin’s prisoner for about a decade, until I’d found her and rescued her (with Anderson’s help). When we’d first brought her back to the mansion, she’d been the next best thing to catatonic, and sometimes I harbored the guilty thought that I’d liked her better that way.
The woman was disturbed, no doubt about it, and there was only so much slack I was willing to cut her for the trauma she’d been through. I couldn’t help wondering if some—if not all—of her “episodes” were faked, meant to guilt Anderson into being more agreeable. Sometimes it seemed to work. Other times, not so much.
I sat on a chair that, judging by the hardness of its seat and the carved knobs that dug into my back, was meant to be more ornamental than functional and leaned over toward Maggie. She was the closest thing I had to a friend among the Liberi.
“Any idea what’s up?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “We have visitors, and I’m guessing it’s Olympians, because Anderson gave us his ‘my house, my rules’ speech.”
I made what I was sure was an ugly face. Anderson trotted out that phrase whenever he made an unpopular decision—like, for instance, when he invited me to live in the mansion. I was pretty sure that if it came down to a vote, I would be out on my ear. They were a close-knit bunch, Anderson’s Liberi, and I was very much on the outside looking in.
“Sorry I missed it,” I muttered, and Maggie laughed. She was a descendant of Zeus through Heracles, and she had the super strength to prove it. She was also by far the nicest of any of the Liberi I’d met. “Why would an Olympian be coming here?” I asked. I wouldn’t quite say we were at war with the Olympians, but it was close. I suspected I knew what Anderson and Emma had been fighting about—her hatred for Konstantin and the Olympians was truly epic.
“I’m guessing we’re about to find out,” she said, jerking her chin toward the front, where Anderson was leading three people—two men flanking one woman—into the living room.
The woman was petite and fine-boned, like me, but that was where the resemblance ended. Her ash-blond hair was cut in a stylish bob, and though she wasn’t classically beautiful, she was striking. I’d guess her age at around thirty—if she weren’t Liberi, which meant she could be a thousand years old for all I knew. Her posture was regally straight, with an aristocratic tilt to her chin that said she thought she was better than everyone around her. But then, she was an Olympian, and feeling superior to all non-Olympians was one of the membership requirements. The navy-blue skirt suit she wore looked like it cost about as much as your average compact car.
Beside the woman was a guy, maybe early twenties, with coarse-looking black curls and olive skin. He wasn’t movie-star handsome, but he was roguishly cute, with a hint of dimples. He didn’t have the woman’s haughty demeanor, and he was dressed casually in jeans, a button-down shirt, and a slightly weathered sportcoat.
The other man had the look of hired muscle. Broad-shouldered, with buzz-cut hair and a square face, he was obviously wary of everyone in the room. The iridescent glyph on the side of his neck proclaimed him to be more than strictly human, but if I had to guess, I’d say he was a mortal Descendant, not a Liberi himself. At least, not yet.
Anderson invited the woman to sit in an armchair. When she crossed her legs, she made sure to flash the red soles of her Louboutins. Apparently, she wanted everyone to know that she was rich, because acting superior wasn’t obnoxious enough. There weren’t enough chairs for everyone, so our other two guests stood, the Liberi beside the woman’s chair, the Descendant behind, looking menacing. As a Descendant, he could do what no one else could: kill a Liberi, thereby stealing his or her immortality and becoming Liberi himself. Well, no one else but Anderson, but that was far from common knowledge. His eyes suggested he was sizing us all up.
Across from me, Blake leaned forward and glared at the woman. He was a descendant of Eros and had once been a reluctant Olympian himself, until Anderson had offered him an alternative.
“You wouldn’t be here if Anderson hadn’t given you safe passage,” he said. “Bringing your goon with you is an insult.”
There was a glimmer of amusement in the woman’s eyes. I doubted the insult had been unintentional, and Blake was giving her exactly the reaction she wanted. The goon didn’t seem to mind being talked about that way, and the other guy deepened his dimples by smiling.
“How do you know the goon isn’t mine?” he asked. His voice was pleasantly deep and mellow. “You could be taking Phoebe to task for something that is entirely my fault.”
Blake looked back and forth between the two men and shook his head. “He’s not your type, Cyrus.” There was noticeably less hostility in his voice when he addressed Cyrus.
Cyrus laughed, looking over his shoulder and giving the goon a visual once-over. “Too true,” he said, turning back to Blake. He leaned a hip against Phoebe’s chair and propped his elbow on the top of it, his casual demeanor a striking contrast to the goon’s menace and Phoebe’s stiffness.
“This is supposed to be a peaceful meeting, Blake,” Anderson chided. “Don’t start a fight.” He gave Blake a quelling look. Blake crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his seat.
Anderson turned his attention back to the two Liberi. “I believe you know everyone here except Nikki,” he said, gesturing to me. “Nikki, this is Cyrus, Konstantin’s son.”
I might have blinked a bit in surprise, though now that I knew he was Konstantin’s son, I could see the faint resemblance. Cyrus was much better-looking and didn’t immediately set my nerves on edge as Konstantin had the one time I’d met him. His smile looked genuinely friendly, but looks can be deceiving.
“And this is Phoebe,” Anderson continued.
“Also known as the Oracle,” Blake said, and my eyes widened.
Blake had told me about the Oracle once before. She was a descendant of Apollo, and she had visions of the future. According to Blake, her visions were usually impossible to interpret until after the fact. It was thanks to some vision of hers that the Olympians had found out about me in the first place, and that automatically made her not one of my favorite people.
Phoebe looked me up and down, her lip faintly curled with disdain. Apparently, she wasn’t impressed by what she saw. I can be sensitive about my looks sometimes, but I’d been looked down on by better snobs than Phoebe, and her disdain didn’t bother me.
Phoebe dismissed me with a little sniff, turning her attention back to Anderson. “Let’s not pretend a courtesy we don’t feel,” she said. “You don’t like us, we don’t like you, but at the moment, that’s beside the point.”
“Speak for yourself!” Cyrus said. “I like everybody.” His visual once-over had been just as assessing as Phoebe’s had been but far less unpleasant. I was certain he wasn’t a nice guy—otherwise, he wouldn’t be an Olympian—but he put up a better front than any other Olympian I had met.
Phoebe gave him an annoyed glance. “We’re here on business, remember?”
“I see no reason that should prevent us from being civil.”
Either they were doing a good cop/bad cop routine, or Phoebe and Cyrus didn’t much like each other. I put my money on the latter. The animosity between them seemed genuine.
“Why don’t you tell us why you’re here?” Anderson asked. I was sure he already knew, or he wouldn’t have let the Olympians set foot in his territory.
Phoebe uncrossed her legs—I wondered if she’d crossed them in the first place just so she’d have the excuse to flash her Louboutins—and got down to business. “I had a vision.”
“I’m shocked, shocked to hear that,” Blake stage-whispered.
Phoebe spared him a curl of her lip, then pretended to ignore him. Cyrus sucked in his cheeks as if he was trying not to laugh.
“One that concerns both the Olympians and you people.” There was a wealth of derision in the way she said that last part, and more than one of Anderson’s Liberi stiffened at the insult. A quelling look from Anderson forestalled any interruption, and Phoebe continued.
“If you’ve been reading the papers, you may have noticed that there have been a string of rather bizarre deaths in the area over the past three weeks.”
Once upon a time, I’d been pretty good at keeping up with the news. Being up-to-date on current events struck me as a job requirement for a private investigator, but I’d been so distracted by my new life that I’d been slack about it lately.
“You’re talking about the wild dog attacks, right?” asked Jack. He was a descendant of Loki, and making trouble was his religion. I wouldn’t have expected him to be up on current affairs—that smacked almost of responsibility, a concept he usually disdained.
Phoebe inclined her head without speaking. Perhaps she didn’t want to answer questions from “us people.”
Jack let out an exaggerated sigh and rolled his eyes heavenward. “You’ve found me out!” he cried, jumping to his feet. “My evil plan is foiled!”
The air around him shimmered, and moments later, he disappeared, replaced by a massive black dog that looked like a cross between an Irish wolfhound and a pit bull. It barked loudly enough to rattle my teeth, then let out a fierce growl and bit the air.
It seemed I was the only one taken aback by Jack’s little stunt. I’d had no idea he could do that. I made a mental note to look up Loki on the Internet when this meeting was over. Honestly, I should have spent some time researching everyone’s divine ancestors by now, but I was still trying to adjust to my new reality. I had enough trouble worrying about my own ancestor and abilities without looking into others’, at least for now. Maybe that was self-centered of me, but it helped protect my sanity.
Anderson shook his head in long-suffering patience. “Jack, sit. Stay. And shut up, while you’re at it.”
Jack gave him a doggie grin, complete with lolling tongue, then jumped back onto his chair, changing back into his human form in midair. I must have been staring at him in open amazement, because he turned to me and winked. I looked away quickly.
Phoebe was sneering again, and Cyrus’s eyes twinkled with humor. He seemed to think pretty much everything was funny—rather like Jack, come to think of it. It made him seem less dangerous, and I realized that was the point. With his dimpled cheeks, Cyrus wouldn’t be that good at overt menace, so camouflaging it to lull everyone into a false sense of security was probably a calculated strategy.
I put my speculation aside for the moment and looked at Phoebe. “What do wild dog attacks have to do with the Liberi?”
“They’re not really wild dog attacks,” she said, her every word dripping with condescension. Evidently, she didn’t have a very high opinion of my intelligence.
“Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t be here talking to us if they were,” I said. “I was just trying to move this conversation along.”
Phoebe glanced sidelong at Anderson, as if expecting him to chastise me for speaking out of turn. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, and then Phoebe continued.
“In my vision, I saw a man with a jackal’s head being dragged through an institutional-looking hallway under armed military escort. I believe that means there’s a Liberi behind these attacks and that he’s descended from Anubis.”
The sum total of my knowledge about Anubis was that he was an Egyptian god with a jackal’s head. Despite everything I’d seen and been through already, I always felt a little shock of incredulity when hearing about someone being descended from a god. A mental Yeah, right was still my natural reaction, although I’d feel stupid about it two seconds later.
“If I’m right,” Phoebe continued, “we have to stop him before the mortals track him down. If the government gets its hands on a Liberi . . . Well, it would be bad. For all of us.”
Blake snorted. “Notice how the fact that there’s a Liberi out there killing people is completely irrelevant to this discussion. If the Olympians weren’t worried about their own hides, they’d just sit back and enjoy the show.”
“I don’t see any sign that you’re out there hunting the killer already,” she retorted.
“Oh, we were supposed to know already that these wild dog attacks are actually the work of a Liberi?” He raised his eyebrows at her in a mockery of polite inquiry.
“You know now,” Cyrus interjected, surprising me by taking the heat off of Phoebe. Not that I thought she appreciated it. “We don’t have to have great and noble intentions, do we?”
“Maybe you ought to try it sometime,” Blake said. The words were antagonistic, and yet there wasn’t the same rancor in his voice when he spoke to Cyrus as there was when he spoke to Phoebe.
Cyrus shrugged. “I don’t think it would suit me. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure it suits you all that well, either.”
It wasn’t Blake’s fault he’d been an Olympian—before Anderson came along, the choice was join the Olympians or die—but I’d often thought his moral compass was a little short of due north. With his casual words, Cyrus seemed to have finally hit a nerve, and Blake clenched his jaw so hard I could see his bones outlined against his cheeks.
“So,” Anderson put in before tensions could escalate, “do you have any idea what this Liberi’s powers are? How is he killing these people? And why is he doing it, especially here, of all places?”
Here in the Liberi capital of the world, he meant. Because the Olympians were headquartered here, the D.C. area had the highest number of Liberi per capita of anywhere in the world, by a wide margin. It was like the killer was just daring the Olympians to come after him and “harvest” his immortality.
“We’re not sure how he’s doing it,” Phoebe answered. “Our best guess is that he can control anything canine and that when he wants to kill, he just summons all the stray dogs in the area and commands them to maul his victim. As for why . . .” She shook her head. “Either he doesn’t know the kind of danger he’s putting himself in, or he’s just plain crazy. Serial killers don’t necessarily need reasons—at least, not reasons that make sense to ordinary folk.”
Phoebe turned to fix her eyes on me. “We will, of course, do our best to help find this Liberi and stop him. However, now that you have a descendant of Artemis in your fold, you probably are better equipped for the hunt than we are.”
Although she was looking straight at me, she was obviously talking to Anderson. That didn’t stop me from answering.
“You left out one strong possibility for why Dogboy would be wreaking havoc in D.C.,” I said. “Like he knows perfectly well that this is the Olympian headquarters, and he has a major grudge against Olympians. I mean, I can’t imagine why, since you guys are all sweetness and light and everything, but I think the possibility bears examining.”
The look Phoebe gave me was positively chilling—I seem to have a talent for pissing off Olympians.
“I can’t imagine why someone who has a grudge against us would attack a bunch of mortals,” she said. “That would be more likely to hurt you than us.” She flashed Anderson a sly smile. “Perhaps it’s someone who has a grudge against you? You have been around a while, and I’m sure you’ve made some enemies in your day.”
I’d seen ample proof that Anderson had a temper, and a scary one at that, but he showed no sign that Phoebe’s insinuations had gotten under his skin.
“I’m not aware of any descendant of Anubis who might wish me ill,” he said mildly, “though I suppose it’s possible. I have, as you said, been around for a while. But then, so has Konstantin.”
She conceded the point with a shrug. “I don’t think it much matters why the killer is in D.C. He has to be stopped, before the mortals get their hands on him and our existence is exposed.”
The overwhelming concern for human life was touching, to say the least. But despite her selfish motivations, she was right, and this guy had to be stopped. Assuming anything she’d told us was the truth, though I couldn’t imagine what she’d have to gain by making this up.
Cyrus suddenly stood up straight for the first time, his gaze focused somewhere behind my left shoulder. I couldn’t resist glancing behind me to see what he was looking at.
Emma stood in the hallway, just outside the living room. Her glossy black hair hung loose around her shoulders, making her skin look even paler and more delicate than usual. The ruby-red lipstick heightened the effect even more, though I already knew she wasn’t as delicate as she looked.
Cyrus had stopped smiling, his expression turning solemn as he met Emma’s gaze. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Anderson stiffen ever so slightly, and I knew why. Konstantin and Alexis, his then right-hand man, had raped Emma while she was their prisoner. Anderson couldn’t help wondering if any of the other Olympians had participated. Emma, apparently, refused to talk about it.
I think Cyrus saw and understood the speculation in Anderson’s eyes, too, and he gave Emma a courtly half-bow.
“What my father did to you was unnecessarily cruel,” he said, and he sounded sincere enough. “He’ll never apologize for it himself, so I’ll do it on his behalf.”
Phoebe made a sound of annoyance. “Oh, stop posturing, Cyrus. I never heard you complaining during the years she was our ‘guest.’”
Emma stood silent and motionless in the hall; then she shivered and crossed her arms over her chest. I couldn’t imagine the hell she’d gone through, and for the moment, I forgot her frequent bitchy spells and just felt sorry for her.
“I’d have complained if I’d thought it would make a difference,” Cyrus said. His words seemed directed to Emma rather than Phoebe.
“Because you’re such an all-around nice guy?” Blake needled. His tone made the barb sound almost friendly, like there was no real rancor behind it. If I had to guess, I’d say Blake actually liked Cyrus, despite the antagonistic potshots he’d been taking.
Cyrus finally pried his gaze away from Emma and glanced at Blake, his expression solemn. “Because I’m not my father.”
Phoebe rolled her eyes and rose to her feet. “I think we’re done here.”
“I agree,” Anderson said tightly. This talk of Emma’s ordeal had clearly gotten to him. He stood up, his attention torn between Emma, who was now silently crying, and the Olympians, who were technically his guests—and whom he didn’t trust for a moment.
“I’ll show them to the door,” Blake offered.
Anderson nodded his approval, then quickly crossed to Emma and gathered her into his arms.
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