Acheron (Page 41)

Acheron (Dark-Hunter #15)(41)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

Leaning his head back against the door, he cursed over what had happened. What was so wrong with him that everyone past the age of puberty wanted to f**k him?

He was so tired of everyone grabbing at him, winking and looking suggestively. It wasn’t normal and now with Maia he realized something terrible.

He would never be able to have a normal relationship with anyone.

Father, sister, even childhood friend.

The moment someone went through puberty, it was over for him. Sick with the thought, he slid down the door and hated whatever curse the gods had given him.

June 22, 9527 BC

Tomorrow Acheron would reach his majority. One and twenty. He should be thrilled and yet the oracle’s words haunted him. More than that was the look on Maia’s face as she’d attempted to grab him.

"Something has to change," he said with a heavy sigh. His brother was still plotting his father’s murder and here he sat doing nothing except trying to stay out of everyone’s way, hoping they wouldn’t even see him.

"Acheron?"

He leaned his head back to find Ryssa joining him on the balcony. She narrowed her eyes at him. "You’re taking that stuff again, aren’t you?"

"Only for today and tomorrow," he admitted quietly.

"Why?"

Because Artemis had cut out his heart and he didn’t have the stamina to make it through the next two days without it.

It was their old fight. He’d asked the goddess to acknowledge him or at the very least come to him on the anniversary of his birth and she’d laughed in his face. More than that he was tired of watching all the special celebrations that were planned for the anniversary of Styxx’s birthday. Celebrations planned by a man whose life would soon be ended by the very son he coveted so zealously. Ironic, yes. But it didn’t stop it from hurting.

"Acheron." Ryssa gripped his chin and forced him to look at her. "Can you hear me?"

"Not really."

He saw the frustration in her eyes. "What am I going to do with you?"

"Beat me like everyone else."

She glared at him. "You’re not funny."

He wasn’t trying to be. It was a simple fact of his life that he moved everyone around him to extreme acts of violence.

She shook her head before she stepped back. "You know I won’t let Apollodorus near you when you’re like this."

That was the one drawback. "I know. It wouldn’t be very motherly of you. Not that I personally would know how mothers behave with their young. I think I saw it once in a play, only then the mother fed her baby to a lion. Too bad my own mother wasn’t so merciful, huh?"

She pulled his head against her shoulder and kissed him just behind the ear, then gently ruffled his hair. "Your hair is lighter than before. I think I like it this length. Did you get it cut?"

He shook his head. "Whoever cuts my hair wants to sleep with me afterward. I thought I’d let it grow until it either touches my toes or Father gets angry enough to shear it again. Maybe I ought to go make another offering to the gods. I hear Athena has a feast day coming up."

She let out an agitated breath. "You are in a mood today."

It was the drugs combined with his frustration. He’d always hated being like this in Atlantis. His sarcastic brashness had never been rewarded well. And it’d always killed him that they fed him the drugs, then punished him for the effects the drugs had on his mind and body.

Artemis had a strange loving hatred for this mood. At times she liked it and at others she’d punish him for it, too. Problem was, he could never tell how she’d receive it until it was too late.

Ryssa withdrew from him reluctantly. His pain was tangible and there was nothing she could do to alleviate it. She wanted to cry from the weight of her helplessness where he was concerned.

The worst part, something had happened between him and Maia, but he refused to tell her what. Her guess was that Maia had succumbed to the same pull everyone else felt. It must be something to do with puberty. Before sexual maturity, children couldn’t discern it. But afterward . . .

Her poor Acheron.

If only there was someone else who could control themselves around him.

I’m the only one.

She didn’t consider herself special by any means. But it didn’t change the fact that Acheron was alone. He’d always be alone. Their father would never allow him to marry and after the near assassination of Styxx, guards had once again been posted outside Acheron’s doors. What little freedom he’d known was now gone.

How she wished she could make it better for him.

After nightfall, Acheron watched the activity below. The moment that caught his attention most was the large procession that heralded the Princess of Thebes. Styxx’s new bride. They were to marry two weeks from tomorrow.

This time he planned to keep far away from his brother’s woman. As if they understood the danger, his balls ached suddenly at the thought of being cut on again.

Flinching, Acheron damned his brother for the castration. Styxx had known the truth about what his betrothed had done, but the bastard hadn’t cared.

So what? What was his humiliation anyway? The only thing that mattered was precious Styxx and his dignity.

Sighing, he thought back to the oracle. Akri di diyum.

What could that possibly mean?

The Lord and Master would rule. He already ruled the bedroom, what else was left?

It’s just a drugged oracle, Acheron, forget it. They were always speaking in nonsensical riddles. And no wonder. The bitch had been higher then than he was now. Maybe he ought to start telling prophecies himself.

Oh wait, he already knew one . . .

Artemis wouldn’t come near him today or tomorrow, but on the third day she’d jump on top of him until he was limping.

See . . . prophet. He knew the future even better than the oracle did.

Laughing bitterly, he rolled off the banister and headed to his bed.

The next thing he knew, he was in Artemis’s temple, lying on the floor at her feet. "A little warning would be nice, Artemis."

Laughing, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and nuzzled his neck. "I was feeling peckish."

He should have known. "You told me you wouldn’t be able to see me until the day after tomorrow."

She stroked his neck with her nails, causing chills to run up and down his body. "There was a lull so I made space for you. A little gratitude could serve you well."

He leaned his head back to give her a droll stare. "Can’t you see the gratitude oozing out of me?"

She nipped at the tip of his nose. "Sarcasm doesn’t become you."

"Yet it makes you crave me whenever I am."

She smiled. "How do you manage to read me so well?"

It wasn’t hard. She adored the fact he wasn’t in awe of her. The fact that her eyes dilated and her breathing increased were clues hard to miss.

She nibbled his lips. "I’ve missed you."

A sharp gasp intruded on their play.

Acheron froze at the sound that brought Artemis off her chaise in a roar of anger. There in front of them was a tall, slender woman with strawberry blond hair. Her dark eyes were round in terror.

"What are you doing here, Satara?"

"I just . . . I-I-I saw nothing, Aunt Artemis. Forgive me."

Artemis caught her by the hair and jerked her close. "Look at me." Her fangs were out and her eyes were red and tinged by orange. "You speak a word to any being about what you’ve just seen and there is no power that will save your life or your soul. Do you understand?"

Satara nodded vigorously.

Artemis shoved her away. "Go and don’t you dare return until you’re summoned."

She vanished instantly.

Artemis then turned on him with a vengeance. "This is all your fault!"

Of course it was. "You’re the one who brought me here."

"Silence!" She backhanded him.

Acheron growled at the taste of blood in his mouth. He wanted to strike her back, but he knew the repercussions. He was mortal and she wasn’t. Yet it was more than that. As much as that slap hurt him mentally, he wouldn’t deal it to her. No one should have to bleed for kindness.

They damn sure shouldn’t have to bleed for love.

"Are you through?" he asked.

She set on him then with her fangs.

Acheron hissed as she took her anger at Satara out on him. He felt two tendrils of blood fall from her lips, down the front of his chest. Pain seared him as she fed with no regard for him at all.

When she was finished, she shoved him back.

Weak from the blood loss, he fell to his knees.

She grabbed him by the hair and jerked him back against her. A knife appeared in her hand as she hovered it over his heart.

Acheron met her gaze and waited. "Kill me, Artie. End it."

Her eyes darkened to the point he was sure she’d finish him, but just as the dagger came at his heart, she reversed the direction and flung it against the wall. She wrapped her arms around him and held him close as she wept.

"Why do you make me want you?"

Acheron laughed bitterly. "I’m not the one doing this. Believe me." If he had his way, no one would ever crave him again.

She pushed him out of her arms. "Just go."

Chapter 19

As if he had a choice?

At least this time, she put him back in his bed. But he was still bleeding from her dinner. Sighing, he got up to tend the wound.

"You’re the only male she’s ever had in her temple . . . besides my father."

Acheron spun around to see Satara standing near his bed. "What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to meet the man who would make Artemis risk everything."

He held his breath in sharp panic. "She would destroy us both if she knew you were here."

Satara shrugged nonchalantly. "She doesn’t pay attention to the human realm. Trust me."

Acheron didn’t move as she crossed the short distance between them.

Frowning, she studied him as if he were some deformed curiosity. "You are beautiful. Perhaps I’d risk my godhood for you too." She reached to touch his face.

Acheron caught her hand. "You need to leave."

"I would be a kinder lover to you than Artemis is."

As if he needed that.

"Look," Satara said firmly. "I can tell by your eyes that you’re a demigod like me-the fact that your blood sustains her is proof of that. And I saw how Artemis treated you. I promise you, I wouldn’t be so callous. Not to mention that with the powers I have, you and I could take hers. Imagine, two demigods with the power of a god. We would be invincible."

"There’s no such thing as invincible. There’s always something that flaws every being no matter how powerful they are. A weakness . . . You recognize me as Artemis’s. Someone will know yours and they’ll find mine. Right or wrong, I pledged myself to her and I will not back out on my word."

She sneered at him as if he were mentally defective. "Then you’re a fool."

"I’ve been called worse."

She shook her head. "And you’re content to be her lapdog?"

No he wasn’t. But what choice did he have? "Again, I gave her my word and I will not be a liar."

She snorted in derision. "Then I’m sorry I misjudged you. However, I find myself in a bit of a quandary. If she ever finds out about this, she’ll kill me, niece or not. But since you appear to be a man of your word, do I have your oath that you’ll never tell Artemis what I’ve said today?"

"I don’t like plotting another’s downfall, not even yours. That being said, if you ever go after Artemis, then I will tell her what you’ve done. So long as she’s safe, you’re safe. I swear it."

She cocked her head as if baffled by his threat. "You’re bartering with me to protect the same sow who would sooner beat you than treat you with the same loyalty you show her?"

Acheron shrugged. "I’m protecting my best friend. Right or wrong. I will stand by her."

Satara shook her head. "You and I have an accord then. I only hope you find her worth your loyalty."

So did he. But like Satara, he somehow doubted it.

With one last warning glare, Satara left him.

Acheron raked a hand through his hair as he tried to sort this out. So Artemis had as many people plotting her demise as his father. Damn. What was it about power that made everyone covet it so? Why couldn’t people be content with what they had? Why must family and friends turn on each other over something so insanely innocuous? Something that in the long run didn’t matter at all . . .

When love was shown to someone how could they let greed and selfishness spoil it? He just didn’t understand that.

Love was so pure and innocent when given, especially unconditionally. Why couldn’t those who received it see it for the beautiful gift it was? Why must they use it as a tool to hurt the one who gave it?

As Artemis did with him.

As Styxx with his father.

It was why he loved his nephew so. Apollodorus asked for nothing more than attention and when he hugged and gave a sloppy kiss to the cheek it was pure, joyful love. There was no subterfuge. No giving in order to get something back.

Why couldn’t the world be like that?

Then again, who was he to ask those questions? His own mother had been incapable of showing even the most basic compassion toward him.

Love, unfortunately, was a weakness squandered on those who didn’t deserve it.