Ash grabbed her arm and held her beside him. "What are you talking about?"
She wrenched her arm out of his grasp. "You didn’t really think you could go off and f**k another woman and I wouldn’t find out about it, did you? You faithless pig! I’m going to make her scream like no mortal has ever screamed before."
This time when she started to leave, Ash launched himself at her and took them to her temple on Olympus. He held her pinned between him and her bedroom wall. Artemis let out a shriek so severe he was amazed he still had his hearing.
"Let me go!"
He shook his head. "Not until we settle this."
"Settle what? That you’re a lying, faithless bastard? How could you!" She tried to scratch at his face.
Ash held her hands and kept her pinned between him and the wall.
"I will have her life, her soul, everything!"
"You won’t touch her."
"You don’t command me!"
Those words set his wrath off to such a height that he immediately shifted into his true destroyer’s form. He saw his blue hands and could only imagine what the rest of him must look like. "Don’t push me, Artemis. I haven’t fed in weeks and in this matter, I will kill you. Do you understand?"
She snarled at him. "I hate you!"
"You’ve always hated me. Since the moment I first kissed you in your temple, you’ve despised me and I know it."
With a furious scream, Artemis started sobbing as if her heart was being ripped into shreds. She fought against him. "That’s not true. We were friends. I loved you!"
He scoffed at the lies she still believed. "You loved me so much that you watched as I was butchered on the floor at your feet. That’s not love, Artie. I felt your relief when I was dead."
She shook her head in denial. "I brought you back because I loved you."
"That’s the lie you tell yourself, but I know the truth. You brought me back because you were afraid of my mother."
"I am a goddess!"
"And I’m a god. One whose powers mock yours and you know it."
She shrieked again as she tried to buck him off. "You’ve betrayed me and I want vengeance for it."
"Then take it out on me."
She froze at his words and for the first time since she’d attacked him, there was a semblance of sanity there. "What are you saying?"
Ash took a small step back, prepared to seize her again if he needed to. "I’m the one who betrayed you. If you want to make someone bleed, then I offer myself to you as your victim. But you have to swear to me that you’ll never lay a hand on Soteria. Ever."
The flame of sexual heat in her eyes sickened him. She could deny it all she wanted to, but she got off on making him bleed and suffer. She always had. "Only if you swear not to use your powers to heal yourself. You will take the punishment you have earned and you will suffer for what you’ve done to me."
Because it was always about Artemis.
Of course he wouldn’t have been with Tory because Tory was kind to him. The only reason he could ever be with someone else was to hurt Artemis and for that he’d bleed.
Yeah . . .
"I swear it."
She lifted her chin. "Release me."
"Not until I have your word."
"Oh I promise you, I won’t touch your slut."
He cringed at her words and their unspoken threat against Tory. "And that you won’t send anyone else after her either."
She pouted like a toddler who’d just broken her favorite doll. It wasn’t until she realized that he wouldn’t give in on this that she crossed her arms over her chest and spat, "Fine. I swear your whore will never be hurt by me or any of my minions."
He wrapped his hand around her neck. "And I swear if you ever call her whore or slut or any other insult again, I will kill you. Do you understand me? Her name is Soteria and you will call her nothing else."
Fear replaced the anger in her eyes. She knew he had no choice except to fulfill whatever oath he took. And right now the thought of killing her ranked right up there on his list of things he’d most like to do.
"I understand," Artemis said coldly. "Now prepare yourself for me, whore."
Ash winced at words she knew hit him on a level no one should ever be hit on, and he hated her for that. In one heartbeat, they destroyed all the centuries of dignity he’d tried so desperately to build and reduced him to the little boy who’d pathetically begged his father not to hurt him.
Damn her for it. He didn’t want to do this, but he knew he had no choice. His stomach was so tight with anger and disgust, he was amazed he wasn’t vomiting from the sensation.
Last night was worth it.
No . . . Soteria is worth it. When she held him, he wasn’t a whore. He wasn’t pathetic or unwanted. For that moment of peace that he’d had in her arms, this was nothing.
He only hoped that once Artemis finished with him, he was still able to feel that way.
Sick with dread, he stepped back from her and dropped his long coat to the floor then pulled his shirt off over his head. Gods, it felt just like selling himself in his uncle’s house all over again. All he needed was to have those gold bands back in place on his wrists and ankles and his tongue pierced. To have her grab his hair and tell him how to please her best.
He ran his hand over his chest where Simi slept. "Simi? I need you to take human form." If she were still on his skin when Artemis began beating him, she’d come off and attack the goddess. Since he’d promised total submission, he couldn’t allow his girl to do that.
Simi appeared with a precious smile on her face until she realized where she was. Then her lips curled in repugnance. "Why we here with that old heifer-goddess, akri? The Simi thought we were going to have fun again."
"I know, Sim. I need you to leave me for a little while."
Her nostrils flared angrily as her eyes turned dark red. She knew what happened to him whenever he made her leave here. "Akri-"
"Just do it, Simi." He looked past her to see Artemis glaring at them. "I want you to go to Sanctuary and protect Soteria for me. Make sure no one hurts her."
Simi turned and hissed at Artemis. "I’ll go protect Akra-Tory, akri. But the Simi don’t want to leave you. I wish you’d let the Simi eat the heifer instead."
Ash cupped her face and placed a quick kiss on her cheek. "Go, Simi, and don’t eat the humans or Weres."
Simi nodded before she vanished.
Ash swallowed as he met Artemis’s glower. An instant later his wrists were encircled by chains. They were pulled up and spread wide as a whip appeared in Artemis’s hand. He let out a long breath as centuries of this went through him and he fought the anger that swelled inside his heart.
How could she do this and still claim to have feelings for him?
"You have betrayed me for the last time, Acheron."
He laughed bitterly. "I’ve betrayed you? When have you ever kept faith with me?"
She answered his question with a stinging backhand across his face that split his lip. Only now that he was secure could she strike him. She grabbed his hair, turning it instantly blond, and jerked his head back as hard as she could. "I wish I’d never met you."
"I assure you the feeling’s more than mutual."
Then she did the cruelest thing of all. She manifested a mirror before him and dressed him in the same chiton he’d worn when they met. Brushing the hair back from his neck, she blew her breath on his skin, knowing how much he hated it.
"This is what you’re afraid of, isn’t it? The entire world knowing what a whore you really are. Eleven thousand years later, you’re still crawling into the bed of whoever can pay your fee. Tell me, Acheron, what did Soteria give you to sleep with her?"
He glared at her in the mirror and answered her with the truth. "She bought me with the one thing you’ve never been able to manage, Artemis. Kindness. Warmth."
She wrenched his hair so hard he was sure she pulled a full handful of it out. "You bastard whore! I would have given you the world had you asked it of me, but instead you’d rather be in the bed of a common human."
He licked the blood from the corner of his mouth. "You’ve never given me anything, Artemis, without making me pay dearly for it. Not even your heart."
"That’s not true. I bore your daughter for you!"
"No. You bore your daughter. You didn’t keep Katra because of me. You kept her out of total selfishness and you know it. You never really intended for me to know I had her because you didn’t want to share her with me or anyone else. You could have told me the truth at any time, yet you hid her from me for more than eleven thousand years." He shook his head at a truth that scalded his soul. "You’re selfish and you’re cold, and I’m tired of getting frostbite when I touch you."
She brought the whip down across his back. Ash hissed as pain tore through him.
"I own you!" she shrieked.
Ash tightened his grip on the chains that held him in place. "I won’t be owned by you, Artemis. Not anymore. I shouldn’t have to barter myself to you for kindness and I’m through with it."
She hit him again. "You would rather sell yourself to a human who can’t understand you? She knows nothing of our powers. Nothing of what it means to be a god. The responsibility. The sacrifice."
His breathing ragged, he stared at her in the mirror. "And neither do you. Soteria doesn’t ask me for anything. She gives, Artemis. No strings. No hidden agenda. She takes my hand in public and she holds it. She’s not embarrassed to be seen with me."
She jerked his head back and snarled in his ear. "Because it costs her nothing to be seen with you! You ask too much of me. You always have."
"Did it never occur to you that you ask the same of me? I’ve given to you for eleven thousand years and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being ridiculed by you and your brother. I’m tired of taking your shit and dealing with your moods while you refuse to allow me the same courtesy. I want my freedom."
After releasing his hair, she hit him three more times before she raked her nails painfully down his back. "There is no freedom for you, whore. Ever."
Tory smiled as she saw Simi walking up to the bar. She still remembered the first time she’d seen the demon, though at the time she’d thought Simi an average college age girl who’d made a great babysitter for her. It was hard to believe after all the phone and e-mail conversations they’d shared that Simi had failed to mention the one basic fact that she was a demon.
Then again . . .
But as Simi approached, she could tell something was wrong with her. "What’s wrong, Simi?"
"That old heifer bitch goddess is hurting akri again and akri won’t let the Simi do anything to help him, but the Simi isn’t supposed to say anything about what the bitch-goddess does so forget the Simi said anything." She huffed as she sat down on a bar stool and propped her chin in her hand. "Hook the Simi up with some ice cream, Akra-Tory. I need double scoops."
Aimee went to accommodate Simi while Tory walked around to sit beside the demon.
"What do you mean the heifer goddess is hurting Ash? You mean Hera?" She was the goddess most often referred to as cow-eyed in mythology.
"Not that one. The redheaded mean one that the Simi wants to eat, but akri say ‘No Simi. You can’t eat Artemis.’ The Simi hates that heifer."
Tory went cold as she remembered what Ash had told her about Artemis and their relationship. "Where’s Ash?"
"On Olympus. He told the Simi to come stay with you and make sure no one hurts you."
This couldn’t be good and Tory felt ill that she couldn’t help him. "What does Artemis do to Ash?"
"The Simi isn’t supposed to say." She looked around the bar like an impish child before she lowered her voice. "But akri didn’t say the Simi couldn’t show you . . ." She reached out and touched Tory’s arm. The moment she did, Tory saw Ash being beaten.
Unable to stand it, she shot to her feet and tried to focus. But she couldn’t. Her heart pounding, she was hyperventilating at the thought of causing him that kind of pain. "We have to do something!"
"We can’t. Artemis hurt akri worse if we try. Believe me, I know. He promised her she could hurt him if she didn’t hurt you and she say okay, so now . . . the Simi hates the heifer goddess."
So did Tory. If she could turn back time, she’d beat the snot out of her in Nashville.
Aimee brought Simi the ice cream while Tory tried to think of something, anything, she could do. She looked at Aimee, then Katherine and Justina, but decided not to ask their opinions. Ash would die of shame if he knew they knew what was being done to him.
You now have the secrets that I would kill to protect.
No doubt this was one of the secrets he held dearest. No wonder he’d been so harsh to Artemis in Nashville.
"If I ever get my hands on her . . ."
She’d do what? Bleed on her expensive shoes? Artemis was a goddess and Tory was human.
Wait . . . there had been something in the journal about Artemis and her weaknesses. Her heart hammering with hope, Tory headed toward the kitchen behind the bar where it was light enough for her to read.
But before she could make it to the room, she saw a tall, black-haired woman at a table off to the side.