You want to hurt Artemis? Come talk to me.
Tory looked around at the voice in her head until her gaze returned to the unknown woman.
Yes, it’s me talking to you, Soteria. The woman motioned for her to join her at the table.
Reversing course from the kitchen, she patted Aimee on the arm. "I’ll be right back." Before Aimee could respond, she went straight to the woman who was unbelievably attractive and probably as tall as she was.
"Hi," the woman said, her voice thick with its Greek accent. "I’m Satara. You should consider me a friend."
Yeah, right. Tory would wait and make up her own mind about that. "How did you do that thing where you talked to me in my mind?"
She smiled before her voice was in Tory’s head again. I’m the daughter of Apollo and if you want to help me, I’ll be more than willing to help you kill Artemis.
Tory was instantly suspicious of the unknown woman and her motives. "Why would the daughter of Apollo help me hurt her aunt?"
Satara twisted her lips up into a seductive, yet impressed smirk. It was as if she begrudged giving Tory any kind of respect. "You’re a smart little human. Most don’t know their mythology. But that’s neither here nor there, is it? Let’s just say that like you I’m a friend of Acheron’s. I’m tired of seeing him hurt."
Knowing Ash as well as she did, she knew Satara wouldn’t have gotten that tidbit from him. Which meant the woman was in league with Artemis and was now trying to turn on her own aunt. Yeah, that really lent itself to Tory trusting her . . . not even a bit. "Strange, he never mentioned you to me." Tory started to leave.
Satara leapt at her and grabbed her painfully by one wrist. "Give me Ryssa’s journal if you want to live."
Biting Satara’s hand, Tory twisted away and ran for the bar. Simi was across the room, hissing at Satara who vanished the moment she saw the demon.
"That the heifer-goddess’s mean niece. The Simi don’t like her neither."
Agreeing with her, Tory rubbed her bruised wrist. What else was in that book that she had yet to read? It had to contain a lot more than she’d seen so far. "Simi, grab your ice cream and come upstairs with me. I think you and I need to do some research."
As they headed up, Tory considered calling her cousin Geary, but decided against it given how secretive Ash was. He went out of his way to make sure no one knew his business and since she’d promised him that he could trust her, she wouldn’t do anything to violate that oath.
But it was hard . . .
Once Simi was settled in with her in the small room, she pulled out a notebook and pen, and attacked her reading with a renewed vengeance. Though to be honest that was easier said than done. Every time Ryssa wrote about Ash, it broke her heart. The senseless abuse and cruelty was unimaginable and when she saw what they’d done to him during Artemis’s feast day she wanted blood for it.
No wonder Simi hated the goddess the way she did.
How could Artemis turn her back on Ash and leave him there to suffer? Truly, she didn’t understand this need to save face that Artemis had. But then Tory didn’t care what other people thought of her. She never had. Yes, they’d mocked her incessantly in school for being too smart, blowing the bell curve and for being a tall, skinny nerd. Her hair was frizzy, she’d had braces and glasses so thick they’d melt plastic army men.
But then she remembered clearly that day when she’d come home crying to her father over the words Shelly Thornton had assaulted her with at school-your father’s a crackpot that everyone laughs at, your mom’s an idiot and you’re a pathetic geek who’ll never have a boyfriend outside of the one you make up in your head and your dress looks like you found it in a dumpster. If that wasn’t bad enough, all the girls who were afraid of Shelly being mean to them had laughed at her too. Then they’d joined in on attacking her clothes.
The worst part was, Tory had loved her dress dearly. It’d been one her Aunt Del had made for her out of Greek lace and a bright purple satin material they’d found in the fabric store that Tory had fallen in love with.
Her heart had been splintered that day by their cruelty until her father put her on his knee and kissed her tears away. "No one can ever make you feel inferior without your permission, Tory. Don’t give it to them. Realize that it’s their own insecurities that make them attack you and others. They’re so unhappy with themselves that the only way they can feel better is by making everyone as unhappy as they are. Don’t let those people steal your day, baby. You hold your head high and know that you have the one thing they can never take away from you."
"What’s that, Papa?"
"My love. Your mother’s love and the love of your family and true friends. Your own self-respect and sense of purpose. Look at me, Torimou, people laugh at me all the time and say that I’m chasing rainbows. They told George Lucas that he was a fool for making Star Wars -they used to even call it Lucas’s Folly. Did he listen? No. And if he’d listened to them you wouldn’t have had your favorite movie made and think of how many people would never have heard the phrase ‘May the Force be With You.’ "
He’d brushed her hair back from her wet cheeks. "I want you to always hold your head up and follow your dreams wherever they take you. Don’t you ever listen to the people out to hurt you or make you cry. Listen to your heart and be better than them. No one gets ahead by hurting others. The only real peace anyone will ever have is the one that comes from within. Live your life on your own terms and make it a happy life. Always. That’s what’s important, Torimou."
It wasn’t always easy to listen to those sage words and the sad truth was that she’d never worn her purple dress again, or purple period. But over time, she’d learned to care less and less what others thought about her as she made her own way in the world. The only thing she couldn’t stand was to have her beloved father and uncle mocked.
The world could laugh at her if they must, but she couldn’t stand anyone to make fun of those she loved.
But as she read the insecurities of Artemis, she realized how lucky she’d been to have her father. Poor Artemis for not having anyone to love her like that.
And poor goddess for hurting the only one who would have . . .
Tory looked over to see Simi watching QVC. She was lying on her back with her head hanging over the edge of the bed as she watched it upside down.
Okay . . .
The demon looked at her curiously.
"Do you think Artemis is sad?"
"I think she’s just plain mean."
"Yes, but people aren’t mean just to be mean. There has to be a reason for it."
Simi let out a forlorn sigh. "Well, akri say that the heifer-goddess doesn’t have anyone to love her and that’s why we have to be nice to her. But the Simi say so what? There’s a reason she gots no one to love her. She’s mean."
There it was in a succinct, if not semi-humorous, nutshell. And it made her wonder if Ash had been recognized as a prince how much different their relationship would have been.
But the point was moot really. And as the hours went by, Tory learned a lot more about ancient Greece, Atlantis and Acheron than she’d ever dreamed possible.
Aimee brought food for them and somewhere around midnight, Simi fell asleep on the floor with her feet rising up at a ninety degree angle against the wall.
Shaking her head at the strange position, Tory pulled one of the blankets from the bed and draped it over her. Just as she tucked it around Simi, a small fissure went through the air.
Unsure of what caused it, Tory looked to her right to find Ash standing outside the bathroom with one arm braced against the wall. His face pale, he appeared to be in severe pain. But most shocking was the fact that his hair was golden blond and he wasn’t wearing a long coat. Only a long-sleeved black shirt that had been left untucked.
"Ash?" she whispered.
He didn’t respond.
Concerned, she closed the distance between them and saw that he was sweating profusely. "Baby, what’s wrong?"
He looked at her with a confused frown. "I didn’t know where else to go. I . . . I didn’t want to be alone."
"Do you need to lie down?"
His eyes empty, he nodded.
Tory waited for him to move. When he didn’t, her concern tripled. "Ash?"
"I need a minute."
She stood there waiting. After a long pause, he pushed himself away from the wall and started for the bed. He’d only taken a single step when he sank to his knees. Without thinking, she reached to touch his back.
He hissed and recoiled as he tried to crawl away from her. Pulling her hand back, she gasped as she saw the blood coating her palm.
She knelt beside him. "What can I do?"
His breathing ragged, he ground his teeth as if fighting an unbearable agony. "My powers are unstable. I’m in too much pain to direct them accurately."
"Okay. You can lean on me and I’ll get you to the bed." She stood up and held her hand out for him.
Ash couldn’t speak as he saw her there with her outstretched hand. He shouldn’t be here and he knew it. Yet that was what had made him seek her out when he would never have sought out anyone else. She wouldn’t hurt him or mock him. She would help. The only other person he allowed to tend him when he was weak was Liza. But not even Liza had ever seen him when he was this vulnerable.
He damn sure didn’t want Alexion or Urian to know.
Taking her hand, he allowed her to pull him up. He ground his teeth as another wave of pain ripped through him. She wrapped his arm over her shoulders and carefully placed her arm around his h*ps where he wasn’t hurting so much.
Together, they walked him to the bed and helped him to lie down.
"Don’t tell Simi," he whispered. "I don’t want her upset."
Tory nodded as she watched him pass out. Angry and aching for what had been done to him, she very carefully cut his shirt from his back. And with every inch of bleeding skin she uncovered, her fury mounted at the horrific mutilation. This was unbelievable.
She didn’t care how much Artemis was unloved. If she had the bitch here right now, she’d tear every strand of red hair out of her selfish head!
"This is going to stop," she whispered to him. "One way or another, Ash, I’m going to find a way to put that goddess in her place."
Ash came awake to the odd sensation of something cold on his back. For a moment, he thought himself at Artemis’s temple until he opened his eyes and saw Tory in a chair a few feet away from him, reading.
Everything came flooding back and when he took a deep breath, the pain in his back reminded him of how real his visit with Artemis had been.
Tory immediately set the book aside. "Try not to move."
"Believe me I am."
She knelt on the floor in front of him. "I put one of my Aunt Del’s concoctions on your back. It’s aloe, cucumbers and potatoes mixed with Vaseline and lanolin. I know it sounds gross, but it’s really good to take the sting out of cuts and burns."
She smiled as she rested her chin on the hand she had on his mattress. "I’ve got you covered with a sheet and I told Simi that you were sleeping. She went downstairs to eat so she has no idea that you’re hurt. No one does."
He took her hand in his and kissed her fingers. "Thank you."
He treasured that endearment. Most of all, he treasured her.
She cocked her head while she toyed with his fingers. "Can you not use your god powers to heal yourself?"
"I could, but I promised not to."
Because I’m an idiot. No, he’d done it to protect her and if this was the price for her safety, so be it. "I’d rather not say."
She patted his hand. "Then I’ll keep running cover with you and Simi-who was asleep when I tended your back. And speaking of, I think I finally met someone who eats more than I do. Geary would be impressed."
How did she do that? He was lying here with a ravaged back and she was blithely ignoring it and treating him like he was recovering from nothing more than a common cold. How was she able to take things like this in stride and not make him feel like a freak over it? "You’re not going to ask me anything more than that?"
She shook her head. "I trust you, Ash. Completely." She held the book up. "You’ve trusted me with a lot of your secrets already. If you want to keep a few to yourself, I understand and I won’t pry."
"You’re too good to be real."
She smiled. "Not really. Remember, I’m the one who tried to hammer you."
He laughed, then grimaced at the pain.
She scowled in sympathy before she brushed his hair back from his cheek. "Is there anything I can get for you?"
Make me human, like you . . . But that was a stupid thought. "Please don’t tell anyone I’m down. I should be better in a couple of hours. I just need a little more rest."
She rubbed his jawbone with the pad of her thumb. "You got it. By the way, your backpack is right here." She took his hand and led it to where it was set on the floor by the bed. "I haven’t touched it except to put it there."
"No problem." She stood up slowly. "Are you hungry or thirsty?"
He was starving, but there was nothing here that would satiate him. "I’m fine."