Fantasy Lover (Page 11)

Fantasy Lover (Dark-Hunter #1)(11)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"Stubborn or not," Grace inserted, focusing on Julian, "I can’t imagine why you’d want to stay cursed in a book."

He looked away.

"Grace, give the man a break."

"That’s what I’m trying to do."

"Fine," Selena said, finally giving in. "Okay, Julian, what wretched awful act did you commit to get sucked into the book?"

"Hubris."

"Ooo," Selena said ominously, "that’s a baddie. Grace, he may be right. They used to do things like rip people to shreds over that. You should have paid attention in your Classics class. The Greek gods are really vicious when it comes to handing out punishments."

Grace narrowed her eyes on both of them. "I refuse to believe that there’s no way to free him. Can’t we destroy the book or summon one of your spirits or something to help?"

"Oh, so now you believe in my voodoo magick?"

"Not really, but you did manage to get him here. Can you manage to help?"

Selena chewed her thumbnail in thought. "Julian, what god was most partial to you?"

He took a long, deep breath as if completely bored by their questions. "In truth, none of them were overly fond of me. Being a soldier, I sacrificed mostly to Athena, but I had more direct contact with Eros."

Selena flashed him a wicked grin. "The god of lust and love, I can see why."

"It’s not for the reasons you think," he said dryly.

Selena ignored him. "So, have you ever tried to appeal to Eros?"

"We’re not speaking to each other."

Grace rolled her eyes at his flippant sarcasm.

"Why don’t you try calling him?" Selena suggested.

Grace glared at her. "You know, Selena, you could try to be a little more serious. I know I’ve mocked your beliefs over the years, but this is Julian’s life we’re talking about."

"I am perfectly serious," she said emphatically. "The best way would be for Julian to summon him directly and see if he can help."

What the hell? Grace thought. Last night, she would never have believed anyone could conjure up Julian. Maybe Selena was right.

"Would you try it?" Grace asked him.

Julian gave a frustrated sigh, as if he were ready to shake both of them.

Looking greatly peeved, he leaned his head back and said quietly to the ceiling, "Cupid, you worthless bastard, I summon you to human form."

Grace threw her hands up. "Gee, I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t respond to that."

Selena laughed.

"Fine," Grace said. "I don’t believe in this mumbo jumbo anyway. Let’s go put this stuff in my car, get some lunch, and try to think up something a little more productive than ‘Cupid, you worthless bastard.’ Shall we?"

"Fine," Selena said.

Grace handed Selena the bag that contained the clothes Selena had brought over. "Here are Bill’s things."

Selena looked into the bag with a frown. "Where’s the white tank top?"

"I’ll give it back later."

Selena laughed again.

Julian trailed along behind them, listening to their bantering, as they made their way outside the store.

Luckily, Grace had found a rare parking place right outside the Brewery.

Julian watched as the women put the bags in the car. If he dared admit it, he actually liked the fact that Grace was so interested in helping him.

No one ever had before.

He had walked the whole of his life in solitude with only his strength and his wits to save him. Even before the curse, he’d been weary. Tired of the loneliness, tired of having no one on earth, or beyond, who gave a damn about him.

It was a pity he hadn’t met Grace before the curse. She would have definitely been a nice balm to soothe his restlessness. But then, the women of his time had been very different.

Grace saw him as an equal whereas the women in his day had seen him as a legend to be feared or placated.

What made Grace unique? What was it about her that allowed her to reach out to him when even his own family had turned their backs on him?

He didn’t know for sure. She was just special. A pure heart in a world populated by selfish ones. He’d never thought to encounter anyone like her.

Uncomfortable with the direction of his thoughts, he glanced around the thronging crowd of people who didn’t seem to mind the oppressive heat of the strange city.

His ears picked up on a couple arguing a few feet away, the wife angry over something the man had left behind. They had a small boy no older than three or four between them as they approached the sidewalk in front of him.

Julian smiled at them. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a family together, going about their routine business. It touched a part of him he barely remembered he had. His heart. And he wondered if they knew just what a gift they had in each other.

While the two parents continued to bicker, the child stopped, his attention focused on something across the street.

Julian held his breath as every instinct in his body told him what the little boy was about to do.

Grace closed the trunk to her car.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a blue blur headed for the street. It took her a full second to realize it was Julian running across the lot. She frowned at his actions, until she saw the small boy who was stepping off the curb into traffic.

"Oh, my God," Grace gasped as she heard car brakes squealing.

"Steven!" a woman shouted.

With a move straight out of Hollywood, Julian jumped over the low parking lot wall, plucked the child up from the road, and, holding the boy against his chest, he ran up onto the fender of the braking car, then turned a side flip, up, over, and away from the car.

They landed safely in the other lane a spilt second before a second car jerked around the first and plowed straight into them.

Horrified, Grace watched as Julian slammed into the hood of an old Chevy. He slid up it, into the windshield, and was then flung forward onto the street where he rolled for several yards before finally coming to a stop.

He lay on his side, unmoving.

Total chaos broke out everywhere as people screamed and shouted, and crowded around the accident.

Terrified, Grace trembled all over as she pushed her way through the crowd, trying to reach Julian. "Please be okay, please be okay," she whispered, over and over, praying both of them had survived being hit.

As she finally broke through the people around him, she realized he hadn’t let go of the child. The boy was still carefully cradled in his arms.

Unable to believe the sight, Grace paused, her heart hammering.

Were they alive?

"Never saw nothing like that in my life," a man said beside her.

His sentiment was echoed everywhere.

Slowly, fearfully, Grace approached Julian as he started to move.

"Are you all right?" she heard him ask the child.

The small toddler answered with a screaming wail.

Oblivious to the piercing sound, Julian rose carefully with the boy in his arms.

Relieved they were alive, Grace couldn’t believe her eyes. How in the world could he move?

How had he managed to keep his hold on the boy through all that?

He staggered back a step, then quickly caught his balance, all the while maintaining his grip on the child.

Grace steadied him with a hand against his spine. "You shouldn’t stand," she told Julian as she saw the blood that coated his left arm.

Julian didn’t seem to hear her.

His eyes were dark and strange looking. "Sh, little one," he said, holding the boy with one arm while he cupped the child’s face with the other.

Moving only his upper body, he gently rocked the boy in the soothing, confident pattern only a parent would use. His gaze haunted, Julian laid his cheek against the top of the boy’s head. "Sh, I’ve got you," he murmured. "You’re safe now."

His actions startled her. It was apparent this was a man who had soothed children before.

But when would a Greek soldier have been around children… ?

Unless he’d been a father.

Grace’s mind whirled at the possibility as Julian carefully handed the sobbing boy to his hysterical mother who wailed even louder than the toddler.

Dear Lord, was it possible that Julian could be a father? If so, where were his children?

What had happened to them?

"Steven," his mother wept as she held the boy against her chest. "How many times have I told you to stay by my side?"

"Are you okay?" the father and the driver asked Julian.

Grimacing, Julian ran his hand over his left bicep as if testing the arm. "I’m fine," he said, but Grace noted the way he still favored his right leg where the car had hit him.

"You need a doctor," she said as Selena joined them.

"I’m fine. Really." Julian gave her a halfhearted smile, then lowered his voice so that only she could hear it. "But I have to say, chariots hurt a lot less than cars when they slam into you."

Grace was aghast at his misplaced humor. "How can you make a joke? I thought you were dead."

He shrugged.

As the man continued to thank him profusely for saving his son, Grace glanced at the blood on Julian’s arm just above his elbow. Blood that evaporated from his skin like some weird science fiction movie effect.

Suddenly, Julian put his full weight back on his injured leg, and the pain crimping his brow vanished.

She exchanged a wide-eyed stare with Selena, who had also seen it. What the hell was that!

Was Julian human or not?

"I can’t thank you enough," the father said again. "I thought he was dead."

"I’m just glad I saw him," Julian whispered. He reached a hand out toward the boy’s head.

His fingers were about to brush the light brown curls when he paused. Grace watched emotions war on Julian’s face before he recovered his stoicism and dropped his hand back to his side.

Without a word, he headed to the curb.

"Julian?" she asked, rushing to catch up to him. "Are you really okay?"

"Don’t worry about me, Grace. I don’t break and I seldom bleed." This time, there was no mistaking the bitterness in his voice. "It’s a gift of the curse. The Fates forbid I should actually die and escape my punishment."

She flinched at the anguish she saw in his eyes.

But his survival wasn’t the only question she had. She wanted to ask him about the child, about the way he had looked at the boy as if reliving some horrible nightmare. But the words lodged themselves in her throat.

"Man, he deserves a hero cookie," Selena said as she joined them. "Upstairs to the Praline Factory!"

"Selena, I don’t think-"

"What’s a praline?" Julian asked.

"It’s Cajun ambrosia," Selena explained, "something that should be right up your alley."

Against Grace’s best arguments, Selena led them inside, to the escalator.

Selena took the first stair, then turned back to look at Julian, who stood between them. "How did you do that thing where you flipped over the car? It was awesome!"

Julian shrugged.

"Oh, man, don’t be modest. You looked like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Gracie, did you see that move he did?"

"I saw it," she said softly, noting just how uncomfortable Selena’s praise was making Julian.

She also noted the way the women around them gawked.

Julian was right. It wasn’t normal. But then, how often did a man like him appear in the flesh? A man who oozed such raw sexual attraction?

The man was a walking pheromone.

And now a hero.

But most of all, he was a great mystery to her. There was a lot about him she was dying to know. And one way or another over the next month, she was going to learn it.

When they reached the Praline Factory on the top floor, Grace bought two fudge-pecan pralines and a Coke.

Without thinking twice, she held a praline up for Julian.

Instead of taking it from her hand, he leaned forward and took a bite while she held it.

He savored the sugary confection in a way that drove heat through her body, while those searing blue eyes stared at her as if he were wishing she were what he feasted on.

"You were right," he said in that low tone that sent shivers over her. "It is delicious."

"Wow," the female clerk said from across the counter. "That’s some accent you got there. You must not be from around these parts."

"No," Julian said. "I’m not."

"So where you from?"

"Macedonia."

"Is that out in California?" the girl asked. "You look like one of those surfer types who hang out on the beach."

He frowned. "California?"

"He’s from Greece," Selena supplied for the girl.

"Ah!" the girl said.

Julian arched a censoring brow at her. "Macedonia isn’t-"

"Buddy," Selena said around her mouthful of praline, "around here you’d be lucky to find anyone who would know the difference."

Before Grace could respond to Selena’s harsh words, Julian placed his hands on her waist and brought her right up against his steely chest.

He leaned down and caught her bottom lip between his teeth, then gently stroked her lip with his tongue.

Her head swam from the tender embrace.