The Guardian (Page 6)

The Guardian (Dark-Hunter #21)(6)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

No, he was so lickably delicious that she could almost understand why he’d been bitten into. But the other marks …

Those she didn’t understand at all.

She returned her attention to his head, where blood seeped from a nasty gash just above his left ear. He was still unconscious.

And bleeding all over. She couldn’t even begin to catalogue the list of injuries.

Her gaze dropped to his arm where she’d stabbed him. He had so many wounds there, she wasn’t sure which one was hers. That thought nauseated her. No wonder he hadn’t reacted to it. She’d most likely stabbed him in a bruise.

Or another wound.

And though she didn’t exactly like or trust anyone, she didn’t want to hurt them either. Not even him. It pained her that she’d added to his damage and she hated herself for that weakness.

She shouldn’t care about his pain in the least. He’d certainly taken no mercy on Solin. So why then did she ache to see him so ravaged?

Because I’m not a soulless demon like him. She found no joy or humanity in abuse or meanness.

Her stomach churning in sympathy, she went to the bathroom to run a basin of warm water so that she could clean and bandage his injuries.

The bandages she had to tear out of his bedsheets.

It took some time, but she very carefully cleaned and wrapped each wound. Once she was finished with his body, she dumped the water, cleaned the basin, and then ran more so that she could tend to his face and head.

As she washed the harsh makeup from his features, she slowly uncovered the truth of her "demon."

He was beautiful. Absolutely stunning.

There was no other word for it. He would have been as pretty as a woman but for the rugged cut of his masculine jaw and the sharpness of his cheekbones, both of which were dusted by a day’s growth of auburn whiskers. No wonder he wore the makeup. It would be hard to terrify the demons of this place looking like he did, even as tall and ripped as he was.

Not to mention, she was pretty sure he used it to conceal the bruises on his forehead, cheeks, and jaw.

Before she realized what she was doing, she ran her finger over his soft lips, remembering how good they’d tasted until … She winced as she saw the mark where she’d bitten him, too.

Obviously, the last thing he’d needed was more pain. And she’d stupidly thought he was joking when he said that he hadn’t had his lip busted open today.

"I’m so sorry," she whispered, wondering if he’d ever had a moment of happiness in his entire life. By the condition of his body, she’d say no.

How long had he lived in this hell realm?

One minute would be too long.

Her throat tight, she washed the blood from his hair. Hair that drew up into perfectly tight auburn spiral curls the minute she wet it.

So it wasn’t straight after all. Those curls were incredibly soft and boyishly charming, like you would see on a collectible doll. Who would have thought?

Now that she had him bare and clean, the only thing scary about him was how flawlessly handsome he was. How inviting. It was almost impossible not to stare at him.

He’s still the one who tortured Solin … the one who would have killed him had you not stopped him.

True. His looks didn’t change the cruelty of his actions. No matter what, he was her enemy. And he would always remain so.

If you were smart, you’d stab him through the heart and kill him while you can.

Her dinner knife was only a few feet away.

And what if I did? He’d told her that he couldn’t be killed. She had no reason to assume he’d been lying. His beating and scars, and the fact that he still breathed, told her he’d been honest about that.

Plus, even if she did kill him, she’d continue to be trapped here. That wouldn’t change. Without him, she had no way to leave and no way to communicate with anyone.

He was her only hope for eventual release.

If only she could get a message to someone on the outside. But the more she tried, the more trapped she felt. What am I going to do?

She’d never felt more lost.

An eerie chill went down her spine as she saw her future and it wasn’t pretty.

For now, it was better to tolerate the demon she knew than the others who waited outside this room.

* * *

Seth came awake slowly to find himself lying facedown on the hard stone floor. He stared at his gloomy bedroom wall, dreading the moment when the pain would kick in and he’d ache anew. But as he waited for it, he realized that his head was on a soft pillow and the weight on his body wasn’t his armor.

Someone had covered him with his blankets?

What the hell?

Frowning, he started to move only to hear a warm, sweet voice chirp at him.

"Careful! You’ll reopen your back."

From the shadows, he saw an angel appear. Yeah, one with sharp teeth, he reminded himself. But the current throbbing in his lips wasn’t from her nip, it was from Noir’s vicious backhands.

His head swam as the pain found him and kicked his teeth in. Yeah, this was what he was used to. Utter f**king misery. For a moment, he feared he’d pass out again.

"Here."

She picked his head up from the pillow with the gentlest touch he’d ever known and helped him drink water from the goblet he’d left with her dinner.

He swallowed carefully, his throat burning from internal injuries, until she pulled the cup away. Then he scowled at her. He’d ask her why she was helping him, but the answer was obvious and undeniable. He was the only way she could get out of here and she knew it.

There was no emotion behind any of her actions. They were solely self-serving.

Like everyone else’s.

But at least she hadn’t taken advantage of his condition to hurt him more. That, in and of itself, was a novelty.

Even stranger was the fact that she’d bothered to tend him at all. His scowl deepened as he focused on the bandage she’d wrapped around his hand and knotted over his knuckles. "I told you, I couldn’t die."

"Yeah, but you’re not exactly a speed healer, either. I had to do something. You were bleeding all over the floor and the smell of blood was nauseating me."

Seth ignored that as he pushed himself up so that he could stand on unsteady feet. Dizzy from the blood loss and pain, he felt so weak …

Suddenly, Lydia was beside him. She pulled his arm around her shoulders and wrapped one slender arm around his waist to steady him. The warm scent of her filled his head, making his heartbeat race. Better still was the soft curves of her body against his. Curves that made his mouth water and his c**k so hard, he could probably use it as a hammer.

"C’mon, let’s get you to bed before you fall down again."

Those words brought images to his mind of him deep inside her while she arched against him. Of her lips teasing every inch of his body until he was made drunk by it.

Oh yeah, he could already feel her there.

Warm. Wet.

Supple …

Don’t be stupid. It wasn’t an invitation, and she most certainly didn’t give a shit about him.

But it was nice to have someone who pretended to care. If only for a minute.

How pathetic am I that something so fake and trivial means so much?

And he was pathetic. Craving a woman who’d rather gut him than bed him.

Don’t let this soften you. There would be hell to pay if he allowed anyone to weaken him.

And that would be different from normal, how?

Disgusted with himself, he moved away from her. "I don’t need your help."

She held her hands up in surrender. "Fine. Bleed wherever you want to."

Seth crept to the bed and sat down before he passed out again. He brushed a hand through his hair, then froze as he felt those detested curls he never wore in front of anyone.

Shit.

That was followed by a fear so foul, it nauseated him more than his wounds. He brushed his hand against the whiskers on his cheek. "Did you wash-"

"Yes."

He winced as he realized she was looking at the real him. The part he never wanted anyone to see. "Why?" He had to struggle to keep the venom out of his voice.

"You had a nasty head injury and a bad bruise on your left cheek. I wanted to make sure no bones were broken."

So what if they had been? "Would it have mattered?"

She let out a tired breath before she answered. "No, Captain Bad-Ass, it wouldn’t. Sorry I tried to help."

He didn’t respond as he ran his hand underneath his chin where that repulsive bolt scar marred his skin … he could still feel it piercing his mouth and tongue.

It bothered him that she knew what he looked like. No good had ever come from anyone seeing his real features, especially not here. In Azmodea, it was always better to be feared than desired. A very harsh lesson he’d learned the moment Noir had brought him here and drained his powers, leaving him an unguarded victim for all the others until he’d regained enough strength to fight back. It was another reason there was no way into his room except by teleportation.

No one would ever victimize him again.

Except for the two who owned him. There was no way to protect himself from Noir or Azura’s particular brand of brutality.

His stomach churned with the thought of that and the fact that he felt like he was nak*d in front of her. That made his anger rise even higher.

"Don’t do it again. Ever."

Lydia rolled her eyes at that overstated growl as his armor and makeup reappeared to cover him. Whatever makes you feel better, babe …

An instant later, the remains of her food were gone and replaced by more.

She gave him an arch stare. "I take it you’re hungry."

He shook his head. "You probably are. How long was I out?"

"I don’t know. You don’t have a clock"-She gestured to the wall-"or window so that I can check time. Offhand, I’d say a day, maybe."

Still, he didn’t move. He merely sat there like an angry gargoyle, plotting revenge on some poor pigeon.

Ignoring his foul mood, she went to the food, hating the fact that she was starving. She’d been living on the fruit, but that hadn’t been enough to really satisfy her. She was craving protein in the worst sort of way. "You want some?"

"No."

"Maggot!"

Lydia jumped at the fierce shout that reverberated off the walls around them.

Seth’s features tightened into a mask of murder. The hatred in his gaze seared her. Without a word, he flashed out of the room and left her again.

* * *

Seth manifested in Noir’s dismal office that was as dark as Seth’s heart and mood. "You summoned me, my lord?"

"Well?"

He never wanted to hear the damn cursed word again. And he was confused as to why Noir was using it. "I don’t understand."

Noir backhanded him so hard his head snapped back and his neck made a loud popping sound. For a full minute he saw stars as Noir wrapped his hand in Seth’s hair and yanked him closer, so that he could snarl in his bleeding ear. "Then I shall speak slowly and use small words so that even a pathetic idiot like you can follow." Noir jerked his head with every syllable to punctuate it even more. "What. Is. Your. Progress? Do you have my key?"

Seth ground his teeth. There was no way to win this. If he told Noir the truth, he’d beat him again.

Please give me my powers for one second, you sorry bastard. That was all he would need to make Noir feel his wrath.

Damn you, Father. Damn you straight to hell! I hope Sesmu is squeezing the blood out of you right now and making you drown in it. More than that, he hoped his father was roasting in the ovens of the Underworld.

But none of that changed his slavery. None of it changed this moment.

Or what was about to be done to him.

And he hated most what he was forced to do. Subjugate himself. "I’m doing my best for you, my lord."

Noir caught him by his throat and squeezed so hard that he wheezed. "You better tell me why you have no more news than that."

Seth coughed as Noir’s grip tightened even more. "I-I couldn’t."

"Why?"

Even though he knew what it would get him, Seth met Noir’s gaze and let him see the full weight of his hatred. "I was left unconscious from your punishment."

"That’s what you get for being weak, you pathetic dog. If you were a man you’d have been able to take it."

Only weak because you steal my powers …

He grabbed Noir’s wrist and tried to drag it from his throat.

"Do you dare challenge me, slave?"

Seth didn’t answer with the truth. He knew better. But he wanted to. Desperately. "I live only to serve you."

Noir backhanded him again. "You’d best remember that."

How could he ever forget? It burned inside him like a bitter furnace.

"Yes, my lord." He focused his gaze on the far wall to make sure he didn’t look the bastard in the eye and incur a worse wrath.

Noir slapped him. "Are you paying attention?"

It took every ounce of will he possessed not to strike out at his overlord. Don’t do it. Don’t. It wouldn’t be worth the cost.

Still, he wanted to fight back so badly, he could taste it.

"Yes, my lord."

Noir shoved Seth away from him. "Your time is growing finite, dog. As is my patience. You either give me what I need, or I’ll return you to your pit and let the demons there have you for eternity."

Then why are you wasting my time by making me appear here when I could be pursuing it? That question burned in his throat. Effing idiot.