Her anger didn’t seem to faze him at all. Of course, he lived and served Noir who, she’d been told, lived in a state of constant PMS. He was probably immune to any form of heated words.
"Fine then," he said in a calmer tone. "Call me Guardian."
She made a deep sound of disgust. Like that was any better? Good grief. Was that really the only choice she had? Master or Guardian?
She shook her head at him. "Your mother named you Guardian? Really? She must not have thought much of you for that." She’d meant it as a joking barb, but he went ramrod stiff as pain flared deep in his eyes-something that told her she’d unintentionally struck a nerve.
"I’m sorry, Guardian. I didn’t mean anything by that." She reached out to touch him.
He shot to his feet and stepped back so fast, he almost tripped over his chair. "Don’t touch me." Those snarled, angry words came out like rapid gunfire.
She balled her hand into a fist as she saw a huge, fresh, ugly bruise on his cheek through the white makeup. It reminded her of all the others marring his flesh-the bite marks she’d seen on his chest, thighs, and neck. And it was then she fully understood his secret.
His true pain.
"Has anyone ever given you a touch that didn’t cause you pain?"
Seth didn’t move as her question slapped him hard in the face. But the most painful of all was the harsh truth. Once, a long time ago, he’d lived like a normal person. He’d had people he thought loved him. A family who said he was a part of them.
But that had been a cruel lie. He’d have been far better off without knowing their fake kindness. All that had done was show him what he was missing. Show him what other people took for granted.
Show him what he was unworthy of having.
It doesn’t deserve to breathe the same air as I, never mind share my name! How dare you name such a wretch after me. If you think by whelping it you would endear yourself to me, think again.
With his father’s words ringing in his ears, Seth started away from her.
But she stepped in front of him, cutting off his retreat. Before he realized her intent, she laid a gentle hand on his cheek that still burned from Noir’s fist. The tenderness of it shocked him.
Closing his eyes, he savored the warmth of her touch, and tried to imagine a life where such a thing wasn’t a rarity. But the truth wouldn’t let him have even that much comfort. It shouted angrily in his head, reminding him of who and what he was.
Who could ever love a mongrel like you?
You’re disgusting. Pathetic.
Get out of my sight, wretch, before I vomit. Even when he pleased Azura or a she-demon, they threw him out of bed the minute they were finished with him. He was only a tool to pacify a bodily urge.
He mattered to no one and no one mattered to him.
Seth opened his eyes to see her staring up at him with kindness burning bright in her topaz gaze.
That lie slammed into his stomach with the force of Noir putting him through a wall. She didn’t give a single shit about him and he knew it.
Solin was the one she loved. He was the one she’d come here to save.
A woman like her would never risk her life to save something like him.
Rage tore through him as he realized her ruse. He knew what she was trying to do and he hated her for it.
He snatched her hand away from his face. "What kind of fool do you take me for?"
She actually managed to look shocked. "I don’t understand."
Yeah, right. She knew and she was trying to play him. To weaken him. "I’m nothing to you, but an enemy to get past. Don’t insult either of us by pretending otherwise."
Lydia winced as his grip tightened on her wrist and he dragged her toward his bed. Panic swelled inside her as she feared his intent.
She started to fight him, until she realized he wasn’t going to attack her. Rather he manifested a chain that ran from the bedpost to her ankle.
His eyes glittered like ice as he released her and then returned to his desk.
"You’re just going to leave me chained here?"
"Yes." He opened his laptop.
He refused to look at her. "Is that not what I said?" He started typing something.
She was flabbergasted by his overreaction to a simple question. "Are you honestly that afraid of a touch?"
Turning his head, he glared at her over his shoulder. "I told you, I fear nothing."
But she knew better. He wouldn’t give her his name. He wouldn’t let her see his real face or offer him comfort of any sort …
"You can lie to yourself all you want to, Guardian. I know the truth about you."
A deep scowl lined his brow. "What truth?"
"You fear people. Why else would you live like this?"
He slammed his hands down on his desk with enough force that it made her jump, and it lifted the laptop a good inch before it clamored down and landed sideways on the desk.
"I don’t fear people," he said between his clenched teeth. "I f**king hate them." She could taste the venom he spat out with that one word. "Do you understand? They lie. They steal. They cheat and deceive. There is absolutely nothing about them that I can stand … And if you don’t leave me alone, I’m going to take your voice away again."
A part of her was tempted to test him on that, but the saner part of herself won out.
He wasn’t one to bluff.
Fine. Whatever. Let him stew in his misery. It didn’t really concern her anyway.
Not like I have to deal with you much longer. Sooner or later, Solin would free her. She knew it.
With nothing else to do, she sat on the bed and watched as he worked on whatever it was he had on his laptop. She tilted her head as minutes dragged by and he hit the keys so hard, she was rather surprised it didn’t lock up or break.
It was woefully obvious that he had no idea what he was doing, and he became more agitated by the second. Boy, did she understand that. As the old saying went, a TV can insult your intelligence, but nothing rubs it in like a computer.
And for some reason she couldn’t name, she felt a smug satisfaction over it.
Good. I hope you stew in frustration until you’re pruny from it.
That’d teach him to be nicer to her.
Seth tried to focus on his research, but all he really noticed was the faint sound of Lydia’s breathing. Every time she made the smallest move, his body reacted to it against his wishes.
Why had she touched him? Between that and his kiss when he’d given her her voice, he’d screwed himself. Now he couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to have sex with a woman and not a demon.
Were all non-demonic women like Lydia? Did they smell that good? Feel so soft?
Don’t look at her.
He heard his inner sanity and yet he couldn’t resist glancing over his shoulder to catch her staring at his back from where she sat cross-legged on his bed. With her elbows braced on her knees, she rested her chin on her folded hands. He had no idea why he found that adorable, but he did.
"What are you doing?" he asked her.
"Trying to read through your big head."
She gave him a droll look. "Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because I’m bored out of my friggin’ mind and there’s really nothing else to do since I’m not sleepy. What do you do for entertainment? Other than surf online p**n , that is."
"Porn?" She used a lot of words he didn’t have a definition for.
"You know? Pornography? Naked women showing off their happy places to lonely men who can’t get dates? Or, in your case, guys who live under rocks and never get to see a normal woman’s happy place."
He was both appalled and intrigued by what she described. Did women really do such a thing? And you could actually see it?
Of course, during his brief time in the human realm, people had been very open sexually. Obviously, they still were.
"I’m not surfing p**n ." He didn’t realize he could do that, but now that she brought it up …
Where would he go to find it? He hadn’t had the computer long. Only a little more than a week. He wouldn’t have even known they existed but for one of the slug demons who’d mentioned it while he’d been questioning Solin.
Once he got back to his room, he’d manifested one and it’d taken him awhile to figure out how to use his powers to make it connect to the human world.
The rest of it, though …
Some special kind of sadistic demon must have invented this damn thing.
But Lydia seemed to know how to work it. "Do you…"
Don’t ask. Don’t do it.
She arched a brow at him. "What?"
He hesitated. He’d stopped asking others for help a long time ago. Either he was ignored, or humiliated over it. It was a no-win situation for him.
And he’d been kicked in his teeth and insulted enough for one day. "Never mind."
A knowing light sparkled in her eyes. His c**k jerked at that playful expression.
"You want me to help you, don’t you?"
Yes. But he’d never admit that. "I can figure it out on my own."
She tsked at him. "It doesn’t make you weak to ask for help when you need it. Rather, it’s a strong man who knows and acknowledges his limitations."
And it was a fool who exposed himself to ridicule. "Do you mind? I need to concentrate." He turned away from her.
Lydia wanted desperately to tell him where to shove that laptop. But the almost boyish shyness about him kept her from being hostile.
He’d started to reach out to her and then something had made him pull back.
Something? Hell, girl, you’ve seen his body. It wasn’t an intangible thing that reeled him in. It was years of abuse that had taught him to stay inside himself.
There came a point in everyone’s life when they’d been slapped too many times for reaching out. After a few concussions, they stopped doing it. She understood that better than most.
A tic started in his jaw as he turned toward her with a scowl so fearsomely evil, she wondered if it was one he’d practiced in a mirror to scare the other demons of this place.
Good thing she didn’t scare easily.
Instead, she smiled at him. "Computers are extremely annoying and hard to operate if you’re not used to them. Sometimes even if you are. If you’ll let me go, I don’t mind helping you do whatever it is you’re trying to do." She jiggled the chain expectantly.
Seth didn’t move for a full minute as he debated with himself. It was safer for his sanity when she stayed away from him.
Who are you fooling? She might as well be on top of you, the way you react to every breath she takes, even when it’s across the room.
And he needed to get this done. His time was running fast through an hourglass he couldn’t stop or break. Noir wouldn’t give him any kind of extension and he knew it.
Steeling himself, he nodded.
Lydia finally breathed again as her chain vanished instantly. Whoa … those were some scary powers he had and she still didn’t know the full extent of them.
Trying not to think about it, she got up and went to his desk.
He moved out of his seat and offered it to her.
Cracking her knuckles, she sat down, then hesitated as she reached for the laptop. "This thing isn’t going to eat my fingers is it?"
"I tried to use it earlier and it slammed shut on me. It almost took a couple of my phalanges with it."
Something twitched at the side of his mouth that might have become a smile had he allowed it. "No, it won’t hurt you."
Still a little skeptical, she carefully pulled it over to her. But he was right. It wasn’t hungry anymore and she was able to type in safety.
She looked up, and saw another new lumpy bruise on his temple that wasn’t visible until you got close to him. Her stomach clenched. Knowing he would never talk to her about it, she focused on what they were doing. "Okay, what do you want to know?"
He took a step away from her. "I need to learn more about the key to Olympus."
Okay. She had no idea why and had never heard the term before. But then there were a lot of things she didn’t know about her native culture. Solin had raised her in other parts of Europe. For reasons he wouldn’t name, he kept her away from her heritage. While he’d schooled her on the gods and her Were-Hunter branch, he’d always been insistent that she never try to contact them.
And since she hadn’t interacted with others of her kind after her family had died …
She was pretty ignorant of anything other than the major facts.
"Did you Google it?" she asked him.
He frowned. "Google?"
"Yeah, Google. You know, the search engine."
He sniffed and jerked his head as if he’d had a pain shoot through his nose. Then he placed the heel of his hand over his left eye and held it there. "What’s a search engine?"
"Are you okay?" Even though he didn’t complain, she had a sneaking suspicion that he was really hurting right now.
"It’ll go away in a minute." He lowered his hand and blinked his eye open.
Lydia gasped as she saw that the entire white of his eye was now completely red. Blood red. "Oh my God. Does that hurt?"
Seth had no answer to her question. Every part of him currently hurt. Especially his inflamed c**k that kept begging him to take her regardless of her protests.
But he wasn’t that much of an animal. Having been raped on several occasions, he wasn’t about to do that to anyone else. For that matter, he couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had sex that hadn’t raped either his body or his soul.