“She’ll be a beautiful bride.”
“Don’t make me rip out your throat, Trates.”
Urian choked on his laughter as he saw the raw fear that statement wrung from Trates, who quickly excused himself so that he could put as much distance between himself and Stryker as possible. Not that he blamed him. His father was in a rotten mood, and had been for the last few days since Tannis had announced her intentions of tying herself to a worthless bit of Apollite trash.
In fact, no one wanted Tannis to marry Erol. Especially their father, and this engagement party was thoroughly pissing them all off. Even though as an Apollite, she was a full grown woman who was fully developed, she was technically only twelve years old.
And as her father, Stryker couldn’t get past her real age, and the fact that had they not been cursed, he would still have a few more years with her at home. Which was why he was insisting on a long engagement that had left his daughter, her future groom, and Tannis’s future in-laws complaining.
Aside from their father, Urian and his mother seemed to be the only two who agreed about the long engagement. But then Urian hated Erol. He was a massive beast of an arrogant bastard, and they had a long history of fighting between them.
Then again, Urian had a long history of fighting with most everyone.
His mother sighed as she hugged Urian’s arm. “I can’t believe I’m losing another baby so soon.”
“I’m sorry, Mata.” He jerked his chin toward his father who was sharpening a knife while glaring at Erol. “Though I’m thinking if Solren has his way, there won’t be a wedding. Maybe just a wedding feast . . .”
She laughed. “There are times when I simply adore your father, Uri.” Patting his arm, she stepped away as if she knew her human blood tempted him in spite of his deep love and respect for her. She adjusted her cloak higher around her neck. “So . . . who here has your fancy?”
Urian felt the color rising in his cheeks at a question he always dreaded. Especially since it made his stomach rumble from hunger. It seemed ever his destiny to starve. Even though he was in a room full of walking meals. But there wasn’t anyone here who would feed him.
“Haven’t found anyone yet.”
“You’re still not being fed?”
He didn’t miss the note of panicked fear underlying her question. It was a secret he and his father had intentionally been keeping from her . . . and everyone else. The fact that his father had a handful of loyal men he forced to bleed so that he could bring their blood to Urian in bladders or cups. While it wasn’t the same as eating the way Apollo intended Apollites to, it kept Urian from starving to death.
The one advantage to it was that it left him a bit edgier than the others.
Leaner and meaner, as the humans would say. Because he was perpetually hungry, his senses were sharper. His powers stronger—more focused. And he was always angry and looking for a fight.
Except where his mother and sister were concerned. And of course the goddess. But that was simply because he knew Apollymi would rip out his throat if he ever showed his temper around her.
Luckily, Tannis called his mother away at that moment and saved him from having to answer.
Restless, Urian drifted through the crowd in the dark hall where many of their community had gathered to celebrate his sister’s news, and feed. Which meant the hall was quickly turning into an orgy, so parents were covering the eyes of their smaller children and rushing them home. No doubt that was why Tannis had called their mother aside. They were all careful to keep their mother away from any of their “parties.” Aside from the fact that the way they ate tended to horrify her, as a human she could easily find herself someone’s prime course—and the witness to Urian’s first massacre, as he was rabidly protective of his mother and sister. While his father might sharpen the knife, Urian was a little too quick to use it.
Another reason no one would feed him. His temper was quite legendary among their people already.
As were his powers.
Davyn staggered over to him. By the glazed and dazed appearance of his eyes, it was obvious he’d been feeding quite a bit already, and was more than a little blood-drunk. Licking his fangs, he smiled as he draped himself against Urian’s back and rested his chin on Urian’s bare shoulder. Because they’d grown up together, he, alone, held no fear of Urian.
Or much of anyone else.
“Hey, brother Uri. Sure you don’t want to join us?” His hand drifted a little too far south, toward the hem of Urian’s short chiton.
Urian laughed as he extricated himself from Davyn’s hug and sloppy grope. “You’re a little too happy, Dav, and Paris doesn’t share. Believe me, I know. I still have a bruise from the last time I hogged too much blanket. Given the ass-whipping I took from that, I’d hate to think what he’d do if he found his boyfriend draped all over me.”
Davyn tsked. “I know you’re hungry. Don’t you get tired of drinking reheated blood? Wouldn’t like someone fresh to eat?”
His breathing turned ragged at an invitation that was extremely hard to say no to. Every part of him was attuned to the scent of Davyn’s blood. To the hunger inside him to feed.
However . . .
I won’t be an asshole.
Not to his brother.
And definitely not to Davyn who would horrified if he were sober. Davyn would never act like this if he weren’t high from the blood-lust. Paris should have known better than to have fed him and left him alone. It’d been a stupid thing for his brother to do. Davyn was too young and inexperienced to be have been abandoned in a crowd.
“Tell you what, Davy. Let’s find Paris, shall we?”
“Ooo, three of us. Good idea. I like that even better!”
“Yeah.” Urian draped Davyn’s arm around his shoulders and led him through the crowd, looking for Paris.
Yet the sight and smell of the others feeding while he was this close to a willing donor . . . it was torture.
“Where did you leave Paris?”
Davyn was almost unconscious.
Urian had to shake him awake. “Davyn! Where did you leave my brother?”
“In a room.”
That was so unhelpful. Urian sighed in irritation. It was a good thing Davyn was the only friend he had or the temptation to gut him would be harder to resist.
Unsure of what to do, he went to his brother Theo, who had taken his wife and children home the moment the first set of clothing had started coming off. While Theo was far from prudish and had been known to participate in some of the most lascivious parties ever thrown—as had his wife, Praxia, prior to their marriage, Theo’s eldest child was a daughter and he was extremely protective of her virtue.
Not to mention, Theo’s home was the closest to the hall.
After Urian’s insistent knocking, a barely dressed Theo answered the door with an annoyed frown. Given his brother’s state of dishabille, and the redness of his throat, Urian would say he’d been in the midst of his own sexual encounter with Praxia. “What do you want?” he barked.
“Apollo’s death. Apollite domination over the world of mankind and an end to our curse. But at the moment, I’d settle for finding Paris who’s abandoned Davyn and vanished. Can you lend us a hand and watch over Davyn while I try to find the stupid bastard?”
Davyn scowled at them both. “I don’t want to sleep with Theo, Uri. He’s an asshole. Let’s find Paris.”
Urian passed an See-what-I-mean stare at his older brother.
That took the edge off Theo’s anger. “How long has he been like this?”
“Since I found him.”
“And Paris left him like this?”
“You’re making all my points.” Urian gave him a peeved glare. “Davyn’s right. You are an asshole.”
With a disgusted sneer, Theo grabbed Davyn by his chalmys. “Prax? Get dressed. I need you to watch Davyn until we get back.”
“Where are you going!” she called from the other room. There was no missing the irritation in her shrill tone.
“Just do what I say, woman!”
Urian paused in the door. “You shouldn’t talk to her like that. She’s the mother of your children.”
“Mind your own business, Uri. This is my house and I’ll run it as I see fit.”
“And your father would have your ass if he heard you speaking to her in that tone.”
Theo’s nostrils flared with anger as he pinned on his chalmys.
Ignoring him, Urian looked past his brother to where Praxia was coming down the stairs to take over watch duty. “We’re going to look for Paris. As soon as we find him, I’ll bring Theo back.”
“Thank you, Urian.”
Respectfully, he inclined his head to her.
As soon as they left Theo’s house, Theo grabbed him and slammed Urian against the wall of his neighbor’s home. “You ever do that again and I’ll—”
Urian punched him in the gut. “Don’t threaten me, Theo. I’m not a child anymore.”
Theo used his powers to knock him back and choke him.
With his own psychic blast, Urian broke his hold. More than that, he knocked him careening down the street without touching him. It was the first time he’d ever fully unleashed his powers in front of anyone, other than Apollymi. Only the goddess and her Charonte had any idea of the extent of his abilities. Because his powers were so much stronger than anyone else’s, Urian knew better than to put them on display.
But he was too angry and hungry tonight for restraint.
And too late, he recovered his control and temper to realize that there were a lot of witnesses for his outburst.
Shit. He turned around slowly to see the horrified stares that condemned him.
If anyone else had shown such power, they would have been applauded for it. Considered great and praised.
Not him. Nay, never the son with freakishly white hair born to Stryker and his Greek bride. The one with eyes unlike other Apollites.
I really am born cursed.
Where others were praised, he was feared. Ridiculed.
This was no exception. Already, he could hear their whispers around him.
He’s a freak!
How can anyone so young do that?
What’s wrong with him?
I told you he was to be avoided! You see what he can do! It’s unnatural, even for us!
Even when Urian tried to do the right thing, it always turned against him. Somehow he ended up on the wrong side of any matter in the eyes of their people. It never failed. They always judged him wrongly.
Just like now.
They never saw the truth of him.
Everyone stared at him as if he should be punished, when all he’d been trying to do was help his twin and sister-in-law.
When will I learn?
He was the Anti-Midas. Everything he touched turned to shit.
If that wasn’t bad enough, he saw Paris among those wanting his head on a platter—completely fine and with their brother Alkimos. I should have known . . .
“Urian? What is this?”
He cringed as his father appeared by his side.
Before he had a chance to answer, Theo pushed himself to his feet. “I was doing him a favor, Solren, and this is the thanks I get for it. He assaults me without reason.”
Their father returned his attention to him. “Is this true, Urian?”
Urian glared at Theo. “I had my reasons for it.”
That didn’t sit well with his father who cast them both a disgusted sneer for having brawled in the street like two common hoodlums and not the princes they were supposed to be. “Then elaborate.”
He gestured toward Theo. “You sired an asshole, Solren. I was trying to cull him down to a mere shit-for-brains.”
He straightened his chalmys over his chiton with a nonchalance he definitely didn’t feel, especially while the others continued to smear his semi-respectable name. All Urian wanted was to leave while he could. Instead, he forced himself to stand as if it didn’t bother him at all. He’d never give them that satisfaction. “I took issue with the manner in which he spoke to me, and sought to teach him a more respectful tone. I’ve had it with his high-handed tactics and I refuse to be talked down to anymore, by him or anyone else.”
Theo curled his lip. “You see, Solren! He’s a recalcitrant brat. Instead of indulging his disrespect all the time, you need to be spanking his spoiled little ass.”
Their father shook his head. “Nay, Urian’s right. The world and people will treat you how you allow them to. I won’t punish him for having the temerity to stand up to you, Theo. Especially when I know you have the ability to fight back and that you’ve never hesitated to strike him down whenever you think you’ve been slighted.”
Theo sputtered indignantly. “One day, Solren, you will regret the fact that you didn’t keep a tighter leash on your favored pup. Mark my words. He’s a rabid little bastard whose loyal to no one but himself.”
Luckily, their father knew better. He passed a meaningful glance toward Theo’s home. “Careful, m’gios, too often when confronted, we condemn ourselves in our anger. So think twice before you spew venom to taint your brother with the shadows of your own sin. For hate is a boomerang that once it's cast out has a nasty way of coming back to the one who threw it, and more often than not, it cripples that hand that first unleashed it.”
A tic started in Theo’s jaw. “Fine. Coddle him. You always have. It’s half of what’s wrong with him.” And with that, he headed home.
Yet the crowd remained. Staring, whispering.
Urian felt their judgement as if it were a living, breathing beast crawling all over his skin. And he deplored the sensation. Why couldn’t he be more charming like Paris?
It seemed the harder he tried to be liked, the less inclined they were to do so. So he’d given up trying and had just reconciled himself to his solitude. It was easier that way. Better to reject them before they had a chance to slap him down and risk this sick feeling he currently had in his stomach.
“Don’t listen to him, Uri.”
He barely caught himself before he rolled his eyes at his father’s most commonly uttered phrase. Despite what his brothers thought, their father would backhand him if he showed any form of disrespect. Stryker wasn’t known for his patience with anyone or for brooking any form of insubordination or insolence.
Especially not from his children.
His father caught him roughly by the hair at the nape of his neck and forced him to look up until he met his gaze. There was a stern yet loving glow in those swirling silver eyes that matched their goddess—a result of Apollymi’s having saved his father’s life after he’d almost died in a confrontation with Apollo. It was why his father couldn’t feed him now. Not without it converting Urian not only to a Daimon like his father, but it would also bond their life forces together and allow his father to see through his eyes. Because his father held the blood of two gods, it gave him a lot more power than any of the other Apollites or Daimons.
Stryker was like no other.
And neither was Urian.
“You listen to me, pido, and take these words to heart. Damn them for what they think. For that is something you can never control. What you do have authority over is your own reaction to their words, and they have no value in your world unless you will it so. The only opinions that should ever matter to you are those of the people you love. The people you deem worthy. To the rest, close your ears and close your heart. Because if they don’t care what damage they do to your life, then you don’t care what damage you wreak to theirs. Blood to blood. Fang for fang. Remember, Urian, a smart man strikes the first blow, but it’s the wise man who strikes the last one. Understand?”
He pulled him against his shoulder and hugged him close, then kissed his head. “I love you, boy,” he growled deep against Urian’s ear. “Don’t you ever forget that.”
Urian nodded as he clutched his fist in his father’s cloak and held tight to him, grateful for his support.
With two powerful pats to his back, his father released him and stepped back. “Now go. See to your business.”
“Aye, sir.” Urian headed for Paris and then slugged his brother so hard, it sent him straight to the ground.
“What the hades!” Paris sat up and rubbed at his jaw. “Have you lost your mind?”
Urian glared at him. “That’s for being an asshole. Find Davyn and don’t leave him again. Next time you’re this stupid, I’ll stab you for it.”
Paris pushed himself to his feet as Urian walked off. “I’m not the ass, Urian! You are!”
Without stopping, Urian scoffed. “You are wrong about that, adelfos! And you’d best make a sacrifice to the gods tonight that I don’t decide to one day embrace the demon all of you think lives inside me. I promise you, the day I let that beast out . . . you will all be running for cover.”