I woke up to raised voices. Climbing from my bed, I opened the door a little. Mother and Father were arguing . . . they were arguing about me.
* * *
Darrion faded to the walk-up in South Boston, the weight of the twin Berettas under his arms a comfort. This was one of his warded safe houses and the gods knew he needed them. Although he realized he was a walking, talking target for any one of the rival guilds, he simply didn’t give a fuck. Not tonight. Not any night. After sweeping his eyes around to see if he’d been followed, he glanced up at the rune carved above the front door.
The small symbol had been scratched out, which meant the protective spell designed to prevent gods and any other beings in the Nine Worlds from fading in and out had been tampered with. Darrion opened up the front door and silently slid inside.
The building’s ancient heating system suddenly lurched to life, a dying beast that grunted and groaned as he bypassed the five flights of stairs to his apartment, and chose to fade there instead. He paused in front of the door, the hairs at the back of his neck prickling. He drew one of the twins silently. Approaching one side of the jamb, he reached out and tried the handle. Locked.
With a growl in his throat, he faded just onto the other side of the door, ready. A delicate fragrance hung in the air. Honeysuckle, he thought. With narrowed eyes, he moved through the apartment, looking for signs of the intruder he knew was still there.
After a long silence, he was met with a hesitant female voice. “I mean you no harm, Walker.”
He cursed. “Show yourself, female.”
A woman emerged slowly from the bathroom on Darrion’s left. She was wearing a white cloak that covered her head and shoulders, hiding her features in shadow. On her diminutive body, she wore a dress made of the sheerest fabric. A moment later, she drew the hood back from her blonde hair and dropped her blue eyes to the floor. Gods, she couldn’t have been any older than sixteen.
He cursed her again, bringing the muzzle of the gun up to her forehead, teenager or not. “Who are you, and how did you find this place?” he snarled, baring his fangs.
The thick scent of her fear started to permeate the room, warring with the scent of honeysuckle. “Please,” she begged, her fearful eyes fixed on his finger on the trigger. “My mistress sent me here to speak with you.”
“Who is your mistress? How did you find me?” He could feel the air thicken as the fear consumed her. He breathed in that weighted air, feeling his stomach clench tight with need.
“M-my mistress is the queen,” the girl stammered, the color draining from her cheeks.
Darrion sneered at the title. “What do you want?”
The female licked her lips. “She wishes me to tell you she has a request—a contract, if you prefer.”
“I don’t work for the Aesir,” he spat back bitterly, lowering his arm but not holstering the weapon.
“Please.” The girl started trembling visibly. “She said she would kill me if I did not come back with the right answer.”
He leveled her with a cold, dead stare. “Your queen couldn’t afford me.”
“She has given me gold.” The servant spoke in a rush, reaching into her cloak. Darrion raised his weapon again, training it on her head, so when she looked up again the muzzle was right between her eyes. She gasped in surprise, the coin purse falling from her hand.
She dropped to the ground, her shaking fingers reaching for the gold that had spilled out onto the floor. She started to cry, her sobs delicate—restrained—as if she was afraid to make any more noise. Darrion watched her pale head bob around as she worked, wondering why in the hell this girl was sent to him in the first place.
She seemed to have pulled herself together when she faced him once more. “Please . . . is there no way you would say yes?”
Darrion snorted. There was one way, but it would never happen. “Yeah, get that bitch down here to ask me herself, instead of sending me little girls.”
The servant curtsied nervously and faded.
Darrion rubbed the back of his skull with his palm and holstered the Beretta. He fucking hated the Aesir—not because they had their heads so far up their asses they thought they’d invented the sun when they yawned, but because those pretentious fucks had persecuted his people for centuries. Odin had deemed the dark elves “too dangerous” to remain breathing and ordered that any Mare found within the civilian population should be captured or killed.
Gods, he needed a drink.
Finding his bottle of Maker’s Mark, he tore the wax cap off and took a deep pull. The amber liquid burned on the way down. The bottle began to shake in his hand, his angry body finally signaling its intent. Wiping the back of his hand over his mouth, he put the bottle down and let out a deep lungful of air.
“Did my little handmaiden shake you up so badly, morier?”
With a guttural snarl, Darrion spun around, pulling a throwing knife from the holster on his thigh and launching it in the direction of the voice. The blade stuck into the wall, vibrating with the force still surging through the metal. The woman who had been his target had simply sidestepped the steel, unruffled by his aggression.
If she’d been going for inconspicuousness, she’d failed. Her blood-red gown was cinched in at the waist, pushing her breasts up until her warm flesh threatened to spill over the top. Darrion glared at the woman and reached for his gun.
“Leave the weapon where it lies, morier.”
Darrion ground his teeth together, but stayed his hand. “I could have killed her, you know.” He watched her with suspicious eyes. She didn’t smell of fear yet, but there was still time.
“But you didn’t,” she replied smoothly, running a hand through hair the color of spun gold. Her shrewd blue eyes watched him move, watched him shift on his feet, positioning himself. “And do you want to know why?”
“Go on. Dazzle me.”
“I still haunt your dreams,” she replied, smiling insidiously.
Darrion bared his fangs at her, a rumble vibrating through his chest. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
The female laughed, a high, tinkling sound that grated on his eardrums. “You think I couldn’t finish you in the time it would take you to inhale your next breath?” he snarled back.
She waved away his threat with a casual hand. “Don’t you want to know what the job is?”
“I couldn’t give a—”
“Odin,” she murmured. Darrion’s mouth hung open for a second before he pulled his shit together. He couldn’t be falling apart. He was a goddamn Walker—the best there ever was. He searched her face for any signs of dishonesty.
He didn’t see any, but that didn’t mean a goddamn thing.
“Kill Odin,” she repeated.
A pause hung between them.
“You’re asking the impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible,” she purred back.
Staring into her face, his next words came out as a low growl. “I should just kill you now.”
“I’d be gone before you reached for your weapon.”
He smiled widely, showing her his fangs. “Who needs a weapon?”
Her pupils dilated, but he smelled only lust, not fear. Darrion inhaled deeply, taking in the fragrance. His body stirred at the memories that came along with that particular bouquet.
She cleared her throat and jerked her royal chin forward. “You think I came here unprotected?”
“No, I don’t think you’re that stupid. A whore, sure, but not stupid.”
Her delicate expression darkened. “How dare you!” she hissed.
He chuckled sardonically. “Slit your wrists, sweetheart,” he said dismissively. “It’ll lower your blood pressure.” He stalked away, pleased with this reaction. The great unflappable queen had just proved otherwise—though when he looked back at her, she was in control of her emotions once more. This was the woman he knew. This was the woman he remembered...