SHE’S beautiful even now, her dark hair spilling out in a halo around her head and her olive skin flawless and smooth. The white of her dress stands out starkly against the dark stone of the tiles, but it’s the small tattoo of an owl on the inside of her right wrist and the bronze dagger protruding from her stomach that Declan notices.
“She was taken by surprise,” he says, glancing over his shoulder as he crouches down for a better look. “If she’d had time to plan—”
“She never would have been killed,” Tadd finishes, crouching down next to Declan. “Whoever did this knew where she was going to be.”
“And who she really was.” Declan reaches toward the dagger, but Tadd stops him with a hand on his wrist, his thumb brushing over the silver kerykeion tattoo there.
“I need to—”
“Declan.” Tadd emphasizes the name. “We can’t.”
“She’s one of us. It’s my job.”
“Not anymore.” Tadd yanks Declan away from the body with enough force that only Declan’s speed lets him stay on his feet. “We left that behind.”
“Not entirely.” Declan looks pointedly at Tadd’s right wrist, where a small silver spear tattoo matches the owl on the woman’s and the kerykeion on Declan’s.
“Enough,” Tadd says, shaking his head. “We don’t even know who she is now. She doesn’t look like someone who can just disappear. If we handle this and it causes problems—”
“You want to involve mortals in this?” Declan arches his eyebrow smoothly. “Really?”
“No!” Tadd snaps, tightening his grip on Declan’s wrist. “I want to hurt whoever did this. But I can’t. Not if we’re going to keep these lives.” He calms himself with visible effort. “We left that behind, so we have to deal with this as who we are now, not as who we were.”
“We’re still who we were.” Declan pulls his wrist free. “Maybe we never should have pretended otherwise.”
“It’s a little late for regrets, don’t you think?”
“No.” Declan shakes his head as he moves toward the door. “I’m going to tell the others.”
“That’s an even stupider idea than involving mortal authorities.”
Declan swivels with Tadd to face the new arrival, a petite brunette with her hair swept up in a loose braid. She’s dressed professionally in a black A-line skirt, a white button-down shirt with three-quarter length sleeves, and a gray argyle sweater vest. Her shoes—low, wide loafer-style heels—manage to look both practical and professional, and the badge clipped to the exposed hem of her shirt reads Selene Ganis.
The tattoo peeking out from behind the silver bracelet on her right wrist is a small hunting bow.
Tadd crosses his arms over his chest as he looks her up and down. “What are you doing here?”
“Hunting. What else?”
“Here?” Tadd snarls as he steps forward, stretching up to his full height and using the fact that he towers over her by more than a foot to loom menacingly. “Why?”
Selene rolls her eyes and glares defiantly up at him. “I’m following a trail.” The word idiot goes unsaid, but they all hear it. “And it’s a good thing for the two of you that I am. You’d have gotten yourselves killed otherwise. Just like her.”
“What do you mean? And why are you stopping us?” Declan keeps his voice calm as he steps up behind Tadd and rests his hand on the small of Tadd’s back. “You don’t care what happens to us. You don’t like us.”
“No, I don’t. But whoever did this killed my sister, and the two of you are about to mess up my hunt. That I do care about.”
“How will passing on the message about what happened mess up your hunt?”
“Who do you think did this? A mortal? That blade killed a god. It was wielded by a demigod at least. If you tell everyone, the killer will know you’re aware of what happened, which might make you the next target.”
Tadd steps away from Declan and curls his fingers into fists. “Let him come. I’ll take him.”
“Wouldn’t he already know?” Declan paces back over to the body. “He left her here. That has to be some sort of message for us.”
Selene rolls her eyes. “And this is why someone else is going to die before I catch my prey. She wasn’t dumped here. She was attacked in her own home and fled here, looking for help, I guess, though I can’t imagine why. You two weren’t any use.”
“We just got home.”
“Calm down.” Selene holds up a hand as she steps around Tadd, looking at him disdainfully.
Tadd clenches his fists tighter as he stalks over to stand next to Declan. “Trust me, sweetheart, if we’d been here, we would have helped. And whoever did this wouldn’t have survived the encounter.”
“I’m not your sweetheart,” Selene says in a cool tone as she steps carefully around the body, her gaze fixed on the ground, looking for clues. “And I know you would have killed whoever did this, Ares.” She looks pointedly at Tadd. “That’s why Athena came here. If her killer managed to catch her in a position where she couldn’t defend herself, this is the most strategic place to flee. You’re the best fighter,” she starts, “and you’re the fastest,” she finishes, swinging her gaze to Declan. “If she needed help defending herself, she would come to you. Everyone would,” she adds, bitterness coloring her tone. “Did you know who she was?”
“You mean other than the obvious?” Declan casts a glance at the woman’s tattoo as he asks.
“Yes. Other than the obvious. How did she know where to find you?”
“We can always find each other if we really want to. You know that. We haven’t made any effort to keep ourselves concealed from those who know what to look for.”
“Well, maybe you should have.”
Tadd tenses under Declan’s hand. “You aren’t.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“And we can’t? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Tadd.” Declan takes Tadd by both shoulders and spends a minute looking straight into his eyes. “Try to calm down. Please.”
As Tadd sucks in a deep breath, Declan whirls and speeds over to Selene. “Stop goading him. If you want to hunt whoever did this, fine, I won’t stop you. But don’t come into our home and antagonize us. You’re the guest here. If you dislike us that much, leave.”
“Maybe I will.” Selene bends down, peering intently at the woman’s face and tattoo, and spends several minutes examining the dagger from every possible angle. Twice she almost touches it, bringing her hand within a hair’s breadth of brushing against it, but she stops short both times. Finally she pulls back and glances coolly at Tadd before squaring her shoulders and looking at Declan. “I trust you can handle disposing of the body?”
She doesn’t give him a chance to answer before she vanishes, leaving Declan staring at the empty space she’d occupied and wondering what, exactly, they’d done to deserve that.
Tadd snarls at the empty air where Selene had last been. “Well, that was pleasant.”
Declan is by his side in a second. He rests his hand on Tadd’s shoulder and slides it up to rub the tense muscles at the back of his neck. “Did you expect anything else?”
“No.” Tadd crosses his arms, still glaring at the empty air, but his tone is slightly less sullen and he leans into Declan’s soothing touch. “Not once I saw who she was. Bitch.”
“Tadd.” Declan withdraws his hand and steps around so he’s facing the other man. “Be nice.”
“I’m not nice.”
“You’re nice to me.”
“Not that much.” Declan smiles fondly and squeezes Tadd’s arm. “She wanted to irritate you. Don’t give in.”
“Easier said than done.” The moroseness in Tadd’s expression is fading, though, and he uncrosses his arms and bumps his shoulder into Declan’s before stepping closer to the body. “I’m easy to irritate.”
“Well, yes, but that’s part of your charm.”
Tadd scowls again. Declan flashes a small smile as he moves to look down at the body as well. He lets his smile fade as he takes in the details, noting the bent knee and the broken heel of her right shoe. She’s lying with her left hand tucked under her, nestled underneath her bent leg. When Declan bends down to take a closer look, this time investigating the body instead of the dagger, he notices something wedged under her knee, hidden in the folds of her dress.
Taking care that he doesn’t touch anything, he pulls a pen from his pocket and teases the object out from under the flowing skirt. It’s a white purse with a small wrist strap, tiny enough it could easily have gone unnoticed by anyone chasing her, and it’s dwarfed by Declan’s hand as he picks it up and curls his fingers carefully around the soft material so he can pull the zipper back.
“Declan.” Tadd lays a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Don’t touch it.”
“We need to know who she is.” Careful to touch as little of the material as possible, Declan looks inside and pulls free a tiny billfold that contains twenty dollars in cash, three credit cards, and a driver’s license. “Sofia Tavoularis,” he reads as he pulls the license free to show Tadd. “Her address is on the other side of town. We should leave the body there.”
“Leave the body?” Tadd doesn’t take the card, but he does peer at it over Declan’s shoulder. “What do you mean?”
“We can’t leave it here.”
“Tadd.” Declan turns around and looks the other man in the eyes. “We can’t leave her here. Mortals aren’t going to solve this.”
“And we can’t be linked to a murder, even circumstantially. Not if we want to continue living these lives.”
They’ve spent decades building their current personas and the companies that support them, changing their mortal personas every fifteen years or so to avoid arousing suspicion. They built their firms from the ground up, taking them from small businesses to the large corporations they’re CEOs of today, and they did it all the mortal way.
It’s not something they’re willing to give up without a fight.
“We’ll need to get rid of that before you move her.” Tadd crouches down next to Declan, balancing himself with one hand on the tiles as he focuses on the bronze dagger protruding from her stomach. When wielded by the right hands, it’s a weapon capable of killing a god. They can’t let it fall into mortal custody.
Tadd eyes the protruding hilt carefully for a moment before he pushes himself back up. “I think I have something that will work.”
Declan snorts quietly as Tadd heads back into the house. Of course he does.
THE heavy chimes of the doorbell echo through the foyer as Declan curls his fingers around the graphite hilt of the dagger Tadd is holding out. It’s a perfect match for the size and shape of the bronze dagger, though this one has a blade of steel and lacks the magical energy that imbues the one Tadd pulled from Sofia’s stomach. This one would not have killed Athena, not even if wielded by Zeus himself, but it’s exactly the kind of blade a mortal assailant would use.
Declan freezes, his fingers touching Tadd’s along the hilt of the dagger and his eyes wide as he tries to fathom who could be visiting at this hour. This was supposed to be a quiet evening at home, just the two of them and a bottle of red wine. Visitors—and dead bodies—were not on the agenda.
Tadd pulls the dagger back and shifts around so he can slide it into the wound. “Go,” he tells Declan, carefully setting the removed bronze blade on an old towel he brought out for the purpose. He’ll have to dispose of the towel later, along with anything else that might link Sofia Tavoularis to Tadd Leventis or Declan Anagnos, but for now, it prevents the wet, sticky blood on the bronze blade from getting on their floor. “I’ll take care of this.”
Declan looks at him for a moment, then allows his eyes to roam to the myriad of weapons spread on the floor next to the body. Tadd had brought out multiple daggers so they could find the best match, and it had taken several minutes of comparison to determine they had a perfect equivalent.
“I’ll send whoever it is away.”
It’s not going to be that easy. He knows it even before the doorbell rings again, but it’s not for nothing that Declan is known for his speed and diplomacy. He flies to the door, wraps his fingers around the knob before the chime stops sounding, and twists, pulling the door open just enough he can stick his head through the crack. He’s all fake smiles and pleasantries until his eyes alight on the short, slightly scruffy-looking blond man standing on their front porch.
“Lukas,” he says, stepping through the narrow opening and pulling the door shut behind him. “What are you doing here?”
The smaller man looks taken aback at Declan’s rudeness. “Uh, dinner? Tonight? Six o’clock?”
Declan blinks blankly. “Dinner?” He sounds as dumb as Selene implied he is, but he can’t remember anything about dinner with Lukas tonight.
Then again, his mind is currently occupied with far more serious matters.
Lukas’s eyebrows slide smoothly up his forehead. “We were going to discuss our business deal?”
“Business deal?” Declan can’t remember that either. It’s worrisome, but he’ll focus on it later. Business deal or not, he can’t have dinner with Lukas tonight.
“Are you all right?” Lukas tilts his head to the side and looks at Declan appraisingly. “You seem… stressed.”
“Yeah. Just, uh….” Declan waves his hand vaguely as he tries to think of a suitably diplomatic reason to keep Lukas out of their foyer. He would likely understand the situation, and Declan is tempted to invite him in just to spite Selene, but she was right. They can’t let anyone else know about Athena without endangering themselves.
“The housekeeper got sick all over the foyer,” he says with a glance back toward the door. “It’s a huge mess, and….” He flashes a strained smile. “Can we reschedule?”
“Of course. Call me when you’re free.”
“Thanks.” This time, Declan’s smile comes easier.
Lukas pats Declan on the shoulder, briefly exposing the sun rays on the inside of his right wrist, and heads off. “We’re going to do big things together, man!”
Declan shakes his head and watches as Lukas climbs into the Bronte sport model sitting in the driveway. He waits for him to drive off before slipping back though the door, again taking care to only open it as far as necessary for him to get through. He can’t see anyone around, but there’s no point in taking needless risks that could expose what they’re doing or who they really are.
Sofia is still sprawled on the floor exactly where Declan left her, but the knives are gone, put back into their places in Tadd’s study, and Tadd is sitting on the bottom of the staircase that curves its way up to the second floor. He’s lounging back in a casual pose with one leg extended to the floor, the other folded up on the step below where he’s perched, and his elbows resting on the step behind that, but tension radiates from him, filling the foyer and making Declan’s nerves jingle.
“Who was it?”
Declan joins Tadd on the steps, relaxing against the polished wood with his back to Sofia’s body. “Lukas.”
“What did he want?” Tadd’s dislike of Lukas dates back to their glory days on Olympus, and Declan has never been able to convince him to play nice, despite numerous attempts. Tonight, though, he’s inclined to agree with Tadd’s opinion of the man. A visitor was the last thing they needed.
“He said something about dinner and a business deal.”
“Tonight?” The accusation is blatant in Tadd’s flat, unforgiving tone.
“Yeah.” Declan rubs his hand over his face and pinches the bridge of his nose as he sighs. “I didn’t schedule it. Maybe Rachel did and forgot to tell me, I don’t know. I thought tonight was going to be just us.”
“That worked out well.”
Declan’s lips twitch. “As always.” He pushes himself up, his shoulders tensing as he turns back toward the body. “Is everything set?”
“She’s all ready.” Tadd climbs to his feet as well and follows Declan over to stare down at the body. “Be careful not to touch anything.”
“I always do.”
“Don’t look into things. Let Selene handle it.”
“Declan.” Tadd steps in front of Declan and cups his chin in both hands. “This isn’t your job. Let her handle it.”
Declan stares at Tadd for a long moment before he nods. “All right.”
“Thank you.” Tadd steps back, his hands slipping from Declan’s face, but before they reach his sides, Declan catches them and holds them loosely between his own as he closes the distance between them once more.
“You’re welcome,” he whispers, then tilts his head and leans in to brush his lips against Tadd’s.
The kiss isn’t romantic. It can’t be with a dead body less than five feet away, but it’s heartfelt and full of promise. When they break apart, Tadd reaches up to touch Declan’s cheek briefly before stepping back again and jamming his hands in his pockets. “Go.”
Declan pulls a pair of black leather gloves from the shelf in the closet under the stairs and slips them on before scooping Sofia into his arms and carefully arranging her so he doesn’t get any blood on his dress shirt or suit pants. “I’ll be right back.”
Tadd nods and opens the front door, holding it ajar so Declan, calling on his true speed for the first time in centuries, can fly out the door and carry the body across town. When mortals find it, they will never associate it with Declan Anagnos and Tadd Leventis.