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East of Ecstasy
Hearts of the Anemoi
By Laura Kaye, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Laura Kaye
All rights reserved.
Devlin Eston paced the length of the dark space wondering what the fuck he was supposed to do now. No allies. No plan. And precious little hope.
The world had no idea it was standing on the precipice of disaster. Nor that Devlin was the main thing that stood between humanity and a madman bent on power and destruction. And that was probably a good thing. The idea that Devlin was anyone's best hope for salvation was almost laughable — his own brothers could testify to that. Which was why he'd been camped out in an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere Maryland for the past twenty-four hours trying to get his emotions under control.
Devlin had an anger management problem of divine proportions. Literally. When he got mad, things caught on fire, blew up, or got fried by electricity. You'd think the fact that he was a rain god would provide a counterbalance to his pyrotechnics, but having the power to put the fire out didn't negate the damage he caused in the first place. He'd already firebombed one hideout, which was why he was here now.
Trying to get his shit together. His heart raced like he was in the middle of a fight, his muscles braced for attack or defense, and his hands burned with preternatural energy just waiting to be called forth. Problem was, he didn't have good control over himself and he couldn't just calm down because he wanted to.
Not since his grandfather Aeolus, the god of storms and ruler of the winds, conducted what amounted to a divine science experiment on him — with Devlin's full cooperation — a few weeks before. Without question, drinking of the infernal rivers Styx and Phlegethon had given Devlin destructive powers — powers they needed to have a shot at taking out Devlin's evil father, Eurus, who in recent months had earned the top spot on Olympus's number one most-wanted list for a string of crimes against both gods and man. Even worse, since Eurus had stolen Aeolus's Firestone ring six months before — the one that had allowed the storm god to rule and control the Anemoi for most of their existence — Eurus had become too damn strong for the others to successfully fight.
Which was why Devlin had agreed to drink a cocktail of the Underworld variety. After all, of any of them, he had nothing to lose and the most to gain. Namely, freedom for himself and his youngest brother.
And it'd seemed he and his grandfather had been on to something. In those rare moments when Devlin could harness the new gifts the magical waters had given him, he was as powerful as his grandfather. In training to control and master the fire and lightning storms inside him, Devlin had occasionally even bested Aeolus, the strongest storm god of them all. But imbibing the hatred of the Styx and the fire of the Phlegethon had made him volatile. Unstable. Dangerous.
Even more than a lifetime of paternal abuse had already made him.
Now, the foreign energy inside him felt like a car that would suddenly jolt from zero to eighty without Devlin having ever stepped on the gas. And, once the energy spiked, the brakes failed every damn time.
Devlin's emotions were so out of control right now because he'd been outed as a traitor to his father, putting his remaining brother in even greater danger, and yet the rest of his family continued to mistrust and suspect him of secret loyalty to his father. Well, all except his grandfather. But, for the most part, Devlin was damned any way he sliced it.
It had all come to a head two nights ago, when he'd tried to warn his grandfather and his Anemoi uncles that his father, Eurus, Supreme God of the East Wind and Autumn, was preparing to attack them. Animosity had always separated Eurus from his brothers in the north, south, and west, but in the past year, the fraternal feuds among the Anemoi gods had escalated into actual attacks. First, this past spring when Eurus abducted and nearly killed Ella, mate of the West Wind's Zephyros, and second, just days ago when Eurus employed the screeching birdlike Harpies to ambush all the Anemoi after what was supposed to have been a secret meeting deep inside the Rock of Gibraltar. The North Wind's Boreas and the South Wind's Chrysander had both been injured that time, while Devlin had been chained helplessly to the mountaintop by his father's invisible but inescapable will. A forced witness to Eurus's evil. Again. So maybe Devlin shouldn't have been surprised that, instead of a little damned gratitude for taking the risk to warn them before Eurus's third attack, he'd gotten a big steaming pile of suspicion and accusation.
Suspicion that no doubt grew after one of his uncles was killed in the battle that followed his warning. Boreas, Supreme God of the North Wind and Winter, had died in a fight that had raged so furiously Devlin could still feel it in the air around him. Devlin didn't know exactly how Boreas had died except that, without question, it had been his father's fault. Which meant it would be a very cold day in Hades before the Anemoi would ever be willing to fight beside Devlin, guilty by the accident of his birth.
Devlin would have to figure it out on his own. Just like always. Somehow.
Blowing out a long breath, he braced his hands on a dusty counter and let his head hang on his shoulders. Rain fell in a steady metallic shh on the barn's old roof, and Devlin tried to concentrate on the clean white noise and nothing else. Over the past few weeks, Aeolus had been secretly training him in various focus and visualization techniques to help him develop the discipline he needed to master the unnatural powers now flowing through him. They'd done it in secret to protect Devlin from his father, maintain the element of surprise in their new weapon — meaning him, and because Aeolus feared that his Anemoi sons wouldn't trust Devlin enough to give him the chance to help. Given Devlin's reception before the battle, it looked as if Aeolus had been right.
Which really pissed Devlin off.
Sparks of electricity sizzled in the air around him.
Focus, damnit. Right. Breathe. Push everything else aside. The sound of the autumn rainstorm — a storm he'd unleashed to release some of the overflowing energy inside him — calmed him, slowly but surely easing the tension from his shoulders and jaw. Devlin closed his eyes and began the mental warfare necessary to clear his mind of thought, of image, of emotion.
And it was warfare. Because Devlin bore the weight of so much guilt, sometimes he could barely stand on his own two feet. An image flashed into his mind's eye. His middle brother, Farren, begging for his life. Devlin flinched and pushed the sounds and pictures away. Farren's blood running freely down his back, from where a dagger had been buried into his heart from behind. A strangled groan as Devlin fought to clear that one away, too. Sweat beaded on his brow and the counter squeaked and cracked under the pressure of his hands. A field of black opened up on the insides of his eyelids, a little at a time, and a little more, until he was staring at blessed, empty nothingness.
The rain on the roof. The in/out of his breathing. The blackness.
Light and color edged into his visual field. No! Hold it! Devlin pushed it back, shaking and grunting as though he fought against a physical thing.
The image won. Alastor. His youngest brother. His only brother, now. In solitude. In danger. Imprisoned. His torture was punishment for Devlin's challenging Eurus's authority and insurance that it wouldn't happen again, just as Farren's death had been.
And now Eurus knew Devlin was working against him ...
Fire flashed out of Devlin's hands, singeing and melting the Formica counter in front of him.
Devlin jumped back and unleashed a damp wind that smothered the fire before it truly caught, and then a harder gust to disperse the smoke altogether. "Fuck!" he roared, knotting his fingers in the hair on the top of his head, pulling on the length to make it hurt. Just at the point that his scalp stung so bad Devlin half expected clumps of hair to come free in his hands, some of the stress and tension melted out of him. What kind of twisted did you have to be to find pain calming? Problem was, he hadn't found anything else that came close to focusing him and calming the chaos of his mind.
When he was mostly sure he'd driven the fire back, he dropped his hands. The fingers on his left hand brushed the denim over the spiked band of the cilice he'd worn on his thigh since Farren's death. It was a small sacrifice to mourn someone whose death he'd caused, though unlike the saints and clerics of old, Devlin had no expectation that the physical mortification would lead to redemption. Not for someone like him.
Damnit! His lethal powers were of no use to anyone if he couldn't master them.
Devlin needed a way to center himself, to set aside the soul-deep desire for vengeance and eons of rage — both his own innate rage and that amplified by the infernal rivers — so he could focus, concentrate, and do the job that needed done. The job that, since Aeolus had lost the Firestone ring that allowed him to control the winds, only Devlin could do.
Kill Eurus. Kill his own father.
Doing so would solve so many problems. Save so many lives. And free him and his brother once and for all.
Headlights swung across the curtained front windows of his refuge and the soft rumble of a car engine moved down one side of the building. Devlin cursed as the sound came to a halt around back and a car door slammed. Sparks of electricity sizzled in the air around him. As keys jingled at the rear door, Devlin dematerialized, hoping the intrusion would be brief. He'd thought this place was abandoned when he chose it, but if he'd been wrong, he'd have to relocate. He couldn't take the risk of —
A small hooded figure rushed in from the rain, spilling a stream of gray light across the concrete floor before securing the door behind her. On a counter by the door, she dumped keys, a bag, and the hooded jacket, then turned, revealing a woman who appeared his opposite in every way. Petite where he was tall. Soft where he was hard. Nearly white hair where his was jet black. In fact, she was so pale that only a flush on her cheeks and a bit of makeup around her eyes gave her any color.
The woman froze and looked around, her nose wrinkling as if she smelled something bad. The fire. Directing his energy behind her, the door she'd just come through whipped open, and as the woman gasped and turned, Devlin cycled a gust of air through the space to cleanse it of the last of the smell.
In a lithe movement, she dashed to the opening and grasped the handle, tugging it against the wind. "Damn wind," she muttered when she finally secured it again.
The curse was almost amusing. He was damned, all right.
In his invisible wind form, he moved closer, close enough to see that her eyes were as pale as her hair. An unusual light gray.
Devlin flinched. For a moment her coloring so reminded him of Boreas, with the Northern god's white hair and silver eyes, that he thought she must be some sort of wraith sent here to exact vengeance against all those associated with the East Wind. Though Devlin hadn't been present when Eurus killed Boreas, he wouldn't be surprised to learn his Anemoi brethren were hunting him now as they were his father.
Just once in his life he'd like to not have to be looking over his shoulder in preparation for attack from those who ought to be on his side.
Whatthefuckever. Electricity rippled over his being.
The woman yelped and pressed herself back into the counter behind her. For a long moment, her gaze zeroed in on the exact spot where Devlin's energy coalesced ... as if she could see him in his elemental form. Even more shocking than that possibility was the fact that her gaze shifted from fear to wonder. She slowly reached out her hand toward him.
Devlin bolted. Instantly, he removed himself to the loft above her, wondering what the hell had just happened. He was about to flee the place altogether when the woman spoke.
"I must be going crazy," the woman muttered. "Okay, deep breaths, Anna," she said.
Anna. The name was pure and innocent and normal, but her words seemed to indicate she had in fact seen something. And that made Devlin curious ... suspicious ... intent on finding out how the hell a human could perceive him in his elemental form.
Downstairs, a door opened and lights flickered on, spilling a yellow glow into the dark main room below and pulling him from his thoughts. Small sounds reached his ears. Footsteps, the movement of objects, Anna talking to herself. Suddenly, music blared, flooding the near-silence with a driving rock song, and ratcheting up Devlin's curiosity about the woman's activities.
He shouldn't waste the time to see what she was doing. But a part of him needed confirmation that she hadn't seen him, needed to see that she was normal with his own two eyes, needed to know she wasn't yet another threat. So, in his elemental form, he found himself returning to the first floor and peering in the room into which she'd gone —
Devlin didn't know what to look at first. The beautiful woman, the racks of art, or the paintings lined up along the floor?
The woman drew his attention first. She'd removed her button-down shirt and now stood in a pair of cutoff shorts and a lacy white tank top that highlighted every one of her curves. She'd also kicked off her sandals and secured the length of her hair in a messy knot held in place by two thin paintbrushes. With her bared neck, arms, and legs, she was showing a dizzying amount of skin, making Devlin notice just how delicate and feminine she was. Pretty. Ethereal, even. Normal and human, to be sure, but still remarkable.
Too good for him. Then again, who wasn't?
Not that he was interested.
He dragged his gaze away to the paintings that filled every space in the room, their bright colors clamoring for his attention. They covered the floor, the walls, large metal racks. A series featuring autumn trees in full color against an urban backdrop caught his eye. She'd depicted the death of his season with such grandeur ...
Then he noticed the other paintings.
Despite his lack of corporeality, tension shot through him as he moved around a table full of paints Anna stood preparing to the far side of the large rectangular room. These paintings were nothing like the others. Chaotic, violent, almost apocalyptic in color and dynamic and tone.
Six in all. Some broad panoramas. Some narrow studies. All featuring a dark being — a man — wielding immense power over nature at their center.
A very familiar man. Exactly how familiar was the only thing he couldn't tell.
Ice-cold foreboding crawled up Devlin's spine.
He turned and approached Anna. Slowly. His instincts back to assessing who she was. What she was. What kind of a threat she posed.
Should he investigate her and her strange paintings? Because he didn't have time for anything unrelated to defeating his father. The autumn equinox was in just eight sunrises and marked the day upon which Eurus would come into his full seasonal powers. If somebody didn't take him out before then, he'd be nearly invincible until the new Supreme God of the North Wind, Boreas's adoptive son, Owen, came to power in late December.
By then, it would probably be too late. No, given Eurus's evil and ambition, it would definitely be too late.
So Devlin couldn't afford to miss this window of opportunity. Hades, the world, couldn't afford for him to miss it. He needed to get his head out of his ass and get himself under control. Like, yesterday.
With intense focus and a fast hand, she added a few details to a rough sketch of a scene on the canvas. Her new painting was to be like the others, then, with the dark man at the center once more.
Devlin studied the woman's face, his mind a whirl of questions and anger.
Were the images of him or his father? What exactly was it that the images depicted? And why in the name of the gods would this human be painting either of them?
Devlin glared. Like he needed another mystery to solve when his own head, his own emotions, his own body, felt like a foreign country.
Excerpted from East of Ecstasy by Laura Kaye, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2014 Laura Kaye. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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