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Tall, Dark, and Deadly
Seven Bad Boys of Paranormal Romance
By Laura Kaye, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Laura Kaye
All rights reserved.
Chrysander Notos found his brother right where their nightmarish summer began, on top of the west tower of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. While he circled through the dark sky far overhead, Chrys watched Eurus pace the narrow catwalk atop the structure. What the hell was he doing here, of all places?
Summoning the powerful energy of the South Wind, Chrys prepared for what was sure to be another brutal battle. He didn't want to fight Eurus. Just the opposite, in fact. But fighting seemed to be all his older brother knew anymore. The accumulated scars on Chrys's body from the past three months proved that, and now he wore his weariness like a second skin.
But someone had to save Eurus from himself and the Olympic gods' death sentence. And Chrys was the only viable candidate. Zephyros and Owen were mated, and Boreas deserved to bask in his new status as grandfather.
Not to mention, Eurus's problems were partly his fault. After everything, Chrys owed him the effort. Least he could do.
Eurus froze and scanned the heavens, revealing the exact moment he perceived Chrys's presence. No sense delaying now.
In his elemental form, Chrys shot down before Eurus took flight. Shifting into corporeality at the edge of the tower's top platform, he braced for Eurus's attack. He could never predict whether his brother preferred to get right to the main event of kicking his ass — not something he should be able to do, not in Chrys's own damn season, anyway — or might be up for a little verbal sparring first.
Eurus turned on his heel, black leather duster whipping around him in the heavy, humid wind. Chrys could sense his brother's glare through the black wraparound glasses he always wore, but the blows didn't come. Up for the sparring, then.
"Behold the do-gooder. How nice for me."
"Why are you here, E?" Chrys asked. No way Eurus's return to the exact spot where he'd killed their brother's wife — or tried to; Mars had interceded and brought her back as a goddess — was coincidence. It meant something, but with Eurus it was hard to tell exactly what.
"Mmm, just basking in pleasant memories," he said with a sneer. "What's your excuse?"
Acidic rage churned in Chrys's gut. Their brother Zephyros and his wife Ella were happy now, but that didn't erase his recollection of Zeph's brutal agony when they'd thought Ella gone for good. Chrys shoved the useless thoughts away. Eurus liked to pick at a person's most sensitive scabs. It was one of his specialties. So Chrys caged his anger and refused to take the bait. "I'm here for the same reason I've been dogging you all summer. Come back to the Realm of the Gods with me. Atone. We can work this out. It doesn't have to go down this way."
"Grow the fuck up, Chrysander. I don't want your help. And I sure as hell don't need it." He fisted his right hand, flashing the faceted firestone ring he wore in the bright lights that marked the tower's corners.
Chrys's eyes tracked the movement. That damn ring was half the problem. It belonged to their father, Aeolus, the most powerful storm god of them all, and somehow Eurus had gotten his hands on it. Which explained the entire summer's worth of ass kicking. The sacred stone gave its wearer the power to control all the winds and, thus, him. Bad enough when his father made use of those powers. Catastrophic now that Eurus could.
Chrys hadn't told anyone that Eurus had Aeolus's ring for fear that knowledge would hammer yet another nail into his brother's coffin — not to mention their father's for not making that little revelation himself. Now, that shit was just waiting to hit the fan.
"What's your end game here? Huh? You're playing right into the Olympians' hands, and for what? For now, they're letting the family resolve this situation, but once they're involved, it'll be too late." The humid bay breeze whipped around him. He tugged long strands of hair out of his eyes.
"As if I would tell you, boy." Eurus crossed his arms over his broad chest and sighed. "I tire of your questions." The smug smile that settled on his face was all the creepier for the new, slashing red scar carved into the left side of his face from temple to lips. How he'd gotten the wound — which could only have come at the hand of a stronger god — Chrys had no clue. "In truth, I tire of you."
Chrys ignored the way his heart tripped. A lifetime of trying — and failing — to win your big brother's approval made you a bit sensitive, though. Fucking hell. "Eurus, man, come on. I just want to help you. You're my brother. And we can fix this."
The firestone flared to life, a soft red that soon blazed so bright it was hard to look at.
Chrys braced, his muscles suddenly alive with tension. The air constricted around his body.
Eurus's ring finger twitched.
It was all Chrys needed to see. In a heartbeat, he flashed into his elemental form and shot skyward.
Eurus's energy followed.
How many more fights did Chrys have in him? Dark clouds already gathered and billowed around them. Inky tendrils of Eurus's malevolent East Wind gusted over him, crawling through his energy as if searching for a weak spot. Even in his elemental form, Chrys shuddered as he released a burst of power to throw them off.
But it was too little, too late.
Preternatural disturbances in the air rammed him from all directions as if he were a featherweight boxer facing an invisible heavyweight opponent. Icy cold North Wind that Eurus had no business commanding lashed against him like a frozen whip, the frigidity stealing Chrys's breath and power with every cutting impact. Exactly what his brother intended, since Chrys's intolerance to cold wasn't exactly a secret. Chrys dug deep into his powers and poured on everything he could muster, but hell if three long months of fighting a stronger god hadn't depleted his reserves. He rocketed across the bay and over the Eastern Shore, hoping to draw the threatening storm over the Atlantic Ocean where it would do less damage to land and people.
A ripple of electricity shuddered past him, as if conducted by the humidity. Damn it all to Hades. The defeated thought had barely formed before Eurus's attack hit home. Lightning belted around him in tight, suffocating, scorching loops.
Chrys cried out, an agonized roar that unleashed a series of deafening crashes of thunder.
Knowing he was out of time, he struggled to twist free and flung bolts of his own, zinging electricity across the sky in flashes of red and purple and orange so unnatural he knew they'd capture the attention of humanity, but he had no choice. Soon, he would be completely at his brother's mercy. Not that Eurus had any. And damn if that gem of an admission didn't highlight the possibility that Eurus was a total lost cause. But how was he supposed to just give up on the brother he'd spent the better part of his life trying to save?
He didn't have time to ponder an answer.
Eurus's electricity attached to Chrys's energy signature, slowly but surely stealing his self-control and siphoning off his life force, like a vampire supping at leisure from his victim's throat. An immortal could only be injured by another of stronger power — and that fucking ring was giving Eurus, normally the least powerful of the four Anemoi, everything he needed.
A monster of a storm opened up all around them, tropical force winds howling, rains pounding down in diagonal gashes, thunder and lightning shaking the very world. The storm, the battle, the manner of Eurus's attack — this was the worst yet between them.
But Chrys refused to go down alone. If this was it, if this was how Eurus wanted it, they were going out together. Eurus was whole galaxies away from perfect, but hell if Chrys was going to let anyone else take out the brother he'd helped fuck up.
With his last burst of energy and control, Chrys yanked hard against his electric restraints and released, slingshotting himself across the sky toward his tormenter, toward his demise.
He'd lived too long for his whole life to flash before his eyes, so a few key moments sank their hooks into his wavering consciousness — all from his young godhood, and all instances of Aeolus denying Eurus affection, touch, and attention, while he lavished the same on Chrysander. Or, at least, his version of affection.
Chrys would've sworn that sometimes, too many times, Aeolus's touch had been about proving he could control one or all of them. While other times, he just knew the attention was intended to hurt Eurus. The image of young Eurus's humiliated, yearning, accusing gazes were burned into Chrys's subconscious, and he saw those now, too. Each instance of his father using Chrys — the only Anemoi birthed by a different mother — as a pawn in punishing Eurus for his mother's childbed death, left Chrys feeling more and more separate from the rest of them. After a time, he came to associate guilt, resentment, and lack of control with his father's affection so strongly that he shied away from it, finding it uncomfortable to be touched and hard to believe he was actually lovable. Not when his existence so harmed another.
What-the-fuck-ever. Ancient history. Blah, blah, blah.
Clearly, none of that mattered now.
The lash of lightning unwound from his rocketing body. But if Eurus had realized what was about to happen, he'd reacted too late. Chrys slammed into his brother so hard thunder and lightning exploded around them, the force of the impact sending a devastating microburst of air and rain pounding to earth. Shit!
They plummeted in a tangle of elemental energy through the turbulent night sky, Eurus roaring ancient curses at him before finally regaining control.
Damnit, E, stop!
I was saving you for last, Eurus snarled, using the power of the firestone ring to force Chrys out of the elements and into corporeality.
A preternatural wind held him aloft, his head wrenched backward as Eurus pulled at his long hair so hard his scalp burned.
"No," Chrys mumbled, almost unable to vocalize the word.
Eurus manifested into his human form, a sword of fiery lightning in his hand. He plunged it toward Chrys's heart.
Chrys raised his left arm to block the blow, and the white-hot blade sliced into his forearm and scorched deep into his right shoulder. The unexpected angle of the indirect hit threw Eurus off balance, and he released Chrys's hair.
The air dropped out from under him.
His backward motion un-impaled his shoulder from the rod of lightning. And then he was in a free fall. Struggling to hold onto even the smallest vestige of lucidity, Chrys concentrated with all his might to summon the South Wind, to return himself to the cradling safety of his elemental form.
Flash. He went elemental. Relief surged through h —
Flash. Without trying to, he materialized back into his human form.
He willed the wind to heed his call. Any moment, Eurus would be on him again. If he could just — Flash. Neither wind nor body this time, but his sacred animal form. The winged horse. Ancient icon of the power of the Anemoi.
Almighty Zeus. He couldn't will it. He couldn't control it. As he plummeted downward through the black deluge, he shifted randomly, repeatedly, tearing his body apart and reassembling it over and over until he lost track of what he was. Who he was.
And then he lost his hold on consciousness itself.CHAPTER 2
Laney Summerlyn hated thunderstorms with a passion, and this was no regular storm. The wind blew so hard it sounded like the roof could lift off the house, and a wet dripping in the living room turned out to be rain forced in through the east-facing windows. The concussive deluge was deafening, not a welcome sensation for someone already nearly blind.
As loud as it was, the screaming of the horses still made it to Laney's ears. And that was driving her crazy. She debated going out to the barn, checking on them, calming them. But she couldn't seem to force herself out the door and into the torrent. Her night vision had been the first thing to go, and getting disoriented and lost outside in a storm when she was nineteen had left her terrified of them.
But those horses were her babies. Her family.
A clap of thunder exploded low and close. Laney jumped, chiding herself even as her heart raced. The lights flickered, once, twice, which she could just make out through the pinpoint of central vision that remained in her right eye, like looking through a drinking straw. The threatening dark got her off the couch and in search of a lantern before the power shut off for good. It might not be many years until she lost her sight entirely. Then she'd be forced to live in total darkness. In the meantime, she intended to soak in every bit of light and color and memory of the physical world she could.
"Stay, Finn," she said to her chocolate Labrador. Not that he was likely to get up, old as he was, but he kept an eye on Laney like the guard dog he'd once been. Laney counted her steps from the couch across the spacious open living room to the adjoining kitchen and finally to the hall closet, then reached in and retrieved the third object from the left on the middle shelf — a battery-operated lantern. Through her mobility training, she'd long ago memorized her way around, as well as the location of everything in her house — such organization made her independence possible. Laney could take care of herself just fine.
She'd no more closed the closet door than a tremendous burst of thunder detonated above her house, shaking the building as if a bomb had gone off. Laney struggled to swallow against the lump in her throat. In. Out. In. Out. She focused on the mechanics of breathing to ease her anxiety. Clutching the lantern to her chest as if it could keep her safe, she forced away the panic.
Despite the air conditioning, the air suddenly felt thick and heavy, like something was happening, something was coming. The rain continued to pour down, but there was a stillness that felt ... wrong.
A series of cracks ricocheted from outside, then a crash. The sound of the horses' distress went from nervous to outright panic. Laney saw every bit of the farm in her head, like a 3-D model she could turn and manipulate. That damn sound came from her stable. Her gut squeezed.
Forcing herself to take the measured steps that allowed her to count her paces, Laney went for the coat closet in the foyer and found her raincoat. She slid it on and snapped it closed with shaking fingers. Taking a deep breath, she stepped out onto the porch and walked right into the howling night and the soaking rain. Her hair instantly matted to her face and the wind blew so hard it stole her breath.
You can do this, Laney. You have to do this.
Lantern in one hand, she grasped the lead line tied to the newel post at the bottom of the stairs with the other and followed the well-worn path toward the stable. The thick blackness swallowed the lantern light and negated what was left of her sight, sending her heart into a sprint. Her sneakers slipped in the mud puddles over and over. If she fell and lost the line ... No. Don't go there. She held onto it so tight it dug into her palm. But the pain was worth it. As long as she held onto the rope, she knew right where she was because of the plastic tags hanging from it at ten-foot intervals.
The closer she got to the stable, the more obvious the horses' fear became. They snorted and blew, kicked and pawed at the walls, screamed and struck their massive bodies against the grated doors and sides of their stalls. She imagined them pacing, desperate for escape. Her stomach squeezed and sank.
Please, whatever that noise was, don't let it have injured one of my babies.
Soaked, muddy, and breathless with dread, Laney passed the seventh tag on the line, and then her hand encountered the cold metal of the door handle to which the line was tied. She yanked the door to the right and it glided easily on its track.
Excerpted from Tall, Dark, and Deadly by Laura Kaye, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2013 Laura Kaye. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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