Early January is not the best time to enjoy the outdoors in Arlington, but Anderson and his bitchy wife, Emma, were having a screaming argument in the house, and outside seemed the best place to be to avoid hearing it. I closed the front door behind me, and the shouting voices were muffled down to a low buzz. The winter air bit at my cheeks, and I stuffed my hands into the pockets of my jacket to keep them warm. Definitely not my favorite kind of weather, but the silence was sweet and soothing.
Figuring that I could handle the cold for a while, I sat on the picturesque porch swing and tried to pretend my life was my own. The illusion was hard to uphold when I lived in the mansion and spent my days working for Anderson, examining the covers he had built for the Liberi
he had hidden.
He’d actually done a surprisingly good job, in large part thanks to Leo, our resident descendant of Hermes, who had become a computer genius in order to better keep his finger on the pulse of the financial world. I hadn’t found too many blatant holes in the covers so far, though I’d patched many small ones and still had a long way to go before I was finished.
My feet had gone numb, and I was beginning to think it was time to go in, when I noticed an unfamiliar car navigating the long driveway. I shivered in the freezing air as I watched the car approach, wondering who it could be. We didn’t exactly get a lot of visitors at the mansion. That was sort of the point of the place. Whoever this was, someone was expecting them, since they had to be buzzed through the front gate.
I heard the door open behind me and turned to find Anderson stepping out to join me on the porch.
“Back inside, Nikki,” he said, jerking his thumb at the house. “We’re meeting in the formal living room.”
I swallowed to contain my instinctive retort. I wasn’t fond of being ordered around. A few weeks ago, when I’d thought Anderson was “just” a Liberi,
I probably would have told him so. I wasn’t a timid person, but I found I couldn’t look at Anderson anymore without picturing him as the pillar of white fire he had turned into when he’d shed his disguise, and that image was more than enough to discourage my smart mouth.
I stifled my urge to protest and ducked back inside the mansion as Anderson waited on the porch for our mysterious visitors. The warm air flushed my cheeks, and they were probably red enough to look sunburned. Guess I’d been outside longer than I’d realized.
I made my way to the formal living room. I think the last time I’d set foot in there had been when Maggie gave me the grand tour of the house the night I’d moved in. It really was a formal
living room, and Anderson’s Liberi
were a decidedly informal bunch.
The sofa and many of the chairs were already filled with other members of Anderson’s household, with the notable exception of Emma. I guessed that meant her fight with Anderson was over—or at least on temporary hiatus. It was well nigh impossible to win a fight with Anderson, and Emma didn’t take well to losing. Often, she flounced off in a huff afterward; other times, she’d go completely nonresponsive, staring off into space. She’d been Konstantin’s prisoner for about a decade, until I’d found her and rescued her (with Anderson’s help). When we’d first brought her back to the mansion, she’d been the next best thing to catatonic, and sometimes I harbored the guilty thought that I’d liked her better that way.
The woman was disturbed, no doubt about it, and there was only so much slack I was willing to cut her for the trauma she’d been through. I couldn’t help wondering if some—if not all—of her “episodes” were faked, meant to guilt Anderson into being more agreeable. Sometimes it seemed to work. Other times, not so much.
I sat on a chair that, judging by the hardness of its seat and the carved knobs that dug into my back, was meant to be more ornamental than functional and leaned over toward Maggie. She was the closest thing I had to a friend among the Liberi
“Any idea what’s up?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “We have visitors, and I’m guessing it’s Olympians, because Anderson gave us his ‘my house, my rules’ speech.”
I made what I was sure was an ugly face. Anderson trotted out that phrase whenever he made an unpopular decision—like, for instance, when he invited me to live in the mansion. I was pretty sure that if it came down to a vote, I would be out on my ear. They were a close-knit bunch, Anderson’s Liberi,
and I was very much on the outside looking in.
“Sorry I missed it,” I muttered, and Maggie laughed. She was a descendant of Zeus through Heracles, and she had the super strength to prove it. She was also by far the nicest of any of the Liberi
I’d met. “Why would an Olympian be coming here?” I asked. I wouldn’t quite say we were at war with the Olympians, but it was close. I suspected I knew what Anderson and Emma had been fighting about—her hatred for Konstantin and the Olympians was truly epic.
“I’m guessing we’re about to find out,” she said, jerking her chin toward the front, where Anderson was leading three people—two men flanking one woman—into the living room.
The woman was petite and fine-boned, like me, but that was where the resemblance ended. Her ash-blond hair was cut in a stylish bob, and though she wasn’t classically beautiful, she was striking. I’d guess her age at around thirty—if she weren’t Liberi,
which meant she could be a thousand years old for all I knew. Her posture was regally straight, with an aristocratic tilt to her chin that said she thought she was better than everyone around her. But then, she was an Olympian, and feeling superior to all non-Olympians was one of the membership requirements. The navy-blue skirt suit she wore looked like it cost about as much as your average compact car.
Beside the woman was a guy, maybe early twenties, with coarse-looking black curls and olive skin. He wasn’t movie-star handsome, but he was roguishly cute, with a hint of dimples. He didn’t have the woman’s haughty demeanor, and he was dressed casually in jeans, a button-down shirt, and a slightly weathered sportcoat.
The other man had the look of hired muscle. Broad-shouldered, with buzz-cut hair and a square face, he was obviously wary of everyone in the room. The iridescent glyph on the side of his neck proclaimed him to be more than strictly human, but if I had to guess, I’d say he was a mortal Descendant, not a Liberi
himself. At least, not yet.
Anderson invited the woman to sit in an armchair. When she crossed her legs, she made sure to flash the red soles of her Louboutins. Apparently, she wanted everyone to know that she was rich, because acting superior wasn’t obnoxious enough. There weren’t enough chairs for everyone, so our other two guests stood, the Liberi
beside the woman’s chair, the Descendant behind, looking menacing. As a Descendant, he could do what no one else could: kill a Liberi,
thereby stealing his or her immortality and becoming Liberi
himself. Well, no one else but Anderson, but that was far from common knowledge. His eyes suggested he was sizing us all up.
Across from me, Blake leaned forward and glared at the woman. He was a descendant of Eros and had once been a reluctant Olympian himself, until Anderson had offered him an alternative.
“You wouldn’t be here if Anderson hadn’t given you safe passage,” he said. “Bringing your goon with you is an insult.”
There was a glimmer of amusement in the woman’s eyes. I doubted the insult had been unintentional, and Blake was giving her exactly the reaction she wanted. The goon didn’t seem to mind being talked about that way, and the other guy deepened his dimples by smiling.
“How do you know the goon isn’t mine?” he asked. His voice was pleasantly deep and mellow. “You could be taking Phoebe to task for something that is entirely my fault.”
Blake looked back and forth between the two men and shook his head. “He’s not your type, Cyrus.” There was noticeably less hostility in his voice when he addressed Cyrus.
Cyrus laughed, looking over his shoulder and giving the goon a visual once-over. “Too true,” he said, turning back to Blake. He leaned a hip against Phoebe’s chair and propped his elbow on the top of it, his casual demeanor a striking contrast to the goon’s menace and Phoebe’s stiffness.
“This is supposed to be a peaceful meeting, Blake,” Anderson chided. “Don’t start a fight.” He gave Blake a quelling look. Blake crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his seat.
Anderson turned his attention back to the two Liberi
. “I believe you know everyone here except Nikki,” he said, gesturing to me. “Nikki, this is Cyrus, Konstantin’s son.”
I might have blinked a bit in surprise, though now that I knew he was Konstantin’s son, I could see the faint resemblance. Cyrus was much better-looking and didn’t immediately set my nerves on edge as Konstantin had the one time I’d met him. His smile looked genuinely friendly, but looks can be deceiving.
“And this is Phoebe,” Anderson continued.
“Also known as the Oracle,” Blake said, and my eyes widened.
Blake had told me about the Oracle once before. She was a descendant of Apollo, and she had visions of the future. According ...