Authors: Dee Carney
Danyl slammed his elbow into his father's throat, hopefully crushing it in the process. Ancelin made a gurgling nose instead of the scream he tried to give voice to. He wrapped his fingers around his throat, gasping for air.
Thinking quickly, Danyl scrambled to the fallen blade and retrieved it. He knelt over his father, anger boiling his blood. He tightened his fingers around the pummel and readied himself to rid the world of one last plague.
"Wait, Danyl. You need him alive."
Cool hands wrapped around his wrists and although not strong enough to stop him, the unfamiliar woman's words gave him reason to pause for a split second. Her voice was soft, husky. He glanced up to become momentarily captivated by the soulful depths of her turquoise eyes. A fan of red and gold hair framed her pretty face.
"To save your mate, you'll need him alive," she repeated.
"Who are you?" he growled. He brought his gaze back to his target, willing to slice open Ancelin's throat without another hesitation.
"I am the Phoenix." She slid one hand over his burning bicep. The touch reminded him to glance at it and his breath caught. His once clear arm now had a swirl of artwork decorating it.
The mark of the phoenix.
"Where … how?"
"I am called Nix. I am Ancelin's mate and unlike him, would see no harm come to you or yours." She held open her palm. "Please give that to me. I will help you."
"Damn you, Nix," Ancelin rasped.
Something about her calm manner despite the chaos surrounding her, and the soothing tone of her voice, made Danyl consider her request. Not to mention the fact Ancelin seemed genuinely perturbed that she helped him. "Why should I believe you?"
"I assure you I am neutral in this matter."
"But you are his mate."
Her gaze flitted to Ancelin before her face darkened. "By prophecy. Not by choice."
She beckoned with her outstretched hand. "We don't have time for this, Danyl. Your mate will be beyond even my help before long."
"You can help her?"
If Aphrodite died, it wouldn't matter anyway. He dropped the knife into her waiting palm. "Please…"
After taking the blade from him, she stood and walked to where Di lay dying. Her bloodied hands no longer tried to stem the flow coming from her wound. She fought too hard to stay conscious instead.
Danyl dropped his head next to Ancelin's ear. His voice low, he said, "If she dies, I
kill you. I promise that neither you nor your mate will be able to stop me."
He rose and joined Nix in kneeling next to Di. Her golden hair lay in a halo around her head and he pushed a few errant strands out of her face. His hand next to her pallor was an instant contrast. She'd lost so much blood. Enough to ensure her mortality.
Nix's eyes filled with tears as she looked on. She rose on her knees and bent over Di.
Her long, tapered fingers rested on Di's lower lip and gently tugged her mouth open. Nix blinked twice and a large tear rolled down her cheek and fell into Di's mouth.
"Be well, child of man," Nix whispered.
His chest hurt. He watched helpless, hopeful, his breath held as Nix tended to Di. It wasn't until he felt the sharp pang in his sternum that Danyl remembered to breathe. But with every breath he took, the rise and fall of her chest appeared to slow.
He looked up sharply. "Phoenix?"
"Shh … patience…"
An eternity passed. When he'd just about given up hope, after he'd resigned himself to taking the knife away from Nix and finishing the job he started, Di blinked twice. Her eyes opened all the way and she gave him the sweetest smile he'd ever seen in his life.
His throat tightened until his voice box locked in place. Afraid of the fragility of her state, the kiss he planted on her lips next was tender. A promise of more to come.
She tried to sit up, but he rested his hand on her shoulder, gently holding her down.
He looked up at Nix. "The child," he said hoarsely. He couldn't bear to ask the actual question, but he needed to know his child survived the ordeal. "He said she is pregnant."
Turquoise eyes turned sad. "There is no child here, Danyl. Only the empty words of a desperate man."
His heart lurched, but he bit back his disappointment. Aphrodite survived and that was all that mattered. If she would have him, a lifetime of having children waited ahead of them.
"And him?" he snapped.
Nix looked to her mate. "He can guarantee safe passage home for your woman. She would have never left this place without him."
Di shoved his hand aside and sat up. Danyl smiled his satisfaction at her obstinacy.
She felt better already. "Why not?"
"When you walked past the entrance to the underworld, you felt uneasy?" She continued when Di frowned and nodded. "You couldn't see him, but you felt Cerberus, the three-headed dog who sleeps at the entrance that also serves as the exit."
The blood drained from Danyl's face. "Oh, gods … I hadn't stopped to consider…"
Di looked between them both. "I don't get it. It didn't bother me when we got here."
Danyl shook his head. "He won't prevent you from coming in, goddess."
Nix finished the explanation. "Danyl is a creature of mythos and has access to this place almost whenever it suits him, so long as he appeases Charon with payment. You, my dear, are mortal and possess a soul. Cerberus would have kept you here because souls that enter the underworld are not allowed to leave." She looked toward Ancelin who'd propped himself upright by now. "Not without help from one of the gods … or demi-gods who reside here."
Danyl's face tightened. "That's your price, isn't it? His life for hers?"
"It is, son of Simeona. And I know that Ancelin is agreeable to this arrangement if you promise to leave this place, never to seek him out ever again."
So, he had a choice. He could still kill his father, and take the chance that someone in the underworld would take pity on them and allow his mate to leave. It would satisfy the burning need to avenge his mother's death as owed him. Because he knew the reputations of the underworld's selfish gods, it would also most likely damn Di to an eternity here.
Or, he could accept the mate-of-his-father's proposition and secure a way home for Di—the woman he loved and wanted to spend the rest of his life loving.
It was no choice at all.
* * * *
They lay on the beach, letting the rising tide tickle their feet. Di curled herself beneath his shoulder, her arm draped across his waist. Nix had healed them both of their wounds before they left as a last show of faith. Now, the morning sun had not yet risen, but the new day held promise. They could enjoy this private moment a few minutes longer.
He thought often of Nix's parting words when they'd left the underworld.
Danyl, son of Ancelin and Simeona. Your mother's death will be avenged. Not by your
hand, but by another's. It has been foretold.
"What does that mean?"
"I gave you my coin, my future. Remember?"
Di's near-death experience pressed on his chest like a weight now. He didn't know if he could survive another event like it. "You are my future, goddess," he said softly.
She lifted her head and regarded him. "And you know that you are mine, mate."
. Just hearing that word from her mouth made his cock twitch. He would hear it again and again. For now and for always. Still, there would be challenges. "Mate of mine, will you be able to release me to the sea as necessary? It is my home; where I was born.
Where I was raised. I fear I won't always be able to ignore its call."
"Danyl, of course. I understand that.
Mate of mine
, if you promise to always come back to me, I would gladly share you with her."
He angled and captured her mouth with his. Looking deep into her eyes, he said,
"The gods themselves couldn't keep me away,
. My love for you rivals the number of stars in the sky, is as unending as the heavens and flows deeper than the ocean." He writhed away from her, and settled his torso between her thighs. Carefully, he lifted away the bottoms of that damned black cloth covering her slit.
"Are you trying to distract me from my original question, Danyl?" she murmured as she lifted her hips from the sand.
He inhaled deeply, the scent of that place as enticing as ever. His mouth watered in anticipation of tasting the very core of her. "I haven't forgotten goddess. This is just something I've been wanting to do. When this is done, I'm going to tell you a story of sunken ships and gold coins."
"More than you can carry." He lowered his head and ran his nose along the join of her thigh.
"And you would help me find these coins?" she asked, her voice husky.
"Every blessed one. Right after … I do … this."
About the Author:
Dee Carney began writing short stories in middle school, but did not attempt completion of a novel until almost ten years later—which, despite good intentions, she never finished. Almost ten additional years later, she challenged herself to begin writing again, and her love for storytelling was rekindled. Now, Dee is a best-selling, award-winning author who lives at home in Georgia with her husband, two dogs and a cat.
When not writing, Dee is usually curled up on the couch with a good book!
To learn more about all of Dee’s books, please visit her at http://www.deecarney.com
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