I turned up the volume on my music, veered off the resort’s boardwalk, and pushed through a jungle trail. I needed space and a hard run to rid myself of this extra energy. Energy that could only be blamed on one half-pint woman with ten gallons of sass.
When Piper Prince had first arrived on Muse Island one week ago, dressed in her business suit and impractical heels, I hadn’t expected her to land the number one spot on the supernatural Most Wanted list. I hadn’t expected her to screw the balance between the drug-dealing, debt-owning Sons of Poseidon and the innocent mythological creatures I’d spent my life protecting. I hadn’t expected her and that smile to wiggle into my every thought.
I dipped my head under a palm frond and rounded another curve. Terpsichore’s spirit, the muse I was called to protect, pulsed through my veins, filling the spaces in the 80s music pouring through my earbuds. I needed at least two more miles to hit my six-pack-still-intact goal, and another mile or two or ten to outrun my thoughts.
How could anyone expect a legend come to life? It would be like meeting King Arthur before he was king or sipping from the Holy Grail when it was nothing more than a simple cup.
Piper Prince was anything but simple, a legend who had yet to pull out her sword.
I whipped past the waterfall to my left and ran down a dip in the gravel path.
“Finnian Kalani!” A woman’s voice plowed out of nowhere.
I overshot my balance and slid on my heels down to the ground, ass first in the dirt. “Tartarus, Bett.” I yanked at my earbuds. “Were you aiming to knock me off my feet?”
“Can’t help it if I have that effect.” Bastet, aka Bett, spoke in a low tone that carried across the morning air like a lone saxophone in an after-hours nightclub. “Thought you could use a jogging partner.”
She gestured to her outfit—spandex shorts showing off those impossibly long legs, sports bra pushing her generous cleavage out the top, and a toned spread of skin in between with a belly ring in the center. She could wear that getup running or cleaning toilets, and she’d still turn heads.
“You got two miles in you?” I pushed myself off the ground and slapped the leaves and dirt off my backside. “Because I’m not stopping until I hit my goal.”
She stared appreciatively. “If you’d like, I can wipe that dirt off for you.”
I gave her a smirk and a headshake. “Keep your hands to yourself, goddess.”
“I’ll try, but with you glistening like that—”
“You mean sweating?”
Her laugh filled the jungle around us. “Fine, you sweat. I’ll glisten.” She did a little shimmy and walked past me. “The goddess of pleasure never sweats,” she called back.
“Cat goddess,” I said under my breath, making sure she didn’t hear me, and followed, slowing my pace to a jog for an old friend.
She nudged me with her shoulder. “What’s up with you? Where’s my fun-loving resort owner?”
I took a deep breath, irritated Bett could read me so well. “Two words: Piper Prince.”
Something flickered across her normally serene face, a tightening of her mouth, like she’d tasted something unpleasant. “Have you seen her since the escape?”
The escape meaning the day Piper and Bernard, my friend and staff bartender, had barely outrun the Sons of Poseidon and rode off on his motorcycle, away from the resort.
Away from me.
I shrugged one shoulder. “Bernard says she doesn’t want to see anyone yet. Well, anyone but him.” Bernard had sworn she was safe since he’d tucked her away in some won’t-tell-me location, but I’d have felt better if I could see her for myself.
“Why, Finnian Kalani”—Bett beamed a big smile—“are you jealous of your genie?”
“What? No.” Piper wasn’t hard to look at, but she was wound tighter than Ariadne’s thread. “I’m trying to figure out how she blasted through the Sons of Poseidon.” Even with the legendary necklace—the asteri psychi—in her grasp. Not that Piper realized what a powerful talisman she held, a talisman the Sons, and most anyone else, would kill for.
Not that I’d told Bett. The issue of Piper was a Protector’s issue…and we were sworn to protect our secrets.
Bett tilted her head down the path. “Let’s run it out, shall we?”
“This is running?”
She picked up her pace enough to take the lead, her cat-like features showing in the swing of her hips and the flick of her long, black braid like a cat’s tail against her copper skin.
Again, not a bad view.
I sped up to match her stride and ran beside her.
“Sons of Poseidon come around?” she asked.
“Keeping their distance.”
“Probably means they’re planning something. Want me to spy for you?” She panted as she ran, a low breath plenty of men would love to hear in their ear. Bett was offering to use that inherent sex appeal to draw out information from Poseidon Point employees or the Sons’ street dealers. But I wouldn’t risk her, not under the current conditions.
The sextuplets couldn’t take out a Protector—not easily at least—but they had a long memory. Nothing had happened in the last week, but I’d already been in deep with the debt my family owed the Sons, and then I’d helped Piper escape. The Sons might well be using their time to plot revenge.
“Promise me you won’t get close,” I said.
Bett didn’t answer.
I nudged her with my elbow. “Promise. I have enough to worry about right now. I don’t need to worry about you.”
She licked her lips and gave me a sly grin. “So you would worry, would you, Finn? Good to know.” She sped ahead again, shook her spandex-coated rear at me, and laughed over her shoulder. “First one to Faerie Land buys lunch!”
The trail narrowed to a single lane, giving her the advantage, but I followed close on her heels. As soon as the path widened, I’d swipe past, show her my buns of steel, and make her pay for my next meal.
The chords of rushing water reached me from ahead. Bett jumped over the creek bed in one smooth leap, and I followed, hurdling with less grace but more power. Within three steps, I’d passed her and grinned at my coming victory.
Faerie Land, as she called it, was just ahead—where tree nymphs hid in the jungle shadows and welcomed only fellow mythicals with songs that sounded like trills. I perked up my ears, eager to hear their music join with mine.
The tones weren’t there.
It was silent.
Something hazy lay on the path ahead, a red spot and a sparkle in the middle of the trail. It only took a few steps for me to realize what I was seeing. But it was enough time for my breath to catch, my pulse to skip, my feet to stumble.
Bett nudged me. “C’mon, we haven’t reached the finish line.”
But I’d stopped. Become a solid wall she couldn’t pass. She placed her palm in the middle of my back. “Finn?”
I scuffled forward, my heart in my throat, staring down at a puddle of blood and the unmistakable remains of faerie dust.
“Atma,” Bett whispered beside me. “It can’t be.”
I nodded and closed my hand over hers.
Faerie didn’t die. Not for hundreds of years. To my knowledge, none of the faerie on the island were anywhere close to old age.
I knelt down. Something about this was very, very wrong. Something that twisted deep in my gut.
“Tartarus,” I breathed. “Bett, the faerie dust has been scraped up.” I pointed to the marks in the sand. “It was collected.”
“Collected?” Bett dropped my hand and knelt beside me. She traced one claw-like fingernail through a few flecks of dust, then lifted it up for us to look at.
We leaned close, as if hoping we were mistaken, hoping it wasn’t faerie dust at all. Bett’s held breath and statued posture reflected mine. We’d drawn the same conclusion: This wasn’t a normal faerie death. This faerie had been killed and its remains taken.
I flicked the few glitters from Bett’s hand back onto the dirt, and we stood together, staring at the ground.
She placed a trembling hand on my shoulder. “Who would do this?”
I swallowed hard. “Someone who doesn’t believe in the gods.” Because who else would risk being quartered and flayed every day at sunset for the rest of their life? The punishment for murdering faerie was drastic at best.
And yet, someone, someone here on Muse Island, had murdered a faerie.
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