“She can’t get it out of her head that we’re a mob family. Concrete shoes, swimming with the fishes—you likely remember that from that one movie the cowboy made us watch.”
“Right, of course.” Shaking his head, he pointed at a chair. Holly took it to mean she didn’t have an option about sitting her ass down. He moved behind his desk and sat, while Demaratus settled in at her side and kicked his long legs out in a relaxed pose.
“Well, come on, who else would have the hoorah to have Marines at their disposal as well as a helicopter? Other than the government, that is. And none of you strike me as any of those lying asshats.” She rolled her eyes. “You should see some of their e-mails and black-budget shit. I mean, seriously crooked. Like, there’s this one fund that’s hidden like whoa, deep, huge deep, and it has billions funneled into it.”
The big guy looked slightly confused. “Does she always talk this much?”
“Apparently,” Demaratus said. “She’s also nervous, given the fact she’s convinced we’re going to whack her and dump her lifeless body into the ocean.”
Not exactly how Holly would have put it, but close enough. Forcing her mind back to the moment, she focused on the guy who, according to Demaratus, was the boss around there.
“Well, Ms. Smith, let’s get a few things straight right now. We are not the fucking mob, nor are we affiliated with the government. We have someone on staff that does special projects for the government to bring in extra resources to assist our organization as required. We’ve had a platoon of Marines here for a while now, helping us out with some of our jobs.
“The files you broke into belonged to someone who used to be our IT person. She betrayed us and is now locked up for the rest of her natural life. Due to the work we do, we have to remain under the radar. We are fighting a war that the American people know nothing about. If they did, it would end up costing more lives than have already been lost in this battle. If the wrong people read that site you put up, or anything else you may have leaked out, we could potentially be exposed.
“In that case, we would have to terminate all operations here and return to Europe. Then North and South America would quickly become no-fly zones, and we wouldn’t be able to render assistance with what is coming. At the end of the day, Ms. Smith, it all boils down to one thing—the death of every living human being on the two continents, and eventually worldwide, by something no one even believes in, or can believe in, without going completely insane.”
“So, what she wrote about the monsters in the early files was right? That they were trying to free Hades from his imprisonment?” Holly felt her hands trembling and shook her head. “The last six or so years, the information that she was writing became odder and odder. I thought it was all part of the books, but it wasn’t, was it?
“According to what I read, she had been turned away by one of the guardians. I can’t remember which one at the moment, but he took a human lover for a while. She killed him. Something about a medallion in the guy’s shoulder. He had been ran through with a sword and died, but was brought back to life?” She recalled the man now. He had been an African shaman, if the file was to be believed. “He died trying to protect his lover. She, I guess, was never found after that?”
“All true.” Demaratus didn’t even twitch at her side while his boss spoke. She could feel him watching her, though. “I’m Mercury. In the beginning, it was only me running around attempting to keep the evil at bay for the goddess. But times changed, as did the hearts of man to take in darker thoughts and loosen the chains that held them at bay. The Dark Lord hasn’t yet been freed, but he’s still working on that with his followers and those he’s tempted to his side. If he does break free, the world will turn to absolute chaos within days. Not years, not months, mere days. Demaratus is one of the guardians battling this evil. Technically immortal, unless a key piece is destroyed or removed.”
“The last file she had uploaded was about a woman, Phoenix. She seriously hated Phoenix because of the danger she posed to someone else. Sophie? Sophia? Something like that.” Holly shrugged and looked to Demaratus, then back to Mercury. “Okay, question, why have I been dreaming about this man all of my life? And secondly, you really need a better firewall and encryption on your system, or someone else is going to hack you. You need a hacker to ensure your system’s safeguards. Not a Marine. No offense.”
“We believe Helen changed some of the settings, but we can’t prove it. As we are all less than knowledgeable about such things, we wouldn’t know where to begin. I had to have a Marine do the work to find you, and even then it was testing the limits of his knowledge.” Mercury looked over to Demaratus and sighed. “You are linked to him in some way. Every one of the guardians has a tie to a woman known as a vestal virgin. You are one of the thirteen, I’m betting. Have you been close enough to him to feel an unnatural heat from one particular spot?”
One of thirteen, no, that couldn’t be her. Holly had never been special in her life. She had been different because of her ability with computers but that was it. If she were one of the thirteen, surely someone would have been in her life before now, right? No, they were wrong. They had to be wrong … didn’t they? Then she thought about the freaky effect she had on all things electronic if she wasn’t careful. The dreams, DC showing up … his strange heat, whatever that had to do with anything. She shifted in her seat and bit her lower lip. “He was really warm, and when we were in the helicopter, he felt really hot on his lower side.” She pointed to where her liver would be. “Like, hotter than the rest of his body. But all over he’s hot, too.”
A little smile had Mercury’s lips twitching slightly. “Good to know. Other than that, though, I can’t say any more. It’s not my secret to share. And you are right, we do need someone new to fill the spot. Interested in a job that pays extremely well? Only downside is, if you prove disloyal, then I won’t be so nice when I have you locked in a room all alone.” His voice went from warm to ice-chillingly frightening. She could tell he wasn’t kidding around, either.
“Once I give my loyalty, there is no taking it away. While I think that this guy is uber hot and wouldn’t mind getting to know him, I wouldn’t throw people under the bus just because I got my panties in a twist. I’m not that kind of woman. You wouldn’t know that about me, of course, but there it is. I’m loyal to a fault.” And sadly, she had been waiting on Demaratus all of her life. The man she had been dreaming of had been kind. He had been loyal and he had loved her with every inch of his being. He’d been her everything in her dreams, but the real him was completely different. The real Demaratus was gruff and didn’t seem particularly interested in her. “I would have stipulations. I would want to make sure that I have top-of-the-line merchandise for my station. I would want dedicated lines in and out, so that I can get information instantly.” She began to think about it and finally nodded. “How well are we talking? For the pay, that is?”
“You can take a look at what we have, and anything you want upgraded, will be. The pay starts at three thousand a month, and after a trial period of six months, you get an automatic raise to five thousand. You would live on the base, and all meals are paid for. If you like something specific, it will be brought in with food orders we have come on a bi-weekly basis.” He said all this with a perfectly straight face, so she was inclined to believe him.
“And if any of the guardians or Marines get out of order, can I spray them with a squirt bottle the way that you would a cat?” She saw the look on Mercury’s face, then saw it mirrored on Demaratus’s. “What? A girl needs to know what boundaries she has, you know. Also, what about co-worker dating or whatever? In case one of those pretty Marines can talk me into not smacking them upside their heads?” I’m interested in another man, but he looks like he couldn’t give two shits about me and what I want, so that just plain sucks ass.
Mercury rubbed a hand over his mouth, as if he were trying not to smirk. “We have no policy in place to dissuade inter-employee dating. The Marines are only on loan, and not technically employees, if that makes it at all easier. So, you wouldn’t need to worry about that, though they are switched out after a three-month rotation. Three on, three off, unless we end up with some sort of emergency that requires them all to be on base.”
“Shoot, that makes it even easier. Can get a booty hookup and not have to worry about someone being all up in my ass worried about what I’m doing the next day.” She spoke as if she were always hooking up here and there. She didn’t do hookups, but they wouldn’t know about that. “Yummy Marines in and out every quarter. Where do I sign?” She could have sworn she heard a growl coming from the man at her side, but that wasn’t right. He could barely stand her, right?
“There is that,” Mercury said. His gaze flicked to Demaratus before coming back to her. “Let me show you where you’d be working. If you are interested after that, I’ll get HR to do up all the paperwork you will need to sign. If you still want to work here, your first priority is to wipe every piece of information you put out on the Net. Not just your site, but anything linking back to it even with it taken down. We cannot risk any form of exposure.”
She snorted. “That’s totally easy. You have to give me something hard.” She nodded. “Okay, show me.” She stood and gazed at Mercury, then looked back to Demaratus, and even though it hurt her, a lot, she said, “I guess that you’re done with me?” Damn, why the hell do those words hurt so much? It felt like she was shoving a knife in her own heart.
“Hardly,” he grunted as he got to his feet. He fell silent as Mercury came around his desk and pulled the door open for her.
The boss man led her through the halls, down a few doors from his own office and, punching in a code, opened another door. The room was massive and it was filled with workstations and large banks of computers. The temperature was set at a balmy thirty degrees, if she was guessing right from the shiver that ripped through her. A jacket fell onto her shoulders a moment later. Much too long for her, but so very warm.
“Thank you, DC.” She wrapped the coat around her and stared up at him. For a moment, she completely forgot everything she was going to say. “Right, sorry. Computers.” She turned to study them and frowned. “Okay, I will have a list for you, Mercury.” She took a seat before one of the workstations. “Seriously?”
She got in without much trouble at all. First, she made sure that the camera footage from her place didn’t go to the World Wide Web like the program was written to do. Next, she erased everything about the guardians before leaning back.
Rubbing her hands together, she smiled. “Okay, so it looks like Helen had an algorithm going to find what you called the VV’s. I can boost that a bit and hopefully find these women sooner. From what I’m reading here, she tried to get the bad guys to Phoenix before someone named…” she trailed off. “Shut the front fucking door. Alexander the Great, for real?” She looked at Demaratus and laughed. “Holy balls, it just clicked who you are. Damn, you look good for as old as you are. Like whoa, crazy good. Lickable even.” She flushed. “Crap, forget I said that last part, please?”
“And on that note, I’ll leave you to do inventory. D will get you settled once you’re finished here. E-mail me the list when you have it together, and I’ll ensure it’s shipped out by tomorrow if possible.” Mercury moved to the door, then paused. “Set her up with a code as well, D. Where you put her after is at your discretion,” he added with what she was sure was a smirk before disappearing out of the room.
“That man seriously needs a spa day. I wonder if he would be all complainy if I ordered him one for a weekend? I’ve just met him, and I already realize how uptight he is.” She swiveled and looked up at Demaratus once more. “So, will you tell me about this bond thing that Mercury was talking about? Why I’ve dreamed of you? Why I feel the desire to touch you?”
“I’m still unsure why you dreamed of me. You may need to ask one of the other VV’s to have that clarified. Apparently, a few of them have had the same experience in regards to the men they’ve bonded with. The bond is always between a VV and one of the guardians. Every few generations, the VV’s are reborn into the world. The current VV’s can still be alive and well, but it’s pretty damn rare from what I’ve seen over the centuries. It’s only actually happened twice before, to my knowledge.
“The desire to touch me is a part of that bond. It comes from the medallion that was used to bring me back to life and gives me the immortality that Mercury mentioned earlier.” Tugging his tight t-shirt from his dark, leather pants, he lifted it to show her the right side of his lower torso, where a long, jagged scar rested.
From the angle he was standing, she saw it went from somewhere around his groin, up under his rib cage, and vanished around the side to his back. Her heart leapt up into her throat at the sight, and she had to fight a sudden and unexpected need to cry.