South of Surrender

a Hearts of the Anemoi novel by Laura Kaye

She’s the only one who can see through his golden boy façade to the broken god within…

Chrysander Notos, Supreme God of the South Wind and Summer, is on a mission: save Eurus from his death sentence and prove his troubled brother can be redeemed. But Eurus fights back, triggering vicious storms that threaten the mortal realm and dangerously drain Chrys.

Laney Summerlyn refuses to give up her grandfather’s horse farm, despite her deteriorating vision. More than ever, she needs the organized routine of her life at Summerlyn Stables, until a ferocious storm brings an impossible—and beautiful—creature crashing down from the heavens.

Injured while fighting Eurus, Chrys finds himself at the mercy of a mortal woman whose compassion and acceptance he can’t resist. As they surrender to the passion flaring between them, immortal enemies close in, forcing Chrys to choose between his brother and the only woman who’s ever loved the real him.
 
Title: South of Surrender (Hearts of the Anemoi, #3)
Author: Laura Kaye
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 326 pages
Release Date: May 28, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-62061-033-6
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-62061-034-3
Imprint: Entangled Select
 

 
 
 

Praise for South of Surrender:

“Sexy, emotional stories, powerful, evocative writing, a vivid and unique vision, and enough magic and mysticism to keep the most demanding reader satisfied, Laura Kaye delivers it all. I love this series!”
- New York Times Bestselling Author Maggie Shayne

 

Excerpt:

© 2013 Laura Kaye
 

Chapter One

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 Two

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.

Laney reached out, found the panel of light switches, and flipped every one of them, flooding the nine-stall center-aisle barn with yellow light. Adrenaline flooded through her so fast she was shaky, making it hard to focus the sliver of central vision she still possessed. But it was clear the barn had been damaged. Wind gusted through, raising a chill on her wet skin, and an intense shower of rain echoed against the floor at the far end.

She settled the lantern on a shelf and let her raincoat drop to the floor. Cocoa Puff’s agitation was clear in the flurry of movements and blows coming from the old mare, who was the most high-strung of them all. Laney moved to the barred grill of the first stall and shushed her like she would a small child. Cocoa let out a high-pitched nicker and tossed her head. Laney wanted to stroke her forehead, but hesitated to get too close when the horse was so riled. “You’re okay. Mama’s here. You’re a pretty girl, Cocoa,” she cooed. The rescued Morgan nickered again and pushed her nose into Laney’s hand. She snuffed as if looking for treats. “Next time, I promise. I gotta go check on the others now. Okay? I’m right here.”

Trailing her hand over the grated fronts of the stalls, Laney moved to the next door and found Casper, a white Sabino gelding that was another of her rescue horses. Casper strained his head toward her, and Laney laid her cheek on his forehead. “You okay, buddy?” She petted the soft white hair covering his neck. “Yeah, you’re okay.”

Laney’s heart still raced in her chest, and she wiped the water from her face as she moved to the next stall. Three more.

“Hey, Rolly,” she said, finding the muzzle of the Appaloosa spotted almost like a Dalmatian, lots of creamy white with occasional black spots. He blew against her hand then pulled away. Rolly was her newest rescue. Recovering from a supposedly accidental gunshot to the abdomen, he remained standoffish. Couldn’t blame him, really.

The volume of the rain tapering off now, Laney crossed the center aisle to an empty stall and turned toward the two remaining horses. Hope rose within her and calmed the worst of her fear. All her senses told her the damage was restricted to the opposite—and empty—end of the barn. Her hand found the next door, and the colt—a boarder—nipped at her fingers. Mouthy thing. Laney smiled as tension eased from her shoulders. She couldn’t imagine telling Windsong’s owner, a fifteen year old named Kara who had just been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa—the same degenerative eye disease from which Laney suffered—that anything had happened to the colt. Stroking his cheek, she said, “Good thing you’re so handsome.” He licked her forearm. “Ew, Windy.” She backed away, chuckling, and wiped her arm on her T-shirt.

Finally, Laney came to the last stall she needed to check, and Sappho nickered softly and reached her head out. “Hi, baby,” Laney said, leaning her forehead against the silky black mane of her Friesian, the first horse she’d owned, a gift from her grandfather on her sixteenth birthday. When other kids got cars, Laney got her very own filly. She’d grown up around her pop’s horses, so getting Sappho that day had been a wish come true. Less than a year later, she’d started noticing problems with her vision. As her sight deteriorated, more than once she’d cried on this horse’s shoulder. Ten years had passed, but Sappho still had the power to cheer her up more than anything else.

“You okay?” she asked, reassuring herself more than the mare. Laney let out a long breath, fear making her feel tired and wrung out, even after determining the horses were all fine. “Let’s just hang out for a minute and calm down. How ‘bout that?”

Sappho chuffed out a breath against her hand, a soft affectionate agreement. Laney wished she could clearly see the Friesian’s eyes, which had always held such intelligence and understanding, but the black-on-black coloring obscured the details. This animal probably knew her better than anyone ever had—her grandfather excepted, though he was gone now. Off to greener pastures. The thought always made her smile.

After a few minutes, Laney realized the rain had stopped. A humid breeze gusted and water dripped occasionally, but otherwise only the normal sounds of the horses filled the space.

She gave Sappho a final pat and turned toward the other end of the barn. Seth would have to give her the full picture of the damage when he got here in the morning. Her long-time farm manager and horse trainer—not to mention best friend—was here every day. In fact, he was here so frequently that her grandfather’s will provided for the construction of a caretaker’s cottage for Seth. If it would ever stop raining maybe they could finish construction. This summer had been the wettest on record, halting their progress, and this storm was the worst of them all. In fact, given his protectiveness of her, she was surprised Seth hadn’t called during the storm. She’d made it quite clear on numerous occasions she was more than capable of taking care of herself, but that didn’t stop him from worrying over her every chance he got. It would be annoying if it wasn’t so endearing.

A kind of morbid curiosity drove her toward the damage to see what she could for herself. Trailing her hand along the rail, Laney held her breath in anticipation of what she’d find. A twisted piece of metal railing was the first thing that told her she’d found what she was looking for. Damn. Just before he’d died two years ago, her grandfather had rebuilt the stable, so everything was new and state-of-the-art. Her stomach dropped as she began to get a feel for the damage, which mostly seemed to have impacted the end two stalls. Crossing the center aisle, she found the tack room walls intact. A quick circuit revealed everything was how it was supposed to be. The damage was confined to the other side, then.

Laney grabbed a rake from a hook and flipped it handle side down as she crossed back to assess the damage. She rarely carried her cane around the farm, but if part of the ceiling had come down, there would be debris. As she stepped into the ruined stall, she tapped the pole in front of her, searching out obstructions that might trip her up. The sound was immediately wrong, metallic, and her foot landed on a sheet of metal that wasn’t the normal rubber-over-concrete flooring. Part of the roof had collapsed.

Slowly, she lifted the rake handle and swung it in front of her to ensure no pieces of roofing hung loose from the ceiling. Nothing.

Returning her makeshift cane to the floor, she tapped along a large section of metal sheeting.

But what the hell brought it down?

She expected to find part of the ancient oak tree that stood behind the barn, but nothing she was finding confirmed that theory.

Laney was just about to give up when the handle encountered something on the floor, solid but giving. She focused and scanned her limited vision back and forth, her brain slowly assembling the pieces of the picture into a whole that made her gasp out loud.

It was a horse. She blinked and squinted. A weird yellow halo flickered across her vision when she looked closer. It really was a freaking horse.

How? From where? Laney mentally recounted her steps to ensure she’d checked on all her horses. Cocoa, Casper, Rolly, Windsong, Sappho. She’d talked to and touched every one of them. She was sure of it.

And even if she wasn’t, this stall had been empty for a long time. None of her regular horses used it.

Oh, crap. Could there have been a tornado? They were rare in Maryland, but what the heck else would drop a horse out of the sky? Just imagining that’s what happened made her stomach toss.

Setting the rake to the side, Laney crouched, her gut queasy and pulse pounding in her ears, and found the wet barrel of the horse’s belly with her hand. The lift and fall of its breathing was immediately obvious, shooting relief through her amazed disbelief. He’s alive.

She moved from between the horse’s legs. Downed horses could thrash or kick. Getting injured was the last thing she needed. She crouched near his head and stroked his golden neck, that strange halo effect growing brighter. Laney clenched and reopened her eyes, but it was still there.

“Hey, friend,” she whispered, still struggling to believe what her pinpoint of sight was telling her was there. She leaned in close enough to see the eye was closed, though flickering. Every once in a while, the horse shuddered out a breath, but otherwise its respiration was just a little fast. She pressed her fingers against the fetlock joint toward the bottom of his leg and found a pulse. Heart rate was elevated, but not as unusual as she might’ve expected. How could he still be alive? Given what had likely happened to him and his unconscious state, she expected him to be a lot worse off.

When she leaned away, Laney’s hand brushed something sticky and she traced her fingers over the horse’s left front leg. A gash flayed open the golden flesh.

She needed to get help. Now.

Laney fished her iPhone out of her pocket and pressed the extra-large telephone icon in the bottom right corner. “Seth is going to have a cow when he sees you,” she murmured. She waited for it to connect. And waited. She redialed but had the same luck. No signal. “Seriously?”

Groaning, Laney pocketed her phone as she rose. There were two land lines in the barn. Overkill for a sighted person, but having both made it easier for her to get to one of them when they rang.

Back in the tack room, Laney dialed Seth’s number, but all she got was an odd fast busy signal with lots of crackling static. Why would she still have lights but no phones?

She sighed. Stupid storm. The service would get restored soon. In the meantime, she grabbed the first-aid kit and a couple of stable blankets and returned to her mystery guest. Laney was known for taking in strays, but this was going a little far, even for her.

Inside the kit, the bottles were sized differently and color-coded so she could tell the different solutions apart. She poured saline from the white bottle over the wound to clean it, then did her best to center a gauze pad over the injury before securing it with Vetwrap. Doing this was probably stupid, given what his other injuries likely were, but it made her feel useful. And at least it would stay clean until she could get the vet out here.

“What else is wrong with you?” she murmured. Carefully, she worked her way around his head, and smoothed her hands over his shoulder to his—

“What the hell?”

Her fingers encountered something downy soft. Something that had no business on a horse’s back.

She looked. Squinted. Leaned in and looked again.

There was no way she was seeing what her very low vision was telling her she was seeing.

No way on earth.

Running her hands over the feathery protrusion confirmed what her sight had identified.

The horse…the horse had wings.

 

 

Chapter Three

Awe and wonder—not to mention a healthy dose of fear—rushed through Laney’s veins so hard she became lightheaded.

She pressed her fingers against the downy softness of the wings again and sucked in a breath. Never had she felt something so silky, so plush, and her fingertips were especially sensitive to touch.

Sinking her hand into the complex layers of feathers, Laney had to accept what all her senses were telling her.

A winged horse had crashed through the ceiling of her stable in the midst of a terrible storm.

Dizziness threatened to swamp her. She forced a deep breath.

How was this possible? Maybe she was actually in her bed dreaming right now? Or maybe her sight had finally failed her after all? Though, that didn’t explain what she’d felt

Her amazement morphed into concern as her imagination painted a picture of this magnificent beast battling the elements and losing. Were there others like him? Would they be searching for him?

Did the fact she was actually entertaining the existence of a…of a Pegasus certify her as raving mad?

But here he was. In the flesh. Far, far from wherever he belonged.

The thought that he was lost, all alone, and injured made her heart squeeze. And, oh God, it wasn’t like she could bring the vet out now. What the hell was she going to do? If anyone else saw him, they’d take him away, study him, lock him up.

No way.

Or, they’d take her away, run a series of psych tests, and lock her up.

Also not appealing.

“Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out,” she whispered as she stroked him.

Her finger caught on a bent feather. She smoothed her palm over the area and found more damage—the sharp edges of broken feather spines and, again, a stickiness she feared was blood. Red smears on her hand confirmed her suspicion.

Unlike his leg, she had no idea how to treat a wing, for goodness sake. She just hoped he didn’t thrash in his sleep and damage it further.

“What am I going to do with you?” she asked. She spread out several horse blankets to provide a barrier between her skin and the puddles and debris, then sat all the way down. Her legs were all pins and needles from squatting, and she just needed a minute to stretch them out. “I’ll stay with you, okay?” Stroking his golden neck and mane, all she could think was, I’m touching a Pegasus!

After a while, she grabbed an extra stable blanket and pulled it up over her bare legs. Her clothes were nearly dry, but her sneakers were still wet and squishy, so she slipped them off. Thunder rumbled in the distance, once, twice. Laney’s stomach dropped and, instinctively, she leaned into the horse’s big body. Through everything, horses had always been her greatest comfort. Despite this guy’s differences, he still gave her that same feeling of safety and solace.

And, in contrast to the cooling night breeze, he was so warm.

For a long moment, Laney reveled in the soft rise and fall of his body, proof that this miraculous beast existed. And that he lived.

His heat seeped into her muscles, achy from the tension she’d borne earlier. Now that she knew all her babies were safe, fatigue roared through her body and Laney couldn’t stop yawning. She should get up. Arguably, it wasn’t safe sitting here by him—are Pegasuses even friendly? The question made her head spin. Five more minutes. She just couldn’t pull herself away from something so magical. But it definitely wouldn’t be safe to fall asleep. Just a while longer. The shoulder she leaned against rose and fell, rose and fell. Just a little while longer…

Bone-crushing pain and soul-deep exhaustion told Chrysander Notos he was still alive.

He was adrift in a dark sea of agony, disoriented and alone. His limbs weighed a thousand pounds. Putting the full force of his wavering concentration behind the effort, he forced his eyelids open. The low light stung and he blinked and squinted.

Finally, his eyes adjusted. He scanned his surroundings—an odd red metal floor lay beneath him, and the wall before him was made of some kind of unusual fencing. Chrys couldn’t assemble the parts into a meaningful whole, and didn’t have the energy to think about it, anyway.

At least his form had stabilized. He lay as a man…wherever he was.

The tighter his grasp on consciousness, the more Chrys became aware of another sensation: luxurious warmth against his back. And as hurt as he was, he craved more of whatever was providing the life-giving heat.

Lifting his head made the world swim, forcing him to pause and breathe through the disorientation. His right shoulder protested the movement, still raw from being stabbed by the leashed lightning Eurus shouldn’t have been able to wield, but Chrys had to know what he was feeling.

Easing onto his back, Chrys found himself staring into the sleeping face of an incredibly beautiful woman. Long black hair spilled down around her shoulder, and cherry red lips set off the fairness of her skin. She lay stretched out against him, her head now resting against his bicep.

The comfort her body heat provided was so intense, her laying against him didn’t even set off his usual anxiety about being touched. As long as he controlled physical contact, he could handle it, but being touched by others was a one-way ticket to a panic attack. It was a sign of his pain and desperation that he now wanted more of this stranger touching him. His condition yearned for her warmth, demanded it.

He struggled to turn toward her, and was struck by the burning ache seizing his forearm. From where he’d blocked the— He gawked. Thick bandages now covered the wound. She’d patched him up?

The thought that she’d touched him while he was so vulnerable should’ve alarmed him, but it simply made him crave her even harder. Shaking from the effort, Chrys slowly turned until he faced her. Soft, warm exhalations hushed over the skin of his chest. He scooted closer, until her lips were but a breath away from his pecs. A length of her hair caressed his arm, thick and soft and warm.

It still wasn’t enough.

Chrys pressed his legs against hers. She let out a sigh and shifted. Chrys froze and then nearly groaned as she burrowed against him, her forehead tight against his chest and her legs entwined with his.  Her incredible body heat flowed into him and more than compensated for the dizziness sending black spots around the edges of his vision. He breathed through a rolling wave of nausea.

Thank the gods for this woman, whoever she was. Bad off as he was, he couldn’t even bother to care. He should. Gods only knew what she’d seen, but all he could think about was how her body warmed his from calves to throat. To Chrys, heat was life. And she was giving him both. A shudder of relief ran through him.

Not wanting to wake her, Chrys refrained from going as far as wrapping his arm around her like he wanted to, but he needed heat so intensely he couldn’t muster more than a passing guilt for using her this way.

His head thunked to the floor and his eyes sagged.

Naked. You’re naked, Notos. Shit. Chrys concentrated, willing material, any material—he’d take a damn toga if that’s what he could get—to materialize over his bottom half. He broke out in a cold sweat and shuddered. You know you’re in the shit when you can’t even cover your bare ass.

Fuck it. After some shut-eye and a few hours of her heat, he’d be in more shape to worry about making himself presentable.

Fatigue pressed down on him, made even the involuntary action of breathing take way too much effort. His gut soured and tossed. Closing his eyes and concentrating on her heat seemed to be the only way to combat the revolt his stomach kept threatening. He pressed his face into the woman’s hair—oranges. She smelled of sweet, juicy oranges.

Soaking in her warmth and her summery scent, Chrys succumbed to his injured exhaustion and passed out again.