West of Want
HEARTS OF THE ANEMOI - Book Two - by Laura Kaye
When Marcella Raines’ twin brother dies, she honors his request to be buried at sea, never expecting the violent storm that swamps her boat. Though she’s gravely injured—and still emotionally damaged from her recent divorce—Ella fights to survive. Zephyros Martius is the Supreme God of the West Wind and Spring, but being the strongest Anemoi hasn’t protected him from betrayal and loss. Worse, he’s sure his brother Eurus is behind it. When Zeph’s heartbreak whips up a storm that shipwrecks a human, his guilt forces him to save her.
Ella is drawn to the vulnerability Zeph hides beneath his otherworldly masculinity and ancient blue eyes. And her honesty, empathy, and unique, calming influence leave Zeph wanting…everything. When Eurus threatens Ella, she and Zeph struggle to let go of the past, defend their future, and embrace what they most want—a love that can be trusted.
Title: West of Want (Hearts of the Anemoi, #2)
Author: Laura Kaye
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance
Length: 326 pages
Launch Date: July 2012
ePub ISBN: 978-1-62061-056-5
Print ISBN: 978-1-62061-055-8
Praise for West of Want:
★★★★ “West of Want brings the human heartache of love and betrayal to epic heights in this turbulent tale of the West Wind and the mortal he falls hard for. It humanizes deities from old legends in a very modern way while still retaining an ancient feeling in the hierarchy of the pantheon. The tempest of emotion swirling around the characters is surreal, intense and sensual — in short, exactly what a romance of the gods should be.”
- RT Book Reviews
“WEST OF WANT is steamy, spellbinding, and a must-read for all romance fantasy fans.”
- Elisabeth Naughton, author of ENRAPTURED
© 2012 Laura Kaye
Ella Raines knelt on the varnished deck of the sailboat’s cockpit, her dead brother’s ashes in her hands, and stared out at the dark green chop of the Chesapeake Bay. The cold March breeze kicked up sea spray and rippled through the sails, but all Ella could feel was the metal urn turning her aching fingers to ice. She had to let him go—she knew she did—but with everything else she’d lost, how could the world be so cruel as to expect her to give up her twin, too?
She twisted open the urn’s brass lid and stuffed it in the pocket of her windbreaker. Sailing had been the passion over which she and Marcus had most bonded, not just as siblings, but as best friends. A day spent cruising on the bay, blue skies overhead and warm winds lifting the sails, had been Marcus’s favorite thing to do. He wasn’t a religious man, but said he most believed in God when he was out on the open water. So a burial at sea made sense, and it was time. When she’d woken up this morning and seen the clear forecast, she resolved today was the day. After all, it had been two months, and the first day of spring seemed a fitting time for starting over.
Leaning over the stern, Ella tilted the brass container by slow degrees until fine ashes spilled out, swirled on the wind, and blew away in a sad gray ribbon that blurred from her silent tears. Choppy waves splashed against the transom, soaking Ella to the elbows, and the boat heeled to the starboard. She braced herself on the backstay. The fixed steel cable bit into her hand but steadied her enough to empty the urn.
“Good-bye, Marcus. I love you.” She barely heard herself over the sudden gusting of the wind that roared through the sails.
Ella locked down the grief and despair that wanted to claw out of her chest and climbed to a standing position. The boat heeled again, hard, the forty-five-degree angle nearly catching her off guard. She stumbled. The urn dropped with a brassy clang to the deck of the helm and rolled lopsidedly as the sloop tossed.
She turned, her brain already moving her hands and body through the motions of furling the mainsail and tacking upwind. A bright flash caught her gaze and a gasp stuck in her throat.
An enormous dark cloud sprawled low over the water to the southwest. Mountainous black plumes protruded from the top, creating a tower through which brilliant explosions of yellow-orange streaked. Inky fingers reached down from the storm’s edge as the squalling winds lashed at the sea.
Where the hell had that come from?
A long growl of thunder rumbled over the bay. Ella felt it in her bones. The boat tossed and heeled. Waves pounded the hull, sloshed over the sides, and soaked her sneakers. A spare glance at her instruments revealed thirty-knot winds. Thirty-five.
A four-foot wave slammed against the port side. Ella slipped on the wet deck and went down hard on one knee. She grasped the wheel just as the boat lurched sideways. Thunder crashed above her, the sound vibrating through the whipping wind. Bitter cold rain poured down over the boat in a torrent. Tendrils of Ella’s hair came loose from her long braid and plastered to her forehead and cheeks.
She needed to turn the boat and reach shore if she had any hope of escaping the wind. Ella wrestled the steering wheel hard to windward, the rudder fighting her every turn. Damn, how could she have been so reckless, so unobservant? Storms like this didn’t just develop out of nowhere. A sailor never trusted the weathermen over her own eyes and ears. How long had she been kneeling on the deck giving in to her woe-is-me routine, anyway? And here she was, in the literal eye of a storm, sailing single-handed without life jacket or tether on. She locked the wheel into place. At least she could remedy that problem.
Ella reached for an orange vest and slipped her arms through the holes. A final glance at her instruments revealed forty-knot winds now. Dread threatened to swamp her. She disconnected the electronics, leaving only the compass to guide her. Her mast was a forty-foot lightning rod, so she did what little she could to combat the likelihood of a strike.
The windward course was a short-lived pursuit as the wind direction changed again and again. Eyes on the compass, she adjusted to the wind as best she could. She couldn’t see squat through the deluge, and the hovering gray sheets of rain and spray and six-foot waves obscured the horizon. She’d have to ride it out. With shaking, bone-cold fingers, she connected the bottom of the three buckles on her vest. Small clicks sounded from overhead, got louder, more frequent. Hail pelted down the size of dimes, then nickels. Ella crouched against the wheel and shielded her head with her hands and arms. The falling ice ripped into the plastic of her jacket and bit into her knuckles.
Thunder crashed right above her and the storm-darkened sky exploded in ferocious jags of electricity. Rain and hail lashed her body, and wind and waves battered her ship like it had a personal vendetta to settle. With her. A tremendous wave crested over the starboard side, shoving her head against the metal spoke of the wheel. Spots burst across her vision. She cried out, the sound swallowed by the wind.
When she could focus again, her gaze settled on the lidless cremation urn wedged fore of the wheel pedestal. Marcus. What she wouldn’t do to have him with her. She reached around the huge wheel to grab the container, just grasping for something, anything to make her feel less alone. She couldn’t reach. Shifting her hold on the wheel, she stretched, her fingers straining, yearning to feel the cold brass. Not quite.
She lunged for the urn, grabbed it up, and hugged it to her chest.
Thunder and lightning blasted the sky above her. A wall of wind shoved at the side of the sailboat. It lurched. Spun. An ominous crack reverberated from below. A wave pounded Ella’s shoulders and back, flattening her atop the urn onto the deck of the cockpit, holding her hostage with its watery weight. Seawater strangled her, stole her breath, and receded.
The boat reared over a peaked wave and bucked. Ella slid into a free fall.
Not releasing her death grip on the urn, Ella’s right hand shot out and clutched the steel backstay. The ligaments of her shoulder wrenched apart in a sickening, audible pop just as her lower body whipped over the transom and hit the frigid water. The jolt stole her scream, allowed her only to moan long and low. Icy wetness soaked through her heavy clothes and the drag tugged and pulled at her destroyed joint.
Triple bolts of lightning illuminated the gunmetal sky in quick succession. Shaking nonstop from cold and pain and adrenaline, Ella stared up at her hand clutching the metal cable. One strike and she’d be done. Her mind laid out the choices. Ship or sea. Urn or ship. Drown or fry. Life or death.
A wave swamped her. And another. She choked and gagged. The next slammed her head against the fiberglass transom.
Her hands flew open from the impact. She plunged into the storm-tortured water, sucked down nauseating mouthfuls. Her body whipped feet over head, side to side. Impossible to determine which way was up. The violent churning of the sea ripped the lifejacket off one arm, but the orange padding held just enough to finally guide her head to the surface.
Despite her daze, survival instincts had her gulping oxygen, precious oxygen. Her successful fight against the urge to vomit left her shuddering, the sour bile almost a welcome respite from the cold salt. No matter. The next cresting wave forced her to drink more.
Panic jolted through her body, shook the drunken haze from her mind. Kicking and paddling, she spun around and around, until she’d done several three-sixties. The boat. Gone.
As her body crested the top of wave after wave, she strained to see some glimpse of white in the thick, dark gray. At thirty-four feet, the True Blue was not little, but the sea was too rough, the wind too forceful.
No. No, no, no. Not their sailboat, too. Not the last place that truly felt like home, the last place filled with memories of laughter and love and honesty.
Deafening thunder rumbled over the world. Jagged electricity flared over the monstrous seascape.
Ella tilted her head back, squinted against the blinding rain, and screamed. “Is that all you got? Well, fuck you! Fuck you and the cloud you blew in on! I’ve got nothing left to lose, so take your best shot!”
A wave smacked her in the face. She gagged. Coughed. Laughed until sobs took over.
Exhaustion. Pure and utter. Like she’d lived a thousand lives.
Debris thudded against her ear. She howled as the jarring hit rang through her head.
Please don’t let it be pieces of True Blue.
Her eyes focused on the sea next to her. Nothing. She propelled herself around. The urn. Ella gasped and irrational joy filled her chest.
She half-swam—a nearly impossible feat against the thrashing waves with one useless arm. Each leaden stroke sapped what little energy she had left.
She grabbed the urn. Held it in her numb hands.
“I knew you wouldn’t leave me,” she whispered against the brass, all she could manage. “We’re true blue.”
Together, the churn carried them up one side of a wave, then plunged them down the other. Ella’s head slumped against the flat base of the upside down container. Her eyelids sagged.
And everything went black.
A life force was fading.
The sensation tugged at Zephyros’s consciousness, embattled as it was as he raged over the sea. Caught up in his own thoughts, his own pain, his own loss, he writhed and tossed, howled and lashed out. The wind and rain—nature’s very energy—were his to control, even when he was out of control. But, still, the wrongness of the sensation tugged at him, demanded redress. In his elemental form, he felt the call of life and birth and renewal most strongly. He could ignore it no longer.
He forced himself to embrace the calm that had once been the truest manifestation of his nature. Around him, the clouds dispersed, the rains thinned, the winds settled to a bluster. The sea, black and roiling a moment ago, eased into the early spring chop typical of the bay.
Zephyros allowed the tranquility of the open water to fuel the return of his composure. He focused. Scanned for the soul decrying its unnatural end. Commanding the West Wind to carry him down from the heavens, he soared on the gentle gusts. The only thing nearby was a lone sailboat, floundering in the wind.
He glided around the fine boat. No life resided on its decks or within its hull. A sour pit formed in his gut as he began to suspect what had happened.
Rising up to gain a broader view of the sea, Zephyros searched, the dwindling life a beacon he latched onto. Pursued. The thrum of its force vibrated within him. Closing in, he descended toward the surface, the waves passing under him in a blur. There! A flicker of orange upon the dark gray-green.
Flashing into corporeality, Zephyros assumed the form of a giant water kingfisher.
Slate-blue wings exploded twenty feet out on either side of his body. He plunged head-first toward the bobbing figure, the wind ruffling through the crown-like crest of blue feathers atop his head. Rarely did he ever have the need to shift into his sacred animal form, but it was a power all the Anemoi possessed.
Glaring down at the water, Zephyros braced himself. Extreme temperatures pained and weakened him, and he’d be lucky if this water was in the fifties. He skied into the water’s surface, spread wings gentling his landing. No such luck. Mid-forties if it was anything. But this wasn’t about him, was it?
Just ahead, the human bobbed face down, tendrils of long hair floating in strands of silk like a halo. He smelled blood. Best hurry. His senses told him time was short.
Zephyros plunged his regal, avian body into the water, came up with the dead weight draped over his neck. With a shove of a wing, he pushed the legs of the body up, resituating the length along his back. He took flight.
Frigid water shook off him in a fantastic spray as his massive wingspan flapped and lifted them away from the bay. His gaze lit on the sailboat and he banked in its direction. He circled the boat once, twice. The metal cables connecting the mast to the deck would not accommodate his wings. He couldn’t land on the boat.
Taking extra care not to jostle the victim, his victim, Zephyros landed behind the sailboat. Instinctively, he commanded the change and shifted into his human form. The biting chill of the water tormented his naked flesh, but more important matters demanded his attention. Grabbing onto one delicate hand, he ensured his hold on the person draped across his back before turning and cradling the body into his arms.
He sucked in a breath. Mother of gods. A bruise mottled the whole left side of her face, from cheek to eyebrow. A nasty gash along the cheekbone oozed a thin line of blood. Her bottom lip was busted open, swollen. But even the severity of her injuries couldn’t hide her beauty.
That sour pit in his stomach grew, suffocated. He’d caused this. Damn it, could he never do anything right? Ancient turmoil roiled through him, threatening to turn him inside out. No, of course he couldn’t.
Zephyros adjusted the woman’s weight in his arms and reached up over the transom. His fingers searched for and found the release, and the swim platform folded out toward them. He lifted the woman above his head and settled her on the glossy wooden surface, then hefted himself up beside her. With solid footing beneath him, he gently lifted her again. He stepped around the massive wheel to the seating area to the fore, and laid her out on a long bench.
Her head lolled to the side. Wheezes morphed into a weak cough. Her whole body seized. Water expelled from her throat. Zephyros supported her shoulders, held her up until she quieted. Her eyelids creaked open, revealing the rolling whites of her eyes. They sagged again, and her whole body went limp.
Zephyros released a breath as unexpected relief flooded him—followed quickly by guilt. His suspicions about what had happened to her were confirmed by an imprinting on her life jacket. The words “True Blue” matched the dark blue calligraphy painted on the back of the boat. She’d been thrown overboard in the storm. His storm.
He shivered, a combination of guilt, shame, and the wind against his wet body. Well, the latter problem he could address. He materialized jeans and a T-shirt and made himself decent.
Like a magnet, she drew his gaze. He reached out and stroked his fingers over the reds and purples coloring the side of her face. Her hair appeared deep brown, but he suspected the darkness was an effect of the water still drenching her.
Shaking his head, Zephyros debated. He should leave now. The Coast Guard would find her. The bay had patrols. He could even command the current to carry the boat, with her upon it, to shore. Even as he agreed with himself, agreed leaving her would be for the best, he searched the boat for information he could use to help her. Storage lockers filled the space beneath the bench seats. Empty. His gaze scanned. He’d look below.
Down the companionway steps, he descended into the cabin and stepped in a few inches of sloshing water on the galley floor. All warm wood and white accents, the space was surprisingly spacious and bright. Far forward there appeared to be a berth. Aft of that bedroom, a large sitting area centered round a table. To his immediate left, a small galley kitchen, and to his right, a chart table. Compasses and instruments hung above it on the hull wall.
Zephyros stepped to the desk and opened the top drawer. Maps and paperwork sat in skewed stacks. He flipped through the pages until he found a name and address. That the name was male brought an unexpected frown to his face, but at least he had a lead on where to take her. Surely someone so physically attractive had a significant other, someone who would care for her and see her mended back to health.
As he moved to return above deck, a small aft berth caught his eye and he reached in and yanked a blanket from the bed. Up top again, he tucked the red comforter around the woman. The loose strands of hair around her face had air-dried to a light golden-brown. Peaceful in her unconsciousness, her face appeared delicate and young, unmarred by cruelty or pain—except for what he’d done to her, of-fucking-course.
Ignoring the rock of guilt in his gut, he considered the problem of actually getting the boat to harbor. Sailing was a foreign language to him. He had no need for the knowledge. He could soar on the wind, even glide on the currents for short times. All he knew was a sailboat with furled sails wasn’t going anywhere.
No matter. He stepped around the wheel and down onto the swimming platform. The clothing would just be a drag, so he disappeared it and jumped. The cold water sucker-punched him. He gasped and willed his muscles to cooperate. How long had the woman suffered with the freezing waves battering her damaged body? He bit down on his tongue to keep from roaring out. The pain focused him.
Arms extended beside him, he closed his eyes and called the current. As a wind god, Zephyros was most at home in the sky, but marshaling sea currents worked on the same principle. The rush of water pushed behind him, just as he directed, and scooped up the boat’s hull in the grip of its gentle forward motion. One hand on the platform, he floated behind the boat, guiding its heading, adjusting as necessary, shivering until he thought his bones might snap. Luckily, the storm had chased away other maritime traffic. The bay was wide open and empty. Nice to have one thing going for him. Occasional gulls cried out high above, their pale bodies nearly camouflaged against the gray-white sky.
Within an hour, they were in sight of Annapolis. Above the town proper, a large steeple and a tall domed cupola framed the colonial seaport. But Zephyros’s destination was a bit closer. The address he’d found should be on the neck of land just south of the town.
An inlet emerged up ahead. All along the shore, clusters of masts stood up together, sentinels on the water. He guided the boat toward the creek. A sailboat with a large blue mast sail glided past. Zephyros submerged into the cold, but not before noticing the confounded expression on the other captain’s face. Of course. The boat he guided moved without aid of sail or motor.
He resurfaced long enough to see the other boat coming about, the captain on the radio. Damn it all to Hades.
This situation was about to become shit meets fan. For gods’ sake, he currently didn’t have clothes, and until he warmed he’d be lucky to hold a conversation. Naked, nearly incapacitated, with no ability to dock the boat, and with a gravely injured woman on board, he had little likelihood of contriving a convincing story about how they’d gotten that way.
His presence was a liability here. He was useless. Again.
As the blue-masted boat neared, the captain called out, asking whether the True Blue was in distress. No one answered, of course.
And it was time for him to go.
Zephyros released his grip on the platform and eased the created current until it dispersed altogether. He sank beneath the surface, shaking nonstop, and hesitated just a moment. His gut clenched. He hated the idea of not seeing her to safety. Okay, in truth, he’d done that. But what he wanted was to see her to health—awake and conscious and warm and happy.
Happy? What did her emotions have to do with anything? Fluttery panic ripped through his chest. The fact he was even thinking about her feelings was a major get-the-hell-out-of-there red flag. Getting involved was the last thing he needed. Hadn’t he learned that? Again and again and a-fucking-gain?
The rescue sailboat came alongside the True Blue. A man’s voice rang out above the water’s surface. There. He would make sure she was safe, cared for, got everything she needed. The thought had Zephyros grinding his teeth in frustration. In self-defense.
He wanted nothing and no one. And, in truth, no one wanted him either. So didn’t that work out just perfectly, thank you very much.
Zephyros turned and, without looking back, swam to the opposite shore.
He broke the icy surface gasping for breath and shaking so hard his bones hurt.
“Job well done, Zephyros. Very good. And on the first day of your season, too,” came the last voice Zeph wanted to hear in that moment. Or any moment.
Zeph wiped the water from his eyes and climbed the small embankment opposite the marina where he could hear a small crowd gathering. The clothes he materialized didn’t begin to compensate for the consequences of over an hour of exertion in a forty-degree sea. Grinding his teeth together to keep them from chattering, he faced his younger brother Eurus, Supreme God of the East Wind and Harbinger of Misfortune. Evil in a pair of $900 dress shoes. Zeph ignored the comment intended to pluck at his guilt and rile him up. “You have no business here, Eurus. Leave. I don’t have anything to say to you.”
Standing on the shore in his I’m-dark-and-mysterious black leather getup, Eurus stared across the water through the black wraparound sunglasses he always wore. His lips twitched. “Be that as it may, I have something to say to you.” He turned away from the drama unfolding across the inlet and faced Zeph, but didn’t speak.
Striking a careful indifference as emergency vehicles poured into the marina parking lot, Zeph glared at his brother. He’d paid his debt to Eurus, and then some. Not that Zeph truly believed he owed that fucker anything, but he’d wanted to make nice, keep the peace. Problem was, Eurus didn’t agree. And never would. “For the love of the gods, Eurus. What do you want? I’m freezing and don’t want to stand here arguing with you.”
Eurus laced his hands behind his back. “Fine. I’ll get right to the point. I plan to submit a petition.”
Gods, he hated how Eurus made everything so damn dramatic. “About?”
“I will propose that, lest you beget an heir by the end of your season, my son Alastor be installed as your heir.” Zeph gaped as Eurus plowed on. “Only Boreas and I have addressed issues of succession.” He shook his head and tsked. “And it’s very dangerous, Zephyros. Very dangerous indeed not to have an heir in place.”
Maybe Zeph’s ears were frozen and the words had gotten garbled. No way his brother had just proposed— “You can’t be serious.”
Eurus arched an eyebrow.
“You’re out of your mind.” As if that wasn’t stating the obvious. “A god of the East could never do the job of a god of the West.” Not to mention the fact Alastor was a complete recluse and, more importantly, Zeph would never trust anyone of Eurus’s line with…anything.
Zeph turned away and climbed the rest of the way up the embankment. “Whatever. I’ll get around to having an heir when I’m good and goddamned ready.” When that might be, he had no idea. After all, someone had to stick around long enough first. “Besides, Father would never approve an eastern god as the heir of my line.”
“He would if he had the blood of spring in his veins.”
Going stock still, Zeph heaved a breath. Icy fingers crawled up his spine. He schooled his expression and turned on his brother. Glared, but kept his mouth shut.
Eurus’s smug expression went glacial. “Oh, come now. I know you want me to explain.”
Despite the way his skin crawled and his gut squeezed, he’d freeze out here before giving Eurus the satisfaction of asking.
Leaning forward, a smile that could only be described as wicked curled the edges of Eurus’s lips. “Your wife, Chloris,” he sneered, voice dark and satisfied. Then he was gone.