Serve the people who would lock them up or stone them to death? Jordan didn’t understand and eventually decided Father was simply a coward.

After Mother died, Father and Cassandra found solace in each other, tightening their bond, while Jordan drifted further away. He began making the supply trips on his own since Father didn’t want to leave Cassandra alone. Jordan became braver and more assertive while in the villages, no longer willing to blend in and hide. He came to understand people better, becoming more involved with them, and he realized Father had lied. He’d kept them away from the villages for no good reason at all—they could have easily assimilated and settled down. Father’s unwarranted fear had forced them to live as barbarians. The realization that his father was not only a coward but also a liar brought darkness into Jordan’s heart.

He tried to accomplish what Father hadn’t allowed for them—a place in a village where they would be accepted, where he could join the army and eventually prove that he wasn’t just as good as everyone else, but even better. They gave him the attention he desired and he soaked it all in, especially the praise from the powerful. But eventually they’d always rejected him. They didn’t trust his loyalty because he had no “home,” no tribe or city-state he belonged to. When they asked who his father was and he couldn’t give an answer they knew, they insulted him and his family. Once he realized he’d never be truly accepted, the darkness in his heart grew.

One day, he vowed, he would rule all of them. Just as he’d told Father years before, he’d take over a small village and grow his empire from there. He’d get his revenge on all those kings and lords who’d rejected him. But he’d needed Father’s help and now Father was gone.

He still had Cassandra, though, and she’d just shown promise of what she could be, if he could convince her. And this revelation from Father—demon blood in their veins! He’d been shocked and angry at first, but the more he’d thought about it over the last two days, the more it made sense. He’d obviously felt it more strongly than the rest of his family, explaining the darkness in him they didn’t have—or, rather, that they suppressed. Now he understood and this was better than anything he could have ever hoped for. But before he could do anything, especially convince his sister of the truth, he needed more information.

He sheathed his dagger and broke into a run.

He ran through the night … and the following day … and that night. If they had walked the journey, laden with supplies and belongings, it would have taken them five days to reach the village where he knew those others lived. But nothing weighed Jordan down now and the possibilities of a new and better life fed his desire to get there sooner rather than later. He stopped to rest only once and approached the outskirts of the village on the second afternoon.

Knowing the others slept during the day and left their home only at night, he stopped by a pond outside of town. Pausing just long enough to untie his sandals and leave them on the bank, he strode straight into the water until it reached his waist. He dove under the surface, relishing the coolness and washing the dirt and sweat from his skin. Then he removed his chiton, cleaned it as best as he could, and threw it at a tree on the bank, where it caught perfectly on a branch to dry. He untied the leather strap holding his blond hair and tossed it to the bank, as well.

Free from cumbersome clothing and restraints, he swam several laps across the pond and then floated on his back. When he was relaxed enough to catch a nap, he stood and turned toward the bank. To find himself not alone.

She sat about twenty strides away, her legs curled underneath her, her black hair hanging loosely over her shoulders and down her back. Her golden skin was the color of field workers’, but her blue peplos and the jewels adorning her neck, arms and fingers revealed that she came from money. She didn’t belong here, but in her home or palace, tucked away in her gynaeceum. No man accompanied her now, not even a slave, which meant … what? Jordan could think of only one reason. This will be fun. Her large, dark eyes—darker than Cassandra’s—didn’t stop staring at him, even as he emerged from the water, exposing his full nudity.

He wasn’t surprised by this. He had the hard body of a warrior and even the most virtuous couldn’t bring themselves to turn away. More than one woman had told him his body was as glorious as the gods’. He hadn’t had to pay a hetaera in years—they wanted to pay him just for the thrill of running their hands over his body.

Long ago he’d lost interest in relationships with women. They were all heart-crushing and greedy liars, promising themselves to one man while running off with another who was richer and more powerful. But he hadn’t lost interest in sex and if they wanted to pay him for it, all the better. Although this beauty could obviously afford it, he would probably let her enjoy him for free.

“You don’t have to just look,” he said as he stood on the bank. “I do allow a touch and a taste of the goods before buying.”

She stood and he had to concentrate to keep his friend between his legs down. She had the body of a goddess. He’d never seen a peplos fall so perfectly over full breasts and hips, stating so much while revealing little. She lifted an eyebrow as her eyes traveled down and back up his own body. A smile played on her luscious lips.

“Too bad for you that I have no need for another slave,” she said, her husky voice sending a thrill down his spine. He reached for his chiton and bunched it front of himself, not out of modesty, but to cover his growing friend, betraying his interest. Such desire was not helpful for bargaining.

“I’m not a slave,” he said. “I’m a performer. I can entertain you like no other.”

She studied his face, her hand caressing her neck as she seemed to consider his offer.

“Again, too bad for you,” she finally said. “I don’t need an entertainer either.”

She turned and sauntered off toward town, her peplos swishing against her legs and her hips teasing him even more.

“Then what do you need?” The words spewed out of his mouth before he could stop them.

“A lover who can give me more than a five-minute thrill,” she said over her shoulder.

His chiton fell from his hand, exposing his large, hard friend. Traitor, he thought at it. It throbbed as he watched her leave.

“She’s just a hetaera anyway,” he muttered.

She flicked her hand in a strange wave and flames exploded at his feet, licking at his calves. He yelped and jumped back into the water. The cold water, at least, doused his desire.

* * *

Jordan slept a few hours until dusk, then ran for the village. He’d been watching these men for several years, since realizing they were more like himself and his family than everyone else, but he’d never been able to follow them when they left their home at night—they moved even faster than he did. He didn’t want to take the chance of missing them tonight, so he hurried to be outside their door when darkness fell. He arrived just in time to hear them stirring inside the home they shared. The door opened before he had a chance to announce himself, and a tall, pale man with dark hair and black eyes peered out at him.

“Are you lost?” he asked.

Jordan swallowed down his sudden fear, a rare feeling for him. “No. I have come here for you.”

The man lifted an eyebrow. “For me? You are mistaken. No—”

“I know what you are,” Jordan interrupted. “And I am like you. You can tell me what no one else can.”

The man threw back his head and laughed, an eerie sound that sent a chill up Jordan’s spine. Another man, also white-skinned and dark-haired, approached behind the first, as if drawn by the strange laughter.

“Vlasis,” the laughing man said, “this youth thinks he’s like us!”

The other man made a dismissive sound and waved his hand, then turned and left. The first abruptly stopped and peered at Jordan with narrowed eyes that changed from midnight-black to a glowing red. He leaned forward.

“You are nothing like us.”

Jordan stood his ground, ignoring the growing and inexplicable fear. “You don’t age. You’re strong and move faster than the eye can see. You call me a youth but most men my age are stooped and wrinkled. I can out-lift, out-throw and out-run any human.”

“But can you do this?” His lips lifted in a snarl, exposing fangs like an animal’s, just like those men who’d been chasing Cassandra. His eyes glowed even brighter. Jordan couldn’t stop himself from taking a step back. “Do you live for the hunt? For the taste of human blood? Do you excite at their fear? I think not. You are not like us, the immortal ones.”

Jordan lifted his chin, still fighting the terror that tried to wind its tendrils around him. “I may not be exactly like you, but I am close. Unlike you, I am only half-demon.”

The man drew back slightly and seemed to consider Jordan for a long moment.

“Demon?” he asked. “You believe you are half-demon?”

“I don’t believe. I know. My father was Andrew, a fallen angel. Surely you know of him.”

The man peered at him again, seeming to almost show an interest. Then his nostrils flared and he sniffed the air with the arrogance of a king.

“No matter. You are still nothing like us. We are not demons. We are predators. The most dangerous predators on this Earth.” He leaned toward Jordan again, exposing those dagger-like teeth. His voice came out in a feral snarl. “Now be gone. Before you become my prey.”

Moving too fast to see, the man disappeared and the door slammed in Jordan’s face. He stood motionless, his mouth hanging open. How dare he! He took a step forward and lifted his fist for the wooden door.

“I wouldn’t,” came a husky yet feminine voice from the shadow of the next house.

Jordan spun, his dagger out and ready. She chuckled and a figure emerged halfway out of the darkness—the same woman from the pond earlier, once again out when she shouldn’t be. She wiggled her fingers for him to follow as she sauntered down the path leading to the village center. His eyes cut to the door and then back to her, and he was torn by his need for answers and his desire to know this raven-haired beauty.

“I can help you.” Her whispered words floated to him, although she was too far away for him to possibly hear. “I know who you are and I know who you need to meet. I can take you.”

Jordan hesitated. He half-turned toward the door and renewed fear washed over him. He hurried after the woman.

He followed her out of town to a surprisingly small home on the outskirts of the village. She led him inside, where piles of pillows and blankets surrounded a low wooden table and a fire crackled in the stone hearth. A black pot sat in the coals, a sweet yet strange smelling steam swirling from its boiling contents. He looked around, but it appeared as though no one else was there.

“Whose home is this?” Jordan didn’t think it could be hers. She looked as though she should live in a palace or, at least, in a stone-walled, two-story home with a courtyard, kitchen and andron. But, then again, she apparently wasn’t like other women, controlled by men. Which both thrilled and bothered Jordan.

“Mine.” She sank into one of the oversized pillows.

“Where are all your slaves?”

The woman smiled and her eyes sparkled, as if she knew a secret. In fact, Jordan thought, she always seemed to look as though she knew something he didn’t.

“They are all around me,” she said, waving her hand in the air, although the one-room house was apparently empty. “Anyone can be my slave if I so desire.”

Jordan took a step backward toward the door. “I said I am not one.”

She laughed. “And I said I don’t need one. Not right now. And not you.”

“Then what do you want with me?” If she wanted a night together, paid or not, he knew he’d succumb. There was something about her that made him ache with desire.

“It’s not what I want with you. It’s what you want from me. What you need from me.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “I need nothing. However … ” He took a step toward her and pulled the strap from his hair, letting it fall loose against his shoulders. “ … I do want—”

She laughed, cutting him off. “Oh, I know what you want. It’s quite tempting. But not now, Jordan.”

His eyes narrowed. “How do you know my name?”

“I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve been sent for you. I have the answers you seek.”

He didn’t say anything, only stood in the middle of her pillow-laden, fire-lit room, and stared at her with bewilderment. She pointed to a plush pillow.

“Sit and I will explain.”

He hesitated. “Are you a demon?”

“No. I am Eris.”

“What is an Eris?”

She rolled her eyes. “That is my name. Sit, Jordan. Be comfortable. Here, have some wine.”

Eris held out a cup that appeared from nowhere. He took it and sniffed its aroma, then lifted it to his lips for a small taste. The woman was too mysterious to trust. He decided the wine was safe, however, and took a deeper draw, then sat on the pillow she indicated.

“Do you know those men?” he asked. “How do you know me? And what do you mean that you were sent for me?”

“Those were not men. Those were vampyres. They are not like you at all. You are still alive. They are not. Not quite.”

Jordan peered suspiciously at the wine, wondering if she had indeed poisoned him.

“Explain or I leave.”

“You came looking for demons. I will take you to the true demons. The Ancients. They sent me for you, knowing you would come looking. Those vampyres are their pets. You want nothing to do with them. Trust me.”

“Why should I?”

She gave him that coy smile again. “Because you want to. Because you have to. If you want the answers you seek.”

“But you are not a demon? Are you a vampyre?”

An angry hiss escaped her lips. “Certainly not! They survive off blood. Created by the Ancients for the sole purpose of preying on humans. They pretend as though they are civilized but they are more beastly than any natural animal on this Earth.”

“Who are the Ancients?”

“The Ancients are of the original demons. The fallen angels you seek.” She lifted an eyebrow, questioning if he understood. He nodded. “They are the origins of the Daemoni, demons who Satan ordered to create an army on Earth. They have created many kinds of creatures and beasts, including their beloved vampyres.”

“And if you are not a vampyre … ?”

She smiled coyly again. “My father was a sorcerer—a demon who possessed a human, allowing him to roam the Earth while keeping his magick. My mother was human. Her blood diluted his powers, but I still have the magick of our strongest warlocks. However, warlocks prefer the physical fight and I prefer to fight with my mind.” She waved her hand over her enticing body. “Why would I risk harming this?”