Home > Wicked (Eternal Guardians #9)

Wicked (Eternal Guardians #9)
Author: Elisabeth Naughton


Chapter One



“You’re awfully quiet, Talisa,” the queen said as she sat behind her pristine desk, her blonde hair falling around her shoulders. “Do you have anything you’d like to say?”

Talisa checked the urge to clench her jaw and glanced from her aunt up to her father, the leader of the Argonauts, standing just behind and to the right of the queen.

They were presenting a unified front, ganging up on her so she couldn’t fight back. And they were both eyeing her as if she was a threat.

Or as a five-year old they expected to throw one major-ass temper tantrum at any moment.

Oh, she wanted to lash out. Wanted to tell them just where they could shove their so-called decision, but she knew doing so would get her nowhere. Not with these two. It never had.

“You made your decision without my input.” Talisa fixed a bored look on her face. “Voicing it now won’t change anything.”

Her father’s back stiffened. “Talisa—”

The queen held up a hand, cutting off Theron’s words. “I understand you’re disappointed, but the safety of our realm is paramount. It comes before personal wants and wishes. And your safety is important to us as well. You are not just the daughter of the Argonauts’ leader. You are a descendant of the Horae. Zeus has already tried to abduct your cousins and failed both times. He is not a god who gives up easily. We’re in a war, Talisa. A war that cannot end any way but with us winning. If you were to serve with the Argonauts, to cross into the human realm on missions, it would only be a matter of time before Zeus came after you. We won’t let that happen. We cannot let that happen. Too much is riding on us winning. Our fate, and the fate of humanity, rests on our decisions.”

Talisa had heard it all before. Her mother and two aunts were the modern-day descendants of the Horae, the goddesses of balance and justice. Through the late king’s lineage, they all possessed gifts Zeus wanted for himself. Gifts that would give him a leg-up in their “war.”

After failing to capture one of the Horae for himself—mostly because they were all mated to Argonauts, warriors from their realm who protected both Argolea and the human world—Zeus had changed his tactic and gone after their daughters. First, sending his Sirens, his elite band of female warriors, to kidnap the queen’s daughter Elysia. Then, when that hadn’t worked, attempting to lure Zakara from their realm via the help of a dreamweaver.

Talisa, though, wasn’t as naïve as her two cousins. And she wasn’t just any female. She knew how to fight. She knew how to protect herself. She was as much a warrior as her father and the rest of the Argonauts.

As a descendant of the great hero Heracles, she’d been blessed with extreme strength, just like her father. And she’d been born with the Argonaut markings on her arms—the ancient Greek text that meant the Fates had chosen her as a warrior from her race. The only female ever to be born with those markings.

Which was the real reason the Argonauts didn’t want her to join them. It had nothing to do with this bullshit excuse that Zeus would try to come after her.

They didn’t want her to serve because she was female. Which forever in their eyes meant weak.

“So we’re done here?” Talisa fought back that familiar anger welling up inside.

The queen’s blonde hair swayed as she glanced up to Talisa’s father, still watching Talisa with that stone-faced expression he was known for. Meeting Talisa’s gaze again, the queen sighed and said, “Yes. We’re done. You may go.”

About fucking time...

Talisa turned out of the queen’s office before her father could say something to stop her, her boots clicking like cannon-fire along the castle’s gleaming marble floor as she headed down the long corridor flanked by ornate columns.

She was desperate for fresh air and freedom. For space. For someplace she could scream out her frustrations and curse every damn one of the Argonauts.

Because they were the ones responsible for this decision. Not the queen. The queen would have gone along with anything the Argonauts decided as a group. And her father was the leader of that group. The one she was certain had put them all up to that fucking vote.

She barely made it a step out the front door of the castle before Maximus, Zakara’s older brother, moved up on her side. “Well? What happened? What did they say?”

Her jaw clenched down hard. Max was as big and blond as his father, the Argonaut Zander, and he had the Argonaut markings, same as Talisa. He’d been helping her informally train in the woods outside the capital city of Tiyrns for years, from the time she could hold a blade, and she was just as skilled and tough as him even if he was eleven years her senior.

She told herself it wasn’t his fault the Argonauts had willingly accepted him as one of their own so easily, but it grated on her last nerve. Because the only difference between her and Max was the fact she was female.

“Nothing I haven’t heard before.” She didn’t slow her pace, didn’t stop when she reached the wall, just signaled the guard and blew right through the castle gate as soon as it opened.

“Ah, Tali.” He kept pace with her. “I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I tried to get my dad to talk Uncle Theron into letting you in.”

Max wasn’t taking the hint that she didn’t want company. And she couldn’t stand to hear how he’d tried to influence any of the Argonauts.

She didn’t need favors, dammit. She deserved a place with the Argonauts because it was her destiny. Only they were denying her that destiny because they were misogynistic assholes. Just like their forefathers.

“I need a fucking stress reliever,” she mumbled, stopping in the cobblestone square in the fading afternoon light and late September warmth, where Argoleans milled around the great fountain of Heracles and the original seven heroes that fronted the castle gates.

“Skata, Tali.” Max’s voice took on a worried edge she knew well. “Not tonight. Come on. You know it’s not safe. And if they find out—”

“I don’t give a flying fuck if they find out.” She’d had it with family and Argonauts and people telling her what to do. “And I am sick to death of people shoving the word ‘safe’ in my face.”

When Max sucked in a breath, she glanced over her shoulder at his shocked silver eyes and reminded herself none of this was his fault. He was her best friend, not her punching bag. But the fact he was male, and Argonaut, and in was firing all her triggers tonight.

“Look.” She forcibly gentled her voice. “I know you mean well, but I don’t want to hear it. This has nothing to do with you. It’s about me and what I need. And what I need right now is space and some time to chill the hell out before I go insane. Warnings and a conscience and you being a cock-blocker because you don’t approve of my choices are not things that are going to help me. So give me some space, okay? I’m not stupid. I know how to take care of myself. I’ll be back before anyone even realizes I’m gone.”

He didn’t reach out for her. Didn’t try to stop her. And as she closed her eyes so she could flash to the witches’ tent village in the Aegis Mountains where the secret portals were hidden, she was thankful because tonight she needed exactly what she’d said.

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