Divine straightened with a little sigh, and then paused to contemplate the man she'd just finished tying to the bed. The robe ties and torn-up jeans she'd used to tie up Marcus wouldn't hold long, but they weren't meant to. She didn't want to leave him here helpless until room service came to see why he hadn't checked out, she just wanted to keep him from following her too quickly should he wake up sooner than expected.
Unfortunately, she'd kind of mistimed things. Divine had meant to try to shut her mind off from his sooner than she had, but had got wrapped up in the passion she'd so carefully stirred to life in them both and left it just that one second or two too long. Instead of remaining conscious as she'd hoped, she'd ended up passing out with him. Or perhaps that hope had been a lost cause from the start. Divine had never had a life mate before to try it with, so hadn't been sure that shutting him out of her head at the last minute would prevent the passing-out business. Fortunately, while she'd passed out with him, she'd woken first. Hence the reason he was now tied to the bed.
Turning, she moved to the bags Marcus had brought back from his shopping trip and went through them again. She'd already gone through them once in search of something to tie him up with; now Divine went through in search of clean clothes. She'd noted that he'd bought them both clothes. Now she quickly picked out a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and pulled both on, only to peer down at herself with a grimace.
Divine normally wore dresses. Actually, she'd never worn pants, so wasn't sure how they were supposed to fit exactly, but they certainly weren't comfortable compared to the Gypsy outfits she'd been wearing for the last hundred years or so. The jeans were close fitting, barely reaching her hipbone at the top, or her calves at the bottom. As for the T-shirt, well, that had a similar problem; it was a scoop neck, but tight, stopping short of the top of her jeans, the sleeves stopping just past her elbows. If she hadn't seen young women wearing similar outfits at the carnival, she would have thought Marcus had mistakenly bought them from the children's section or something.
Shaking her head, Divine glanced to the bags, considering finding something else to wear, but just as quickly changed her mind. She didn't know how long she had before he might wake up. It was better just to get out while she could, Divine thought, and headed for the door.
She was almost out the door when she recalled that she'd need the SUV keys. Turning back, Divine let the door close and quickly searched the room for Marcus's keys. It wasn't until she recalled his showering that she thought to look in the bathroom. His jeans were on the bathroom floor, and a quick rifling through the pockets revealed them in the front right pocket.
Sighing with relief, Divine hurried out of the bathroom, headed for the door again. This time, though, she only got as far as clasping the doorknob before she was stopped again. This time by Marcus muttering, "What the hell?"
Pausing, she glanced back just as he turned his attention from his tied hands to her and said with confusion, "Divine?"
"It's better this way, Marcus," she said quickly. "You don't want to give up everything and everyone you know for me."
"Don't tell me what I want. I— Wait!" he barked as she opened the door.
Divine hesitated and that was her undoing.
"At least give me an explanation. You owe me that much, don't you think? You're my life mate, Divine. Just help me understand. That's all I ask."
Divine bit her lip and stared for a moment at the doorknob she was holding, trying to make herself leave. But her mind was throwing up reasons why she shouldn't. One of which was that she had questions of her own she needed answers to. Sighing, she released the door and turned back, frowning when she saw that he was eyeing the ties on his hands with intent.
"Only if you promise not to try to free yourself until I'm gone," she said sharply.
Marcus shifted his gaze to her, hesitated for the count of perhaps ten, and then relaxed back on the bed. Staring at the ceiling he said, "Okay. We'll do this your way."
Divine breathed a little sigh of relief and then just stood there for a moment before admitting, "I don't know where to start."
"The beginning is—" He'd lifted his head to see her as he spoke, but paused to ask, "Can I at least sit up for this talk without you running out the door? Please?" Marcus added dryly.
"Oh, yes, of course," she said, moving forward. "Do you need help?"
Since he was seated upright, his hands now hanging down and out to the sides where they were tied, by the time she got to the bed, Divine supposed he didn't.
"As I was saying, the beginning is usually a good place," he said solemnly. Leaning back against the headboard, he then prompted, "You told me that after your uncle found you, he took you home to his parents and they taught you to read and control mortal minds and feed safely. But you said they never got the chance to teach you about Atlantis, our history, and the origin of nanos?"
"Right," Divine murmured, but didn't speak right away. Instead she paced the room once, slowly, and then paused in front of the dresser, leaned against it, and crossed her arms.
"Your name is Basha Argeneau," Marcus prompted when she didn't say anything.
"I was born Basha Argeneau," she corrected, and then added, "Alexandria and Ramses were my father's parents, my grandparents. Lucian Argeneau is my uncle and is the one who found Aegle and me, and took us to my grandparents."
"And it was like a fairy tale, you said," Marcus reminded her.
Divine nodded, but unconsciously tightened her arms around her waist, and then said, "My grandparents were great, but Uncle Lucian was a bit scary at first; gruff and . . . well, scary to a kid. But Gran assured me was a marshmallow underneath."
When Marcus raised his eyebrows at this assessment, Divine nodded with amusement. "Yeah, I think she may have been a little delusional on that score, but at the time I believed her and lost a little fear around him." She smiled sadly at the memories sliding over her and then shook her head and admitted, "I basically followed him around like a puppy . . . and he put up with it. He also helped with my training, taking me out to stalk mortals, control minds, and feed. He said I was a fast learner and smart," she admitted, remembering how happy she'd been when he'd said that. How she'd glowed under the praise.
"It sounds like you looked up to him," Marcus said quietly.
Divine grimaced. "Actually, I think I kind of— I guess he was a kind of replacement father for me."
Marcus merely nodded.
Letting her arms drop, Divine peered down at her bare feet, and said, "Everything was good. I was happy, Aegle was happy. I was safe and warm and fed and loved. Grandmother and Grandfather were very kind, but it was always Uncle Lucian I looked to for . . . I don't know what," she finished unhappily, and then rushed on, "Everything was great until one evening I got up and Uncle Lucian was gone. Gran said he'd had to go away on business, but . . ." She wrinkled her nose. "Before that he'd taken me with him on his trips, and the one time he hadn't, he'd at least come to wake me up and told me he was leaving, and for how long, as well as when he'd be back. This time I got up and he was just gone."
"You were hurt," Marcus murmured.
"I guess so," Divine said on a shrug.
"What happened?" he asked, obviously recognizing that the story didn't end there.
"We lived in what is now called Tuscany," Divine told him. "Grandfather had a large tract of land on the Tiber River and I used to like to play and swim in the river, sometimes with my cousin when she visited, but always with Gran or Aegle or Uncle Lucian accompanying. That night, though, Aegle was suffering some mortal bug and didn't feel up to going. She said to ask my gran, but Gran had company, and Uncle Lucian wasn't there, so I just decided to go alone."
Divine sighed and glanced to him to admit, "I guess I was a bit out of sorts that he left without saying good-bye, and . . ."
"And rebelliously did what you knew you shouldn't," Marcus suggested softly.
She nodded and was alarmed to feel tears glaze her eyes. She hadn't cried in ages, especially over this, and had no idea why telling Marcus about it would bring back those ancient tears now.
Wiping them impatiently away, she took on a more matter-of-fact tone and said, "I picked the wrong day to do it, and then to add to my folly, I spotted a hare, and gave chase. I planned to catch it and take it home to show Uncle Lucian when he got back, but the damned thing was quick and led me quite a chase. I was so intent on catching it I didn't even notice when I followed it off our property." She snorted. "Hell, I ran right into the center of a group of men and horses before I even noticed they were there."
Divine closed her eyes briefly as she recalled crashing into Abaddon's horse and bouncing off. She'd landed on her behind and then had simply stared wide-eyed up at the laughing men standing or mounted around her.
"What have we here?" one of the men had crowed, bending to catch her by the collar and lift her to her feet. Peering at her closely then, his ugly yellow-gold eyes had widened. "Why, you're an immortal. Such a shame. I was hoping for a snack."
He'd then laughed when she immediately started struggling and kicking.
"Put her down," someone had growled, and Basha had turned to stare at a man on horseback with long, lank, dirty blond hair, and ugly yellow-gold eyes. It was Leonius Livius, though she hadn't known it at the time. Despite not knowing, he'd frightened her from the first look she had of him and she'd stared at him wide-eyed until the dark-haired man on the horse beside him had ridden forward and bent to pick her up and set her on the horse before him. Turning her to face him, Abaddon had looked her over and said, "If I'm not mistaken this little immortal is an Argeneau. She has the Argeneau silver-blue eyes. Am I right, little one? Are you an Argeneau?"
Basha had glared at him, refusing to speak. But he didn't need her to speak. He'd easily read her mind. "Ah, little Basha Argeneau. The long-lost daughter of Felix, so newly restored to the family." The words had sounded light, but there had been a look in his eyes that had frightened the child she'd been then.
Marcus's voice drew her from her memories and she forced a wry smile. "I was duly repaid for my stupidity. The group of men I charged into the middle of was Leonius, his sons, and his right hand man Abaddon. They captured me and took me back to their camp . . . And there I stayed for a year."
Marcus cursed. "He was trying to build an army of his own sons. He tortured and raped any woman he got his hands on, mortal, immortal, and no-fanger alike."
"Yes, I know," she said succinctly and he blanched.
"He didn't . . . ?"
Divine stared at him unflinching and he shook his head.
"But you were just a child. Just eleven years old."
"I turned twelve a week after I was taken," Divine said, feeling as empty as her words sounded . . . which she didn't understand at all. She'd cried a river of tears over this during her first two or three hundred years, but eventually she'd cried herself out. Divine had thought when she could remember it without an emotional reaction that she had finally got over that period in her life. Yet, here she was now having to shut down emotionally to avoid a rage of pain, shame, and remembered terror.
"The first couple of months were unbearable," Divine found herself saying, and while she was surprised to hear the words leave her mouth, they were true. Leonius was a no-fanger, which meant exactly what it sounded like. While he was immortal, he had never developed fangs to feed with. He had to cut his victims. Like immortals he could control his victim's minds and keep them from feeling the pain of his cutting if he so chose, but Leonius's mind had been sick and twisted beyond comprehension. He'd enjoyed the suffering of others. He'd cut and cut and slice and dice the mortals he fed on, feeding as much on their agony as on their blood until he drank them dry. But while it was bad for mortals, it was worse for immortals, because he couldn't feed off their blood, so those cuts were purely for pleasure. At least mortals could die and escape him. Immortals healed . . . and then he'd start in on them all over again, raping, cutting, raping, slicing, sometimes slowly cutting a limb almost completely off just to see if it would heal and reknit itself.
"But then I learned how to shut him out," Divine breathed.
"Shut him out?" Marcus asked, eyes narrowing.
"He enjoyed the pain and suffering. I thought if I stopped giving him that, he might tire of me and just kill me," she admitted. "So I started trying to close my mind to him. Eventually I succeeded."
"Is that what you did to me?" Marcus asked quietly, and when she blinked and glanced to him with surprise, he said, "At the end, just before I passed out, it was as if you suddenly weren't there anymore."
Divine swallowed and nodded solemnly. "Yes. I tried to use the same technique with you. I didn't want to pass out."
"You wanted to stay awake and tie me up," he said dryly and glanced resentfully to his bound wrists. "And obviously it worked."
"Actually, no it didn't. Not as well as I'd hoped," she confessed. "I left it too long before shutting down and I briefly passed out as well."
Marcus looked only slightly mollified, but grudgingly said, "Go on. You learned to shut him out. I doubt he was pleased."
"No," Divine acknowledged. "It was no fun if he couldn't feel my suffering. But rather than stop, it just seemed to make him redouble his efforts."
"I'm sorry," Marcus said quietly.
"Well, fortunately before he tired of that and killed me, I became pregnant."
Marcus stiffened. "Your son . . ."
"Damian is a son of Leonius Livius I, yes," Divine said wearily.
"Damian," he breathed with seeming relief and then frowned. "You say fortunately, as if that was a good thing? I mean, some women—"
"Some women would loathe carrying the child of their rapist and torturer and giving it life," she said quietly. "I understand that, but . . ." Divine swallowed and peered down at her feet, realizing only then that she'd been going to leave without shoes. She was barefoot. Sighing, she raised her head and said, "You have to understand, being pregnant meant an end to the torture and rape for us. Some of us couldn't bear to carry the child of our captor, but some saw it as a blessing, a gift. So long as we were pregnant or breast-feeding afterward, we held no interest for Leonius. So that baby was precious and we fed as often as they'd let us, desperate to consume enough blood to keep the pregnancy safe."
"How many of you were there?" Marcus asked with a frown. "I mean, I've heard the stories, a hundred women kept locked up in cages, released only to rape, torture, or feed on, but I always thought it an exaggeration."
"It wasn't," Divine said quietly. "I would guess when the immortals attacked, he had about fifty mortal women for feeding on; twenty or so no-fangers he'd turned and was raping and torturing; along with four immortal women, all of whom he was hoping to breed with; and another twenty-four no-fangers plus myself who were pregnant or breast-feeding."
Marcus breathed out slowly and then asked, "Which were you? Pregnant or breast-feeding?"
"I gave birth the morning of the attack," she said quietly. "Actually, looking back I think it was an induced labor."
"Induced?" Marcus asked.
Divine nodded. "We received word the night before that the immortals had formed an army under my grandfather, as well as Uncle Lucian and some others, and that they were marching on Leonius's camp. The women were all aflutter, half hoping for rescue, half terrified of it."
"And you?" Marcus asked. "Were you hoping or terrified?"
"I was just confused," Divine said unhappily. "They were saying all sorts of things. Some thought that the immortals would rescue the women, but purge the pregnancies rather than risk bringing another Leonius into the world. Others thought they might just slaughter everyone, Leonius, his men and the women—"
"Why the women?" Marcus asked with a frown. "They were victims in all of this."
"We'd been tainted," she said simply. "A lot of women thought we would be considered damaged goods."
"What did you think?" Marcus asked with a frown.
Divine shook her head. "I didn't know what to think."
They were both silent for a minute, and then Divine continued, "Anyway, I didn't think I'd sleep that night I was so distressed by everything, but I must have because I remember that Abaddon had to shake me to get me to wake up. It was the middle of the night and I was confused at his waking me, and even more confused when he gave me a tincture to drink. When I asked what it was he simply took control of me and made me drink it. Shortly afterward I went into labor."
Divine closed her eyes briefly and grimaced. "Damian was born quickly. It all happened much faster than anyone expected. Dima, the mortal who acted as my midwife, said if I had been mortal, I wouldn't have survived. I was torn up pretty badly."
"But you survived, and so did the baby?" he asked.
Divine nodded. "Yes. He was fine. He had no fangs but he was a strong healthy baby."
"Wait, what?" Marcus said with confusion.
"He was strong and healthy," Divine repeated, and then said wryly, "I wish the same could have been said for me. As I mentioned, I was ripped up pretty badly during the birth and I wasn't allowed the time to heal afterward. Leonius ordered Abaddon to smuggle my baby and me out of camp through a secret tunnel before the immortals breached the camp, and he did so minutes after Damian was born."
"Were other mothers and their babies smuggled out too?" Marcus asked at once.
"No," Divine said quietly. "At least, Abaddon said I was the only one and they were all there when he hustled me out of—"
"Why did he want you smuggled out?" Marcus asked.
Divine hesitated, a little startled by his sharp tone and his interrupting her, but after a minute she sighed and said, "Abaddon said that Leonius thought my uncle might let the others live, but felt sure he'd cut me down where I stood and kill Damian as well when he learned that I'd dishonored my family like that."
"Like what?" he asked with confusion. "How did you dishonor your family?"
"By having Leonius's child," she pointed out softly.
Marcus shook his head. "Divine, you were a child yourself, raped and tortured. Lucian would hardly have held you responsible for the resulting child, and he wouldn't have killed an innocent baby."
"He killed all the other women and children they found in the camp," she pointed out sadly, recalling the women she'd lived and suffered with.
"The immortals did not kill those women and children," Marcus said firmly. "When Leonius realized he was going to lose the battle, he retreated to camp with six of his eldest sons. They rounded up all the women and children and killed them. The few immortals were tied up with the no-fanger females and set on fire, and while they screamed and burned, he and his oldest sons visited an orgy of blood on the remaining mortals, drinking every last mortal woman dry."
"But Abaddon said . . ." Her voice trailed off. She'd known all her life that Abaddon could not be trusted. She should have held everything he'd ever told her suspect. But he'd been her only source of news back then, and he'd pretended that she was important, given into his care to be looked after and protected. His lord's dying wish.
"What happened after this Abaddon smuggled you out of camp?" Marcus asked. "Where did you go?"
Divine shrugged wearily. "The first part of the journey after leaving is something of a blur in my memory. I was weak and in pain from the labor, never given a chance to heal, or even to feed. We had to run and hide and run again."
"Why?" Marcus demanded. "To keep you and your son safe from your uncle?"
He stared at her for a minute, and then said, "You mean to tell me that your whole life has been spent hiding and running from your family because you believed they would kill your son?"
"And me," she added solemnly.
"Divine," he said slowly. "Lucian wouldn't have done that. He would not kill an innocent child."
"But he was no-fanger like his father," she pointed out. "And my grandfather and uncle were out to destroy all no-fangers."
"Your son can't be—" He shook his head and muttered something about dealing with that later, then said, "Yes, the immortals were determined to put down no-fangers back then. But not edentates."
"Edentates?" she echoed uncertainly.
"That is an immortal without fangs. They are called edentate. Any child born fangless is considered edentate unless and until they go crazy and show the tendencies of no-fangers, a liking for torturing and killing, etc. But not all edentates turn no-fanger. Your son would not have been killed. And you certainly wouldn't have been."
"But I didn't kill myself," Divine pointed out.
"What?" he asked with bewilderment.
"The reason there were so few immortal women in the camp was because they usually killed themselves rather than suffer Leonius's raping and impregnating them. I saw two of them do it during the year I was there. One got free and when the guard pulled his sword, she just threw her head over it, decapitating herself. Another threw herself in the fire and burned to death. Abaddon said they had honor and their families would have been shamed had they not done it. That their families probably would have cut them down themselves had they found them in Leo's camp alive and well, never having tried to escape or kill themselves. He said Uncle Lucian was the same, arrogant, cold, hard . . ."
"Abaddon again," Marcus interrupted angrily. "Divine, he was lying to you. He lied to you about what happened to the women in the camp, and he lied to you about this. How long did he pound those tales into your head?"
"I don't know. Ten years, I guess," Divine said, staring at him wide-eyed. It was the first time she'd seen him really angry.
"You were with him for ten years after he smuggled you out of camp?"
She nodded. "At first I needed him. I had Damian, I was breast-feeding, I—"
"You were a child," he added grimly. "You needed someone to find you hosts to feed on while you breast-fed, and you needed someone who could provide a roof over both your heads."
"Yes," she said, bowing her head.
"There is no shame in that," Marcus said, his tone less angry. "Besides, as I said, I suspect he was using mind control on you. You seem to see Lucian as some kind of bogeyman, and for him to go from a substitute father to bogeyman like that, mind control must definitely have been involved."
Divine rubbed her eyes wearily. She suspected Marcus was right and wondered how she hadn't seen that for herself centuries ago.
"How did you eventually get away from him?"
"He was away looking for hosts to bring back one night and I . . ." She shrugged helplessly. "I just packed up Damian and ran with him."
"Just like that?" Marcus asked with a frown.
"What happened to bring it about?" he asked after a pause.
"I'm not sure I understand what you mean," she said slowly.
"You thought you needed him to survive. Why suddenly did it seem better to be away from him?"
Divine bit her lip and then reluctantly admitted, "I caught him calling Damian by th