I sent crews to the locations that my aunt had pointed out on the map. Many of them were in the national forest, areas that I had not even considered in our previous searches. I took a crew out twice but had no luck.
My frustration was through the roof, so I went to the gym and took it out on a speed bag. Reginald found me there thirty minutes later. “Again with the bag, Ares? What is wrong with you?”
“Would you like to trade places with the bag?” I snapped.
“Testy, aren’t we? Why are you here instead of out there?”
“You do realize that you say that to me every time you see me?”
“And for good reason,” he replied. “You need to get over yourself.”
I hit the bag hard before turning to look at him. “Excuse me?”
“What I’m about to say needs to be said to you, Ares.” He took a deep breath. “You’ve turned into a wuss.”
I stared at him, my mouth agape. “I know you did not just call me what I think you called me.”
“A wuss?” Reginald repeated. “Oh, I did, and it’s the truth.” I took a step toward him, fist raised, ready to punch him in the face. He held up his hand to stop me. “Hear me out.”
“Fine,” I retorted, “but I reserve the right to make you bleed when you’re done.”
“Fair enough,” he agreed. “Ever since Kara disappeared, you’ve been acting…oh, I’m not sure how to describe it. Like you’ve lost your best friend, and you don’t know what to do. Sometimes I think you’re going to storm the castle, as it were, then other times, you act like you’re going to crawl into a hole and hide.”
He shook his head. “No, I’m not, and I’m not the only one who feels that way. Several members of your family, as well as some of your own men, have commented on your lack of action.”
“Is that so?”
“The Ares of old would have gone scorched earth to avenge the wrong done against him. Instead, you hide in this building like a petulant child who has lost his favorite toy.”
Neither of us said anything for a minute. As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. After what happened to Cassie, I had been afraid to get close to any woman, mortal or immortal. But the heart wants what it wants, and right now, that was Kara.
Just as I started to say something, Theo burst through the double doors and rushed over to us. “We found her!”
He pulled out his phone, typed, and then showed the screen to me. “Here, about ten miles from the waterfall. It wasn’t easy to locate. It’s almost like…” he paused.
“Like what?” I said.
Theo scratched his chin. “Like there was something magical keeping it hidden.”
Reginald gasped. “Does that mean there’s a wizard or witch involved?”
“This isn’t Harry Potter, Reginald,” I retorted. “Send the coordinates to my phone, Theo. Then pick a six-man crew and pack up. We’re going out.”
Theo nodded and left. I was right behind him, turning left instead of right when I got to the hallway, heading for the weapons room. Grabbing a bag from behind the door, I unzipped it and packed nunchucks, ninja stars, my favorite Sig Sauer, six magazines, four boxes of ammunition, brass knuckles, and a dagger. I went to the back wall and took down my best sword and scabbard.
“Do you think you have enough there?” Reginald asked. “What about a nice bullwhip or some handcuffs?”
“Let’s not talk about your sexual preferences, okay?” I retorted. I zipped up the bag and carried it to my office. Going over to the closet near the bathroom, I selected my usual outfit of all-black clothing. I stripped off my sweaty gym clothes and put on the jeans and t-shirt I had chosen. Reginald’s eyes widened when I took my shirt off, but I ignored him as I finished getting dressed. As I put my boots on, I said, “I want you to hold down the fort, Reg. Get things ready upstairs. She’s going to want a bubble bath and comfort food when she gets home. Don’t tell anyone, and I mean anyone, where I’ve gone. If any of my family finds out I’m bringing Kara back, they’ll be waiting here for us to return. The last thing she’s going to want is a lot of company.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, boss. I’ll take care of everything,” he assured me. “But…”
“But what?” I strapped my sword to my back and picked up the weapons bag.
“Well, I’d like to come with you,” he said hesitantly. “I mean, I care about her too, and I can be a big help to you.”
Memories of the last trip into the forest with Reginald in tow flashed across my mind. “Um…yeah, you can be…useful in certain situations. But as you said, it’s time I went scorched earth on these people. I would prefer it if you were here, out of harm’s way. I can’t have anything happening to one of my good friends.”
His eyes widened. “You think of me as a friend?”
“Well, yeah, I mean, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve moved beyond the normal employee/employer relationship. That’s why I want you to handle things here. You know what Kara likes and what I would likely do for her. I’m trusting you to run things here and gather what you believe she will need when I bring her home.” I put my right hand on his shoulder. “Do you think you can do that for me?”
“Leave it to me, Ares,” he replied. “I’ll make sure everything is taken care of while you’re gone. You just bring both of you home in one piece.”
I squeezed his shoulder. “Count on it.”
Three hours later, Theo and I were staking out the place where his crew had spotted Kara. It was a steep cliffside with a narrow opening. In a field to the right was a paddock, which held three pegasuses. A man was feeding them while another poured water into a trough. “When we were here earlier,” Theo whispered, “Kara was brushing the mane of a pegasus. A guard took her through that doorway when she was through.”
“How many guards are there?”
“We counted at least twenty men.”
“A light workout then.”
Theo chuckled. “We won’t even break a sweat, boss. I’ve got our men in strategic locations.” He pointed them out to me. “At night, most of them stay inside. There is a patrol of four men, four-hour shifts. There is one thing, though.”
“They use old-fashioned weapons: a staff, a handcrafted bow and arrow, and swords.”
“My kind of fight.”
A twig snapped nearby, and we both stopped talking. We were hiding behind a row of bushes, and while they provided decent camouflage, one sound could give us away. I wanted to fight smarter, not harder, although I wasn’t opposed to the latter.
From our left, a man strolled into view. He had a sword hanging on his left side and a staff in his right hand. Theo and I watched him as he approached our location, and I slowly reached for my dagger. The man coughed, scratched his crotch, then continued walking to the right. We were safe.
Then the unthinkable happened.
My cell phone rang.
Theo looked at me as I struggled to get my phone out of my pocket. Only one person would call me, and I was going to kill him when I got home. “Reginald,” I quietly hissed into the phone, “what the hell?”
“It is not Reginald.”
My heart beat faster at the sound of the woman’s voice.
“Ares, are you there? It is Aphrodite. Have I called at a bad time?”