an excerpt

Chapter 1

Anubis winced at the sound of the door slamming shut behind him as he entered the library, but he didn't apologize. He stalked through the shelves and piles of books, searching for his missing brother.

"Bastet, you better not be fucking Kellan in here, or I'm going to knock over the closest bookshelf that he's finally organized," he yelled as he wound his way through the rooms.

"What the fuck is your problem?" Bastet asked when he walked out of one of the chambers off the main room.

Kellan trailed behind him, looking a little rumpled and Anubis knew he'd interrupted some afternoon delight--or actually early evening delight considering what time it was.

"Isis and the others are waiting for you, so we can go over what Horus and Thoth found out about that last report out of Egypt." He propped his hands on his hips. "I don't appreciate you ignoring the mind calls and making me come all the way down here to get you."

"Christ! Anubis, what's gotten into you? It's not like you had to hike twenty miles through a snow storm to find me." Bastet glared at him.

Anubis sighed, shoving his hand through his hair and giving it a little tug at the ends. "I'm getting stir crazy. After our meeting, I think I'll go out for a run."

"Why didn't you go with Horus and Thoth?" Kellan spoke up, which he didn't always do around Anubis.

"I had to finish up some business in Russia and couldn't get back before they left," he answered, feeling a little guilty that he seemed to make Kellan uncomfortable. Yet he didn't know how to change it. "There wasn't any point in following after them."

Whirling around, he led the way out of the library to the stairs heading up to the main floor. Anubis stuck his hands in his pockets as they climbed and decided to make an effort.

"The library is looking good. Are you figuring out your way through the clutter?" He glanced over his shoulder at Kellan.

Bastet's partner had started to join in their meetings shortly after he came to live with them. His knowledge was invaluable to them. Plus, it saved Bastet time since he didn't have to go tell Kellan everything before he left on a mission.

Kellan blinked in surprise, then nodded. "Thanks, and yes, I've figured out that none of you had any system. You just tossed whatever book you found on top of the pile of other books and shut the door. It's amazing I haven't been squashed under a tumbling slide of them."

He snorted. "I had nothing to do with that. I might have found them, but I just turned them over to Isis or Amun. They're the ones who put them away."

"How often have you been in the library?"

Anubis shrugged. "Counting just a minute ago...about five times since we moved here."

"Anubis isn't really into books and maps." Bastet poked him in the side as they proceeded to the study where the others were waiting.

"You don't read?" The horror in Kellan's voice and on his face caused Anubis to burst into laughter.

"Of course, I read, but not those stuffy historical tomes. That's more Isis and Sekhmet's area of expertise than mine. I like fictional books--action adventures or horror." Anubis wasn't ashamed to admit he liked stories that other people might think weren't highbrow enough. "I'm just not into those kinds of books, and I can read maps just fine."

He nudged Bastet in the back and the bastard laughed.

"It's about time you got your ass in here," Horus complained as they entered the study.

Anubis waved at Bastet and Kellan. "Not my fault, guys. He was downstairs molesting the librarian again."

"He's never going to get his work done if you don't leave him alone," Amun pointed out from where he sat on the couch, flipping through some papers.

"Shove it, all of you. Just because I'm getting some regularly doesn't mean you need to talk about it." Bastet encircled Kellan's waist and pulled him close.

Kellan blushed, but he didn't look like he wanted to run away. Which was a big step up from when he first arrived in Scotland with them. He must be getting used to us.

"Oh we can all get some if we want, but it's more fun to tease you about it." Thoth grinned.

"All right, gentlemen." Isis stood and walked from behind his desk then propped his hip against it. "Take a seat. We need to go over the new information."

It took a little pushing and shoving, but they finally settled on the furniture except for Anubis who stood with his back against the wall and the entire room in front of him. Isis lifted an eyebrow when their gazes met. Anubis shrugged, not willing to explain why he felt the need to keep his back against something solid while knowing where all the exits in the room were.

"Why did you send them to Egypt?" Kellan leaned forward, obviously eager to know what was happening.

Isis frowned. "They went to do some reconnaissance for us. Amun had been hearing some chatter on different forums about some items discovered at one of the major Egyptian archaeological sites."

Thoth gestured to the files Amun was reading. "We couldn't find anything about what the items were, but we found the site and the archaeologist in charge."

"What site is it?" Anubis had spent many years wandering the deserts of Egypt and had come across a lot of burial sites and temples that hadn't been discovered yet in modern times.

"They were wrong. It's not in Egypt, but Jordan." Horus shot Anubis a quick glance.

"Petra," Anubis said, his voice low.

Thoth nodded. Anubis saw Kellan look from Bastet to him, then at each of the other men before looking back to Anubis. It was obvious he could tell something was going on.

"Why does it seem like that's not a good thing?" Kellan wiggled with excitement. "I can't wait to go. I've wanted to see Petra all my life."

"First of all, you're not going," Bastet told him.

Kellan huffed and folded his arms as he flopped back. Anubis was pretty sure the man was going to do all he could to convince Bastet to change his mind.

"You're not going because you don't know how to take care of yourself yet, Kellan. We're teaching you as we have the time, but this isn't going to be a vacation," Amun explained.

"But I might know something that you don't." He stopped when everyone looked at him. "Fine," he muttered.

"Second of all, Petra is where Anubis died," Isis announced. "It has no good memories for him, yet he's the one who knows it the best. So unfortunately, he'll have to go back."

And that made Anubis's jackal howl inside him. He rubbed his sweaty palms over his thighs, grimacing at how even the thought of Petra made him nervous. He shouldn't be upset about going back. Nothing could touch him now. All the truly evil people who betrayed and killed him were long dead themselves while he still lived.

"Anubis, I'm going to have to send you there alone to begin with. I have smaller jobs for the others to do before they can come help you." Isis tapped his fingers on his chin while he eyed Anubis. "The name of the archaeologist is in the file. You'll be using your usual cover as a consultant for UNESCO on their World Heritage sites. We need to find out what artifacts they found and if they're important to our mission."

He nodded. "Of course."

"Wait. Are you a consultant for UNESCO?" Kellan spoke up. "It wouldn't be good to go in impersonating someone like that."

They all looked at Kellan and he ducked his head, but Bastet caressed his neck.

"Yes, he really is a consultant for them. We all have jobs as covers for what we really do. Sometimes we don't have any emergencies or bad guys to fight, so we work at other stuff." Bastet chuckled. "You'll start going with me when I visit museums and universities since you're almost as knowledgeable of ancient Egyptian cults as I am."

Kellan's eyes lit up and Anubis lowered his head to hide his smile. The guy wanted to be useful beyond organizing their library. While they still had enemies out there, Anubis knew Bastet had been teaching Kellan how to protect himself. It was time to let him off the leash.

"Is that all you need me for right now?" Anubis asked Isis.

Narrowing his dark brown eyes, Isis studied him for a second, then nodded. "Yes. Plan on leaving tomorrow morning. I'll meet you before you go to review a few other things with you."

"Good. I'm going for a run." He glanced at the others. "You're welcome to come with me if you wish."

None of them took him up on his offer, which made him happy. He liked his brothers, but there were times when he wanted to run the moors alone. It wasn't the same as running the deserts of Egypt and Jordan, but he'd take what he could get.

He wandered to the back of the house to the small mudroom off the kitchen. After stripping his clothes off, Anubis hung them up neatly before stepping outside the back door.

Taking a deep breath, he allowed his shift to overtake him. When it was done, he stood on four paws, was covered with fur, and had a tail. He wagged it a few times to get used to it being there, then he took off.

His long legs drove him over the moors as his lungs took in the fragrance of heather. It was strange how his animal equated that scent with home now, instead of the dusty smell of sand and heat. A rare surge of homesickness swept through him and Anubis found himself almost looking forward to returning to Jordan and Petra.

No matter what terrible things had been done to him there, for decades it had been the one place he called home. It was where his family had lived until their enemies killed them as well.

Sadness swept through him and Anubis stopped at the top of a hill to lift his muzzle to the sky and sing. Oh, he didn't howl. Not like Isis could when he was in wolf form, but he yipped and barked, letting his sorrow drift from him on the night air.

An answer came out of the darkness, though it wasn't from a canine. No, it was the roar of a lion and Anubis jumped to his feet. All of his jackal's instincts screamed for him to run, but he controlled the creature inside him.

In the wild, lions could--and did--kill jackals, and Anubis had spent more than a few hours racing away from them when he was in Africa. But in Scotland, there was only one lion out on the moors that he knew of, and it wasn't going to kill him.

At least not yet. Sekhmet rarely showed his face to the others any more. Only Isis spent any time with him, and it worried Anubis that the oldest of his brothers was withdrawing more and more every day. Would there come a time when Sekhmet didn't even come to visit Isis? Would he bury himself in a cave somewhere in the wilds of the Amazon or the deserts of Africa?

::Don't fear for my mind yet, brother. I'm still around and keeping an eye on all of you.::

Anubis didn't react to the voice in his head as he dashed down the hill in pursuit of a rabbit he'd seen trying to sneak from its burrow. He let his jackal take over while he answered Sekhmet. ::Does Isis know you're around?::

::That's none of your concern, Anubis. Petra holds as many fond memories for you as it does bad, but it's up to you how you deal with them when you get there.::

He sent a mental image of him exposing his throat to show his submission to Sekhmet. The one topic none of the brothers spoke about was the relationship--or whatever they wanted to call it--between Isis and Sekhmet. Anubis knew there was something more than them just being very old friends. He could see it in Isis's eyes and hear it when he spoke about Sekhmet. But again, it wasn't his place to give advice or worry about it.

::I ran away from there when I was given over to the gods for this mission of ours. I vowed I'd never return.::

Pouncing on the rabbit, he killed it with one quick bite to the back of the neck. He settled down by some scrubby trees to eat his dinner. A scent caught his nose and he sneezed as Sekhmet came closer. His jackal worried the lion would take it, but Anubis knew Sekhmet wasn't interested in the rabbit, so he continued eating.

::We've all run away from the memories we don't wish to relive. The gods must have decided it's time for you to face yours.::

He snorted again. ::As much as I would love to say I'm too busy to go and have you send someone else in my place, I know better. You and Isis would badger me until I gave in. I'd rather avoid all that hassle.::

Sekhmet chuffed softly from where he sat, just beyond the edge of the moonlight. ::We badger you because we care. The people who hurt you are gone from this world, Anubis, and you are not. You have to get beyond the betrayal.::

After licking his fur clean, he snarled as he stood. ::Get beyond it? The man I loved and the people I considered my family turned me over to our enemies. They allowed me to be killed because they thought it would keep them safe.::

He wanted to run away, but knew Sekhmet would follow him. For some reason, the oldest of the Earth Warriors had a point to make that night and he wouldn't leave Anubis alone until he drove it home.

::Humans are fine tuned to survive and will do what they must to save the lives of the majority.::

Shifting to his human form, Anubis paced around the bushes he'd eaten by. While they'd seemed like trees to his jackal, he could see they weren't that big. He was glad they didn't have any neighbors for miles around since he was sure they'd have issue with a naked man wandering around at night. Then again, they might just brush it off. The Scots seemed like a rather blasé group of people for the most part. They'd probably assumed he'd had too much to drink.

::So it's okay to kill one to save thousands?::

::It's an explanation, Anubis. I didn't say it was right--or wrong for that matter. It's simply something that happens.::

He could hear the shrug in his friend's words. Whirling around, he searched for Sekhmet in the shadows, and although he was such a large animal, he blended into the darkness quite perfectly. ::Maybe I wouldn't be so bitter if they had asked me for my sacrifice--or if any of them had survived after I died. The others broke their oath and killed them anyway.::

And maybe that was the problem he had with the whole thing. If they had asked him to make the decision for himself, he would've been more than willing to give himself over to their enemies. But they hadn't. His lover had gone behind his back and offered him as the scapegoat--or sacrificial lamb--whichever way he wanted to think of it.

He closed his eyes as he began to remember that night, then he jerked himself out of those memories. He refused to relive them while he was awake, but he had no control of returning there while asleep.

::Your bravery in the face of such betrayal by love and family is why Anubis chose you as his representative in our group. That and your ability to fight like a demon when you have to.::

::I'm good at ushering souls to the afterlife,:: he admitted. That had made him one of the prince's best warriors, and was why their enemies wanted him to die.

Sekhmet's chuff was a laugh and Anubis was happy to know that he'd made the man laugh. He didn't know the last time he'd heard that. He wished Sekhmet would come back to them, but he spent more time alone now then he did with the brothers.

::It's not your place to worry about me. Now go run. You'll be leaving for Jordan tomorrow. Try not to allow your unhappiness to cloud your judgment when you get there. I have the feeling those artifacts and the archaeologist aren't what we're led to believe.::

::Do you think the archaeologist is someone I should be worried about?::

Again he could almost see Sekhmet shrug. ::I'm not sure. My instinct is telling me we must be careful with how we approach this. Danger hangs like a cloud over everything that has to do with this mission.::

Anubis and his brothers had learned not to discount Sekhmet's premonitions. He would do as Sekhmet said and keep his eyes open to make sure he didn't miss something. While they had gotten rid of Sterling after the billionaire had tried to torture Kellan for information on the Earth Warriors, there were still a lot of other cults and people who wanted their powers. No matter what the items were, he had to bring them back to Scotland where they'd be hidden from the world in their vault.

::There are things the world should never know, and immortality is one of them,:: Sekhmet agreed. ::Now go.::

Shifting again, Anubis dashed away from the spot, running up and down the hills and splashing through streams. His jackal loved the freedom of the air blowing through his fur. He loved being able to hear the night sounds so clearly and absorb all the scents drifting on the breeze.

It was just after midnight when he returned to the castle and shifted before walking inside. There was a pair of sweats, thick socks, and a long sleeve shirt where his clothes had been. So one of the guys must have decided to do some laundry and was nice enough to grab his stuff too. It must have been Kellan.

"What makes you think it was Kellan?" Amun asked as Anubis walked into the kitchen to find his brother sitting at the table.

"It seemed like something he'd do. Why? Did you put a load in the washer?" He dug out a spoon and joined Amun, pulling the carton of ice cream Amun had been eating away from him.

"Hey, asshole. I was eating that," Amun complained but let Anubis take it. "And no, I didn't throw a load in the washer. You were right. It was Kellan."

"Then why did you act insulted when I thought it was him in the first place?" He shook his head. "Why do we always have chocolate? Why can't we get some other flavor like bubble gum or pistachio?"

Amun lifted his eyebrows at Anubis's rather bitchy tone. "I do believe there is a grocery list taped to the refrigerator that we can write on. If you want something other than chocolate, put it down and whoever goes shopping will get it for you. Gods, you're in a mood tonight."

Sighing, Anubis took a spoonful of ice cream then shoved it back toward Amun. "I know and I'm sorry. It's just going back to Petra is making me crazy."

His brother nodded. "I get that, but you had to have known that at some point you would go back there. The gods want us to face our past and learn from it. The gods don't want their warriors to hide their heads in the sand. They need us to be unhampered by the memories."

"Whatever. Our patrons got what they wanted when we were killed, and they were able to work their magic to give us the powers we have. I don't think they really care--one way or the other--about us getting closure." He turned to toss his spoon at the sink, grinning like an idiot when it sailed right in. "Where are you and the others going?"

"Isis hasn't told us yet. I'm assuming he'll wait until after you leave in the morning to spring it on us." Amun stared into the ice cream carton as though it held the secrets to the universe. "I must admit I'm getting tired of all this. It never seems to end. There is always an emergency somewhere in the world that needs our help. Not just when artifacts appear that should remain hidden, but the things humans do to each other. It weighs my heart down."

Anubis leaned back in his chair and studied Amun. It was the first time he'd heard the man confess to being tired of their lives and the mission the gods set for them. They hadn't taken Sekhmet seriously at first when he complained as well, then slowly disappeared from their company.

"Sekhmet was here," he spoke aloud.

Amun looked up. "Really? I don't think anyone saw him."

"I don't know if he actually came inside or not. He was in his lion form and tried to make me feel better about going back to Petra."

"Did it work?"

He shook his head. "Not really. I appreciate that he tried. Means he cares about us, even if he can't bring himself to spend any time with us."

"Now come on, Anubis. You know some of us aren't meant for this." Amun waved his hand in a vague motion to encompass the kitchen, or more than likely, their entire world in general. "After a while, living forever takes a toll on your emotions and ability to even cope with all the shit that goes on day after day. Especially when it never seems to get better."

::I think you need to talk to Amun. He's not sounding rational.:: Anubis sent a quick thought to Isis, who had become their de-facto leader when Sekhmet disappeared on them. He was also their priest to hear their confessions and sometimes their psychologist when they needed to deal with trauma or loss.

::I'll sit with him after you leave. Don't worry about him. He's just feeling his age.::

::Who listens to you when you need to vent about us? I know we drive you crazy at times.:: He couldn't help wondering. Who supported Isis when he needed it? It wasn't like he talked to any of the rest of them.

::Don't worry about me. I'm fine.::

Rolling his eyes, Anubis didn't respond, considering he thought Isis was full of shit. He turned his attention back to Amun. Of the seven Earth Warriors, he and Amun were the closest in age and personality, though he wasn't as depressed about the world as Amun seemed to be. Anubis just didn't like being around people except for the men he considered his brothers.

He accepted the fact he was slowly closing himself off from interaction with other people, and that his family was worried about him, but it didn't change how he felt about things. It was easier not to trust because his death was an example of how people would betray you in a heartbeat if it suited them.

::It wasn't like that, Anubis. You know that. The prince thought he could save his people by giving you to them. I'm sure it broke his heart as much as it did yours.::

::I'm not rehashing this with you, Sekhmet. Go bother Isis.::

"I should probably go pack and brush up on my UNESCO catch phrases to make the archaeologist believe I know what I'm talking about." Anubis pushed to his feet. "Thanks for the ice cream. Try not to eat that whole carton though."

Amun wiggled his spoon at him, but didn't say anything as Anubis strolled out of the kitchen, making his way to his room upstairs. He packed his luggage then pulled up the information he needed on the World Heritage Sites, making sure he hadn't missed any new regulations.

He typed in Petra and images of his old home appeared. Anubis took a deep breath. It was going to be hard. Whoever said 'You can't go home again' might have been right. But he really thought the saying should be, 'Don't go home again.'

"Nothing good is going to come from me returning there," he muttered as he shut his laptop, then got ready for bed. He'd have to leave early in the morning to get to the closest airport.