- The Darkest Lie
“Keep talking.” Slowly, still oh, so slowly, he leaned toward her, as if he did intend to kiss her.
No. No, no…yes. Yes, yes, yes. Every muscle in her body tensed, waiting, ready. The blood inside her veins sizzled and snapped. Would he taste the same? Feel the same? She had to know. Then she could leave him. Then she would have closure and wouldn’t ever have to look back and wonder.
But just before their lips touched, his fingers circled her wrist with a soft clink. No, not his fingers. Too stiff, too heavy and too cold. Frowning, she glanced down and saw that he’d handcuffed them together. Understanding dawned. That…bastard…
A red haze shuttered over her vision. Not dots, but a full-on cloud. Tricked. The bastard had tricked her. Had never meant to kiss her. Had used her obvious desire for him against her.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself.” That was all the warning she gave him. She jabbed the fork into his chest and rather than twist, she slammed her palm into the handle, pushing it deeper. This time, he couldn’t contain his grimace. “And I hope you know this will seem like child’s play when I’m done with you.”
“As long as we’re apart,” he gritted out, “I’m happy.”
As long as…as long as… He needed to be together to be happy? Though part of her suddenly wanted to grin sheepishly, perhaps bat her lashes, she scowled up at him. Stupid softening heart. He’d just betrayed her, and she almost melted when he tossed a few flattering words at her. Flattering words that meant nothing, because he still only wanted answers.
“Tell me. Does this make you happy?” She kneed him in the balls.
He hunched over, gasping, but amid those gasps, she managed to make out a single word: “Yes.”
Good. “So where are you taking me?”
“Heaven.” Another gritted admission.
Still. She easily translated. He planned to take her straight into hell.
AFTER THE swelling went down in his balls, Gideon phoned Lucien, keeper of Death, asking for cleanup at the hotel, then dragged a protesting Scarlet outside, through the glass-covered atrium and along the brightly lit city streets to the Escalade he’d hidden in a parking garage a few blocks away. Night was in full swing, the star-sprinkled sky framing the golden half-moon. Though he was prepared for anything, there were no other Hunters—or recruits, as the case may have been—waiting to attack.
He wasn’t sure how those four kids had followed him. Especially if they’d had no training. He’d made damn sure he’d lost any tails. If there had been tails, that was. Which he would’ve bet every cent of his, uh, Torin’s money that there hadn’t been. So either a god or goddess was watching him and reporting his whereabouts or the boys had simply gotten lucky and had happened to be at the hotel when he checked in.He didn’t believe in coincidences, so the first was most likely. Cronus was helping the Lords and Rhea, the god queen, who was at war with her husband, had teamed up with the Hunters. But why would she send recruits to fight him, rather than actual Hunters? And would Gideon’s location be compromised no matter where he went?
His hand clenched on the steering wheel as he threw the vehicle into Reverse, Scarlet’s arm moving with him.
“What’s got your panties in such a twist?” she asked conversationally.
He wasn’t fooled. She was still pissed as hell at him.
Silent, he maneuvered them through the gloomy garage and back onto the city streets. Late as it was, traffic was light. His gaze kept returning to his rearview mirror, though, just in case.
“You’re begging for another fork in your chest,” she muttered.
Again ignoring her, he shouted, “Cron!” Stop. You’re ticked at him. There has to be another way. But Gideon knew better, and wouldn’t lie to himself. Not now of all times. “I don’t need you!”
In the passenger seat, Scarlet stiffened. “Cron. As in Cronus?”
She hissed in outrage and jerked at the cuffs. “What the hell do you want with him? I hate him!”
Did she have a beef with everyone? “Not answers, okay?”
“Well, you can let me go and then chat with him.” There was an edge creeping into her voice. One he’d never heard before, even when she’d stabbed him. Her struggles increased, and then she was kicking at the passenger door to pop it open. Was she…scared of the god? Couldn’t be. Scarlet had faced down four potential Hunters without any hesitation.
“My reasons for…avoiding him are…not urgent.” His stomach twisted. He’d almost spoken the truth. Had almost told her that his reasons for summoning the god were indeed urgent. He’d had to force out the lies. “And those reasons aren’t life-and-death.”
“I don’t give a shit!” Slam, slam, boot against plastic. Crack. “I don’t want him here.”
Oh, yes. She was scared. Why?
Rather than ask—he knew she wouldn’t tell him if he did—he changed the subject to give her a moment to calm down. If she kept pulling at him, he was going to lose a limb. Again. “Did you have to leave those kids alive?” She’d killed them without any hint of mercy.
He would have done the same, sure, but he was a guy. Weren’t girls supposed to be softhearted and shit? Well, besides Cameo, keeper of Misery. She could kill an enemy while filing her nails.
“Yeah.” Scarlet’s frantic bid for freedom slowed, then ceased altogether. She peeked at him over her shoulder. “So?”
“Why? We could have pleasured them for information.”
Her lips twitched as if she were suddenly fighting a grin. “Why, Gideon, I didn’t know you swung that way. They were cute, though, weren’t they? Especially the blond. Is that who you were imagining sexing up?” Now that tone he recognized. Sugar-sweet and irritating as hell. But yeah, the blond had been cute from what he’d been able to tell, and he hated that she’d noticed. Actually, he hated that she preferred blonds. His wife should— You don’t know that she’s your wife. Not mine, Lies piped up. Not mine.
Meaning Lies was claiming her? Hardly. If anyone claimed her, it would be Gideon. If they were married.
And then what? he wondered. He still planned to return her to the dungeon, no matter what. Which meant she was going to hate him. As if she didn’t already. As poorly as she’d treated his man-parts, he suspected that she did.
His guilt returned, filling his nose, his lungs, then sweeping through his bloodstream. Has to be this way.
Yes. She’s not mine.
“Why did you leave them alive?” he insisted.
Scarlet’s seemingly delicate shoulders lifted in a negligent shrug. “They were there to hurt us. If I had let them live, they would have had the opportunity to come back for us. To poison others against us. And their determination would have been greater than ever.”
What she said made sense, but it also caused his stomach to clench. The absolute conviction in her voice had given him a searing glimpse inside her psyche. One she would undoubtedly prefer he not have. Once, she’d let an enemy go rather than kill him and that enemy had returned for her. Had hurt her. With others in tow.
How had the bastards hurt her? Raped her? Beat her? The steering wheel whined as it bent, nearly snapping in half, and Gideon forced himself to loosen his hold. If, after he’d been kicked out of the heavens, he’d gone back for her, as he once might have promised her, would such a fate have been prevented?
Gods. His guilt became a cancer, eating at him, leaving him raw and agonized. Again, he wanted to ask her for an explanation, but again, he knew she would tell him nothing. Until they reached their destination and he seduced her. Which he would do, guilty or not. Before their uninvited guests had arrived, she’d looked ready to accept his kiss. Hell, she’d looked ready to return it with equal passion.
He wanted that. Needed it.
“Nothing to say?” she asked. “No lame reply?”
Lame? He did the best he could, damn it. She’s just frustrated, lashing out. But really, this wasn’t entirely his fault, he reminded himself. Something had happened to his memories. Not that the knowledge eased his guilt.
Actually, his memories were another thing to discuss with Cronus.
“Cron!” he found himself shouting a second time.
And just as before, Scarlet began struggling for freedom. “I told you I don’t want him here. I told you—”
But the rest of her words were lost to him. One moment Gideon was at the wheel, cuffed to Scarlet and motoring down the long, winding roads, the next he was in the heavens, puffy white clouds surrounding him, Scarlet nowhere to be seen.
Trying not to panic, he spun, wild gaze searching for her. Only more of those clouds greeted him. There were no roads, no buildings and no freaking people. “Scar,” he shouted, heart ready to burst from his ribs. He had to find her. Couldn’t let her—
“Rest easy, Lies. Time has momentarily ceased for your female. When I return you, all will be as you left it.”
Another turn, and he was peering over at Cronus. His heartbeat slowed, even as he tried not to gape. The king looked younger every time Gideon saw him, but this…this… Too young, he thought with a shake of his head.
Gone was the silver hair. In its place were startling locks of honey-brown and pale gold. Gone was the wrinkled skin. Now he was unlined, his complexion smooth and sun-kissed.
A white robe that appeared as soft as the clouds draped him, and sandals wrapped around the veined, scarred feet of a warrior. He exuded so much power, Gideon felt the weight of every compelling wave hammering at his shoulders. Remaining standing required power of his own. A lot of it.
“Why did you summon me?” the king asked.
“Lastly—” first off “—I don’t want your vow that all will be as you didn’t say.” Confusing, even to him, but important.
Like Scarlet, Cronus knew him well enough to discern what he was truly saying. Confusing or not. “You have my word. She isn’t going to crash. She isn’t even going to know you were gone unless you tell her.” And, thankfully, Cronus wasn’t upset by his demand. “Happy now?”