- The Darkest Lie
Shit, he thought, seeing himself. His anger drained. He was still wearing his boots. What kind of lover wore his boots when tasting a woman for the first time?
He kicked those off, nearly falling on his face again, and stepped out of his jeans. He removed his weapons, too, all ten thousand of them, it seemed, strapped over every inch of him. Naked, unabashed, he strode to the spring and settled in beside her. Steam rose, the mist like glitter as it danced in the air. The hot water caressed his tired muscles.
“What are you doing? You weren’t invited.” Scarlet swam to the other side, putting as much distance between them as she could. Yet nothing could have separated their gazes. They were now locked together in a heated clash of wills. At least her eyes were black now, rather than red.
“I could have done a lot less to you, you know,” he grumbled. “Where’s my no thanks?”
“Your no thanks is right here.” She flipped him off with absolute relish. “And yes, I know you could have done a lot more to me.” Her hand fell back into the water, and her head tilted to the side, her study of him intensifying. “Why didn’t you?” Soft, whispered.
A loaded question, and far worse than “Do I look fat in these pants?” There was no way to answer without damning himself. You weren’t ready would be met with How do you know what I’m ready for; you don’t even know me. Or the lie I didn’t want to do more, which was what he’d have to give her, would be met with Neither did I or a thousand questions about whether or not he now remembered her.
Time to change the subject. “Why don’t you stay there?” As he spoke, he crooked a finger at her.
Stubborn, she shook her head. But she said, “I will, thank you.”
A muscle ticked below his eye. He wanted to hold her, damn it. Wanted to wrap his arms around her and snuggle her close. He wanted to, well, bask in her. Because that would thaw her out. Of course.
“You didn’t know what I meant, Scar.”
“Look,” she said, strength weaving itself into her tone. Her butterfly necklace sparkled as a ray of amber moonlight fought its way past the canopy of leaves above them. “What happened, happened. We can’t undo it, but we can take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
He could only gape at her. Why the hell would they want to do that?
“We just don’t need to go down that road again,” she continued, as if she were reading his mind. “It didn’t end well the first time and it would only end worse the second.”
“You can know that for sure.” He straightened, meaning to close the distance himself and shake her. She was too determined, too sure of herself.
She kicked out a foot, flattening it against his chest, and stopped him. “Stay where you are.” The red reappeared in her eyes, matching the glimmering ruby in her necklace.
So. The demon wasn’t too far from the surface now, after all. But Nightmares had seemed to like him, and had certainly wanted him. Did that mean Scarlet was battling her body’s—and her demon’s—needs, even now?
Pensive, Gideon settled back against the rocks. But when Scarlet tried to remove her foot, he grabbed her by the ankle and held on.
“Let me go. Oh, gods. Don’t let go. Don’t you dare let go.”
He’d pressed his thumb into her arch, massaging. If he couldn’t shake her without a fight, he’d settle for disarming her. Her head fell back against the rocky wall behind her, and the harder he worked, the more she gasped.
“I’m not trying here,” he told her. Damn, but he’d never tried so hard. “To remember, to make amends, to make something work.”
While continuing to gasp in pleasure, she said, “You don’t want me. Not really. You want answers.”
He couldn’t deny it. He did want answers. But with every second that passed, he wanted her more. “To part is to die,” he said, and because it was a lie—though he almost wished it wasn’t—he wasn’t struck with pain and weakness.
“Stupid words that mean nothing.”
He felt that way, yeah, a little bit, but her memories were intact. She shouldn’t. He tried not to let his irritation and frustration show. “Give me nothing.” Something. “Just a little nothing.” Anything.
A long moment passed in silence. He continued to rub her foot, and she continued to enjoy, but she didn’t speak. He thought she meant to ignore him. But then, finally, she sighed, so many emotions tangled in that heavy exhalation.
“Once, you were delivering a prisoner to Tartarus. An immortal who had tried to kill Zeus in order to claim the heavenly throne for himself. Before you could get him locked inside one of the cells, you noticed that I was fighting a goddess.” Her brow furrowed. “I can’t remember who it was, only that she was tall and blond.”
That could be any one of thousands. “Please, don’t go on.”
“She was…winning.” The furrow deepened, and Scarlet frowned. “That doesn’t feel right. I mean, in my mind I can see her holding me down and scratching me, but the image feels…wrong. I’m not making any sense.” She waved a hand through the air, droplets of water dripping off and splashing. “Anyway, you noticed us and released the prisoner to rush to me. While you pulled the goddess off me and helped me to my feet, the new prisoner tried to escape. You ran after him, and all the gods and goddesses inside my cell tried to escape, as well. I held them back while you captured the male because I didn’t want you to get into trouble.”
Wow. She could have run herself, but she hadn’t. For him, she’d stayed. The knowledge was…humbling. If she spoke true, that is. Why the fucking hell couldn’t Lies tell with her? “And what didn’t the gods and goddesses do in retaliation?” They wouldn’t have let that kind of betrayal go. She’d stopped them from gaining their freedom; they would have punished her. Severely.
She shrugged, deceptively cavalier. “I told you one thing, as you asked. That’s all you get.”
Damn it. The story had only whetted his appetite for more. “Seems like you haven’t endured a lot of pain to be with me. Why would you not do that?”
“None of your business.” Once again, she didn’t pretend to misunderstand what he was saying and his respect and admiration for her grew. Along with his frustration.
“Don’t tell me, and I won’t give you a boon. Anything you don’t want.” Without a doubt, she’d ask for liberation. He’d give it to her, because damn, he just couldn’t lie to her anymore, and then he would catch her again. Lock her away as planned.
It was necessary, he reminded himself. She was dangerous, could destroy him and everyone he loved. He’d remind himself of those facts until the word necessary was simply a part of him, as vital as breathing.
Her interest perked. “A boon to be named later?”
She tugged her foot from his clasp and gave him the other one. He tried not to smile as he set to work, massaging this arch in turn. So quietly demanding. So adorable.
“All right, yes,” she said. “I’ll tell you.” She licked her lips, averted her gaze and peered up at the heavens. “Just…give me a minute.”
“A minute” turned out to be eleven. Not that he was counting every damn second.
The suspense was killing him, though he suspected what she was going to say. I risked punishment because I loved you. Part of him wanted to hear the words, even if that made him a sadist. The other part of him really wanted to hear the words. Even if that made him a masochist. She didn’t feel that way now, and it wouldn’t end well for her if she did. A thought that left him hollow and sick.
“Are you sure you want to know?” she finally asked, hesitant yet hopeful. “The knowledge will change you, and not for the better.”
Couldn’t be “I love you,” then. Her expression was so troubled, he’d never seen its like. Dread coursed through him and his fingers stopped moving. He sat up straighter, his gaze trying to burrow into her soul. “No. Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me now.”
She gulped. “Gideon. We…you and I…we had…a son. We had a son, and his name was Steel.”
AMUN, KEEPER of the demon of Secrets, lounged in a plastic lawn chair in the middle of the thriving green forest surrounding his home. He had a battery-operated mister in front of him and a cooler of ice-cold beer beside him. Alcohol didn’t do much for immortals, but he liked the taste anyway.
Overhead, the sun was shining so brightly, a few thousand amber rays managed to seep through the thick treetop canopy and directly onto his skin. And yeah, he had a lot of exposed skin. He’d come out here clad in his swim trunks and a smile.When he closed his eyes, it was easy to pretend he was on a beach. Alone. He did this as often as possible; it was his time away from people and the secrets they could never hide from him, no matter how hard they tried. Secrets his demon was always desperate to unearth, always prowling through their heads to find, listening to their thoughts. Thoughts Amun then heard himself.
That was hard enough, but bearable. If that had been his only ability, he thought he might have been able to live a normal life. But his demon could also steal those memories, each new voice joining the thousands of others already floating through his head, increasing in volume until finally blending with his own, so that he could no longer distinguish which were truly his.
It was as if he had lived the life of the person whose memories he took. Whether that life was good—or utterly horrific.
Swiping thoughts was something Amun hated to do, but sometimes it was necessary. Learning what your enemy knew and had planned could win a battle. Making that enemy forget could win a war. So, though he hated it, he would use his demon in that way without hesitation. And had, over and over again.
A woman’s giggling snagged his attention, and he opened his eyes. He didn’t have to see her to know who was approaching his hideaway. Olivia, the angel. Aeron was in hot pursuit of her.