- The Darkest Lie
“Enough! You are not to call me by that hideous name. How many times have I told you that?”
Thousands. And Scarlet cared as much now as she had every other time. Which meant she cared not at all.
The voice had come from behind her, so she turned. Slowly. As if Rhea wasn’t strong enough to fear having at her back. To be honest, she simply didn’t relish seeing the woman who had given birth to her. Even though she needed her.
When their gazes finally met, Scarlet barely contained her gasp of surprise.
Last time she’d seen Rhea, the woman had been greatly aged. Her silky dark hair had become a frizzy gray, and her unlined skin had turned into something akin to dry, wrinkled parchment. Now, her hair was a perfect mix of salt and pepper and her skin had smoothed out, only a few lines remaining.
From crone to cougar, Scarlet thought. Bitch.
Rhea wore a revealing golden robe, the top veeing to showcase her ample cleavage, the bottom so sheer Scarlet could tell she wore matching panties.
“Do you plan to stare at me all night, Scarlet darling?” Each word was sneered. “I know I’m beautiful, but I still deserve respect. Tell me why you summoned me and let’s be done with this.”
Collect yourself. “Surprise! I wanted to present you with a Mother of the Year award,” she said dryly.
Black eyes so like her own narrowed. “I have better things to do with my time than argue with an ungrateful upstart.”
Ungrateful. Right. Scarlet simply refused to cater to the demanding woman’s every whim. For good reason. No good would ever come of it.
Once, Rhea had loved her. Had treated her like a jewel. But as Scarlet matured, Rhea had begun to see her as a threat. As competition. For men, for the throne if they ever managed to escape, which they had always planned to do. Love had turned to jealousy, and jealousy to hatred.
That hatred…gods, Scarlet had wanted to die when she’d realized her own mother would be happier if she were dead.
Had it not been for Alastor the Avenger, a Greek god who had been attracted to the young, blossoming Scarlet, Rhea and Cronus would have had Scarlet killed long ago. But Alastor had cursed both of the former sovereigns as only an avenger could. Every time they attempted to kill her, they would physically age.
Needless to say, they’d still tried many times. And they had indeed aged, just as Alastor had promised. Finally, their attempts had ceased and Scarlet had lived as normal a life as a girl in prison could. Meaning, no privacy, fighting for ever scrap of food and being prepared for anything.
Would have been nice to have Alastor by her side now. Rhea would do anything Scarlet desired. Without complaint. But sadly, Alastor had been killed when the Titans escaped, freeing the godly sovereigns from his curse.
Now is not the time to reminisce. Her chin jutted as she squared her shoulders, an attempt to disguise her loathing. “Your husband was here. What did he do with Gideon?”
Rhea frowned, though she couldn’t hide the edge of satisfaction clinging to her expression. “I’m afraid I have no idea who this Gideon is.”
Like hell. Scarlet’s mother might not have known that Scarlet and Gideon had married—no one did—but everyone had known of Scarlet’s interest in the warrior. More than that, everyone had known of Zeus’s army. Well, known of the warriors who had visited the prison, and Gideon had been a part of that. “Come now, Mother. I know you’re helping the Hunters. I also know your team is losing.”
Red bloomed in Rhea’s cheeks, erasing the satisfaction. “You know nothing, you foolish girl.”
But Nightmares homed in on the queen’s sudden spike of fear, stretching, purring, wanting to invade her mind and exploit every drop of it. “One last chance to tell me what I want to know, and then I start looking for Gideon on my own. And each night that I fail to find him, my demon will find you. You won’t be able to close your eyes without seeing your defeat. Without seeing every way you can die.”
Rhea’s chin lifted, her fear falling away, speculation taking its place. “Well, well. I could almost be proud of you at this moment. We should join forces and—”
“Where. Is. He?” Never would Scarlet aid her mother. Not in any way. The things this woman had done to her…stabbing her, sending men to try and rape her, demeaning her at every turn. No. Never.
A moment passed in silence. Then Rhea’s eyes narrowed, creating tiny slits of undiluted loathing. “I could kill you for such impudence, you know. There’s nothing to stop me from doing so now. No curse to age me.”
“Try.” Scarlet almost wished she would. Not that she would succeed. Scarlet was well able to take care of herself now. In fact, she’d killed many of the Titans who had hurt her in prison. Rhea had to know that. Rhea had to know what she was capable of.
When the god queen remained in place, Scarlet almost smiled. Oh, yes. Rhea knew. There would be no challenge issued today.
“Gideon has promised Cronus a boon,” her mother said stiffly. “I will take you to him if you promise me you’ll ensure that boon is never granted.”
Trying to force her hand. She should have known. “Done.” But in this, Rhea wouldn’t get her way. Scarlet abhorred Cronus as much as she abhorred her mother, so preventing him from getting something he wanted wouldn’t be a hardship. And besides that, Gideon was a liar. If Gideon had promised the god king something, he’d never really meant to see it through.
Therefore, there would be no boon to divert.
“Come then. Let’s get this over with.” Rhea waved a delicate hand through the air and the next thing Scarlet knew, she was standing inside an unfamiliar bedroom. Red velvet draped the walls, and crystal hung from the ceiling like twinkling stars. Every piece of furniture was polished mahogany, and made for seduction. A four-poster bed with rumpled covers, a lounge for two, bookshelves filled with naked photos rather than books. A dresser littered with bowls of fruit.
“Where are we?” Scarlet asked, unable to mask her awe.
“The royal court.” Rhea looked around with disgust. “Cronus used to keep this secret room for his mistresses.” She uttered a tinkling laugh. “Well, he did until I torched the entire chamber. But then Zeus had it restored for his mistresses. I came here after gaining my freedom from Tartarus, just to see what had been done. You remember, don’t you? You tried to enter, but we denied you.” She laughed again, but this time it was a cruel sound. “Perhaps Cronus and your Gideon are having an affair.”
As if. Gideon didn’t swing that way. If she hadn’t already known, his kiss would have assured her of that. He liked women. Liked them more than he should, but whatever.
“Where is he?”
“Cronus? I’ll have you know I don’t watch his every—”
“You try my patience, Mother. Where is Gideon?”
The queen ran her tongue over her teeth, waves of resentment pouring from her, before pointing to the lump in the center of the bed. “You’ll find him there.”
“If you’re lying…” Scarlet allowed the threat to hang unfinished.
She approached the bed, trembling, and sure enough, Gideon was there, half-hidden by the covers. But her relief was short-lived. His pallid body shook, and sickly sweat poured from him. His teeth were digging into his bottom lip, and he was moaning.
That mop of blue hair was plastered to his forehead and temples, his skin was welted and his eyes squeezed closed. What was wrong with him? She wanted to tend to him, but didn’t permit herself to move another inch. Not yet. Not with an audience.
Rhea appeared at her side. “He’s not very attractive like that, is he?” she asked conversationally, and Gideon’s lids popped open. His eyes were bright red, glowing, and he couldn’t quite focus on either woman. “That blue hair, those piercings. All that pain. A real warrior wouldn’t acknowledge it, much less succumb to it.”
“Spoken like a woman who’s never known true pain.” Her nails bit into her palms. No one speaks poorly of him but me.
“With you as a daughter, I’ve known my fair share. Believe me.”
Ouch. Scarlet might not like this woman, but those kinds of comments still cut.
Maybe because, for a long time, even after her mother had begun to belittle her, purposely distressing her, she’d tried to be a good daughter. She had been Rhea’s own personal little slave girl, catering to her every whim.
Her mother wanted extra food, so she’d stolen it. Her mother thought a goddess was too pretty, so Scarlet had broken the female’s nose. Her mother wanted time outside her cell, so Scarlet had bought it for her. Doing whatever a guard wanted her to do.
That had been the worst, giving herself to men she hadn’t liked and who hadn’t liked her. But she’d cared so little about herself. She’d felt worthless without her mother’s love and had been determined to earn it back. Until the first murder attempt. Rhea had distracted her before going for her throat.
“They all watch you. They all crave you. You, a little nothing,” Rhea had screamed as the blood dripped.
Cronus, who had also been in their cell, had come at her next. “You might be my wife’s child, but you are not my heir and you will never have my crown.”
Alastor had been walking by, had seen Scarlet fall. He’d entered the cell, shoving Rhea aside and scooping Scarlet up. “You have no crown,” he’d told the former king. “Nor will you ever again.”
After doctoring her, he’d escorted Scarlet back to her prison. Where Cronus and Rhea waited. By then, Alastor had already cursed the pair. But that hadn’t stopped them from trying. Again and again. Actually, months had passed before they’d noticed how much they were aging. Only then had they stopped.
Sometimes, though, their words still haunted her.
She laughed bitterly. Those echoes of the past were her own personal little nightmare.
“I’ll let you know when my end of our bargain is met,” she said, keeping all emotion from her tone. Which would be, oh, never. “You can go now.”