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The knife the Greek sovereign held became a serrated machete crafted for maximum pain. With it, he didn’t just slice. He ruined.

Do it. The rest. Gideon had gotten the god’s facial features correct. Eyes that mirrored the thunderbolts adorning his armor, snapping, sizzling, glowing. A blade of a nose. Thin lips, but a strong jaw that more than made up for the shortcoming. Zeus had thick, pale hair that curled to his shoulders, the perfect accompaniment to skin the color of bullion. Sometimes, when you looked closely enough, you could see the streaks of lightning shooting through his veins.

Good. Survey done. Only, it wasn’t relief she felt. One last detail to change…

Finally, she moved her attention to Steel. Tears instantly burned her eyes, and her shaking increased, nearly toppling her into a sobbing heap. All the while, she could feel helplessness churning inside Gideon. He wasn’t here, was merely watching with a mental eye, but his emotions were completely engaged. Everything he felt here, he would feel later, when he awoke.

Do it. Just do it. She shaved Steel’s horns down, hating the action, hating herself; the Greeks hadn’t wanted the boy to use them as the weapons they’d been. She added patches of scales along the right side of his body. So beautiful. His teeth, she sharpened so that two fangs protruded over his bottom lip. My baby.

Humans would have found the boy grotesque…beastly. She found him lovely. Her heart lurched, so badly did she want to urge him to her chest and hold on forever. My angel. Taken too soon.

Finish it. Gulping again, chin trembling, she lengthened the boy’s eyelashes and changed his eye color from black, like hers, to electric blue, like Gideon’s. She added several years to his age. Gideon had pictured him as a young boy of eleven or twelve. He’d appeared closer to sixteen, a teenager who had never had the chance to date or make love. A teenager who had never felt worthy or loved, and oh, she knew that feeling well.

In actuality, though, she didn’t know if he had dated or loved anyone.

Her tears began to fall freely as she covered him in dirt and bruises, broke his arm, his leg, and added thick scars to his back. Hundreds of them.

There. It was done. For good or ill, it was done. The scene was painted.

And now…now it was time for Gideon to see how things had truly unfolded.

Unsure whether she could live through this again—for Steel, anything for Steel—Scarlet nodded, arms falling heavily to her sides, and each image jerked to sudden life.

“Please don’t do this,” dream Scarlet begged. “Please. I’ll do anything you want.” The cut on her lip split, and blood seeped down her chin. “Just leave him alone. Please.”

Zeus’s hard expression never wavered. “Countless times you’ve tried to escape, and yet you expect me to offer you a boon? Surely even you couldn’t be that foolish.”

“He’s just a boy. He did nothing wrong. Punish me. Kill me. Just let him go. Please.”

“He’s not just a boy. He’s centuries old.”

“Please. Please, Your Highness. Please.”

Through it all, Steel kept his head bowed and his eyes averted. He wasn’t trembling, he wasn’t crying. He was silent, still. Expectant. As if he deserved everything that was to be done to him.

“As long as he lives, you will continue to defy me,” Zeus said. “Therefore, he must die. Simple, really.”

“I won’t try to escape again. I swear it. I’ll return to prison and quietly rot there. Please.”

“You had that option, daughter of Rhea. Once.” Gaze never leaving her, the god king tossed his blade in the air, caught it by the handle. “But I must admit, I do like the thought of your head rolling. Perhaps I was too hasty in selecting who should die. What do you think, Steel? Shall I kill your mother or shall I leave that honor to you?”

At that, Steel finally looked up. Shock curtained his features, overshadowing the acceptance and shame. “M-mother?”

Such a sweet voice, with hints of smoke and cloud.

Scarlet offered him a watery smile. “I love you.” The very words she’d yearned to say for so long. “No matter what happens, Steel, I love you. I’ve always loved you and always will. I didn’t give you up, my darling. You were taken from me.” Choked now.

“Yes, she’s your mother. Yes, you were taken from her,” Zeus confirmed as the teen turned to him in stunned confusion. “You may offer your thanks now.”

Steel’s shock gave way to horror, liquid red bleeding into his azure irises. He was the reason she was chained, after all. Thinking she was an enemy to the crown, he’d led Zeus straight to her. “Mother,” he said again, and this time, there was pain in that beloved voice. “I—I—”

“Don’t blame yourself, sweet boy. You are everything I wanted you to be. Strong. Lovely. Intelligent. You did exactly as I would’ve done had the situation been reversed. I love you so much.” She couldn’t speak quickly enough, knowing that at any moment—

“Enough,” Zeus barked, just as she’d feared. “I asked a question and desire an answer. So which is it to be, Steel? Will her death be delivered by my hand or yours?”

“I—I don’t want you to kill her.” Steel’s watery gaze drank her in greedily, as if he were memorizing every little thing about her. “And I do not wish to kill her, either. Let her live. Please.” His plea mirrored all the ones she’d given before.

Scarlet fought with every ounce of strength she possessed. She had to reach him. Couldn’t bear to see him pained. “I’ll be fine, darling. Let him do it. It’s fine, I swear to you.” She would rather die herself than allow a single scratch to befall Steel.

“I will not be merciful,” Zeus said.

“I don’t care,” Scarlet told them both. Better she suffer now than Steel suffer in the coming centuries because he’d murdered her.

Silence. Terrible, terrible silence. But then, something far worse. “Kill me instead,” Steel said. “I am nothing. No one.”

“No!” Scarlet screamed.

But Zeus nodded, stroked his jaw and ignored her, focusing on her son. “You’re right. She’s much too valuable to dispose of. As the bastard daughter of Rhea, she is an embarrassment to Cronus and thus a priceless weapon to wield against him should the need arise.”

She calmed. A chance. Hope. Zeus considered her a tool to be used against his enemies.

“Still. She must be punished for her actions. Whatever shall I do, then?” he asked, seeming genuinely pensive.

Hope dwindling… “Send Steel away,” she pleaded. “That will punish me. I’ll wonder where he is and what’s happening to him. Please. Please. Nothing would hurt me more than that. You know this is true.”

Slowly Zeus grinned. He nodded. “An excellent plan. I’ll send him elsewhere.”

Hope renewed, flooding her. “Thank you.” Her shoulders sagged, her breath emerging shallowly. Her son would be safe. He would live. He would grow into the man he was meant to be. “Thank you so much, great king.” Thanks continued to pour from her lips. She was babbling, she knew she was, but couldn’t stop. “Thank you.”

But she’d spoken too soon.

“I’ll send him to the afterlife,” the god added, at last silencing her. “As I originally planned.”

As he’d always planned, she realized. He’d never considered letting the boy go, had only been toying with her.

Steel’s eyes widened. In fear, in regret, then fixed on hers in resolve. “I’m sorry. Mother.”

Scarlet screamed, the force shaking the temple, shattering her own eardrums. “No! No!”

“Yes.” With no hesitation, Zeus raised the blade and struck.

GIDEON AWOKE with a roar and bolted upright. Tears were streaming down his cheeks in streams of acid. With a shaky hand, he reached up and wiped them away. Dear gods. He’d just seen Zeus slit his son’s throat. He’d felt Scarlet’s pain and helplessness. Her desperation.

That’s how it had happened, he knew it was. Scarlet had shown him. He’d sensed her in the dream. Her sweet scent, the intensity of her emotions. She truly would have done anything to save that boy. Anything. That’s how much she’d loved him. And she’d had to recover from his loss alone.Gideon wouldn’t have been able to do so. He was barely holding himself together now, and he still couldn’t remember the boy. That beautiful boy. How strong Scarlet was. How resourceful. She was a survivor to the marrow of her bones.

His respect for her doubled. His desire for her tripled.

She deserved to be pampered. She deserved to be fought for as the prize she was. So pamper her he would. Fight for her he would. He couldn’t make up for the past, but he could give her a better future.

Lock her away again? Never! He’d been a fucking idiot to think otherwise. Dangerous or not, she was his. He would kill anyone, even his friends, if they threatened her.

He’d have to find her, though. A difficult task, surely, considering she wouldn’t want to see him. And—

His gaze had been circling the bedroom, ensuring no enemies lurked nearby, a habit ingrained from centuries of war. Now he stopped abruptly.

Scarlet. Here. Sleeping. Surreal.

She was cuddled up beside him, her legs straight, one hand flattened over her heart, the other draped over her forehead. That mass of silky black hair was splayed around her shoulders, gleaming like polished ebony. She was a feminine feast, made to love and be loved.

He reached out, realized his shaking had increased—damned truth-telling weakness—and caressed a fingertip down her nose before his muscles gave out and his arm flopped uselessly at his side. Need to touch her. Always.

For the moment, he would have to be satisfied with the knowledge that she was here. How? Why? Did it matter? She was here! They could talk, and he could begin that pampering. Foot massages every day, her enemies’ heads delivered to her doorstep like the morning paper.