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Gideon’s arm wrapped around Scarlet’s waist, a clear gesture of possession. “I told you. No one will learn of it, and besides that, you’ve already been handsomely rewarded.”

“But I—”

“Discovery is the least of your worries,” Gideon barked then. “Marry us or feel the sting of my blade. Those are your only choices. And, Hymen. If you feel the sting of my blade, it won’t be only once. No one will recognize you when I’m done.”

Hymen shifted from one foot to the other, his fear palpable. “Of course, of course. We’ll start now.” The words rushed from him. “Gideon of the Greeks, tell Scarlet of the Titans why you wish to wed her.”

Those piercing blue eyes met her dark black ones, and he took her hands in his. “From the first, you enchanted me. You are more than beautiful. You are smart and strong and determined. When I’m with you, I want to be a better man. I want to be worthy of you.”

As he spoke, this long-ago Gideon, more ice melted around Scarlet’s heart. But he wasn’t finished.

“I want to provide for you. I want to give you the life you deserve. One day, I will. Because I know, deep in my soul, that to part is to die.”

Tears flooded Scarlet’s eyes.

“Scarlet of the Titans,” Hymen said, a little choked up himself, “please tell Gideon of the Greeks why you wish to wed him.”

While her knees knocked together, Scarlet struggled to find adequate words. Words that would tell this man exactly how she felt. “From the first moment I saw you, I was attracted to you and hated myself for it. But how could I have known that underneath your beautiful exterior was an irresistible mix of courage, passion and tenderness? You quickly proved your worth, and taught me mine. I was a slave, but you made me a woman.”

His eyes were filled with tears as well, she noticed.

“You are my everything,” she whispered, chin trembling. “My past, present and future. My heart. My life. To part is to die.”

Hymen swallowed audibly. “Kiss now and forever-more seal this union.”

Gideon didn’t hesitate. He wrapped his arms around her, drew her close and pressed their lips together. Their tongues met, twined, his breath filling her lungs and her breath filling his.

They were one.

In the present, Scarlet allowed the image to fade. She realized she’d never released the headboard, and the metal was bent. Realized Gideon had stopped pleasuring her, but she hadn’t noticed, so lost had she been in the memory. So lost, in fact, that real tears were now streaming down her cheeks.

They were streaming down Gideon’s, too.

Their gazes met as they had inside that cell, and she saw the emotion swimming in those baby blues.

He was the same, yet so completely different. And the differences weren’t physical, though his hair was now as bright a blue as his eyes. He was harder, harsher, more distanced. Before, he’d had an easy smile and had delighted in soothing her with his biting observations of both the Greeks and Titans.

“Do you know why this prison is so big?” he’d once asked her. “Tartarus is overcompensating for the size of his dick.”

She’d nearly swallowed her tongue, she’d gasped so hard at his irreverence. She’d always wanted to insult her captors, but had been too scared. Gideon had given her the freedom to do so, to finally vent, even in so small a way.

Now, he opened his mouth, but no words emerged. Perhaps he didn’t want to lie just then, and she was grateful. She was too raw, too vulnerable, as if her heart had been cut out of her chest and presented to him in a ribboned box.

Slowly he climbed up her body. Still not speaking, he kissed her. Again, she didn’t protest. She simply opened to him, accepting everything he wanted to give. She tasted herself, sweet and warm, but also him. Wild and minty. Before, his hands had been all over her. They’d kneaded at her, both taking and giving pleasure. Now, he cupped her cheeks, infinitely gentle. Giving all, taking nothing.

And like that, the icy shell she’d spent centuries erecting stopped melting. It simply tumbled down, brick by frosted brick.

“Not going to…won’t…don’t trust me, devil.” Gideon unzipped his pants. “Not going to…” Again, he didn’t finish. He simply pressed his erection between her legs, hard and unbelievably thick, unyielding male to weeping female, and hissed. He didn’t sink inside but rubbed…creating the first bloom of a fever. A slow burn, but all the hotter for it.

Trust him not to take what she hadn’t offered. But really, she wouldn’t have stopped him if he’d poised himself for penetration. Still. He never did. He contented himself with the rubbing and the kissing, tongues rolling, savoring, simply basking in all that she was, as she did with him.

For a moment, she pretended they were back inside that cell. That this man really was her husband. A husband who loved her, who placed her needs above all things, even himself. She pretended that he would return to her tomorrow as well, love shining in his eyes. She pretended their only obstacle was her imprisonment.

“Gideon,” she moaned.

Perhaps he’d been doing the same, pretending, because the sound of her voice snapped him from that steady pace. His movements toughened, sped up. Became more frantic. He’d always been so gentle with her, treated her like a porcelain doll, but now…he was dirty and wanton, consuming, the friction sparking.

She drank him in greedily, luxuriated. And it was easy, so easy to do. To give herself. To lose herself. Even though he was different now. Maybe because he was different.

“Not…my Scar. Not my Scar. Don’t touch me,” he pleaded. “Please, don’t touch me.”

Touch. Yes. Must. She pried her fingers from the headboard, her hands falling on him, nerves tingling back to life as her nails grazed his skin, leaving welts. He roared, a song of absolute contentment tinged with utter despair. The past and present, discordant yet soothing.

“You…you…” he said, then stopped himself. “Scar.” A prelude, a waiting storm. “Don’t come, don’t come for me, don’t you come for me.” With every word, his cock pressed against her clit.

Every muscle in her body stiffened, pain in its most exquisite form. The shadows danced faster…faster…the screams grew louder…louder…until hers joined the symphony, the edge of completion rushing to meet her halfway.

She hurtled over, shaking, shouting, clutching at the man responsible. “Gideon!” My Gideon.

Soon he was shaking as well, roaring again, louder this time, and warm seed was jetting onto her stomach. That only increased her pleasure, spiraling her into a deeper awareness of her body. He was on top of her, weighing her down, all over her, his semen on her skin, branding her.

A marriage of the flesh, base, instinctual. What she’d craved, had never thought to have again. What she’d needed, despite the repercussions.

What would surely be the death of her.

An eternity later, they collapsed together, Scarlet into the mattress, Gideon still on top of her. As the shadows and screams dispersed, neither of them moved. They lay there for a long while, trying to catch their breath, still completely lost in the moment. This was, perhaps, the only relaxed, contented moment they would ever have, because she couldn’t allow this again, she realized.

She had to replace the ice.

There was no other way to protect her fragile heart. A heart she couldn’t afford to give away. Not again. She barely had any pieces of it left. But there were pieces. And that was just as shocking.

Save yourself. Hurry! She shoved him off her and sat up, not trusting herself to look at him. “Get some rest,” she said coldly. “I’ll make sure no one enters the room.”

Last time they’d fooled around, he hadn’t complained about the abrupt change in her. He’d simply done as she’d ordered. Mostly. This time, he latched onto her arm and jerked her backward, twisting her so that she landed on her stomach.

Before she had time to protest—so you’d give one now?—he raised her shirt and planted a soft kiss on her lower back, where her tattoo rested. TO PART IS TO DIE. The action was so unexpected, so astonishing and secretly welcome, she pressed her lips together to cut off her sob. Damn him. Damn him to hell!

“Don’t stay next to me. Don’t let me hold you,” he whispered. “Please.”

Resist. You have to resist. But she found herself nodding and whispering back, “All right.” Idiot.

With a sigh, she curled closer to him. I’ll patch myself up tomorrow.


IMPATIENCE RODE Strider like a damn carnival pony. Several days had passed since he’d last received a text from Gideon. Last Strider had heard, Gideon was leaving his hotel due to a Hunter infestation. Understandable. But Lies had one more day to check in or return, and then Strider was supposed to search for him. Hell, Gideon might be in trouble and counting on that.

Except, Strider had to remain in the fortress. Some bad shit was about to go down.What a cluster. Amun, Aeron and William had left a short while ago to perform a search and rescue in the fiery pits of hell. Yeah, a real party in a box. Strider would’ve liked to go with them, though. At the very least, to trail behind them and offer what protection he could. But he wouldn’t be doing that, either.

Instead, he found himself standing inside Torin’s bedroom. The keeper of Disease was seated before a wall of monitors, each revealing a different location in the fortress, the mountain outside it and the surrounding city as the warrior typed away on a keyboard.

Normally Torin was nonchalant, irreverent and unruffled. Today he’d tangled his hand through his white hair too many times to count, causing the strands to stick out around his head. His neck-to-toe clothes were wrinkled, and the gloves he wore every minute of every day were frayed in a few places. His expression was dark and somber, and lines of tension bracketed his eyes.

“Where are the Hunters posted again?” Strider asked.

“There, there, there and there.” Torin motioned to different monitors with a tilt of his head. “They’re in large groups, and they’re surrounding the fortress full-circle.”