Page 44

There, lying on the small motel bed, locked with him in this tiny room, was Hadiee, the woman who had led Baden, keeper of Distrust, to his slaughter. She helped destroy my best friend!

The beheading had taken places thousands of years ago, and she’d been human. Or so he’d thought. Yet here she was, as young as she’d been back then. Which meant she was now immortal. Right? How it had happened, he didn’t know. But he would find out. He would be finding out a lot of things from the bitch.

It had taken him a few hours to place her, ’cause yeah, the tattoos, piercings and pink streaks in her hair had thrown him. She hadn’t looked like this back then. Her hair had been several shades lighter, a tumble of snowfall, and her skin glowing from the sun’s kiss. She’d dressed in the rough, conservative garb of a servant, but that hadn’t detracted from her prettiness.

He never would have placed her if not for the scoreboard tattooed on her back.

Lords: IIII Haidee: I

She’d split her back in two, one side for the Lords, one side for herself. He’d known exactly what the marks meant, too, because Baden had marked himself that way, as well. Bitch.

The four he and his friends had supposedly killed, he couldn’t name. And yeah, he’d probably slain them. In all his many centuries, he’d slain thousands. The knowledge of that should have dulled his anger toward this woman. It didn’t. Baden had been the best man Strider had ever known. The kindest to his friends, the most supportive and caring.

Being possessed by the demon of Distrust had changed him, of course, just as being possessed by such a dark force had changed all of them. But he’d been the first to come back to his senses. The one who had led everyone else to the light. He’d felt the guiltiest for the destruction the Lords had caused. He’d been the first to reach out, to try and make amends with humans.

He had also hated what he’d become more than any of the others. He’d hated that he distrusted himself, everyone around him, even his friends. Especially his friends. But that had only made Strider love him more. Baden had been Strider’s salvation. Strider had wanted to be Baden’s salvation.

Hadiee had destroyed that chance.

As the girl continued to thrash, eyes squeezed shut, sweat beading over her skin, arms and legs jerking at their ties, her cell phone rang. Strider grinned. He’d been hoping this would happen and didn’t have to guess who was calling. The boyfriend. The leader of the Hunters who had been chasing him.

Strider reached out, swooped the cell from its perch on the table beside him and flipped it open. “Sorry,” he said into the mouthpiece, “but your girlfriend’s a little tied up right now and can’t come to the phone.”

There was a pause. A ragged breath and crackling static. “She’s mine, you sick bastard! If you hurt her…”

Oh, yes. The boyfriend. “If?” Strider laughed with genuine amusement. “That’s cute. Really it is.”

Now there was a roar. “Which piece of evil shit are you?”

“Doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this evil shit has your woman. And he isn’t giving her back. Not unless it’s in pieces.”

More of that static crackled over the line, followed quickly by a loud boom, a curse. Loverboy must have punched the wall. “What do you want with her? What will you trade?”

“One thousand Hunter hearts. Oh, wait. Hunters don’t have hearts. So I guess there’s nothing I’m willing to trade for her.”

“You dirty, filthy—” The human stopped himself, as if only then realizing Strider could punish his woman for everything he said. “She’s a good person. She has a family. She—”

Anger blasted through him. “I’m a good person. I have a family.” He could just imagine how the Hunter was gritting his teeth at that. “And yet she would have taken my head without hesitation. It’s only fair that I reciprocate.”

“You aren’t good, and you know it. You’re selfish and dark and ruined. You belong in hell.”

Selfish? Dark? Yeah, no question. But ruined? Hardly. “I’ve done nothing but try to protect myself for thousands of years.”

“And in that protecting—” the Hunter sneered “—you’ve killed my friends.”

“Just as your woman killed mine.” Now it was Strider’s turn to punch something. He slammed a fist into the side table, splitting the wood. Boom!

A feminine gasp had his gaze moving back to his charge. He stilled. She’d stopped thrashing, was staring over at him through blazing gray eyes. “And believe me,” he added calmly, “she will pay for that.”

No reaction from Hadiee.

Her boyfriend, however, exploded. “She hasn’t killed anyone! But I have. Trade her for me.”

Did he not know her history? It seemed unlikely that the one person who’d succeeded in killing a Lord of the Underworld wouldn’t have become the stuff of legend among her cohorts. “No, thanks,” Strider said. “I like the hostage I’ve got.”

The Hunter’s fury overtook him, obliterating his common sense. “I will find you and I will kill you, you motherfucking son of a bitch!”

Slowly he grinned. “Now that sounds like a challenge. Good news is, I accept.” Inside his head, his demon jumped up and down with excitement. “Find me and we’ll have a little party.”

Without removing his gaze from the girl, Strider closed the phone, reveling in the fact that he’d had the last word. He stood. Hadiee’s murderous expression didn’t change as he walked to the bathroom. He knew phones could be traced and tracked and wasn’t going to allow that to happen here. Whistling, he crushed the plastic and wires into as many pieces as he could and flushed them down the toilet.

When he rejoined her, reclaiming his chair at the foot of the bed, he stretched out his legs and anchored his hands behind his head, a pose of smug relaxation. “Feeling better after your rest, darling Hadiee?”

Surprise darkened those gunmetal eyes. “You know who I am.” A statement, not a question.

He answered anyway. “Yes.”

“Well, no one calls me that anymore. I’m Haidee now. A minor change in spelling, but a big stride in modernization, don’t you think? Defeat.”

So. She knew who he was, as well. How did she, but not the boyfriend?

“Or you could just call me Executioner,” she added, a taunt.

Rather than strike her as he wanted, he arched a brow. “I’ll just call you Ex, then. Since you and I are going to be intimate, an endearment seems appropriate.”

Surprise was replaced with anger. Once more, she began thrashing atop the bed, jerking at her ties. Her lips pulled back from her straight, white teeth, and she hissed over at him.

“Touch me and I’ll peel the skin from your body.”

“As if I’d touch you that way.” He shuddered. He was not attracted to this female. Not in any way.

“Like I’d be stupid enough to believe a demon.”

“No, you’re only stupid enough to murder one.”

No shame. No regret. Only a smile, dark and wicked, that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “You say stupid. I say brave.”

“But as I was saying,” he continued past his sudden surge of rage, determined to scare her again, “I plan to intimately acquaint you with my weapons.”

Funnily enough, that seemed to calm her. “You can try” was all she said.

“I’ll do more than that.” Before she could reply, probably to him again, he switched the direction of their conversation. “You’ve changed.”

Her gaze raked over him, and she grimaced in distaste. “You haven’t.”

“Aw. Thank you.” He flattened a palm over his heart. “That means so much to me.”

“That wasn’t a compliment,” she snapped.

Good. He was getting to her. “Of course it was. I’m gorgeous.”

“You’re also a coward,” she snarled. “A real man would have fought someone his own size.”

He almost grinned. He’d been called worse. Maybe that was why insults like that never affected him. “Actually, I’m a very smart warrior. I took the weak link, yes, but now the rest of the chain will wither. Think about it. With your death, the men will go crazy. They’ll be ruled by their emotions. They’ll make mistakes. Fatal mistakes. All I’ll have to do is wait, swoop in and kill them.”

She didn’t flinch at his words. Either she didn’t believe he would actually kill a woman, which was stupid, since he’d done so before and as a Hunter, she had to know that, or she thought herself infallible. Which was…possible, he realized with a sudden blast of dread.

“I know you’re more than human.” His head tilted to the side as he ran his gaze along her compact little body. “What I don’t know is what you are and how you got that way.”

“And you’ll never know,” she replied, staunch once again.

“Doesn’t matter, I guess. Even immortals can be cut down.”

A smile curved the corners of her lips. Smug and satisfied and taunting. And this time, the amusement reached her eyes. “I know.”

Two simple words, but they built a fire inside him that crackled and smoldered, spread and raged. So badly he wanted to stand, stalk to her and choke the life from her. He wanted to hurt her, make her suffer endlessly.

And he would.

He’d always been a possessive man. What he considered his was his. Women, cars, weapons, didn’t matter. He didn’t share. Ever. And right now he considered this woman his property and her misery his mission.

She was his to do with whatever he willed.

Whatever we will, his demon interjected.

So. Defeat wanted a piece of her, as well. Maybe Strider could share, just this once.

He schooled his expression to reveal nothing but calm. He thought perhaps there were red flickers in his eyes, showing just how close to the surface his demon now was, because Hadiee, no, Haidee, no, Ex, paled, blue lines becoming visible beneath her skin.