- The Darkest Lie
Scarlet gasped in horrified realization. He was a Hunter. The tattoo on his wrist, a symbol of infinity, wasn’t just for decoration. It was his mark, his vow to kill those who were demon-possessed.
That’s why her mother had flashed her here. There was probably a contingent of Hunters based here.
Her stomach twisted. At least Rhea hadn’t flashed her into the middle of that contingent. Which had to mean, on some level, that Rhea held her in some affection.
Wishful thinking, and you know it. Most likely, Rhea had just misjudged the distance.
When the man reached Scarlet’s room, he flew past the door, just as Nurse Tattletale had, his expression resolved. He stopped and growled when he realized he was alone.
“Where’d she go?” he demanded.
None of the nurses were willing to approach and respond.
Had Rhea had time to tell him who Scarlet was? What Scarlet was? Probably not. Otherwise, there would have been more than one Hunter waiting for her to awaken, and this one wouldn’t have left her. Even for a second. So why was he here?
There had probably been a report about her appearing out of nowhere, she realized, and he probably wanted to know how she’d done it.
Renewed anger sparked in her chest, easing the sting in her stomach. She’d fallen asleep in front of humans who could have done anything they wanted to her, and she wouldn’t have been able to defend herself. Yet another sin to punish her heartless mother for.
As the officer radioed for assistance, then shouted orders to the hospital staff to lock all the building’s doors, Scarlet slipped into the hallway, doing her best to remain in the shadows so that her shadows blended in.
Making her way outside proved uneventful. There was simply no way to lock the E.R. exits, since wreck victims were being wheeled in. Sunlight waned, creating a purple sky, the evening fragrant with summer blooms. Crickets chirped, and cars zoomed on the nearby road. An ambulance was blaring its sirens as it pulled into the parking lot.
Scarlet headed toward that lot with every intention of stealing a car. But where should she go? Her aunt was too weak to find her now. She couldn’t get to the heavens to slap her mother around, couldn’t block her location from the gods, so she could be found by any of them at any time and tossed into another Hunters’ den.
Gideon wasn’t home, so he couldn’t—
Gideon. Her hands fisted. Did his friends know where he was? And who he’d been doing? Her nail sharpened, cutting into her palms. Slow down. Are you sure he was having sex with your mother? He didn’t look like a man lost in pleasure.
Scarlet thought back and frowned. Sure, both Gideon and her mother had been naked. And sure, her mother had been straddling his waist. And okay, yeah, there’d been no promises between her and Gideon. She’d told him things were over, finished. In his mind, he’d been free to do whatever or whoever he wanted. But there’d been panic in his eyes. Panic and pain and fury.
What if he hadn’t been there of his own free will?
She gulped, afraid to hope. And she hated herself for even wanting to. He could be in serious trouble.
But his reaction would explain why her mother had flashed Scarlet there to witness the deed and then shooed her away before Gideon could say anything. What better way to hurt her than to “steal” her man?
The very hope she feared suddenly grew wings and fluttered through her. If she was wrong about what had happened and he truly did want Rhea, she would…what? Kill them both? Try and remind him how good it had been between them?
No. That still wasn’t an option. Was still too dangerous. Besides, after everything that had happened, Gideon deserved a long and happy life.
Finally, Scarlet knew what she had to do to save him, to give him that long and happy life. And she would have rather chewed off her leg. Because now an eternity of suffering awaited her.
GIDEON SAT in front of the dungeon’s cell, peering inside at NeeMah, who was still mostly charred. However, pale hair had sprouted from her scalp, and new skin was forming on her face and limbs. She should have regenerated completely by now, but the slave collar, which prevented her from using her godly powers, had slowed her healing process considerably.
He wasn’t wearing a collar, but his healing process seemed slowed, as well. After two days, he was still weak himself, and had barely made it through the fortress and down the steps to get here—where he had remained—but his determination had spurred him onward. He would get answers for Scarlet.“You will—not—” he dropped the volume of his voice for the word not, hopefully making NeeMah hear only what he wanted her to hear “—answer everything I ask. If you do—not—I will torch your healing skin.” And that wasn’t a boast. He would do it. With a smile.
“Y-yes,” NeeMah said. She lay on a cot, her hands resting under her cheek. Her lids opened, revealing the whites of her eyes, a startling contrast to the black smudges circling them. “I will.”
He was used to torturing Hunters for every scrap of information, so her easy compliance threw him a little. He’d thought he would have to burn her at least once to prompt her into her first reply. That he hadn’t…His suspicious nature peeked past his determination—and disappointment. Charbroiling her might have been fun.
“Why have you—not—tormented Scarlet all these years?” he asked.
“Why do you care?” Her voice was ragged, raspy from smoke. “You aren’t her husband.”
I want to be. One day, I will be. “Don’t—” uttered quietly “—answer the question—” yelled viciously. He held up a lighter.
She flinched, even whimpered. “Boredom,” she rushed out. “Favors for my sister the queen. Why else?”
Truth. He hated himself just then, because, in a way, he was just as much at fault for Scarlet’s treatment as her aunt. How many times had he entered Tartarus? Countless. Why hadn’t he noticed Scarlet? The woman, not the child. If he had, there were a thousand things he could have done to protect her.
Namely, he could have moved her to a private cell. He could have killed both Rhea and NeeMah, or, at the very least, warned them what would happen if they didn’t stop tormenting her. Yet he hadn’t noticed the lovely woman she’d become and so he’d done nothing.
How could he not have noticed her? Just how stupid and blind had he been? She was the most important person in his life.
He truly didn’t deserve her, but that wasn’t going to stop him from trying to win her.
“Is there a way to undo the damage you—” he lowered his voice to whisper softly “—didn’t—” then let his voice return to normal “—cause?”
“Yes. I can remove all her memories.”
Which was what Scarlet wanted. Not Gideon, though. He wanted Scarlet as she was. But he also placed her wants above his own and would do whatever was necessary to make her happy. Even that, he realized now.
That wouldn’t stop him from trying to romance her all over again.
“Will I erase her memories, though?” NeeMah continued, somehow stronger now. “No. Believe me, it’s better to have Scarlet as an enemy than Rhea.”
And yet she had become Cronus’s mistress. Perhaps, though, that had been at her sister’s request, a way to keep tabs on the man. Interesting. Amun would be able to discern the truth, which was why Cronus had wanted the warrior’s aid in the first place.
“And to be honest,” NeeMah added, almost as an afterthought, though she couldn’t conceal the clenching of her teeth, “after what Scarlet just did to me, I would rather die than aid her.”
As that was NeeMah’s only other option, she might just get her wish. She would change her mind, though, the moment he approached her with the lighter and a can of gasoline. He was sure of it. But he didn’t threaten her again. There was no need. Scarlet wasn’t here, so why force the issue just yet?
“Why—doesn’t—her mother hate her?” he asked, raising and lowering his voice as needed.
NeeMah rolled to her back, hissed in a pained breath. “My sister can’t help herself. She thought she loved Scarlet’s father, and yet he was only using her. He had a wife of his own and cast Rhea aside as soon as he learned of her pregnancy. Then the Greeks captured the Titans and threw us in prison, preventing her from gaining revenge against the foolish mortal.”
“So she—didn’t—blame Scarlet?” Bitch. He flicked the lighter on, off, as he waited for her reply, daring her to refuse him.
“Not at first. At first, she loved the infant. Or rather, loved the infant as much as she was able. But as Scarlet grew, looking so much like her father, Rhea’s love died. And it didn’t help that Scarlet was growing into such a lovely woman. Rhea had already had so much taken from her. Her throne, her power, her freedom. To no longer be considered the fairest in the realm was a blow her ego could not tolerate.”
Because of vanity, she’d practically gift wrapped her daughter for the monsters trapped inside their cell. Calling the woman a bitch, he realized, had been an insult to bitches.
“Don’t.” Gideon longed to return to Rhea, a knife in hand. He would slit her throat without any hesitation—then spit on her lifeless body. On. Off. Flames sparked, died. “Continue.”
“Then, when Strife was paired with her,” NeeMah continued shakily, “all of her feelings intensified. Her hate, her jealousy, her need to prove herself. She was compelled to cause trouble. As you know.”
“You were given a demon.” A statement, not a question. Not once had her eyes flickered with red. Not once had he seen a flash of undiluted evil behind her face. Oh, there was evil, all right, just not the demonic kind.
She replied anyway. “No. I was spared.”
“Why? Not,” he finished in a whisper. On. Off.
“Zeus chose who was paired with what demon, and each pairing was determined out of spite. A punishment of sorts. I had done nothing to harm him. Nothing he recalled, that is.”