- The Darkest Lie
Gideon rolled to his side, pulling Scarlet into the curve of his body. “I want to marry you. For real.” It was a need. “But I already told you that.”
She stiffened, tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let her. “Yes, but…”
“No buts,” he said with a shake of his head.
“But you’re overlooking the fact that I’m a liability to you. I think I had decided to stay with you. Right now I can’t even remember my name. But what if you’re hurt because of me? I would rather die—”
“Actually, I’ve overlooked nothing. I just don’t care.” His arms tightened around her, this precious treasure he wouldn’t give up. “I want you in my life, and that’s all there is to it. I want to pledge my life to yours like the warriors of old pledged their lives to their kings. And there’s no better time, either. I can proclaim the truth right now.”
The thick, oppressive silence that followed razored him.
Still, he gave Scarlet the time she needed to digest his admission and come to grips with what he wanted. No way would he pressure her. That would make him a little too much like that bitch NeeMah. But gods, he wanted to. He wanted to force the issue with every possessive instinct raging inside him.
“I don’t understand this, Gideon.” A tortured whisper.
“What’s to understand? I love you.” So easily admitted, after he’d fought it so long. How foolish he’d once been.
“But you could do better,” she said, agonized.
But, but, but. He was sick of that stupid word. “Do better than you?” He rolled back on top of her, smashing her and holding her in place. “There’s no one better than you. You are ugly and weak and I never get aroused just by thinking of you.”
Her lips twitched, but she fought her amusement and never gave him a full-on grin. “What if you later regret this decision?”
“I won’t.” He’d never been more certain of anything in his life.
“Are you sure? Because there’s no undoing it once it’s done.”
“That’s the best thing you’ve said all day. Even better than ‘yes, yes, more.’”
Still no full-on grin, but there was now a twinkle in her dark eyes. “Yes, but how can you know you won’t regret it? I mean, what if my aunt screws with my memory again and—”
“Every couple has problems, angel.” He cupped her cheeks, forcing her gaze to remain locked with his, to probe deeply, to perhaps catch a glimpse of just how much he meant to her. “We’ll deal with it.”
Tears muted the twinkle, and each droplet cut at him. “Yeah, but it would hurt you and I’ve hurt you so many times already.”
What could he say to make her understand? “If you hadn’t noticed, I considered all those times foreplay.”
Her lips twitched again, and she couldn’t cut off her amused snort. Damn, he was getting good at this. At making her find the humor in any situation.
See? They were perfect for each other.
“Fine,” she said on a sigh, the tears gradually drying. “We can get married for real, but I swear to the gods, Gideon, if my aunt screws with my memory again, if my mother abducts you, I’m leaving you.”
Thank the gods. “Rhea, I’m not worried about,” he replied, heart beating so hard, he knew the organ would be forever bruised. “NeeMah, though? We’ll track her down and kill her. I mean, what better honeymoon for us?” No way would he let Scarlet get away, not for any reason, but he wouldn’t tell her that and spook her. Wouldn’t tell her that he’d follow her wherever she went, for as long as necessary. “I don’t want to wait. And like I said, I do want to do this old school. But if you want a big wedding, too, we can do that later.”
She rolled him to his back and straddled his waist. “I don’t need a big wedding. But if you’re going to do this old school, so am I. I’m a warrior, too, you know.”
“Believe me, I know.” That was one of the things he loved about her. All that strength…shit, he was getting hard again and his body should have been unresponsive for weeks considering the pleasure it had just experienced.
Blended with that arousal was straight-up excitement. He was about to marry the woman he loved.
Scarlet leaned over and down, nipples brushing him. He licked and sucked and she gasped and moaned. When her head cleared just a little, she remembered to palm one of the blades hidden under his pillow. As she straightened, she sliced the tip between her breasts. Skin ripped open and blood beaded before trickling and running down her stomach.
“Are you sure about this?” she asked shakily. “Last chance to—”
He took the knife and slashed himself in the center of his chest, exactly as she had done. No hesitation. Blood ran in both directions, raining down his ribs, up to his neck. “I’ve never been so sure of anything in my too-long life. Now come here.”
Scarlet eased down until she was lying on top of him, their blood mingling. She was trembling.
He stared into her eyes, those perfect dark eyes. “I am yours, and you are mine.”
“I—I am yours and you…you are mine,” she repeated.
He claimed her free hand and flattened it over his pounding heart. “From this moment, until the end of time.”
Her fingers jerked against him, but she didn’t pull away. “From this moment…”
Come on. Say it. Ancient power swirled around them, as thick as the silence had been. Waiting…
“From this moment…until the end of time.”
Yes. Yes! Finally.
A stream of fire slammed into him, and he cried out. The same must have happened to Scarlet, because her shout blended with his. That fire blazed along his soul, tearing it in two. But then, a sweet, cool ice crystallized, filling the wounded void. Making him whole again. Making him more than Gideon. Making him Scarlet’s man.
“And so it’s done,” he said, voice rumbling with his satisfaction. So simple, so easy. And yet, she was his. She was his wife. Now…always. Every bone in his body, every cell, vibrated with the knowledge. “To part is to die,” he added, sure now that he’d come across the phrase when she had entered his dreams all those centuries ago. They’d been connected, even then.
“I hope you never regret this,” she whispered.
“Never.” He urged her closer for a soft, quick kiss, then smiled. “Now don’t you have something else to say to me?”
“To part is to die,” she repeated. “And I want you to know…I was never with another man. After I came down here and saw you. I lied to you.”
He hadn’t expected the confession, and his eyes closed for a moment, exhaling a warm breath. “I’m glad. I understood why you’d done so, but I’m glad you lied. So damn glad. You’re mine.”
“Yours,” she said brokenly, as if the word was impossible to believe.
One day she would. Completely. Two of his fingers stroked the ridges of her spine. “So, who are you today?”
Sweet mercy, but he liked the sound of that. That was as close to a declaration as he was going to get. Because, knowing her as he did, and he liked to think he knew her pretty well, she wasn’t going to cop to her feelings. And yes, she had them, he knew it, otherwise she wouldn’t have married him. But until her aunt was dead and her mother dealt with, she’d try to maintain some kind of distance.
Which he would see to, all of it. At least Cronus was no longer a threat. Otherwise, the king wouldn’t have helped him heal Scarlet. Still, Gideon knew he would receive no more aid. He’d be on his own. But battling two beings that were stronger and more powerful than he was didn’t scare him. Not when the prize was Scarlet’s heart.
ARMS SPLAYED, Strider turned in a circle while standing in the center of the Temple of the Unspoken Ones. This was his last resort, his only resort. Otherwise the female Hunter, Ex, would escape him. With the Cloak of Invisibility in her possession. He would be a failure, a loser, and she would have won the challenge between them.
That, he wouldn’t allow.“I need your help,” he called. “I’ve come to bargain.”
Last visit, they’d made him wait. This time, their reaction was immediate. A huge beast materialized between two of the pillars, exactly as before. He was totally nude, but then, he didn’t need clothing. His skin was furred as if he were a horse. And rather than hair, thin snakes hissed from his head. Like the creature, those snakes possessed fangs.
Muscle was stacked upon muscle, his nipples pierced by two large silver rings. Metal chains circled his neck, wrists and ankles, and while he had human hands, his feet were hooves.
Beside him, between two other pillars, another beast appeared. A male whose lower half was covered by dark red fur and whose upper half boasted human skin. Skin that was a mass of scars. He, too, was bound by chains.
Those chains didn’t detract from the menace radiating from either of them.
A third beast appeared, this one female. Unlike her friends, she wore a leather skirt. Her breasts were bare, wonderfully large, and her nipples pierced, as well. Only, she wore diamonds rather than silver hoops.
She stood in profile, and Strider could see the small horns protruding from her spine. The horns he actually liked, almost as much as her breasts. Her face, however, was beaked like a bird’s. That wasn’t something a man could get over easily. She, too, was furred and chained.
A fourth and fifth appeared in quick succession, both so tall and wide they were like living mountains. They didn’t have snakes for hair, though. What they had was worse. One was bald, yet shadows seemed to seep from his skull. Thick and black and putrid. And hungry. Yeah, they looked hungry.
The other creature had blades. Small but sharp, they spiked from his scalp, each glistening with something clear and wet. Poison? Probably, though nobody had been able to gather tangible data about the creatures’ powers.