- The Darkest Lie
There was a reason these fiends were known as the Unspoken Ones, after all.
As before, the female stepped forward, her chains rattling. “And so a Lord of the Underworld returns to our midst. There can be only one reason for that. We requested Cronus’s head. Where is it?” Her voice brought to mind a thousand souls bound together, desperately trying to escape. They screamed from her, echoing through the temple, their tears practically soaking him.
“Uh, I don’t actually have it,” he said, and the Unspoken Ones immediately began hissing and growling at him, tugging at their chains to reach him and, he was sure, claw him into pieces. “Not yet,” he added in a rush.
Yes, they were willing to give him the fourth artifact—the Paring Rod—in return for Cronus’s head, and yes, they’d offered the same bargain to the Hunters. But Rhea was leading the Hunters, and if her life truly was bound to Cronus’s, as Torin had told him last time they’d spoken on the phone, then Rhea wouldn’t allow her men to take her husband’s life.
Humans would have a hard time destroying a god, anyway. So Strider wasn’t worried about the Hunters winning the Rod anymore. And if there was no competition, the Unspoken Ones had no bargaining room. It was all about supply and demand, baby. They had the supplies, but he had the demands.
Win. Defeat snarled, making its demands known.
“Then why are you here?” the female demanded.
“I want to give you another artifact.”
That silenced them. They stared at him intently, confused, probably trying to figure out his angle. Why would a Lord of the Underworld, a warrior who had been valiantly searching for the very things that would lead him to Pandora’s box, thereby preventing his enemy from ending his life, give up something he needed to win the war?
“Why?” the female finally asked. “And what would you expect in return?”
“There’s a human female on this island. I want her. Flash her here, and I’ll give you the Cloak of Invisibility.” He would have to be careful with Ex, though. She could thieve without his notice and hide things so that he couldn’t see or sense them. How she did it, he didn’t know, but he was determined to find out.
The female grinned, revealing teeth sharper than daggers. “She is here, yes, though she will not be so for much longer. And once she leaves this island, we will no longer be able to locate her or flash her anywhere. This is our only place of power.” For the moment, her words clearly implied. “Why do you want her?”
Shit. Ex was about to leave the island? That quickly? What a fucking time crunch, he thought, urgency rushing through him. “She killed my best friend. I must punish her.” Surely these creatures would understand the need for revenge. They wanted Cronus’s head because he’d enslaved them, after all.
The female’s horns seemed to grow, wrapping from her spine to her arms. “The girl has the Cloak, however. Not you.”
Shit, he thought again. He’d hoped they wouldn’t realize that.
One of the males, the one with snakes atop his head, stepped forward. “We cannot take from a human. That is forbidden.” He sneered the last. “Therefore, if we bring her here, you must take it from her.”
Forbidden, huh. One of Cronus’s rules, most likely, and as the god king’s slaves, they had to obey him. They shouldn’t have admitted to that. It was like giving him the ace he needed for a four of a kind. “Agreed.” Besides, that’s what he’d planned to do, anyway.
“As do we,” the female said with a nod. “The girl is yours in exchange for the Cloak.” Perfection.
Strider had to cut off his grin. This had worked out for him in so many ways. These creatures already had one artifact, and were keeping it safe. Now they would have two to guard, and the Hunters would never be able to take them.
“Then let’s get this done before it’s too late.” Ultimately, Strider would have to return and retrieve both artifacts. Somehow, some way. Perhaps even bargain with them, finally giving them what they wanted. Or perhaps Cronus would find a way to retrieve the artifacts. He wouldn’t want these creatures to have them, and he didn’t want the Lords to die. They were the only ones who could keep his wife in line. Win-win.
The creatures reached out and joined hands. Once they formed a complete circle, a hum of power rent the air, dust motes thickening to jelly. Jelly that wavered and glistened. A muted buzz filled Strider’s ears, and that buzz quickly grew in volume. Grew so much, he dropped to his knees, hands covering his ears, temples throbbing sharply.
Then, suddenly, the buzzing ceased. He removed his hands, saw that blood was smeared over his palms, and pushed to shaky legs. His heart was pounding in his chest at the thought of seeing—
Ex materialized just in front of him.
Win, win, win.
His blood instantly heated. Pink hair was plastered to her head and cheeks, dirt smudged every inch of her and her clothing was ripped. She was panting, sweating, spinning around with wild eyes, clearly trying to figure out where she was and what had happened.
She screamed when she spotted the Unspoken Ones.
The Cloak lay at her feet, as if she’d had it draped around her but the flash from one location to another had forced it from her shoulders.
Win! Strider lunged for the small square of material, swiping it up before Ex even realized he had moved. She latched onto his arm, not to snatch the Cloak but to jerk him in front of her and use his body as a shield. Won. We won!
“What are they?” she croaked.
Pleasure shot through him, filling him up, giving him strength and hell, making him hard as a rock. “They’re your downfall, sweetheart.” He raised the Cloak high in the air. “This is now yours.” None of the creatures reached for it, but the material disappeared. “Thank you.”
“We will be speaking with you again, Defeat,” the female Unspoken One said. “Of that, I have no doubt.”
With that, all of the creatures disappeared.
“I—I don’t understand,” Ex said on a trembling breath. “What’s going on?”
Strider spun, facing her, and gripped her upper arms. Arms that were still so shockingly chilled. He couldn’t help it, he was grinning. “I traded them for you, sugar. Which means you. Are. Mine.”
MARRIED. She was married. It was the first thought to fill Scarlet’s mind as she opened her eyes from the deep, healing sleep she’d just enjoyed. After making love with Gideon. After marrying him. There was that word again.
Moonlight streamed through the bedroom window, muted and pretty. The air was clean and smelled of freshly washed linen. Their demons were back inside their bodies, resting after hours of fornicating. As if they, too, were married.Married.
She’d actually done it. She’d actually said the vows that bound her to Gideon for all eternity. One part of her wanted to luxuriate in joy. The other part of her wanted to run before something bad happened to this man she so loved. A man sleeping beside her, turned toward her, his arm thrown over her belly and his leg bent over hers. Possessing her, even in slumber.
She tried to sit up, but the scabs riding the length of her throat pulled, threatening to split open, so she remained prone. Funny. She hadn’t noticed the injuries while making love with Gideon. Or marrying him.
“Take it easy,” a male voice said.
Intruder! Breath froze in her throat as she searched the chamber and stealthily reached under Gideon’s pillow. After the wedding ceremony, she’d returned his blade there. Now she gripped the hilt, inching the weapon from hiding. Protect!
A man leaned against the far wall, his arms crossed over his chest. He had white hair, dazzling green eyes, black brows and a face more beautiful than, well, hell, anyone she’d ever seen before. He was innocence mixed with wicked and sprinkled with heroin.
How many women had fallen under his spell?
She pressed the cool metal of the blade against her forearm, preventing the man from seeing it as she turned toward him, all the while inching over Gideon to be his shield. If the intruder approached, she would slice his heart in half before he realized she’d left the bed.
“Plotting my death, I see. Well, you can stop. I’m Torin,” he said, raising a hand covered by a black glove and waving. “Keeper of Disease. Gideon’s friend. We’ve chatted before.”
Ah, yes. Disease, self-proclaimed protector of the universe and the guy who hadn’t wanted her to kill her aunt because Gideon hadn’t yet issued permission. Scarlet liked him already. With an apologetic grin, she slipped the blade back under the pillow.
“I’ve been waiting for you and Gideon to wake up,” he said.
Waiting? “How long?”
Days? Damn. While she’d been sleeping, her aunt was out there, healing. Probably fully healed by now, in fact.
Beside her, Gideon stretched. His eyelids flickered open, and then he was peering over at her, lips edging into a grin. “Good—” He blinked, frowned. “Bad morning,” he said.
His demon wasn’t going to let him tell the truth, she realized. She didn’t mind. She actually liked his lies. “Yes. Bad morning.”
He reached up and gently cupped her nape, drawing her closer for a kiss. The action hurt her neck, but she didn’t allow herself to grimace. She would endure much, much worse for a kiss from Gideon. Her husband.
“Okay,” she breathed against his lips. “Now it’s a good morning.”
He chuckled huskily. “It’s about to get much worse.”
Torin cleared his throat. “Much as I’d like to watch you guys make out, I have to talk to you about something.”
Frowning again, Gideon looked over at his friend. “Stay. Want you here.” Meaning, Get lost, you’re a pest. Of course, Torin didn’t take the hint.
Grinning, the bad boy held up both hands in a display of blamelessness. “Yesterday I summoned Cronus and showed him the video of Mnemosyne trying to kill Scarlet. He was pissed that the goddess blamed him for the attempt. Said he had no need to hire out for such a thing, that he was well able to take care of Scarlet on his own. If that’s what he so chose. I suspect that’s why he helped you, Gideon.”