- The Darkest Lie
All those years ago, Cronus, too, had tried to kill her. That’s why he’d aged the way he had. So, why would he have changed his mind about her? Even to prove himself innocent of her aunt’s claims?
“Cron means to on her now?” Gideon lashed out.
On her? Took Scarlet a moment to translate, and when she did, her gaze sharpened on Torin. Did Cronus mean to off her?
“He didn’t say. Anyway,” Torin continued, “I’m supposed to—”
“No need,” a new voice interjected. “I’m here.”
Suddenly the king stood beside Torin, his white robe as pristine as always, his dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and without a single strand of gray. His skin was smooth, his eyes bright. He’d never looked so young.
Gideon whipped upright, palming the dagger Scarlet had returned to him. The mattress bounced, making her cringe, and he kissed her bare shoulder in apology, though his attention never left the god.
She glanced down at herself and saw that she was topless. Hurriedly she dragged the sheet up, covering her breasts as her cheeks heated. Normally, she didn’t care about such things. Having been trapped in the same cell with men for most of her life, she couldn’t care about such things. But she was married now, no longer out to punish Gideon, and knew he didn’t like for other men to see her. He wanted her all to himself, and that delighted her.
“As Torin said, I didn’t command Mnemosyne to kill Scarlet,” the god said, his displeasure clear. “But I’m not here to kill her myself, either.”
A moment passed, then Gideon looked at Scarlet, confused. “He’s lying.”
So. Truth. “Then how did my aunt hide those stars from the Lords?” Scarlet demanded. “She was wearing a slave collar. A collar that’s supposed to glow when its owner is in possession of a weapon. It wasn’t glowing.”
“Her sister, my darling wife, visited her, exchanged her collar for a fake, and they planned your murder together,” Cronus replied evenly. “And no, Torin, you wouldn’t have seen her on your cameras. Like me, she can tamper with such things. She meant to kill you, escape, and for Gideon to hunt her, either keeping him busy or allowing Mnemosyne to convince him to join the Hunters. Against me.”
Proof that Scarlet’s reservations about marrying Gideon, about being with him, hadn’t been in vain. Had her aunt succeeded in killing her, Gideon would have gone after the goddess. Her aunt would have manipulated him, and he would have willingly become that which he despised most.
She should have felt betrayed by her family, but she didn’t. Maybe she’d come to expect this. Maybe she’d gotten used to it. Either way, they had to die. It was the only way she could stay with Gideon and not destroy him. And she desperately wanted to stay with him.
“I know of your bargain with Rhea,” Cronus said to her. “You are to stop Gideon from giving me what I asked of him. Finding Amun so that I might deduce Mnemosyne’s intentions.”
She pressed her lips together, refusing to respond. She didn’t want to get Gideon in trouble for not yet keeping his end of the bargain.
“However,” Cronus continued, “I no longer have need of such a service. I know Mnemosyne has betrayed me.” His gaze swung to Gideon, flickers of relish lighting his irises. “Therefore, I’m changing the terms of our bargain. I ask now that you live in misery. Which means you,” he said, gaze returning to Scarlet, “are to stop him from doing so.”
Shock overwhelmed her, and her jaw dropped. He…what? Surely she had misheard him.
Gideon chuckled, warm and rich, her only anchor in the sudden tempest of her uncertainty.
Cronus frowned, clearly irritated with their reactions. “Do not think me soft. My motives are hardly selfless. I know the fury my wife will face when she realizes that her daughter is happy because of her bargain. But you will leave the queen alone. Do you understand? Or I will finally strike at you.”
“No,” Gideon said with an easy nod.
That, too, she should have expected. Her aunt had told her that Rhea and Cronus were somehow connected, and that when one died, the other would follow. But she hadn’t let that stop her from planning her mother’s murder.
“Do you. Understand?” Cronus gritted out.
“Yes,” Scarlet barely worked past her now raw throat. She did a good job of keeping her horror from her voice. Did a good job of hiding the tears now burning her eyes. She’d already realized that there were two things she needed to do to be able to stay with Gideon, to keep him safe. Only two damn things. Kill her aunt. And kill her mother.
That’s why she’d allowed herself to marry him. Because she’d believed there was hope. A chance. Now…with Cronus trying to stop her…she would fail. Should she even approach her mother with death on her mind, Cronus could very well hurt Gideon in punishment.
“And no, thank you,” Gideon added, so happy he looked ready to burst. “But why are you not helping us?”
“You mean, why am I helping you when Scarlet is supposed to kill me?”
Every bit of warmth drained from her. Why pursue that line of thought further unless he meant to act?
“Touch her and live.” Rage had clearly replaced Gideon’s happiness as his mind clearly went in the same directions as Scarlet’s. He shoved her behind him, causing her to flop to her back. She quickly righted herself, inserting herself beside him again.
Cronus rolled his eyes. “As you’ll recall, Lies, she isn’t the only one foreseen to end me. That monumental task has also been bestowed upon Galen. So which vision is correct? One? Both? Impossible. And that means visions can be changed, the future altered. I will alter mine, even as I alter yours. And Mnemosyne’s.” Gideon relaxed.
“And now,” Cronus continued, “I have a wedding present for you.” He clapped his hands and Scarlet suddenly found herself caught up in the clouds. Again. Only this time, she wasn’t in the Titans’ heavenly palace, but in a vast expanse of…nothingness. Of white. Scentless, endless.
Gideon stood beside her, and both of them were dressed in the clothes of a warrior. Flexible shirts, leather pants. Mnemosyne stood in front of them, out of striking distance but without her slave collar. Fake or otherwise. She was completely healed, as Scarlet had feared.
Cronus bridged the gap between them, arms extended to prevent anyone from attacking.
“What’s going on?” the goddess demanded. When she spotted the king, she softened her expression. “Cronus, darling, I’m so glad you found me. I—”
“Enough.” He peered at her, devoid of emotion. “Mnemosyne, your sister was only too happy to betray you and admit what the two of you planned. She does like to boast, doesn’t she?”
Mnemosyne’s cheeks leached of color. “No, I— Rhea lied. I swear to you, she lied. I would never act against you. I love you. We’re meant to be together. Don’t you remember? We’re—”
“Finished. I enjoyed our time together, but you betrayed me and that I will never forgive.” Cronus smiled with genuine humor. “However, I will not destroy you myself. Rather, I will give you a chance to redeem yourself. All you must do is defeat…one of them.”
Her wide-eyed gaze flew to Scarlet before darting to Gideon. “Wh-what? I don’t understand.”
“I have removed all of your weapons, as well as theirs, so this will be hand-to-hand. You may choose whom you desire to battle, Mnemosyne. Gideon or Scarlet. But doubt me not. There will be a fight this day. This petty feud will end, for I need my soldiers’ undivided attention.”
The goddess studied Gideon, who looked stronger than ever, rested as he was from his truth-curse. She then studied Scarlet, who was still pale and whose neck was still scabbed.
“As you wish, my king.” Slowly Mnemosyne grinned. “I choose Scarlet.”
MISTAKE, Gideon thought. He might have killed her quickly. Even weak as Scarlet was, she was going to make her aunt suffer. He’d never been more confident about anything. Except, perhaps, how much he loved his woman.
He gripped her wrist with one hand and her jaw with the other, pulling her close while forcing her to face him. Her gaze remained on his mouth. “I hate you,” he said. “And I know you’re going to fail.” Even injured, she wouldn’t lose. Too much was at stake. Too much rage was directed at that bitch of a goddess.Silent, she nodded, still refusing to look up at him.
He frowned. What was this? “Hey. Don’t look at me.”
“Gideon,” Cronus said, impatient, and Gideon scowled at him.
“Don’t need a moment,” he snapped, returning his attention to Scarlet. The fight could wait. “Devil. Don’t look at me. Now.”
Slowly her gaze rose. Tears swam in those beloved eyes and dripped down her cheeks.
“Devil,” he said, chest constricting. “What’s right?” Wrong.
“I will kill my aunt. You’re right about that. But afterward, I can’t stay with you. When I thought I could find and kill my mother, too, there was a chance that I could make you happy. But now…with her alive…she’ll use me to get to you, and I can’t allow that. Which means I must leave you.”
“Yes, yes, yes.” No, no, no. “You didn’t hear Cronus. You are to keep me miserable, and I can’t be miserable without you in my life.”
“For now, yes. But what happens after she sends her soldiers to attack you for the tenth time? The twentieth? The hundredth? What happens when she tries to abduct and seduce you again? She’ll never stop. You make me happy, so she’ll never stop. You’ll get tired of it, and in turn, become tired of me. And you really will be miserable then.”
He shook her violently. “Always. I’ll always be tired of you.” Never. For eternity.
The tears streamed down, one after the other, and she sniffled. “I can’t be with you and lose you again. I just can’t.”