- The Darkest Lie
“You’re going to lose me.” He was desperate to make her understand. “I can be happy without you. Your mother matters, she really does. What do I have to do to dissuade you of that? Keep her alive?” Kill her. He would do it. He would betray Cronus in a heartbeat. Anything to keep Scarlet with him.
“No, I’ve hurt you enough. I—”
Okay. Time for tough love. He hadn’t reached her any other way. “I thought I had married a weak woman, but look at you. Strong. Look how confident you are. Look how confident you are in me.” He forced the words to emerge on a sneer. “This isn’t disappointing at all. Here I am, unwilling to give you everything that I am. My heart, my life, my support, and here you are, willing to stand beside me, unflinching. You are absolutely the warrior I thought you were.”
Gods, had that hurt to say. A far different pain than when he lied, mental rather than physical, and yet, so much worse.
Shocked, she blinked up at him. “You thought I was strong but now you think I’m weak? You think I’m not confident? You’re disappointed in me?”
He forced himself to nod.
Eyes narrowing, she popped her jaw. “I’ll show you. Just for that, you’re stuck with me. I don’t care how many times my mother approaches you. You’ll have to deal with it, you cruel bastard.”
He knees almost buckled, so great was his relief. “And it won’t be my pleasure. Now. Don’t go. Don’t fight your aunt. And when you’re done, we won’t go on a real honeymoon. One with lots of violence.”
“Bastard,” she said again, but there was no heat in her tone. For the sweetest moment, she rested her forehead against his sternum. “You used reverse psychology on me, without the reverse. Right?”
Rather than admit it, he simply said, “I hate you, Scar. So much.”
“Gods, but I hate you, too.” And with that, she severed contact and stepped forward, ready to begin.
She hated him, he thought, a grin bursting forth. She really hated him! She’d never said the words before, and now that she had, he just kind of collapsed on the ground, laughing and crying and happier than he’d ever been. Yeah, that other happiness, when he’d married her, paled in comparison.
Soon as the fight was over, he was going to hold his woman and smother her with his love. And he didn’t care how chicky that made him.
“Finally,” Cronus said on an exasperated sigh. “I give a gift, and I’m ignored. And for the oddest conversation I have ever heard.”
Everyone just looked at him.
“What? You recall my presence now? You desire what I offered?”
What a baby.
After a little more huffing, Cronus said, “Ladies. You may begin.” In the next instant, he appeared at Gideon’s side with a bowl of popcorn. “This is what humans enjoy during spectator sports, is it not?”
“Certainly isn’t.” Gideon grabbed a fistful of the kernels and popped them in his mouth. Without weapons, this wouldn’t be too bloody of a fight, but it would be violent. That, Gideon would stake his life on.
Scarlet was finally going to get her pound of flesh.
He couldn’t wait.
There was no trash talk, no circling each other. Scarlet simply lunged at NeeMah, ready. Contact. The two women were propelled to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. Amid screeches, punches were thrown, nails were bared and used (by NeeMah), and elbows and knees were slammed (by Scarlet).
When they pulled apart, a wheezing NeeMah got lucky, grabbing Scarlet by the shirt, swinging her around and tossing her. Cronus must have erected some sort of air shield because Scarlet crashed into nothing before sliding to the floor. She didn’t stay down long. A split second later, she was on her feet, blowing the hair out of her face and stomping forward.
Bitch goddess was gonna be sorry now.
“Got hot sauce for this disgusting snack?” he asked Cronus as he reached into the bowl for another helping.
“No.” The king shuddered. “Why would you want hot sauce? Who puts hot sauce on popcorn?”
Just before Scarlet reached her aunt, she whipped out her arm as if she were throwing a blade. Only, her demon flew from her fingers, black and writhing, arcing a swift path to NeeMah. That black cloud hit, and she screamed, dropping to her knees and slapping at her skin.
Spiders? he mused hopefully.
Scarlet closed the rest of the distance, balled her hands and struck, flinging the goddess to the ground, on her side and still slapping at herself.
“My turn.” When Scarlet held out her hand, the darkness raced back to her as if she’d switched on a vacuum. “No. It’s mine.” With an unholy screech, NeeMah kicked out her leg, connecting with Scarlet’s ankles. Scarlet toppled beside her, air abandoning her in a whoosh.
“You deserve everything I’m going to do to you,” Scarlet growled as she stood.
NeeMah jumped up, attention never wavering. “Bitch!”
Good girl, Gideon thought when his Scar repeated herself. Why deviate from the truth?
“While I’m killing you,” NeeMah said, circling her as she hadn’t gotten to in the beginning, “I’ll make you thank me. I can make you do anything I desire. Remember how you cried for Gideon? Remember how you ached for Steel?”
Without a sound, Scarlet kicked out her legs and sent the whore to her ass. A second later, Scarlet had again closed the distance between them. She fisted the goddess’s robe, momentum giving her strength as she flung the goddess around and around before releasing her and sending her soaring.
Like Scarlet had done, NeeMah slammed into nothing. She wasn’t as quick to get up, though, and Scarlet used that to her advantage, rushing forward and elbow-diving for all she was worth. Smack. Bone cracked.
Gideon couldn’t help himself. He whooped, slinging popcorn in every direction.
Cronus leveled him with a glare.
What? he silently mouthed, then turned back to the massacre.
Blood dripped from NeeMah’s nose and mouth, her bottom lip was split and her jaw sporting a swollen knot, all courtesy of Scarlet’s elbow. An elbow that wasn’t done. Boom, boom, boom. As the goddess flailed to sit up, pushing at her, Scarlet nailed her three times in a row, knocking teeth right out of NeeMah’s mouth.
Sweet heaven. Sexiest sight ever.
NeeMah’s pain must have given her strength, an adrenaline rush, something, because she finally managed to land a punch in Scarlet’s throat. Scarlet fell backward, gasping for air, probably seeing stars.
“Ouch,” Cronus said.
“Heaven’s about to reign,” Gideon replied confidently. The fires of hell were going to rage.
NeeMah lumbered to her feet, and Scarlet did the same. The goddess obviously expected to circle her prey again, stealing a few minutes to recuperate, because she stepped to the side. Scarlet simply lunged and popped the goddess in the chin, causing her head to whip to the side, her feet to stumble.
Scarlet jumped on top of her, straddling her and sending her skull cracking into the ground. Her aunt clawed blindly, and actually managed to rake a hand down Scarlet’s stitches, ripping every single one open.
“My former mistress is such a…girl,” Cronus said, disappointed. “Where are the pounding fists?”
“Well, my man ain’t got no skills,” Gideon replied proudly. He wanted to stand up and point to himself and shout that Scarlet was his. That she belonged to him. “Don’t you just wait and see.”
A moment passed in silence, then Cronus shook his head and said, “How do the others stand you?”
Gideon ignored him. “You can’t do it, devil,” he called.
Maybe his “praise” gave her strength, because she shook her head as if clearing her mind. Blood trickled down her neck, and savage brutality pulsed from her. “You’re gonna pay for that.”
“You don’t have the strength to—”
Panting, expression dark, she tackled the rising NeeMah even as she bit into the woman’s throat and ripped. The goddess screamed so vehemently, even Gideon cringed. But as she lay there, gasping for breath, Scarlet straddled her waist a second time and grabbed her head, slamming it over and over against the ground.
NeeMah dug her fingers into Scarlet’s neck wounds and tore them further. “Give up,” she gritted out. “You want to give up. You deserve to die by my hand. You want to die by my hand. Remember how I—”
“No.” Scarlet punched again, seemingly unaware of her own injuries. Blood sprayed, and the ground actually trembled. “I…don’t. I don’t think I want to give up.”
While the goddess tried to shield her face with one hand, she again reached out blindly with the other…until flattening her palm over Scarlet’s heart. “You don’t want to hurt me.” Gritted, barely audible. “You want to save my life, don’t you? Remember? Just as I once saved yours.”
Scarlet stilled, panting.
“You deserve to die. You’ve always thought so. You want to die. Remember?”
Fuck. “Not a foul. Not a damn foul!” Gideon tried to stand, but Cronus latched onto him and held him in place. Popcorn scattered. If Scarlet’s memories were tampered with, she’d—
“Scarlet used her demon,” Cronus said. “The goddess is allowed to use her powers.”
Gideon watched in horror as Scarlet’s head canted to the side and her eyes glazed over. As she nodded. “Yes. I deserve. I want.”
“I hate you, devil,” he shouted. “Please, forget how much I hate you. Please.”
“You want to save me, because I saved you,” NeeMah said, voice stronger now as she continued to weave her tale. “I saved you from Gideon. He’s the reason you’re cut and bleeding. He’s the reason—”
“No.” Scarlet suddenly hissed. “No. These are my memories, and I love them. I do not want to save your life. I want to end it. I do not want to die. Gideon loves me. Me.”