- The Darkest Passion
Wrath hissed inside his head.
For a moment, Aeron feared Cronus had actually listened to him after all and sent a female to torment him. But as he stared over at her, there was no heat in his veins, no flutter in his heartbeat, as he’d heard the other Lords expound on whenever one found a female he just “had to have.” She was like any other to him: easily forgettable.
“Well, well, well. Aren’t I a lucky girl. You’re one of them, a Lord of the Underworld, and you came to me,” she said, her voice as raspy as smoke. “I didn’t even have to ask.”
“I am a Lord, yes.” There was no reason to deny it. The townspeople recognized him and the others on sight. Some even thought they were angels. Hunters recognized them on sight, as well, but were all too quick to renounce them as demons. Either way, the information could hardly be used against him. “And I did come looking for you.”
At his easy confirmation, her features revealed a hint of surprise. “A great honor, to be sure. Why were you looking?”
“I want to know who are you.” Better question—what was she?
“Maybe I’m not as lucky as I thought.” Those lush red lips dipped into a pout and she pretended to wipe away a tear. “If my own brother doesn’t recognize me.”
Well, he now had part of his answer: she was a liar. “I don’t have a sister.”
She arched a black brow. “You sure about that?”
“Yes.” He hadn’t been born to a mother and father; Zeus, King of the Greek gods, had simply spoken him into existence. Same with all the Lords.
“Stubborn.” She tsked, reminding him of Paris. “I should’ve known we’d be just alike. Anyway, it’s so nice to finally catch one of you alone. Who’d I get? Fury? Narcissism? I’m right, aren’t I? Admit it, you’re Narcissism. That’s why you plastered your body with tattoos of your own face. Nice. Can I call you Narci?”
Fury? Narcissism? None of his brothers carried those demons. Doubt, Disease, Misery and many others, yes, but not those. He shook his head—only to remember that other demon-possessed immortals were out there. Immortals he’d never met. Immortals he was supposed to find.
As he and his friends had been the ones to open Pandora’s box, they’d always assumed they were the only ones cursed to house its evil. But Cronus had recently corrected that false assumption, gifting the Lords with scrolls bearing the names of others like them. Apparently, there had been more demons than warriors, and with the box nowhere to be found, the Greeks—the gods in power at the time—had placed the remaining demons inside the immortal prisoners of Tartarus.
A discovery that did not bode well for the Lords. As Zeus’s former elite sentries, they’d locked many of those prisoners away—and criminals often lived only for vengeance. Something Wrath had taught him well.
“Hello,” the woman prompted. “Anyone home?”
He blinked down at her, cursing himself. He’d allowed himself to be distracted in the presence of a possible enemy. Fool. “Who I am is none of your concern.” That was information that could be used against him. Especially since lately, Wrath was so easily provoked the most innocent of statements could send it—and therefore Aeron—into that murderous craze, placing this town and all of its citizens in danger.
He blamed the angel stalking him.
Except he couldn’t blame the angel when Wrath began snarling inside his mind, clawing at his skull, desperate to act. To hurt. The demon’s keenest ability was, and had always been, sensing the sins of anyone nearby. And this woman’s, he suddenly realized, were vast.
“I’ll take your sudden black expression as a no. You’re not Narci, and no one’s home.”
“Stop…talking…” He gripped his temples, cool blades pressed against his skin, trying to stop the mental bombardment he knew was coming, another distraction he could ill afford. Useless. Her multitude of sins played through his head at once, like movies on split screens. She had recently tortured a man, had chained him to a chair and set him on fire. Before that, she had gutted a female. She had tricked, and she had stolen. Had abducted a child from his home. Had lured a male to her bed and sliced his throat. Violence…so much violence…so much terror and pain and darkness. He could hear the screams of her victims, could smell burnt flesh and taste blood.
Perhaps she’d had good reason for doing those things. Perhaps not. Either way, Wrath wanted to punish her, using her own crimes against her. First it would chain her, then gut her, then slice her throat and set her on fire.
That was the way of Aeron’s demon. It beat beaters, murdered murderers, as well as everything in between. So yes, at Wrath’s urging, Aeron had done those things. Many times. Now, he clenched every muscle in his body, locking his bones in place. Steady. Can’t lose control. Have to stay sane. But gods, the need to castigate…so strong…a need he liked more than he should have. As usual.
“Why are you here in Budapest, woman?” Good. That was good. Slowly he lowered his arms.
“Wow,” she said, ignoring his question. “That was quite a display of restraint.”
She’d known his demon wanted to hurt her?
“So let me guess.” She tapped a nail against her chin. “You’re not Narci, so you have to be…Chauvinist. Right again, aren’t I? You think a pretty little thing like me can’t handle the truth. Mistake. But no matter. Keep your secrets. You’ll learn, though. Oh, yes, you’ll learn.”
“Are you threatening me, female?”
Again she ignored him. “Word on the street is Cronus gave you the scrolls and you plan to use them to hunt us down. To use us. Perhaps even slay us.”
Aeron’s stomach bottomed out. One, she knew about the scrolls when he and his friends had only just learned of them. Two, she knew she was on that list. Which meant this woman was indeed an immortal—and a criminal—and if she was to be believed, she was also demon-possessed.
Aeron didn’t recognize her, which meant he and his friends hadn’t been the ones to imprison her. That meant she’d come before their time in the heavens. And that meant she was a Titan and a greater threat, for the Titans were far more savage than their Greek counterparts.
Worse, the now-freed Titans were currently in charge. She might have godly help.
“Which demon do you carry?” he demanded, not above using its weaknesses against her.
She offered a wicked grin, his hard tone clearly amusing her. “You didn’t share that information with me. Why should I share anything with you?”
Infuriating woman. “You said us.” He looked over her shoulder, half expecting someone to leap forward and attack him. All he saw was darkness…and all he heard were more of those muted screams. “Where are these others?”
“Hell if I know.” She splayed her arms, her hands out and empty, as if she didn’t think he warranted the use of a weapon. “I’m on my own, just like always, and that’s the way I like it.”
Probably another lie. What woman would approach a fearsome Lord of the Underworld without backup? He didn’t relax his guard as he met her gaze. “If you’re here to war with us, know that—”
“War?” She laughed. “When I could kill you all while you sleep? No, I’m just here to deliver a warning. Call off the dogs or I’ll wipe your presence from this world. And if anyone can do so, it’s me.”
After the things he’d seen in his mind, he believed her. She attacked in gloom, a phantom who delivered no warning. Without a doubt, there was no crime she found too vile. That didn’t mean he was going to heed her demands. “You might think yourself powerful, but you can’t defeat us all. War is what you’ll get if you continue to issue such warnings.”
“Whatever, warrior. I said what I wanted to say. You just better pray this is the last time you see me.” The shadows thickened again, enveloping her and leaving absolutely no sign of her presence. Until, right next to his ear, he heard, “Oh, and one last thing. This was my courtesy call. Next time, I won’t play nice.”
Then the world around him crashed back into focus: the buildings at his sides, the trash bags littering the concrete, the inebriated male now passed out cold. Finally, Wrath calmed.
Aeron remained on alert, eyes scanning, body ready. He listened, heard only the deliberate drags of his own breath, the patter of human footsteps beyond the alley and the song of night birds.
Once more his wings expanded and he shot into the air, determined to find Paris and return to their fortress. The other Lords had to be notified. Whoever the bloodthirsty female was, whatever else she could do, she needed to be dealt with. Soon.
At the fortress, Aeron’s booted feet hit the balcony that led into his bedroom. Jolted by the unfamiliar female voice, he released Paris.“Aeron!”
At that third ear-piercing feminine cry of terror and desperation, both he and Paris spun to face the hill below them. Thick trees knifed toward the sky, obscuring visibility, but there, amid the dappled greens and browns, he could just make out a figure draped in white.
A figure rushing toward their home.
“Shadow Girl?” Paris asked. “How the hell did she make it past our gate so quickly? And on foot, no less?”
Aeron had explained what happened with the woman from the alley along the way. “That’s not her.” This voice was higher, richer and far less confident. “The gate… I don’t know.”
Weeks ago, after he and Paris had recovered from battle wounds inflicted by Hunters, they had erected an iron gate around the fortress. That gate stretched fifteen feet tall, was wrapped with barbed wire and had tips sharp enough to cut glass. It also vibrated with enough electricity to send a human into cardiac arrest. Anyone who attempted to climb it wouldn’t live long enough to reach the other side.
“Think she’s Bait?” Paris tilted his head, his study of her intensifying. “She could have been dropped from a heli, I guess.”