- The Darkest Passion
Yes, he needed to kill someone today.
And if all of that wasn’t enough to deal with, Legion looked at him the way he wanted Olivia to look at him. She’d made a pact with the creator of evil, and she’d blatantly lied to him about it. There at the end, just before leaving her behind, there’d been no more deluding himself about that. Sly determination had practically poured off her.
What was he going to do about her? How was he supposed to handle her? He still loved her like a daughter, still planned to keep her in his life. No way would he abandon her. There just…there had to be a solution.
Don’t think about that now. You have a job to do. The job. Right. So. Back to Scarlet, the problem at hand. Did Galen know about her?
“She used to live in a church,” Olivia said guiltily, before he could tell her they needed to leave. “But that didn’t work out for her.”
Why the guilt? Because she’d led him here? Probably. Careful. He couldn’t let her guilt spark his own. “I believe I asked you to be quiet.”
“I told you. She’s not going to wake up.”
“How do you know?” Silly question. Olivia knew everything, it sometimes seemed. Which meant Sabin was going to love her. Information was the man’s best friend. Thank Olivia’s One True Deity she would be gone before the warrior returned. Aeron would hate to have to stab his friend for interrogating his woman.
At the thought, Wrath chortled with glee.
Well, maybe he wouldn’t hate stabbing the warrior. He owed Sabin, after all. And she’s not your woman! “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. We have to hurry before we run into other visitors.”
Aeron might have craved a battle with Nightmares, but not with Galen’s army. He didn’t want Olivia involved in something like that. He’d show her the horrors of his life another way. From a safe distance.
Scarlet’s crypt was a good distance from The Asylum, so that was a point in their favor.
“—so dark,” an unfamiliar voice suddenly said, the words echoing from the concrete steps above and reaching into the small enclosure.
“My flashlight’s not working.”
“I can’t see anything.”
“Just keep inching forward, damn it.”
Well, hell. This day could indeed get worse. Hunters were here, just as he’d feared. Had someone followed him? Used the Cloak of Invisibility?
Was someone watching him, threatening his woman, even now?
Aeron’s hands curled into fists. He scanned the crypt anew, but saw nothing out of place. He glanced at Olivia, who was still glowing but frowning now. Next he glanced at Scarlet, who was still sleeping. After that, the doorway.
That dark, open space was the only way out of here. And to reach it, they’d have to run straight through the humans. The most likely armed humans.
Those humans couldn’t see through the darkness, but then, Aeron wouldn’t be able to, either, without Olivia’s light. But with her light, everyone would be able to see everyone else.
There was only one thing to do. Only one option that kept Olivia safe.
Aeron slapped a blade into her hand. “Keep it pressed to the girl’s throat,” he whispered. “If she moves even a little, don’t hesitate to cut her.”
Not giving her a chance to reply, he gripped Olivia by the waist and hefted her into the coffin beside Scarlet. The sleeping female remained exactly as she was, but Olivia gasped. Immediately he clamped a hand over her mouth and shook his head. She gulped in fear, but nodded that she understood what he wanted of her. Silence.
“Kill the light.”
Again she nodded, and the glow of her skin washed out…dimmed…then disappeared completely. The shadows must have been waiting for just such an occurrence because they raced forward, enclosing every inch of space with that suffocating gloom.
“Shit! Watch where you’re going.”
The voices were closer.
Big as Aeron was, he knew he wouldn’t fit inside the coffin to act as Olivia’s shield. Not without crushing her. Instead, he flattened his hand on her shoulder—or what he’d thought was her shoulder. He jerked that now-burning hand away because he’d actually cupped her beautiful breast. And her nipple had instantly pearled.
Careful this time, he aimed higher. Shoulder. Good. Trembling. Not good. That meant she was as overcome—and distracted—by the mistake as he was. Or afraid. He preferred the thought of her overcome.
Clearly, he was the distracted one. Jolting back into motion, he pressed her to lie down and stay still. Thankfully, she didn’t resist. Whether she did as he’d commanded and placed the tip of the blade at Scarlet’s throat, he didn’t know. Just to be safe, he angled his other hand over Nightmares’s…face. Good. She was still motionless, her breath trekking onto his skin, warm, even.
He hadn’t seen any traps around the coffin itself, so he inched his way to the front end, away from the corridor’s entryway. Not once did he remove his touch from either woman. He wanted Olivia to know he was here, that he would guard her. Always. He would have closed the lid, but wanted access in case the girl did, in fact, awaken.
“Wait,” one of the men said. “Stop.”
“Air. Do you feel the breeze?”
“We must be close to an opening.”
There was a shuffling of feet. Multiple sets. Olivia’s trembling increased, and he squeezed her in reassurance.
“It’s gotta be a room.” A pause. A crackle. “Yes. Yes! There’s too much space for this to be another hallway.”
“She can’t be here. She couldn’t have found her way inside.”
“She’s possessed by the fucking demon of Nightmares. Of course she could have found her way. Just…feel around. She’ll be asleep. If you encounter warm skin, just start shooting.”
How did they know so much? Had Cronus told his wife? Or again, had someone made use of the Cloak and listened to private conversations?
“Hell, no. No shooting. We’ll just shoot each other.”
“That’s better than allowing a demon to go free.”
There was a beat of shocked silence as the other Hunters absorbed the man’s death wish.
“We either cut her, or I’m out of here,” someone finally snapped. “I didn’t sign up for a suicide mission.”
“Then cut her, damn it, but make sure you incapacitate her so we can cart her out without fearing she’ll be strong enough to attack. Every bad dream we’ve ever had is her fault. Every bad thing we’ve ever endured is her doing.”
More shuffling. Aeron tensed, waiting. If any of them managed to make it to the coffin, he would have to—
A man screamed.
“What the hell—”
Another scream. A gurgle. Followed by another and another.
There would be no one making it to the coffin.
Nightmares’s traps would see to that. Several of the Hunters discharged their guns, despite their fear of friendly fire, but the darkness hid the sparking of the powder. One of those bullets slammed into Aeron’s shoulder, knocking him backward.
He caught himself as several more human screams rent the air. Though he didn’t want Olivia trapped with the girl, unable to protect herself, he didn’t want her shot, either. He slammed the coffin lid shut.
“Cut,” someone managed to say between coughs.
Another scream, this one blending with the rising tide of pained moans and the wafting scent of fresh blood.
“Retreat,” someone wheezed. “Re— Argh!”
There was even more shuffling, but the number of moving feet had severely decreased. And then, as more screams and moans abounded, the shuffling ended entirely. Over. Done. It was the battle he’d wanted, craved, yet he hadn’t had to lift a single finger to win.
He waited until silence reigned before tossing back the lid and saying, “Light.”
Immediately Olivia obeyed. Once again that nearly blinding light glimmered from her, grew, and conquered the darkness, and he saw that she was pale but unharmed. Scarlet still hadn’t moved.
“Aeron, I was so—” Olivia sat up and twisted to face him. Her expression immediately became pinched. “You’re hurt.”
He gazed down at his wound. There was a hole in his shoulder; crimson seeped from it, riding the ridges of his stomach, each drop absorbing into the waist of his pants. Now that his concern for Olivia had faded, and his adrenaline had decreased, he realized it hurt. Fire spread, quickly, surely, as if his veins pumped gasoline rather than blood.
Didn’t matter. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “Been injured worse, so it’s nothing to worry about.”
“I can’t help it.” Chewing on her bottom lip, she reached out and traced her fingertips over his jaw. “I’m worried.”
The touch was meant to comfort him. But as always, the feel of her tormented him. He needed more. Wrath needed more, whimpering inside his head.
Now isn’t the time. Bleeding bodies were piled upon bleeding bodies, blades protruding from each of them. Some had fallen face-first, and others had landed backward. Each had died. He would have to thank the girl for her decorating skills. They, rather than he, had saved Olivia’s life.
He didn’t know if any of the Hunters had managed to escape this room of terror, but he wasn’t going to wait around to see if they returned with backup. After helping Olivia to her feet—shit! and causing his wound to split—he hefted Nightmares into his arms as he’d wanted to do before they were interrupted.
“Stay close,” he said. “Only step where I step.”
He made his way to the open doorway, darting around bodies along the way, grimacing as the fire inside him intensified.