- The Darkest Passion
More than that, Aeron would have to love Olivia. Right now, there was no question that he didn’t.
Olivia sighed as she climbed into the SUV. Aeron was laid across the backseat, and she cradled his head in her lap. Paris took the wheel and William flopped into the passenger seat with Scarlet still in his arms. Her first time in a car, something she’d looked forward to, but now she didn’t care. Her mind whirled.
Death wasn’t something she’d ever considered for herself. Not really. She’d just always been and had known she would always be. Now she could die. Not to save someone, but just because, say, a car hit her. How did she feel about that? She didn’t know. All she knew was that dying, without experiencing everything she wanted, was abhorrent. But afterward? Being without Aeron would be far more so.
She’d seen thousands, millions, of humans die. Not one of those deaths had ever affected her, for they had simply been part of the circle of life. Every beginning had an end. Perhaps that’s why she hadn’t mourned the thought of ultimately losing Aeron at first. It would be just another death in a long line of deaths she’d witnessed.
Now, his was personal. She knew him intimately, had kissed and tasted him. Had experienced the ultimate pleasure with him. She had slept in his arms, curled into his side. He had protected her. He could have climbed inside that casket himself, but he hadn’t. He’d placed her inside, ensuring she walked away unscathed rather than himself.
Therefore, he’d been willing to die for her. Why? Again, she had no illusions that he loved her.
She heaved another sigh and ran her palm along his scalp. As short as his hair was, the spikes tickled her skin. Later, she would summon Lysander. She would ask him about all of this—and also why he’d visited Aeron before. He wouldn’t be able to lie to her. And if what he said was bad, destroying her hope for a future with this amazing man, she’d…what? She gulped.
“We shouldn’t leave Gilly in that apartment,” William said suddenly, drawing Olivia from her thoughts. “Not with your enemies buzzing around like flies.”
“One, Aeron needs to get home. Two, she’s better off there, disassociated from us.” Paris fiddled with the rearview mirror, gaze darting in front of and behind him. “The Hunters have no idea—”
William slapped a hand on the console between them. “I beg to differ, Sex. They knew about Scarlet, and what contact have we had with her? Almost none. How much have we had with Gilly? Too much. And with Rhea on Team Dumbness, we can’t leave Gilly out there on her own. Besides, Aeron is immortal. He’ll keep. So again, we can’t leave her out there on her own.”
“Shit. You’re right.”
“I always am.”
“We’ll pick her up on the way to the fortress.”
“She’ll be at school,” William said, and Paris cursed as he made an illegal turn, the tires squealing.
Olivia thought about complaining. She wanted Aeron safe and doctored as soon as possible, but the men were right. Gilly was human and needed protecting.
“Shit,” Paris repeated. “She’s at the American International School of Budapest, and it’s located in the Nagykovácsi Campus. I think. Pretty good distance we’ve gotta go.”
There was an odd tenderness in William’s voice when he spoke about the girl. She was too young for him, though. Too young for any of the men at the fortress. If Olivia had to warn the warrior away, he wouldn’t like her methods. They’d involve a knife and a small plastic bag.
Embracing the warrior life you once so easily discarded?
“I doubt that she’ll be happy to see us,” Paris said.
“Speak for yourself. Anya says she has a crush on me.” William sounded proud about that.
“She’s just a child,” Olivia reminded him. And I don’t care if I’m considered a warrior or not, I really will borrow one of Aeron’s knives….
William twisted in his seat to face her, hardly disturbing Scarlet at all. His lips were lifting in a naughty grin. “I know that, but when it comes to my appeal, you’ll find that age doesn’t matter. Gender, either. I’m irresistible.”
“What are your intentions toward her?”
He rolled his eyes. “I have no intentions. I like to be admired, and she likes to admire me. That’s the extent of it.”
“Good.” Olivia didn’t hear a lie in his voice. Still. She wasn’t taking any chances. Not with Gilly’s well-being. “She’s led a difficult life. Her mom’s husband…did things to her.” Perhaps she shouldn’t be spilling Gilly’s secrets, but she knew how the memories festered inside the girl. Finally bringing them into the light could be the first step to healing. “She told her mom, but the woman refused to believe her. Even accused her of trying to destroy her new, wonderful life.”
“We know about that,” Paris said gently. “Danika told us.”
“Not me.” William swung back to face the front, but not before she caught a glimpse of utter, undiluted fury on his face. “How do you know that?”
“I was once assigned to her care.”
The rest of the drive was made in tense, oppressive silence. Finally they were winding through a neighborhood, a suburb, the houses utterly wonderful and inviting. Thick green trees surrounded the area, one side situated on a hill and rising majestically.
The car stopped in a parking lot, and Paris flicked William a glance. “I’ll just be a minute. Watch the baggage.”
Without warning, and moving so quickly there was nothing Paris could do, William dumped Scarlet in the demon’s lap, no longer quite so careful. “I’ll just be a minute. You scare Gilly, and I’m not having that. Not today.”
“I don’t scare women. I delight them. Besides, you aren’t on the checkout list, and I am.”
William rolled his eyes—a favorite action of his, apparently—and exited the vehicle. “Like that’ll stop me. Have you seen my eyes? They’re electric. Women take one look and I’m immediately placed on their checkout lists.”
“Stop praising yourself and hurry,” Olivia told him just as he slammed the door shut.
He saluted her with a grin.
She watched his progression into the school, fingers tracing over Aeron’s warming brow. He wasn’t getting any better, was even beginning to thrash a bit. His brow was beaded with sweat, and his teeth were digging into his bottom lip.
Not knowing what else to do, she began to sing. Sweet songs of peace and health. A few chords into the hymn, Aeron stilled, his pinched expression even relaxing somewhat.
“My gods,” Paris whispered brokenly.
Her voice tapered off, and she looked up at him. “What? What’s wrong?”
Aeron began thrashing again.
“Don’t stop!” Paris said. “It’s beautiful. My ears are already addicted and need more.”
“Oh. Thank you.” Olivia launched into another serenade. Outside, she could see all manner of animals emerging from the forest and approaching the vehicle. Once more, Aeron calmed and she could have wept with joy.
Would she die for him? Her finger traced one of the skeletal tattoos on his cheekbone. Maybe.
WILLIAM STOOD in the school’s main office, waiting for Gilly. The receptionist had already called her. As he’d told the female that his name was Paris Lord, she’d summoned the girl without incident. List crisis averted.
She was short and curved, in her mid-thirties with a sleek brown bob and brown eyes—eyes she was now in the process of stripping him with. A routine occurrence. One he usually enjoyed. Not so now. He just wanted to haul Gilly the hell out of here. He liked the little smart-ass, and wouldn’t rest until she was safe.He’d had no idea she’d led so terrible a life, and he was ashamed of himself. He knew women. He could figure them out in the span of a once-over. So why hadn’t he realized Gilly was hurting?
Her fucking mother and would-be stepfather! Two people who were supposed to protect her. Well, William was with her now and William would ensure nothing like that ever happened again. He was tempted to cut her mother and stepdad’s throats. Maybe give her their heads for Christmas or something.
“Are you Gilly’s father?” the receptionist asked. She’d abandoned her post at her desk and now stood across from him at the counter.
Shit. He hadn’t seen or heard her move. That level of distraction was dangerous. “Brother,” he replied, a bit irritated that he looked old enough to have a seventeen-year-old daughter. Yeah, he was pushing two thou, but he didn’t have a wrinkle on him, damn it!
“Oh. That’s nice.” She grinned and slid a piece of paper his way. “If you’d ever like to discuss her curriculum, here’s my number. Call anytime.”
“I’ll definitely be in contact.” He, too, grinned, though his was forced. He pocketed the paper, knowing he wouldn’t use it. “Education is so important.”
That earned him a giggle, and he tried not to cringe.
Women. They were both a blessing and a curse. Sex, he loved. Sex, he needed, craved. Sex with the wrong woman had gotten him locked up. Sex with the goddesses who visited him in prison had gotten him kicked out of the heavens. That hadn’t stopped his libido, however. Actually, nothing stopped his libido. Even the curse hanging over his head.
One day, a woman of great beauty and power would tempt him. One day, that woman would trick him into loving her. One day, that woman would enslave him. And then, that woman would kill him.
It had already been prophesied.
Maybe—perhaps—okay, not really likely—he could have avoided females altogether and saved himself the trouble of such a death sentence. But even that wouldn’t have saved him. That, too, was part of the prophesy. To avoid women and sex was simply to condemn himself to a much faster, much more painful death.
The only way to stop the unnamed woman and break the curse had been written in a book. A book that was nearly impossible to decode, so he had yet to find the answer. Also, the minor fucking goddess of Anarchy had possession of that book, returning it page by stingy page. He’d hate Anya for such a thing if he didn’t love her so damned much.