Nightmares. For some reason, the word alone was nearly enough to give his own demon an orgasm. And Gideon, well, he was suddenly wondering why the girl had seemed so familiar to him.
Stay, stay, stay, Lies demanded inside his mind.
“Olivia helped us capture her, and she’s locked in the dungeon,” Paris continued.
“She’s hurt, right?” he demanded, throwing his weakened legs over the side of the bed.
“What are you doing, man?”
Gideon managed to stand, swaying but thankfully not falling, his gaze sweeping over his body. He still wore those boxers, was dirty from the sweat and probably smelled.
It wasn’t vanity that propelled him unsteadily toward the bathroom, he told himself, but a sense of politeness. No reason to torture the girl—Scarlet, Paris claimed—when she had yet to do anything wrong. Well, kind of. His newest wounds hurt, dripping blood all over his clean floor. Her fault?
Aeron, housecleaner extraordinaire, would be pissed, a prospect that had his lips twitching. If nothing else, that’d be fun to watch. Aeron with a mop. Classic.
All the Lords had assigned chores. A great thing for his friends, sure, but Gideon kind of excelled at freeloading. A title he’d once worn with pride. Then Paris had guilted him into helping with the shopping. They’d taken turns, each going to the grocery once a week, Paris at the beginning of the week and Gideon at the end.
He wondered if someone else had taken over the chore since his injury and if so, what he’d have to do instead once he recovered fully. Probably help Aeron with maid-service.
His lips stopped twitching.
“So what’d she do to you?” Paris asked, sidling up to him and acting as his crutch the rest of the way to the bathroom. Once there, Paris even started the water. Scalding hot, just as Gideon liked it. “You mentioned a small, hairless mosquito and I gotta tell you, I have no idea what that means.”
With a little more help, Gideon managed to strip. He stepped under the spray. He’d never been modest and he knew Paris, who’d been with thousands and thousands of women, and even the occasional man over the years, wouldn’t care.
For a long while, he simply stood immobile, stubs braced on the wall in front of him, broken arm throbbing as the water poured over him, burning his face and body. Then his good wrist was captured, his bandage upturned and a bar of soap placed atop it.
“No thanks,” he muttered. How was he going to manage this?
“It lives,” Paris muttered back. “You never answered my question. What’d she do to you with those mosquitoes?”
“Nothing,” he said, meaning something.
“I know that. Start talking.”
As he scrubbed himself with the soap as best he could, considering he was handless and reduced to using only his right arm, he explained in Gideon-speak. His meaning was clear—Awake, I got to party with my favorite thing ever—even without having to resort to the truth.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” Paris asked grimly.
“Yeah.” No. What the hell? His brain must be addled. All he could think was that Scarlet knew how to conjure insects, but then, a three-year-old could have figured that out by now.
“She knew what scared you most. Only logical conclusion is that the woman can sense our deepest fears and present them to us while we’re sleeping. Hence, nightmares.”
Great. Exactly what his life had been missing. “I’m not going to pay her a visit.”
That earned a No, thanks from Lies.
“Now hold everything.”
“You’re totally going to be able to talk me out of this, so I wouldn’t shut up if I were you.” Took him a bit, but he managed to switch off the water. “Don’t get me a towel.”
A growling Paris tossed a fluffy white bath mat at him. Gideon missed, his bandaged nubs simply not fast enough. He bent down and after several attempts, managed to lift the material. His arm throbbed. Stupid broken bones! He tried to dry himself, he really did, but he didn’t do too good a job.
Finally Paris snatched the cotton and patted him dry. “You’re worse than a baby, you know that?”
“Don’t grab me some clothes.”
Shaking his head, Paris disappeared into the room. A dresser drawer slid open, slammed shut, then another, and then he was striding back into the bathroom, holding out a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.
Gideon had already stepped from the stall. He could have dressed himself, but that would have required the rest of his energy. “I’m not going to let you do it.”
Another shake of that head. “You’re going to go see her, at least take some weapons.” Paris tugged the shirt over his head and helped him pull his arms through. He only cringed once. “Like me.”
“Sure.” Gods, this was embarrassing. Being this helpless. His friend was so matter-of-fact about it, though, that some of the sting eased.
Paris rolled his eyes as he held open the shorts for Gideon to step into. “Just because she’s locked up doesn’t mean she’s harmless.” His gaze dropped pointedly to the still-bleeding wound in Gideon’s thigh.
Gideon shrugged. “Could you have picked anything more masculine for me?” he asked with disgust as he eyed himself. If he hoped to impress Scarlet—which he didn’t, he assured himself—he would fail. A plain white shirt too small for him and gray running shorts. Fabulous.
Paris crossed his arms over his chest. “So you’re thinking about going without me?”
“No.” Alone, she’d said. If he brought a friend, she might zip her pretty lips, and that he wouldn’t tolerate. He wanted answers, damn it. Namely: how the hell did he know her? He wouldn’t be averse to listening to her apologize for slicing him, either.
“Gideon,” Paris warned.
“She’s not locked up, right?” He lumbered into the bedroom, throwing over his shoulder, “I’ll be in danger the entire time.”
“Frustrating ass. Fine, but be careful,” Paris called.
After two winding hallways and a flight of stairs, he had to prop himself against a wall to remain standing. Along the way, he’d run into several of his friends, and each had tried to help him back to his room. He’d shooed them away as politely as possible. They were worried about him, and he loved them for it. Not that he could ever tell them that. “I hate you” was the best he could do. But he wasn’t backing down for this.
He forced himself back into motion. As he crossed the threshold into the dungeon, the air changed completely. It was dirty now, laden with blood, sweat and even urine. Hunters had been tortured here, over and over again. How disgusted the girl must be. Perhaps huddled in a corner, shaking. Crying.
What would he do if that were the case? Probably run screaming, he mused. Only thing worse than spiders were feminine tears.
Grappling with dread, he turned the final corner. At last she came into view, and he stilled. Awareness consumed him. First thing he noticed: she wasn’t crying. Or scared. Second: she was far lovelier in person than she’d been in his dream.
She gripped the bars, waiting, expression blank. “You came.” She didn’t sound surprised, just resigned.
“No, I didn’t.” As if in a trance, he closed the distance between them, the scent of night flowers suddenly filling his nose. He breathed deeply. So did Lies.
Her gaze raked him, taking his measure, cataloging his every flaw. “Maybe you shouldn’t have.”
Again he was struck by how familiar she was, both her voice and her face, but he still couldn’t figure out where he’d met her. “Don’t tell me why.”
Her dark eyes narrowed. “Tell me I’m pretty.”
Conceited, was she? Well, she wouldn’t get what she wanted from him. “You’re ugly.”
Part of him expected her to gasp in horror. She didn’t. In that same resigned voice, she said, “Tell me I’m smart.”
Slowly her lips curled into a smile. “Well, well, well. Lies. It really is you. We’re together again at last.”
A DROP OF WATER hit Aeron’s lips, cool and tingling, before sliding over his tongue, down his throat and into his stomach, absorbing there, then entering his bloodstream and traveling to each of his organs. Moment of contact, his heart began a perfect beat, his lungs filled with more oxygen than they’d ever had and his skin reached the perfect temperature, neither too hot nor too cold.
Suddenly he could hear the birds chirping outside his window, the wind dancing past the line of trees that surrounded the fortress. Could even hear his friends in the rooms above and below his, discussing what was to be done about Scarlet, about the Hunters, and lamenting his illness.And his nose… He breathed deeply, catching the scent of bark, dewy leaves, sweat, the lemon soap Sabin used, Paris’s aftershave and his personal favorite…wild sky. Olivia.
Olivia was here with him.
Maybe that was why Wrath was purring so contentedly.
Aeron pried his eyelids apart, and immediately regretted the action. So much light. Light from the bulbs in the ceiling, light from the bathroom. His walls, which he’d once thought were pale silver and crumbling stone, gleamed as if those stones had somehow trapped a rainbow.
“You’re alive,” Olivia said with palpable relief.
There was something different about her voice, he thought as his gaze sought her out. It was still beautiful, more so now that he could hear the subtle nuances—a low rasp, banked sensuality—but still different. She was perched at the edge of his bed, sky-blue eyes peering down at him. Her dark hair was in tangles around her, framing the delicacy of her features. The white robe he’d forced her to don however long ago still draped her, free of wrinkles and dirt.
Her skin was… His breath caught. Majestic. That was the only word to describe it. Majestic. No, not the only word. Flawless worked, too. He could have stared at her for hours, days. Forever. She was pure, white cream.