- The Darkest Passion
Shit. Yeah, he remembered. In it, Galen had taken Cronus’s head.
“If that comes true,” Strider continued, “the Unspoken Ones, who are extremely powerful, will be freed from Cronus’s rule, and they’ll be able to do whatever they want. Like, I don’t know, eat every human on the planet. I noticed they prefer an organ-rich diet.”
Shit didn’t cover it. “That’s awesome.”
“I summoned Cronus, hoping to talk to him about this, to see if there was any way we could destroy the Unspoken Ones before Galen got creative with his blade, but he’s ignoring me. Torin summoned him, too. Nothing. And get this. I just ran into Danika. She’d just finished her newest painting.”
Dread curled through Gideon. Usually, Strider relished an upcoming challenge. Now he just looked sickened. “I don’t want to know.”
“You might change your mind when you hear this. It was of Cronus and his wife, Rhea. Oh, yeah. Did anyone tell you Rhea is helping the Hunters? Anyway, they were with Lysander, Cronus fuming and Rhea cheering. You know Lysander, right? He’s the angel shacking up with Bianka.”
“No biggie, right?” Strider said. “So what if Cronus is pissed at Lysander and Rhea is pleased with him. The angel doesn’t really concern us. Well, your demon will really dig this. That’s a lie. The angel concerns us big-time.”
“Please, don’t go on, then. Don’t hurry with the details. I mean, I love that you’re dragging this out.” Which he was probably doing because he didn’t want to drop the bad news at all and was having to work up the courage. Still. Gideon couldn’t take much more.
Strider looked up, expression grim. “Aeron was there, in the painting. Lysander had just taken his head.”
IT WAS THE PAIN that woke her.
Olivia slowly cracked open her eyes. Beep, beep. At first, the room was hazy, as if someone had smeared it with oil. But then, bit by bit, clarity descended. Not full clarity—her eyes were swollen—but enough to see that she was still in the warehouse, though in another room. This one had hospital gurneys. She was hooked to an IV, and electrodes covered her chest, monitoring her heartbeat. Her broken arm wasn’t in a cast, she noted, but was cuffed to the bedrail.“Lysander?” Even speaking those few syllables caused her throat nothing but agony. Tears flooded her ravaged eyes.
There was no reply.
She tried again. “Lysander.”
He was gone, then. He wouldn’t have ignored her, that wasn’t his style. He would have yelled at her some more and right now, that yelling would have been welcome. She was alone and scared.
No, not alone, she realized as her gaze scanned the rest of the room. Beside her was a man on a gurney of his own. A man she didn’t recognize. He was young, perhaps early twenties, and there were bruises under his eyes. His cheeks were hollowed out and his skin a little jaundiced.
He was watching her.
When he realized he’d been found out, he blushed and said, “Uh, hi. Glad to see you’re awake. My name’s Dominic.”
“Olivia,” she replied automatically. Ow. That had hurt even worse.
“You sound terrible.” Remorse and guilt poured from him. “We’re supposed to be the good guys, you know. Stefano told me you’re Wrath’s girlfriend, but I don’t care. You shouldn’t have been hurt like that. No human should be hurt like that.”
She didn’t have to ask who “we” was. The Hunters. Her gaze shifted over the boy’s body, checking for injuries. He was shirtless and there were bandages around his shoulder and middle. The one around his middle was dotted with dried blood. He wore a pair of loose scrub pants. “Hurt…you, too?”
He didn’t seem to hear her, too lost in his own thoughts. “They told me our leader is a demon, too.” As the last word left him, he began coughing. Coughing so forcefully, he spit up blood. When he finally calmed, he added, “I should have believed them. After what was done to you, I have to believe them.”
Them. The Lords? She couldn’t sense a lie in his tone, but then, she couldn’t sense the truth, either. Either way, she knew deep in her bones that he wasn’t going to live much longer. She hated that he would die like this, in here. As she probably would.
No. No. She shouldn’t think like that. She was a joy-bringer at heart, yes, but that didn’t mean she was helpless. She’d withstood the fires of hell. She’d endured having her wings ripped from her body. She could escape this. She would escape this.
Dominic sat up, wavered a bit and rubbed at his temples. When he steadied, he kicked his legs over the side of the gurney and stood.
“Careful,” she managed to croak.
Again, he didn’t seem to hear her. “They found me on the streets. I was a thief and a whore, and they told me it wasn’t my fault.” There was shame in his voice, shame far greater than his remorse had been. “They told me it was their fault. The Lords. That the demon of Defeat was feeding off me and my circumstances. I believed them because it was easier than blaming myself.”
“Lied,” she said. He was making a last confession, and that nearly made her sob. Death shouldn’t bother her. It never had before. But now she knew the finality of it. This kid, for that’s what he was, should have had a chance to live a long and happy life. Instead, he’d known only sorrow and regret.
One wobbly step, two, he worked his way around his gurney, approaching hers. “I know they lied. Now. The Lords, they sent me back. Set me free. They didn’t want to, but they did it. Defeat did it, and there was compassion in his eyes. I saw it. Evil doesn’t feel compassion, does it?”
“I studied him, you know? More than the others. I wanted to kill him myself, but he saved me. And Stefano, what he did to you…” Dominic shook his head, scowled. “There’s no compassion in the act of beating a defenseless woman. Galen was pissed when he found out, but the angel didn’t punish Stefano for his actions.”
Galen, upset at her mistreatment? Surprising.
When Dominic finally reached her, he offered her a small smile that managed to be sad and happy at the same time. “Those bastards never thought I’d help you.” He pulled one of the ties from his pants and there at the end hung a thin strip of metal. “They were wrong. Over the years, I learned to always be prepared for anything.”
Her eyes widened in surprise as he worked at the cuff holding her captive. They teared again, as well. The pain was unbearable, nearly sending her back into that welcome black void. Thankfully, the metal clicked before she fell, freeing her, easing the agony somewhat.
He nodded. “We’ve got ten minutes. Maybe. Someone’s always coming in here to check on you.” As he spoke, he helped her sit up. “Plus, I was supposed to call Galen when you woke up. Of course, I won’t do that.” With barely a pause, he added, “At the door, we’re going to turn left. We’ll walk past all the other doorways, and hopefully my body will block yours. There are men here, only a few, but even though they’re the medical staff, they won’t hesitate to gun you down if they realize who you are and that you’re free.”
Uncertain, Olivia placed her weight on her left foot, then her right. They held. A sigh of relief parted her lips—and made her cringe. Her lips were cut and the action, small as it had been, split the abrasions apart.
“I can’t leave without the Cloak,” she said. “Where is—”
“Impossible. Galen keeps it with him at all times. The only way to get it is to confront him, and you won’t survive if you do that.”
Dominic was right. She didn’t have the strength to defeat Galen. But she couldn’t leave that Cloak in his possession. Someone else could be taken by him. And would be. Galen wouldn’t hesitate, and he might not be so…lenient with the next person.
“Come on,” Dominic said, and with his arm around her waist, he led her toward the only door.
“Where’s Galen now?”
“Oh, no. I know what you’re thinking, but I already told you. We can’t do it. There’s just no way.”
“I have to try,” she said, letting her determination seep from her.
He stilled, closed his eyes. She could feel his heart banging against his ribs, erratic, too hard. “He’s here. Waiting. Impatient.” He laughed bitterly. “I tried to wake you sooner, but you were pretty out of it.”
If she left, Galen would leave this warehouse and never return to it, knowing she could bring the Lords here. She’d no longer know where to find him, and that was an edge she wouldn’t give up.
“I want you to go on without me,” she said. She spouted off directions to the fortress. “The Lords will spot you once you reach the hill. Ask for Aeron and tell him—”
“No.” Dominic shook his head. “How many times do I have to tell you? You can’t beat Galen. He’ll kill you before he parts with that Cloak. I’m dying, anyway, and don’t care if I do so here or somewhere else. But you…No,” he said again. “I won’t let you. I won’t die knowing I did nothing to help you.”
She opened her mouth to protest, to tell him anything needed to convince him to do as she wanted, but the sound of pounding footsteps and a distant shout stopped her.
Dominic stiffened. “He’s coming back to check on you,” he whispered, horrified. “Shit. Shit.” He dragged her to the door and pressed her against the wall next to it, where they would be hidden when that door opened.
“I can’t leave without the Cloak. I just can’t.”
Again Dominic closed his eyes, as if he were weighing his options. Only took a second, a second that seemed to drag into eternity, but when he opened them, there was more resolve banked in his expression than she’d ever seen in anyone before.