- The Darkest Secret
Clearly, she wanted him to get out and leave her the hel alone.
His molars gnashed together, and he beat down the tide of jealousy that suddenly raged through him.
Jealousy over a Hunter. A Hunter he’d always planned to kil . Why couldn’t he simply be happy that Amun now had a chance to pul through?
Because Haidee was going to make Amun miserable. And if the big guy fel in love with her, he just might abandon his friends to be with her. Which would get his ass kil ed for good. Ultimately, she would betray him.
I won’t let that happen. Ever.
Win, Defeat said, sensing the chal enge.
I wil . Strider raised both of his hands. In the left, he held a syringe. In the right, chains. They’d been waiting in the hal way, but she’d been too damn concerned for Amun to notice. “You didn’t honestly think you’d have free rein with him, did you?”
AMUN DRAGGED HIMSELF FROM the tangled web of his mind and forced his eyelids to open.
First things he noticed: the taste of frosted apricots fil ed his mouth, there was a wonderful chil inside him, cooling the fires that had raged, and an earthy perfume wafted into his nose every time he inhaled.
Second thing: sunlight streamed through the window, the heavy curtains parted and the blinds slatted to welcome every single bright ray. His eyes teared and burned, but at least those tears washed away the hazy shield seeming to cloak the entire room, al owing him a clearer view.
Third thing: Strider reclined in a cushy chair he’d placed just in front of Amun’s bed, watching him with an intent, almost forbidding expression.
Strider’s mind was blank, and purposely so. The warrior knew Amun could read every single one of his thoughts.
Everyone here knew it. Which was why, when they wanted privacy—because Amun simply couldn’t stop the flow of their innermost secrets, no matter how much he wanted to
—they had to wrap themselves in darkness and silence.
“How do you feel?” Strider asked, his timbre scratchy and rough.
Even though the new demons were rattling against his skul , Amun had no trouble understanding. He tried to raise his hands to sign his reply. Like shit, for the most part. The apricots, the chil , both overshadowed the worst of his pain.
Only, his arms refused to obey the mental command. Why?
His head turned to the left, gaze sliding to his wrist.
Scabbed skin, dried blood. Fingers swol en, nails ruined.
Suddenly memories flooded him, Secrets stretching to wakefulness inside his mind, enjoying the unveiling of what his inner defenses would have liked to keep hidden.
Hel . Those other demons. The dark flashes, the vile urges.
Haidee. The knowledge that he should kil her, the inability to do so. A taste of heaven, her body writhing against his, her hands al over him, her sweet cries in his ears. Strider.
Battle, blood. Hating himself for hurting his friend and shielding a Hunter. Failing to reach the girl when she needed him. The return of the demons, the dark flashes and vile urges. No Haidee. No heaven.
Grim expectation mixed with white-hot rage and bone-numbing fear, al fil ing him as he jerked himself upright. The bedroom spun, a sharp lance of pain tearing through his temples. He didn’t care, remained upright. Where was she? Dead? The thought left him sick to his stomach.
No. No, he assured himself desperately, and he felt Secrets’s agreement. She couldn’t be. That earthy perfume belonged to her, as raw and basic as his need for her. He had to find her. Had to make sure she was okay, that no one had hurt her.
Even though you meant to kil her yourself?
He ignored the simple, rational question and experimented with his range of motion, lifting one leg and rotating his ankle. He grimaced, then repeated the process with the other leg. He grimaced again. Both legs fel back onto the mattress with a hard thump. The bones had woven back together, but they were stil fractured.
“Whoa.” Strider pushed to his feet, the chair skidding behind him. “What the hel do you think you’re doing? Lie down. You’re stil recovering.”
Amun hardly ever despised his inability to speak. Silence was his choice, his way of righting the wrongs he’d committed al those centuries ago, of helping the innocents so much like the ones he’d once slaughtered. Not to mention his friends. They had enough to worry about. But just then, he wanted to shout—the girl, where the hel is the girl—uncaring that the moment he did, al the secrets inside him would spil out, hurting everyone who heard them. Not physical y but mental y, and that was a far worse pain to bear. He knew that very wel .
Not even the warriors he lived with would be able to tolerate knowing when other men desired their women. Nor would they be able to tolerate the disgusting things their enemies had planned for their loved ones. Friendships would be destroyed, jealousy a constant companion, and paranoia would fol ow their every step.
Amun could deal because he’d spent thousands of years learning to distance himself from the visions and voices in his head, blocking emotions before they could even form.
Not this newest onslaught, of course. He’d never experienced anything like this and had no idea how to cope. Had no idea how he was lucid now, the new demons cowering in the back of his mind. Unless…
Her name whispered through his mind, a plea, a prayer, his demon sensing the truth, even as Amun struggled to accept it. Was she responsible? The first time, as wel as now?
The first time he’d tasted frosted apricots, he’d come to his senses. Now he tasted apricots again, and his senses once again returned. Couldn’t be a coincidence. His desperation to find her intensified.
He threw his legs over the side of the mattress, hinges squeaking. Every muscle he possessed knotted and ached, clamping tightly on those fractured bones.
“Amun, damn it. You’ve been bed-bound for days, recovering from your wounds and our little experiments.
Stop before you—”
Agitation somehow making his motions fluid, he twisted to face his friend, lips pul ed over his teeth.
Most of what Strider had said confused him, but he left it alone. Final y forcing his hands to work, he jerkily signed, I’m sorry I hurt you. Sorry I chal enged you before. But I have to find her.
Where is she? If they’d hurt her, he didn’t know what the hel he’d do. Didn’t know how she affected him like this. Didn’t know why he cared what was done to her, whether she was responsible for his recovery or not.
Secrets whispered, She is fine, and despite the low volume, the High Lord stil managed to be the loudest voice in his head. At the same time, Strider sat back down and said, “She’s there.” His tone was hard and unbending as he motioned to the left with a tilt of his chin.
Amun noticed his friend didn’t have to ask who “she” was.
He fol owed that tilt with his gaze, and hissed in an agonized breath. She was on her knees, her arms chained above her head. That chain was anchored to his ceiling, offering just enough slack to keep her spine erect. Her head lol ed forward, her chin pressed into her col arbone.
The length of her blond-and-pink hair shielded most of her dirt-smudged face, but he could see that her eyes were closed, her long, curling lashes fanning down.
His lips parted in a silent roar as he at last pushed to a stand. She is not fine! His knees almost gave out, his stomach almost rebel ed, but fury and reckless determination gave him strength.
“I drugged her,” Strider said as if to soothe him from a violent temper. “She’l recover.”
That didn’t fucking matter! What mattered was that something had been done to her. How long had she been tethered like that? Unconscious? Helpless? Amun stalked to his friend, stumbling twice, and held out his hand, palm up. Secrets began prowling restlessly. Because they were closer to the girl?
Strider knew what he wanted and shook his head. “She’s a Hunter, Amun. She’s dangerous.”
He waved his fingers, insisting. He would chal enge Strider if necessary. Would do anything for what he wanted.
“Damn it! Do you care nothing for your own safety?”
Again he waved his fingers.
“Fine. You can deal with the consequences on your own.”
Scowling, but perhaps sensing the depths of Amun’s resolve, Strider reached inside his pocket and withdrew a key. He slapped the metal into Amun’s stil open palm.
Immediately Amun spun and stomped to Haidee. He tripped twice more along the way, but not even that slowed him. Secrets, he noted, had ceased prowling, was utterly stil and completely silent now.
Only those years of blunting the fiercest edges of his emotions kept his ire inside as he twisted the key into the lock. The metal unsnapped, freeing her. She sagged forward without a sound, arms fal ing heavily to her sides.
She would have kissed the floor if Amun hadn’t caught her.
His arms despised him, sharp pains stil shooting through him, but he didn’t care. At the moment of contact, the screams inside his head—muted though they’d been—
quieted altogether, the demons determined to hide from her, as if they feared the pul ing would start up again.
Gently, so gently, he fit her against his chest and lifted her into his arms. The chil of her skin delighted him anew, and he couldn’t help but remember the glide of that skin against his, caressing, stroking, the friction unbearably sweet.
Raw desire, brutal in its intensity, suddenly consumed every inch of him. He fought past that clawing need and carried her to the bed. He eased her down, then fit the covers around her slight frame and peered down at her. How fragile she looked, her cheeks a bit hol owed, her lips chapped, her skin pal id. How vulnerable she was, unable to defend herself from any type of attack.
She would hate that vulnerability, he thought, not needing his demon’s help to recal the way she’d constantly scanned her surroundings, how she’d vigilantly searched for a weapon. How she had defended him with her very life.
Because she thought you were her human boyfriend, he recal ed next. He despised the reminder. Did she know the truth now? Would she fight him when she woke up? He thought he would prefer that.