Better her loathing than her acceptance of him as another man.

He would be liked for himself or not at al .

Amun stil ed as he realized where his thoughts were headed. Permanency. Keeping her. The moisture in his mouth dried, and he felt like he was swal owing cotton mixed with Haidee’s glass shards. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, keep her.

When his friends learned what she’d done, that she was the one who had helped kil Baden, they would demand her head. He could try to talk them out of it, but they wouldn’t be denied. He knew that beyond any doubt. And if he chose her, placed her needs over theirs, they would never forgive him. Hel , he would never forgive himself. Baden deserved better. They deserved better.

Don’t think about that now. Head spinning with the tide of conflicting emotions and urges flooding him, he climbed into bed beside her, fit her against him, and faced Strider with narrowed eyes. The warrior was watching him, blue eyes ablaze.

She’s more than a Hunter, Strider thought, clearly knowing Amun would hear. She’s responsible for Baden’s kil er.

Amun knew the warrior wanted to keep that particular revelation just between them—strange that he hadn’t spoken aloud, considering no one else was in the room—

but he was glad. The fewer people who knew about her, the safer she would be, and this way, no one would overhear.

Then Secrets informed him that Torin knew, also. That Strider simply hadn’t realized. Amun was shocked to his soul that neither man had kil ed her already. Shock that nearly burned him alive, chasing away the sweetest kiss of her chil ed skin. Because she lived, Amun had assumed he was the only one who had figured out her past misdeed.

“Wel ?” Strider demanded

In reply to his previous statement, Amun merely nodded.

The warrior’s nostrils flared with outrage. “You knew?”

He gave a second nod.

“I shouldn’t be surprised. You always know everything. But fuck, man! You’re stil treating her like a goddamn treasure.”

The words were gritted as he tunneled a hand through his hair and paced. “You picked her over me, damn it.”

There was no response that could exonerate him, even another apology, so he offered none. And in the silence, Amun began to hear more of Strider’s thoughts. Thoughts the warrior couldn’t snuff out quickly enough.

She’s mine. To kiss, to kil . Whatever I decide. Damn her, how has she tied me in knots like this? I despise her.

Amun’s hands curled into fists. Mine, he wanted to shout.

He didn’t. Such a confession would only dig his hole of guilt and shame deeper, so he kept his lips pressed into a tight line.

Why haven’t you harmed her? he signed stiffly. Because Strider desired her, too? Such desire was completely unlike the war-hungry man, though. Only Sabin, their leader and keeper of the demon of Doubt, was better able to place the campaign against the Hunters over his personal needs and wants. So Strider’s hesitation to strike had to stem from something else. Or rather, it had better stem from something else.

Amun had never felt more capable of murder than he did at that moment, thinking of another man putting his hands on Haidee.

Guilt…shame…he fel into the hole anyway.

His friend plopped back into the chair, gaze never leaving him. “We don’t know how, but she calms you, clears your mind, even makes the demons cower.”

So. As he’d suspected, Haidee was responsible for his recovery. The knowledge was as upsetting as it was welcome.

“She has to be near you, in the same room, for…whatever she does to work,” Strider went on. “We stil don’t know how she’s doing it, but we’ve carried her in and out of this room several times to test the limits of her ability. Once she reaches the hal way, your torment begins al over again.”

“Experiments” suddenly made sense. Was her ability the reason he felt bound to her? Because she somehow did what he couldn’t, frightening the demons into submission?

Was that how she affected him so strongly, his body a slave to desires he didn’t want to feel?

That question led to another, one far more distressing than any that had come before. Was this how Baden had felt when he’d opened his door one moonlit night and found Haidee outside, begging for help?

The memory opened up in Amun’s mind, courtesy of Haidee, he was sure.

I’m frightened, she’d said, tears glistening in her eyes, her lower lip trembling. I think someone’s out there, fol owing me. Please escort me home. Please.

He beat it back until he saw only black. He didn’t want to go there. Other questions began to pop up, each more damning than the last. Had Baden looked at her lovely face and felt at peace for the first time since his possession?

Was that why he’d simply bowed his head when the Hunters had surged from their hiding places and attacked him, welcoming his own death?

Jerkily, he signed, Can she hear your thoughts?

“No.” Strider blinked, shook his head in confusion. “Can she hear yours?”

Amun nodded stiffly.

“Can she hear everything? Even your demon…s? Even your demons.”

No. Thank the gods. Just what I al ow her to hear.

Strider propped his elbow on the arm of the chair, a triumphant gleam suddenly glittering in his blue eyes, intensifying the blaze already banked there. “We can use that to our advantage.”

Of course the warrior immediately went to tricking and defeating the girl. “Sabin wil —”

Amun hissed before he could stop himself. No.

Again Strider blinked in confusion.

No, he signed a second time. You wil not mention this to Sabin. He barely stopped himself from adding, Ever.

“Amun, you know I can’t—”

Not yet. You won’t mention it yet. Amun had chosen to fol ow Sabin while they’d lived in the heavens, soldiers for the god king, even though Lucien had been the one in charge. No one could strategize like Sabin. No one was fiercer. No one was better suited to getting an unpleasant job done.

After they’d opened Pandora’s box and found themselves cursed, as wel as stuck in the land of the mortals, half of his friends had continued to fol ow Lucien. The other half had decided to fol ow Sabin.

Amun hadn’t changed his mind.

He’d gone with Sabin because no one hated Hunters more.

For the first time in al the centuries since, he regretted that decision.

Amun had often helped his friend torture their prisoners for information, but he hadn’t enjoyed the screams or the blood as Sabin had. Stil . He’d known that what they were doing was necessary to their survival.

Now he knew, deep in his bones, that no matter what he said, the moment Sabin learned Haidee’s true identity, he would stride into this room and calmly but surely strip her of her pride, her peace of mind and even her wil to live.

“I’m not going to keep this from him, Amun,” Strider said.

There was no emotion in his tone. His voice was dead now, his tenacity clear.

Give me a day with her, then. A day wasn’t going to be enough, he realized in the next instant. Not because he desired her. Which he did. Oh, did he desire. More than he should, more than he’d ever desired another. There was stil no denying that fact. Never before had he placed someone else’s welfare above that of his friends, and an enemy at that. No, a day wasn’t going to be enough because she’d cal ed him “baby” and he wanted so badly for it to be true.

He scrubbed a hand down his sore, swol en face. The endearment had been meant for another man.

That should have lessened its appeal. It didn’t.

Stil . He was going to protect her, he thought. From Sabin.

From al of them. She was the reason Amun’s sanity had returned. Therefore, he had to keep her safe.

And if he was going to keep her safe, at least for a little while, he needed to set a few rules. Like, no more thinking about how soft she felt in his arms. Like, no more tapping into her sweetest memories.

Like, no more kissing her.

The first time had been the last time. No matter how succulent she’d tasted. No matter how passionately she’d come apart for him. No matter how much he yearned to sink inside her, slipping in and out, slowly at first, then increasing his speed, pushing them both to feverish heights. Shit. He wasn’t supposed to be thinking about her, and he damn wel wasn’t supposed to be lusting for her.

“Why do you want a day?” Strider demanded. “A day’s not going to change anything. Besides, Sabin’s not going to kil her, knowing she’s responsible for your improved condition.”

Sabin would torture her, though. Because I would rather pamper an enemy—even the one responsible for Baden’s murder, he added for his own benefit—than endure the darkness and the visions. Selfish of him, yes, and another reason to hate himself, but that wasn’t going to stop him.

Another reason to hate himself? he mused then. An odd choice of words. Amun didn’t hate himself and never had.

He didn’t like some of the things he’d done over his endless lifetime, but hate? No. Unlike some of the other warriors, he wasn’t fil ed with guilt over his past, either. He’d kil ed innocents, yes. He’d razed cities to the ground, that, too. But he’d been a puppet, his strings pul ed by his demon. So how, then, was he to blame?

Because he should have been stronger? That was what some of his friends thought about themselves.

Not him. No one would have been strong enough to stop those demons.

Because he’d helped open Pandora’s box, and deserved the punishment that led to his need for destruction? Nearly al of the Lords thought that, but again, Amun didn’t.

Everyone made mistakes, and that had been one of his.

You paid the price and then you moved on.

And what of Haidee? he wondered. Was her mistake forgivable? Had she paid the price? Should he move on?

His jaw clenched. He ignored that line of questioning, focusing instead on what he’d do once his day with her was over—or if he wasn’t even given a day. No matter what, he wasn’t going to al ow Sabin to have her. When the time came, Amun would simply cart her out of the fortress. And once they left, no one would be able to find them. His demon could do more than steal secrets from those around them.