- The Darkest Secret
His demon could keep secrets. Distorting memories, even before they were created.
If Amun wanted to disappear forever, he could disappear forever.
He could hide Haidee until he learned how to control the new demons himself. Then…then he didn’t know what he would do with her. Bring her back, he hoped. Do what needed doing, he prayed. Because if he failed to learn the answers he needed, he would be stuck with Haidee forever, destroying his friends.
Plus, Amun added, I plan to talk to her. Learn more about her effect on me.
“Who are you trying to fool? Yourself or me? We both know that’s a lie. You’re not thinking with you brain right now, my man.” The last was snapped, as if the warrior had reached the end of his patience.
“You want to fuck her, end of story.”
Wel , Amun had reached the end of his patience, too. What we both know is that you aren’t thinking with your brain, either.
There was a momentary splash of astonishment over Strider’s face before the warrior smoothed his features into a blank expression that matched his earlier tone. “Stay out of my head.”
Control your thoughts, Amun signed. I know you desire her.
Now I’l hear you admit it.
The tip of Strider’s tongue traced over the straight line of his teeth. “Fine. I want her. But I’m not going to do anything about it. I’m not going to let it stop me from winning our war.” At least he didn’t try to deny his feelings. “Can you say the same?”
Amun merely raised his chin. I can’t say anything.
“Funny. That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
Wel , that’s al you’re going to get from me.
“Fine,” Strider snarled, pushing to his feet. “I’m leaving before you provoke my demon any more.
You’ve got your day, but I’d be careful if I were you. When you least expect it, she’s gonna go for your head. Guaranteed. And maybe that doesn’t concern you. Maybe you even want to die.
Yeah, I saw what you did to yourself. But guess what? Not for a single moment are any of the rest of us ready to deal with your loss. So why don’t you think about that before you put your life on the line for our enemy?”
TWO SECONDS AFTER STRIDER barricaded himself inside his own bedroom, he had his phone in hand and was texting Lucien. He couldn’t deal with this. He’d reached his bul shit limit.
At fortress. Come get me. Now.
It was nice, having a friend who could flash from one location to another with only a thought.
Within five minutes, his friend materialized a few feet away from him. Lucien was winded, barreled chest rising and fal ing shal owly. A sheen of sweat covered his entire torso.
His mane of black hair shagged around his severely scarred face, and his multicolored eyes were bright.
He was shirtless, his butterfly tattoo practical y crackling with electricity on his left shoulder. His unfastened pants were barely staying on his hips. To top it al off, tension radiated from the man.
“What the hel were you doing?” Strider asked from his closet. He’d already strapped himself with weapons, but a few moments before had decided a couple more blades wouldn’t hurt. Wel , wouldn’t hurt him.
One of Lucien’s black brows practical y knitted into his hairline. “Who the hel do you think I was doing?”
O-kay, then. Lucien had been in bed with Anya. For a moment, Strider almost forgot how pissed he was with Amun and Haidee as he savored the fact that he’d just cock-blocked the keeper of Death.
Almost. “Anyone ever tel you that you shouldn’t check your messages while you’re rol ing around in bed?”
“Yes. Anya. And believe me, I’m going to pay for this.” His deep baritone was amused and excited rather than fearful at the thought of incurring his volatile female’s wrath.
“Here’s a news flash for you. No matter what I’m doing, I check my messages when I’m worried about leaving my friends at home with a contingent of angels, when one of my men is sick, or when a Hunter is in residence. And when al three are happening at once? I check even when I don’t have messages. So.
What’s wrong? Why did you summon me? Amun okay?”
Strider shoved an extra clip for his .22 into his pocket as he abandoned the confines of the walk-in.
Better. The problem’s me. I gotta take off for a little while.”
For his sanity, yes, but mostly for Amun’s safety.
Amun had lifted the fragile Haidee into his battered arms and carried her to his bed. He had tucked her under the covers, so careful not to jostle her, and climbed in beside her. Strider didn’t think Amun realized this, but the warrior had caressed the woman during their entire conversation, as if the need to touch her was already ingrained in his soul.
A sense of chal enge had begun to rise inside of Strider.
For Haidee, a godsdamn Hunter. Worse, a godsdamn kil er. He’d wanted to win her from Amun and claim her for his own, and the want had been far more intense than his usual “that’s mine and I’m not sharing” mind-set.
If Strider stayed here, he would eventual y give in. He wouldn’t be able to help himself. His demon would badger him constantly, and in the end, he would fight his friend, hurt his friend—because no way in hel would he pul his punches like he’d done the first time—and hate himself.
Hate. Huh. He’d never hated himself. If anything, he’d always liked himself a little too much. Once, a human female had even accused him of picturing his own face while he climaxed. He hadn’t denied it, either, and next time he’d slept with her, he’d made sure to scream, “Strider” at the pivotal moment.
She hadn’t appreciated his sense of humor, and that had been the final nail in their relationship coffin. He was too intense, too jaded, too warped and too…everything for most women to take for long. But so what. He was made of awesome. Anyone who couldn’t see that wasn’t smart enough to be with him, anyway.
Haidee, though… She would be able to take him. With her strength of wil , her courage, her unbending and reckless spirit, she would match him. Maybe even surpass him.
That is the key player in Baden’s murder you’re thinking about.
Hadn’t mattered to Amun, he thought darkly. Why should it matter to him?
Fuck! He hated those thoughts.
Hated. There was that word again.
“—listening to me?” he heard Lucien ask with exasperation.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “Say again.”
Sighing, Lucien strode to the bed and sat at the edge of the mattress. Strider’s gaze fol owed his friend, picking up little details about the room along the way. He hadn’t cleaned in a few days, had been too busy guarding Amun, so his clothes were scattered throughout. His iPod hung from his nightstand, the earbuds wrapped around a lamp.
How the hel had it gotten there? Oh, yeah. He’d tossed it over his shoulder last night, uncaring where it landed.
“Torin texted me and told me Amun was doing better, but damn,” Lucien said, once again dragging him from his thoughts. “You scared ten years off my life.”
“You’re welcome. Eternity’s too long, anyway.”
“Not when you’re with the right woman.”
He experienced a flash of jealousy that so many of his peeps had found the “right woman” already. And damn it, he was as sick of being jealous as he was of everything else.
“Talk to me,” Lucien said. “Let me help you, whatever’s going on.”
“Nothing to talk about.” He needed to forget Haidee, lose himself in another woman, in the heat and wetness of her body. An appropriate woman. Someone inexperienced, though not a virgin. Someone he wouldn’t have to work his ass off trying to win, then work his ass off again to please. “I need a break, that’s al .”
“You summoned me with a ‘now’ because you need a break?”
“Yeah. You’ve been on break for weeks, it seems. Let someone else have a turn.”
Silence, thick and heavy, enveloped them. Lucien studied him, and whatever he saw in Strider’s expression caused him to lose his air of irritation. “Al right. I’l take you wherever you want to go. For Torin’s sake, someone needs to take your place before we leave. He’d never admit it, would even deny it, but he needs some help running this heap.”
Gods, he loved his friends. Lucien wasn’t going to question him further. Was just going to give him what he’d asked for.
“I’d do it,” Lucien continued, “but I’m busy. I haven’t been vacationing as you seem to think. I’ve been—and currently am—guarding the Cage of Compulsion in a place Rhea can’t reach. And I can’t tel you where that is. Torin asked me not to say anything since there’s a Hunter in residence.”
The cage was one of the four godly relics needed to find and destroy Pandora’s box, and in desperate need of that guarding. Strider knew that wasn’t the only reason Lucien refused to move back into the fortress. The god queen was out for blood, and the man didn’t want his Anya in any more danger than necessary. Strider could dig. “Wil iam’s here,”
Strider said. “He can—”
Lucien was already shaking his head. “He’s useless. He grows bored too easily to be relied upon. He’l forget whatever duty he’s promised to perform and head into town for a little some-some.”
Some-some. Someone was picking up his woman’s vernacular. “Apparently he’s related to Lucifer.
That has to count for something.”
“Believe me. I know who he’s related to,” Lucien replied dryly. “That doesn’t change anything.”
“Yeah, but he’s strong. No one wil want to mess with—”
Again Lucien shook his head. “Nope. Like I said, he’s unreliable. He’l think of himself first and everyone else not at al .”
“I know.” Wil iam wasn’t demon-possessed. He was a god, according to himself, and had spent centuries locked in Tartarus—a prison for immortals—for sleeping with the wrong woman. Hundreds of them, in fact. He’d even slept with Hera, the former god king’s wife, and had been stripped of some of his supernatural abilities as further punishment. Exactly what those abilities were, he wouldn’t say.