- The Darkest Secret
Strider liked the man, even though, as Lucien had said, he looked out only for himself. Even though he could turn on you in a heartbeat, stabbing you in the back—or rather, the stomach—as Lucien had experienced firsthand.
My kinda guy, Strider mused. And since Wil iam wasn’t wanted here, maybe he’d want to leave with Strider. Strider made a mental note to text him before taking off. Never hurt to vacation with a friend.
So. Who did that leave to guard the fortress and those inside? “Kane and Cameo,” he said with a nod.
Disaster and Misery. “Since Amun’s better, they can return from wherever they are.”
Lucien pondered for a moment, then nodded in turn. “Al right, then. It’s settled.”
“One more thing. Tomorrow I need you to contact Sabin.”
Strider planned to be too wasted to be coherent. “He needs to return, too, and meet the female Hunter up close and personal. But don’t cal him until tomorrow, okay?”
While Torin had apparently been texting, Strider had been cal ing both Lucien and Sabin every day, giving them updates on Amun’s health. Only thing he hadn’t told them—
yet—was Haidee’s identity. He didn’t know why. He’d certainly meant to share, but every time he’d tried, the words had congealed in his throat.
Al he knew was that he stil wasn’t going to tel them. Like him, they’d find out the truth as soon as they talked to her.
And when they did, Strider wouldn’t have betrayed Amun’s trust, but would stil have done al he could to safeguard his friend from the murdering bitch’s influence.
Shit. He was getting worked up again, fighting a need to stomp back to Amun’s room and do some damage.
Win? Defeat asked.
Oh, no. We’re not going there.
“Consider it done,” Lucien said.
“Good,” he replied, tangling a hand in his hair. “’Cause I real y need this break.”
Once again Lucien asked no questions. He merely straightened and gave another nod. “Pack while I hunt down the lucky twosome and bring them home.”
“No need to pack.” He had his weapons. That’s al he needed.
For the first time during their conversation, Lucien’s lips twitched into the semblance of a smile. “Twice you’ve said you need a break. We both know nothing wil change in a day or two. You’l stil be stressed, on edge. So I want you gone for at least two weeks, and that’s a nonnegotiable requirement if you expect transport. Pack.”
Death didn’t wait for Strider’s reply. He simply disappeared.
WILLIAM THE EVER RANDY, as the shitheads here had started cal ing him, lay propped on his bed, a mountain of pil ows behind him. His covers were tucked around his waist and legs, cocooning him in a way he despised but refused to complain about because his Gil ian Shaw—
nicknamed Gil y, also nicknamed Little Gil y Gumdrop, though only he was al owed to cal the seventeen-year-old human that last one—was responsible. She had a huge crush on him, and she had thought “tucking him in” would soothe him.
Unlike the tucking in, he’d done everything he could to discourage the crush. She’d told him she wanted to date a nonsmoker, so he’d immediately taken up the habit. Was even now sucking a disgusting cloud of ash into his mouth and blowing smoke in her too-appealing, perfectly sun-kissed face.
She gave a delicate cough.
Tragical y, the smoke failed to diminish the loveliness of her features. Big, wide eyes of the purest chocolate. Sharp cheekbones that hinted at the passion she would one day be capable of giving. A pixie nose, slightly uptilted at the end. Lush pink lips. And framing al that beauty was a cascade of midnight hair.
With a sigh, he smashed the cigarette butt into the ashtray beside him. Maybe it was time he took up drinking.
“Liam,” she said softly. Her nickname for him. A name he would kil anyone else for using. Maybe because it was hers and hers alone. She sat beside him, her hip pressed against his, warm and soft and completely feminine. “I have a question for you.”
“Ask.” He could deny her nothing—except a romantic relationship. Not only because she was too young, but because he…wel , he liked her. Yeah, shocking. Wil iam the Perfect—a much more suitable name for him—friends with a female other than Anya. The world should have ended.
But, in many ways, Gil y truly was his best friend. When he’d returned from hel , unable to care for himself, she had done so. She had fetched his food, endured his dark moods as the pain became too much, and washed his sweat-soaked brow when necessary.
If, when she reached maturity, he was foolish enough to touch her, their easy camaraderie would be ruined. She would be forever disil usioned about the kind of man he was. He didn’t want to disil usion her.
She deserved a man who would give her the world. Al Wil iam would give her was pain.
So, become involved? Hel , no. Not now, not later. He wouldn’t al ow himself to hurt her. Ever. He was many things
—a womanizer, a kil er. Cal ous, sometimes cruel, always selfish and dark in a way no one inside this fortress knew.
But this tiny little beauty had been through enough in her short life. Physical abuse, and so much worse.
She’d run away from home, had lived on the streets, taking care of herself when loved ones should have ensured her safety.
After Danika and Reyes, the keeper of Pain, had hooked up, Danika had brought her here. Wil iam had taken an instant liking to her. She’d needed someone to look out for her, and Wil iam had decided to be that someone. For now.
That meant destroying those who had destroyed her innocence and later helping her find a man worthy of her love. That meant resisting her.
Lids heavy over those exotic eyes and lashes so thick and curling they seemed to be reaching for her brows, she traced some sort of design on the covers beside him. At last she found the courage to ask her question. “You’re cursed by the gods, but I don’t know how you’re cursed. I mean, I tried to read your book. Anya let me borrow it, I hope you don’t mind, but the pages were weird.”
The subject he hated more than any other. His curse. The only person he’d ever discussed the particulars with was Anya, and then only because they’d been cel neighbors inside Tartarus, and he’d needed something to do while the centuries ticked by. When they’d later escaped, he’d made the mistake of showing her the book that detailed everything he’d told her, as wel as his only chance for salvation.
He shouldn’t have been surprised when the naughty goddess had stolen that book—and now threatened to rip the pages out every time he pissed her off. Nor should he have been surprised that she’d given Gil y a peek. Anya had taken over the girl’s care, too, and knew how the sweet little human felt about him.
But damn it, his secrets were his own.
Resisting was pointless. And gods, he was pathetic. To not even put up a fight? Sickening. “The book is written in code,” he explained. A roundabout fuck-you from Zeus, he mused. A “here’s your salvation—not.” He had yet to find the key to unlocking that code. He knew it was out there, though. It had to be out there. He couldn’t believe otherwise.
Even though he was afraid to find the key, afraid to know more about his curse.
“Yes, but how are you cursed?” she repeated.
He shouldn’t tel her. He knew what she was doing. Trying to find a way to save him. Stil . She needed to know the truth. Maybe then her crush would at last crash and burn.
“Al I know is that the woman I fal in love with wil unleash—”
He pressed his lips together. The woman he fel in love with would unleash every evil being he had ever created. And he had created some monsters. That, he wouldn’t tel her. “She wil kil me,” he finished.
That, too, was the truth.
Her eyes widened as she lifted her gaze to his face. “I don’t understand.”
“The curse isn’t completely mine. I share it with her.”
Whoever she was. “Once I fal in love with her, she’l lose her mind. She’l think only of my demise, and she’l make sure it comes to pass.”
Another gift courtesy of that too-cocky shit, Zeus. Good news was, the joke was on the now deposed king. Wil iam had never fal en in love and never would. There was only room in his heart for one, and he was that one.
“I would never hurt you,” Gil y said softly. And before he could reply, not that he had any clue as to what to say, she added, “Let’s backtrack a little. The book contains a way to save you? And her?”
“Maybe.” He gently chucked her under the chin. “Don’t even think about it, Gumdrop. The curse is one of blood, which means someone has to die. If I’m saved, the one who saves me wil be the one to die in my place. That isn’t going to be you. Understand?”
She didn’t speak, but she didn’t nod, either. Nor did her gentle expression change. That scared him. The thought of dying should have freaked her out. The thought of her dying did freak him out.
With more force than he’d intended, he said, “Be a good girl, and go get some rest. You’ve got circles under your eyes, and I don’t like them.”
Final y. A reaction. Her mouth pressed into a mulish line, and as wel as he was coming to know her, he prepared himself for pure, unbending stubbornness. Whoever she ultimately ended up with was going to have his hands ful .
Dead bastard. Wil iam might kil him just for fun.
Don’t go there.
“I’m not a little girl,” she gritted out. “So stop treating me like one.”
“You are a little girl,” he replied easily, rol ing his eyes for good measure. She was, and that was a fact.
She stuck her tongue out at him, proving his claim. “The boys at my school don’t think so.”
He would not react to the sight of that tongue. Or to the provocative words. “The boys at your school are dumb.”
“Hardly. They want to kiss me.”