A flicker of rage took residence in his chest. “You better not encourage them, little girl, because I wil hurt them if they ever try anything with you. You’re not ready for that kind of relationship.”

“And I suppose you get to decide when I’m ready?”

“Exactly.” Smart, his little gumdrop. “In fact, as soon as I think you’re old enough, I’l let you know. Until then, keep your lips to yourself or you’l regret it.”

“Oh, real y? Give me a hint, then.” There was steel in her voice rather than amusement. “What age do you consider old enough and just how wil I regret disobeying you?”

A wiser man would have kept his fat mouth closed. “Three hundred. Or so,” he added, giving himself room to work.

“And believe me, you do not want to find out.”

“First, I’m human,” she snapped. “I’l never be that old.”

“I know.” And he didn’t like that fact, he realized. She had eighty years, give or take a few, but no more. And that was only if she wasn’t run over by a car. Or beheaded by a Hunter.

Damn it. If he had to sign on with the Lords for a permanent place in their army just to look after her, he was going to be annoyed. He had shit to do, places to be.

“Second, I’m not afraid of you.”

She should be. The things he’d done over the years…. The things he would do in the years to come….

“Let’s forget the fear for now. By your own admission, you’re a puny human.

Which is another reason you need to rest.” He gave her a

“gentle” push off the bed. “Go. Get out of here.”

She hit the floor with a hmph, then popped to her feet. She peered down at him for a long while. He let her look, silent, knowing what she saw. A black-haired, blue-eyed stunner who had broken more hearts than he could count. He prayed that she, like al the others before her, wouldn’t overlook the fact that his heart had never been breached.

That she wouldn’t see him as a chal enge, as tamable…as worth any risk.

His phone beeped, disrupting the quiet and signaling a text had come in. She glanced at the phone on the nightstand, then at him.

“Go,” he said more firmly.

“Fine.” She spun and strode from the room, leaving Wil iam with an odd, hol ow feeling in his chest.

Damn it, he thought again.

Another beep sounded. He pushed Gil y to the back of his mind and lifted the little black device to read the screen.

Screen name “Stridey-Man” asked, Want 2 vacay w/me?

Wil iam snorted as he typed. Romantic getaway for 2? UR

not my type, dickwad.

Only a few seconds passed before the second message arrived. Fuck U. I’m everyone’s type. So U in or out?

’Cause I’m thinking about hooking up w/P, wherever he is.

U’d just B extra baggage.

Leave the fortress. Leave Gil y and her dark, too knowledgeable eyes. Leave her staggering hope for something he couldn’t, wouldn’t, give her. Leave her probing questions, her gentle touch. Some 1 taking UR

place here at fort? he typed. Much as he wanted to escape, he wouldn’t leave her helpless.

K & C are gonna come back. Last chance. In or out?

This time he didn’t hesitate. In. Stridey-Man: Knew U

couldn’t resist me. B ready in 5.

Right on. Make it 10. I want 2 style my hair for U. U know, just how U like it.

Stridey-Man: ASSHOLE.

He snickered, having more fun teasing Strider than he’d had in a long, long time. ?? U up for a lil stop before we play??

Stridey-Man: Where?

Locale deets later. Al s U need 2 know is I plan 2 murder Gil y’s fam.

He’d wanted the deed taken care of long before now, but his little jaunt into hel had altered his plans.

The demons down there had nearly eaten through his arm, and the stupid limb had only recently healed.

Plus, Amun had promised to go with him and tel Wil iam about the mom and stepfather’s deepest secrets and fears so that Wil iam could make the road to dead frightening and painful.

Only, Amun was stil whacked out of his mind and Wil iam was tired of waiting.

Stridey-Man: Rock on. But now U only have 8 minutes 2 do UR hair.

Trust the cocky Strider to agree to a brutal massacre without asking dumb questions like “why” and


Wil iam untucked the covers and stood, making a mental list of everything he’d need for the coming trip.

A few blades, serrated and nonserrated. A vial of acid. A bone saw. A spiked paddle. A cat-o’-nine-tails. And a bag of Gummy Bears.

Gods, but this was going to be fun.


HAIDEE LUXURIATED IN THE now-familiar warmth enveloping her, branding her al over again, as the hazy dream took shape in her mind. Moonlight surrounded her, il uminating the veranda she stood upon, as wel as the pond she studied in the courtyard. Fireflies hovered over the clear, dappled water like fal en stars that had final y found a new perch. A cool breeze ruffled the wild tumble of her hair, and her lavender robe—her wedding gown—

danced at her ankles.

She could hardly believe this day had arrived.

Solon had actual y married her. After a rocky start and courtship, he’d vowed to love and cherish her in front of his friends and family. Even though he was a powerful noble, she was not, and he could have kept her as a slave. But that arrangement was unacceptable, he’d said. As his wife, no one would ever hurt her again. Even after he died.

For that alone, she would have fal en in love with him.

Except, she’d already loved him. He was older than she by sixteen years but strongly built nonetheless.

He had only ever regarded her with kindness, had never raised a hand to her in anger, even though his first reaction to her had been one of tension, and had never al owed his visitors to abuse her.

He’d begun to cosset her soon after buying her at the slave market, some eleven years before. She’d been a child then, stil devastated by the loss of her family, terrified by the new fate that awaited her and confused by the numbing cold that had never left her. A cold that had saved her from being raped, time and time again. Most men couldn’t stand to touch her.

And perhaps that was why Solon had never demanded sexual favors in return for his kindness. At least, that’s what she had assumed. Until six weeks ago, when he had asked for her hand in marriage.

“Are you nervous, my sweet?” a familiar voice asked from behind her.

She turned, heart accelerating with dizzying speed. Leora, friend and equal until this very day, was now supposed to be her servant. Gray hair frizzed around her aged features, and she wore the same coarse sack Haidee was used to wearing.

If Leora was here, that meant the time had come. That meant her husband had summoned her, was ready for her.

Her husband. “I love when you cal me that,” she replied sincerely. “Especial y since you did not like me at first.” No one had. For that matter, no one ever did.

“No. But that soon changed, did it not?”

Yes. Just like with Solon. “It did. And yes, yes. I’m nervous, but excited, too.”

Final y, she would be al owed to show Solon the depths of her gratitude for him.

Leora arched a too-thin brow. “And you know what a man does to his new wife on their wedding night?”

“Yes.” At least she thought so.

She had squeezed her eyes tightly closed when the guards at the market had raped the other slaves. The screams, though… Haidee shuddered, momentarily lost in the pain and humiliation she had been helpless to stop, no matter how much she had struggled against her chains, no matter how much she had prayed and cried and hated.

Deep down, she knew bedding Solon wouldn’t be like that.

He would be tender, patient. He was kind and sensitive, and he would ease any fears she harbored.

“Then I wil not keep you a moment longer,” Leora said with a soft smile. “Your man awaits.”

The old woman turned, her bones creaking, and ushered dream Haidee inside a torch-lit hal way, toward the gynaeceum. The master’s bedchamber. Alabaster columns stretched on each side of them, the arching doorway—their final destination—looming closer…closer stil …

Real-life Haidee cried out, reaching for the innocent girl she’d been, trying to grab her, halt her. “No.

Don’t go in there.” She had never remembered what had led to this point of her memories, but she suddenly knew what waited beyond that entrance. “Stop! Please, stop!”

Neither female paid her any heed. Closer…

Haidee. A male’s hard, determined baritone fil ed her head.

Equal y hard bands wrapped around her forearms, white-hot and inexorable, shaking her. Wake up.

Haidee fought the voice, just as she fought the dream. “No!”

Her arms flailed, her legs kicked. If she could prevent herself from going inside that bedroom, she could save herself thousands of years of guilt and pain. “Don’t go in there! Please!”


As Leora slowed her steps, she glanced over her shoulder and offered Haidee another sweet smile.

They had final y reached the door. Leora stepped aside. A trembling, unsuspecting Haidee reached out—

—was somehow floating, suspended—

—was tightening her fingers around the edges of the curtain—

—was being straightened out, placed on her feet—

Before she could enter the room, cold water hit her ful -

force, soaking her from head to toe and shocking her into reality. Haidee sputtered, blowing droplets out of her mouth.

Her eyelids fluttered open.

Out of habit, she immediately took stock of her surroundings. She stood inside a shower stal .


Spacious, tiled, the faucet speckled with gold filigree. She glanced down at herself. She stil wore the new T-shirt, jeans and underclothes Strider had given her before chaining her. Her feet were stil bare.

Dark arms ripped with muscle were wrapped around her waist, holding her upright.