- The Darkest Secret
She stiffened, began to struggle. Panic gave her weakened body strength, her heart pumping blood through her veins at an astonishing rate. Yet, no matter what she did, she couldn’t budge those meaty arms.
Easy. Easy now. Are you okay?
Amun’s voice, steady though concerned, uncompromising though tender. He was the one holding her, she realized.
Instantly the fight abandoned her, and she sagged against him, resting her head in the hol ow of his neck.
If he was standing, that meant he had recovered. She was so relieved she could have sobbed. She’d spent several days trapped beside his bed, drifting in and out of consciousness. His stupid friend had carted her in and out, in and out. Just when Amun would stop thrashing, about to awaken, Defeat would move her. When the bastard would final y take her back, Amun would be worse than before.
Each and every time.
Now he was aware, lucid. For good. Now she was free.
Now they were touching.
Nightmare? he asked.
“Yes,” she managed to croak past the sudden lump in her throat. “How did we get here?” Later.
She thought she remembered vowing that she wouldn’t al ow herself to touch him again. Wouldn’t al ow him to touch her. Both were dangerous. And maybe she had, maybe she hadn’t. Nothing seemed real just then. But when one of his arms moved away from her, she had to cut off a whimper.
To her surprise, he didn’t abandon her. He merely reached forward and twisted the faucet before straightening and holding her again. A few seconds later, the temperature of the water warmed considerably.
Tel me about the nightmare, he said, gripping the hem of her T-shirt and lifting.
She could have protested. Instead, she raised her arms and al owed him to whisk the material over her head. This moment was so steeped in fantasy, so…necessary, she wanted only to fol ow it to its end. “I saw the vision you showed me the other day. The one on the veranda.”
I thought that was a good thing. He unfastened her jeans and pushed them to her ankles, then picked her up and kicked the denim out of the tub, leaving her in her bra and panties.
“I saw what came after.” Another croak.
With one hand snaked around her waist, propping her up, he used his other hand to palm a bar of soap and began lathering her skin. But you were so happy at the beginning.
So intimate a task, so shattering a topic. Yet, despite who and what he was, she had never felt more comfortable with another being. He didn’t try to arouse her as he cleaned her, careful of her cuts and bruises; he merely performed a basic task.
“Yes,” she said.
Tel me, he repeated. Once her skin was washed free of dirt and grime, he massaged shampoo into her hair. The scent of sandalwood bonded with the rising steam.
She opened her mouth to obey, but the words tangled on her tongue. If she spoke them, she realized, she would fling herself back to the past, back to that dark, dark day that had forever changed the course of her life—and his. She would lose the tranquility of this moment.
Tranquility she desperately needed.
“No,” she final y said. “Not now. Later. Please.”
Our later is fil ing up.
She expected him to push for answers, but he merely ducked her head under the spray of water and rinsed the suds from her hair. Clearly he understood a woman’s needs because he coated the thick strands with conditioner, gave the cream time to do its job, then gently rinsed her hair again.
There. Al clean.
He didn’t switch off the water or even move from where he stood behind her. He simply continued to hold her, strong fingers tracing circles just below her navel, his chin resting atop her head.
Stil he didn’t try to arouse her. Not once did he pluck at her pebbled nipples or brush his fingertips over her sex. Yet, with every second that passed, her skin became more sensitized, a primitive need unfurling inside her and overshadowing that thick cloak of fantasy.
Reality was better.
Stil . She had to resist. For every reason she’d already noted and the thousand others she hadn’t yet considered.
Took every ounce of strength she possessed, but she stopped herself from lifting her arms, curling them back and digging her fingers into his scalp. Stopped herself from angling her face up to his for a kiss.
Bottom line, despite everything else, he didn’t desire her. He couldn’t. Not when she was practical y bare, covered only by thin strips of white cotton, and he’d had his hand al over her, yet had never tried to arouse her.
Suddenly that wasn’t the comfort it had previously been.
Had he figured out exactly who she was? Was that why he no longer wanted her?
No, he couldn’t know. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be taking such good care of her. Most likely he’d just decided kissing a Hunter, any Hunter, was wrong.
“Amun, I have to—” she began, stopping when he stiffened.
What had she said?
You know my name?
Her nerve endings flared with trepidation. “Yes,” she whispered.
So you know who and what I real y am. A statement of fact, not a question. You know I’m not your Micah.
No reason to deny the truth. “Yes.” Another whisper.
And yet you of al people let me hold you like this?
Something about the absolute confusion in his tone alerted her. She replayed his words. “You of al people,” he’d said.
Oh, God. She’d been wrong, she thought dizzily. He knew.
He’d already known she was a Hunter, yes. She’d told him.
Now, however, he knew the rest, the worst of the details. He knew about her part in Baden’s death.
Why hadn’t he kil ed her already?
The moisture in her mouth dried, and her knees began to tremble. “Defeat—Strider told you who I am.
What I’ve done.” She was proud to note that no emotion fil ed her voice, only arctic steel.
No. I discovered the truth on my own. You were Hadiee then, but are now Haidee. Whoever you were, whatever you are, you were there when Baden was slain.
Confirmation. “And yet you of al people hold me like this?”
As she snapped the question, understanding dawned. This was the calm before the storm. He’d merely shown her the pleasure she could have had but now would be forever denied.
A bitter laugh escaped her. In a lifetime of regret and pain, he had no idea that denying her would simply be more of the same. That he wouldn’t break her. Wouldn’t ruin her. No matter what he did, she’d already experienced worse.
Amun spun her around before severing al contact. Their gazes locked, black fire glittering down at her.
She gasped as another realization struck. He hadn’t been unaffected by touching her. Far from it. Lines of tension branched from his eyes and mouth. His lips were pul ed taut over the straight white pearls of his teeth. His breath emerged shal ow and fast, his nostrils flaring.
Wait. Did he want her? Or was he simply pissed?
The swel ing had gone down in his face, revealing a rough beauty that shocked her further. His skin was like the richest coffee mixed with the slightest dol op of cream.
Those gorgeous black eyes were framed by a thick fan of silky lashes, lashes longer even than hers. He had an aquiline nose, regal and proud. His cheekbones were so sharp they could have cut glass. Lips that would have been considered cruel if not for their soft pink color glistening with moisture.
His chest was bare, scabbed in striking patterns of four.
Claw marks, she thought with a shiver. His own? Hers? His nipples were smal and brown, beaded.
Rope after rope of muscle descended the torso of a man who had honed his strength on the battlefield rather than inside a gym.
He wore sweatpants that hung low on his waist, revealing the barest hint of dark, springy curls on his groin. And when she saw that the rounded head of his penis stretched past the material, semen pearling from the slit, she swal owed, her gaze jerking back up to his face.
He was the gentle one, Strider had said. Yet she’d never seen a man look quite so fierce.
How did you get me mixed up with him?
“You guys look a lot alike. Weirdly alike.”
Was he immortal? Pause. You know I’m immortal, right?
“Yes, I know, and no, he’s not. Believe me, I would have known. He was injured time and time again, but he healed as slowly as any human.”
So our likeness is a mere quirk of fate? Doubtful. I was created by Zeus, ful y formed, and I’ve often wondered if the former king had simply looked down from his perch in the heavens, picked out a face he liked and boom. But that creation happened thousands of years ago, so my face had to come first.
“And so you think someone else created Micah? Someone who saw you?”
“Then how is he human?”
There are gods, humans, demigods, and then creatures in between. He could be any number of things.
“Wel , maybe Zeus saw past, present and future faces, and picked from those. Or hey, maybe Micah’s your son, and you just don’t know it. I’m sure you’ve picked up a few humans in your time.”
“Why? Accidents happen, even with immortals.”
I haven’t been with anyone in a long time. Like, a century.
And if he looks to be my age…
She couldn’t hide her relief. He hadn’t been with anyone in over a hundred years. Same with her. “Oh.
Wel , maybe he’s a descendant of yours. Maybe it’s just one of those strange, unexplainable things. Or hel , maybe—”
Okay. Maybe you’re right, he al owed. Doesn’t matter, anyway. We’re on opposing teams.
So why did you change your name? he asked, switching gears.
“The simple change of spel ing helped me blend in as society changed around me,” she said. “Plus, there are more Haidees than Hadiees, and I didn’t want to be spotlighted for any demons that happened to be looking for me.”
If you wanted to blend in, you shouldn’t have done so much to stand out. His gaze raked her hair, her tattoos.
She stiffened at his obvious censure. What did she care if he found her appearance lacking? Except for the ache in her chest, she didn’t care at al , she told herself.