- The Darkest Secret
What? Amun had mental y shouted. When he remembered to sign, his motions had been jerky. My little jaunt into hel is the reason I’m like this. So returning isn’t real y a solution, is it?
“You took the demons out, now you wil take them back in.”
A shrug. “Then you wil forever be chained to the woman’s side. Not that forever wil be long. Not for you. Without her, the spirits overcome you, and the next time you are overcome, you wil die by my hand.”
If getting rid of the demons is as easy as going to hel , why didn’t you take me back already?
“I did not say it would be easy. Nor did I say returning with me would be helpful. You must take the girl.”
No, he repeated.
“Your choice, of course. I have no qualms about removing your head.”
It was impossible to argue with so logical and uncaring a being. How do I get them out of my body once I “take them back in?”
Zacharel had walked away without answering, without offering even the slightest hint. Why? What was Amun supposed to do when he got there? How long was he supposed to stay? Exactly where in the endless pit did he need to go?
He told me the only way to free myself was to return to hel , Amun said to Haidee now.
“Return to…hel ? As in the fiery pit of the damned?” The last was uttered in a horrified whisper.
Yes. And you’re going with me. He waited for her to protest, to fight him. She didn’t, not yet, and he relaxed. Somewhat.
He couldn’t subdue her, defend her and search for a way to liberate himself. You won’t burn, he assured her. I won’t al ow the flames to reach you.
“If we go,” she said with a tremor, “wil there be anyone with us?”
If, she’d said, and he relaxed a bit more. No. We’l go alone. He desperately needed the muscle and support—
because gods knew, he’d barely survived last time, and he’d had two trained warriors with him—but he wouldn’t place his friends in danger. Not from the demons, and not from Haidee. Besides, that would defeat the purpose of whisking Haidee out of their midst. Why? Do you wish to take someone with us?
Her lips pressed together in that mutinous line, and he suspected he’d somehow hurt her feelings. No, surely not.
She would have to care about him, he reminded himself, and she didn’t.
“Wil you—wil you al ow me to have a weapon?” The word al ow choked from her, and he doubted she’d ever spoken it before.
Yes, but if you attempt to use it on me, I wil strike back in kind. Perhaps a lie, perhaps not. He valiantly hoped she didn’t try to test the claim.
Silence stretched between them, an oppressive cloud he couldn’t shoo away. He gave her the time she needed, though. He was asking a lot from her and offering very little in exchange. Of course, he would have to force her if she refused him—they truly had no other options—but until she did, he would let her think the decision was hers.
“Al right,” she final y said on a sigh. “I’l do it. I’l go with you.”
No fight at al .
Once again he was thrown, but this time he couldn’t hide the intensity of his shock or the earth-shattering cascade of relief. Then his suspicions flared. What did she hope to gain, placing herself in danger to help him regain his senses? Or did she plan to go simply to gather intel? Yes, he thought with a nod. That was far more likely. She was a Hunter, after al , and finding ways to destroy demons was her business.
Hunter. The blasphemy echoed through his mind, and he cringed. Stop reminding me.
“Stop reminding you of what?” she sputtered, obviously confused by his sudden bout of disgust.
Nothing, he muttered. He nearly apologized but bit the words back. He would not apologize to this woman. Ever.
He had some pride, at least. We’l waste no more time.
Amun strode to the door and knocked. Behind him, he heard Haidee gasp, her clothes rustling again as if she had pushed to her feet. A few seconds later, the lock clicked from the other side, and the wood squeaked open, revealing the angel Zacharel. Black hair in perfect order, emerald eyes devoid of al emotion. White-and-gold wings arched over his shoulders and swooped down his robed sides.
“Yes,” the warrior said. The greeting should have been inflected with a question, but surfaced as a mere statement.
We are taking you up on your offer of transport, Amun signed.
Zacharel offered no hint of his thoughts. “I’l gather the necessary supplies. Be ready to leave in five minutes.” With that, the door shut, locked.
Amun rested his forehead on the cool wood, reminded for a moment of Haidee’s skin. Hel . He was returning to hel when he’d sworn never to go back. In a deep, dark corner of his mind, he thought he heard Secrets whimper.
Thousands of years ago, Secrets had fought to escape hel
—and won. And yet, Amun kept taking him back. At least the other demons remained calm, neither crying nor cheering in regard to his plans. But then, they were more afraid of Haidee than anything else.
“Why can’t you speak?” she asked, slicing through the tension he hadn’t realized had sprouted anew.
My demon, he replied, offering no more. He straightened and turned to her. Mistake. She had stood, and as always, he was struck by the delicacy of her features, the passion that lurked under her glowing skin. More than that, his mouth watered for a go at those breasts, that stomach, those legs.
He shouldn’t have dressed her in the T-shirt and jeans. He should have dressed her in a shapeless sack.
“Because you carry the demon of Secrets, you can’t speak?”
Yes. Had he ever thought to find himself in this position?
Sharing his own inner mysteries with a Hunter?
“I don’t understand. Why does your demon prevent you from speaking?”
She wasn’t curious about him, he knew, but was merely fishing for information to perhaps share with her people.
Stil . He answered. I open my mouth, and everything the demon has discovered, every dark deed of those around us, every bit of information that could ruin families and friendships, slips out.
“So you can speak?”
What did that matter? Yes.
“But you choose not to?”
Yes, damn it. Why do you want to know?
Amun’s uncustomary outburst didn’t faze her. “It’s just…it’s a good thing you’re doing. Very sweet.”
So unexpected was the praise, he could only blink at her.
“No one else can hear your voice? Inside their head, I mean.”
No. Just you. Bitterness had crept into his tone, and he could do nothing to mask it. Not that he wanted to. Let her hear. Let her know.
Twin pink circles stained her cheeks, and she cleared her throat. She eased back onto the mattress, prim once again.
“So how did you guys hook up with angels?”
A change of subject. Wise of her, yes, but foolish of him to offer more truth. A friend of ours married their leader. More like Bianka had claimed Lysander as her property, but Amun wasn’t sure Haidee would understand that kind of sentiment.
“An angel and a demon? Married?”
Pretty much. As stone-cold as Lysander was, the term
“angel” seemed just about as appropriate as “fairy godmother.” The term “demon” fit Bianka perfectly, though.
Her soul was darker than Amun’s, but in the best possible way. The Harpies were so open, so honest about their mischievous nature, they were a delight to be around. At least for Amun. For a while, he’d even considered pursuing Bianka’s twin sister, Kaia. War had gotten in the way.
Speaking of angels, you should know that your precious Galen isn’t one. He—
“Okay, let’s agree right now not to talk about your friends or mine,” Haidee interjected angrily. “It’l only make us angry with each other. We should focus on the mission.”
So she considered Galen a friend of hers? Of course she did, he thought next, and wanted to punch something. The leader of the Hunters wanted every Lord of the Underworld
—excluding himself—dead and buried. Because of Baden, Haidee had to be a prize among prizes for the keeper of Hope. Or was it possible Galen didn’t know who she was?
Amun’s teeth gnashed together—he was doing that a lot lately—grating the top layer into a fine powder, but he nodded. Very wel . There wil be no talk of our friends.
“I just, I don’t want us to fight,” she said. “And just so you know, Galen isn’t a personal friend.”
“Time is up,” Zacharel’s hard voice proclaimed before Amun could reply.
At the vocal intrusion, he whipped around, at the same time moving in front of Haidee to act as her shield. The door was stil closed. He frowned—until the angel simply stepped through the wood, a backpack dangling from his hand.
He’d possessed the ability al along, yet had only now opted to reveal it. Why?
“I wil take you to the place your journey must begin,”
Zacharel said. As with al angels, there was an undeniable layer of truth in his tone, and Amun couldn’t doubt a single thing he uttered. “But know that Lucifer is angry that he was thwarted in his quest to destroy you and yours through Legion, and wil be out for eternal blood. Be wary, trust nothing and no one.”
I never do.
“Except, perhaps, each other,” the angel added.
Amun glanced over his shoulder, and he and Haidee shared a look.
Zacharel nodded in approval. “I can promise you that your last journey through the underworld was nothing compared to what you wil soon face. In reparation for his role in Legion’s freedom, Cronus has returned it to its former glory.”
Why would he—?
The angel held up his hand, halting Amun’s tirade. “It was either that, or return Legion.”
He made the right choice, then.
“Let’s see if you stil agree when you get there. Monsters you’ve only heard whispered about, you wil soon encounter.”
Haidee stood, her cool hands flattening on Amun’s lower back. He had to bite his tongue to stop his moan of pleasure. Final y, contact. He felt as if he’d been waiting forever to feel her, any part of her, again. That she now offered comfort…comforted him.