- The Darkest Secret
Gods, he real y was pathetic.
You won’t al ow any of my friends to fol ow us? he signed.
“Correct. I wil ensure you and the girl remain undisturbed by them.”
Amun took no offense. If anyone could keep the brutes here from getting their way, it was this hard-as-steel creature.
“Now. Something else you should know.” A breeze ruffled the golden down streaked through the angel’s wings like a flowing, molten river. “With the changes, there are now six realms you must pass through before you even reach the gate—and the gate is another obstacle altogether.”
Haidee stepped to Amun’s side, but didn’t break contact.
“How wil we return here when we’re done?”
Zacharel’s green gaze briefly shifted to her. “Should you save Amun, you wil have nothing to worry about. Should you not, you wil never leave.”
The ominous warning rang through his mind. Then Amun shrugged. They would save him; it was that simple. We’l find a way, he told Haidee.
Her hands trembled against him, but she said no more.
What about weapons? he signed. Food?
“Everything you need is in here.” The angel tossed the pack, and Amun caught the too-thin, too-light duffel with ease. “Good luck to you, warrior.”
The moment his fingers wrapped around the straps, his surroundings completely fel away. From light to murky dark, the smooth white wal s were replaced by jagged stone stained with crimson splatter. Bones littered the equal y rocky ground, and the temperature instantly flared hundreds of degrees—or so it seemed.
A cavern, he realized, deep in the earth. And there was no sign of Zacharel—no dainty hands on his back. Fighting a rush of panic, Amun swung around. He relaxed, but only for a second. Haidee was a few feet away, hunched over and vomiting. Beside her rested a toothbrush, toothpaste and bottle of mouthwash.
Amun closed the distance between them before he realized what he was doing. With one hand, he smoothed her hair out of the way. With the other, he stroked her back, trying to comfort her as she’d comforted him. Flashing from one location to another in a mere blink of time affected some but not others. She, apparently, fel into the “some”
category. The angel must have known she would.
As strong as she usual y was, the weakness probably appal ed her.
The sickness wil soon pass, he told her. Even as he soothed her, he thought perhaps she had infected him with a toxic mix of hunger, stupidity and unwanted tenderness—
and he would never find a cure.
She spit, wiped her mouth with the back of her trembling hand. “Thank you. For not kicking me while I’m down.”
I’m not a monster, Haidee. Yet.
“I know,” she said weakly. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”
She, apparently, suffered from the same toxic mix.
That did not bode wel for their mission.
“BEFORE WE GET STARTED, let’s see what we’ve got to work with,” Haidee told Amun after she disinfected her mouth. Twice. She ducked her head as she walked away from him so that she wouldn’t have to see his expression.
He’d had his hands on her the entire time. Did he regret it?
She’d vomited in front of him. Did he find that amusing?
She had responded to him, goose bumps breaking out over her skin. Did he feel smug?
He offered no reply, and she experienced a wave of hurt. A wave she ignored because it was stupid. He wasn’t her boyfriend, wasn’t a tame pet dog, and was merely using her, the enemy, to stay calm.
Stil . Would a “that’s smart” or “are you okay?” have been amiss? After al , she had agreed to venture into hel with him. Was actively trying to reach the fiery pit for him.
And because of that, she was alone with him, she thought, suddenly dazed by the way things had worked out. She was completely, utterly alone with the demon-possessed immortal who set her body on fire. The demon-possessed immortal who would probably try to kil her after they found a way to free him from the evil that plagued him. The demon-possessed immortal she should despise, did despise, but couldn’t convince herself to hurt, even in the smal est way.
The demon-possessed immortal she stil craved.
Frowning, she crouched in front of the backpack the angel had given them. Her hand shook with the force of her nervousness as she unzipped and parted the folds. What she saw, or rather, what she didn’t see, had her sputtering.
Pounding footsteps resounded, then Amun was crouched beside her, grabbing the pack and searching inside. She heard his growl whisper through her mind, low and rumbling.
He scrubbed a hand down his face, the rough action leaving his forehead red and scraped. The angel wanted us to fail, then. He…lied. I can’t believe he lied.
“Wel ,” she replied, chin lifting, jutting stubbornly. “We won’t fail.” They’d survived too much already.
No. We won’t.
Their gazes locked together in a suspended moment of agreement and awareness. At least, she thought awareness was the other surprise battering between them.
It was for her. She saw the strength in every line and curve of his face, the determination glittering in his eyes, the need parting those soft lips. Only he never reached out, never touched her. In the shower, he’d promised her he wouldn’t, and he was obviously—tragical y—a man of his word.
Silent now, Amun pushed to his feet and turned away from her, shattering the tranquility of the moment.
Haidee straightened, and her trembling increased. He’d known who she was before their shower, yet stil he’d treated her with care. He’d held her, caressed her, he’d even gotten hard simply being near her.
He’d peered at her lips with utter longing, as if he couldn’t exist another moment without lapping at her tongue.
What had changed since then?
The fact that she’d mentioned breaking up with Micah?
Wel , a man who truly desired her would have been overjoyed by her suggestion. Yet Amun had stomped away from her and hadn’t lowered his guard since.
Men! She would never understand them.
Come, he said, starting forward without looking back. I want to leave this area. We’ve been here too long for my peace of mind.
They were in hel , or near enough. She doubted she’d know peace ever again.
“I’m right behind you.” As she fol owed him through the yawning opening of the cavern, she anchored the backpack’s straps on her shoulders. No reason to toss it, and a thousand reasons to keep it. They could store rocks inside, even bones, and use each as weapons. If they lucked out and found berries or nuts, they could store the food for later. Stil . That damn angel! He must be a demon in disguise, tricking them the way he had. And if she ever encountered the bastard again, she would probably knife him.
In fact, for what seemed an eternity, she distracted herself by considering al the ways she would torture him. A knee to the groin, an elbow to the cheek. A hard kick to the skul .
When that began to bore her, she switched her mental target to Amun. But soon that, too, lost appeal as she and Amun trekked through the underground tunnel, the scenery unchanging. Only the growing soreness in her muscles and the constant ache in her booted feet indicated the passage of time. The leather of those boots was wel -worn but not fitted to her arches, and blisters quickly formed on her tendons.
She endured without complaint for a little while longer, but real y, she hated the suffocating silence between them, every second laced with tension. If they were going to work together, which they needed to do if they hoped to succeed in freeing Amun, she had to break through whatever was angering him.
So she asked the first question that popped into her head.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” The moment the words were spoken, fury raced through her. The thought of this man belonging to someone else…kissing someone else…his intense arousal focused on someone else…
No, he said, and she relaxed.
Haidee nearly reached out and petted him as a reward.
She kept her arms at her sides, though, as they rounded a narrow corner, the wal s thinning yet again, practical y scraping at her. He might rebuke her, and she’d rather endure the silence than that.
Did you ever kiss Strider? The question lashed from him, surprising her, and if his tone had been tangible, she suspected she would have been cut to the bone. Or…do more?
“No! Never.” She might have abandoned her vengeance quest with Amun, but the same courtesy did not extend to his friends. Them, she stil wanted to kil . Amun, she just wanted to kiss again. Soon.
Maybe. Definitely. Except—
Damn it! She’d left the toothbrush and toothpaste back in the cave. Next time she and Amun did a little hooking up, she wanted to taste—argh. If he had his way, they were never going to hook up again. She glared at his back, considered raking him with her nails. To him, she wasn’t worth the risk. Any risk.
Part of her admired that. His friends were important to him.
Momentary pleasure was not.
Some of the tension left him. Was that what had been bothering him? she wondered. The thought of her with Strider? She stopped glaring at his back, and again considered petting him. If he didn’t like the idea of her lip-locking his friend, she had to mean a little something to him. Right?
The other part of her real y admired that. He could overlook his (justified) prejudice in favor of desire for her and only her.
Al right, then, he said, pacified.
“So what gave you that stupid idea that I’d made out with the keeper of Defeat?” She’d meant to ask gently and certainly hadn’t meant to use the word stupid, but then she’d remembered Amun’s snotty attitude the past few hours and her irritation had taken over, speaking for her.
You spent some time with him. Alone. You were desperate to be free of him.
Irritation morphed into anger. “I’m a lot of things, Amun, but I would never use my body to get what I wanted. Even freedom.”
There was a beat more of silence, then, You did with Baden.