- The Darkest Secret
Maddox answered a few seconds later, his voice raspy with the force of his panting. “Something wrong, Paris?”
Wil iam and Paris were on the edges of their seats, peering over at Strider with utter glee. He hadn’t seen either warrior that happy or relaxed in a long time, and he realized they had needed this vacation as much as he had.
Strider blew into the mouthpiece, then moaned as if he were buried deep inside a woman’s body. He tried not to grin.
“Paris?” Maddox asked, confused. “You there? You okay?”
Both warriors tried to cut off their laughs, smashing their knuckles into their mouths, but snorts managed to escape.
“You naked, big boy?” Strider asked in his best imitation of an aroused female. “Because I am.”
More snorting fol owed his words.
“Strider? And don’t try to deny it. I recognize your voice.
What the hel are you doing with Paris’s phone? I thought you were in Rome. And furthermore, what the hel does it matter if I’m naked or not? You have exactly two seconds to explain or I’m going to reach through the line, rip your tongue out of your mouth and—”
There was a pause, static, a muttered, “Give me that,” by an indignant female. Then the normal y quiet and reserved Ashlyn was demanding, “Did you just drunk dial my husband?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Strider said, and the other two final y burst into laughter, fal ing back in their chairs, their bodies shaking with the force of their mirth. “A guy’s gotta have some fun. Even if it’s the fun he puts in his own funeral. So is he? Naked, I mean.”
“No, for your information, he is not. He’s working out. I, uh, kind of incited him to rage so he’s beating the crap out of a brick wal .”
The laughter continued for several minutes, until even Ashlyn was chortling. “You boys are incorrigible.
This isn’t funny! He’l probably destroy the other wal when we hang up.”
“Good. He needed to get out of bed and final y do something besides—” Strider stopped himself before he said something else Maddox would rage over.
“Besides pleasuring me?” Ashlyn finished for him, anyway.
“You’l change your mind when you next see him. Lately, he’s a nervous wreck about the babies. He’s picking fights with everyone he meets and has even been arrested.
Twice. We’re going to make our way back to the fortress in the next week or so. He needs you guys.
Because, and please don’t laugh when I tel you this, if we’re alone much longer I’m going to murder him in his sleep.”
Strider chuckled. “Bet you’re wishing you hadn’t saved him from his death curse.” Once upon a time, Reyes had been forced to murder Maddox every night and Lucien had been forced to escort his soul to hel . Ashlyn managed to reverse the curse, sparing them al .
“A little peace and quiet isn’t too much to ask for, you know?” she said loudly. Then, in a softer tone, she added,
“So everyone’s good?”
“Don’t be nice to them,” Maddox barked in the background.
“You need your rest, and they interrupted.”
“Oh, hush,” she replied. “If you had your way, I’d be resting every minute of every day. And like I can real y rest while we’re outside, in the middle of town, while you destroy another building. Besides, I miss them and want to talk to them.”
That shut Maddox up. He could deny his precious Ashlyn nothing.
“We’re great. Me, Wil ie and Paris are on vacation.
Together,” Strider added. He relaxed against his lounge, his free hand anchored under his head, wondering if he’d ever have such an easy relationship with a woman. “You guys good? No trouble lately?”
“Besides Maddox’s temper? Not even a hint of it.”
He didn’t ask where they were or what, exactly, they were doing. Besides destroying public property.
He didn’t want to know. Ignorance was bliss. Besides that, if Hunters ever managed to pul their heads out of their asses and capture him, he wouldn’t have any secrets to spil .
Secrets. Amun. Ex.
His jaw clenched. You weren’t going to think about them, remember? “How are Stride and Stridette?”
Friend that he was, he’d taken the massive burden of picking names for the twins upon himself.
“He’s means Liam and Liama,” Wil iam cal ed, but a shadow then passed over his features, his grin fading.
“Madd and Madder are kicking like professional soccer players,” she replied, her voice softening with love and affection. “I swear, we’re gonna have our hands ful when they final y get here.”
“By the way, you’ve ruined a perfectly good prank cal with al this baby talk, Ash,” Wil iam scolded her.
“Seriously,” Paris said with a nod.
She laughed with unvarnished delight. “No more than you deserve, boys.”
“Hang up the phone, woman,” Maddox suddenly said, grim.
“Uh-oh. I have to go now,” she said and hung up before anyone could reply.
Strider tossed the phone to Paris, who missed. “Think they’re in trouble?”
“Nah,” Paris said, plucking the device before Wil iam could.
“The someone who’s coming is probably Maddox himself.”
“Yeah, he’s probably dragging her back to wherever they’re staying so he can make a prank cal of his own,” Wil iam said, adding, “on her body.”
Before Defeat could throw in his own supposition, Strider changed the subject. “So now what are we going to do?”
Out of habit, he scanned his surroundings.
The girls were watching them, he realized, confused by their amusement but clearly charmed by it. They were wearing dreamy expressions, as if they were already planning a triple wedding.
“I guess we could grab a female or two and head to our bedrooms.” Paris didn’t sound enthused by the prospect.
At least he wasn’t going to deny himself his daily dose, though.
“Yeah,” Wil iam replied, and he actual y sounded depressed.
Strider knew Paris’s problem. The woman he had desired above al others, the first woman he’d ever been able to have sex with more than once, had died in his arms, gunned down by her own people.
Hunters. Like Ex.
This time, Strider didn’t even attempt to cut off his thoughts of her. Yet. Had she been among the shooters? Probably.
There was no bitch more coldhearted. Literal y. He’d never met anyone whose body was as cold as that girl’s—except those he’d sent to the morgue, of course. Like he’d once sent Ex.
Was she cold because she was stil dead? Was she akin to the walking dead?
The possibility was worth considering. Later. Right now, he wanted to figure out Wil iam’s unusual somberness. A much safer topic. Was there someone the warrior wanted but couldn’t have? Someone he’d lost? Was that why he was so hands-off when he used to be a worse degenerate than Strider?
Seriously, he hadn’t touched a single stripper. Not even to slap a rump.
“So am I the only one who sees the dead girl at Paris’s feet or what?” Wil iam asked conversational y.
Strider and Paris stiffened in unison. Dead girl?
Strider was the first to find his voice. “What do you mean?”
He looked, hard, but saw no hint of a dead…anything.
“Is this a joke?” Paris demanded, and there was no denying the menace in his voice.
“No joke, I swear.” Wil iam held up his hands, al innocence.
“She showed up a few minutes ago and just kinda threw herself on the ground beside your chair. Dude, she’s got her hands wrapped around your ankle.” His gaze remained in the same spot, as if he were studying her. “She’s got dark hair and dirt-smudged skin. Or maybe those are freckles. She’s wearing a ripped white robe and black wings are growing out of her back. Ohhh, she’s got nice hands. Look at those things. I bet she does al kinds of naughty things with them.”
Paris was on his feet a second later, wild gaze darting over the concrete surrounding his chair. “Where is she? Where, damn it?”
A frowning Wil iam pointed at the exact spot Paris was standing. “You’re on top of her. Hey, girl. Girl. I don’t think he can see you. Or feel you. I don’t think grabbing on to him like that is gonna help you.”
Paris jumped back and, with an urgent moan, fel to his knees, patting the area in question as if he were putting out a fire. “I don’t feel her. Are you sure she’s here?”
Desperate, uttered in a rush.
“Uh, yeah.” Wil iam’s brow furrowed several seconds before smoothing out as comprehension dawned.
“I guess I never told you guys, but I see dead people. Oh, and look.
Cronus, the god king. Strider’s eyes widened, but he saw no bright light to announce the sovereign’s sudden appearance. Al remained as it was. No, not true. Paris had stiffened, fury bathing his face, his teeth bared in a fearsome scowl.
Cronus had given them medal ions to hide them from the gods, but had since taken them back, saying the Lords had abused them. Meaning, Cronus wanted to know where they were at al times. Here was proof.
“Hey, buddy. How you doing?” Wil iam waved. “You taking the girl?” Pause. “Wow, you’re brave.
Doesn’t look like she the girl?” Pause. “Wow, you’re brave. Doesn’t look like she wants to leave with you.” Another pause. He didn’t seem to care that he was having a conversation with himself. “Okay, then, but go easy on her. I think Paris likes her. Wel , bye.”
He waved again.
Paris listened, growing more and more agitated. At the
“bye,” he launched himself at Wil iam, his roar shattering the ease of the night.
HAIDEE FOUGHT THROUGH THE thick, black cloud in her mind, hearing grunts, groans and hisses in the distance.