- The Darkest Secret
we can’t leave yet. Not until we know what we’l be facing.”
She claimed the backpack and said, “Give us instructions for successful y navigating the next realm.”
When she reached inside, she found a smal , yel owed scrol .
Without a word, Amun took the backpack and settled the straps over his shoulders. With every second that passed, he seemed even more removed from her, and stil she didn’t understand. She didn’t blame him for what had happened, so why did he blame himself?
Because he’d failed? Because he feared failing again?
“Amun,” she said, trying again to reach him. She had to reach him.
Come, he replied, striding from the cave, forcing her to fol ow or be left behind.
The scrol crinkled as she unwittingly tightened her grip. “I’m not going to let you shut me out,” she said, knowing he couldn’t hear her but feeling better just saying the words.
She forced herself to relax and trail after her man—and he was her man, there was no question of that now—as he headed into the unknown.
VACATION SUCKED. Strider sat in the passenger seat of the caddy Wil iam had stolen, peering out at the barren landscape and waning sunlight. This was the road trip from hel .
After the debacle with the invisible girl, who just had to be Paris’s obsession, Sienna, Paris had flipped his ever-loving lid and attacked Wil iam for not preventing the god king from leaving with her. It had taken al of Strider’s strength—and a dagger through his friend’s broken heart—
to defeat the hysterical warrior.
Afterward, bleeding and far from calm, Paris kicked Strider and Wil iam off his ranch, along with the strippers. But Paris had soon realized Sienna could escape Cronus again and return to him, and without Wil iam, he wouldn’t be able to see her. So, the injured Paris had tracked them down and insisted on coming with them. Not a difficult task since they’d merely hiked to the mailbox at the end of his driveway and decided to rest. For a few hours.
Ambrosia hangovers sucked as much as vacations.
They’d been on the open road for countless hours, and for most of those hours Paris had shouted for Cronus, issuing threats and general y annoying the hel out of everyone.
Final y, though, he’d quieted and now slept fitful y in the back seat, blood loss having drained him. Just before fal ing asleep, he’d vowed to cal Lucien and demand the keeper of Death flash him to the heavens when his injuries healed.
Paris was going hunting for his female.
That kind of obsessive desire for one specific woman wasn’t smart, and Strider acknowledged that he himself had been speeding in that direction with Ex. Unlike Paris, he had wil ingly given the woman up, and suddenly, he was grateful. Had he continued down that path, he eventual y would have fought Amun for her.
Fighting a friend for a woman was the epitome of stupid.
Wrong on every level.
One, he valued his friendships. Two, no woman was worth the trouble she caused when he knew he would one day lose interest in her. Three, a Hunter real y wasn’t worth the trouble she caused. Four, sex was sex. A man could get it anywhere, as proven by his time at Paris’s ranch.
He sighed and concentrated on the shitty scenery. Trees.
Rol ing hil s. And—oh, hel s yeah. A convenience store, dead ahead.
“Pul over,” he commanded.
“What?” Wil iam flicked him a now’s-not-the-time-to-joke glance. “We just got a little peace and quiet and you want to ruin it al just to piss? You’re such a baby.”
“Red Hots, dude.” He’d ruin anything for a mouthful of those.
“Now pul the fuck over.”
“Oh, Gummy Bears. You should have said so.”
The car merged right, hit the service road and final y halted abruptly in front of the twenty-four-hour shop. Burly truckers hustled in and out, as wel as families traveling the countryside.
Wil iam jerked a thumb toward the backseat. “What about sleeping beauty?”
“He’s not gonna kil himself while we’re gone.”
“Do you have any self-preservation instincts?” Ice-blue eyes glittered with sardonic humor. “I meant, what if he wakes up, steals our car and abandons us?”
“Easy. We steal a truck and play chase. I’ve always wanted to drive a big rig.”
“I like where your head’s at, Stridey-Man. Maybe we’l do that anyway.”
Out of habit, Strider performed a perimeter check before exiting. During the drive, when he hadn’t been lost in thought, he’d been watching for a tail. So far, so good. Not once had he spied anything suspicious.
To be honest, that was kind of disappointing. He’d expected Haidee’s boyfriend to come after him. Shit, the guy had sworn to spil Strider’s guts and remove each of his limbs. Oh, wel .
He and Wil iam entered the store side by side, then split up.
They stil wore their swim trunks, but they also wore T-shirts and flip-flops, so they weren’t total y inappropriate as they strutted down the isles, grabbing what they wanted. Stil .
People stared. Maybe because they were giants compared to everyone else, both in height and muscle mass. Maybe because of the tel tale bulge of weapons at their waists. Or maybe because Wil iam opened a bag of Doritos and ate while he shopped. Hard to tel .
“You see any Gummy Bears?” Wil iam cal ed.
Strider balanced five boxes of Red Hots and five boxes of Hot Tamales in the cradle of one arm as he scanned the racks. “Nope. Sorry.” He grabbed a few Twinkies for Paris and threw them on top of his pile. They weren’t fried, but hel . Women ate sweets when they were nursing broken hearts, and Paris was definitely acting like a woman. Guy would be grateful for anything.
Strider was snickering to himself as he mixed a suicide at the soda fountain. Paris, acting like a woman.
What was new about that? When the fizzing liquid reached the rim, he popped the lid and straw in place.
Hard to do one-handed, but he managed it. He sipped. Nice.
Behind him, gasps resonated. He whipped around, expecting trouble with Wil iam—only to spy a scowling Lucien with his hand resting on the shoulder of a stunning redhead. She was a tiny little thing, only reaching his shoulder, but damn was she curved. Her breasts strained the lacy tank. Her waist flared around low-rise jeans. Real y low-rise. So low it was obvious she wasn’t wearing any panties. She couldn’t be. Her legs were lean and long enough to lock around his back.
He wanted to curse.
“Kaia?” Strider blinked, certain this was only a nightmare. A Harpy, the deadliest race on the planet.
Here. Stinking up his vacation even more. And he’d thought the night couldn’t get any worse.
“Oh, yummy. A Big Gulp.” She closed what little distance there was between them and jerked the cup from his kung fu grip. Then, without waiting for his permission, she slurped the contents. “Thanks.”
Not a chal enge, not a damn chal enge, he told his demon.
Stil . Defeat perked up inside his head. Thank the gods the beast didn’t urge him to act. Yet.
Kaia’s features wrinkled with distaste. “Yuck! What is this stuff? Battery acid?”
“It’s a little of every kind of soda they’ve got,” he gritted, reaching out his free hand and waving his fingers. “Now give it back and tel me what you’re doing here.”
Her sensuous lips pul ed back from her teeth as she hissed, her gray-gold eyes flickering with incandescent striations of silver and deep, dark lines of black. “Mine.”
That wasn’t a chal enge, he mental y shouted.
Defeat practical y twitched against his skul , a wee bit agitated but stil not insisting Strider do anything.
He al owed his arm to fal to his side. Harpies could only eat what they stole or earned, everything else made them sick, so he knew she had to take what she could, when she could. He also knew Harpies were as possessive about their stuff as he was, and Kaia now considered the drink hers. But if she pushed any more, his demon would want him to do something. Strider knew it, felt it. Yet there was no damn way he could chal enge a Harpy in front of humans. That was something better done in private—where he could have his ass handed to him without being humiliated in front of others.
“I asked once, but I’l do it again. What are you doing here?”
He switched his focus to Lucien before she could reply.
“What’s she doing here?”
Lucien met his stare and gave a pitying sigh. “She was bored, so she cal ed me and asked me to take her to you, and because I like my testicles where they are, I decided to indulge her.”
“Take her to me?” Strider thumped his chest to make sure Lucien and Kaia understood who “me” was.
Neither responded to his question.
“My friend, I wish you a good night. She’s your pain in the ass now,” Lucien said, and after saluting Strider with the same irreverent pinky wave Anya was fond of giving, he strode out of the store to find a nice, deserted corner outside where he could disappear without witnesses.
Strider returned his attention to Kaia. She fluttered her lashes at him, al innocence and feminine wiles. If he hadn’t sparred with her a few times in the past, if he hadn’t known exactly how dirty she fought, going for the groin at every opportunity, he might have believed the act. Even knowing, he had a hard time convincing himself of her extraordinary ability to deceive.
She was here for a reason, and he wasn’t going to like it.
His only consolation was that he liked looking at her. Truly, if the gods had asked him to design a female, Kaia would have been it. She had a deceptively delicate bone structure and long red hair that curled to her waist. She had the face of a wicked pixie, the fangs of a pissed off snake and the body of a porn star, minus the implants. And her skin, oh, gods, her skin.
Al Harpies possessed skin like hers. Like polished opals and crushed diamonds, glinting with al the colors of the rainbow. They had to cover every visible inch with cosmetics and clothing because men became slobbering fools whenever they saw that skin. Strider had caught a glimpse only once—during one of their practice sessions, her shirt had ridden up to her navel—and he’d instantly lost control of his body. He’d become consumed by the need to penetrate her.