- The Darkest Secret
Contact. He hit al the way to the spine.
On and on the lethal dance continued. He was bleeding profusely but stil energized. He was winning. He even managed to toss someone into the fire. Screams, grunts, groans and whimpering abounded. But by the time the last Hunter fel , Strider was losing strength fast.
He was also grinning.
He had done it. He had won.
“Who’s your daddy, bitches?”
Defeat chortled inside his head, jumping up and down, glorying in the victory. Heat fil ed his veins, pumped him up.
In a little bit, he would feel the sting of every slice, the rest of his energy gone, but for now, he felt invincible.
“Strider?” Kaia stepped into his line of sight. Firelight licked at her, il uminating her beautiful skin. The makeup she always wore must have sweated off, because she glimmered with every color of the rainbow.
In seconds, his cock was painful y hard. It’s just the sexual high, he told himself. You don’t want her.
Not real y. Gods, her skin…his mouth watered for a taste.
Concentrate, he had to concentrate. He hadn’t seen her fight, but he had heard the results. Now her hair was in tangles, and blood was splattered over her cheeks and arms. “Wel ?” he demanded. “How’d you do?”
Frowning at his waspish tone, she gestured behind her. He wanted to curse when he spied the pile of men she’d defeated. He didn’t have to count to know she’d won their chal enge. His stomach tightened with dread as he waited for his knees to buckle and acid to fil his veins, destroying the pleasure.
One minute passed, then another. Nothing happened.
“I didn’t kil any of mine,” she said, buffing her claws. “I just knocked them out. So feel free to do the honors yourself.”
Wait. What? She’d let him win? Surely not. That was as un-Harpylike as, shit, baking an apple pie with ingredients she’d purchased—with money she’d actual y earned. “Kaia
“No, don’t say anything. The main guy, the one who wants you a lot more dead than even these guys did, isn’t here. I checked. I told you he was wily, so there’s no tel ing where he is or what he’s doing.”
“Kaia,” he repeated, trying again. What he would say, though, he didn’t know.
She spun away from him, as if she couldn’t bear to look at him a second more. “I’l leave you to it, then.
Before he could say another word, she was gone, the tiny wings on her back giving her a speed he could never hope to match.
He stood there for the longest while, peering down at the mound of unconscious men she’d left for him.
He’d won, she had made sure of that, yet in that moment, he’d never felt more like a loser, and he didn’t know why.
HAIDEE KNEW SHE WAS DREAMING. How else would she be seeing flashes of Amun’s life?
How else would she hear what he was thinking? Currently, she saw him pacing through a sunlit bedroom she didn’t recognize, his hands alternating between scrubbing over his eyes and pressing into his ears as he fought to subdue the many voices chattering inside his head. Voices that whispered one human memory after another.
He could deal with them, he knew, but his friends could not.
They had enough to agonize over and didn’t need to know the vile things people thought about them, the atrocities committed every day in the homes around them.
He shouldn’t have patrol ed the city for Hunters tonight.
Strider and Gideon could have handled the duty, no problem, despite their recent injuries. They’d offered; he’d turned them down, already sensing trouble on the outside and wanting to keep them safe.
Thankful y, he’d only found three enemy soldiers, and kil ing them hadn’t been a hardship.
The Hunters hadn’t planned to engage. Amun’s demon had sensed that right away. The men had wanted their female, their Bait, on the inside first. They thought she had succeeded, but they were waiting for confirmation. The moment he’d realized that, Amun knew he’d have to wipe one of the Hunter’s minds to find out who “she” was and when and where she would contact them. He’d have to absorb memories, perhaps even memories of mutilating his own friends. ’Cause yeah, he’d see through Hunter eyes, as if he was a Hunter.
“Amun, man,” someone cal ed from outside his room. It was Sabin. “Chow time.”
He walked to the door and knocked, signaling he’d heard.
Just as soon as he cleared his head, he’d join them. The memories were stil unfolding, even though he’d already uncovered the information he’d wanted. The “she” belonged to Kane, keeper of Disaster.
The warrior rarely dated, too afraid of hurting those around him, but the human female had captured his interest. He’d have to be told. Amun would have to be the one to tel him.
Amun was always the one to break the bad news.
First, there would be denials. Then rage. Then sorrowful acceptance. But damn it, they shouldn’t have to live like this! They shouldn’t have to suspect everyone they encountered of using them.
For a moment, Amun’s image faded from Haidee’s mind and his thoughts quieted. She was shrouded in darkness and thought she might be lying down. What was that tickling her bel y? she wondered.
Before she could discover the answer, those images of Amun returned, shifted. Now he was whaling on a human male, knuckles dril ing into bone. The human was average height, on the thin side, and begging for mercy Amun refused to show.
Haidee didn’t have to wonder why. Like Amun, she somehow knew what this man had been doing to his little girl. And when Amun was done, when the man was dead, he used his demon to find the little girl a safe, loving home.
Images, fading again. Voices, quieting again. Seriously.
What was tickling her bel y? Whatever it was brushed whisper-soft heat over her sensitized skin. But again, before she could reason out what was happening to her, the images in her head returned, shifted and claimed her ful attention.
This time she saw a shirtless, cut-up and bleeding Amun playing basketbal with his friends. He was grinning, laughing silently and slapping each of his buddies on their backs between cheap shots.
The boys shouted good-natured insults at him. Insults he could only return with the lifting of a single finger. No one stuck to any rules, so there was lots of tripping, elbowing and even punching, and Amun loved it. No one could beat him because he knew every move everyone planned to make before they actual y made it. Only, any time Strider went for the bal , Amun let him have it, even slowing his steps and pretending to stumble.
His past was as varied as hers, Haidee mused. But while she had always been a Hunter, driven by hate, he was so much more than a Lord of the Underworld. Which should not have been possible. A demon should be a demon. Evil, ruined. Amun cared, though. He uplifted.
He shouldered such a heavy burden. A burden he shared with no one because he would rather suffer forever than cause one of his friends to suffer a single moment more.
That was love, not evil.
The word echoed through her mind. Maybe because she felt utterly connected to Amun just then, she couldn’t keep secrets, even from herself. She loved him, she realized.
There was no denying it now, no questioning it. For al that he was, al that he’d been and al that he would be, she loved him. He was a warrior to his very soul, would always fight for what he believed in, would never buckle under pressure. When he cared, he cared deeply, intensely, and nothing and no one could shake that affection from him. Oh, yes. She loved him.
How did he feel about her?
She wanted him to care for her. Desperately. Because if they were going to be together, and she prayed that they were, his friends would be angry. Actual y, “angry” was too mild a word. She doubted there was a word to accurately express the rage they would unleash upon him. But if he loved her in return, he could bear it.
How could she ask him to bear it? Even if he did, in fact, love her?
How could she ask him to carry yet another burden?
God, what a mess. If they were together, her friends—no, that wasn’t the right word. They’d never truly been her friends. Her coworkers would fume at her, too. They wouldn’t understand how she could adore a demon. They would attack Amun; they would punish her. And she knew that was exactly why Amun had pushed her away. He didn’t want her to suffer. Didn’t want her to have to “bear it,” either.
That bespoke caring, right?
What he didn’t know, however, and what she had to somehow show him, was that nothing would cause her more suffering than trying to live without him. For him, she could bear anything.
Perhaps he would one day feel the same for her. If he did, losing their friends wouldn’t be something to bear because they would have each other, could rely on each other, comfort each other…cling to each other.
They had shared each other’s blood al those centuries ago, creating a bond far more powerful than the hatred always simmering inside her. They belonged together; she knew it. She’d have to show him that, too.
Yes, she had loathed his kind for centuries. Yes, she had hurt him, and yes, he had hurt her. But that was in the past.
Now, she only wanted to look ahead.
Look ahead. Again, the words echoed through her mind, and she was forced to face a hard truth. She couldn’t ask Amun to give up his friends. She couldn’t al ow him to cut those friends from his life, whether he could bear the loss of them or not, whether he would cling to her or not. How could she expect such a thing? Those warriors had helped shape Amun into the wonderful man he was. He needed them, and they needed him.
If Amun would just give her a chance, she would do everything in her power to smooth things over.
After a time, if his friends stil couldn’t accept her, no matter what she did, she would leave.
So many ifs…so many possibilities.
Leaving would kil her, but for Amun, for his happiness, she Leaving would kil her, but for Amun, for his happiness, she would do it. Al she needed was that chance.