- The Darkest Secret
Defeat’s nose broke under the next strike of Amun’s palm.
Blood poured. That crimson flow reminded him of what Hate had done to Haidee—fangs digging into her beautiful neck—and that only increased the depths of his rage.
“Tel me you appreciate what she did for us. Tel me!”
“You want me to lie? She was a Hunter,” Strider shouted, a few of his teeth missing. “A kil er.”
“We’re kil ers!” Another strike. Another direct hit. Two pearly whites sailed through the air.
“Damn it!” Defeat’s rage increased as wel , and he kneed Amun in the groin. “She couldn’t be trusted. I realized that.
Why can’t you?” The words were slurred as they pushed through the empty spaces where his teeth had been.
Amun shook off the pain. What was physical pain after the emotional agony of losing his woman, anyway? He dove into Strider’s middle, sending the warrior flailing to the ground. On impact, Strider lost his breath. The warrior was quick to recover, and they rol ed, stil pounding on each other—until they slammed into one of the table legs and cracked the wood.
Amun stil ed, glaring down at the man he’d once cal ed brother. “I trusted her more than I trusted anyone else. Even you.”
Strider pushed, sending Amun stumbling to the other side of the room. “How can you say—”
“No, you don’t get to speak.” Once again, he closed the distance between them. No mercy. Secrets knew Strider planned to kick, and so Amun jumped out of the way, spun, punched and ducked, punched and ducked. “You wanted her, but you would have tortured her. You would have ruined her.”
“No.” Somehow, Strider dodged every blow.
“You might, might, have been able to love her, but only after you’d broken her.” Final y, contact.
Strider hunched over, trying to catch the breath he’d only just found. “Don’t you see what’s happening?
She’s dead, but stil she’s pul ing us apart. I love you. I left this fortress for you. So you could have her.”
“You left this fortress for you.” No mercy, he thought again.
“You couldn’t win her, and you knew it.” Amun kneed him in the chin, sending Strider tumbling back into another wal . “I would have married her, pampered her, and I would have expected every single one of you to accept her. But you wouldn’t have, would you? She was just another chal enge to you. But you know what? She rejected you, and you walked away from her without a flicker of pain. That changes now. You wil feel pain. You know why? Because I chal enged you, and you just lost.” With that, Amun punched him. Punched him so hard his jawbone dislocated completely.
Strider was knocked unconscious. Even then, he was in physical pain, moaning from the mental anguish of his defeat.
Amun kicked him while he was down. Again and again.
Someone grabbed him from behind and jerked him away, holding him so tightly he couldn’t quite draw in a breath. Yet stil he fought. His woman had been slighted. He wouldn’t stop until he was appeased.
And he would never be appeased.
“I’m going with her,” he shouted. “Do you hear me? I’m going to die with her! And if you don’t watch your stupid mouth, I’l take you along, too!”
Strider released another moan, this one far more pained.
The warriors holding Amun must have sensed his determination because they ceased trying to hold him and started trying to subdue him.
“We need you,” he heard.
“Don’t talk like that, al right.”
“You’l get through this.”
“No. No!” His body was already badly beaten, weakened, but stil he fought, his rage like a living entity.
“It’s gonna be okay, buddy.”
They squeezed tighter.
“Let us help you.”
“What if we spoke to the angel? What if something could be done?”
“Something can be done,” he snarled.
Tighter stil .
Haidee, he screamed inside his head then. Soon, I’l be with you soon. We’l be… His thoughts fragmented. His motions were slowing. We’l be together again.
Darkness rained down like poisoned arrows. He welcomed the storm with open arms.
“AMUN,” A GENTLE VOICE cal ed.
Amun fought his way through the darkness, slashing at it as determinedly as he remembered slashing at Strider. That voice, so familiar, so necessary. Forever lost.
“Amun, baby. Wake up.”
His struggles increased until final y, amazingly, he was able to blink open his eyes—and what he saw took his breath away. Haidee. His beautiful Haidee. She loomed above him, peering down at him with those pearl-gray eyes.
Had the warriors kil ed him as he’d wanted? he wondered.
No, they couldn’t have. Inside his head, Secrets was sighing with relief, picking up on something, a mystery, a truth, but was unable to sort through the details.
How was Haidee here?
Am I dreaming? He didn’t dare speak again. Just in case.
He would not spoil this moment with a spew of secrets.
Besides, if this moment was steeped in falsehood, he didn’t want to know. Wait. Don’t tel me. Just stay right where you are.
“No, baby. I’m here.” She smoothed the hair plastered to his brow, and he felt the coolness of her touch. “We’re in your bedroom, the place we first met.”
He studied her, certain this had to be a trick. Her pink and blond locks were in tangles around her shoulders, and her lips were swol en from where she’d chewed them. Her eyes were aglow with love and warmth.
“This isn’t a trick,” she said. “I’m real.”
But you died. I watched you die. Was told you couldn’t be reanimated by Hate any longer.
“And that’s the truth. I was reanimated by something else this time.”
I don’t understand.
“That’s okay—I barely understand it myself. What happened to me was kind of like what happened to Aeron—and yeah, I got to hear al about that—only I didn’t need a new body because I was already in soul form. Anyway, this is how it was explained to me. The demons are the negative, and the angels are the positive. Happiness, Joy, Strength, and so on. So, just like I had taken a piece of Hate, I could take a piece of one of those without kil ing the giver. And I did.
First from you, then from someone else.”
“Oh, yes. I took your love. Just a little, and I expunged most of it when I expunged Hate. But the little bit I kept was enough to bring me back. I was fading, though, and fading fast.”
What else did you take? And from whom?
“Wel .” She massaged those swol en lips together.
“Zacharel kind of…gave me another piece of Love.”
Zacharel? The angel? Jealousy sparked, but vanished just as quickly. Haidee was here. Haidee was alive and with him. Zacharel could share whatever he wanted with her.
“Yes. The angel.”
Why? Why would he give you something of his? And how was he the keeper of Love?
She stopped massaging, and her lips twitched at the corners. “Funny story. Apparently there are several keepers of the more overwhelming emotions, and he was keeping his portion of Love in a jar on his nightstand. Weirdest thing I’d ever seen. It was kind of like his personal Pandora’s box, but a treasure chest rather than a prison. He said he wasn’t using it, and that I was welcome to a little pinch of it.
A few of his angel friends were upset about it, and I heard them say it would cause some problems for him, but now I’m—I’m babbling, aren’t I? Say something!”
First, I owe that angel an apology. And a thank-you.
Second, I can’t believe this is happening. He reached up with a shaky hand and caressed her cheek. Her skin was as cool as before. As solid. For a moment, he was too numbed with shock, hope and joy to move again.
She was here, he thought again. She real y was here. Here, with him. Alive.
And there was the truth Secrets had been trying to reach, to understand. She had defied death, defied what should have been truth, what was truth, and come back for them. She was no longer Hate; she was Love. Just as she’d said.
Joy quickly overshadowed the other emotions. Amun jerked her on top of him, his arms squeezing her as tight as possible without crushing her ribs. I thought I’d lost you, and it was more than I could bear.
Tel me you remember me.
He knew she did, but he had to hear the words. Please, tel me. I know you do, you’re here, but like you, I need the words.
“Oh, yes.” She squeezed him just as tightly before lifting her face and grinning. “I remember everything about you.”
Gods, Haidee. He pul ed her back down. Every part of him needed to touch every part of her. Tel me the rest. What happened to you…after? I have to know.
Secrets was even then unraveling the rest of the details, but Amun wanted to hear them from his woman.
She burrowed her head in the hol ow of his neck and flattened her palm over his heartbeat. “After I died, I opened my eyes and found myself—my soul, I guess—in my cave.
With Zacharel, as I said.”
Wait. Maybe I won’t apologize to that bastard, after al . He let me think you were dead, and that there was no way to reach you. Because of him, I’ve done nothing but mourn you. In fact, I was going to chal enge him in the morning and al ow him to kil me. I can’t live without you, Haidee. When he’d told her
“now and always,” he’d meant it.
“He didn’t lie, Amun. I did die. For a little while. Believe me, he was as shocked as you when I was reanimated. He was visiting my cave, you see, because something you said real y got to him. At least, I think that’s why. He wasn’t big on explanations. And just so you know, I can’t live without you. So don’t you ever, ever think of dying for me again. I’l always find a way to get back to you.”
He rol ed her to her back, covering her with his body. I won’t die for you if you won’t die for me, he said, happier in that moment than he’d ever been. His woman was in his arms, underneath him. His. Are you stil somewhat immortal, able to come back again and again?