A shadow fell over him, then someone was leaning down and peering into his eyes. Dark hair, eyes of the cruelest blue. “I know you. You are Kane, keeper of Disaster. Had a bad day, have you?”

Kane gathered enough strength to turn his head away. The action, small as it’d been, zapped every bit of that strength, leaving him cold, hollow. He had nothing left. Of course, the guy reached out and turned his head for him, forcing his attention to return.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”


The guy grinned, and it was not nice. “Once, I could not have paid a Lord of the Underworld to visit me here. Now you guys keep popping up for free. By the way, your friend Amun called me Red while he was down here. Well, he thought it. Boy doesn’t speak much, does he?” He gave a genuinely amused chuckle, and yet, there was bite to the sound. “Wish I’d picked up on that thought while he was in front of me, but then, I didn’t have these, a gift from Amun before he left.”

Red held up two hands—and they weren’t attached to his body or any other. They were dark-skinned and held together by a strap of leather. A strap of leather he had wrapped around his neck, as if he were carrying boxing gloves. The insides of the hands had been scraped out, the flesh leathered.

They were gloves now. Human gloves.

Acid bubbled in Kane’s stomach. Amun had come down here to rescue Legion and in the process had been infected by hundreds of demon minions, evil becoming a slick oil over his skin. The only solution had been to send him back down here to release them.

The gloves were the same mocha color as Amun’s skin, possessed the same lines.

“What do you mean…gift?” Kane managed to work past his shredded throat. A throat scraped raw when the minions had stuffed things into his mouth. They hadn’t cared that he’d tried to bite them, and hadn’t tried to prevent him from doing so. They’d actually liked that. They had just— You aren’t thinking about this yet. You’ll become as crazy as Amun was.

“I won the mitts in a poker game,” Red said, his tone casual. “You play? Wait. Don’t answer that. Let me learn your secrets with my new, favorite toy.” Grinning his not-nice grin, he stuffed his hands into the skin gloves and reached out.


Those hands pressed against Kane’s temples, cool and tough. Red closed his eyes, his entire body jerking as if hooked to a car with a lot of stallions under the hood. A moment passed, the only sound that of his heavy breathing.

Then another round of hoofbeats reverberated. Booted footsteps came next. A blond male with a similar toothy grin was leaning over Kane. “Whatta we got here? Another demon warrior?”

“Looks like.” Red straightened, his blue gaze boring into Kane. “He’s quite the mess.”

“Will he heal?”

“Don’t know.” A shrug as if the answer wasn’t important either way, then, “The man beside me is my brother. Amun called him Black. I call him Asshole. You may use whichever you prefer.”

“Let me use the hands,” Black said, rubbing his own with anticipation.

“Hell, no.” A growl sprang from Red, an animalistic warning. “I just got them today, and this is my week to own them.”

“I just want to borrow them for a minute.”

“Please. You’ll keep them, claim it’s your turn already.”

“Will not.”

“Will, too.”

I’m dreaming. I have to be dreaming. At the very least, hallucinating. Feral killers—and they were killers; they possessed the same hard edge as his friends—were not arguing like children.

“Fine. Just tell me what you learned,” Black said, clearly sulking.

“He was with the Dark, and recently.” Love and hate bathed Red’s tone. “The Dark thinks this one will take White from us. The pair of them were captured, brought here and marked for death. A cave-in separated them. He doesn’t know where the Dark is. The minions brought him here, tried to mate with him.”

The Dark? Only person who thought Kane would take someone named White was William. And how did Red know—the hands, Kane realized. Those hands had belonged to Amun, then. Amun, the keeper of Secrets. Red had put those…gloves on, had touched Kane and dug deep into his mind, ferreting out information. A handy little weapon to have. He should be enraged, but he was still too numb.

Black popped his jaw. “White will have sensed your joy at finding a new demon, as did I. She will be here soon. We cannot allow her to meet this keeper.” Emerald eyes bore into Kane. “You will not take her from us.”

I don’t want anything to do with her, dude.

“Shall we kill him and be done with it?” Red asked as if he were contemplating what to serve for dinner.

Black rubbed at the golden stubble on his jaw. “That would put him out of his misery. A good deed on our parts.”

Kane wanted to help him with the answer. Hell, yeah, you should kill me. Because when this numbness wore off, when his body shrieked with the pain and his mind merged with his emotions, he was going to suffer. He was going to scream. He was going to rage.

Vengeance, he told himself. He could not have vengeance if he was dead.

“No, no killing,” Black finally decided. “Not until I’ve had my turn inside his head.”


Then they would kill him a week from now, after Black had his turn. Seven days. Kane didn’t know whether to laugh, thank them or just go ahead and start screaming and raging now.

The two freed him from the chains, but he didn’t have the strength to move. He could only lie there, waiting, helpless to their whims.

“Green is going to rip into us for saving him,” Red said. “You know how protective he is of White.”

“True that.” Black hefted Kane over his shoulder, unmindful of his exposed rib cage. “She’s the only female he can tolerate.”

The action disrupted some of the physical numbness, shooting sharp lances of pain through him. His mind began to fog, oxygen a faraway dream.

“But by then,” Black continued, as Kane faded…faded… “I will have had my turn, so that is a moot point.”

Kane didn’t hear Red’s reply. For him, it was finally, blessedly lights-out.


HIGH IN THE HEAVENS, Cronus stood at the foot of his bed, glaring down at his wife. She was still naked, still chained, but with two words, she had just changed the very foundation of their war.

“What did you say?” Surely he had misheard.

Her chin lifted haughtily, her eyes a shimmer of midnight hatred. “Beat me and let him go.”

No, he had not misheard. His narrowed gaze shot to the male Hunter kneeling at his feet. Cronus had come here, as he’d come here every day for the past few weeks, and offered Rhea the choice. Watch a Hunter die or feel the hammer of his fists. Or in this case, watch two Hunters die—a male and the female who had refused to release him as Cronus dragged him from the cage. Always she preferred to watch a Hunter die. Always.

Except today.

What had changed? The Hunter in question? He was the only variable that was different. Did that mean she cared for the male? No, he assured himself after a heartbeat of bewilderment. Rhea cared only for herself. Did he mean something to her heavenly campaign? But what could a lone puny human do to aid a goddess? The answer was simple. Nothing.

That left only one option. She desired him.

Rage unfurled inside Cronus, iron fists that battered at his chest. His skin pulled tight against his bones, his marrow sharpening into dagger points and cutting at him. He gripped the human by the hair, jerking him to his feet and studying him anew. Late twenties, blond, handsome in a quiet, distinguished way only a mortal with a limited amount of time could manage. Lean, with only the barest hint of muscle.

Clearly, he wasn’t a fighter. A scholar, perhaps. There could be no asking him, however. Like all the others, Cronus had already cut out his tongue. A must for these meetings. Allowing someone to speak to Rhea, to deliver a secret message Cronus could not decipher, would have been a huge tactical error.

Cronus never made tactical errors.

He looked at his wife. Her stubborn expression gave nothing away.

“Let him go,” she said, chin going ever higher. “I’ve made my choice. I will be beaten in exchange for his life.”

Let the male go? Alive and well, forgiven for his crimes against the greatest king Titania has ever known? The concept was inconceivable. Laughable. “And the female?” he snarled, tugging her hair to lift her head.

She whimpered, her obvious distress causing the male to grunt. How sweet, Cronus thought dryly. The humans cared for each other.

Eyes the color of a blood-soaked battlefield swept over the girl. “I don’t care about her. Do whatever you wish with her, just let the male go.”

Rhea’s demon must be giving her fits. Either that, or Strife simply enjoyed the show. Well, it would be Cronus’s pleasure to offer another blast of discord. “I do not approve of your choice, wife. Therefore, I think I will behead the man before I release him.”

The queen sputtered for a moment, her chains rattling against the bedposts. “Are you completely lacking in honor, husband?”

“Of course. To win, one must do whatever is necessary. Besides that, I never promised to let your Hunters go while their hearts still beat, did I?”

“You bastard!”

“If you wish to save this one, you will tell me what’s so special about him. That is our new bargain.”

The male quaked with fear, his clammy sweat creating an acrid scent in the air. The female, still kneeling at Cronus’s other side, reached for him, clasped his hand in a show of comfort and support. Her hair was cropped to her shoulders, and so black the tint had to have come from a bottle. Her eyes were brown, a deep chocolate, and filled with anguished tears. She was pretty in a delicate sort of way, and somehow familiar to him.

She wasn’t the first female he’d brought to Rhea, nor would she be the last. There were several others waiting below in the dungeon. Now he wondered if he’d slain a sibling of hers, a sister perhaps, and that was why he thought he recognized her.