- The Darkest Seduction
I’ll always love you more than anything or anyone.
“No.” Plump lips, soft and pink, and as big as Sienna’s. A delicate bone structure, a stubborn chin. “No.” Acid created a toxin of rage and sorrow in her stomach.
“Yes. When I…found her like this, I scoured her mind, her memories. This is your Skye.”
Her sister…lying on the floor. Ruined. Dead. Gone forever, like Paris would be. No longer a little girl, but a woman. Gone…forever… The words echoed in her mind, horrifying and shocking and sickening. Gone…
Is that truly her? she asked Wrath.
Yes. I can see her life, and you in it, but I cannot see her death. Why can’t I see her death?
Sienna locked on the affirmation, nothing else registering. Skye was…was…dead. Dead. Her precious Skye was dead. “Bring her back.” She pushed through the shimmering air and fisted Cronus’s lapels, shaking him. “Bring her back the same way you brought me back.”
“It is not always so simple, even for me.” Guilt, so much guilt in his tone, all over his features, radiating from him.
Wrong, so wrong.
Enough with the babbling! “You’re the self-proclaimed king of the gods.” She shook Cronus all the harder. “Ruler of the Titans. Jailer of the Greeks. Leader of the Lords of the Underworld. What’s one little soul compared to all that? Bring. Her. Back.”
“There are laws of life and death even I must obey.”
“Is no longer savable.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“That doesn’t change the circumstances.”
“Bastard!” Her palm darted out of its own volition, slapping his cheek so sharply she would not have been surprised to find she’d peeled away his skin. “You lied to me. Said she was Galen’s prisoner.”
When he failed to retaliate, or block himself from further abuse, she struck again.
“To ensure you obeyed me and kept Galen under control, I did what I felt I had to do,” he at last admitted. “I knew you would not kill him if you thought only he knew where your sister was. And as I said, I have my reasons for wanting him protected for now. But no, Galen never imprisoned her. She never had a child with him.”
Another slap, this one so hard she thought she fractured her own bones. Still he accepted the abuse without comment. “Her death could be another of your lies. Anything to jerk my chains, right?”
Wrong, so wrong, but she is dead. She is dead.
A blink and Sienna was standing in the very room Cronus had shown her. The woman’s body, motionless at her feet. She could smell the coppery tang of blood and death. And here, in this chamber of fatality, there was no missing the resemblance to her mother.
To their mother.
Wrath released another snarl, another and another, something “wrong” continuing to prod at him. But he didn’t know what the problem was, and Sienna didn’t have the strength to reason things out with him. Grief slammed through her hard, knocking the breath out of her lungs. Breath she couldn’t steal back, no matter how hard she tried. The fog thickened in her mind. Razors dipped in flames razed her chest, burning her up.
Her surroundings faded as she waded in and gathered the girl to her chest, clutching her close, letting her heart beat for both of them. The tears finally cascaded, falling, falling, a never-ending river of pain.
“I will return you to the castle,” Cronus said, voice as gentle as if he were speaking to a babe, “and I will give you time to come to terms with what has happened. Your memories will no longer haunt you, and you will be able to leave the realm, should you wish it. In this, you have my word. But I will come back for you, Sienna, wherever you are, and I will expect you to aid my cause. And now…now that you’ve seen what my wife, Galen’s ruler, is capable of, I think you’ll want to, yes?”
THE LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD were here, on the island in Rome, and nearing the Temple of the Unspoken Ones at that very moment.
They would have a plan of attack, Galen thought. The most likely: all but one warrior would surround him, staying hidden in the shadows, and that one would approach him to speak to him. Unless, of course, they all thought to hide, shooting him full of arrows and bullets now and asking their questions later.
Wouldn’t matter either way. The warriors must know they were walking into a trap. That Galen would not have set the meeting here if he could not use the Unspoken Ones to his benefit.
Once the Lords reached the threshold of the temple, the Unspoken Ones would have them, would whisk them here into their inner sanctum, as one, right in front of Galen, and lock them in place with invisible bindings, allowing him to do his thing.
However, Galen didn’t want to go that route. It was too time-consuming, with too much risk. Not to his life, but to theirs. If he killed one of the Lords, none would ever complete the trade he’d demanded. All he wanted right now was Legion.
His hands fisted. If the warriors had failed to bring her, he would honor his word for once in his life. As he had told Lucien, he would take another loved one from the Lords, and another and another—until they broke down. He would not kill, but he would harm.
Every day Galen’s need for Legion worsened. Hope had built up dreams of having her, of punishing her, of taming her…of owning her. Jealousy had tossed fuel on an already smoldering fire of resentment as he wondered where she was and what she was doing.
A rustle behind him had him tensing.
He whipped around. Standing between fat white pillars were all five of the Unspoken Ones. The furred one with a headful of hissing snakes in place of hair. The scarred one, with more muscles than three roided-up boxers fused together. The female, with the face of an ugly bird and horns lining the length of her spine. Lastly, the tallest two—one with shadows seeping from his skullet, and the other with blades that dripped poison spiking from the crown of his head.
Each creature was bound by chains they couldn’t break. And yet, the tenuous bonds mattered only as long as Cronus lived. The moment he kicked it, these beings would be loosed upon an unsuspecting world. No one, not even Galen, would be able to stop the destruction they would undoubtedly mete out.
On an altar in front of them lay Ashlyn, pale and panting, sweating, like a virginal sacrifice of old. Only this virgin was heavily pregnant and about to give birth. The fright he’d given her had caused her to go into labor.
Oddly enough, Galen didn’t like that she was in pain. She wasn’t a bad sort, and hurting the fairer sex had never been a particular favorite of his. He’d do it, had done it—he’d do anything—but he never enjoyed it.
“Cut the babes from her belly,” the horned, beaked she-devil commanded him. “I would have them for my own.”
Babes? As in more than one?
“They must die,” the scarred male snapped.
“No. We will use them as barter,” one of the mountains of muscle said.
Ashlyn moaned in pain, in supplication, her glassy gaze pleading as she looked to Galen. “Please. Don’t do this.”
Begging the enemy. To do so, she must love those babies with her whole heart, even though she had yet to meet them. He thought he understood that. Nearly twenty-nine years ago, he’d inadvertently fathered a daughter; he had not learned of her existence until she was fully grown. Knowing she was of his blood had been all that was needed for him to…not love her, he didn’t think he’d ever experienced that emotion, but to feel a sort of kinship with her despite the fact that she was as different from him as he was from the Lords.
His Gwendolyn. A Harpy. A female he could not bring himself to hurt. A female who would cut him down without a moment’s hesitation. He liked that about her, felt pride in her ruthlessness.
Galen had done terrible things throughout his life. Betrayed his friends, killed for power, razed cities, purposely addicted his own people to drugs so that they would need him, follow him. He had destroyed their families when they dared to disobey him—or even so much as thought to betray him. He’d slept with females he shouldn’t have, in ways he shouldn’t have.
There was no line he hadn’t crossed. No line he wouldn’t cross. He had done all of that—and would do a thousand times worse—yet he had never cared about the consequences. Still didn’t. Unlike the warriors he’d been created with, he hadn’t come with a sense of honor, a bond of brotherhood or a need to help anyone but himself.
Baden, the first to be created, had gotten most of the goodness and the rest a mere trickle. Galen, the very last to be created, had gotten what remained—nothing but the cold and the dark.
Perhaps that was why he had gone after Baden first.
None of the Lords knew he had spoken with Baden before he’d sent his Bait to lure the man to his death. A private meeting Baden himself had arranged. None of them knew Galen had vowed to leave the immortal army alone, to stop the war, if Baden sacrificed himself.
Possessed by the demon of Distrust, Baden had not believed Galen’s vow, but he’d made the bargain anyway, just in case. Galen knew it was because he’d blamed his demon for his instinct to mistrust, and hoped for the best—because of Galen’s demon.
The Bait—Haidee, one of the keepers of Hate—had gone to the warrior, unaware that her victim knew where she would lead him. Baden had not wanted his friends to know he willingly rushed to his grave. He had not wanted them to witness the event, either, but of course they had followed him. There had been no stopping the war after that, even if Galen had wanted to. Which, of course, he hadn’t.
“Gaaaaaleeeen.” A low, pained moan echoed as Ashlyn writhed atop the stone. Her face was red, swelling, her breaths coming in shorter puffs.
“Don’t look to me for aid, female.” The next half hour was mission critical, and he could not allow her to distract him. “I told your man what he must do to save you.”