- The Darkest Seduction
She didn’t, it didn’t. “Yeah, I did, didn’t I? You are lucky.”
No animosity, just a kind amusement, a contemplative dreaming. There went his heart again, breaking into a few more pieces.
“When we met,” he said, “you claimed to be writing a romance novel. You even had pages. I remember how they scattered at your feet when I slammed into you. Was that true? Were they yours? Since waking up in that cell, I figured they were a lie, but now that I know you better, I’m thinking differently.”
“They were mine, yes. I love romance novels, and I did want to write one. Maybe I will one day. Not that there’s a publisher for the dead.”
“Well, you’ve already got a built-in audience of one. I want to read what you wrote, and what you will one day write. Promise?”
She licked her lips, her tongue caressing his skin, too, and oh, did he like that. “Have you, uh, ever fallen in love?” she asked, ignoring his demand.
Okay, all right. He’d let her lack of an answer about the novel slide. For now. “Once I thought I was, but it didn’t work out. And there were a few times, after I was with a woman, that I would wish for more and hang around. A few times I even dated a woman without sleeping with her, hoping for some type of relationship, but all along I’d have to sleep with others, so I’d feel guilty and then I’d just stop seeing her so that the guilt would fade.”
“Don’t be. Not your fault.”
“Doesn’t help that Hunters threaten everyone you love.”
“How do you deal, having a group of people hunting you, hating you?”
“It’s not easy, I won’t lie. Sometimes we push ourselves over the edge. Drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever our particular vice is, but we go on and we look out for each other.” The warmth of her breath stroked over him, tantalizing him. “And lately we are Addams Family normal—you know, doing the hearts and flowers thing while navigating everything our enemies throw at us.”
Her nails dug into his chest. “The Hunters…more than half of the organization is brainwashed. We’re told over and over how evil you are, how you are responsible for everything bad that has ever happened to us, to everyone. How perfect our lives could be if you were gone. They show us pictures, horrible pictures of torture, disease and death, and they prey on our weaknesses. Like with my sister, telling me that little girls wouldn’t be kidnapped if there were no demons in the world.”
First she’d lost her sister, then her baby. He squeezed her tight. “I’m sorry for her loss.” For all the crap she’d endured throughout her too-short life. Crap he’d only added to. “I should have told you that when you first mentioned her, but…”
“But we had only just reconnected and didn’t trust each other.”
He kissed her temple. “We’ve always known the Hunters were studying us. Is that how you knew I was in Rome that day? How you knew the romance novel would distract me, and what drug to use on me?”
“I knew through Dean Stefano, my boss, and he knew through Galen. Galen, I’m sure, knew through Rhea, Cronus’s wife. Funny, but I never understood the chain of command until after my death.”
Paris couldn’t help himself and gave her temple another kiss. They were getting heavy again, and he didn’t mind that, wanted to travel that road with her, all roads with her, but she didn’t and he would honor her wishes.
“I’m going to switch gears for a minute, okay?”
Her relief was palpable as she said, “Please do.” One at a time, she plucked her nails from his skin.
“I know you’ve never been married, but other than the douche who left you have you ever…wanted to be?” He tried to ask it casually, as if the answer was no biggie, but he couldn’t keep the yearning from his tone.
Her reaction, when it came, was one of shock, and he wasn’t sure whether that was surprise-party good or you-just-hit-my-car bad. She jerked upright, that dark flood of hair draping one bare shoulder. Her eyes were still more green than brown and they dominated her pixie face. The lips he’d kissed until they were puffed and red were parted.
Balls to the wall. He would finish this. “I want you to marry me,” he said. He wanted her tethered to him the same way he was tethered to her. Mentally, emotionally and physically.
He threaded his fingers through her hair. “Don’t say anything right now. Just think about it.” Because, bottom line? No more talk of separating. They were staying together, and that was that. He wasn’t letting her go, and he sure as hell wasn’t cheating on her. No matter the cost to himself.
From now on, there was only one sheath for his sword. Would there be problems? Complications? Oh, yeah. Probably more than he was aware of, and he was aware of plenty. But he’d rather deal with those problems with her than be without her and have smooth sailing.
“I have to tell you something,” she whispered, the defeat returning in an instant. “I lied. I won’t kill her, and he can manipulate me. Otherwise, the rest of you are dead, too, and I can’t allow that to happen.”
“Won’t kill who? Who can’t manipulate you? Tell me, and I’ll fix it.” I will slay her dragons.
“You can’t. Rhea, she…she… When my sister Skye was taken, we were swimming in the neighborhood pool. Mom told us never to go there alone, but I was fourteen and thought I could handle things, and Skye wanted to swim so badly. We were just supposed to walk to the park, but we went to the pool instead. It was so crowded that day, and I had to go to the bathroom, and when I came back out, she was being dragged away by a stranger. Everyone must have thought she was throwing a fit, because no one stopped them, and I couldn’t get to them.”
He opened his mouth to offer comfort, to tell her it wasn’t her fault, that even though she’d gone against her mother’s orders, she wasn’t the one who had abducted the little girl, but she wasn’t finished.
“Today I learned that all these years Skye has been alive. Until recently. She was murdered. Rhea murdered her. If I’d only found her earlier, but I didn’t, and now I have to live with the knowledge that she…that I…” She was rambling, the words spewing out as if they’d been trapped for a long time and were now tangling on her tongue as they fought for freedom.
He ached for her. As he’d never ached for anything, he ached for her, and he didn’t take the decision to slay her dragons lightly. He’d do what needed doing. “Go on, baby. Tell me the rest.”
A shudder moved through her. She inhaled forcefully. “Cronus told me that Skye was Galen’s prisoner, then he told me that he didn’t actually know where she was, then he showed me her lifeless, bloody body.”
Paris had known the bastard was low, but this…he had no words. His reckoning with Cronus needed to happen soon—with knives. No wonder Sienna had been so upset when she’d returned to the castle. “I’m so sorry, baby. If I could take away your pain, I would.” Finally he told her what he’d wanted to tell her. “This isn’t your fault. It was never your fault. You aren’t responsible for the things other people do. Never have been, never will be. This is their shame, not yours. But I know it hurts, I do, and however you want to handle it, I will help you.”
“He showed me because he expects me to spy on Galen and to…to be with him.”
Spots of black flashed over his eyes. “When you say be with Galen, do you mean be with him sexually?”
A shameful nod, and maybe even a bit resolved, as if she deserved nothing better.
“That you’d even consider it tells me that you want to punish yourself,” he said, comprehension a slap in the face. “For what you did to me, and what you think you allowed to happen to your sister.”
Her chin jutted stubbornly. “Maybe.”
“So, what else is it you did exactly, that some part of you thinks you need to be punished? Fought for a cause you believed in? Check. Slept with a man you were attracted to, despite everything else? Check. Saved him when you could have left him to a slow, torturous death? Check.”
Her hand balled into a (proper) fist. “I told you that I hated you as I lay dying.”
“Every couple says things they don’t mean when they’re fighting.”
“Well, I meant it at the time! And before that, I drugged you.”
“Yeah, and I planned to screw you and leave you like I’d done to a thousand others.” She flinched at his crudeness, but he kept going. “And guess what? At the time I was blithe about it. I loved women, and I protected them, but I still used them. In my mind, it was my right. I needed a wake-up call, and you gave it to me.”
“Don’t make excuses for me. You’ve seen my past, and you know I’ve spoken true.”
She snapped her teeth at him. “So you’re saying you bear me no ill will? None at all?” A snort lacking any hint of amusement.
He fisted her hair a lot harder than he’d intended, but he didn’t loosen his grip. “Baby, I’m saying I adore you.”
Once again, she floundered for a response. The anger drained from her, and utter longing peered down at him. “Adore?” she squeaked.
“Your ears are working just fine.”
The harshness of his reply had her sighing dreamily, something that puzzled and aroused him. “I was wrong earlier. This is the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
And so I’ll be stepping up my game now. If that made her happy, his A-Game was gonna make her blissful. “Nothing to say in return?”
“Well, yeah. Cronus says that my being with Galen is the only way to keep you and your friends safe.”
Hell, no. When they’d lived in the heavens, Galen had been one of Paris’s go-to guys. They’d hung together, fought together. Paris had admired the guy’s emotional distance, his ability to do whatever was necessary to finish a job successfully. And okay, fine, they’d shared women, sometimes even at the same time.