- The Darkest Seduction
When she’d first met him, he’d looked like a codger of an old man, complete with gray hair, wrinkled skin and stooped shoulders. Now he was GQ flawless and barbarian tough. Dark chestnut hair hung to strong, wide shoulders. Skin of the smoothest texture was tanned to the perfect shade of bronze. He’d also ditched his prissy toga in favor of a black mesh shirt and black leather pants.
The change was gargantuan—and creepy. She wanted to ask why he’d gone this route, then offer to punish his stylist free of charge. Did she dare? Heck, no. The ranting and raving would morph into a straight-up savage beating. At least, that’s the impression he gave.
“I saved you,” he snapped, death in his timbre as he stomped one foot in front of the other, back and forth, back and forth. “I strengthened you. Gifted you with your demon. And how do you repay me? By constantly refusing to obey me. It’s unconscionable!”
Gifted? Really? If the new definition of gifted was cursed forever and ever with misery and pain, then yeah, he had. “I obeyed you,” she reminded him. At first.
“At first,” he said, parroting her thoughts. His was an accusation that lashed like the sharpest of whips. “And only because you were compelled. You’ve since learned to block me.”
True. And that she had was a testament to the iron-hard rigidity of her stubborn core. With only a thought, this huffing, puffing being could render unending pain. With a wave of his hand, he could vaporize entire cities. Something she would do well to remember.
Sienna chose her next words carefully. “To be fair, you tricked me.” Okay, so maybe she hadn’t chosen carefully. At least her tone had been as flat and unaccusatory as possible.
A narrowed flick of his gaze nearly buckled her knees. “How so?”
She pressed more of her weight into the wall. “You promised I would see my younger sister.”
You look so pretty, Enna.
Really. You’re the prettiest girl in the whole wide world!
Skye, her only sibling, a little girl she’d adored with her whole heart, had been abducted years ago, never to be seen or heard from again. Sienna missed her terribly, prayed she was healthy, whole and that she hadn’t suffered incomparable cruelties.
“Yet you merely teased me with a glimpse of her,” she added, rubbing her stomach as she always did when she thought of her sister, reminded of yet another girl, someone else she’d loved and lost, the— She cut that thought off before it could form. I won’t break down in front of this creature.
Cronus ground his molars. “That glimpse… I should have known it would come back to haunt me.” He paused, a low growl bubbling from his throat. “I guess I should at last admit the truth, then. I showed you an illusion of your sister, nothing more.”
Wait, wait, wait. An illusion? Sienna bit her tongue. Why would he… How could he…? No matter the question, the answer was simple. To play her like a piano, as Paris had once said to her about her. Bastard wasn’t a vile enough word for this beast.
Steady, calm. “Is she even alive?” Sienna gritted out.
There was no of course with Cronus. He lived by his own set of rules, and he didn’t always abide by those.
Every time he appeared before her, her demon showed her the despicable things he’d done throughout his life. The lives he’d taken, striking down not just his enemies, but his own people, humans, anyone who dared defy him. And he’d stolen, oh, had he stolen. Ancient artifacts, powers that belonged to others, women. He had no shame. No limits.
“How do I know you’re telling the truth now?”
“You won’t. Your demon will.”
A suspended moment as she searched inside herself. Wrath was calm, not worked into a frenzied need to punish him for lying. That glimpse of Skye had indeed been an illusion, but Cronus did believe she was still alive. Sienna gritted her teeth, saying, “Bring her to me, the real Skye, and let me keep her, then I’ll do anything you ask.”
“Why?” She stamped her foot. It was childish, sure, but she had no other way to express her displeasure with this man. “Do you, a supposedly all-knowing being, not know where she is?”
In a blink, he was a mere whisper away, scowling down at her, his breath fanning over her. “Enough about your sister! Aren’t you curious why I gifted you with Wrath? You, a fragile, dearly departed female who had upset one of my strongest warriors? Aren’t you curious about my desire for your willing participation in my war?”
Do not suggest the king of the Titans needs a breath mint. She gulped. And don’t you dare think about the warrior you upset. Don’t you dare think about Paris. Oh, no, no, no. “Y-yes.” And now she was stuttering? Grow some lady balls, Blackstone!
Red flashed in Cronus’s eyes. Demon-red. A fiendish crimson that made her think of blood mixed with nuclear toxins. Not only was he the king of the Titans, but he was also possessed by Greed—and right now, his demon was at the wheel, driving his actions, his words. Around her, the castle shook, his anger rattling its very foundation.
“You know the Hunters. You know how they operate. You were once a part of their cause.”
“I know.” As if she could ever forget or absolve herself. Once she’d even borne the symbol of infinity on her wrist, their mark. A permanent reminder of their “goals.” In this spirit form, she had no tattoos but the butterfly around her wings, and for that, she was immensely grateful. “The same is true for thousands of others.”
Except those thousands of others actually had no idea they were fools, or that they were expendable, nothing more than puppets on strings. Like she had been—until she’d gotten a bitch slap of truth and clipped those strings with brutal proficiency.
Soon after Wrath’s possession of her, Cronus had whisked her to a Hunter compound. Because Cronus could shield himself from prying eyes and humans could not see her, no one had noticed them. Just as she’d seen the king’s sins play through her mind, she’d seen the transgressions of the Hunters. Thefts, rapes, murders, all in the name of “good.” That she had once been a (supposedly vital) part of their cause, that she had once aided them…
Punish them… Steal, rape, murder…
There he was. Wrath. Her dark companion. Even remembering what he’d seen, and being worlds apart from those responsible, he urged her to seek vengeance against the Hunters. To show no mercy, no forgiveness for even the innocent among them, for all the harm they had caused, to hurt them far worse than they had hurt others.
Cringing, she covered her ears with her hands. “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” she chanted. Sometimes she could resist him; sometimes she could not. That’s when he would overtake her, and her world would go black. For a little while, at least.
Though she was cursed to remain inside this deteriorating monstrosity of a castle, somehow Wrath was not. When he was in control of her mind, they could leave. He would use her body to castigate others however he wished.
Days later, she would wake up with blood on her hands, coating her skin. Of course, memories of what the demon had done would then deluge her. Sadistic, stomach-curdling things. And yet, nothing—nothing!—he had forced her to do was more disgusting than what the Hunters were doing to innocent humans.
Humans. How odd her new vernacular was to her. Once she’d been a human. Such a foolish human. How could I ever have thought the goal of the Hunters was the elimination of evil?
Well, okay, that was easy. As a teenager, she’d seen a vile demon in action—or what she’d thought was a demon—and the experience had freaked her out, convinced her that such evil was the reason her sister had been taken. Combine that with the shock of learning that humans were not alone, that there was an entire world of creatures at work around them…
The whole other-world thing had proven to be true, at least. But the rest, the demon she’d seen? While they did in fact exist, she hadn’t encountered one that night. Her Hunter boyfriend had drugged her—his preferred method of recruiting—created the perfect atmosphere to elicit fear, and her hallucinating brain had filled in the rest. Afterward, he’d fed her fear with stories of the evil they could fight and the good they could do, saying she might even be able to find and save her sister.
What he’d failed to tell her: humans made their own decisions, influenced by demons or not. They decided to embrace the dark or run into the light.
Not all Hunters cloaked their malevolence with righteous determination; she knew that, she did. Some were genuinely sincere in their desire to rid the world of evil, and wouldn’t create their own to do so. But the fact that she had once willingly contributed to such a warped cause, well, she would never get over that fact. Worse, she had hurt Paris, a warrior who would give his life to protect the ones he loved.
There was no stopping the next flood of thoughts, each revolving around the man she had once harmed beyond repair. She had struck at Paris when he was at his weakest. Worse, she would have aided in his cold-blooded murder if he hadn’t escaped with her.
During that escape, she was shot down and she’d even blamed him for that, thinking he had used her body to shield his own. Oh, how she had despised him. Now, she despised only herself.
No, that wasn’t exactly true. She also hated the Hunters and everything they represented.
Cronus wanted her to punish them. Her demon wanted to punish them. She wanted to punish them. But Cronus refused to simply unleash her. Instead he demanded she return to their midst and spy on Galen, the leader’s right-hand man, as well as the keeper of Hope. Yep, a demon was second-in-command of the demon slayers, and none of them knew it. They thought he was an angel.
“As devoted as you were to the Hunter cause in life, Galen will believe you wish to rejoin him in your death,” Cronus said, as though reading her thoughts. Maybe he had. “He will welcome you with open arms.”
“He won’t be able to see me.”