- The Darkest Surrender
“What?” someone shouted.
“That’s why we’re here!” another growled.
Juliette held up her hands, a command for silence. A command that was instantly obeyed. “This year, we have something better.”
Amid questioning murmurs, the curtain at the side of the stage parted. And then—Kaia’s mouth dropped open. No way. No damn way. The “slave” she’d tried to acquire all those centuries ago, the one who’d wreaked such havoc on the Harpy clans, strode to Juliette’s side. He was chained at the wrists, just as before. He was more muscled now, his dark hair longer, but his features were still sharp, stubborn.
“Dear gods. Is that him?” Bianka gasped out.
“Yeah,” she managed to squeak. No one had told her that Juliette had found him. When had she found him? Where? “That’s him.”
“Him who?” Strider demanded.
At first, Kaia thought she detected a note of jealousy in his tone, and it was such a loverlike response she wanted to kiss him deep and dirty. Strip him down to nothing more than skin and a smile. She wanted to ride him hard, fast and forever. All mine. Then common sense punched her right in the jaw. He might be jealous, but not in any way that mattered. Strider had decided to help her, and his demon would allow no one to interfere. Especially not another warrior.
Part of her resented that. The other part of her really resented that. “Laying it on a little thick, aren’t you, Meds? He’s no one you need to concern yourself with.”
“Kaia,” he snapped.
“Hush it, would you?” She couldn’t tell him the truth. Still didn’t want him to know of her past foolishness, when he already thought so little of her. “You’re making me look bad in front of my team.”
“Fine. I’ll explain later,” she lied.
A tense pause. Then, “You’d better.”
Her nemesis—the man she’d searched for over the years, determined to punish for what he’d done to her sister, but had never found—now held a long, thin spear. Its thicker, oblong tips were comprised of glass, something glowing and twirling inside them.
Power, so much power, radiated from that spear.
Juliette claimed the weapon without a word of thanks. The man—his name, she had long ago learned, was Lazarus, though she and Bianka had nicknamed him The Tampon for being such a douche—spun on his booted heels. His dark gaze moved over the crowd…searching…before snagging on Kaia. He stopped, stared.
Oxygen froze in her lungs, making it impossible to breathe. No damn reaction, she thought. Not here, not now. Later, though, she would seek him out. She would hurt him as she’d always wanted.
Slowly he grinned. So handsome…so coldly evil. She hissed, her fangs popping free of her gums. You’re dead, cowboy. He belonged to Juliette, yes, and everyone clearly blamed Kaia rather than him for what he had done to their loved ones. And yeah, they blamed her with good reason. Had she done as she’d been told, he wouldn’t have had the strength to harm anyone. But he had been the one to rip through flesh, with his teeth, his claws. He had been the one to render those deathblows.
He would be the one to pay—by Kaia’s hand.
Every time she had sent a fruit basket to Juliette, she had referenced the past—but in her mind, she had offered the apology because of what she planned do in the future. She was going to kill him. No one hurt her sisters. No one.
“Forget later. Him, the fuck, who?” Strider demanded again.
Before she could think up a reply, the Tampon kicked back into gear, exited the stage, and was once again hidden behind the curtain. Smart of him. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could have refrained from flying at him.
When she went for him, it would be in private. No one there to save him.
“Later,” she repeated.
“This,” Juliette said, drawing everyone’s attention to the spear in her hands, “is very, very precious. Far more so than silver or gold.” Her lavender gaze locked on Kaia. “I’m sure you’ve sensed its power, but what you don’t know? That power can be transferred to you. You can wield it, control it. You’ll be stronger than you ever imagined. You’ll be invincible.”
If what Juliette claimed was true, why hadn’t she transferred the powers to herself? Why hadn’t she struck at Kaia already? Why was she so willing, so eager to give the thing away?
Juliette flashed an indulgent smile. “Throughout the centuries, the gods have called this mighty weapon the Paring Rod. I, however, have a better name for it. First prize.”
Both men would have leapt on the stage if Taliyah and Neeka hadn’t held them back. The action proved unnecessary, however, because the weapon disappeared in a blink, in Juliette’s hand one minute, gone the next.
“What the hell?” Kaia, Gwen and Bianka asked in unison.
Kaia peeled her sister’s hands off her man and cupped his cheeks, forcing him to focus on her. “What’s going on?”
“First prize,” Strider gritted out. “It’s the fourth artifact. The one we need to help us find and destroy Pandora’s box.”
“Which means first prize,” Sabin finished bleakly, “has the power to wipe us out. Forever.”
HOW THE HOLY HELL HAD this happened?
Strider paced the length of the dingy motel room, the ice in his veins making his movements sluggish. His boots hammered into the shaggy brown carpet, creating a well-worn path.
Kaia was perched on top of the TV, watching him, her expression concerned. Her long, smooth legs were crossed at the ankles and swinging, banging into the screen every other second. A little faster, and she would have matched the thump, thump beat of his heart.
Sabin and Gwen sat at the edge of one of the double beds, and Bianka and Lysander sat at the edge of the other. Taliyah had taken off with a pretty black girl, and neither had said a word about where they were going or how long they’d be gone.
“The Unspoken Ones claimed to have the Paring Rod,” he croaked. Someone had to get the conversation/raging argument started.
“Clearly, they lied.” Sabin propped his elbows on his knees, head falling into his upraised hands.
Yeah. Clearly. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. “This is bad. Really bad.”
He should have known, should have suspected at the very least. Instead, a few weeks ago Strider had visited their temple. He hadn’t minded giving the monstrous beings the Cloak because he’d thought they had another artifact already. Why not one more? He’d thought they would guard both relics until he could return and bargain, buying both.
He’d thought wrong.
What a cluster! If the Unspoken Ones had possessed the Rod, they wouldn’t have given it to Juliette. Not without payment, and that payment would not have come in the form of cash or jewels. They wanted only Cronus’s head.
Since the god king still lived, no exchange had been made. Which meant the Unspoken Ones were completely untrustworthy, and there was no telling what they would do with the Cloak if Strider failed to deliver that head.
Win, Defeat growled. No question, just a flat-out acceptance for the challenge presented.
There would be no squabbling on his part. Even though they now had two open objectives. The Cloak, and Kaia. I know. I will.
First, he had to steal the Paring Rod. Sabin hadn’t lied. If it ended up in the wrong hands—and by “wrong,” he meant any hands but his own—Pandora’s box could be found, and he and his friends destroyed. Their demons would be ripped from their bodies and sucked back inside.
Great in theory, but man and beast were connected in a hard-core, can’t-live-without-you kind of way. Apart, the men would instantly kick the bucket and the demons would go bat-shit crazy.
Urgency rushed through him. Strider stopped in the center of the room and faced Kaia. “We have to steal it.”
Her mouth fell open, red and lush and oh-so-tempting. “Uh, what now?”
“Forget the games and help me steal the Rod.” He gritted his teeth like a good little soldier and added, “Please.” Sometimes a guy needed a wingman, and now was one of those times. He had no idea how Harpy minds worked or where that Juliette person was likely to hide her treasure.
Kaia was his inside source. His only way in.
Her pupils dilated—with anger. Great. Exactly what he didn’t need. The little lady in a temper, unafraid to use it. Then she ran her tongue over her teeth, and a bolt of lust shot straight through him, melting the ice and leaving a smoldering inferno behind, making him long to stoke that temper higher.
At a time like this? Really?
No time is the wrong time, his libido piped up. She might attack, but at least her hands will be all over you.
He could have kicked his own horny ass.
“Not just no, but hell, no,” she said, chin lifted stubbornly.
Dread replaced his urgency. He knew that look. He’d seen it before, directed at the roomful of Harpies. Their gazes had flayed her alive, for some reason, but she hadn’t backed down.
“And you aren’t stealing it, either,” she added.
As if. “Are you trying to punish me, Red?” He’d made the fatal mistake of being honest with her, of telling her he was here to help her but not to romance her. He’d known better, too. Never show a woman your cards. “Because if that’s the case—”
“Oh, my gods. Are you that egotistical?” Those silver-gold eyes sharpened like daggers, cutting him up inside. He didn’t like her angry (for the most part), and he didn’t like her hurt. Just then, she appeared to be both. “Not every thing is about you, Strider.”
“I know that. Believe me, I ego check all the time. So tell me, what’s the problem? I seem to recall a certain redheaded Harpy once saying she’d do anything, as long as it was immoral and the price was right. So do it. Name your price, and do it.”