- The Darkest Surrender
A sigh shuddered from her. “The Odynia. Better known as Hera’s Garden of Goodbyes, since she used the place to get rid of her opposition without ever having to raise a hand against them. Of course, Rhea’s in charge of it now, so I guess she’ll be our hostess there.”
Rhea, the Titan god queen and true leader of the Hunters. Far more dangerous, far more powerful, than Galen could ever hope to be. If Strider attended this portion of the games he’d most likely walk right into a trap. If he stayed behind, Kaia could be hurt, and he’d be unable to reach her and help her heal.
No way in hell, he thought.
THE STUPID MAN WOULDN’T stop following her!
Getting away from Strider had been easy. Letting his demon “win” hadn’t. After dropping the Rhea bombshell, Kaia had requested a private moment to talk with him. And by talk, she’d let him assume she meant to kiss him senseless.
They’d stepped outside the bar, the cool air wrapping around her and freezing her already chilled blood. Then, before Strider could utter a word, she’d planted a swift kiss on his gorgeous lips—unfortunately not leaving him senseless—and challenged him to stay put for one hour. Oh, and he had to keep Sabin and Lysander by his side.
The savage fury he had radiated as she collected Bianka and Gwen and walked away…the way he’d tackled Sabin and Lysander when the two tried to follow…the feral way he’d fought them…
She would never forget. She’d almost turned around a thousand times, wanting so badly to beg his forgiveness and plead with him to join her. She’d used his demon against him, something she’d never wanted to do. And to do so after they’d kissed so spectacularly, when they’d finally turned onto the right road, headed in the right direction, gods. Only thoughts of Rhea and the goddess’s vicious nature stopped her. Kaia couldn’t keep her mind on the prize and protect Strider at the same time. Hunters could be lying in wait at the Odynia even then, ready to take his head.
At all costs, she had to protect Strider. She needed him more than she needed air to breathe. And he’d been softening toward her. Wanting more from her. He’d kissed her in full view of everyone. Kissed her down and dirty, like they were about to make love. Like he couldn’t get enough of her. Like she was a drug he’d been denied for too long. Then he’d called her baby doll and petted her like a treasured companion.
She had ruined everything by challenging him rather than talking to him, and the knowledge made her stomach cramp. But there’d been no time to explain or convince him of the merits of her plan. Team Kaia only had twenty-four hours—nineteen now—to reach Rhea’s garden in the heavens, but to do so, they had to first reach the portal the god queen had opened.
With Taliyah and Neeka scouting ahead, Kaia and the rest of her ladies made their way to the wintry wonder-land of Alaska. Alaska, the homeland of the Skyhawks, and the location of the makeshift portal—a location chosen in honor of the first contest winner.
Their destination? A forgotten stretch of land between two specific mountains. They left no footprints, disguised their scents and stayed completely out of sight. Just in case another team thought to hamper their progress.
However, nothing hampered the determined men on their trail.
“We’re going to have to hobble them,” Gwen said, mist forming in front of her face. She hopped from the top of one ice-covered tree to another, strawberry-blond locks blowing behind her.
A suggestion from Gwennie, the nice one. “No,” Kaia said, jumping to a new tree herself, her wings fluttering beneath her white faux fur coat. That would cause Strider to lose and she couldn’t bear the thought of him being laid low, writhing in pain for days, and weakened as a result. It would make him an easy target for Juliette. “The portal will close at 8:01 tomorrow morning. We’ll dive through just before it closes, and then they won’t be able to follow us.”
“That’s risky,” Bianka said from directly behind her. The limb swayed under their combined weight. Slight though it still was. “We might be too late to enter ourselves and we can’t afford to be disqualified from a competition. If we are, we’ll be out for good with no hope of winning third place, much less first prize.”
Damn it. Consorts were supposed to make life easier, not more complicated. Kaia paused, scrubbed a hand down her chilled face, suddenly so weary she just wanted to collapse. She hadn’t slept in days, not really. First she’d been too busy healing, and then she’d been too busy worrying about possible sneak attacks. “Can you think of any other way to pull this off without hurting our men?”
There was a whistle of air, unnatural, causing her ears to twitch. It was a sound Kaia recognized very well, and dread washed through her.
They were about to be ambushed.
“Duck!” she shouted, tugging Bianka down with her. The branch shook, but just over their heads, an arrow embedded in the trunk. The scent of avocado and salt hit her nose and she cringed.
“I broke a goddamn nail!” Gwen shouted, more pissed than Kaia had heard her since her bridezilla days.
Kaia sniffed the air, discovered remnants of sweat and fear. Harpies had not loosed that arrow; humans had. Though she would bet big money Harpies had paid the humans to do so. How else would they have known to use arrowheads carved from the pit of an avocado and dipped in salt rather than bullets? How would they have known that combined, the substances weakened a Harpy’s heart for weeks, no matter where she was hit?
Or, if not hired by Harpies, they’d been hired by Rhea herself, since Kaia and company were friends of the Lords. As one of the humans drew the string on his bow taut, Kaia caught sight of the figure eight tattooed on the inside of his wrist. The symbol of Infinity. The symbol of the Hunters.
With Strider, Sabin and Lysander nearby… Damn it. She didn’t want Strider anywhere near these sick bastards. And maybe that’s why the Hunters had been sent. Either to take out the boys, or to take out the girls dating them.
Not that they’d succeed.
“They were lying in wait, and you know how I hate when people lie in wait,” Bianka growled, dropping her bag of clothes and supplies. There was a puff as the heavy nylon landed in the snow. “Gotta do a little punishing.”
“Yeah.” In quick succession, six more arrows slammed into her tree, each closer than the last. She withdrew two daggers, found her targets, tossed one, then the other. There was a grunt, a scream. “Save me one, will you?” she asked, dropping her bag beside her twin’s.
“Hell, no. It’s your turn to save one for me.”
“Do it anyway and I’ll stop calling you the Heavenly Hills Ho.” Kaia blew her a kiss before dropping…falling…landing in a crouch with only the slightest jarring. Little snowflakes floated around her as she swiftly scanned her surroundings. She counted fifty-three Hunters, most still on the ground, bows cocked and ready.
“You fight dirty, Kye,” Bianka called from just behind her. “But you’ve got yourself a deal.”
She chuckled, happy she wouldn’t have to control herself. More arrows peppered the trees, still far too close for comfort. Her Harpy squawked for release. Kaia didn’t even try to hold the little sweetie back. Her sisters knew what to do, knew how to stay out of harm’s way. Instantly her vision tunneled to black, little dots of red becoming her focus. Body heat.
Her mouth watered for a taste of blood.
These men would hurt Strider if given a chance, and so these men would die. Painfully. She grinned as she unfolded herself, climbing to her feet.
“There, she’s there!” someone shouted.
“I see her!”
A second later, arrows soared toward her. She watched them—six of them, moving so slowly. One by one, she caught them, looked them over and threw them down. They weren’t very fun toys.
“Well, did you see that? Impossible!”
Kaia leapt into action. One blink, and she was in the midst of the humans. She danced through them, claws slashing, fangs ripping. The sweet taste of blood slid down her throat. Soon, screams of pain and pleas for mercy echoed all around her.
Mercy? What was mercy? She knew not the word. The only word she knew was more. She needed more. More screams, more blood. She slashed with more fervor, bit with more enthusiasm. La la la, this was so much fun. Oh, look. She knew other words. So much fun. Bones made the most delightful sound when they broke. And when skin ripped, the most magnificent lullaby was created. Scream, scream, plea. Scream, scream, plea. La la la.
All too soon, the bodies stopped rising. The screams and pleas died. There were no more bones to break, no more skin to tear. No more lullabies. Kaia stilled, frowned. But…but…she wanted more. Why couldn’t she have more?
In, out she breathed—and caught the scent of cinnamon. Cinnamon equaled Strider.
Her sexy, irreverent consort who called her baby doll.
The Harpy squawked and, sated, calmed by Strider, retreated to the back of her mind.
Kaia blinked into focus. She was panting, she realized, sweat coating her skin. No, not sweat. Blood. Blood and…other things.
“Nice to have you back, sister dear,” Bianka said, slapping her on the shoulder in a job well done. “As promised, I pulled one aside and saved him for you.”
Kaia turned, saw the crimson snow, the motionless bodies—or rather, what was left of them. Humans had a saying. Mess with the bull and get the horns. Well, Harpies had a saying, too. Mess with a Harpy and die.
The only remaining—and living—human was pinned to a tree. He had an arrow protruding from each shoulder and ankle, and he quaked as Kaia neared him. Each step hurt her and she paused midway to glance down at herself. When she saw nothing out of the ordinary, save for the blood, she removed her now red coat. She had cuts on her arms, stomach and legs—and the tip of an arrowhead in her side. Shit.
“Shit,” Bianka echoed as she, too, noticed. “Let’s get that out before any more damage is done.” Her twin grabbed her bag, withdrew a pair of pliers, pushed Kaia into a sit and went to work, digging out every single shard.