- The Darkest Surrender
If Paris lost his head, if that was his destiny, he first wanted to move Sienna somewhere safe. She’d died because of him. She’d been paired with a demon because of him. Because he’d brought her to the god king’s attention. Paris owed her.
“I could aid you,” Arca said. “Not just find the place for you, but help you navigate the secret corridors.”
“I know, sweetheart, but that doesn’t change my mind.”
He didn’t tell her that feminine pleas held little sway with him. How many had begged him to remain in bed with them? How many had cried as he walked away? “I’m sorry, but this is the best I can offer.”
And if she wouldn’t tell him what he wanted to know, if she continued to refuse him, he would hurt her. Hurt…kill…anyone who got in his way. Anyone. He’d come so far. She wouldn’t stop him from going further.
For a long while, she sobbed silently. Then she bucked up on her own, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, the stubborn expression reminding him of Kaia.
How was Strider handling the female determined to bring him to his knees? Either the possessive warrior was fighting his attraction or he’d finally given into it—otherwise he would have been here, right beside Paris, meeting the terms of their “challenge.”
“Do you swear you’ll come back for me after you find her?” Arca asked.
“Yes. I swear. When she’s truly safe, I will come.” The moment he spoke the words, he was bound to them. He knew it, felt the strength of the ties. To break your word to a god or goddess was to suffer eternally. If you survived.
She wiped at her tears. “All right. I’ll tell you what you wish to know. If Cronus has remained true to his old ways, and believe me, I know that he has, you will find your woman in one of two places. If she’s in the first, she’s lost to you forever. If she’s in the second, and you venture there, you won’t emerge unscathed.”
Sienna was not in the first and that was that. “The name of the second place?”
As the words left her lips, his blood chilled. Breath abandoned him. He’d known Cronus would punish her for running to Paris, but he hadn’t known the god king planned to torture her eternally.
Paris unfolded himself from the bed and dressed as swiftly as possible.
“Will you still go after her?” Arca asked.
“Yes,” he replied without a moment of hesitation. He was more determined now than ever.
KICKED OUT OF HEAVEN and straight into hell, Kaia thought darkly. Or rather, her version of hell. And she hadn’t even gotten to enjoy her afterglow!
A campfire crackled in front of her, orange flames twined with blue. Heat licked over her. She’d never truly cooled down after making love with Strider—remembering, a shiver slid the length of her spine and she had to cut off a moan—and she was glad. She liked the heat. Mostly because of the lingering hum of satisfaction her…consort had provided.
Currently Strider was “scouting the area for Hunters.” Didn’t take two hours to scout a small stretch of land. He was looking for the Paring Rod, no question. He wouldn’t find it. Not here. Juliette wasn’t foolish enough to hide the thing under her makeshift mattress.
So badly Kaia had wanted him to acknowledge the link between them. So badly she’d wanted to touch and taste him. Wanted to be touched and tasted by him. That she had, that he had…gods, she was now scared to death. Because…
He loved her. That still shocked her. They were a couple. A real couple. He would have her back, and she would have his. More than that, he came first now. That’s just how it had to be. Whether he was being a pain in the ass or a romantic mattress god, he was hers. She had to protect him. Had to see to his future. And bottom line? He wanted, needed, the Paring Rod. Needed it to survive.
Therefore, she had to get it for him.
Right now her team was on the road to acquiring the artifact fair and square. But what if that changed? Juliette would then expect Kaia to make a play for it and the odds of actually getting her hands on it would cease to lean in her favor.
Therefore, there was no better time to strike.
Of course, that would take Kaia out of the competition and prove once and for all that she was unworthy, weak, but better her pride suffered than Strider died. She couldn’t live without him. She needed his blood, yes, but she also needed him. His smile, his laughter, his wit, his strength.
So, no contest and no more thought necessary. She would steal the Rod. Boom, done. She wouldn’t involve her sisters, though. She wouldn’t risk their lives. Not again. Especially now, when they were injured from the second game.
Had to happen tonight, she thought, her hands fisting. Most everyone would be intoxicated, healing or passed out. She’d make love to Strider—if he wanted and he had better want—and let the heat fill her once again. That heat energized her, a combination of lust and rage that swirled inside her, wanting so badly to escape. To consume.
Tonight she’d let it.
Soon…soon… Her narrowed gaze found Juliette. The brunette danced around the flickering fire, right alongside Kaia’s mother. Despite their recent loss, they were jubilant, carefree. As if they knew something she did not.
Juliette must have sensed her scrutiny; she met Kaia’s eye and grinned slowly, and, as always, smugly. Oh, yes. Tonight.
Kaia and Strider had fallen from Rhea’s forest and landed here, in Alaska, between the two mountains, right where the mystical portal had been. They’d opened their eyes and found themselves here—along with all the other Harpies participating in the games and their consorts.
At first, confusion reigned. Then anger that they’d been ejected from the heavens—anger they’d hoped to take out on each other. A fight would have broken out if Kaia’s mother hadn’t declared this neutral ground. Apparently whatever Tabitha the Vicious wanted, Tabitha the Vicious got. So, instead of attacking, instead of going their separate ways and awaiting the third competition, the Harpies had decided to stay and party.
Stolen beer abounded, hard rock blasted through the night and vehicles commandeered from the nearest town shot bright headlights into the ice-laden valley. Many of the combatants were still bruised and bloody from the earlier battle, and some were still unconscious, but that didn’t discourage the revelers.
A few hours earlier, someone had stolen Kaia’s coat and she had no doubts as to the culprit. Juliette probably expected her to issue a private challenge over it, ruining everyone’s good time. Well, Juliette could suck it. The thing had been dirty as hell anyway.
“Hey, baby doll,” a sexy male voice said.
Strider. Her Strider. He smelled like cinnamon and looked like paradise, his cheeks pink and his hair disheveled, framing his face in a vivid halo.
Did she love him? She hungered for him, was amused by him and delighted in his attention. But love? Trusting him with all that she was? Her sisters were the only members in her Faith Circle and she’d never thought to welcome another. Especially someone who did indeed have an agenda different than her own.
He plopped beside her and held out a frosted glass. “This is mine. Not yours. Don’t touch.”
Maybe trusting him wasn’t so bad. She took the glass from him with a muttered, “Thanks,” and sipped. Despite the coolness of the drink, her body temperature continued to rise.
“I talked to Sabin and Lysander. They’ve set up camp about a mile away and are doctoring Bianka and Gwen.”
So he hadn’t been searching for the Rod? Wonder of wonders. “What about Taliyah, Neeka and the others?”
“They took off without a word.”
“They’re always doing that,” she grumbled.
“Well, this time I followed them.”
Her gaze swung to him. His navy eyes were bright, his lips curled seductively. Her heart skipped a beat. He wore a leather jacket, jeans, boots. Typical Strider attire. The man was always ready to give an ass-kicking.
“Really?” she asked. “And they didn’t sense you?”
“I didn’t say that.”
She considered him anew. There were fresh cuts on his palms, nicks on his fingers. “What happened? Did they hurt you? Because if they hurt you, I will personally—”
“Easy, Red.” Those lips curled farther until he was grinning. “They just warned me away. Anyway, they had no idea I was behind them at first. They snuck through a few of the tents of warring teams.”
“Searching for the Rod?” But why would they do so?
“I don’t think so.” He stroked his chin in thought. “In the woods back there,” he hiked his thumb behind him, “they met a group of guys I didn’t recognize. Warriors, though. Immortal. Taliyah scented me out before I could get close enough to listen to their conversation.”
Taliyah. With men. Interesting. And unusual. Her older sister usually kept her distance from the opposite sex, never wanting to chance finding her consort. Not that Taliyah was a man-hater. She wasn’t. She just liked her space, liked doing her own thing. Liked having no ties, able to leave anyplace, anytime with no hindrances.
“Something’s up,” Kaia said.
“True, but I don’t think it concerns us or the games. The men were mostly interested in Neeka. Almost…proprietary toward her. So. Speaking of the Rod,” he went on, “I’ve been thinking. What if Juliette doesn’t have it? What if she’s got a fake?”
A possibility, though a dim one; Kaia recalled the power she’d felt emanating from the spear when Lazarus had walked on stage with it. One way or another, though, she would discover the truth.
Drunken feminine laughter cut off any reply she might have made. Good thing, too. There were too many possible eavesdroppers for them to have this conversation here. “We’ll talk about it later.”
“Nope. Now. We’ll just be more circumspect.” Strider wound his arm around her shoulders and tugged her closer. He didn’t release her, but whispered straight into her ear, his warm breath caressing her. “Couple questions are plaguing me. We didn’t know where the Paring Rod was. How did she? And how’d she get her hands on it without alerting anyone in our world? And why hasn’t she used it? Why would she give it away? Okay, that’s more than a couple.”