- The Darkest Surrender
Kaia’s nipples had hardened at the contact and moisture had pooled between her legs. This was circumspect? Didn’t matter. She’d play. “Rhea could have given it to her, I suppose,” she whispered straight into his ear. Then she couldn’t help herself and had to lick the shell.
He pushed out a breath. Tempted to eat him alive, Kaia returned her attention to the dancers. Juliette and her mother were gone, she noted distantly.
“But why would she?” He saw her lick and raised her a warm puff of air. “There’s no reason good enough. Rhea hates my kind, wants us dead. She wouldn’t want us to get our hands on such a prized possession. She would have given it to the Hunters. To Galen.”
Goose bumps broke out over Kaia’s entire body. “Maybe Juliette stole it from her. Rhea’s missing, after all, and no one’s heard from her. Maybe Juliette killed her and assumed control of the Hunters.” She nibbled on his lobe before showing him her profile, eager for him to have his next turn.
He didn’t disappoint. He kissed along her cheekbone while his fingers caressed their way to the underside of her breast. “If that were the case, Cronus would be dead. The two are bound, so when one dies, the other will, as well. And Cronus is very much alive. Amun has been meeting with him.”
She leaned into his touch, her nerve endings sparking to dazzling life. “Juliette could have her locked up, then.” To find the Rod, Kaia knew she’d have to snatch up Juliette and torture her for information. She’d already considered and accepted the necessity. Now, she’d ask about Rhea and the Hunters, too.
Strider circled her nipple once, twice. “If so, she’s more powerful than we realized.”
Sweet fire, that felt good. She flattened her palm on his thigh, not surprised to find her claws sharpened, ready to dig into his flesh. “Don’t worry. I’ll handle her. Besides, I owe her.”
No matter the answers Kaia might force from Juliette, it was clear the bitch had somehow orchestrated this whole thing. To steal Strider, perhaps, as she’d first suspected. Not that Juliette had made much of an effort on that front, but she’d definitely wanted to taunt Kaia with what she could never have. Victory. Respect from her fellow Harpies. But also from Strider, if she failed him?
And if she did fail him, would he still love her?
She didn’t want to contemplate the answer, was already chilled to the marrow by the mere possibility.
“For future reference,” she said, no longer whispering, “you should know that I don’t get mad. I get even.”
“Good.” He placed a soft kiss at the edge of her mouth. “’Cause that’s how I like my candy and my women. Hot and spicy.”
The comment roused an unexpected chuckle from her. “Anyway, like I said, we shouldn’t discuss this here.” No matter how much she enjoyed the exchange of information.
He sighed. “You’re right.”
“Of course I am.”
He reached up and ruffled her hair. “Braggart.”
“Just being honest. So what happened to your hands?” she asked, changing the subject before she launched herself onto his lap and had her way with him right here, right now.
“Nothing.” There was a note of finality in his voice. A note that dared her to press—and lose.
A lie. She knew it, but still she let it slide. Now wasn’t the time to argue with him. They needed to display a united front.
“Lucky me,” another sexy male voice said, this time from behind her. “If it isn’t my favorite Harpy.”
Strider stiffened and they turned in unison—united, yay—and pushed to their feet. Lazarus stood before them, thick arms crossed over his middle. Like Strider, he wore a jacket and jeans. Unlike Strider, he did not make her heartbeat quicken.
“Hey, there, Tampon. Where’s your master?” Kaia asked him.
The obsidian in his eyes swirled menacingly. What? No more amusement for his pet name? “She’s having a private meeting with your mother about all the ways they plan to destroy you. I’m supposed to keep you occupied—a task that is no hardship. Would you like to go someplace private with me? I could at last meet all your needs.”
Strider growled low in his throat and the sound reminded her of a countdown clock. Tick, tock, tick, tock, someone’s about to die.
“Thanks,” Kaia said, “but I’d rather be on an island, a millionaire hunting me so he can kill me and drape my skin in front of his fireplace.”
“You and I will play that game later, baby doll,” Strider said. “You, on the other hand,” he threw at Lazarus, “can go someplace private with me now.”
Cold fingers of dread ran down Kaia’s spine. Please, please, please don’t challenge him.
“Thanks,” Lazarus replied, “but you’re not my type. So, if you won’t leave with me, sweet Kaia, why don’t we stay here and chat?”
The words earned another savage growl from Strider.
Oh, gods. The two were going to come to blows and there would be no stopping them.
She knew how powerful the immortal in front of her was. He’d ripped through a camp of Harpies, escaped unscathed and remained hidden for…well, she didn’t know how long, just that he had. Strider was powerful, too, but he had a handicap. His demon.
Like that’ll slow him.
The thought was immediately followed by another. You can use this. She needed to know what her mother and Juliette were planning and a fight between Strider and Lazarus would serve as the perfect distraction, allowing her to slip away unnoticed to accidentally on purpose overhear something.
Strider must have considered the same thing—and his demon must have accepted the challenge of finding out—because he launched himself at the warrior without another word. The two flew to the ground in a tangle of limbs. And knives. The silver tips glinted in the moonlight.
Yeah, Strider wanted to kill the warrior, but that wasn’t why he’d started the fight and she knew it. He’d given her the cover she needed to find the women in question, but damn it! She hated to leave him.
As the warriors grunted in pain, dashed and ducked, threw punches, kicked and slashed, the Harpies around the campfire noticed. A second later, the cheering and betting began.
Kaia worked her way through the throng, her gaze remaining on Strider until the last possible second. He and Lazarus were now rolling in the snow, leaving pools of blood in their wake. Her stomach clenched.
Don’t worry. He can take care of himself.
That didn’t stop her from trembling as she crouched on the fringes of the crowd and sniffed, searching for her mother’s familiar scent. Nothing. She inched forward. Still nothing. To the right. Nothing. To the left—there!
She propelled in that direction, staying in the shadows as much as possible. All too soon the mountain’s incline stopped her forward progress. She glanced upward. Ice, jagged rocks. A ledge.
A ledge that most likely led to a cavern.
How cliché. Harpies could jump higher than humans, and even hover in the air for short periods of time, but because their wings were so small, they couldn’t fly. She had to do this the hard way and climb. She placed her hands and feet precisely, lest a pebble or ice chunk fall. If the women were up there—and she thought that they were, the unimaginative villains—the slightest noise could alert them. Oh, she didn’t doubt that they heard the chaos below, but that was something they’d expected.
The clenching in her stomach worsened when a voice she recognized as belonging to an Eagleshield whooped and shouted from below, “That’s the way, cowboy. Beat his face in!”
Who was the cowboy? Strider or Lazarus? Her money was on Lazarus because Juliette was an Eagleshield, which meant her clan would prefer him to Strider. Even though Strider was a delicious Lord of the Underworld. Idiots. They made her ashamed to call herself a Harpy.
“Holy hell, I think you broke his nose. Sweetest punch ever. Do it again! Do it again,” someone else chanted.
“I get to nail the winner!”
“No way. I do.”
You can’t afford to look.
Up she continued to climb, not pausing until she reached the ledge. Her arms shook and her thighs burned, but she held herself steady, listening. There was a murmur of voices, yes, but they were whispered and she couldn’t tell if they were male or female. Couldn’t even guess how many were speaking.
To find out, she’d have to go in.
If they spotted her, they’d fight her. But a fight was better than a secret meeting, where plans were made and enacted. At the very least, she’d prevent the attendees from solidifying any goals.
She inhaled a measured breath, reached down, dangling from the ledge by one hand and palmed a dagger. Then she did the same with the other hand, until she was two-fisting weapons and ice. Then she hauled herself over.
A mistake. One she knew she would regret forever.
She’d been set up, she immediately realized with dread.
There was no time to act. Manacles shot out from the bottom sides of the cavern and latched around her ankles, metal teeth digging so deep they hit bone. She stifled her cry of pain, even as her knees buckled. Can’t distract Strider.
Her mother and Juliette hadn’t met in private. They hadn’t met at all. They’d simply assembled a group of murder-minded Hunters. And those Hunters were staring at her, smiling, as if they’d been waiting for her all along.
WIN, WIN, WIN.
As Strider fought the strongest immortal he’d ever encountered, his demon chanted excitedly, nervously. That wouldn’t have been so bad, or so distracting, if there hadn’t been another voice inside his head. Tabitha’s. Prodding him toward a raging darkness he’d never felt before.
They want to kill her. They will kill her.
He damn well knew the Harpies wanted to kill her. Would they succeed, though? Hell, no. But if Tabitha was talking to him, she couldn’t be meeting with Juliette. And if she wasn’t meeting with Juliette, why the hell had he accepted a challenge he might not be able to win, just to distract the ranks, giving Kaia time to infiltrate her enemy’s camp?