- The Darkest Surrender
Besides the coffee table, which was carved to resemble a hunched over wooden Sumo wrestler with a sheet of glass perched on top, and the chair with arms that were actually painted to look like humans legs that stretched to the floor, the furniture was beautiful, pieces she and Bianka had stolen throughout the centuries.
History was a scent that clung to almost every polished piece. Okay, maybe not the white rug with two yellow pillows sewn at one end, so that the whole thing looked like eggs in a frying pan. Or the hamburger beanbag chair, complete with lettuce, tomato and mustard layers, but that was it.
And okay, maybe the couch and love seat had been chosen for comfort more than anything else, and were no more than a decade old. She’d crashed a frat party a few years ago and had liked the way the overstuffed cushions had conformed to her body. Plus, they were a pretty tawny color, almost the same as Bianka’s eyes, so she’d made sure to leave with them. No one had tried to stop her, either. Maybe because she’d carried each one over her head. By herself.
Colorful vases decorated the tabletops, interspersed with personalized bobblehead dolls and the occasional stuffed squirrel in a crazy outfit. Weapons and artwork hung on the walls right beside the homemade plaques congratulating her on a job well done. Her fave: the one for giving Bianka the best birthday present ever—the tongue of the man who’d called her a “mean, ugly hag.”
There were also photos of her and her family. Bianka, as well as their younger sis, Gwen, and their older half sis, Taliyah. Kaia partying hard at clubs, Bianka winning beauty pageants, Gwen trying to hide from the camera, and Taliyah standing proudly over her kills. Mercenary that she was, she had a lot of kills.
In the kitchen—Kaia skidded to a halt, her heart banging frantically against her ribs. Strider. Gorgeous, sexy Strider. He sat at the pool table she’d plucked from his fortress her very first visit there and now used in the breakfast nook. Food was scattered in every direction, from bags of chips to cheese slices to candy bars.
He wasn’t looking at her, hadn’t even glanced at her, but he had stiffened when she’d stepped inside. “I figured that, since these things were here, they were acceptable for you to eat. Which means I more than kept up with you. I outwitted and surpassed you.”
“Thanks,” she said dryly. How disappointing. The one time she wanted her man to forget he had a brain, he remembered.
She leaned against the door frame and crossed her arms over her chest. Her stomach tightened, threatening to growl, but she remained in place, waiting. Only when he’d gotten a good once-over would she move.
“In a minute. I’m enjoying the view. You should give it a try.”
He tensed. “There’s a note from your sister on the fridge. She said she’s in the heavens with Lysander, and she’ll see you in four days for the games.”
“What games? Never mind,” he rushed out before she could reply. “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. What perfume are you wearing? I don’t like it.”
Asshat. “I’m not wearing any perfume.” And she knew he loved it. He had a weakness for cinnamon, something she’d noticed while stalking, uh, hanging out with him.
Within hours of learning that little tidbit, she’d stocked up on cinnamon-scented soap, shampoo and conditioner.
“Stop…enjoying the view and come eat,” he said through clenched teeth.
He’d closed the blinds over the only window and flipped on the overhead light. Natural sunlight complemented her skin the best, but— Oh, who was she kidding, acting all modest? Any light complemented her skin.
“Kaia. Come. Eat. Now.”
Gods, she adored that authoritative tone. She shouldn’t. She should hate it—barbarians weren’t supposed to be attractive to modern women—but still, she shivered. “Make me.” Please.
Finally his gaze skidded over to her. He was on his feet a second later, his chair sliding behind him. His mouth floundered open and closed, and his pupils dilated. He licked his lips. He reached out to grip the edge of the table, his nostrils flaring as he fought to breathe. “You… Your… Shit!”
Every pulse point hammering, she twirled. She knew what he saw—rainbow shards dancing hypnotically over every inch of visible flesh, the blush of health and vitality…the promise of seduction. “You like?”
As if in a trance, he moved around the table and stepped toward her. Closed the distance…stopped just before he reached her and cursed. He spun, giving her his back, and tangled a hand through his hair.
“I’ve gotta go.” His voice was hoarse, the words pushed through a river of broken glass.
What? No! “You just got here.” And he’d been so close to making a move on her. Just the thought caused her nipples to bead and moisture to pool between her legs.
“I told you, I promised Paris I’d help him. I have to help him. Yeah, that’s what I have to do.”
Would she ever overcome his determination to resist her? ’Cause yeah, she wanted him, wanted to give him another chance. And another. However many he needed to get this right. “Strider, I—”
“No. No. I told you before, I’m just getting over a bad relationship, and I never hook up with anyone who’s dated one of my friends.”
Oh, really? “That bad relationship wouldn’t happen to be with Haidee, would it? The woman who didn’t want you? The woman who, what? Is dating one of your friends.”
Silence. Such thick, awful silence.
He wasn’t going to defend himself. Wasn’t even going to try to explain his illogical choices and reasons. Well, he’d forgiven Haidee for killing Baden. Why couldn’t he forgive Kaia for sleeping with Paris?
“You’re not innocent, Strider. You’ve nailed more tail than you can count. In fact, last time I saw you, you’d just eaten peach body lotion off a stripper.” Kaia had decided then and there that peaches were the most disgusting fruit ever, and the world would be a better place without them.
She’d already written to her congressman, demanding that all orchards be burned to the ground.
“I never said I was innocent. I just said—”
“I know. You can’t date anyone your friends have dated. You’re also a liar. But maybe…I don’t know, maybe you could sleep with one of my friends and we could call it even.” Oh, gods.
First, how desperate did she sound? Unbearably! She’d known this would happen if she made another play for him. And yet, she’d done it anyway. Like Pavlov’s dogs, she drooled every time she spotted Strider, abandoning her pride for any scrap he’d toss her way.
Second, thinking of this man with someone else had her claws elongating and her Harpy screeching. Her wings flapped to the same staccato rhythm as her heart, causing her shirt to lift and fall, lift and fall.
If she wasn’t careful, her Harpy would take over, control her actions. Her vision would go black, and a need for blood would consume her. She would stalk the night, hurting anyone who got in her way.
Only Strider would be able to calm her down, but he didn’t know that. Even if he did know it, he clearly didn’t want the responsibility. He was doing everything in his power to push her away.
“I won’t be sleeping with one of your friends,” he said flatly.
The hottest threads of tension drained from her. “Good. That’s good. All of my friends are ugly hags, anyway.” They were gorgeous, every one of them, but if he’d taken her up on the offer, she would have cut them loose in a heartbeat and gotten new ones. Repulsive ones.
“Kaia. There’s nothing you can say to change my mind. I like you, I do. You’re beautiful and smart and funny as hell. You’re strong and courageous, too, but nothing’s ever going to happen between us. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not meaning to be an asshole here, just truthful. We’re just not good for each other. Not a good match. I’m sorry,” he repeated.
They weren’t good for each other? What he really meant was she wasn’t good enough for him. After she had chased him, lost a fight to protect him, threw herself at him time and time again, she wasn’t a good match for him. And he…was…sorry…
Suddenly she wanted to claw his face. Drink his blood.
Don’t forget the upcoming games. Hurting him would hurt her, and she needed to be at her best.
She drew in a deep breath, held it, held, her lungs burning, blistering, before she slowly released every molecule, singeing her throat, her nose. She might have thought Strider deserved something, someone, better, but she deserved better than this. Right?
He finished lamely, “I hope you understand,” completely unaware of the havoc he’d created. Or maybe he just didn’t care.
He needed to learn the proper etiquette for dealing with his Harpy.
She needed to teach him.
She should close the distance between them and trace her fingertips all over him before he had time to dart away, all the while pressing her curves against him. Anything to arouse him. Anything to force him to see her as more than the beautiful, smart and funny girl who had nailed the keeper of Promiscuity. Then, as he begged for release, she should walk away.
He wouldn’t be harmed, but he would leave with a better understanding of how rotten denunciation felt.
Kaia couldn’t bring herself to take a single step, however. She might just find herself on the receiving end of rejection and failure yet again. He might push her away before she could make her move. And really, a thousand other rejections and failures awaited her in the coming weeks.
So much for giving him countless chances.
“I do understand,” she whispered. “Just…have fun on your trip, okay.” A dismissal. “I plan to have lots of fun on mine.” A lie. Although she did plan to hold her head up high and kick as much ass as she could. So much ass, in fact, that her clan would have to rethink her title.
Kaia the Disappointment no longer. Maybe she’d become Kaia the Stompalicious. Or Kaia the KillYouDeadatron.