- The Darkest Whisper
Did he love her? It was almost too much to hope for. Because, if he loved her, he would have touched her again. Right? “Let’s talk about the war,” she found herself saying, rather than asking what she really wanted to know: Why haven’t you made love to me? “Won’t be as uncomfortable.”
He sighed. “Have it your way, then. I didn’t go to Chicago with the others, so I’ve been taking names from scrolls that list other demon-possessed immortals out there, looking for them in the books Lucien collected over the years and trying to learn about them.”
He’d stayed for her. She knew that, and couldn’t stop the delight that spread through her. Perhaps he didn’t hate the thought of being her consort, after all. “Found anything?”
“I recognized a lot of the names from my days in the heavens. Most of the prisoners in Tartarus were placed there by me and the other Lords, so we won’t be their favorite people. Might be best if we just hunt them down and kill them, so they don’t help Galen. Then again, he helped lock them away, too, back when he was one of us, so maybe it’s moot.” He paused, sighed again. “Look, I brought up the consort thing because I wanted to talk to you about something.”
Disappointment and eagerness dueled for supremacy. Eagerness won. She straightened, ears perking. This was clearly an important subject to him. “I’m listening.”
Motions stiff, he dug into the cooler and withdrew another water.
“Payment?” she asked with a laugh. “I’ve already agreed to help you. No need to pay me.”
Silent, he popped the lid and drained the contents.
Her grin faded, the silence edged with tension. “What’s going on?”
He fell back against the tree, looking everywhere but at her. “When the time comes for battle, and it will, sooner rather than later, I want you to stay here, away from the action.”
Yeah. Right. She laughed again, her humor restored. “Funny.”
“I’m serious. I have your sisters. I don’t need you.”
But…he couldn’t mean this. Could he? This driven warrior would use anyone against the Hunters, would not be happy with three Harpies when he could have four. Right?
“I would never joke about something like this,” he added.
No, he wouldn’t. Just then it felt as if a thousand of Sabin’s daggers were stabbing at her chest, each of them aimed for her heart. Several of them succeeded in puncturing the organ, for it throbbed and burned. “But you said you needed me. You did everything in your power to enlist my aid. I’ve been training. I’ve improved.”
He scoured a hand down his face, looking exhausted all of a sudden. “I did say that. You have improved.”
“Damn it!” he suddenly growled, fist slamming into the ground. “I’m not ready for you to spring into active duty.”
“I don’t understand. What’s going on? What changed your mind like this?” It would have taken something major, she knew.
“I just…damn it,” he repeated. “Whatever goes down in Chicago will surely infuriate the Hunters. Look what happened after Egypt. They’ll come here. They’ll try to retaliate. I won’t be able to concentrate with you by my side. All right? I’ll worry. I’ll be distracted. And my distraction will place my men at risk.”
Gwen didn’t know where she found the strength, but she pushed to her feet. Her eyes narrowed. He would worry. The female in her liked the thought of that. A lot. The blossoming warrior, the Harpy she now wanted to be, hated it, burning away the joy. She would never again be a coward.
“You can train yourself not to worry, then, because I’m joining you. It’s my right.”
He jumped to his feet, too, nostrils flared, hands fisted. “And it’s my right as your lover—consort, to dispatch your enemy for you.”
“I never said you were my consort. So you listen up. I’ve waited my entire life to be something. To prove myself. You will not take this away from me. I won’t let you!”
“No, he won’t,” Taliyah suddenly interjected. She stood off to the side, Kaia and Bianka beside her. Each radiated fury. “No one stops a Harpy. No one.”
“Big mistake, Doubt,” Kaia told him. “Too bad—we were actually starting to like you.”
“I knew eavesdropping was the smart thing to do,” Bianka said through clenched teeth. “You might be wonderfully vicious, but you’re still a man and we know better than to trust anything male. Look what happened the last time Gwen went down that road.”
Taliyah ran her tongue over her straight, white teeth. “Gwen finally gave you what you wanted, and you decided you didn’t want it anymore. Typical.”
“Gwen,” Kaia said. “Come. We’re leaving the fortress. We’ll take care of the Hunters on our own.”
“No,” Sabin said. “There’ll be none of that.”
For what seemed an eternity, Gwen simply stared over at him, silently begging him to tell her sisters they were wrong. Doubts consumed her, doubts that were all her own. Was he doing this to protect her, because he cared? Or did he simply have no faith in her abilities, even after all her hard work? Or was he planning to do something that would upset her—something with a female Hunter—and he didn’t want her to witness it?
Or was his demon ruling his mind? If so, there had to be a way to combat it.
“Sabin,” she said, hoping. “Let’s talk this—”
“I want you to stay within these walls,” he said flatly. “At all times.”
“You’ll leave me here, but you’ll utilize my sisters, right?”
“Two of them. One will stay with you.”
The women in question laughed. “As if,” they said in unison.
Gwen raised her chin, glaring over at him. “They won’t help you without me. Still think to leave me?”
“Yes.” No hesitation.
How could he do this? How, when he’d worked so hard to win her and her sisters to his cause? Bile rose in her throat, burning like acid. “Do you want to win your war? Finally? Because you could. With us, with all of us, you very well could.”
Silence. A silence that made her feel like she was being force-fed disappointment, regret and sadness, one rancid spoonful at a time.
“Gwen,” Taliyah said, sharply this time. “Come.”
Betrayed to her very soul, Gwen turned away from Sabin and followed her sisters.
CHICAGO WAS COOL and just a little windy. Still, the sun was like a glaring eye, following Gideon’s every move. But he liked the towering buildings and the closeness of the water; one gave him the feel of being in a big city and the other a beach. The best of two worlds.
He and the other warriors had been here several days, yet had only now found the facility they’d come for. Somehow they’d passed it over and over again. Maybe because the numbers were off, or maybe because the twenty or so red brick buildings around it were exact copies of one another. Thin but tall, at least fourteen stories, two square windows on each floor.Despite the fact that it was so well hidden, they should not have walked past it over and over again like they had. Made him wonder if something else was going on, something more than his “maybes.” Something like magic.
A protective spell, perhaps? He’d met a few witches over the years and knew they were a powerful race. Though why any would choose to work with the Hunters was beyond him.
Finally, they’d come up with the brilliant idea of leaving Lucien out here alone, in spirit form, waiting for a Hunter to pass him. Hence another delay—Hunters weren’t always easy to spot, their clothes normal, their weapons hidden—so Lucien had followed many a human. His efforts eventually paid off and Lucien spotted a likely candidate venturing inside a building none of them had noticed—or if they had, they didn’t remember. Lucien had tagged the building with a small smear of his own blood, something Anya could track with her eyes closed.
Now everyone was settled across the street from it, hidden inside a construction site and peering through thick wooden beams as workers bustled behind them. A few people had possessed the courage to ask them to leave. A rose-scented, mismatched-eyes-swirling hypno-suggestion from Lucien, and everyone had forgotten they were even here. Gideon could scream, and they wouldn’t even blink.
Gideon wanted a power like that. Or maybe a super rage like Maddox, who could rip the world to shreds just because he was pissed. Maybe the ability to read people’s minds like Amun. Or to enjoy every cut, slash and injury inflicted upon him like Reyes. Or even to screw like a monkey like Paris. Or fly like Aeron. Or win everything like Strider. Or—he could name something he envied about every Lord of the Underworld. Even Cameo, the epitome of Misery. She could clear a room just by speaking. She could send grown men to their knees, sobbing like babies.
What could Gideon do? He could lie, that’s what. And it sucked ass. (That was not a lie.) He couldn’t tell a woman she was pretty unless she was ugly. He couldn’t tell his friends he loved them. He had to tell them he hated them. He couldn’t tell Hunters they were shitbags. He had to tell them they were sweetie pies. Talk about a nightmare—which of course he’d have to call a dream come true.
And yet, through it all, he couldn’t regret the fact that he was a demon-possessed warrior. He wore it like a badge of pride. He would have liked to act as if it disgusted him, which would have given him something in common with the others—all but Sabin and Strider, that is—but he never lied to himself.
Sometimes he thought he was the only warrior who welcomed his curse. There was nothing wrong with having a demon inside you. Nothing wrong with enjoying it, being glad you weren’t alone—not that his demon ever spoke to him like the others’ spoke to them. No, his was more a…presence in the back of his mind. Nothing wrong with being happy you were more powerful. But damn it, would it have killed the gods to stick him with Rage or Nightmare? Okay, now Nightmare would have been freaking awesome. Having the ability to turn Hunters’ nightmares into reality would be the sweetest kind of heaven.