- The Darkest Whisper
A pause. A shuffling of feet, heavier than usual as the warriors were carrying the other women out. And then he was alone with the redhead. Or strawberry blond, he supposed the color was called. She was still crouched, still mumbling, still holding that damn trachea.
Such a bad little girl, aren’t you? the demon said, tossing the words straight into the Harpy’s mind. And you know what happens to bad little girls, don’t you?
Leave her alone. Please, he begged the demon. She cut through our enemy, preventing them from searching for—and finding—the box.
At the word box, Doubt cried out. The demon had spent a thousand years inside the darkness and chaos of Pandora’s box and did not want to return. Would do anything to prevent such a fate.
Sabin could no longer exist without Doubt. It was a permanent part of him and much as he sometimes resented it, he would rather give up a lung than the demon. The first he could regenerate.
Just a few minutes of quiet, he added. Please.
Oh, very well.
Satisfied with that, Sabin stepped the rest of the way inside the cell. He bent down, placing himself at eye level with the girl.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she chanted, as though she sensed his presence. She didn’t face him, though, just continued to stare ahead, unseeing. “Did I kill you?”
“No, no. I’m fine.” Poor thing didn’t know what she’d done or what she was saying. “You did a good thing, destroyed a very bad man.”
“Bad. Yes, I’m very very bad.” Her arms tightened around her knees.
“No, he was bad.” Slowly, he reached out. “Let me help you. All right?” His fingers lightly pried at hers, opening them up. The bloody remain fell from her grasp, and he caught it with his free hand, tossing it over his shoulder, away from her. “Now, isn’t that better?”
Thankfully, his action didn’t send her into another rage. She merely released a deep breath.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
Still moving at an unhurried pace, he brushed a strand of hair from her face and hooked it behind her ear. She leaned into his touch, even nuzzled her cheek against his palm. He allowed the caress to linger, savoring the softness of her skin when deep down he recognized the thin ledge of danger he walked. To encourage his attraction, to crave more of her, was to condemn her to utter misery as he’d done Darla. But he didn’t pull away, even when she gripped his wrist and guided his hand through the silkiness of her hair, clearly wanting to be petted. He massaged her scalp. She practically purred.
Sabin couldn’t recall a time he’d been so…tender with a woman, not even with Darla. Much as he’d cared for her, he’d placed more importance on victory than on her well-being. But at that moment, something about this girl drew him. She was just so lost and alone, feelings he knew well. He wanted to hug her.
See? You’re already craving more. Frowning, he forced his arm to fall to his side.
A slight cry of despair escaped her, and maintaining what little distance there was between them became even harder. How could this needy creature have so savagely slain the human? Didn’t seem possible, and he wouldn’t have believed it had the story simply been relayed to him. He’d had to see it. Not that there had been much to see, given how quickly she’d moved.
Perhaps, like him, like his friends, she was captive to a dark force inside her. Perhaps she was helpless to stop it from treating her body as a puppet. The moment those thoughts struck him, he knew he’d guessed correctly. The way her eyes had changed color…the horror she’d exuded when she had realized what she’d done…
When Maddox slid into one of his demon’s violent rages, the same changes overtook him. She couldn’t help what she was and probably hated herself for it, the little darling.
“What’s your name, red?”
Her lips edged into a frown, a mimic of his. “Name?”
“Yes. Name. What you’re called.”
She blinked. “What I’m called.” The shallow rasp in her voice was fading, leaving a dawning awareness. “What I’m—oh. Gwendolyn. Gwen. Yes, that’s my name.”
Gwendolyn. Gwen. “A lovely name for a lovely girl.”
Traces of color were returning to her face, and she blinked again, this time dragging her attention to him. She offered him a hesitant smile, one that spoke of welcome, relief and hope. “You’re Sabin.”
Exactly how sensitive were her ears? “Yes.”
“You didn’t hurt me. Even when I…” There was wonder in her voice, wonder tinged with regret.
“No, I didn’t hurt you.” He wanted to add, Nor will I, but he wasn’t sure that was true. In his single-minded quest to defeat the Hunters, he’d lost a good man, a great friend. He’d healed from countless near-fatal injuries and had buried several slain lovers. If necessary, he would sacrifice this little bird to the cause as well, whether he desired her or not.
Unless you soften, Doubt suddenly piped up.
I won’t. It was a vow, because he refused to believe otherwise. And it was a reinforcement of what he’d already known: he wasn’t an honorable man. He would use her.
Gwen’s gaze skittered past him, and her smile vanished. “Where are your men? They were right here. I didn’t…I…did I…”
“No, you didn’t hurt them. They’re just outside the chamber, I swear it.”
Her shoulders sagged as a sigh of relief escaped her. “Thank you.” She seemed to be speaking to herself. “I—oh, heavens.”
She had just spotted the Hunter she’d slain, he realized.
She paled again. “He—he’s missing—all that blood…how could I…”
Sabin purposely leaned to the side, blocking her view and consuming her entire line of vision. “Are you thirsty? Hungry?”
Those unusual eyes swung to him, now lit with wild interest. “You have food? Real food?”
Every muscle in his body tightened at the sight of that interest. There was an almost euphoric edge to it. She could be toying with him, pretending to be excited by what he offered in order to relax his guard for an easier escape. Must you be like your demon and doubt everyone and everything?
“I have energy bars,” he said. “Not sure they can be classified as food, but they’ll keep you strong.” Not that she needed any more strength.
Her lashes drifted closed, and she sighed dreamily. “Energy bars sound divine. I haven’t eaten in over a year, but I’ve imagined it. Over and over again. Chocolate and cakes, ice cream and peanut butter.”
A whole year without a crumb? “They gave you nothing?”
Those dark lashes lifted. She didn’t nod or reply in the affirmative, but then, she didn’t have to. The truth was there in her now-grim expression.
As soon as he finished interrogating the Hunters, every single one he’d found in these catacombs was going to die. By his hand. He’d take his time with the kills, too, enjoy every slash, every drop of blood spilled. This girl was a Harpy, spawn of Lucifer as Gideon had said, but even she did not deserve the gnawing torture of starvation. “How did you survive? I know you’re immortal, but even immortals need sustenance to remain strong.”
“They put something in the ventilation system, a special chemical to keep us alive and docile.”
“Didn’t fully work on you, I take it?”
“No.” Her little pink tongue slashed over her lips hungrily. “You mentioned energy bars?”
“We’ll have to leave this chamber to get them. Can you do that?” Or rather, would she do it? He doubted he could force her to do anything she didn’t want to without ending up cut and broken, maybe dead. He wondered how the Hunters had trapped her. How they had gotten her here and lived to tell the tale.
A slight hesitation. Then, “Yes. I can.”
Once again moving slowly, Sabin clutched her arm and helped her to her feet. She swayed. No, he realized, she snuggled up next to him, seeking closer contact with his body. He stiffened, poised to pull away—keep her at a distance, have to keep her at a distance—when she sighed, her breath trekking through the slashes in his shirt and onto his chest.
Now his eyes closed in ecstasy. He even wound an arm around her waist, urging her closer. Utterly trusting, she rested her head in the hollow of his neck.
“I’ve dreamed about this, too,” she whispered. “So warm. So strong.”
He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat, felt Doubt prowling the corridors of his mind, rattling the bars, desperate to escape, to obliterate Gwen’s ease with him.
Too much faith, the demon said, as if that were some sort of disease.
The perfect amount, if Sabin were being honest with himself. He liked that a woman was looking at him as if he were a prince of light rather than a king of darkness, someone she needed to run screaming from. He liked that she’d allowed him to soothe her torment.
Foolish of her, though, he had to admit. Sabin was no one’s hero. He was their worst enemy.
Let me talk to her! the demon demanded, a child denied a favorite treat.
Quiet. Causing Gwen to doubt him could very well rouse the feral Harpy, placing his men in danger. That, Sabin would not allow. They were too important to him, too necessary.
Distance, as he’d realized before, was needed. He dropped his arms and stepped away. “No touching.” The words were a croak, harsher than he’d intended and she blanched. “Now come. Let’s get out of here.”
THE WOMAN WAS GOING TO KILL HIM, and not because she was stronger and more vicious than he was. Which, if he thought about it, she was. He’d never ripped a man’s throat out with his teeth, and he was damned impressed that Gwen had. She’d made the Lords of the Underworld look like marshmallows.
Two full days had passed since Sabin and his crew had rescued her from the pyramid. The only time she’d seemed content was at her first glimpse of the sun. Since then, she had not relaxed. Or eaten. The energy bars she’d so wanted, she had merely gazed at with utter longing before shaking her head and turning away. She hadn’t even showered in the portable stall he’d had Lucien fetch her.She didn’t trust them, didn’t want to risk poisoning or the vulnerability of unconsciousness or nakedness, and that was understandable. But damn it, he was seething with the need to force her to do those things. For her own good. Without the shit that had been pumped into her cell, she had to be feeling every bit of her starvation. She had to be exhausted and dirty as she was—from the past two days, as well as her confinement, which was strange because the other women had been clean—she couldn’t possibly be comfortable. Forcing her, however, was not an option. He liked his trachea where it was.