Page 5

“What about Manella?” I ask when it grows quiet.

“No clue. I’ve never heard anyone speak about him ever aiding anyone before,” Gage says with a shrug.

“I know you’re all probably not tired, but now would be a good time to take a nap. This lake is big, and at the speed we’re going, we’re going to be riding for a while. I’ll take guard duty,” I tell them.

Kai loses the shirts completely, going bare chest as he flops down. I idly wonder how all four decided combat boots were acceptable footwear for a tux.

“Must you touch her every time you sleep? You have a tendency to form habits, Mr. Nipples,” Jude says dryly, his eyes on Ezekiel.

“I only get any actual rest next to her, so if I’m going to nap when I’m not really tired, then it’s going to be one hell of a power nap to last me,” Ezekiel answers unapologetically.

“Point one for the evil pussy,” I say tauntingly to Jude, holding up my index finger on one hand and an O with the other to signify the score.

Jude looks like he’s trying not to smile, which pisses him off even more, apparently, since he mimes the motion of strangling me before turning around and calling me a few uncharitable, yet very creative, names.

I give him the bird. It’s not creative, but it is my favorite sign.

“He’s only mad because he hates me as much as he likes me, and since he doesn’t want to like me, he tries to hate me a little more,” I say as Kai stretches out beside me, his body brushing through mine.

Gage and Jude sit across from me like it’s a standoff, and they eye Kai like he’s a new traitor to their cause.

I hold up two fingers while mouthing the new score.

They both glare at me.

It’s adorable, really. At least in this form. I’d find it less adorable and more terrifying if I could physically feel the true power of a racing heartbeat.

Kai just smirks, even as he keeps his eyes closed. Like he knows the silent exchange going on without seeing it. Ezekiel is already asleep, breathing evenly as his face remains relaxed.

Gage stares a little longingly, as though he’s jealous of the obvious peace on Ezekiel’s usually tortured sleep-face.

He blinks and looks away, his jaw set as he stares out over the lake. Jude continues to burn a hole through me with his glare.

“I’m all of your types, really, minus the preference in hair color. I had no control over that. It was there when I got here. But all your wants, desires, needs, debaucheries of choice…everything. I’m molded to your specifications, because the only thing in the world I knew was all of you. I learned what you liked, and it became a part of me. It shaped me as the person I am now, because I was learning who the hell I was then. Blame yourselves for all the things you don’t like.”

A sleepy rumble of laughter slides out of Kai as his body begins to relax.

“Kai loves the chase and is always desperate to make someone who hates him suddenly crave him,” I say with a shoulder shrug. “He wants to infect them with his heady spell that he can weave when he really wants to.”

Another sleepy laugh is the response to that.

“Ezekiel is the most desperate for peace, as though his nightmares are twice as stained as all of yours. Not sure how I did that. I expected his favorite part to be the fact I really want my nipples adored.”

Jude arches an eyebrow at me.

“It’s true,” I go on unapologetically. “Gage wants a puzzle he can’t unravel so easily. He wants to be surprised, and he’s tired of all the predictable variables. He’s starving for a challenge. He’ll admit it if you ask him how much he’s actually enjoying the fact he doesn’t know if he’ll die or live at the end of these trials.”

Gage’s jaw grinds, but he smirks even as he radiates anger.

Jude looks over at him then at me. “This is why you’re so dangerous, comoara trădătoare. Giving us exactly what we’ve all always dreamed of, along with a chance to strengthen ourselves? When something feels too good, there’s always a really fucking nasty tail you don’t see coming until it’s too late.”

He turns around, putting his back to me before lying down. His eyes are closed and he is purposely staying inches away from me, not touching me.

“I’ve already told you my tail in lace is the prettiest thing you’ll ever see,” I deadpan.

He makes a sound of frustration, but I’m apparently going to get the last word.

I’m a little curious just how beautiful Hera must have been as Helen of Troy to have inspired a war between two nations, when I couldn’t even get one man to crumble before me.

It, of course, makes me envious. Sigh. I’m still blaming Lilith for that.

“Ezekiel was my first kiss,” I decide to say, looking down to see Kai sleeping peacefully. “Kai was my first orgasm giver,” I go on.

Jude’s jaw tics, as Gage grunts and curses. I grin.

“Don’t worry, he just used his fingers. He didn’t give it up to the nefarious vagina. My point is, it seems I’m going to be running low on firsts pretty soon, at the rate I’m going. You boys better not come crying to me when you missed all the firsts for being completely unreasonable pricks.”

Gage does the same petty thing, refusing good sleep offered by the evil vagina holder for no cost of admission.

They both ignore me, because they don’t really like arguing as much as I do. I could quite literally point logic out to them all day.

Surrounded by the four guys who easily close their eyes in my presence, willing to put their life in my hands, yet completely unwilling to stubbornly admit they trust me, I stare out over the fiery lake.

It’s actually sort of pretty once you get over the dangerous part of it. Also, as long as you don’t mind the occasional bird-snake carcass floating by you, or the living ones casting their ominous shadow over you from the red sky.

I take it back. It’s not pretty. I’m really just trying too hard to make this not as doom-and-gloom as we know it is.

With all of them quiet, not bickering or bantering with me as a distraction, the reality of our situation sinks in, and it grows heavy pretty quickly.

I can’t see land on any side now. The crackle of the lake and spitting fire that hisses when it shoots too high don’t exactly give off a comforting melody.

I’m so alert that it’s a good thing they can’t feel me jostling around to inspect each sound or smell.

Gage suddenly moves into my knee with just the very tips of his fingers, not making a sound or looking at me.

Jude’s eyes are open, staring at me before dropping his gaze to the fingers Gage leaves there, his body relaxing as the tingles soothe him. At least I assume it’s the tingles.

Jude’s eyes narrow in challenge, as though we’re in a war and this is a pivotal battle.

Obviously, I mouth the word, “Three,” before holding up just as many fingers and waggling my eyebrows at him.

It’s clearly the most mature course of action.

He doesn’t find it quite as amusing as I do.

“That’s twice you’ve called me comoara trădătoare. What does it mean?” I ask him.

He holds my gaze for so long that I think he’s not going to answer.

Just as he closes his eyes, I hear the words that are almost whispered.

“Treacherous treasure.”

Chapter 4

“I swear, I never want to see another fucking beetle for as long as I live,” I mutter under my breath.

Which might be as long as an hour from now for all I know.

We’ve been stuck on top of this foul-smelling thing for over ten hours now. At least. Possibly even longer. Just floating on the fire. If my ass was capable of feeling anything in this form, it’d still be numb.

Bright side, three out of four guys just got a lot of proactive rest before day two starts out the same way day one ended.

Jude is the only one awake. He never really slept as deeply as the other three, and I’m fairly sure he resents the hell out of all of them for sleeping as well as they have. And he resents me for my wicked vagina voodoo.

My milkshake brings all the boys to naptime…Yeah, that’s not how that song goes. The song is a lot sexier, but beggars can’t be choosers.

They’re a tough crowd, so I take the small wins that come along.

“Fucking finally,” Jude says, causing my attention to lift.

I spot gray land with nothing but a shadow behind it, almost as though there’s a second picture out of frame, and for a second I’m relieved, until I see a girl and guy lifting bows and launching arrows.

“Get the hell up!” Jude shouts as I leap to my feet.

Before I can even react, he flips into the air, snatching both speeding arrows, and lands in a crouch back on the beetle.

He casually tosses an arrow to Ezekiel as he lands at his side, and the two of them throw the arrows so hard they zip through the air in a blur of speed.

Both archers drop to the ground, the arrows sticking out of their throats as their bodies convulse.

“They could have just went on instead of mistaking you to be vulnerable on the back of a beetle, and they’d have survived,” I state, as though they need a reminder of the obvious.

“Depending on their ability to heal, they may still survive if we leave them,” Jude tells me.

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