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“Not nothing, never nothing. We have each other.” But for how long? “I won’t let you die.”

 

“Nothing can be done.”

 

Slowly the demons stalked forward, predators locked on prey. Eerie delight radiated from them. “I’ll kill them all. We’ll run. We’ll—”

 

“You are the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said weakly, leaning her cheek against his back.

 

“I forbade you to talk like that, Kadence.” To say goodbye. For that’s what she was doing, he knew it was.

 

“Kill them and run, just as you planned. Live in peace and freedom, my love. Both are yours. You deserve them.”

 

No. No! “You will not die.” But even as he said it, the wall, so badly damaged, began to crack, to crumble, the hole appearing. Widening. “Swear to me that you will not die.”

 

Kadence’s knees finally gave out, and he turned, roaring, easing her to the ground. Her eyes were closed. “So…sorry. Love.”

 

“No. You will live. Do you hear me? You will live!”

 

Her head lolled to the side. Then, nothing.

 

“Kadence.” He shook her. “Kadence!”

 

No response. But there was a rising and falling of her chest. She lived still. Thank gods, thank gods, thank gods.

 

“Tell me how to help you, Kadence. Please.”

 

Again, nothing.

 

“Please.” Tears burned his eyes. He had not cried for the wife that left him, had not cried for the life he’d lost, but he cried for this woman. I need you. She wanted him to stop the demons from leaving this realm, and then leave himself, but Geryon couldn’t bring himself to move from her side.

 

Without her, he had no reason to go on.

 

Something sharp scraped at his neck, and he jerked his head to the side. The Lords flew around them, cackling with glee. “Leave us,” he growled. He would spend however long was necessary, holding her until it was safe enough to move her.

 

“Kill her,” one demon beseeched.

 

“Destroy her.”

 

“Maim her.”

 

“Too late. She’s gone.”

 

More laughter.

 

Bastards! One of them swooped down and raked a claw over her cheek, drawing blood before Geryon realized what was happening. She did not react. But he did. He roared with so much fury, the sound scraped at his ears.

 

The rest of the demons scented the lifeblood and purred in delight. Then there was a moment of absolute stillness and quiet. The calm before the storm. For, in the next instant, they attacked in a frenzy.

 

Geryon roared again, throwing himself over Kadence to take the brunt of their assault. Soon his back was in tatters, one of his horns chewed loose, a tendon severed. All the while he swung out his arm, hoping to slay as many as he could with his poison, but only one failed to dodge his blow.

 

On and on the laughter and abuse continued.

 

“I love you,” Kadence suddenly whispered in his ear. “Your scream…pulled me from…darkness. Had to…tell you.”

 

She had awakened? His muscles spasmed in shock and relief. “I love you. Stay with me. Don’t leave me. Please. If you stay awake, just long enough to defend yourself, I can kill them. We can leave.”

 

“I’m…sorry. Can’t.”

 

Then he would find a way to save her and continue protecting her. He never would have brought her into Hell had he known this would happen. He would have spent his entire existence at the gate, fighting to protect it. Her.

 

Wait. Fighting to protect. These demons wanted to escape. That’s why they were here.

 

“Go,” he screamed to them. “Leave this place. The mortal realm is yours.” He didn’t care anymore. Only Kadence mattered.

 

As if the wall had merely been waiting for his permission, it finally toppled completely. Which meant—

 

“No,” he screamed. “I did not mean for you to collapse. I only meant for the demons to fly through.” But it was too late, the damage was done.

 

Gleeful, the Demon Lords abandoned him and flew into the cave, then disappeared from view.

 

A new stream of tears burned Geryon’s eyes as he gathered Kadence in his bleeding arms. “Tell me the wall no longer matters. Tell me I can now carry you to safety. That we can be together.”

 

“Goodbye, my love,” she said, and died in his arms.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY

 

SHE WAS DEAD. KADENCE was dead. And there was nothing he could do to save her. He knew it as surely as he knew he would take his next breath. An unwanted, hated breath. Those stinging tears slid down his cheeks, mocking reminders that he lived—and she did not.

 

I failed her. Damn this, I failed her!

 

She had wanted his help to save the wall, to save her. She had wanted his help to keep the Demon Lords inside Hell, yet he had failed her on all counts. Failed, failed, failed.

 

“I am so sorry, Geryon.”

 

At this newest sound of her voice, he blinked. What the—as he watched, her spirit began to rise from her motionless body. She was…she was… Hope fluttered inside his chest. Hope and joy and shock.

 

He had not truly lost her, after all!

 

Her body was destroyed, but her spirit would live on. Of course. He should have known. Every day he encountered such spirits, though none had been as pure and vibrant as hers. They could still be together.

 

He pushed to his feet, facing her, heart drumming madly, legs shaking. She smiled sadly at him.

 

“I’m so sorry,” she repeated. “I should not have bound myself to you. Should never have asked for your aid.”

 

“Why?” When he’d never been happier? She was here, with him. “You have nothing to be sorry for, sweetheart. It is I who failed you.”

 

“Never say such a thing. Had you been stationed at the gate as you had wanted, this would not have happened.”

 

“That isn’t so. The demons would have ruined the wall, and thereby ruined you, but I would not have had the opportunity, no, the pleasure, of bonding with you. I cannot regret what happened.” Not anymore. Not with her spirit just in front of him.

 

“Geryon—”

 

“What of the demons?” he asked, cutting her off. He would not have her lamenting her supposed mistakes. She had made none.

 

“I suppose the gods will attempt to gather them, bemoaning me as a failure forevermore.”

 

He shook his head. “You are not a failure, love. You did everything within your power to stop them. Most would never even have entered the gates.” His head tilted to the side as he studied her more intently. She was as lovely as ever, like a dream of her former self. Glittery, translucent, fragile. Still she possessed those golden curls. Still she looked at him with those bright eyes.

 

Before her, his life had been a wasteland. A single moment without her would have been…well, hell.

 

“Thank you, my sweet Geryon. But even if the wall is repaired, even if the demons are somehow captured, I fear the gods will be unable to contain those demons here.” She sighed. “They have now tasted freedom. They will always fight to escape.”

 

“The gods will find a way,” he assured her. “They always do.” He reached out to hug her to him, but his hand misted through her and he frowned, some of his happiness draining. Touching her was a necessity; he would not be able to live without her warmth, her softness.

 

Better he do without her touch and her warmth, though, than without her.

 

“You understand now,” she said in that sad tone. “We can never be together again. Not truly.”

 

“I don’t care.”

 

“But I do.” Tears filled her eyes. “After everything you have suffered, you deserve more. So much more.”

 

“I only want you.”

 

She continued as if he had not spoken. “I will leave you and wander the earth alone.” She gave a firm shake of her head. Those tears splashed onto her cheeks. “I know gods and goddesses are allowed to choose where they wish to reside in the afterlife, but I have no desire to return to heaven or stay in Hell.”

 

As she spoke, an idea sprang into his mind. A wild idea he did not discard, but rather embraced.

 

Are you really going to do this?

 

He looked at her again, their gazes colliding and thought, Yes. I really am going to do this. “When I bonded to you, Kadence, it was forever and another eternity. I will not give you up now.”

 

“But you will never again be able to touch me. You will never—”

 

“I will. I promise.” And with that, he sank his own poisoned claws into his chest, felt the toxin burn him, blistering, scorching. He screamed at the anguish, black winking over his eyes.

 

He was…dying…

 

When the pain eased, the blackness faded. He was nothing. A void.

 

No, not true. There was a light. A bright light. He ran toward it, huffing and puffing for mile after mile, almost…there…

 

His eyelids fluttered open and he saw that his body was gone, a pile of ash, his spirit floating beside Kadence. Her eyes were wide, her mouth hanging open.

 

So many times over the centuries, he’d considered taking just such an action. Anything to end the monotony of his existence. But he had clung to life, for Kadence. To see her, to imagine caressing her and hope for the chance.

 

Now, that chance was a reality.

 

“You are…Geryon…you are just the same.”

 

He looked down at himself. There were his claws, his fur, his hooves. “Are you disappointed?”

 

“No. I am overjoyed! I love you just as you are and do not want you to ever change. But you should not have given up your life for me,” she sputtered through tears—and a grin she could not hide.

 

“I, too, am now free,” he said. “Truly free. To be with you. And I would die all over again for just such an outcome.” He jerked her into his arms, grinning, too, because he could feel her again. She was not as warm, there was a coldness to them both now, but he was holding her. He could deal. “You are my everything, sweetheart. I am lost without you.”

 

“I love you so much,” she said, raining little kisses all over his face. “But whatever will we do now?”

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