She pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “You already have.”
“Nola,” she heard Delilah call.
Zane wrapped his arms around her, keeping her in the protection of his embrace as they started forward. The blue-haired warrioress was walking toward her, expression blank. Layel stayed close on her heels, a blade in his hand, as protective of his woman as Zane was of Nola.
“You are well?” Delilah said, looking her over.
“Yes. And you?”
“Yes.” And then Delilah was there, grinning, pushing Zane aside to hug her tightly. “I’ve been so worried about you.”
Nola glanced at Zane and he gave her a nod of encouragement. Biting her lip, Nola hugged her sister back. Shocking, she thought again.
“I thought I was going to have to burst into that tent and give Zane a stern talking-to,” Delilah said, pulling back, grin widening. “But the moans were of pleasure rather than rebuke, so Layel was able to hold me back.”
Nola’s cheeks heated.
So did Zane’s, she noticed. And for some reason, that eased her own embarrassment. They were in this together.
Layel slapped him on the back. Zane stiffened for a moment, then relaxed against Nola. “Good man,” the king said with a laugh. “Doing our people proud.”
“Well, shall we go home?” Delilah asked. She rubbed her belly, which Nola suddenly realized was not quite as flat as she remembered. “As protector of this little hellion, I am not the soldier I once was and prefer the comfort of my own bed.”
A baby. Nola again glanced at Zane. He offered a soft smile—one that promised they, too, would one day experience such a joy. “Congratulations, Delilah. I am so happy for you.”
Delilah beamed. “Thank you.”
The warrioress and her husband shared a tender smile before Layel escorted her a few feet away, to where the horses were chewing on grass. “Zane? Will you be joining us?”
“Is Nola welcome?”
“She is.” No hesitation.
“Then, yes. We shall try.”
Whether the king understood or not, he merely nodded. “Back to the palace, men,” he called.
Zane helped Nola atop his horse, then swooped up behind her. Nervousness skidded through her when they began moving. First Layel and Delilah disappeared beyond the trees, then the vampire troops. Soon their turn would come…soon she would know if she was still bound to the camp.
“Zane,” she said, unable to keep the tremor from her voice.
He didn’t say a word, just urged the horse into a quicker pace. And then they were past the trees, just like everyone else. They were in the forest, foliage surrounding them, heading away from their captivity.
“We did it! We’re free! We’re really free!”
“As I knew we would be.” He kissed the top of her head. “The gods are not the cruel monsters I imagined. How can they be, when they paired us together?”
Thank you, she mouthed to the top of the dome. Not once did she look back. There was too much to look forward to. “I love you, Zane. So much.”
“And I love you. It will be my pleasure to prove it to you, over and over again.”
“Even when mating season ends?” she teased.
He squeezed her tight. “I have a feeling our mating season will last for eternity, sweet.”
So did she. Oh, yes, so did she.
THE DARKEST PRISON
REYES, ONCE AN IMMORTAL warrior for the gods, now possessed by the demon of Pain and living in Budapest, entered his bedroom. He was drenched in sweat and panting from the force of his workout. Because he could not experience pleasure without physical suffering, the burn in his muscles had excited him. Was exciting him.
As always, his gaze sought out his woman, and he palmed the blade they preferred to use during their loveplay. She was sitting at the edge of their big bed, lovely features drawn tight as she studied the canvas in front of her. A canvas she’d propped on an easel and lowered so that she had a direct view. Blond hair fell to her shoulders in wild disarray, as if she’d tangled her fingers through the thick mass multiple times, and she was chewing on her bottom lip.
Sex could wait, he decided then. She was troubled, and he would be unable to think of anything else until he’d solved this dilemma for her. Whatever it was. He sheathed the blade.
“Something wrong, angel?”
Her eyes lifted and landed on him, worry in their emerald depths. She offered him a small smile. “I’m not sure.”
“Well, why don’t I help you figure it out?” Anything that bothered her, he would dispatch. No hesitation. For her happiness, he would do anything, kill anyone.
“I would like that, thank you.”
“Shall I shower before I join you?”
“No. I like you just how you are.”
Darling woman. But he didn’t like the thought of dirtying her pretty clothes. He quickly grabbed a towel from the bathroom and rubbed himself dry. Only then did he settle behind his woman, his legs encasing hers, his arms wrapping around her waist. Breathing deeply of her wild storm scent, he rested his chin in the hollow of her neck and followed the direction of her gaze.
What he saw surprised him.
It shouldn’t have. Her paintings were always vivid. As the All-Seeing Eye, an oracle of the gods and one of their most cherished aides, she could peer into heaven and Hell. And did, every night, though she had no control over what she witnessed. Past, present, future, it didn’t matter. Every morning, she painted what she’d seen.
This one was of a man. A warrior, clearly. With that muscle mass, he had to be. A gold collar circled his neck, cinching tight. He was on his knees, legs spread. His arms rested on his thighs, palms raised. His dark head was thrown back, and he was roaring up at a domed ceiling. In pain, perhaps. Maybe even fury. There was blood smeared all over his chest, seeping from multiple wounds. Wounds that looked as if his skin had been carved away.
“Who is he?” Reyes asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen him before.”
Then they would reason this out as best they were able. “Was he from heaven or Hell?”
“Heaven. Definitely. I think he’s in Cronus’s throne room.”
A god, then? A few months ago, Titans had overthrown the Greeks and seized control of the divine throne. So, if this man was in Cronus’s throne room, chained up, hurt, and Cronus was leader of the Titans, that must mean the warrior was a Greek. A slave who had been punished, perhaps?
“You saw only this image?” Reyes asked. “Not what got him to this point?”
“Correct,” Danika said with a nod. “I heard him scream, though. It was…” She shuddered, and his arms squeezed her in comfort. “I felt so sorry for him. Never have I heard so much rage and helplessness.”
“We can summon Cronus.” Cronus wasn’t too fond of Reyes and his fellow Lords of the Underworld—the very men who had opened Pandora’s box, unleashing the evil from inside. The men who had then been cursed to carry that evil inside themselves. But the god king hated their enemy, the Hunters, more, because Danika had seen Galen, the leader of the Hunters, chop off Cronus’s head in a vision. Now the god king was determined to kill Galen before Galen could kill him. Even if that meant soliciting the aid of the Lords. “We can ask him if he knows this man.”
A moment passed while Danika pondered his suggestion. Finally, she sighed, nodded. “Yes. I’d like that.” Then she surprised him by turning to him and offering the sweetest smile he’d ever seen. Well, all of her smiles were that way. “But it’s too early in the morning to summon anyone, and besides, I think you had other things on your mind when you entered the room. Why don’t you tell me about them?” she suggested huskily.
He was rock hard in seconds—that’s what she did to him. “That would be my pleasure, angel.”
She pushed him to his back, smile widening. “And mine.”
“BE STILL, N IKE. Y OU’RE ONLY making this worse for yourself.” Atlas, Titan god of Strength, stared down at the bane of his existence. Nike, Greek goddess of Strength. And Victory, he inwardly sneered. She loved to remind him that many called her the goddess of Strength and Victory. As if she were better than him. In reality, she was his godly counterpart. His equal. His enemy. And an all-around grade-A bitch.
Two of his best men held her arms and two held her legs. They should have been able to pin her without incident. She was collared, after all, and that collar prevented her from using any of her immortal powers. Even her legendary strength—strength that was not on par with his, thank you. But never had a female been more stubborn—or more determined to fell him. She continually struggled against their hold, punching, kicking and biting like a cornered animal.
“I will kill you for this,” she growled at him.
“Why? I’m not doing anything to you that you didn’t once have done to me.” Motions clipped, Atlas tore his shirt over his head and tossed the material aside, revealing his chest, the ropes of his stomach. There, in the center, in big black letters spanning from one tiny brown nipple to the other, was her name, spelled out for all the world to see. N-I-K-E.
She’d branded him, reduced him to her property.
Had he deserved it? Maybe. Once, he’d been a prisoner in this bleak realm. In Tartarus, a divine dungeon. He’d been a god overthrown and locked away, forgotten, no better than rubbish. He’d wanted out, and he had been willing to do anything to see it done. Anything. So he had seduced Nike, one of his guards, using her amorous feelings for him against her.
Though she would deny it now, she truly had fallen a little in love with him. The proof: she’d arranged his escape, a crime punishable by death. Yet she’d been willing to risk it. For him. Only, just before she could remove his collar, allowing him to flash himself away—moving from one place to another with only a thought—she discovered that he had also seduced several other female guards.