Why rely on one to get the job done when four could serve him better?
He’d counted on the fact that none of the Greek females would want their affair with an enslaved Titan known. He’d counted on their silence.
What he should have done was count on their jealousy. Women.
Nike had realized she’d been used, that his emotions had never really been engaged. Rather than throw him back into his cell and pretend he did not exist, rather than have him beaten, she’d had him held down and marked permanently.
For years he’d dreamed of returning the favor. Sometimes he thought the desire was the only thing that kept him sane as he whiled away century after century in this hellhole. Alone, darkness his only companion.
Imagine his delight when the prison walls began to crack. When the defenses began to crumble. When their collars fell away. It had taken a while, but he and his brethren had finally managed to work their way free. They’d attacked the Greeks, brutally and without mercy.
In a matter of days, they had won.
The Greeks were defeated and now locked exactly where they’d locked the Titans. Atlas had volunteered to oversee the realm and had thankfully been placed in charge. Finally, his day of vengeance had arrived. Nike would forever bear his mark.
“You should be grateful you’re alive,” he told her.
He smiled slowly, evilly. “You’ve done that, remember?”
Her struggles increased. Increased so viciously she was soon panting and sweating right alongside his men. “You bastard! I will flay you alive. I will torch you to ash. Bastard!”
“Flip her over,” he ordered the guards over her curses. No mercy. Atlas didn’t have the patience to wait until she tired. “And a warning to you, Nike. You had best be still. I’ll just keep tattooing until my name is clear enough to satisfy me.”
With a frustrated, infuriated screech, she finally settled down. She knew he spoke true. He always spoke true. Threats were not something he wasted his breath uttering. Only promises.
“Bastard,” she rasped again.
He’d been called worse. And by her, no less. “That’s a good girl.” Atlas strode forward and ripped the cloth from her back. The skin was tanned, smooth. Flawless. Once, he’d caressed this back. Once, he’d kissed and licked it. And yes, being with her had been more satisfying than being with any of the others, because she’d looked at him with such adoration, such hope and awe. He’d felt…humbled. Lucky to be there, touching her. But he would not be ruled by his dick and release her before branding her, all in the hopes that he could get her into bed again.
He would do this.
“Ready?” he asked her.
“That’s not what I did to you,” Nike growled. “I didn’t mark your back.”
“You would rather I brand your lovely breasts?”
At that, she held her tongue.
Good. He didn’t want to mar her chest. Her breasts were a work of art, surely the world’s finest creation. “No need to thank me,” he muttered. He held out his hand and someone slapped the needed supplies in his palm. “At least you won’t have to look at my name every day of your too-long life.” As he had to do. “Everyone else will, though. They’ll see.” And they’ll know who mastered her at last.
“Every lover I choose, you mean.”
He popped his jaw. “Not another word from you. It is time.”
“Don’t do this,” she suddenly cried. “Please. Don’t.” She turned her head and there were tears in her brown eyes.
She wasn’t a beautiful woman. Could barely be called pretty. Her nose was a little too long, and her cheeks a little too sharp. She had ordinary brown hair cut to hit her too-wide shoulders, and no true curves to speak of. Besides her breasts. No, she had the body of a warrior. But there was something about her that had always drawn him.
“Please, Atlas. Please.”
He rolled his eyes. “Dry the fake tears, Nike.” And he knew they were fake. She wasn’t prone to displays of emotion. “They don’t affect me and they certainly don’t become you.”
Instantly her eyelids narrowed, the tears miraculously gone. “Fine. But I will make you regret this. I vow it.”
“I’m looking forward to your attempts.” Truth. Sparring with her had always excited him. She should know that by now.
Without a single beat of hesitation, he pressed the ink gun just below her shoulder blade. His grip was steady as he etched the outline of the first letter. A. Not once did she flinch. Not once did she act as if she felt a single ounce of pain. He knew it hurt, though. Oh, did he know. To permanently mark an immortal, ambrosia had to be mixed into the colored liquid and that ambrosia burned like acid.
She remained silent as he finished each of the outlines. Silent, still, as he filled in the letters. When he finished, he sat back on his haunches and surveyed his work: A-T-L-A-S.
He expected satisfaction to overtake him, so long had he waited for this moment. It didn’t. He expected relief to overwhelm him; finally vengeance had been achieved. It didn’t. What he didn’t expect was a white-hot sweep of possessiveness, but that’s exactly what he experienced. Mine.
Nike now belonged to him. Forever. And all the world would know it.
NIKE PACED THE CONFINES of her cell. A cell she shared with several others. Knowing her temper as intimately as they did, they were careful to stay out of her way. Still. Roommates sucked. She could feel their eyes boring into her robe-clad back, as if they could see the name now branded there.
If they dared say a single word about it… I will kill them!
There hadn’t been enough cells to contain all of the Greeks, so they’d been crammed into each chamber in groups. Male, female, it hadn’t mattered. Maybe the Titans hadn’t cared about the mixing of the sexes, or maybe they’d done it to increase the torment of each prisoner. The latter was probably the case. Husbands had not been paired with wives and friend had not been paired with friend. No, rival had been paired with rival.
For her, that rival was Erebos, the minor god of Darkness. Once, Erebos had treated her like a queen. Once, she’d really liked him. Had even considered marrying him. But then she’d fallen in love with Atlas—that womanizing, lying bastard Atlas—so she’d cut Erebos loose. Then she’d discovered that Atlas had never really wanted her, that Atlas had only been using her.
Love had quickly morphed into rage.
The rage, though, had eventually cooled. She’d forgotten him. For the most part. Liar. Now, with his name decorating her back, she hated him with every fiber of her being.
Maybe—maybe—she’d overreacted when she’d done the same to him. Branded him forever. Impulsiveness had always been her downfall. For years, she’d even regretted her decision. Not that she would ever admit such a thing to him. Regret was not what she felt now, however.
She hadn’t lied to him. She would kill him for this.
First, she would have to find a way to remove the stupid collar around her neck. As long as she wore it, she was powerless. The thick gold did not remove her god-given abilities, but merely muted them. Substantially. Too substantially. Second, she would have to find a way to escape this realm.
The first, in theory, should have been easy. Yet she’d already tried clawing and beating at it, and had even attempted to melt it from her neck. All she’d done was cut her skin, bruise her tender flesh and singe her hair off. She should have known that’s what would happen. How many times had she watched Titan prisoners try the same things? The second, in theory and reality, seemed impossible.
Her gaze circled her surroundings. After the Titans had escaped, they’d reinforced everything. How, she didn’t know. The prison was supposedly bound to Tartarus, the Greek god of Confinement who’d once kept guard over the Titans, and when he’d begun to weaken for no apparent reason, the realm had weakened, as well. Everything in it became structurally unsound. But now, Tartarus was missing. The Titans didn’t have him and no one knew where he was. There was no reason the realm should be as strong as it was in his absence.
The walls and floor were comprised of godly stone, something only special godly tools—tools she didn’t have—could break through. And yet, even without Tartarus’s presence, there was not a crack in sight.
The thick silver bars that allowed a glimpse of the guard’s station below had been constructed by Hephaistos, and only Hephaistos could melt such a metal. Unfortunately, he resided somewhere else. As with Tartarus, no one knew where. Still, without Tartarus, she should have been able to bend that metal. She couldn’t; she’d already tried.
“Could you settle the hell down?” Erebos grumbled from one of the cots.
Nike flicked him a glance. From his dark hair to his dark skin, from his handsome features to his strong body, he was the picture of unhappy male, and all of that unhappiness was directed at her.
“No,” she replied. “I can’t.”
“We’re trying to plan an escape here.”
They were always planning an escape.
“Besides,” he continued, “your ugly face is giving me a headache.”
“Go suck yourself,” she replied. Though she’d been the one to hurt him all those centuries ago—unintentionally—he’d repaid her a thousand times over. Purposely. Not emotionally, but physically. He liked nothing better than to “accidentally” trip her, bump into her and send her flying, as well as to eat what little portion of food was meant for her before she could fight her way to the front of the line, starving her.
If she hadn’t been wearing the collar, he never would have been able to do those things. She would have been too strong. And he would have been too scared. Another reason to despise her captivity.
“Sucking myself would probably elicit better results than when you did it,” he retorted.
The handful of gods and goddesses around him snickered.