“Whatever,” she said, as if the taunt didn’t bother her. Except, her cheeks did flush. She was the epitome of Strength—or she was supposed to be—and she’d always been more mannish than feminine. That was why Atlas’s attentions had so surprised and delighted her. That gorgeous man could have won anyone, yet he’d chosen her. Or so she’d thought. And she’d fallen for his act because he’d somehow made her feel like a delicate, beautiful woman.
Stupid. I was so stupid.
From the corner of her eye, she saw a black-clad male stride into the guard’s station. She didn’t have to see him to know who it was. Atlas. She felt him. Always she felt his heat.
When her gaze found him, she discovered that he had his arm wrapped around a leggy blonde. A blonde who cuddled herself into his side as if she belonged there—and had rested there many times before.
The thought angered Nike. It shouldn’t have; she despised Atlas with all of her being and didn’t care who he slept with. Didn’t care who he pleasured. And yes, he would have pleasured the blonde with those talented hands and seeking lips. He was an amazing lover whose touch still haunted Nike’s dreams. But there it was. Anger.
She didn’t mean to, but found herself striding to the bars and gripping them for a better, closer look at him. Three other guards stood around him, all talking and laughing. While prisoners wore white, guards wore black, and he wore that darkness well. It was the perfect complement to his dark, chopped hair and sea-colored eyes.
His face had been chiseled by a master artist, everything about him perfectly proportioned. His eyes were the perfect distance apart, his nose the perfect length, his cheeks the perfect sharpness, his lips the perfect shape and color and his chin a perfect, stubborn square.
He was perfect while she was nothing but flaws.
She should have known he was playing her the moment he’d turned those dangerous eyes on her and they lit with “interest.” Men just didn’t look at her like that. Not even Erebos had, and he had loved her.
“Bastard,” she muttered, the curse for both the men in her past.
As if he heard her, Atlas lifted his gaze. The moment their eyes met, she wanted to release the bars. She wanted to step away, out of sight. But she didn’t allow herself that luxury. That would have been cowardly, and this man had seen her weak one too many times.
Just to taunt him, and hopefully make him feel as out of control as he always made her feel, she allowed her attention to fall to his chest, exactly where her name rested. She smiled smugly before raising her gaze and arching a brow.
Score. A muscle ticked in his jaw.
What does your lover think of your mark? she wanted to shout. What does the blonde think of my name on your body?
He jerked the stupid blonde deeper into his side and, without breaking eye contact with Nike, planted a lush, wet kiss on her mouth. Of course, the bitch reacted as any other woman would have. She wrapped her arms around him and held on for dear life. As Nike well knew, that man could make a woman come with the expertise of his kiss.
Nike’s anger intensified. Had she been able, she would have stomped down there and ripped them apart. Then she would have killed them both. Not because she wanted Atlas for herself—she didn’t—but because he was clearly using yet another woman. Passion did not glow from his expression. Only determination did.
Nike would be doing the female population a favor by snuffing him out.
“Erebos,” she called. “Come here. I want to kiss you.”
“What?” he gasped out, his shock clear.
“Do you want a kiss or not? Get over here. Quickly.”
There was a rustling of clothing behind her and then her former lover was beside her. He was a prisoner, and sex was a rarity. He would take what he could get, even from someone he loathed. That much she knew.
Nike turned to him; he was already leaning down. Like the blonde, she wrapped her arms around her companion’s neck and held on tight. Only, she didn’t enjoy the kiss, familiar as it was. Erebos’s taste was too…what? Different from Atlas’s, she realized, and that ratcheted her anger another notch. No man should have that much power over her.
Still. She let Erebos continue. Atlas needed to realize that she no longer desired him. He needed to realize that he would never, never play her emotions again. She was not an idealistic little girl anymore.
He’d made sure of that.
RAGE. ABSOLUTE RAGE FILLED Atlas. He released his companion—he couldn’t recall her name—and she gasped in protest at the abruptness of his actions. He didn’t bother explaining what he was about as he stomped away from her. The rage continued to spread as he climbed the stairs that led to the prisoners’ cages and to the cell holding Nike.
His name was on her back. How dare she allow another man to put his lips on her?
When he reached his destination, he raised his arm, and the sensor he’d had embedded in his wrist caused the bars to slide open. Several prisoners were seated against the far wall. Rapturous longing colored their faces as they watched the minor god of Darkness and the goddess of Strength clean each other’s tonsils. So absorbed were they, in fact, that they didn’t rush Atlas and try to escape. Or maybe that had something to do with the pain they would feel if they did so. He had only to press a button, and their collars would ravage their brains.
Nike moaned, as if she really liked what was being done to her. Red flickered through Atlas’s vision. How. Dare. She. Teeth grinding, he grabbed Nike by the collar of her robe and jerked her into the hard line of his body, away from Erebos.
A gasp escaped her. Unlike when the blonde had gasped, he did not remain unaffected. He wanted to swallow the sound—and do something, anything, to cause Nike to make it again.
What’s wrong with me?
“Hey,” Erebos snapped, foolishly reaching for her to finish what had been started. “We were busy.”
Scowling, Atlas kicked him in the chest. The smaller man flew backward, slamming into his fellow prisoners. The minor god jumped to his feet to attack, saw who had rendered the blow and stilled, nostrils flaring, hands fisting.
“Touch her again,” Atlas said calmly, though he was gritting the words out as if they were being pushed through a meat grinder, “and I’ll remove your collar. Right along with your head.”
The god paled, perhaps even whimpered. “I won’t go near her. She wasn’t worth it, anyway.”
Atlas might kill him for such an insult, as well. Her kisses were heaven, damn it.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Nike demanded, suddenly coming to life and drawing his attention. She whirled on him, glaring up at him. “I can sleep with whoever I want. And hey, guess what? I might even pick one of your friends. What do you think of that?”
Despite her heated claims, she wasn’t breathless as she would have been if Atlas had been the one kissing her, and her cheeks weren’t flushed. Her nipples weren’t even hard.
Finally, something cooled the hottest flames of his rage.
“Just zip your mouth.” He latched on to Nike’s upper arm and dragged her out of the cell with him. Automatically, the bars closed behind him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she said again, tugging against his hold. She’d never been one to obey him.
“What the hell did you think you were doing?” he coun tered. When he reached the bottom of the steps, he stopped. The blonde, who just happened to be the goddess of Memory—damn it, what was her name? Kneemah? No, but close. Nee Nee? Closer. Mnemosyne. Yes, that was it—Mnemosyne, as well as the three other warriors chosen to guard Tartarus today, were gaping at him.
“What?” he snapped. At least Nike stopped resisting him. She stilled at his side, attention darting from him to the others, the others to him.
“You can’t just remove a prisoner,” Hyperion, god of Light, said. He was a handsome man, though as pale as his title suggested, and Nike had better not be eyeing him as a possible bedmate.
“I’m not removing her,” Atlas replied stiffly. “I’m relocating her.” To a cell of her own, where no one could put their dirty, disgusting lips on her. Where no one could put their roving hands on her body. There was nothing…possessive about this decision, either. He simply didn’t want her experiencing any type of pleasure. She didn’t deserve it.
“Why?” Mnemosyne regarded him curiously, not a single thread of upset or jealousy in her expression.
Why? he wondered himself. Mnemosyne been eager to date him for months, summoning him constantly. Last night, she’d even shown up at his home naked. She was beautiful, yes, and he’d almost given in and slept with her. His body had been worked into a frenzy after what had transpired with Nike, after all, and he’d been desperate for release. But before he sealed the deal, he’d sent the determined goddess away. He’d felt too guilty to continue. As if he were cheating on Nike. Which was ridiculous. The only relationship he had with Nike was one of hate.
Besides, who wanted to spend time with a female who would never forget your mistakes? A female who would remember your every transgression? A female who could spin new, false memories into your mind, making you believe whatever she wished. Not him. Yet he’d flashed to Mnemosyne’s home this morning and asked her to spend the day with him, just so he could bring her to the prison this morning. He’d been strangely jubilant at the thought of parading her in front of Nike.
So again, he wondered why Mnemosyne did not feel as if Nike were a threat. Most females didn’t, he knew. He’d heard them talk. Nike was too tall, too muscled, they said. She was too hard, and too coarse. But those were the things that had first sparked his interest in her. She could handle his strength. She gave as good as she got. She would never wither under his glare. She would never run from his anger. She would always face him head-on. And he liked that. A lot. No other female he’d ever encountered had that kind of courage.
And she was pretty, he thought. Yes, only yesterday he’d thought her barely so, but, just now, that seemed wrong on every level. Only a short while ago, when he’d first walked into the prison, he’d felt her gaze on him and had looked up. For a second, only a second, her defenses had been lowered. She hadn’t known he’d been watching her, so she hadn’t guarded her expression. An expression that had been soft, wistful, her eyes luminous.