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“Or what?”

 

“Or I’ll shut you up my favorite way.”

 

Her mouth fell open. Did he mean he’d shut her up with a kiss? Or by pushing a button on her collar and shooting painful lances through her brain? It was fifty-fifty, she thought. His proclamation had the desired results, however. She was too busy pondering his meaning to talk.

 

In the guard’s station, two Titans were laughingly making bets about the prisoners. They looked up at Atlas and nodded politely in greeting—only to freeze when they spotted her. As promised, she remained quiet.

 

“She try to escape?” one demanded, obviously ready to beat her for doing so.

 

“No. But I’m taking her out for a bit,” Atlas replied.

 

“Why?” the other gasped out. “There’s nothing out there.”

 

“Her viper’s tongue offends me. Therefore, she deserves a new punishment. To that end, I plan to taunt her with what she cannot have.”

 

The very words she’d once offered Aergia, the goddess of Laziness. He’d remembered.

 

Still the guard persisted. “Has this been cleared with—”

 

“I’m in charge of this prison and the people inside it. Now shut up and do your job.” With that, Atlas ushered her out of the building and into the daylight. No one else tried to stop him.

 

As the first ray hit her skin, she jerked free of his hold and stopped, simply basking in the moment. Clouds. Sun. She closed her eyes, head thrown back, arms splayed. The warmth, followed by a cooling breeze…the brightness—her skin soaked them up greedily. Oh, how she’d missed them. She would have loved to have seen temples and golden streets and people, as well, but she would take what she could get without complaint.

 

Strong arms suddenly banded around her. “You’re beautiful,” Atlas whispered, his nose nuzzling her ear, practically purring. “Do you know that?”

 

“I know what I look like.” Her lashes fluttered open. The clouds enveloped him, creating a dream haze. Her heart was hammering against her ribs, and she couldn’t have stopped herself from flattening her hands on his chest to save her life. His own heart was racing, she realized with astonishment. Was he…could he be as affected by her as she was by him? “And beautiful is not a word that describes me.”

 

His head lifted, and he gazed down at her. Tenderness softened his expression, and she thought he’d never been more appealing. “Then you don’t see yourself as I do.”

 

How did he see her? As much as he hated her—but did he hate her still? How could he, when he’d just escorted her to paradise?—she would have guessed he pictured her with horns, fangs and a tail.

 

She cleared her throat, too afraid to ask. “Why did you do this for me?” A much easier question, with an answer that probably wouldn’t destroy what little was left of her feminine pride.

 

“I have my reasons,” was all he said. “Now, as much as I’d love to stay in this exact spot with you, we only have a short amount of time. Do you want to spend it here or eating the food I’ve prepared, as well as bathing? I know those are the two things I missed most during my tenure here.”

 

“Eat…eating. Bathing.” Was this really happening? Or was she merely dreaming about him again? Nothing else explained this change in him, in her situation.

 

He kissed the tip of her nose. “Then food and a bath you shall have. Come. Since I can’t flash you outside of this realm, and there are no homes, inns or shops here, I’ve set up camp a mile north, out of view of the prison.”

 

Dreaming, surely. Perhaps a trick, as she’d first supposed. But she allowed him to lead her through the clouds without protest.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

BY THE TIME THEY REACHED the camp he’d set up, Atlas was hard and aching. Nike had been pressed against his side the entire mile, her female scent in his nose, her heat radiating into his body.

 

When she spied the tent he’d erected, she gasped. Wide brown eyes flicked up to him with wonder before she raced forward, not slowing as she barreled through the front flap. He heard another gasp.

 

Grinning, Atlas followed her inside. He liked this softer side of her. She stood in the center, twirling, clearly trying to take everything in at once. He’d spread furs on the floor and had even carted a small round table here and piled it high with her favorite foods. There was a porcelain tub already filled with steaming water, rose petals floating on the surface.

 

Never let it be said that the Titan god of Strength did not know how to romance a woman.

 

Nike’s hand fluttered over her heart, her gaze glued to the plate of strawberries and feta. “How did you know I liked those?”

 

Because he’d always been hyperaware of her every action. He’d watched her from his cell while she’d eaten them with her friends and he’d fumed that he was not the one with her, basking in her good humor. That was not something he’d admit to, however.

 

“Good guess,” he finally said.

 

She peered down at the rug and kicked out her bare, dirty foot. “I don’t understand why you’re doing this, Atlas.”

 

“That makes two of us,” he replied gruffly.

 

“But—”

 

“Just enjoy it, Nike. It’s all I can give you.”

 

Her lashes fluttered up, and her gaze pinned him. “But why would you want to give me anything?”

 

“Stop analyzing my reasons. This isn’t a ploy or a punishment, I promise you. And the food is not poisoned, if that’s what you’re thinking.” He closed the distance between them, placed his hands on her shoulders and urged her to the table.

 

There, they ate in silence. The rapture on her face, rapture that increased with every bite, delighted him. The wine she savored sip by sip, moaning with every swallow.

 

Bringing her here was worth the risk of Cronus’s wrath, he thought.

 

Although, to get technical, Cronus had merely ordered him to keep her in Tartarus. Which he had done. The clouds around the prison were part of the realm. So really, he had not broken any rules. Cronus, though, being Cronus, would not see it that way.

 

Still, Atlas couldn’t regret it. He had never seen this joyful, eager side of the Greek goddess, and he found that he liked it just as much as he liked everything else about her. Which was way more than he should have.

 

When every crumb had been consumed, she turned her attention to the bath. “That’s for me?” Utter longing radiated from her, yet she didn’t move toward it.

 

“Yes. But I can’t leave you. You know that, right?”

 

She chewed on her bottom lip and nodded. “What you’re saying is, I can bathe with you watching or not at all.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

He expected her to fight him on that. Hell, she could have refused outright. What he did not expect was for her to push to her feet and discard her robe without hesitation. At the sight of her nakedness, he hissed in a breath. Already he’d thought her exquisite…but now, now…holy gods. She was the finest creature the gods had ever produced.

 

Her skin, so golden and smooth, covered lean muscle and succulent breasts. Those breasts were soft, perfect for his hands, and her nipples were as pretty a pink as he remembered. His mouth watered for them.

 

She walked to the tub and stepped inside. Her ass, her back…his name. He was on his feet before he realized what he’d done. He wanted to kiss those tattoos, something she would probably fight him over. He wouldn’t apologize for having given them to her, though. Hell, no. He liked them too much.

 

Nike pivoted slowly, and her gaze met his as she sank into the water. There was no hiding the desire he felt—it consumed him, ate him up and left him as bare as she was. Her expression, however, was blank.

 

Slowly, she worked the bar of soap he’d brought her over her entire body. She seemed completely unabashed as the suds danced over her, sliding down those magnificent breasts hiding beneath the rose petals. She washed her hair, too, and soon the locks were dripping down her face and shoulders.

 

With every move she made, he inched a little closer to her. He just couldn’t help himself. Finally she finished and stood. Another feast for his eyes. All the strength he craved more than anything else in the world was now wet, and he wanted to lick away every drop.

 

“What are you thinking about?” she asked, stepping from the tub. Her voice was as devoid of emotion as her expression. Why?

 

“I need you,” he managed to croak past the lump in his throat.

 

Finally. A reaction. Relief and desire, such intense desire, claimed her, and she grinned a siren’s smile. “Then have me you shall.”

 

They were a mimic of his earlier words, and completely unexpected. Why the change in her? Doesn’t matter. As he’d told her earlier, there was no good reason to analyze a change of heart. Not in either of them. Not now.

 

He had the distance between them defeated a split second later. Had his arms wrapped around her, jerking her into him, a second after that. Their lips met in a wild tangle, their tongues seeking, rolling together. On and on the kiss continued, drowning him in all that she was.

 

He hated to stop, even for a moment, but he had to remove his clothes. If he didn’t experience skin-to-skin contact soon, he was going to ignite into flames. Panting, he tore away his shirt, his boots, then his pants.

 

She moaned. “Atlas.”

 

He pulled her back into his embrace. Finally. Blessedly. Skin to skin. Both of them groaned at the headiness. Her nipples rubbed against his chest, his tattoos, while their lower bodies thrust together. Then she was bending down, tracing those letters with her tongue—and gods, he had never been happier that he had them.

 

After she’d traced the last one, she kissed her way down his stomach. She dropped to her knees.

 

Was she going to…please, please, please…but she didn’t like him enough to do it. Did she? “What are you—”

 

She sucked his cock deep into her mouth.

 

His head fell back, and he roared. All that wet heat was ecstasy, surely the first he’d ever truly known, for nothing had ever felt this damned good. Except her, that first time he claimed her. Up and down she moved, allowing him to hit the back of her throat.

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