She didn’t like it.
He was more than his appearance. Far more.
“Nothing else to say?” Lucifer asked. “Shall we part, then?”
She barely stopped herself from running her tongue over her teeth. Was this a game he played? He needed the wall repaired as much as she did. Well, not as much as she did, she mused. Unlike her, he would not die if the wall crumbled. Still. His resistance grated.
With that thought, she answered her own question. Yes, this was a game. One she would not tolerate. “I am your sovereign,” she said. “You will—”
“You are not my sovereign,” he growled in another display of anger. Another display he quickly hid. A single breath in and out, and he visibly calmed. “You are my…observer. You watch, you advise and you protect, but you do not command.”
Because you are too weak, he did not say. But then, he didn’t have to. They both knew it was true.
She wanted to be different. Strong. She truly did. And she should have been. Once, she had been. Her very nature was one of subjugation, after all. For others, though, and not herself. Or that’s the way it had been. Why was she like this now?
You know the answer, and you would do well to forget it.
She squared her shoulders, realizing she would have to play Lucifer’s game, after all. There was no other way. You can do this. For Geryon. “I believe I offered to bargain with you, and you were amenable. Shall we begin?” she asked silkily.
He nodded, as if he’d merely been waiting for the question all along. “We shall.”
Gates of Hell
“I DO NOT UNDERSTAND,” Geryon said, refusing to leave his post. He even crossed his arms over his chest, an action that reminded him of his human days, when he’d been more than guard, more than monster. “Lucifer would never have agreed to release me from his…care.”
“I promise you, he agreed. You are free.” The goddess cast her gaze to her sandaled feet, saying no more on the subject. “Finally.”
Did she hide something? Plan to trick him, for whatever reason? It had been so long since he’d dealt with a female, he wasn’t sure how to judge her actions. Her, though, he wanted to believe. Anything and everything she said. And that was what scared him most.
She could destroy him and his poor heart. Or rather, what remained of it. If anything did.
She was paler than usual, he noted, the rosy glow in her cheeks gone, her freckles stark. Her golden ringlets tumbled down her shoulders and arms, and he could see soot woven throughout the fine strands. His hands ached to reach out, to sift those tresses through his fingers.
Would she run screaming if he did so? Probably.
Today she wore a violet robe and matching necklace—a necklace that boasted a teardrop amethyst as large as his fist and as bright as the glistening ice of his homeland. Ice he had not seen in hundreds of years. She had never worn such a thing before; usually she draped herself in white, an angel among evil, with no adornment.
“How?” he persisted. “Why?” And why do you look so sad?
“Does it matter?” Her gaze lifted, boring into him with the precision of a spear and cutting just as deep.
There was fury blended with her sadness. He did not like either. This female should only ever be happy. “To me, yes.” But only because it was necessary to his survival. Anything else, and he might have caved then and there. Given her whatever she desired. Even follow her into the fires behind him, as she’d first requested.
She gave a little stomp of her foot. “To save the wall, I need your help. Let that be enough of an answer for now. You know Lucifer would not want it to fall.” Her fingers beckoned him. “Come. See the damage that has been done on this side. See why I must cross over.”
The goddess did not await his reply. She turned away from him and walked to the far corner of the wall. No, not walked. She glided, a dream of falling stars amid shimmering twilight.
Why do you want to survive? What good does living do you? Geryon hesitated only a moment before following her, breathing deeply of her honeysuckle scent along the way.
To his surprise, no one jumped from the shadows as he walked; no one waited to punish him for daring to leave his post. Was he truly free? Dare he hope?
The goddess didn’t face him when he reached her, but traced a fingertip along a thin, jagged groove in the middle stone. A groove that branched into smaller striations, like tiny rivers flowing from a churning ocean.
“It’s small, I know, but already it has grown from what I saw yesterday. If the demons continue their abuse, it will continue to grow until the rock splits completely in two, allowing legions to enter the human realm.”
“Were a single demon released upon the unsuspecting world,” he muttered, “death and destruction would reign.” Whether or not a punishment would be delivered to him, he would help her, Geryon decided. He could not allow such a thing to happen. Innocence should never be taken from the undeserving. It was too precious.
“If I do this… If I help you…”
Still she didn’t face him. “Yes?” A breathy sigh.
“I will earn that boon? Whatever I desire?” How selfish he was to ask, he thought, but he did not take the words back.
“Yes.” No hesitation. Still breathy.
What did she think he would ask for? “Then so be it. I accept. I will lead you into Hell, goddess.”
THE GODDESS GAVE A STARTLED gasp and flicked him the briefest of glances. “You’ll help me? Even knowing you are no longer bound to the prince? That you could leave?”
His chest constricted at that glimpse of starlight eyes and lush red lips. “Yes. Even knowing.” If she spoke true and he was free, he had no place to go. Too many centuries had passed, and his home was now gone. His family, dead. Without a doubt, he would cause riots with his appearance. Besides, he might crave the very freedom the goddess promised but he still feared trusting her. She might not intend malice, but Lucifer certainly would.
With the prince, there was always a catch. Free today did not necessarily mean free tomorrow. And since his soul had not been returned to him…
No, he dare not hope.
“Thank you. I didn’t expect—I— Why did you sell your soul?” she asked softly, tracing the crack again.
A change of subject. One he was not prepared for.
“What would you have me do?” he asked rather than answer. He did not wish to admit the reason for his folly and the subsequent humiliation.
Her arm dropped to her side, and she faced him fully. As his gaze drank her in, her expression softened. “I am Kadence,” she said, as though he had asked for her name rather than instruction.
Kadence. How he loved the way the syllables rolled through his mind, smooth as velvet—gods, how long since he’d touched a material so fine?—and sweet as wine. How long since he’d tasted such a drink?
“I am Geryon.” Once, he’d had a different name. Upon arriving here, however, Lucifer had given him his current moniker. Monster was the literal translation, but in truth it meant Guardian of the Damned, which was what he was and all he would ever be. Soul or not.
Some legends, a demon had once jeered at him, proclaimed him to be a three-headed centaur. Some, a vicious dog. Some, the leavings of a warrior named Hercules. Anything was better than the truth, however, so he did not mind the stories.
“I am yours to command,” he said, adding, “Kadence.” Tasted even better on his tongue.
Breath caught in her throat; he heard the hitch of it. “You say my name like a prayer.” There was no astonishment in her tone. Only…uncertainty?
Had he done so? “I am sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Her cheeks flushed prettily. Then she clapped her hands and brought the conversation back to what should have been their primary concern. “Our first order of business is to patch those cracks.”
He nodded but said, “I fear the wall is already compromised.” Outer damage was fixable. But not inner. In walls or in immortals, he thought, thinking of the inner scars he must bare. “Patching will merely strengthen it for a time.” But might not prevent an eventual fall, he did not add.
What they would do then, he did not know. Chaos would reign. Souls and demons would be able to leave at will.
Something more would have to be done. But again, he did not know what.
“Yes. Knowing demons as I have come to, they will return and inflict more damage.” Once more she lifted her gaze to him, kernels of fear swirling where there should only be satisfaction. A crime. “Geryon,” she began, only to press her lush lips together.
What was left of his heart skidded to an abrupt stop. She was just so lovely, her gentleness and goodness setting her apart from everything he represented. He wanted to duck his head, hide his ugliness from her. “Yes?”
Why so uncomfortable? “You may speak freely with me, goddess.” Whatever she needed, he would provide.
“Kadence,” he said again, and savored. So good…
“I— What boon would you ask of me?”
That was not what she’d meant to ask, he knew it, and could only gape at her, trying not to panic. He had hoped to discuss this after. “A…a kiss.” He waited for her screech of horror. Her denial.
Instead, she merely opened her mouth in a wide O.
“You may close your eyes and imagine you are with someone else,” he rushed out. “Or refuse me. I would understand.” Stop talking. You’re only making things worse.
“I would not refuse,” she said softly, huskily.
“I— I—” Now he was the one to stutter. She would not refuse?
She licked her lips. “Shall I give you a kiss now?”
Now? Suddenly he had trouble breathing. Standing. His knees were shaking, his limbs as heavy as boulders. Dark spots winked over his vision. Now? he wondered again, wildly this time.
He was not ready. He would make a fool of himself, and she would leave him. No longer want his help. Or worse, she would cast him pitying, disgusted glances the entire time they worked.