Oh. “I appreciate your honesty.” Why won’t he talk to me?
Curiosity bombarded her. Did his answer embarrass him, perhaps? If so, why? She desperately wanted to know, but let the matter drop. For now.
“We are almost there,” he said. Almost at the crack.
“Good.” He was still close to her, still behind her, but he made sure not to touch her. Yet he couldn’t stop his heat from enveloping her. It was not a heat she minded, even amidst the smoldering furnace that was Hell. His was…heady.
He stopped, forcing her to do the same. “I’m sorry to say it’s worse than I thought it would be.” His breath trekked over the back of her neck.
“Wh—what?” she asked, horrified. Being near her was worse than he’d thought?
“The wall. What else?”
Thank the gods, she thought, expelling a breath. Foolish woman. Her life depended on this wall. She should not care whether a man found her attractive. Or not.
She forced her gaze straight ahead, her mind to center on her job, not the intriguing man behind her. Thick claw marks abounded. And what had appeared to be thin grooves on the other side were massive craters here.
Hope abandoned her.
Irreparable. In every way.
“They are more determined than I realized,” was all she said, voice trembling slightly. No reason to speak her fears aloud. Geryon might think she was complaining about his work or doubting his abilities.
He adjusted his grip, his arm just over her shoulder. A tremor raked her. If she stood on her tiptoes, she would feel his skin through her chimation. Though it had been hundreds of years since she’d had a man, she remembered the comfort such simple contact could offer.
“Do not worry, Kadence. I will not allow them to hurt you.”
He was using her name more freely now, and that gladdened her. “Just so you know, I will not allow them to hurt you, either.” It was a vow.
There was a pause. Then, “Thank you.” He sounded unsure.
“You are welcome.”
She thought she heard him swallow. “Shall I try and patch this side?”
“No.” Too much effort for too little reward. She realized that now. “We should make our way to the bottom. Destroying the High Lords is the only way to prevent more damage.”
Evil laughter erupted behind them, and they both stiffened.
“Leave us,” Geryon snapped.
The laughter increased in volume. Drew closer.
He sighed. “I cannot battle them like this, and they know it,” he muttered, latching onto her waist.
She gasped. Finally. He was touching her. It was amazing and wonderful, wild and intense. But there was no comfort in it, as she’d expected. No, instead she experienced white-hot, searing arousal. And a burning desire for more.
“What should we do?”
“Time to fall, Kadence,” he said, and then he released the rocks, taking her over the edge with him.
THEY SEEMED TO FALL FOREVER. Geryon retained an iron-edged grip on the trembling Kadence, her hair whipping around them like angry silk ribbons. She didn’t scream, something he’d expected, but she did turn and wind her legs around him, something he had not.
It was his first taste of heaven. In this life, and his other.
“I’ve got you,” he said. Her body fit perfectly against his, soft where he was hard, smooth where he was callused.
“When does it end?” she whispered, but still he caught the undercurrents of panic in her voice.
They were not twirling, were merely dropping, but he knew the sensation could be harrowing. Especially, he reflected, for one used to flashing from one place to another.
“Soon.” He’d fallen like this only once before, when Lucifer summoned him to the palace to explain his new duties. But he had never forgotten the experience.
Like before, flames kindled all around them, pinpricks of gold in the shuddering darkness. Except before, those flames had flicked like snake tongues, licking at him. That they didn’t now…did they fear him? Or the goddess?
She was more everything than Geryon had realized. More courageous. More determined. Every minute he spent with her, his desire for her intensified. She was the break of dawn in the bleakness that was his life. She was refreshing ice in smoldering heat.
She is not for you.
Ugly as he was, she would run fast and far if she knew the many fantasies his mind had begun to weave of them. Him, laying her on the ground, stripping her, dancing his tongue over every delicious inch of her. Her, moaning in pleasure as he tasted her core. Crying out in abandon as he filled her with his shaft. Far more than the kiss she would have allowed him.
A kiss born of…pity? Or gratitude?
He found he desired neither. He wanted her to want his kiss.
And damn himself to everlasting eternity, why had he not taken her lips when she’d offered them? In pity, gratitude or not. What a fool he was! What a coward.
Did the opportunity arise again, he would pounce.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, her still-rising panic evident.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he lied. “Some have called this the never ending pit, but I assure you, there is an end. Just a little farther and we’ll hit. Landing will jar you, but I’ll absorb most of the impact.” He moved one of his hands up and onto the base of her neck. Offering comfort, he told himself. He’d tried not to touch her, had fought it, but there’d been no other way to protect her inside the pit.
Besides, what was the harm in adjusting a single hand?
“But you stiffened.”
I must stop craving her. Her skin was soft, so soft, and he felt little bumps rise under his palm as he gently massaged. To his delight, her muscles relaxed under his ministrations.
Apparently, there was a lot of harm. His shaft hardened unexpectedly, and his cheeks heated. Could she feel the evidence of his arousal? It was buried beneath his only piece of armor, so perhaps she would think the metal responsible.
And you are a fool.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” she said. “You’re hiding something, I can tell. I know this pit is made for souls, not breathing, flesh-and-blood bodies. Are we going to—”
“No. I swear it. We will live.” The conversation seemed to calm her, so he said, “Tell me about you. About your childhood.”
“I—all right. But there’s not much to tell. I was not allowed out of my home as a child. For the greater good,” she added, as though the line had been fed to her many times before.
He did not mean to, would have stopped himself if he’d realized, but he found himself hugging her tight, understanding. Because of her nature, she’d been as much an outcast as he was. “Kadence, I—” The air was thickening around them, the flames spraying what looked to be molten teardrops. He recognized the signs; the end was near. “Drop your legs from me, but do not let them touch the ground.”
Boom. They smacked into the ground and Geryon planted his feet as the impact vibrated through him. He tried to remain upright to keep the goddess from having to touch the bones littering the area, but his knees soon gave out and he collapsed backward.
Kadence remained in his arms, unwinding her legs as he’d asked, so his back took the brunt of the fall, breath knocking from his lungs.
He lay there for a moment, panting. They were well and truly inside Hell.
There was no going back now.
“GERYON? A RE YOU ALL RIGHT?”
The muted darkness of the pit had given way to bright light, fire illuminating every direction. Kadence hovered over him, like the sun he sometimes glimpsed in his daydreams, bright and glorious. “I am…fine.”
“No, you’re not. You’re wheezing. What can I do to help?”
He was surprised to note she did not scramble off him, now that they were safe. Well, as safe as a person could be inside Hell. “Tell me more about yourself. While I catch my breath.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” As she spoke, her delicate hands wisped over his brow, his jaw, his shoulders. Searching for injuries? Offering comfort? “What should I tell you?”
“Anything.” He was growing stronger by the second, but he did not admit it. Rather, he luxuriated in the sensation of her touch. “Everything. I want to know all about you.” Truth.
“All right. I…goodness, this is hard. I guess I’ll start at the beginning. My mother is the goddess of Happiness. Odd, I know, that such a woman could give birth to one such as me.”
“Why odd?” When looking at Kadence, hearing her voice, breathing in her scent, gave him more joy than he’d ever known?
“Because of what I am,” she said, clearly ashamed. “Because of the damage I can cause.”
“I have known nothing but—” pleasure, hunger, desperation “—kindness at your hands.”
Her ministrations ceased, and he could feel her gaze boring into him. “Truly?”
“Yes, truly.” Do not stop touching me. Centuries had passed since he’d last enjoyed even the slightest hint of contact. This was nirvana, paradise and a dream all wrapped into one delightful package. “My head,” he found himself saying on a moan.
“Poor baby,” she cooed, massaging his temples.
He nearly smiled. Now was not the time for this. They were inside Hell, out in the open, possible targets. The demons at the gate could have followed them. But he could not help himself, was too desperate, greedy. Just a little longer. “Your story,” he prompted.
“Where was I? Oh, yes.” Her honeysuckle scent enveloped him, chasing away the odor of rot. “I was a mean little girl. I didn’t share my toys, and I frequently made the other children cry, unintentionally compelling them to bend to my will. All right, perhaps a few of those times it was not so unintentional. I think that’s one of the reasons I was sent to Hell as warden, though it was never said aloud. The gods wanted to be rid of me, once and for all.”