How forlorn she sounded. “Every living creature has made a mistake at one point or another. Besides, you were a child. Not yet sensitized to the feelings of others. Do not blame yourself. They should not have. They knew better.”
“What of you?” she asked, and this time she sounded more buoyant.
I did that. I encouraged her.
“What would you like to know?” he wondered.
Slowly she grinned. “Anything. Everything.”
That grin…one of the gods’ finest creations, surely. His gut clenched. His shaft hardened again.
“I need a moment to think.” He’d relegated his human memories to a far corner in his mind, never to be considered again. Before, thinking of those days had stung, for he’d known they were forever lost—but he reminded himself that with his wife’s desertion, that was a good thing. Today, however, with the essence of Kadence all around him, he experienced only a thrum of sadness for what might have been.
“I was a wild child, untamable, a roamer,” he said. “My mother despaired, thinking I would worry her and every member of our family to death.” He laughed, her sweetly aged face flashing in his mind. “Then they introduced me to Evangeline. She calmed me, because I wanted to be worthy of her. We married, as both our families desired.”
Kadence stiffened. Even paled. The hand she’d been dancing at his temple stilled. “You are…wed?”
“No. She left me.”
“I am sorry,” she said, but there was relief in her tone.
Relief? Why? “Don’t be.” Had he not given his soul for Evangeline, she would have died. And had she not left Geryon, he might have fought Lucifer when the time came to become Guardian. And had he fought, he might not have met Kadence.
In that moment, he had never been so glad of something.
Suddenly a frenzied snarl echoed through the distance, trailed by more demon laughter. They had indeed been followed.
Giving up all pretense of being winded, Geryon popped to a stand, lifting the goddess with him and searching the distance.
The horde was several yards away. But as he watched, a fiend separated from the pack and raced straight for them.
GERYON SHOVED K ADENCE behind him. Another touch— warmth, satin skin, perfection—and he yearned to revel in it. He didn’t, couldn’t. He’d agreed to come with her to save the human realm, yes, but also to keep her safe. Not because she was a goddess and not because she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever beheld, but because, in this single day, she had made him feel like a man. Not a beast.
“Remember that I swore to let no harm befall you,” he told her. A minute, perhaps two, and the creature would reach them. Fast as it was, there was still a great distance to cover, the streets of Hell stretching endlessly. “I will keep my word.”
“Geryon. Perhaps I can—”
“No.” He didn’t want her involved in this fight. Already she was trembling in fear. She was so scared, in fact, she had yet to realize her hands were resting on his back, twin conductors of inexorable pleasure. Had she known, surely she would have jerked away. “I will fight it.” Should she try to do so, it would feed off her fear, becoming more crazed.
As did most minions, the creature coming at them possessed a skeletal face and a muscled body covered in green scales, its forked tongue flicking out as if blood already coated the air. Glowing red eyes glared at them, a thousand sins resting where pupils should have.
Warrior instincts demanded Geryon stride forward and meet the bastard in the middle. Fight there, like true soldiers. Yet his every male instinct demanded he stay where he was. To put any distance between himself and Kadence was to place her in further danger. Another demon could be hiding nearby, waiting for the chance to pounce on her. Another of the horde could separate, circle around and try to take her from behind.
“This is my fault,” she said. “No matter that I had begun to relax, my fear of this place is bone-deep. And that fear is like a beacon to them, isn’t it?”
He chose not to answer that, too afraid of scaring her further by acknowledging the truth of her words. “When it reaches us, I want you to run backward. Press against the wall and scream for me if you see any hint of another demon.”
“No, I want to help you. I—”
“Will do as I said. Otherwise, I will defeat it and leave this place.” His tone was uncompromising. Already he regretted bringing her here, whether the wall needed defending or not. Whether innocents needed saving or not.
She was more important, he realized.
She stiffened against him, but didn’t offer another protest.
A cry of “Mine, mine, mine” rent the air.
The creature closed in, faster…almost…there. Claws raked at Geryon as he grabbed his opponent by the neck. Multiple stings erupted on his face, followed by the trickle of warm blood. Flailing arms, kicking legs.
Only when the temptation of Kadence’s hands fell away did Geryon truly begin to battle. He tossed the creature to the ground and leapt upon it, knees pinning its shoulders. One punch, two, three.
It bucked, wild and feral. Saliva gleamed on its fangs as curses sprang from its bony mouth. Another punch. Still another. But the pounding failed to subdue it in any way.
“Where is Violence? Death? Doubt?” he gritted out. They were why he was here, after all.
The struggling continued, intensified, terror leaping to life in those red eyes. Not fear for what Geryon would do, he knew, but terror for what its brothers-in-evil would do if they learned of any betrayal.
Though Geryon hated for Kadence to see him kill brutally, savagely—again—it could not be helped. He raised his hand, spread his elongating, dripping nails and struck. The poison that coated his nails was a “gift” from Lucifer to aid in his duties and acted swiftly, without mercy, spreading through the creature’s body and rotting it from the inside out.
It screamed and screeched in agony, its struggles becoming writhing spasms. Then the scales began to burn away, smoking, sizzling, leaving only more of that ugly bone. But the bones, too, disintegrated and black ash soon coated the air, blowing in every direction.
Geryon stood to shaky legs. “You are next,” he shouted to the others.
They quickly scampered away.
How long would they stay gone, though?
He should move on. Instead, he kept his back to Kadence for several minutes, waiting, hoping—dreading—that she would say something. What did she think of him now? Would there be any more of her tending? Would she rescind her offer of a kiss?
Finally curiosity got the better of him and he pivoted on his heels.
She stood exactly as he’d commanded, her back pressed against the rocky wall. Those glorious ringlets cascaded around her. Her eyes were wide and filled with…admiration? Surely not.
“No. Do not speak. Come to me,” she said, and crooked her finger.
KADENCE HAD BEEN UNABLE to hold back her entreaty. Geryon stood several feet away, panting shallowly, his cheeks cut and bleeding, his hands dripping with his opponent’s lifeblood.
His dark eyes were more haunted than she’d ever seen them.
“Come to me,” she said again. And again, she motioned him over with a wave of her fingers.
The first time, he’d given no reaction. As though he hadn’t believed he’d heard her correctly. This time, he blinked. Shook his head. “You wish to…punish me for my actions?”
Silly man. Punish him? When he’d saved her? Yes, part of her was angry that he’d kept her from the fight, that he’d threatened—vowed—to leave without doing what they’d come here to do. Yet again. But part of her was relieved. As the demon had struck at him, she had felt power bloom inside her. Such magnificent, beautiful power. Born of fury, perhaps, but born nonetheless.
I am not a coward. Not anymore. Next time, I will act. No matter his wishes, no matter mine. He deserves that. Deserves to have someone look out for him.
“Kadence,” Geryon said, and she realized she had been staring at him, silent.
“I would never punish you for aiding me. No matter your actions. If you learn nothing else about me, learn that.”
Again he blinked. “But…I killed. I hurt another creature.”
“And you were injured in the process. Come, let me attend to your wounds.”
Still he resisted. “But you would have to put your hands on me.”
He said it as though the thought should be loathsome to her. “Yes, I know. Does the thought bother you?” Please don’t let it bother you. “I mean, I have done so already and you did not seem… I mean…”
“Bother me?” One hesitant step, two. At that pace, he would never reach her.
Sighing, she closed the rest of the distance herself, twined their fingers—experienced an electric jolt, gasped—and led him to the rocks. “Sit. Please.”
As he obeyed, he tugged his hand from her and rubbed where they’d been connected. Had the same jolt pierced him? She hoped it had, for she did not want to be alone in this…attraction. Yes, attraction, she realized. Physical, erotic. The kind that prompted a woman to leave her inhibitions and invite a man into her bed.
Whether that invitation was accepted or not was a different story.
Reluctant as Geryon was, she was positive he would turn her down. As he had done for the kiss. And perhaps that was for the best, she decided now. Her lovemaking tended to scare men away. Because when the pleasure hit her, she could not control her nature. The chains she’d erected broke, unleashing her will with a vengeance.
Physically, her lovers became her slaves. Mentally, they cursed her, knowing she had stolen their freedom of choice, unwitting though it had been.
She had never bedded the same man twice, and, after three tries, had stopped altogether. One she had considered bad luck. Two, a coincidence. Three, undeniably her fault.
How would Geryon respond, though? Would he hate her as the others had? Probably. Already he knew the horrors of being bound to someone else’s will. She would not doubt if freedom was the most precious commodity in his life.