“Many times I have wished to return. But I willingly agreed to do this job, and do it, I shall. Besides, when I agreed to enter this realm, I became…connected to it.”
“Connected? What do you mean?”
“If the wall crumbles, I…die.”
She would die? “Why did you not tell me before now?” he growled. “And why would you connect to such a thing? Why would you come here willingly?”
She twisted the fabric of her gown. “Had I remained in the heavens, I would have been punished every minute of every day. No one is crueler in that respect than the gods. They wanted me here, so here I came. But I had no idea how permanent the bonding would be. How powerful. As to why I didn’t tell you before…” She shrugged. “You had permission to finally leave your post yet you chose to help me. I didn’t want to burden you further. Now you’ve saved me, again, and I don’t wish to lie to you. Even by omission.”
“Kadence,” he said, then shook his head. He could not believe this was happening. That he could lose her—and be able to do nothing about it. “I should have remained at the inside of the gate, without you, and slayed the Lords as they approached. Now the wall is without protection, and you are in more danger than ever.”
“No. They would have seen you and stayed away, for there is no place to hide above the pit.”
“And that would have been fine with me. That would have kept you safe.”
“Yet that is no kind of life for you, simply lying in wait.”
“It is the life I am used to.” Truth. But knowing what he did was for her…there was no greater purpose.
“But you deserve more!” Looking away from him, she traced a fingertip over the area he had clawed. “We had to do this. Or rather, I did. But I want you to know that if I fall, the wall will remain as it is, for it isn’t bound to me. I know because I have been hurt many times over the years, yet it did not show signs of damage.”
“I don’t care about the damn wall!” Again, truth.
Her eyes widened. Then she gulped and continued as if he hadn’t spoken. Or yelled. “Without me, there will be no one who senses when something is wrong. The gods will have to find someone new. I know you are now free, but would you remain there, vigilant, until that person is found? Even if Lucifer has already appointed a new guardian?”
“You are not going to die, damn it. Now tell me why Lucifer allowed you inside? Clearly, he needs you outside.”
Color fused her cheeks. Embarrassment? Guilt? “He also needs his wall protected at any cost.”
Guilt, most definitely. It was there in her voice, echoing off the walls. “He could have destroyed or imprisoned the Demon Lords.”
“If he could catch them.”
Geryon didn’t want to, but he nodded. “I’ll give you that.” He tapped two fingers against his chin, pondering the situation. “Lucifer allows nothing, even those things he needs, without demanding some form of payment.” Which meant Kadence had had to pay. “What did he demand of you? And why did he allow you my services? Why release my soul? And where is my soul now, if Lucifer no longer has it?” Even as he asked the questions, a few of the answers shaped in his mind. He snarled low in his throat. “You bought me from him.”
That color in her cheeks deepened. “Geryon, I—”
“Yes,” she whispered. Her eyelashes fluttered shut, the length of them casting spiky shadows over her cheeks. One of her hands rubbed at the amethyst dangling between her breasts. “I’m not sorry, either.”
Was his soul inside that stone? “Did you buy me with…yourself?” If so, he would slay the prince before allowing one evil finger to touch this woman’s precious body.
A pause, her eyes slowly opening. Then, “No. I do not wish to discuss this, though.”
“I don’t care. Tell me.” Anger was building inside of him. Anger with her, with Lucifer, with himself that this could have happened. What had this prized woman given up? Why had she given it up? He placed his hand over hers, not to hold her in place—powerful as he now knew she was, he doubted he could have done so—but to offer reassurance. He was here, he wasn’t leaving. Nothing she said would send him running. “Please.”
Her chin trembled. “I—I gave him a year on earth, unimpeded, to do as he wished.”
“Oh, Kadence,” Geryon said, knowing the other gods would have to honor her bargain—and would make her suffer for it. Everything inside him rebelled at the thought. If they hurt her…you can do nothing. Powerless fool. “Why would you do such a thing?” A savage whisper. Run, no. He still would not.
Tears beaded in her eyes. “To save you. To save me. To save the world beyond our reach. I could think of no other way. A single year to wreak his havoc seemed a small thing to trade in comparison to an eternity of demons roaming free.” Her mouth opened, but rather than words she gave a pained cry.
Quick as a snap, her skin leached of color and she doubled over.
Concern instantly rocked him. “What’s wrong, sweet? Tell me.”
“The demons…I think…I think they’re at the wall. I think they’re killing me.”
HAD L UCIFER TOLD THE DEMONS of her bond to the wall? Kadence wondered, pain slicing through her. Rather than come here to fight, they had gone there. Why would they do such a thing unless they knew she would weaken, die?
Or perhaps they had hoped to draw Geryon to them, leaving her here, alone and seemingly vulnerable to ambush. Or did they want her to come to them? So many alternatives. All of them grim.
The prince probably found the entire situation vastly amusing. He probably—a sudden thought nearly paralyzed her. If she were killed, he could have more than the agreed upon year on the earth, bartering for souls, causing untold havoc. He could have forever, if he so desired, and he could bring his demons with him, ruling his minions and humans.
He was a god, a brother to the sovereign. Because of that, there was no guarantee he would be captured and sent back.
Of course. The perfect plan. He’d wanted her to come here. He’d wanted her to bring Geryon. He’d wanted them both—his only hindrances—to die.
Oh, gods. She was sickened, for she had unwittingly helped him every step of the way. What kind of fool am I? More than sickened, she was so ashamed.
So easy. She’d made it so easy for him.
“Kadence, speak to me. Tell me what’s wrong,” Geryon insisted. He popped to his knees and swung around, kneeling between her legs. One of his claws gently, tenderly brushed away the damp hair clinging to her brow.
Her gaze lifted to his. Seeing him with so much concern in his beautiful brown eyes, the sickness and the shame left her—the pain, though, remained. She suddenly could not regret the choices she’d made. No matter what happened, he would be free. This proud, strong man would finally be free. As he’d always deserved.
“I…am…fine,” she managed to gasp out. Gods, she felt shredded inside, as though her organs were being ripped to ribbons.
“No, you’re not. But you will be.” He scooped her into his arms and carried her to the back. To a room the owner must have used. He laid her on a thin pallet of fur. “May I?” he asked, lifting the amethyst that housed his soul.
“Yes.” She had planned to present it to him once their mission was completed, a gift for his aid, but she nodded. Right now, there was a good chance she would not complete anything.
“Is my soul inside?”
“Yes. All you must do is hold the stone over your heart.”
“Yes,” she repeated. She wasn’t capable of more.
Slowly, carefully, he worked the stone from around her neck and placed it over his heart as she’d instructed. His eyes closed. He was probably unsure what would happen. And at first, nothing did. Then, in gradual degrees, the jewel began to glow.
A frown pulled at Geryon’s lips, and he grunted. “Burns.”
“I’ll hold it for y—”
The glow exploded into a thousand pinpricks of light, and he roared, loud and long.
After the last echo sounded, everything quieted. The lights faded. Only the chain that had held the jewel remained in his hand.
His frown was lifting into a smile as his eyes opened. But when he studied his arms and then his body, the frown returned, deeper, more intense. “I should have…I did not…I had hoped to return to my former visage.”
“Why?” She loved him, just as he was. Horns, fangs, claws and all. Loved. Unquestionably. She had considered it before, but had discarded the idea. Now, there could be no discarding. The emotion was there, undeniable as Death stared her in the face.
No man had ever been more perfectly suited for her. He was not disgusted by her nature, he reveled in it. He did not fear what she could do, but found pride in it. He delighted her, amused her, tempted her.
“It is my hope that…that…” He gulped. “If you bond with something else, something besides the wall, perhaps your ties to it will lessen and your strength will return. Perhaps the pain will ease.”
Something else? “You?” she asked, suddenly breathless for reasons that had nothing to do with pain.
“Yes. Me. I would understand if you choose not to do such a thing. I wanted only to offer the possibility so that—”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
GERYON REMAINED IN PLACE, looking away from her. “First, hear me out. I know I’m ugly. I know the thought of being with me in such a manner is abhorrent, but I—”
“You aren’t ugly,” Kadence interjected, “and I do not like that you think you are. I do not like when you demean yourself like that.”
His attention whipped back to her and he blinked at her, astonishment shining in his expression.