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Let's get the party started, Gideon thought with unparalleled determination as he stomped through the renovated hallways of his Budapest fortress.
The demon of Lies hummed inside his head, heartily in agreement. Both of them liked Scarlet, their alleged wife, but for different reasons. Gideon liked the look of her and the saucy, forked-tongued comments she made. Lies liked… Gideon wasn't sure. He only knew that the beast purred in approval every time she opened her beautiful, I-can-do-things-you've-only-dreamed-about mouth.
It was a reaction usually reserved for pathological liars. Except, the demon couldn't actually tell if she fibbed or not. Which meant beneath all that affection for Scarlet, Lies was frustrated, sensitive to every word that left Gideon's mouth. And that made Gideon's life frustrating as hell. He couldn't even call his friends by their own names anymore.
Was she or wasn't she a filthy freaking liar? And yeah, he was well aware of the irony. He, a man who couldn't utter a single truth, was complaining about someone who might be feeding him a big, heaping bowl of shit. But were they or weren't they? Had they or hadn't they? He had to know before he drove himself insane, puzzling over everything she'd ever said and everything he'd ever done and thought.
His request that she just lay out the facts, black and white, boom, done, over had been ignored for the last time.
He was finally taking action.
Hopefully, pretending to rescue her from his own dungeon would cause her to trust him. Hopefully, trusting him would cause her to open the hell up and answer his godsdamn questions.
Oops. His frustration was showing again.
"You can't do this, Gid," Strider, keeper of the demon of Defeat, said, suddenly keeping pace beside him.
Fuck. Anyone but him.
Strider couldn't lose a challenge, any challenge, without suffering as Gideon suffered when he spoke true. Including Xbox, and that was seriously screwing with Gideon's "Assassin's Creed" mojo, because yeah, Gideon had challenged him, trying to distract himself and work out the stiffness in his new fingers.
Anyway. Always, without question, he and Strider guarded each other's backs (video games aside). So, he shouldn't have been surprised that his friend was here, resolved to save him from himself. Didn't mean he'd roll over and play dead.
"She's dangerous," Strider added. "A walking blade through the heart, dude."
Yes, she was. She invaded dreams, presented sleepers with their worst fears and fed off the ensuing terror. Hell, a few weeks ago, she'd done it to him. With spiders. He shuddered, momentarily sick to his stomach as he pictured the hairy little bastards crawling all over him.
Pussy. Suck it up. He'd faced countless swinging swords without flinching—as well as the monsters wielding them. What were a few spiders? Another shudder. Revolting, that's what. He knew what they were thinking every time their beady eyes landed on him: tasty.
But why hadn't Scarlet invaded anyone else's dreams? He'd wondered about that almost as much as he'd wondered about their "marriage." The other warriors, their female companions, she'd left alone. Despite the fact that she'd threatened to slaughter every single one of them. Something she truly could do.
"Damn it. Stop ignoring me," Strider growled, punching a hole in the silver-stone wall seconds after they passed a closed bedroom door. "You know my demon doesn't like it."
Dust and debris plumed the air, a loud crack echoing. Great. Soon, other warriors would be up and running to find out what had just happened. Or maybe not. As temperamental as members of this household were (cough too much testosterone cough), they had to be used to unexpected, violent noises.
"Look. I'm not sorry." Gideon flicked his friend a glance, taking in the blond hair, the blue eyes and the deceptively innocent features that were somehow perfect for his he-man build. More than one woman had called him "beautifully all-American," whatever that meant. Those same women usually avoided looking at Gideon, as if even roving their gazes over his tattoos and piercings would blacken their souls. For all he knew, they were right. "But you're correct. I can't do this."
Which meant that Strider was wrong and, yes, Gideon damn well could do this. So suck it!
Everyone who lived in this fortress—and godsdamn, there were a lot of people, the number seemingly growing by the day as his friends each hooked up with their "one and only" (gag)—was fluent in Gideon Speak and knew to believe the opposite of whatever he said.
"Fine," Strider said tightly. "You can. But you won't. Because you know that if you take the woman out of this home, I'll go gray from worry. And you like my hair the way it is."
"Stridey-man. Are you hitting on me? Trying to get me to run my fingers through those mangy locks?"
"Shithead," Strider muttered, but his anger was clearly defused.
Gideon chuckled. "Sweetie pie."
Strider's lips even twitched into a grin. "You know I hate when you get mushy like that."
Boy loved it. No question.
They snaked a corner, bypassing one of the many sitting rooms the fortress possessed. This one was empty. As early in the morning as it was, most of the warriors were still in bed with their women. If they weren't weaponing-up at that exact moment, of course.
Out of habit, he scanned the area. In this particular room, portraits of naked men littered the walls, courtesy of the goddess of Anarchy whose warped sense of humor rivaled Gideon's own. There were red leather chairs (Reyes, the keeper of Pain, sometimes had to cut himself to quiet his demon, so red came in handy), gleaming bookshelves (Paris, keeper of Promiscuity, enjoyed romance novels), and weird silver lamps that twisted and curved over the chairs; he had no idea who those were for. Fresh flowers bloomed from vases, sweetly scenting the air. Again, he had no idea. Fine. He'd requested those. That shit smelled good.
Gideon breathed deeply of that fresh, delicious air. Except he ended up inhaling a nose full of guilt. Sadly, that happened all the time lately. While he luxuriated in this, his would-be wife rotted below in the dungeons. Before this, she'd spent thousands of years in Tartarus, so that made him doubly cruel for leaving her down there.
Really, what kind of man allowed such a thing? An asshole, that's who, and he was certainly king of them. After all, he was going to return Scarlet to the dungeon once his questions were answered. For, like, ever. Even if she was—or rather, had been—his wife.
Yes. He was a bad, bad man.
She was simply too dangerous to be permanently freed, her ability to invade dreams too destructive. Because when you died in one of Scarlet's nightmares, you died for real. That was it. The end. And if she ever decided to aid the Hunters, which could happen, scorned women and all that, the Lords would never be able to sleep soundly again. And they needed their beauty rest or they became snarling beasts.
Case in point: Gideon. He hadn't slept in weeks.
Slow down, his demon suddenly instructed. Moving too fast.
Usually Lies was merely a presence in the back of his mind. There, but silent. Only when the demon's need was great did he speak up. But even then, he had to say the opposite of what he wanted. And now he wanted Gideon to hurry up and reach Scarlet.
Give me wings and it's done, Gideon replied dryly, but damn if he didn't quicken his step. He could and did think what he meant. Always. He never lied to himself or the demon during these private moments. Maybe because he'd had to fight savagely and without mercy for such moments.
Upon possession, he'd been lost to darkness and chaos, a slave to his soul-companion and his evil cravings. He'd tormented humans just to hear them scream. He'd burned homes to the ground, as well as the families inside them. He'd killed indiscriminately, and taunted while doing so.
It had taken a few hundred years, but Gideon had finally clawed his way to the light. He was in control now, and had even managed to tame the beast. For the most part.
Strider heaved a sigh, regaining his attention. "Gideon, man, listen to me. I said it once, but I'll say it again. You can't take the female outside these walls. She'll run from you, you know she will. Hunters are in the city, we know that, too, and they could catch her. Recruit her. Use her. Or, if she refuses them, even hurt her like they hurt you."
One, Strider was speaking as if Gideon couldn't hold on to the wily temptress for a few days. And he could. He knew how to kick ass and take names with the best. Two, Strider was speaking as if Gideon would be unable to find her if he did indeed lose her. And three, Strider was probably speaking correctly, but that didn't soothe Gideon's sudden burst of anger. He may not be the smooth operator that Strider was, but he had some skills with the ladies, damn it.
More than that, Scarlet herself was a warrior. An immortal. She could surround herself with darkness. A darkness so thick no human light, and no immortal eyes, could penetrate it. Losing her wouldn't be as disgraceful as losing, say, an untrained human.
Not that he'd lose her, he told himself again, and not that she would want to run. He was going to seduce her. Was going to pleasure the energy right out of her and make her desperate to stay with him. Which shouldn't be too difficult. She'd liked him enough to marry him, right? Maybe.
"I know what you're thinking," Strider said after another sigh. "If she escapes you, so what? You'll find her."
"Wrong." He had thought that, yeah, but he'd soon discarded the idea. So there. What are you? A girl?
"Well, what happens to her while you're looking for her? During the day she needs protection, and if you're not with her, who's going to protect her?"
Fuck. Good point. Scarlet couldn't function during daylight hours. Because of her demon, she slept too deeply. So deeply that nothing and no one could wake her until sunset, a fact he'd discovered after nearly giving her a brain aneurysm while trying and failing to shake her into consciousness.
He had been shocked when, a few hours later, her eyes had popped open and she'd sat up as if she'd just taken a ten-minute power nap.
Which had raised other questions. Why did her demon sleep during the day, when the people around her were awake? Didn't that defeat the purpose of creating nightmares? And what happened when she traveled and the time zone changed?
"We're lucky we found her when we did," Strider continued. "If we hadn't had Aeron's angel on our side, we would've died trying to secure her. Setting her free, no matter the reason, is stupid and danger—"
"You haven't said that before." Over and over again. "Besides, Olive's no longer on our team." Meaning, she was. "She can't help us again if needed." Meaning she could. "Now, I hate you, man, but please keep talking." I love you, but shut the hell up! Seriously.
Strider growled his renewed frustration as they pounded down the steps that led into the dungeon, stained-glass windows giving way to crumbling, bloodstained walls. The air became musty, tainted with sweat, urine and blood. None of it was Scarlet's, thank the gods. His guilt couldn't have handled that. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on whom you asked—she wasn't the only being locked away. They had several Hunters awaiting payback, aka interrogation, aka torture.
"What if she was lying to you?" his friend asked. The man didn't know when to quit, and yeah, Gideon knew Strider couldn't quit. Which was why he didn't simply punch his friend in the face and beat feet. "What if she's not really your wife?"
Gideon snorted. "Forgot to tell you. Sifting through truth and lies is difficult for me." Except with her, but he wasn't going to issue that reminder just then.
"Yeah, but you also told me you don't know with her."
One of them had a perfect memory. Excellent. "There's no way she can be my wife." The chances were slim, but yeah, they were there. "I don't have to do this."
When Scarlet had first invaded his dreams and demanded he visit her in this dungeon, he'd been helpless to do otherwise, filled with a need to see her, some part of him recognizing her on a level he still didn't understand. When she'd alleged they'd kissed, had sex, even wed each other, that same part of him had hummed in agreement.
Even though he didn't fucking remember her.
Why couldn't he remember her? he wondered for the thousandth time.
He'd been playing with several theories. The first: the gods had erased his memory. But that raised the question of why. Why would they not want him to recall his own wife? Why had they not erased Scarlet's memory, as well?
The second theory: he'd suppressed the memory himself. But again, why would he have done so? How would he have done so? There were a million other things he'd actually like to forget.
The third: his demon had somehow erased the memory when they were paired. But if that were true, why did he recall his life in the heavens, when he'd been a servant to Zeus, tasked with guarding the former god king at every moment of every day?
He and Strider stopped at the first cell, where Scarlet had resided the past few weeks. She was asleep on her cot, as he'd known she would be. And as he'd done each time he'd seen her, he sucked in a breath. Lovely. But…
Mine? Did he want her to be?
No, of course not. That would complicate the hell out of everything. Not that he'd let it matter. He couldn't. His friends came first. That's the way things were, and the way they would always be.
At least she was clean; he'd made sure she had enough water to drink and to bathe. And she was well fed; he'd made sure food was delivered three times a night. He would do the same when he ultimately returned her. That would have to be enough.
Don't hurry, Lies cried, practically jumping from one corner of his skull to the other. Don't hurry!
Cram it, buddy. I'll handle this. But he couldn't force himself to move just yet. He'd been waiting for this moment forever, it seemed, and wanted to bask in it.
Bask? He really was becoming a woman.
Look away before you get an erection, he told himself. All right, now that was more manly. He purposefully shifted his gaze. The walls around her were composed of thick, impenetrable stone. Therefore, she could never see the Hunters imprisoned beside her. Actually, Gideon didn't care about that. He didn't want the Hunters seeing her.
Yeah. He wanted mine. At least for now.