Authors: Sherrilyn Kenyon
“I'll make sure you have a nice requiem.”
Deimos shook his head. “So that's it, then? You have no remorse?”
Jericho held his arms out and shrugged nonchalantly. “We are the products of our past. But if it makes you feel any better, I do feel sorry for you.”
Deimos sneered. “You'll feel even sorrier when you're hanging on this wall, too. Don't think for one minute Noir won't do this to you. He's the god who invented betrayal, and I'm sure he already has a space here with your name engraved on it.”
Jericho laughed at his warning. “Oh, brother, you all have taught me well. I will
put myself in that position again. Believe me. I learned my lesson at the hands of the Dolophoni you command. I have no intention of giving Noir any reason to turn on me. I am his to command. Forever.”
Shocked that someone in this hole knew his adopted name, Jericho looked to his right at the next prisoner hanging on the wall. Like Deimos, he'd been badly beaten. His dark hair hung around a face distorted by swollen lips and a black eye so severe the entire whites of that eye were red from busted blood vessels.
It took him a full minute to recognize him. It was those eyes that gave him away. One dark brown and one a bright greenÂ â¦
Jaden was the one the demons summoned whenever they wanted to barter with Noir or Azura for favors. Jericho had known Jaden lived here with them, but he would have thought the broker would have a lush place to call his own, not be caged with the rest of their victims.
Stunned, Jericho released Deimos and stepped back. “What are you doing here?”
Jaden laughed bitterly. “Do my accommodations offend you? I've grown quite used to them. Though a view of something other than mangled bodies might be nice for a change.”
Jericho scowled. “You serve the Source. You're one of them.”
Jaden shook his head. “I serve Noir and Azura. Word to the wise, don't ever displease them. For some reason, I can't seem to stop myself. I guess old habits die hard.” He looked down at his torn and bleeding body that was barely covered by shredded clothes. “As do I. But don't worry. I'm sure they'll be kinder to you than they've been to me. I held their enmity long before I came here, which is part of the reason they love to gut me every chance they get.”
He looked past Jericho to see Asmodeus hiding in the shadows. The light from his hand was muffled and faint. Jaden called out to him. “Mo, long time no see.”
“Yeah, you looked better last time, too. I told you not to piss off Noir. One day you're going to listen to me.”
“Why start now?” Jaden asked.
Asmodeus nodded. “Ah, you're right. Bled so much now, it doesn't really matter, does it?”
Deimos curled his lip. “You all sicken me.” He jerked at his chains as if trying to break them.
Jaden ignored him as he pinned those mismatched eyes on Jericho. “By the way, your infant lived.”
Jericho had no idea what the man was talking about. He didn't have a baby. “What?”
“The child you saved all those centuries ago. I just wanted you to know that you never suffered in vain. The baby lived and grew up healthy.”
Bully for the brat. “Do you think I care?”
Jaden shrugged. “You gave up your godhood for her. I thought you might.”
Jericho's frown deepened. “Her?” Unbelievably enough, he hadn't bothered to check the infant's gender before he handed it over. It hadn't mattered to him back then. All he'd seen was the baby's smile and its warm eyes.
Jaden nodded. “The Oneroi Delphine is the baby you saved.”
Jericho was floored by the news. The air left his body as those words seared him. He shook his head in disbelief.
It couldn't be.
“You know it's true,” Jaden said, his voice deep and sure. “The moment you saw her, you recognized how much she looked like her mother.”
Still, he refused to believe it. What were the odds? “You're lying to me.”
“Why would I?”
Jericho winced as he felt even more betrayed by this. And yet as he considered it, he knew Jaden wasn't lying. Somehow he'd known it instinctively.
He'd saved Delphine.â¦
The woman waiting in his room was the same person he'd given all but his life for.
Fury tore through him. Oh, this was rich irony.
And she owed him a debt he more than intended to collect on. Before this day was over, he was going to get satisfaction from her hide.
His fury riding him hard, Jericho stormed back into his room. Then fell instantly still as he found Delphine asleep on his bed, beneath his blood cloak. Her features pale, her blond hair cascaded around her in a soft, tangled mess that made his hand itch to touch it.
She had the faintest of snores that strangely teased his ears and warmed him.
So instead of yelling at her for something that wasn't her fault, he crossed the room to kneel beside her. It was hard to reconcile her with that sweet, happy baby who had wrapped its little fingers around his and held on so tight that it touched him when nothing ever had before.
Now he knew why her eyes had given him pause.
They had touched him then as they touched him now. But why? What was it about her that quieted him? Who in his right mind would destroy his entire life and future to save a stranger?
Granted, he'd known her mother, but not well. They had been passing strangers, really. He'd known Leta's name. That she was a dream god. But honestly, he'd never cared beyond that. Since Leta had never upset Zeus and hadn't run in the same circles he had, there had been no reason for them to be friendly.
Yet that one night when their worlds had violently collided, they had both lost everything.
Zeus, furious over a dream one of the Oneroi had given him, had demanded all the dream gods be rounded up for punishment. Those like Leta, who were married to humans, were to have their spouses and any progeny they'd produced killed. Zeus had wanted no one to survive who could ever harm him again.
Then the Oneroi had been tortured and stripped of their emotions for eternity. Zeus figured if they had no emotions, they wouldn't feel compelled for whatever reason to play in anyone's dreams again.
What he hadn't realized was that in dreams, they'd be able to channel the sleeper's emotions. So much so that some of the Oneroi would become addicted to it, since it was the only way they could feel anything but emptiness.
So the Skoti had been born. Then it became the job of the Oneroi to police or kill their brethren so that none of them would suffer again under Zeus's command.
A part of that vicious cycle, Jericho had harmed Leta even worse than the Dolophoni and Oneroi had harmed him. They had only killed him. He had taken what Leta loved most.
Her husband and daughter.
Leta's desperate screams still echoed in his memories. She had screamed herself hoarse and he couldn't blame her for it. Not given what they'd taken from her.
Maybe the past centuries were justified after all. What they'd done to her had been inexcusable. The least he could have done was let her know that he'd saved her daughter. But everything had happened so fast, there hadn't been enough time. Not to mention had anyone known what he'd done, they would have killed Delphine instantly.
Yet here she wasÂ â¦ alive. Because he'd hidden her and had never breathed a word of it.
Jaden was right. His suffering hadn't been in vain. She was grown and beautiful.
Placing his hand to Delphine's warm cheek, he cocked his head to study her resting features. She was so similar to her mother. Yet so different. The blond hair made her features softer. Inviting.
His heartbeat raced at the softness of her skin under the pads of his fingertips. He hadn't really touched a woman in countless centuries.
He ran his hand from her cheek to her hair. A part of him wanted to kiss her so badly that he wasn't even sure how he kept from doing it. Perhaps because she was asleep and he didn't want to violate the peace she seemed to have found.
Was she dreaming?
What did Oneroi dream of? His dreams used to be of battle. To his knowledge, he'd never had peace in the dream realm. As an immortal god, he'd been violent and cruel. His dreams had reflected his reality.
As a man, he hadn't dreamed at all since he'd spent the nights as a corpse. No, that wasn't true, he'd dreamed while conscious. And in those, he'd escaped to peaceful havens. A quiet beach. A cabin in the woods. A lone temple in the desert. Places that were isolated from the world where no one could make him feel small or worthless. Where no one could kill him or hurt him in any way.
Where he had his old strength back and no one could touch himÂ â¦
Now he was there at long last. He had power. He had dignity. Most of all, he had a beautiful woman in his bedÂ â¦
The very one who had cost him everything.
He hated her for that. She'd grown up without knowing her life had been paid for with more suffering than she could ever imagine.
He clenched his hand in her hair, wanting to hurt her for that. But he knew it wasn't her fault. She'd been an innocent child.
It had been his own decision to ruin his life. He could have killed her as Zeus ordered and everything would have been fine.
“Were you worth my sacrifice?” he whispered.
Her eyes fluttered open as if his words had reached her. The moment she saw him, she jumped with a loud gasp. He tried to pull his hand away, but her hair was wrapped around his fingers. She yelped as her movements pulled it.
“I'm sorry,” he said, wondering why he bothered since it was her own actions that had hurt her, not his.
“What were you doing?” she accused.
Delphine frowned at his sullen, angry tone. His demeanor reminded her of a child caught with his hand in a cookie jar. Rubbing the sore place on her head, she stamped down her own anger. “Where do you keep going?”
“I went to see Deimos.”
She sat up as a shiver of excitement went through her. “Did you see M'Adoc? Is he alive?”
Jericho felt jealousy flare at the obvious concern and care she had for the leader of the dream gods. M'Adoc had never sacrificed for her. “No, I didn't see him.”
She looked crushed, and it killed the satisfaction he wanted to feel. “Is Deimos all right?”
That was a matter of opinion. Personally, he'd never thought the god was all there, but that was a separate argument. “I've seen him look better. Still, he's alive, even though Noir has carved him up pretty good.”
“And I suppose that made you happy.”
“No,” he answered honestly. “In spite of the fact I wanted to beat him myself, I don't like seeing anyone tortured.”
“Not even Prometheus?”
He growled at her. “Why do you provoke me?”
Delphine paused at his question. Honestly, she didn't know. It really wasn't in her nature to go after people. Yet the moment he drew near, she wanted his jugular. How out of character for her. “You irritate me.”
She nodded. “You have the power to save people and yet you intend to fight for Noir. That irritates me.”
He snorted at her words. “Give me one real, tangible reason why I should fight for a god who has already shown me how little regard he holds for me. For an entire pantheon that spent thousands of years attacking me.”
“It's the right thing to do.” That sounded ridiculous even to her.
He arched one brow.
“Okay. So I admit it doesn't make sense, but it is the best reason. You are a good man. I know it.”
He laughed bitterly as he moved to put his sword down on the dresser. His hand lingered on the sheath as if he were afraid to let go of it. And from this angle, she had a very nice view of his muscular back. Tall and handsome, he could easily take a woman's breath away and he made her heart race.
“You know nothing about me,” he said simply.
“I'm willing to learn.”
He turned on her with anger again. “What game are you trying to play?”
She backed up on the bed. Not afraid of him, but concerned that she continued to irritate him even when she didn't mean to. “No game, Jericho. I'm here. I'm your prisoner. Azura gave me to you naked and rather than attack me or hurt me,” she picked up a corner of the cloak that was still draped around her, “you covered me up. Those aren't the actions of someone who's innately cruel. I think there's a lot more good inside you than just this.” She was willing to bet on it. “Why did you cover me?”
Jericho ground his teeth.
Because no one deserves to be shamed like that.
He knew from personal experience. But he would never say that out loud. He didn't want her to know that he was weak where she was concerned. She'd be able to use that against him, and he'd had enough of the gods playing with his life. No one would ever have control over him again.
“Asmodeus?” he called.
He waited until the demon appeared.
“You rang, oh evil Minor Master?”
“I'm hungry. Where do we find food here?”
Asmodeus's eyes widened as if he thought Jericho insane for even asking. “Truthfully, I don't advise eating in this realm. I mean, you can if you want, butâ¦”
“But what?” Jericho prompted after Asmodeus seemed to have sputtered to a stop.
He twisted his hands together. “We have certain demons who are motivated by the smell of food. They tend to get rather violent whenever they smell it. I personally wouldn't be caught eating anything because I would end up dead. You might not. But you'd still have to fight them, and since some of them are rather ugly and really, really smelly, it might spoil your appetite. Then again, maybe not. Doesn't spoil Noir's. I think it makes him hungrier, especially when he guts them. Sick, but true.”