Eternal Guardians, Book Seven
She’d made a deal with the devil. A sadistic, twisted, perverted devil.
As if there was really any other kind.
Of course, the fact he was a depraved son of a bitch didn’t really bother Cynna. She’d known exactly what she was getting into. She’d weighed the cost and the reward before agreeing. No, what bothered her was the fact her devil wasn’t your run-of-the-mill I’ll-take-your-soul-and-you-can-have-your-wildest-fantasy kind of guy. Her devil continued to take, even after that initial transaction. And what he still wanted from her…
Sickness pooled in her stomach. A sickness she’d learned long ago to fight back. In this place, nausea meant weakness, and weakness equaled death. And if there was one thing she wasn’t willing to give up, even for the greatest revenge in all the world, it was her will to live. He could take her soul. He could take her body. He could even take her freedom. She wouldn’t balk at any of those. But he’d never have her will. Not while she had an ounce of fight left within her.
“How is our boy today, my sweet?”
Cynna’s body instinctively stiffened at the sound of Zagreus’s deep voice coming up behind her, but she willed her muscles to relax inch by inch. Leaning her weight onto her right leg and wishing she wore pants instead of the stupid leather miniskirt and knee-high stiletto boots he insisted she parade around in, she crossed her arms over her chest and stared down into the arena below.
Three satyrs holding sharp, vile-looking weapons circled a shirtless man swinging a blade as long as his forearm. His feet were bare, his jeans riding low on his lean hips, his torso strong and cut under the lights hanging from above. Muscles flexed in his arms and beneath his skin. His shaggy blond hair fell into his face, and a thick beard covered his jaw. But it was the scars on his back that drew her attention. Thin white lines that crisscrossed all over his skin, as if he’d been whipped and tortured long before he’d found himself prisoner in this wretched lair. “Holding his own. So far.”
“He’s fighting.” Zagreus stepped up against her spine, his heat washing over her in a hot, sticky wave. He placed his hands on her shoulders, making her wish she was dressed in something other than this skintight black corset top—something else he insisted she wear. “That’s an improvement.”
Cynna wasn’t so sure. The man may be wielding that blade like a pro, but he was doing it on his terms, not theirs, and as soon as Zagreus realized that, his amicable mood would head straight for the shitter.
Zagreus’s fingers kneaded Cynna’s bare skin, and she swallowed back the bile sliding up her throat. His palms were wide, his fingers long. She knew from experience he could use his hands for pleasure and pain—she’d been on the receiving end of both—but today, any touch from him felt wrong. And it had since the man below had come into her world.
The satyr on the right charged, and Cynna’s stomach curled into a knot. The man ducked beneath the sword, narrowly missed being decapitated, swiveled, and arced out with his blade. It caught the satyr across the chest, and he stumbled back. The satyr on the left lunged. The man hit the ground with a thud, rolled, then popped back up, catching the second satyr in the leg.
He was stealth and danger and precision and coiled strength, and Cynna’s blood hummed as she watched his body twist and turn and beat back the monsters with a rhythm that looked more like a dance than a battle. Blood gushed from the satyr’s wound. The beast dropped his weapon—a pitchfork-looking trident with long angled teeth—and howled. The third, realizing it was his chance, lurched off the ground and hurled himself toward the man who held her riveted attention.
Their bodies collided in a crunch of bones and tendons and sinew. Weapons went flying. Fists connected with jaws. They rolled across the sand of the training arena. High above, Cynna tensed as she watched the man take hit after hit. At her back, Zagreus’s excitement permeated the air around her, as did his whispered, “Come on. Unleash the monster.”
His fingers dug into her shoulders. Pain spiraled from the spot, shooting up and down her spine, but she didn’t move. Her eyes were fixed on the struggle below. Sand flew up into the air. Blood and sweat coated their bodies. Grunts echoed off the walls. They rolled again, and the satyr got the upper hand, pinning the man to the arena floor. One hand pressed down hard on his shoulder while the other closed in a vise around his throat.
Cynna’s adrenaline surged, and a tight, hard lump formed in her chest, causing her breath to catch.
Muscles flexed beneath the pale skin of the man’s arms. He wrapped one giant hand around the satyr’s covering his throat, and tried to pull the satyr’s fingers free of his windpipe. His other arm flew out to the side, grappling for the blade just out of his reach. His eyes bulged. His face turned red.
Cynna’s palms grew sweaty, and she swallowed hard, knowing what it felt to be held like that, willing him to break free. To live. Though why, she couldn’t say.
The satyr chuckled, a dark menacing sound that drifted up to the rafters in a throaty growl. “You are no savior. Just a worthless, weak mortal about to visit the fires of Hades.”
“Not. Without. You.”
The man’s neck muscles strained. His fingertips found the handle of the blade. Releasing his grip on the satyr’s hand at his neck, he shoved against the satyr’s shoulder, lifted his knee, and nailed the satyr in the balls. The satyr gasped in pain. The man closed his hand around the handle of the blade, yanked it close, then thrust it into the satyr’s belly.
The beast’s eyes flew wide. Blood spurted from the wound. The man pushed hard, knocking the satyr off him, then stumbled to his feet.
Blood covered the man’s bare chest, his damp hair fell into his eyes, and sweat dripped off his tight muscles as he looked down at the writhing satyr. The satyr gasped one last time, then his arms landed against the sand of the arena with a thud, and he fell silent.
Chest heaving, the man turned his attention toward the remaining two beasts, both injured but not finished. Not yet.
“Yes,” Zagreus whispered near Cynna’s temple, his hot breath flaming her already overheated skin, his excitement palpable in the thick air. “Finish them. Let the darkness free.”
As if he’d heard them, the man turned and looked up into the spectator area where they were standing. A deep scar cut across the left side of his face, disappearing beneath his beard, but his piercing, amber gaze didn’t hover on Zagreus. It landed on Cynna. And held. As if they were the only two in the room.
Her pulse picked up speed as she watched his eyes narrow. As disgust filled his features. Chest rising and falling with his deep breaths, he threw the blade on the ground, spit, and stepped back from the carnage he’d just caused. And as his blistering gaze continued to hold hers, something in his eyes cut to the very center of her. She’d been watching him defy Zagreus’s will for months, but this was the first time he’d done it while staring at her. The first time she felt as if…he was testing her.
The injured satyrs both growled and slowly pushed to their feet. Blood matted in the thick hair of their chests. The white paint in a stripe over their bare skulls dripped onto their shoulders from their own sweat, forming blobs of slick white goo to run down their dark skin like war paint. The pants they wore were tattered and ripped in different places from the fight, but the clothing didn’t hide their grotesque hooves or the curve of their animal legs. And the rage she saw in both their faces told her they were about to change the tides of this battle.
The satyrs advanced on the defenseless man once more, and Cynna’s adrenaline spiked all over again. But his gaze didn’t shift their way. He continued to stare up at Cynna with those scorching eyes, continued to look through her as if he could see her soul and knew it was black. Continued to pin her with his singular focus as if she were the real threat.
She licked her lips. Glanced between him and the beasts. Turn and look, you idiot.
Zagreus’s fingers curled into her flesh at the shoulders. The pain amplified outward from the spot, but she barely cared. Her heart rate jumped as her gaze continued to flick from the man to the satyrs and back again. Was Zagreus really going to let them kill him? That wouldn’t help his cause. He wouldn’t allow his prized possession to die, right here, right now…would he?
Sweat formed along her skin. Her pulse turned to a roar in her ears. The satyr on the right growled. The one on the left pushed his hooves against the ground and charged. Both their faces twisted in fury.
Move. Defend yourself. Pick up your fucking blade!
She wanted to scream the words. To hurl herself into the arena. But she didn’t dare move. The man continued to stand still and silent, staring up at her with those smoldering, mysterious, fiery eyes.
The satyr on the right lifted his blade for the kill move.
“Halt!” Zagreus let go of her and lurched toward the railing, his fingers curling around the metal pole until they turned white.
The satyrs skidded to a stop, their blades still lifted in fury, their chests rising and falling with their labored breaths.
“Stand down,” Zagreus growled.
A breath of relief whooshed out of Cynna’s lungs.
They lowered their weapons, but the venom in their eyes said they weren’t happy. They’d tasted blood and wanted more. And yet, the man didn’t even spare them a glance. He continued to look past them, past Zagreus, and focus only on her.
“Son of a fucking bitch,” Zagreus muttered under his breath. He turned away from the ring, his face contorted in anger, and looked toward Cynna. She stiffened, covering any reaction, working for blasé when she felt anything but. “I gave you a simple job. To break him. And you’ve failed.”
Panic slithered in to mix with the fear. But panic, like nausea, was a weakness she wasn’t about to let show. She forced her gaze away from the man below and focused on the devil she’d sold herself to.
Her shoulders tensed, her chin lifted, her back straightening with a strength she pulled from the very center of her being. “He has the blood of Krónos in his veins. His will has proved to be stronger than most.”
Zagreus chewed on the inside of his lip. He was taller than Cynna. Even a few steps below her near the railing, she had to look up at him. To most he was a sex god—tanned, dark, muscular, with a body carved to tempt and a face to seduce. But Cynna knew the cunning devil he was beneath. And being Hades’s son, his appetites, and his quest for power, knew no limits.
“His will must be broken if he’s to come into his god powers. And I need his god powers to best my father and those other fucking gods who think they own this world and the next. If he refuses to cooperate, we’ll just have to find another way.”
Cynna’s eyes narrowed. They’d already tortured the man in every way imaginable. They’d whipped him until he’d bled. Stretched him on racks. Beaten him until he was black and blue and broken. And through it all, she’d watched—even ordered his torture because she had to—while inside she’d only wanted to vomit and run. But every time he’d healed, his super-human genes repaired every ounce of damage they’d inflicted, much to her surprise—and relief.
They’d brought him to the brink of physical pain, and he’d yet to crack, so she couldn’t imagine what else they could do to him. “Like what?”
A dark, perverse light flared in Zagreus’s eyes. “We’ll use the nymphs.”
Oh shit. She’d been wrong. There was another way to torture him. One she hadn’t even considered.
“If we can’t break him physically,” Zagreus said, “you will break him…sexually.”
He shifted away from her and looked down into the arena. “Take him back to his cell.” Guards stationed at the doors moved in from the shadows and jerked on the man’s arms. “Have him cleaned up, then chain him to the wall. My sweet Cynna has something special planned for him.”
Zagreus turned that sickening smile her way and winked, just once. “Don’t you, agapi?”
Cynna’s gaze strayed from Zagreus’s victorious grin down to Nick, standing taut in the center of the ring, being held at each arm by the guards, his face drenched in sweat, his body in blood, his intense amber gaze never once straying from her face.
Zagreus stepped up next to her and leaned close to her ear. “Break him, Cynna. Use the nymphs to bring him to the brink again and again, no matter how long it takes. Because if you can’t, if you fail me now, you remember what I said would happen, don’t you?”
Cynna’s stomach caved in, and fear—true fear—rolled through her veins. Yeah, she remembered. He’d promised to break her. Mind, body, soul…her will. Until there was nothing left.
Only she’d never be able to hold out. Not like Nick.
Slowly, she nodded. And stared into the scarred face of her victim. Hating—despising—everything she’d agreed to all in the name of revenge.
“Good girl,” Zagreus whispered. “You do this right, agapi, and your reward will be most pleasurable. That, I promise.”