The Darkest FireBy: Gena Showalter
Every day for hundreds of years the goddess had visited hell and every day Geryon had watched her from his station, desire heating his blood more than the flames of damnation beyond his post ever had. He should not have studied her that first time and should have kept his gaze downcast all the times since. He was a slave to the demons, spawned by evil; she was a goddess, created in light.
He could not have her, he thought, hands fisting. No matter how much he might wish otherwise. This…obsession was pointless and brought him nothing but despair. He did not need more despair.
And yet, still he watched her this day as she floated through the barren cavern, coral-tipped fingers tracing the jagged stones that separated underground from underworld. Golden ringlets flowed down her elegant back and framed a face so perfect, so lovely, Aphrodite herself could not compare. Eyes of starlight narrowed, a rosy color blooming in those cheeks of smooth alabaster.
“The wall is cracked,” she said, her voice like a song amid the hiss of nearby flame.
He shook his head, positive he had merely imagined the words. In all their centuries together, they had never spoken, never deviated from their routine. As the Guardian of Hell, he ensured the gate remained closed until a spirit needed to be cast inside. That way, no one and nothing escaped—and if they tried, he rendered punishment. As the goddess of Oppression, she fortified the physical barrier with only a touch. Silence was never breeched.
Uncertainty darkened her features. “Have you nothing to say?”
She stood in front of him a moment later, though he never saw her move. The scent of honeysuckle suddenly overshadowed the stink of sulfur and melting flesh, and he inhaled deeply, closing his eyes in ecstasy. Oh, that she would remain just as she was…
“Guardian,” she prompted.
“Goddess.” He forced his lids to open gradually, slowly revealing the glow of her beauty. Up close, she was not as perfect as he had thought. She was better. A smattering of freckles dotted her sweetly sloped nose, and dimples appeared with the curve of her half-smile. Exquisite.
What did she think of him? he wondered.
She probably thought him a monster, hideous and misshapen. But if she did, she did not show it. Only curiosity rested in those starlight eyes. For the wall, he suspected, not for him. Even when he’d been human, women had wanted nothing to do with him. Sometimes he’d wondered if he’d been tainted at birth.
“Those cracks were not there yesterday,” she said. “What has caused such damage?”
“A horde of Demon Lords rise from the pit daily and fight to break out. They have grown tired of their confinement here and seek living humans to torment.”
“Have you their names?”
He nodded. “Violence, Death, Lies, Doubt, Misery. Shall I go on?”
“No,” she said softly. “I understand. The worst of the worst.”
“Yes. They bang and they claw from the other side, desperate to reach the mortal realm.”
“Well, stop them.” A command, laced with husky entreaty.
In that moment, he would have given up the last vestiges of his humanity to do as she wished. Anything to repay the daily gift of her presence. Anything to keep her just where she was, prolonging the sweetness of her scent. “I am forbidden to leave my post, just as I am forbidden to open the gates for any reason but allowing one of the damned inside. I’m afraid I cannot grant your request.”
A sigh slipped from her. “Do you always do as you’re told?”
“Always.” Once he had fought the invisible ties that bound him. Once, but no longer. To fight was to invite pain and suffering—not for him, but for others. Innocent humans who resembled his mother, his father and his brothers were brought here and tortured in front of him. The screams…oh, the screams. Had the pain and suffering been heaped upon him, he would not have cared. Would have laughed and fought all the harder. But Lucifer, brother to Hades and prince of the demons, knew exactly how to strike to ensure the desired results.
“I expected differently. You are a warrior, so strong and assured.”
Yes, he was a warrior. He was also a slave. “I am sorry.”
“I will pay you to help me,” the goddess insisted. “Name your price. Whatever you desire shall be yours.”