"You have a child?"
Erion's jaw was so tight, his teeth pressed so firmly together, that no words, no answer to the female's query, would pass through his lips. He'd never felt such epic rage, and the control he'd been relatively adept at wielding over the past several years had all but dissolved.
Still blocking her sister from his verbal wrath, Hellen looked at him as though she'd never truly seen him before. This demon female who had manipulated him, lied to him, now seemed to hold pity within her gaze.
He didn't want it.
The only thing he wanted was answers.
"That was the boy you and the servant spoke of," she said, her green eyes thoughtful, intelligent, as she mentally reviewed the past several days.
"Yes," he ground out, moving toward her.
She inched back, pushing her sister with her toward the door. "Why didn't you tell me?"
He laughed softly, scenting fear in the room. "So you could feign your concern?"
"No." She shook her head with emphatic denial. "I wouldn't have pretended anything if I'd known a child's life was involved."
He stopped a few feet away, his nostrils flaring. "How magnanimous. It is good to know you have a moral code for some things."
She pointed her finger at him. "Don't pretend you are some pious renegade, Erion," she said with venom. "You also took an innocent who didn't belong to you."
"I did what I had to do to bring the balas home."
"We all did what we felt we had to do," she said. "Whatever it took to bring about our goals, be it a child back to his father, freedom to be with the male of our choosing . . ." She raised one auburn brow. "But choices have consequences; good, bad, regret, pleasure. In that, we are all the same."
Erion's lip curled. He hated the rationality of her words. Fine. Agreed. He was no better than any of them.
But Ladd-he was better than all of them.
As she sensed his mood changing, his ire shifting into something thoughtful, Hellen's eyes softened and she asked, "Why did Cruen take him?"
He hesitated telling her. She may have looked genuinely concerned, but as he'd come to know, her expressions could not be trusted. He decided to skim the surface only. "He wanted a trade as well. Something I refused to give him."
Erion shook his head. It was all she needed to know, all that was safe to offer her. "We waste time with questions. How do I get to this Underworld?"
He lowered his head and growled at her.
Her sister whimpered beside the door, and behind him, Raine's breathing quickened. But Erion didn't care. No matter what Hellen had said, what truth lay bare in her words, all the wrong he'd done to get to the right, he would have his boy returned.
And then the female did something most unexpected, something that made Erion's entire being jolt with electricity: she reached out and took his hand.
Startled, he glared down at her pale fingers wrapping around his large hand, the thumb unable to reach its four other digits.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
"You can't get into the Underworld," she said. "Not without an escort."
"Oh, Hellen, no!" the sister shrieked.
"This isn't wise," Raine offered behind them, his tone thick with fear.
Erion locked on to the strong, level gaze of the female he knew he couldn't trust-but wanted to so desperately, he ached with it.
"What are you saying, demon girl?" he said, his tone a soft, deadly thread.
She ran her thumb over the top of his hand and offered him a weak smile. "I will take you into Hell, Erion."
Synjon shoved the male who got in his way and continued down the street. He heard the human bark out an irritated response, and grinned. Yes, come after me, you wee shite bastard. Try to get an apology out of me, maybe teach me some manners.
I have a terrible thirst.
"I can hear you."
Grinning, Synjon flashed another passerby his fangs.
"What the hell are you doing, Syn?" Alexander said with irritation as they moved down East 27th Street. "You're drawing attention to yourself."
"Do I look as if I care, mate?" he ground out.
"If you wish to provoke a fight tonight, I will return to my home and my mate, mate."
"Go on, then," Synjon replied, growling at a particularly lovely human female who winked at him as she passed. "I'll follow that female back to her apartment, and you can spend the evening looking for your bullocks. No doubt your Impure mate has hidden them from you."
With a foul snarl, Alexander jerked out in front of Syn, blocking his way. "You tempt me, paven. But I won't use my fists street side. I'll haul your needling ass into one of those alleys, drop you into a puddle of fresh piss, and teach you what happens when you speak of my mate."
Synjon hit him with a look of mock confusion. "Is this show of brawn for your female or for your balls, then?"
As the city moved around them, neon and sirens and conflicting scents, the pair remained locked in a battle of wills. Alexander looked ready to attack, nearly did before he was distracted by the squeal of a human child crossing the street with his mother.
He backed up a foot, shaking his head slowly, warily at Syn. "You've changed."
"You were always a bit of an arrogant asshole like Luca, but now . . . you've turned into something far worse."
"An honorary Roman brother?"
Synjon's gaze didn't falter, and his ire didn't pique. His insides were coated with ice and steel. Precious little managed to get through. "You know," he began, "I think this visit to your contact's club might be a wasted effort. Perhaps I am going about finding Cruen the wrong way."
"What does that mean?"
Synjon watched Alexander, watched a muscle below his eye and just above his facial brands twitch.
"The paven is smart," Syn said, his tone even, deadly calm. "When he wants something or someone, he builds a trap for it. Like with the balas, Ladd. He took something you all love."
What is this? Synjon's eyes narrowed. "Perhaps we should be looking for the one thing that Cruen loves."
"That paven is incapable of love," Alexander said with a shrug. "Forget it."
Synjon narrowed his eyes. "Why do I feel as though you aren't really trying to help me, Alex?"
The Roman brother shrugged again, his face a cool, composed mask now. "Trust issues, apparently."
"And why would that be?"
Alexander sniffed, then spoke inside the male's head. "Oh, Synjon Wise. You have no idea how much I'm trying to help you."
Then he turned and continued down the street.
Hellen weaved in and around the headstones, her hand still clasping Erion's, with Levia making her way on the left. Hellen didn't know if this was going to end well, if all that she had worked for, sacrificed for, would come to pass now that she was taking this intruder into her father's territory. But she did know it was the right thing. There was a child in the Underworld, held by her father-who, incidentally, didn't possess an ounce of either sympathy or empathy-and before anything else was ironed out, she would make certain he was released.
She still couldn't believe it. Not that he had given life, but that he had gone so far to preserve it and bring it home.
She felt a pull in her chest. It was hard to understand unselfish acts such as that. After all, Abbadon's care for her return wasn't out of love but out of greed for furthering his domination on the world, on its population.
"We have been here once before," Erion remarked as they stopped before the familiar headstone. He turned to look at her. "You were about to step into fire."
Hellen nodded. "The flame is a portal."
"Our gateway to Hell," he said.
"He saw the flame?" Levia exclaimed, her voice rising above the whisper she'd held on to since the furnishings shop.
Hellen answered them both, her gaze returning to the headstone that had yet to blaze with blue fire. "Only a being of demon blood can see it. It is our way home."
"Our way into the Underworld," Erion corrected with ill-disguised menace.
Hellen didn't bristle at his ferocity. She merely shrugged and stated simply, "No matter what comes from there, what comes out of there, what is done there, it is my home."
Erion fell silent for a moment; then she heard him release a weighty breath.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked, his voice a low rumble.
She turned and looked up into his extraordinary face. "Helping you?"
He nodded, his eyes searching hers almost violently.
She bit her lip, then swiped her tongue over the indentation. The boy, she wanted to say. I want to help you find your son. But the truth felt far too intimate, too rife with a passion she didn't understand or want to claim, to utter aloud.
"It will help us both," she said at last. "You want to get to the boy, and I must get home, get to . . ."
"Cruen," he finished for her. Nostrils flared, lips thinned, he lifted his head and looked around the place of death, of long-term rest. "I still have a difficult time believing that you love that male."
"I don't love him."
Hellen flinched at the words that had slipped from her mouth unbidden. Fool. Stupid fool. What was wrong with her that her normally impenetrable common sense continued to lapse? She saw that Levia was staring at her, gaping-Erion too, but his eyes were filled with confusion.
"It is a bond between families," she explained quickly. "Between powers."
"You do not love him?" Erion said.
"You do not want him?" he pressed, his confusion fading into something far more worrisome.
Was that satisfaction she noted in his diamond eyes?
Before anything more could be said or questioned, a burst of blue fire erupted from the ground a few feet away. It rose high into the air, then settled into a gentle blaze next to the headstone. All eyes followed its heat.
"Are you ready, demon?" Hellen asked him, gripping his hand tightly.
He nodded at her.
"I cannot detect it within him," Levia said, her gaze running over his face. "He is a demon? Living aboveground? Really and truly, sister?"
"Let us hope so," she replied. "Otherwise he'll burn up like a rogue the moment we step into the portal."
Hellen grabbed for Levia's hand too, and all three of them jumped into the fire.
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