Home > The Darkest King (Lords of the Underworld #15)(6)

The Darkest King (Lords of the Underworld #15)(6)
Author: Gena Showalter

   “William! Willy! Will!” she called, waving. A vision of loveliness with pale pink hair, golden skin and green eyes, she occupied a table in back. “I know I saw you yesterday, but I’ve missed you terribly. Or maybe I saw you ten...twenty years ago? Or maybe I’m thinking of fifteen years from now?”

   Wonderful. The crazy had already started. He quickened his pace. Once upon a time, this mad hatter had been Hades’s fiancée and William’s almost stepmother. Though the couple had split, he’d never stopped caring about her. Recently, she’d ended up wedding a demon-possessed male named Torin, one of William’s closest friends.

   As soon as he reached her, he kicked out a chair and plopped down. “Hello, Keeley.”

   She smiled a sweet smile in welcome, rousing a wave of affection inside him. “So nice of you to join me for this meeting we never planned.”

   Careful. No conversation had ever been so important to him. He needed her lucid; the wrong question might push her over the edge. “Do you know the name of my decoder?”

   “Why? Because everything Lilith promised you has come true? An ongoing war with Lucifer—check. A miserable past and present, devoid of genuine, romantic companionship—check. A bleak future—checkmate.”

   “Yes,” he said, his teeth gritted. With the curse hanging over his head, he refused to spend more than a night or two with a woman, something he’d like to change.

   Not because he hoped to settle down. He didn’t. After everything he’d suffered, he deserved a happily-ever-after with as many women as he desired.

   Had his views on monogamy changed? Yes. For others. His friends had mates, and they were perfect examples of love and loyalty. But, William still preferred variety. A single partner would never fully meet his needs.

   To him, women were like spices. Some days you wanted sweet, some days you wanted spicy. Or salty. No reason to stick with the same flavor.

   “Well,” he prompted. “Do you know the name or not?”

   “I do,” she exclaimed. “Duh. Why else would I invite you to this name-and-gender-reveal party?”

   He pinched the bridge of his nose.

   “Surprise,” she said, spreading her arms wide. “The codebreaker is a girl...and your lifemate.”

   What? Shock and horror inundated him, a thousand problems forming at once, with only one solution.

   “I know you assumed you’d found your mate not too long ago,” she continued, “but you were wrong.”

   His chest tightened, squeezing his lungs. He’d met a (once) human female named Gillian Shaw, who’d suffered a childhood more tragic than his own. Not wanting to activate the curse, he’d ruthlessly combated any softer emotions for her, constantly playing the “what if” game with himself.

   What if he committed to her, and Gillian did, in fact, try to kill him?

   What if he harmed her irrevocably while guarding himself against her attack?

   What if he inadvertently killed her? Could he ever forgive himself?

   In the end, she’d fallen for a beastly POS who—William shuddered—needed her. In other words, a fool! Needing another only ever ended in heartbreak.

   “I will not give my future murderer access to the object of my salvation,” he bit out. “I would rather kill her straightaway and void the curse before it ever activates.” But...could he truly slay his one and only lifemate, ending her life simply because she’d one day try to slay him?

   Keeley gaped at him. “You would give up your one chance at eternal contentment?”

   “Yes,” he hissed, the muscles in his shoulders knotting. How could he miss what he’d never had?

   She flicked her tongue over an incisor. “What if you cannot defeat Lucifer without her?”

   He went still. “Can I not?”

   She ignored his question, saying, “Do you remember when I told you that Scarlet and Gideon’s baby would aid you in the breaking of your curse?”

   “I do,” he replied, cautious. Scarlet and Gideon were part of a select group of friends. Demon-possessed men and women and their assortment of mates known as the Lords of the Underworld. The same group as Torin and Keeley. “As much as I love them, I doubt their baby will have the power to help a prince of the underworld.”

   “Well, you’re right. I misspoke. Their baby won’t aid you at all. Their baby will aid your daughters. Daughters you won’t have without your lifemate.”

   What! Daughters, plural? Girls who would grow into beautiful women and fall in love with shit-ass males he’d have to murder? No! “Another reason to kill the codebreaker. I won’t be having any more children.”

   “Oh, you’ll be having kids, all right. Enough to create a base...foot...sports team.” As if she hadn’t just dropped a bomb, she leaned closer and said, “There’s no way you’ll fall in love with your lifemate in two weeks, right? So, you’ll let her live and work on the code for fourteen days. Vow it, or I’ll keep the list of names to myself.”

   “Very well.” No need to ponder it. When you lived forever, two weeks was nothing. But what had she meant, list of names? There should be only one. “If she behaves, I vow I will not harm her for fourteen days.” Never would he make a vow without a caveat.

   “Excellent! Now, before I reveal the nineteen names on my list—”

   “Nineteen?” he roared.

   “—you’re going to tell me why you grow more powerful in Hell. And don’t say no. In our world, you have to give to get.”

   So she’d heard the girls at the bar, too. He sighed. “I don’t know the reason.” Nor did he know why it mattered. “I only know I produce wings of smoke up here. Down there, that smoke is laced with sopor, a pain toxin. Here, I grow claws. There, those claws leak poena, a death venom. Here, I have no fangs. There, I can grow sabers, if I wish.”

   Canting her head to the side, she asked, “Is that why you moved to the mortal realm so soon after your dad and I called it quits?”

   He gave a clipped nod. Had he stayed, he feared he would have become as vile as Lucifer.

   “How interesting.” Keeley stroked her chin all villain-like, the wheels in her brain obviously spinning. “Definitely take your lifemate slash codebreaker to Hell.” Finally, she extended an arm, revealing an array of ink smudges that began at the inside of her elbow and ended at her palm. “Ta-da! The names, as promised.”

   With only a glance, he memorized every word. Then he arched a brow. “There’s a codebreaker named spaghetti and meatless balls?”

   “Oh, my bad.” She licked her thumb and rubbed the culinary disaster off her arm. “That was my dinner.”

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