The Darkest Touch

By: Gena Showalter

Rejected by a rock. “Stay out of this, warrior. It’s between Wilson and me.” Too agitated to sit, she paced in the center of her cell. Out of sight, out of mind.

At least in theory. I’m alone. Again.

“Been here centuries,” she muttered to herself. “Wilson stayed with me through it all. Even when I was shackled to the wall.” With no weapon, she’d had to gnaw through her wrists to free her arms, and then, after her hands had grown back, she’d had to sharpen rocks and bone into blades and hack off her feet to free her legs. “And he abandons me now? He’s as much a bastard as Cronus.”

Well, he would miss the big finale. She would finish the painstaking process of cutting the brimstone scars out of her skin...and everything would go boom.

The scars had a name...a name...wards! Yes. That’s what her people called them.

The wards! Though it took several tries, her fingers nearly too swollen to close around the shiv’s handle, she managed to pick up the weapon.

“Stupid wards and stupid brimstone,” she grumbled. Somehow they were the Kryptonite of her entire race. Basically, Keeley’s worst nightmare.

Running the sulfuric rocks over spirit or flesh would scar even an immortal, but on her, those scars were accompanied by weakness. If she had enough of them, they would totally negate her power. Even as immense as it was.

Brought so low by so little.

She couldn’t punish Torin and Cronus properly until every single one of her wards had been removed. And they had to be punished.

Considering her flesh sometimes wove back together—with the scars still intact—it was meticulous, frustrating work. Everything always depended on the condition of her body. Well-fed, she could create brand-new cells. Starved, she merely regenerated the old ones.

Exactly why I saved every bug to pass through my cell these past few weeks. Dead beetles crawling. Had a big breakfast just this morning.

Once, the wards had covered every inch of her. To remove them from her back, she’d had to treat the walls like scratch pads from hell and rub, rub, rub. Her face, torso and legs had been easier, though no less excruciating. All she had left were a few tiny scars on her arm...and one that had regenerated again and again.

Not this time.

“I truly am sorry,” Torin said.

She would have found the throaty, masculine tenor of his voice thrilling if she hadn’t hated him so much. Was his remorse even genuine?

“At least you still have Wilson,” he added. “Whoever he is.”

“My pet rock. We recently parted ways.”

“Oh. I’m...uh, sorry about that, too.”

“Don’t be. It was a mutual decision.”

A pause. Then, “I’m still sorry.”

“ your breath, as it will soon be your last.” Her hand tightened on the shiv. What was done was done and could never be undone. Never, never, never. “I made the mistake of pardoning someone who wronged me once before.” The man she’d loved and had planned to marry. “I’ve had to live with the consequences ever since.”

Although...she should probably be grateful to Hades. Before she’d met him, she’d had very little control of her abilities. With a single burst of power, she’d slaughtered more than half of her people—in less than a second.

The rest of her people had sought revenge.

Hades swooped to the rescue, carrying her to the underworld, his home. He’d taught her everything she needed to know to not only survive but thrive. He’d even praised her when she’d leveled his palace and he’d had to build a new one. That’s my good, fearsome girl.

Keeley rammed the shiv so deep she hit bone.

“I know you crave vengeance,” Torin said, his voice a life raft of calm in the sea of her mounting anger, “but even if we get out of here, you won’t be able to claim it. You can’t touch me or you will sicken.”

He sounded remorseful about that, too.

A lie, surely.

“Killing you isn’t the only way to achieve vengeance, warrior.”

A pause crackling with tension. “What are you saying?”

“I told you I had heard of you, yes?” Galen, the keeper of Jealousy and False Hope, was one of the greatest enemies of the Lords of the Underworld...and he was a prisoner here. Had been for months. They’d spent the first few weeks of their association exchanging information and would have continued to do so if he hadn’t deteriorated from illness and hunger and gone radio silent.

Which was unfortunate. Knowledge was more precious than gold, and she always craved more. The very reason I once set up a network of spies stretching from one corner of the world to another. She knew things even the Titans and Greeks didn’t know. She just had to remember them.

“You love your friends,” she said. “Provide for them. Protect them.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

As a former royal soldier for the Greeks, who made Roman gladiators look like marshmallows, he had to know where she was going with this. “Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but...I can kill them.”

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