The Darkest Promise

By: Gena Showalter

According to her friends, she had interacted with Lazarus twice before. Thanks to Misery, she remembered nothing about either encounter. Or did she? On the fringe of her mind was a suggestive montage of images that might or might not have happened.

Flicker: Cameo performed a striptease for a faceless, muscled man, a sultry half smile playing at the corners of her mouth, her silvery eyes smoky with desire.

Flicker: Cameo crawled toward the same faceless, muscled man, clearly intent on his seduction.

Flicker: Cameo sprawled beneath the faceless, muscled man, one of his big, callused hands on her breast, the other between her legs as he drove her closer and closer to orgasm. Her spine was arched, her head thrown back, her expression taut with a sublime mix of agony and pleasure.

Was the faceless man Lazarus? How had he tempted her into his bed?

She wanted so badly to remember.

Sex wasn’t something she enjoyed or usually even risked. Not anymore. She had a Sexually Transmitted Demon, and almost everyone she dated ended up depressed at some point.

Guilt flared, adding to her all-consuming misery. And yet...

Every time she imagined her faceless lover, languid heat wrapped loving arms around her. Blood rushed through her veins with new purpose, molten shivers cascading through her, every inch of her tingling.

Did he miss her? Or did he rejoice, thinking he would never see her again?

Her heart seemed to crack open and seep acid. Memories were as necessary for survival as oxygen or water; without hers, she was incomplete. Weakened, even.

Would Lazarus tell her what had happened between them? If there was even a chance, she had to find him.

Problem was, she and the rest of the world knew very little about him. His past was shrouded in mystery. What she had managed to glean: her friend Strider, the keeper of Defeat, had beheaded him not too long ago. Lazarus’s spirit had traveled through the Paring Rod and entered one of thousands of realms in the afterlife. Perhaps this one, a strange and predatory world.

Soon after Lazarus’s death, her semifriend Viola, the keeper of Narcissism, had accidentally followed him through—while still alive. Also alive, Cameo had followed her, intent on rescuing her.

Cue her adventures with the mysterious warrior.

If her brothers-by-circumstance hadn’t launched a rescue mission of their own, would she have chosen to stay with Lazarus?

Going by the tidbits she’d revealed before Misery had cleaned her mind with mental Windex, she and Lazarus had partnered up to find Viola and Pandora’s box—aka dimOuniak—both supposedly hidden inside one of the realms.

Why he’d agreed to partner with her when he had no stake in the outcome, she wasn’t sure.

Unless he wanted the box? DimOuniak was just as powerful as the Paring Rod—no, more so—and could be used to instantly kill anyone, everyone, who was demon possessed. Or so rumors claimed.

Had Lazarus planned to harm her all along?

See? Loss of memory left her vulnerable in the worst of ways.

So. She would find Lazarus. Hopefully he liked her and wanted only to help her. After he filled in her mental blanks, maybe they could renew their quest for the box and he could make her happy? At least for a little while. What good was a life without happiness?

Going to forget him again. Why bother?

Because...just because! A girl without hope might as well curl up and die.

Maybe he was her faceless lover. Maybe he would help her find Viola as well as the box. The goddess of the Afterlife had been rescued, yes, but she’d purposely used the Paring Rod a second time. No one knew why, and no one had heard from her since.

Resolute, Cameo motored forward. Twigs sliced her feet, but she maintained a steady pace, maneuvering through the thicket of trees. At least the temperature had cooled.

Seventy-two percent of men have cheated on their significant other. The demon’s voice whispered through her mind in an attempt to immobilize her. Twenty-four percent are actively cheating right this second. Forty-eight percent are smug rather than remorseful. How long do you think you’ll intrigue Lazarus? If you ever intrigued him at all.

Horrid demon! Always lobbing H-bombs of gloom. Was Lazarus her faceless lover or not?

Misery smoothly added, If he is, you should run. Considering what happened with Alex...

“Shut up,” she muttered, but the damage was done. He’d hit his target, reopening internal wounds.

Alex, a human who had lived in ancient Greece, had been her first and only love.

At the age of eight, a terrible sickness had rendered him deaf and, apparently, unworthy of his wealthy family’s love. He was cast out of the only home he’d ever known. After months of starvation, a “protector” saved him from the slums. A blacksmith with a sickening taste for children.

Apprentice by day, slave by night. A heartbreaking existence.

When Alex reached his teens, the blacksmith dubbed him too old and kicked him out. Alex snapped, introducing the blacksmith’s heart to his handmade dagger. Then he claimed the business as his due.

He poured his time and energy into metalwork, his talent indisputable. He’d been the only person Cameo trusted to make her weapons. The only male unaffected by the sorrow in her voice.

They fell in love, and for just a little while, she had verged on the edge of happiness. She’d craved more...but all the while, a shadow of foreboding had cloaked her like a second skin.