Frost and Flame (Gods of War)

By: Gena Showalter

Aveline tsked-tsked. “Never has a male been so ungrateful for the life I have granted him. I suppose you need an incentive to leave, and a better incentive to return swiftly. Very well. I’m happy to provide one. No matter what transpires, you will not transform into your beast, Bane. That’s an order.”

She snapped her fingers. To the left of the dais, a pair of double doors opened. Micah entered, dragging a chained prisoner behind him. She wore a pale blue nightgown. One Bane recognized.

A roar exploded from him, echoing throughout the chamber. Meredith! Their gazes met, fury crackling in her golden irises—fury tinged with fear, and it gutted him.

Like him, she’d been raised a soldier. Fear had been beaten out of her. The fact that she felt it now...

Desperation launched him up the dais stairs.

Aveline’s eyes narrowed. “Stop. Kneel.”

Just. Like. That. Only a few steps from his destination, he stopped and dropped to his knees. Upon impact, his kneecaps cracked. Fury and fear burned through him, every panting breath flaying his lungs. He fought with every ounce of his considerable strength, but he could not stand.

Micah smiled, smug and superior, as he pushed Meredith to her knees in a mimic of Bane. The bastard had always enjoyed the suffering of others.

“My darling Micah,” Aveline said. “Be a dear, and make the girl bleed.”

“No!” Bane shouted, willing his beast to emerge despite the queen’s command. Alas, the beast refused to try; he might hate Aveline, but he bore Meredith no love, either, only tolerating her for sex. Sex, the fiend believed, could be found anywhere, anytime, by fair means or foul.

Micah slid his gaze to Bane. Smile widening, the bastard struck. Meredith’s head whipped to the side, her lip splitting. A crimson river trickled down her chin.

“No!” Bane strained so fiercely he dislocated both shoulders. Searing pain shot through him, but he didn’t care and didn’t halt.

“Whatever she wants—” His wife spit out a mouthful of blood, then lifted her head high. “Don’t you dare give it to her, Bane.”

Though his vision blurred, he met Aveline’s stare. “Do not do this. Please.” He told himself she wouldn’t dare. They no longer loved each other, true, but they had history. In this, she would capitulate. She must.

“You give me no choice,” she replied, as ruthless as ever. “I must remove your desire to remain here.”

“If you kill her, I’ll have no incentive to win your war.” Though he longed to look to Meredith again, he kept his gaze leveled on Aveline. “I will gladly give my life on Terra, and you will lose the All War.”

She smiled, the gears clearly rotating in her mind. “My answer You’ll do everything you can to win the All War, if only to return and seek revenge against me.”

Realization: she might this. Panic returned and redoubled, clawing at him. “I’m begging you, Aveline. Do not do this.”

“Silly Bane. It’s as good as done.” She nodded to Micah.

The bastard maneuvered behind Meredith, then fisted her hair to tilt back her head and expose her vulnerable neck.

“I will go,” Bane rushed out. “I will kill the hybrid princess and win Terra. You have my word.”

“Too late.” Aveline stood, the action as fluid as water, and glided closer to Meredith. She stopped a mere whisper away.

He fought, fought so hard. A sizzling tear streamed down his cheek. “Please, Aveline.”

“I love you, Bane.” Meredith tried to smile, but a sob escaped. “May we meet again in the hereafter.”

“You cry for each other. Pathetic.” Lacking any kind of gentleness, Aveline cupped Meredith’s cheek.

Bane bellowed curse after curse. Calm down. Think! Words began to rush from him. “Do you remember when we were children, Aveline? You wanted a rose from the queen’s private garden. I snuck in and stole it for you, earning twenty lashes. Yet I bore the pain with pride, for I’d made you smile. You said you’d never forget, that you’d always be in my debt.”

“Oh, yes. About that. I lied,” she said, not bothering to glance in his direction.

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