Impatience clawed at him. Discussing his necessary but meaningless facade after the events of the day was both perverse and anguishing. He was beyond agitated, his blood flowing thick and hot with fury and driving hunger.

“I’d like to think I’m less eccentric,” he replied in a voice that betrayed none of his volatility. Every cell in his body was attuned to Lindsay Gibson—the vessel carrying the soul he loved. The illicit physical needs of his human shell had roused with vicious alacrity, reminding him how long it had been since she’d last been in his arms. He could never forget how good it was between them. A single scorching glance could set off an incendiary hunger that took hours to burn out.

He craved those intimate hours with her. Craved her.

While Shadoe’s physical form reflected the genetics of Lindsay’s family line, he felt and recognized her regardless of the body she was born into. Over the years, her appearance and ethnicity had varied widely, yet his love burned undiminished regardless. His attraction was borne of the connection he felt to her, the sense of finding the other half of himself.

Lindsay shrugged. “I don’t mind eccentric. Makes things interesting.”

Raindrops glistened in her hair. She was a blonde in this incarnation, with tousled curls that were sexy as hell. The length was short, about four inches all around. His hands clenched against the desire to fist the lush mass, to hold her motionless while his mouth slanted over hers and quenched his desperate thirst for the taste of her.

He was in love with Shadoe’s soul, but Lindsay Gibson was inciting a blistering lust. The combined response was devastating, blindsiding him when he was already on edge. His spine shifted with restless awareness, forcing him to restrain wings wanting to flex in sinuous pleasure at the sight and smell of her. Sitting beside her on the plane would be both heaven and hell.

He had the advantage of remembering every one of their past relationships, but Lindsay had only her instincts to go on, and they were clearly sending her signals she wasn’t sure how to process. Her nostrils flared gently, her pupils were dilated, and her body language confirmed her reciprocating attraction. She watched him carefully, assessing him. There was no coyness to her. She was bold and self-assured. Definitely comfortable in her own skin. He liked her immensely already, and knew that would be the case regardless of his history with Shadoe.

“Where in Orange County are you heading?” he asked. “And what was the draw worth uprooting for?”

Although Adrian knew her as deeply as any man could know his woman, in most ways he was starting from scratch every time he found her again. Lindsay’s likes and dislikes, her personality and temperament, her memories were unique to her. Every reunion was a rediscovery.

She peeled back the flimsy plastic top to her soda cup and took a sip. “Anaheim. I work in hospitality, so Southern California tourism is right up my alley.”

He gave the appearance of reaching into his back pocket. With his hand behind him, he summoned a straw and then presented it to her. “Restaurants or hotels?”

How did she take her coffee? Did she even enjoy coffee ? Did she sleep on her back or her stomach? Where did she like to be touched? Was she a night owl or an early riser?

Lindsay stared at the straw, then arched a brow at him. She accepted it and tore into the protective paper, but was clearly wondering when he’d picked it up. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

There was so much to assimilate and an unknown amount of time in which to work. Once, she’d come back to him for twenty minutes; another time, twenty years. Her father always found her. The leader of the vampires was as drawn to her as Adrian was, and Syre was determined to finish what he’d started. He wanted to make his daughter immortal through vampirism, which would kill the soul connecting her to Adrian.

That would never fucking happen as long as Adrian was breathing.

“Hotels,” she answered, returning to his question. “I love the energy. They never sleep, never close. The endless flow of travelers ensures there’s always another challenge to tackle.”

“Which property?”

“The Belladonna. It’s a new resort near Disneyland.”

“Owned by Gadara Enterprises.” It wasn’t a question. Raguel Gadara was a real estate mogul rivaling Steve Wynn and Donald Trump. All of his new developments were heavily advertised, but even without the publicity, Adrian knew Raguel well. Not just through their secular lives, but also through their celestial ones. Raguel was one of the seven earthbound archangels, falling several rungs below Adrian’s rank of seraph in the angelic hierarchy.

Lindsay’s dark eyes brightened. “You’ve heard of it.”

“Raguel is an old acquaintance.” He began planning the steps required to research her history from birth until this moment. There were no coincidences in his world. He found Shadoe in every reincarnation not due to chance, but because they were destined to cross paths. But to move so near to his headquarters and end up in an angel’s employ . . . ? Raguel owned properties all over the world, including resorts closer to her home on the East Coast. It could not be accidental that circumstances contrived to bring her to Orange County.

Adrian needed to know the opportunities and decisions that led her so directly into his life. The discovery process was one he undertook whenever she returned. He looked for routines or patterns applicable to her former lives. He gained knowledge used to build her trust and affection. And he searched for any sign that they were being manipulated, because the time was fast approaching when he would have to pay for his hubris. He had committed the transgression he’d censured others for: he had fallen in love with Shadoe—a naphil, the child of a mortal woman and the angel her father had once been—and he’d succumbed, countless times, to the decadent sins of her flesh.

He had personally punished her father for the same offense. He’d severed the wings from the fallen angel, an act that took Syre’s soul and made him the first of the vampires.

The consequences of Adrian’s hypocrisy would eventually catch up with him; it was an inevitability he’d accepted long ago. If Raguel was the means the Creator intended to use to rebuke him, Adrian needed to know and be prepared. He had to ensure that Shadoe would be taken care of when his time came.

His gaze met those of his lycan guards, who were sitting a few rows away on either side. They were observant, curious. They couldn’t help but see that he was reacting differently to Lindsay than he did to other women. The last time Shadoe’s soul had been with him, neither of the two lycans had been born yet, but they knew his personal life. They knew how little attention he paid to the opposite sex.

He would need more than two guards now that he could resume his hunt for Syre, and Lindsay would need her own dedicated protection. Adrian knew he’d have to manipulate that carefully. She was young—twenty-five at most—and starting out on her own in a new place. Now was the time for her to broaden her horizons, not find out that her new lover was micromanaging her life.

Lindsay rolled her straw between her fingers, her soft pink lips hovering momentarily before parting for a sip.

A wash of heat swept over him. Even the knowledge that he would lose her again, that he was forsaking his duty once again, couldn’t dampen the rush of desire quickening his blood. He wanted those lips on his skin, needed to feel them sliding across his flesh, whispering both raw and tender words as they teased him mercilessly. Although the Sentinels had been forbidden to love and mate with mortals, nothing could convince Adrian that Shadoe hadn’t been born to belong to him.

She talked to her dad on the phone . . .

He grew very still.

Adrian kept his face impassive, but he was intensely alert. Shadoe’s various incarnations had always been raised by a single-parent mother, never by a father. It was as if Syre had marked her soul when he’d begun the Change that would have transformed her into a vampire, ensuring that no other man would ever take his paternal role in her life. “Are your parents in Raleigh?”

A shadow passed over her features. “My dad is. My mother died when I was five.”

His fingers flexed restlessly. The order of her parents’ deaths had never been mutable.

His long-stable world had canted that morning, and Lindsay Gibson continued to challenge his balance, causing the objects around him to begin a slow slide away from their predetermined place. The lycans had been growing more agitated by the day, the vampires had crossed a precipitous line with the death of Phineas and the attack in the helicopter, and now Shadoe had returned after an interminable absence with the most basic pattern of her reincarnations altered.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he murmured, adopting the customary remark offered to grieving mortals who so often viewed death as a sorrowful ending.

“Thank you. How about your family? Big or small?”

“Big. Lots of siblings.”

“I envy you. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. My dad didn’t remarry. He never got over my mom.”

Adrian had become adept at winning over her mothers. Men, however, tended to give him a wide berth regardless of any efforts he made to put them at ease. They instinctively sensed the power in him; there could be only one Alpha in a designated space, and he was it. Gaining acceptance from her father might take some work, but it would be worth the time and investment. Familial support was just one of the many avenues he utilized to gain her complete and total surrender, which was the only way he could bear to have her. No holds barred.

He touched the back of her hand where it rested lightly on the armrest, relishing the charge he got from the simple contact. He heard the elevated beat of her heart as if his ear were pressed to her chest. Over the paging of flight information, boarding calls, and gate changes, the strong and steady rhythm of her heartbeat was crystal clear and deeply beloved. “Some women are unforgettable.”

“You sound like a romantic.”

“Does that surprise you?”

Her lips curved gently. “Nothing surprises me.”

His heart ached at that smile. He’d gone too long without her, and his wait was hardly over. While she couldn’t fail to feel the pull between them, she didn’t love him. He’d have only her body for a time, which would soothe the sharpest edge of his need but still leave him wanting.

His attention diverted to Elijah, who’d pushed to his feet and moved off the carpeted waiting area to the main concourse. The lycans were uncomfortable in enclosed, crowded spaces. Adrian could have chartered a flight or waited for one of his own planes—either action would have spared his guards their discomfort—but he’d needed to send a message to any vampire stupid enough to think he might have been weakened by the aerial ambush or the loss of his second: Come and try me again.

“You love surprises,” she guessed.

Adrian looked at her. “Hate them. Except when they’re you.”

Lindsay laughed softly. A forgotten warmth stirred in his chest.

A young woman pushing a stroller and carrying a fussy infant headed toward the gate counter via the carpeted pathway directly in front of them. As she argued with a toddler dragging a small carry-on, Adrian’s phone rang. He excused himself from Lindsay and stepped a short distance away.

The caller ID on his phone showed a number, but no name. “Mitchell,” he answered.

“Adrian.” The icy voice was instantly recognizable.

Primal aggression spurred Adrian’s pulse. Lightning split the sky in tandem, followed by the roar of thunder. “Syre.”

“You have something that belongs to me.”


Turning his head with feigned nonchalance, Adrian searched for surveillance. Was it possible Syre had found his daughter first and was tracking her? “What might that be?”

“Don’t be coy, Adrian. It doesn’t suit you. Lovely brunette. Female. Petite. You will give her back—unharmed.”

Adrian relaxed. “If you’re referring to the rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth bitch who attacked me today, I broke her heart. Crushed it in my fist, to be precise.”

There was a long, terrible stretch of silence. Then, “Nikki was the kindest woman I’ve ever met.”

“If that’s your definition of ‘kind,’ I’ve been too lenient. Try a stunt like that again,” he warned smoothly, “and I’ll put you all down.”

“You haven’t the authority or the right. Watch that God complex of yours, Adrian, or you’ll end up like me.”

Turning away from Lindsay’s vigilant gaze, Adrian breathed carefully through his seething wrath. He was a seraph, a Sentinel. He was expected to stand above the vagaries of human emotions. Betraying otherwise—through his tone of voice or actions—exposed an unconscionable vulnerability. What was done could not be undone; his mortal love tethered him to the earth, holding him away from the serenity of the heavens.

“You have no idea what I’m authorized to do,” he said evenly. “She attacked in broad daylight, proving that one of your Fallen ranks—maybe you—fed her in the last forty-eight hours. That opens the door for me to defend myself and my Sentinels in whatever manner I see fit. Think harder before sending another suicidal minion my way. I’m not Phineas; you and I have already established that a fight with me is one you can’t win.”

It was the truth . . . albeit oversimplified. Syre lacked the formal combat training that honed the Sentinels, but he’d had centuries to perfect guerrilla tactics. He was also older and wiser for his mistakes, and growing as restless as the lycans. His vampires would follow him into Hell if he asked them to. All of which made him exceedingly dangerous. While Adrian knew he could best Syre again, it would not be as easily accomplished the next time.

And Lindsay Gibson would be caught in the middle.

“Maybe winning isn’t the goal,” Syre taunted.