Despite his proclamation about not coming for me, he didn’t let me die.
I don’t know what powers he’d invoked to bring me back from the edge of death, but he’d given all he had. And I didn’t think my protection charm was the only reason he’d helped me. I’d felt something last night, more intimate than if we’d shared a bed. For one strangely long second, I swore we’d been inside each other’s minds. What I saw there, deep where he couldn’t hide it, wasn’t simple hatred he felt toward me. It was much more complex.
Light filtered in from an arched window with no coverings, accentuating the chiseled angles of his face. If I didn’t know exactly what he was, I might mistake him for an angel. Which, in a way, I supposed he was. I wondered what he’d done that was evil enough to be cast out of heaven. I didn’t ask. I doubted he’d confess his sins.
His focus roved over my features, his expression unreadable. I fought a chill.
“I had these . . . dreams,” I said slowly. “Or memories. Maybe both. You used powerful magic last night.” I watched him carefully. He didn’t move or break eye contact. For a horrible second, I wondered if he’d gone catatonic. Then he cocked his head, waiting. “Before I went after the Viperidae, you said there was a great cost for an antidote.”
I glanced down at the water. I remembered the way we’d been sitting—his legs and arms and body flush against mine . . . I’d seen illustrations before. Only a few ancient rituals required bare skin contact—in essence, they were a rebirth of sorts. Like he’d transferred some of his power to me, using water as a conductor between our flesh. None of the rituals were to be taken lightly. I wasn’t sure if his magic was the same as a witch’s, but figured it was close.
I flicked my attention back to his. “What was your price for saving me?”
The temperature seemed to plummet. He held my gaze as he slowly crossed the room. Unyielding anger shone in those golden eyes. “You should be more concerned with the price you had to pay. I hope it was worth it.”
He turned to leave. Before he could, I hopped up from the water and blocked his retreat. “You can’t say that and just go. What was the price?”
“Would you really like to have this conversation in the bath?”
“Why not? Suddenly feeling shy?”
He exuded the opposite of shyness. Honestly, with a body like that and all of that power, I wasn’t surprised by his confidence. He crossed his arms over his broad chest. Up close, the gold snake tattooed on his arm was breathtaking. “You want to talk, witch. I’ll start. You made a choice last night that had catastrophic consequences. If I hadn’t been there, you’d be dead.”
It was annoyingly true. “Getting my sister’s amulet back was worth whatever it cost me. And if I had to do it all over again, I would without hesitation.”
“Which proves you’re either reckless, or foolish, or both.”
“If I’m so foolish and reckless, why save me?” I held up a hand. “Spare me from the protection charm excuse. You and I both know that’s not the whole truth.” He opened his mouth and I cut him off again. “I don’t know the exact spell you used, but I know enough of certain rituals and their requirements that I have a pretty good guess. Tell me why you saved me. Now.”
He arched a brow. “Do you have any more demands, your highness? Or may I go?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. Did you use a rebirth spell on me?” He shook his head. “Then why weren’t we wearing clothes?”
A smile slowly tugged at the corners of his mouth. His expression resembled that of an immensely pleased yet smug male. “Because you ripped mine off like a hell beast in heat.” I shot him a dirty look. He blew out a breath that almost sounded like a laugh. Since he couldn’t lie to me, it had to be true enough for him to say it. I rolled my eyes. I’d been clearly out of my mind, and I told him as much. “Also, because the Viperidae inject venom that acts like ice, we needed to reverse the effects quickly. Body heat and hot water were the most efficient and quick ways to prevent hypothermia from killing you.”
It was true. But I also heard him whispering in that strange language. Wrath wasn’t lying, but he was keeping secrets. “You kissed me.”
He abruptly looked away. “Fever dreams have peculiar side effects.”
I grinned. I might not know the full spell, but I knew the chaste kiss was part of whatever magic he’d summoned. He probably neither wanted to, nor had much of a choice in the matter.
But I’m glad he suffered through it, or else I’d be dead.
When I’d found myself inside his head last night, his expression wasn’t one of love, but fear. That, despite his best efforts, I was a splinter slowly burrowing under his immortal skin, and one day I might travel deeply enough to pierce his stone heart. He wouldn’t be wrong.
No matter if he sacrificed some small portion of his power to save me, I’d never forget who he really was. He was a self-centered demon with a mission to protect his own world using any means necessary. He didn’t really care about this realm, or the witches who’d been murdered. His focus was on what it all meant for him. The fear I saw in his heart had nothing to do with me, personally, but what emotional entanglements represented in general. Death.
As in death of all he was and chose to be.
Princes of Hell were loyal to none but themselves. Wrath would take an enemy to his bed in an instant if it meant garnering information or power. And I doubted he’d loathe it.
I moved until we were nearly touching. He didn’t back away, but he didn’t reach for me, either. His behavior had nothing to do with goodness, or blossoming friendship, or even lust, and everything to do with gain. I just didn’t yet understand how or why he needed me alive.
But I would do everything I could to find out what his true goals were.
His attention slipped to my mouth. There wasn’t anything kind or sweet in his gaze. In fact, there was hardly anything soft in it at all. Sometimes when he looked at me, I swore I sensed a beast hiding beneath the mask of skin he wore. It was restless, feral. I had a feeling he kept the monster locked away, but it was never far. I fought a shudder. I didn’t ever want to be around when he decided to let his inner animal out of its cage.
A taunting smile curved his lips. “Is this the part where you thank me with a kiss?”
“Hardly. I’m not like you, demon. I don’t kiss people I hate. And I never will.”
“Never? Are you certain you’d like to make such a declaration?”
I wasn’t certain of anything at the moment. I was confused and buzzing with magic that wasn’t entirely my own. I’d lived through twenty-four hours from hell—with Nonna’s attack, my own brush with death, and being saved by my enemy. His power thrummed through me, filled me. For a second, I wanted him to reach over and drag his hands down my body. Which made no sense.
I couldn’t think with him standing so near. I desperately needed a moment to myself. To collect my thoughts and decide how to proceed. And I couldn’t accomplish any of those things with the half-naked demon crowding my space. Power surged through my veins.
Before Wrath dazzled me with more charm, I whispered a containment spell that must have been fueled with his demon magic because it did not go as planned. One second he was standing there, and the next he was gone. Winked out of existence. It happened so quickly, but I’d managed to catch a glimpse of his face before he’d disappeared. He’d looked so . . . betrayed.
A mix of emotion haunted me for several minutes. He was my enemy. Even if he’d saved me. That one act of goodness didn’t erase that fact. And yet I wasn’t sure if I hoped I’d sent him back to the underworld, or if I hoped he was imprisoned in the cave again. It shouldn’t matter where he was.
Even if I felt slightly guilty for using his own magic against him, I refused to let it color my judgment. He had his mission and I had mine. That was it. I rummaged around on the floor, but couldn’t find my clothes. Damned demon. Of all the ways he could take his vengeance, I didn’t predict walking through city streets naked to be one of them.
I glanced up, ready to curse Wrath to Hell again, and noticed a new dress folded in a neat pile in the corner where he’d been standing. I lifted it up, surprised by its beauty. Dark skirts had tastefully placed gold glitter sprinkled across them—not unlike his shimmering luccicare. Black sheer sleeves fell gracefully from an off-the-shoulder top. And a gold corset with thorns and wings stiched across the back finished it off. I forgot my clothing had been torn during the Viperidae attack. Some feeling I’d rather not dwell on took shape as I held the gown. I shoved it away.
The demon prince’s magic crackled under my skin, infected my soul. I didn’t want to like how alive it made me feel.
I quickly dressed, needing a mundane task to focus on while my feelings darted from one extreme to the next. With Wrath gone, it was only marginally easier to think. Mostly because my thoughts kept returning to him—to the expression on his face. I’d hurt his feelings. And it . . . bothered me. What a ludicrous turn of events. His family sent invisible ghost demons to attack my grandmother and steal my cornicello, and I was feeling bad about potentially banishing a demon to Hell. Where he lived and ruled. Probably happily. In the height of demonic luxury. With fire and brimstone and an orchestra of the screaming souls of the damned.
Still, it might have been a rash decision. Unpleasantness aside, Wrath could be useful to my quest for justice. I was almost positive he had ulterior motives for aligning himself with me, but when I really needed him, he’d been there. That act, above everything else, told me enough.
My soul was safe with him.
Which meant we could set our differences aside and work together to solve Vittoria’s murder. Neither one of us would love the idea, but at least I could trust that he wouldn’t kill me. As of now, the evidence was pointing to a prince of Hell being responsible for the murders, not witch hunters. After what happened with Greed and the attack on Nonna, I needed Wrath on my side.