“Lysander,” Olivia said, drawing his attention from the now-cooing couple. “The wait is difficult. Raphael came to you and…what?”

Lysander sighed, forcing himself to concentrate. “Answer a few questions for me first.”

“All right,” she said after a brief hesitation.

“Why do you like Aeron when he is so different from you?”

She twisted the fabric of her robe. “I think I like him because he is so different from me. He has thrived amid darkness, managing to retain a spark of light in his soul. He is not perfect, is not blameless, but he could have given in to his demon long ago and yet still he fights. He protects those he loves. His passion for life is…” She shivered. “Amazing. And really, he only hurts people when his demon overtakes him—and only if they are wicked, at that. Innocents, he leaves alone.”

It was the same with Bianka. Yet Lysander had tried to make her ashamed of herself. Ashamed when she should only be proud of what she had accomplished, thriving amid darkness, as Olivia had said. “And you are not embarrassed for our kind to know of your affection for him?”

“Embarrassed of Aeron?” Olivia laughed. “When he is stronger, fiercer, more alive than anyone I know? Of course not. I would be proud to be called his woman. Not that it could ever happen,” she added sadly.

Proud. There was that word again. And this time, something clicked in his mind. I’m not going to be your secret shame, Lysander, Bianka had said. He’d reminded her that she committed all her other sins in secret. Why not him? She hadn’t told him the answer, but it came to him now. Because she’d been proud of him. Because she’d wanted to show him off.

As he should have wanted to show her off.

Any other man would have been proud to stand beside her. She was beautiful, intelligent, witty, passionate and lived by her own moral code. Her laughter was more lovely than the song of a harp, her kiss as sweet as a prayer.

He’d considered her the spawn of Lucifer, yet she was a gift from the One True Deity. He was such a fool.

“Have I answered your questions sufficiently?” Olivia asked.

“Yes.” He was surprised by the rawness of his voice. Had he ruined things irreparably between them?

“So answer a few now for me.”

Unable to find his voice, he nodded. He had to make this right. Had to try, at least.

“Bianka. The Harpy you watch. Do you love her?”

Love. He found her among the crowd and the pang in his chest grew unbearable. She was currently adding a magic marker mustache to one of Sabin’s portraits while Kaia added…other things down below. Kaia was giggling; Bianka looked like she was just going through the motions, taking no joy.

He wanted her happy. Wanted her the way she’d been.

“You think you are embarrassed of her,” Olivia continued when he gave no response.

“How do you know?” He forced the words to leave him.

“I am—or was—a joy-bringer, Lysander. It was my job to know what people were feeling and then help them see the truth. Because only in truth can one find real joy. You were never embarrassed of her. I know you. You are embarrassed by nothing. You were simply scared. Scared that you were not what she needs.”

His eyes widened. Could that be true? He’d tried to change her. Had tried to make her what he was so that she, in turn, would like what he was? Yes. Yes, that made sense, and for the second time in his existence, he hated himself.

He had let Bianka get away from him. When he should have sung her praises to all of the heavens, he had cast her aside. No man was more foolish. Irreparable damage or not, he had to try and win her back.

He jumped to his feet. “I do,” he said. “I love her.” He wanted to throw his arms around her. Wanted to shout to all the world that she belonged to him. That she had chosen him as her man.

His shoulders slumped. Chosen. Key word. Past tense. She would not choose him again. She did not give second chances, she’d said.

She often lies…

For the first time, the thought that his woman liked to lie caused him to smile. Perhaps she had lied about that. Perhaps she would give him a second chance. A chance to prove his love.

If he had to grovel, he would. She was his temptation, but that did not have to be a bad thing. That could be his salvation. After all, his life would mean nothing without her. Same for her. She had told him that he was her own temptation. He could be her salvation.

“Thank you,” he told Olivia. “Thank you for showing me the truth.”

“Always my pleasure.”

How should he approach Bianka? When? Urgency flooded him. He wanted to do so now. As a warrior, though, he knew some battles required planning. And as this was the most important battle of his existence, plan his attack he would.

If she forgave him and decided to be with him, they would still have a tough road ahead. Where would they live? His duties were in the heavens. She thrived on earth, with her family nearby. Plus, Olivia was destined to kill Aeron, who would essentially be Bianka’s brother-in-law after tomorrow. And if Olivia decided not to, another angel would be chosen to do the job.

Most likely, that would be Lysander.

One thing his Deity had taught him, however, was that love truly could conquer all. Nothing was stronger. They could make this work.

“I’ve lost you again,” Olivia said with a laugh. “Before you rush off, you must tell me why you summoned me. What Raphael said to you.”

Some of his good mood evaporated. While Olivia had just given him hope and helped him find the right path, he was about to dash any hopes of a happily-ever-after for her.

“Raphael came to me,” he repeated. Just do it; just say it. “He told me of the council’s unhappiness with you. He told me they grow weary of your continued defiance.”

Her smile fell away. “I know,” she whispered. “I just…I haven’t been able to bring myself to hurt him. Watching him gives me joy. And I deserve to experience joy after so many centuries of devoted service, do I not?”

“Of course.”

“And if he is dead, I will never be able to do the things I now dream about.”

His brow furrowed. “What things?”

“Touching him. Curling into his arms.” A pause. “Kissing him.”

Dangerous desires indeed. Oh, did he know their power. “If you never experience them,” he offered, “they are easier to resist.” But he hated to think of this wonderful female being without something she wanted.

He could petition the council for Aeron’s forgiveness, but that would do no good. A decree was a decree. A law had been broken and someone had to pay. “Very soon, the council will be forced to offer you a choice. Your duty or your downfall.”

She gazed down at her hands, once again twisting the fabric of her robe. “I know. I don’t know why I hesitate. He would never desire me, anyway. The women here, they are exciting, dangerous. As fierce as he is. And I am—”

“Precious,” he said. “You are precious. Never think otherwise.”

She offered him a shaky smile.

“I have always loved you, Olivia. I would hate to see you give up everything you are for a man who has threatened to kill you. You do know what you would be losing, yes?”

That smile fell away as she nodded.

“You would fall straight into hell. The demons there will go for your wings. They always go for the wings first. No longer will you be impervious to pain. You will hurt, yet you will have to dig your way free of the underground—or die there. Your strength will be depleted. Your body will not regenerate on its own. You will be more fragile than a human because you were not raised among them.”

While he thought he could survive such a thing, he did not think Olivia would. She was too delicate. Too…sheltered. Until this point, every facet of her life had dealt with joy and happiness. She had known nothing else.

The demons of hell would be crueler to her than they would be even to him, the man they feared more than any other. She was all they despised. Wholly good. Destroying such innocence and purity would delight them.

“Why are you telling me this?” Her voice trembled. Tears streaked down her cheeks.

“Because I do not want you to make the wrong decision. Because I want you to know what you’re up against.”

A moment passed in silence, then she jumped up and threw her arms around his neck. “I love you, you know.”

He squeezed her tightly, sensing that this was her way of saying goodbye. Sensing that this would be the last time they were offered such a reprieve. But he would not stop her, whatever path she chose.

She pulled back and smoothed her trembling hands down her glistening white robe. “You have given me much to consider. So now I will leave you to your female. May love always follow you, Lysander.” As she spoke, her wings expanded. Up, up she flew, misting through the ceiling—and Bianka’s flowers—before disappearing.

He hoped she’d choose her faith, her immortality, over the keeper of Wrath, but feared she would not. His gaze strayed to Bianka, now walking down the aisle toward the exit. She paused at his row, frowned, before shaking her head and leaving. If he’d been forced to pick between her and his reputation and lifestyle, he would have picked her, he realized.

And now it was time to prove it to her.


I’VE GOT TO PULL MYSELF from this funk, Bianka thought. This was her youngest sister’s wedding day. She should be happy. Delighted. If she were honest, though, she was a tiny bit—aka a lot—jealous. Gwen’s man, a demon, loved her. Was proud of her.

Lysander considered Bianka unworthy.She’d thought about proving herself to him, but had quickly discarded the idea. Proving herself worthy—his idea of worthy, that is—would entail nothing more than a lie. And Lysander hated lies. So, according to him, she would never be good enough for him. Which meant he was stupid, and she didn’t date stupid men. Plus, he didn’t deserve her.

He deserved to rot in his unhappiness. And that’s what he’d be without her. Unhappy. Or so she hoped.