“He hasn’t hurt anyone since his blood-curse was removed,” she said, and he heard the underlying beseeching.

“He helped one of Lucifer’s minions escape hell.”

“Her name is Legion. And yes, Aeron did that. But he ensures the little demon stays away from most humans. Those she does interact with, she treats with kindness. Well, her version of kindness.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that Aeron helped the creature escape.”

Olivia’s shoulders sagged, though she in no way appeared defeated. Determination gleamed in her eyes. “I know. But he’s so…nice.”

Lysander barked out a laugh. He just couldn’t help himself. “We are speaking of a Lord of the Underworld, yes? The one whose entire body is tattooed with violent, bloody images no less? That is the male you call nice?”

“Not all of the etchings are violent,” she mumbled, offended for some reason. “Two are butterflies.”

For her to have found the butterflies amid the skeletal faces decorating the man’s body meant she’d studied him intently. Lysander sighed. “Have you…felt anything for him?” Physically?

“What do you mean?” she asked, but rosy color bloomed on her cheeks.

She had, then. “Never mind.” He scrubbed a hand down his suddenly tired face. “Do you like your home, Olivia?”

She blanched at that, as if she knew the direction he was headed. “Of course.”

“Do you like your wings? Do you like your lack of pain, no matter the injury sustained? Do you like the robe you wear? A robe that cleans itself and you?”

“Yes,” she replied softly. She gazed down at her hands. “You know I do.”

“And you know that you will lose all of that and more if you fail to do your duty.” The words were harsh, meant for himself as much as for her.

Tears sprang into her eyes. “I just hoped you could convince the council to rescind their order to execute him.”

“I will not even try.” Honest, he reminded himself. He had to be honest. Which he preferred. Or had. “Rules are put into place for a reason, whether we agree with those reasons or not. I have been around a long time, have seen the world—ours, theirs—plunged into darkness and chaos. And do you know what? That darkness and chaos always sprang from one broken rule. Just one. Because when one is broken, another soon follows. Then another. It becomes a vicious cycle.”

A moment passed as she absorbed his words. Then she sighed, nodded. “Very well.” Words of acceptance uttered in a tone that was anything but.

“You will do your duty?” What he was really asking: Will you slay Aeron, keeper of Wrath, whether you want to or not? Lysander wasn’t asking more of her than he had done himself. He wasn’t asking what he wouldn’t do himself.

Another nod. One of those tears slid down her cheek.

He reached out and captured the glistening drop with the tip of his finger. “Your compassion is admirable, but it will destroy you if you allow it so much power over you.”

She waved the prediction away. Perhaps because she did not believe it, or perhaps because she believed it but had no plans to change and therefore didn’t want to discuss it anymore. “So who was the woman in your home? The one in the portraits?”

He…blushed? Yes, that was the heat spreading over his cheeks. “My…” How should he explain Bianka? How could he, without lying?

“Lover?” she finished for him.

His cheeks flushed with more of that heat. “No.” Maybe. No! “She is my captive.” There. Truthful without giving away any details. “And now,” he said, standing. If she could end a subject, so could he. “I must return to her before she causes any more trouble.” He must deal with her. Once and for all.

OLIVIA REMAINED IN PLACE long after Lysander left. Had that blushing, uncertain, distracted man truly been her mentor? She’d known him for centuries, and he’d always been unflappable. Even in the heat of battle.

The woman was responsible, she was sure. Lysander had never kept one in his cloud before. Did he feel for her what Olivia felt for Aeron?Aeron.

Just thinking his name sent a shiver down her spine, filling her with a need to see him. And just like that, she was on her feet, her wings outstretched.

“I wish to leave,” she said, and the floor softened, turning to mist. Down she fell, wings flapping gracefully. She was careful to avoid eye contact with the other angels flying through the sky as she headed into Budapest. They knew her destination; they even knew what she did there.

Some watched her with pity, some with concern—as Lysander had. Some watched her with antipathy. By avoiding their gazes, she ensured no one would stop her and try and talk sense into her. She ensured she wouldn’t have to lie. Something she hated to do. Lies tasted disgustingly bitter.

Long ago, during her training, Lysander had commanded her to tell a lie. She would never forget the vile flood of acid in her mouth the moment she’d obeyed. Never again did she wish to experience such a thing. But to be with Aeron…maybe.

His dark, menacing fortress was perched high on a mountain and finally came into view. Her heart rate increased exponentially. Because she existed on another plane, she was able to drift through the stone walls as if they were not even there. Soon she was standing inside Aeron’s bedroom.

He was polishing a gun. His little demon friend, Legion, the one he’d helped escape from hell, was darting and writhing around him, a pink boa twirling with her.

“Dance with me,” the creature beseeched.

That was dancing? That kind of heaving was what humans did as they were dying.

“I can’t. I’ve got to patrol the town tonight, searching for Hunters.”

Hunters, sworn enemy of the Lords. They hoped to find Pandora’s box and draw the demons out of the immortal warriors, killing each man. The Lords, in turn, hoped to find Pandora’s box and destroy it—the same way they hoped to destroy the Hunters.

“Me hate Huntersss,” Legion said, “but we needsss practice for Doubtie’sss wedding.”

“I won’t be dancing at Sabin’s wedding, therefore practice isn’t necessary.”

Legion stilled, frowned. “But we dance at the wedding. Like a couple.” Her thin lips curved downward. Was she…pouting? “Pleassse. We ssstill got time to practice. Dark not come for hoursss.”

“As soon as I finish cleaning my weapons, I have to run an errand for Paris.” Paris, Olivia knew, was keeper of Promiscuity and had to bed a new woman every day or he would weaken and die. But Paris was depressed and not taking proper care of himself, so Aeron, who felt responsible for the warrior, procured females for him. “We’ll dance another time, I promise.” Aeron didn’t glance up from his task. “But we’ll do it here, in the privacy of my room.”

I want to dance with him, too, Olivia thought. What was it like, pressing your body against someone else’s? Someone strong and hot and sinfully beautiful?

“But, Aeron…”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I do these things because they’re necessary to keep you safe.”

Olivia tucked her wings into her back. Aeron needed to take time for himself. He was always on the go, fighting Hunters, traveling the world in search of Pandora’s box and aiding his friends. As much as she watched him, she knew he rarely rested and never did anything simply for the joy of it.

She reached out, meaning to ghost a hand through Aeron’s hair. But suddenly the scaled, fanged creature screeched, “No, no, no,” clearly sensing Olivia’s presence. In a blink, Legion was gone.

Stiffening, Aeron growled low in his throat. “I told you not to return.”

Though he couldn’t see Olivia, he, too, always seemed to know when she arrived. And he hated her for scaring his friend away. But she couldn’t help it. Angels were demon assassins and the minion must sense the menace in her.

“Leave,” he commanded.

“No,” she replied, but he couldn’t hear her.

He returned the clip to his weapon and set it beside his bed. Scowling, he stood. His violet eyes narrowed as he searched the bedroom for any hint of her. Sadly, it was a hint he would never find.

Olivia studied him. His hair was cropped to his scalp, dark little spikes barely visible. He was so tall he dwarfed her, his shoulders so wide they could have enveloped her. With the tattoos decorating his skin, he was the fiercest creature she’d ever beheld. Maybe that was why he drew her so intensely. He was passion and danger, willing to do anything to save the ones he loved.

Most immortals put their own needs above everyone else’s. Aeron put everyone else’s above his own. That he did so never failed to shock her. And she was supposed to destroy him? She was supposed to end his life?

“I’m told you’re an angel,” he said.

How had he known what—the demon, she realized. Legion might not be able to see her, either, but as she’d already realized, the little demon knew danger when she encountered it. Plus, whenever Legion left him, she returned to hell. Fiery walls that could no longer confine her but could welcome her any time she wished. Olivia’s lack of success had to be a great source of amusement to that region’s inhabitants.

“If you are an angel, you should know that won’t stop me from cutting you down if you dare try and harm Legion.”

Once again, he was thinking of another’s welfare rather than his own. He didn’t know that Olivia didn’t need to bother with Legion. That once Aeron was dead, Legion’s bond to him would wither and she would again be chained to hell.

Olivia closed the distance between them, her steps tentative. She stopped only when she was a whisper away. His nostrils flared as if he knew what she’d done, but he didn’t move. Wishful thinking on her part, she knew. Unless she fell, he would never see her, never smell her, never hear her.

She reached up and cupped his jaw with her hands. How she wished she could feel him. Unlike Lysander, who was of the Elite, she could not materialize into this plane. Only her weapon would. A weapon she would forge from air, its heavenly flames far hotter than those in hell. A weapon that would remove Aeron’s head from his body in a mere blink of time.