So. She was guaranteed two weeks with Aeron. No more, no less. That would have to be enough. She would make so many memories, they would last a lifetime. If she could convince Aeron to let her stay here, that is. As stubborn as he was…

She sighed. “Thank you,” she told Lysander. “For everything. You didn’t have to do this for me.” And had probably had to fight the Council mercilessly for such a concession, one of the Seven or not. Yet he’d done so, without hesitation, just so she might experience the joy and passion she craved before reclaiming her place in heaven. She wouldn’t tell him that she could not go back. No matter what happened.

In fourteen days, if she did return, she would be expected to kill Aeron, she knew—and still she would not be able to do so. “I love you. I hope you know that. No matter what happens.”

“Olivia,” Aeron said, clearly confused.

“He cannot see, hear or even sense me,” Lysander explained. “He now realizes you are not talking to him and thinks you are hallucinating from the pain.” Her mentor stepped toward the bed. “I must remind you that the man is a demon, Liv. He is everything we fight against.”

“As is your female.”

He squared his wide shoulders, and his chin lifted. Ever the stubborn warrior, her Lysander. Just like Aeron. “Bianka broke none of our laws.”

“But even if she had, you would have wanted to be with her. You would have found a way.”

“Olivia?” Aeron repeated.

Lysander paid him no heed. “Why would you choose to live with him as a human, Olivia? Just for a few minutes in his arms? That can bring you nothing but heartache and disappointment.”

Once again, there was undiluted truth in his tone. Lies were not permitted in their—no, his, she thought sadly—world. Still, she refused to believe him. Here, she would do things she desperately wanted to do. Not only would she live as a human, but she would feel as one, too.

The bedroom door swung open, saving her from replying. A small plastic bottle was tossed inside. It landed on the floor a few inches from Lysander’s sandaled feet.

“Here are the meds,” Torin called. The door shut before Olivia could work up another scream.

Aeron made to rise, but Olivia settled her weight more firmly atop him. “No,” she said, grimacing as another of those burning bolts struck her. “Stay.”

He could have pushed her aside, but didn’t. “I need to get the pills. They’ll help ease your pain.”

“Later,” she said. Now that they were touching, now that she felt the warmth of his body, wrapping around her, soothing her, she didn’t want to lose it. Even for a moment.

At first, she thought he would disregard her plea, but then he relaxed and tightened his hold on her. Olivia sighed with contentment and met Lysander’s hard gaze once more. He was scowling.

“This is why,” she told him. Cuddling wasn’t something angels did. They could have, if they’d so wanted, she supposed, but none ever had. Why would they? They were like brothers and sisters to each other, physical desire not part of their makeup.

“Why what?” Aeron asked, confused all over again.

“Why I like you,” she answered honestly.

He stiffened, but didn’t reply.

Eyes narrowed, Lysander spread his wings in one smooth jerk, the gold glistening in the moonlight. A single feather drifted to the floor. “I’ll leave you to your recovery, pet, but I will return. You don’t belong here. As the days pass, I have a feeling you, too, will realize that.”


THAT FIRST NIGHT, after Olivia finished her strange conversation with herself, she finally fell back asleep, once again moaning and groaning with her pain, thrashing and hurting herself further. The second night, the mutterings about demons began. Don’t touch me, you filthy wretch. Whimper, gag. Please, don’t touch me. The third night, a deathly stillness claimed her.

Aeron almost preferred the begging.Through it all, he mopped her brow, kept her company—even reading one of Paris’s romance novels to her, though she remained unaware—and forced liquids and crushed pills down her throat. He would not have her death on his conscience.

More than that, he wanted her out of his life—no matter how strongly his body reacted when he neared her. Or thought of her. He hadn’t lied. Once she was healed, she was gone. Because of how his body reacted.

Worse, the way his demon reacted. Not to her, but for her.

Punish, the demon said for the…what? Hundredth time? Punish the ones who hurt her. During Aeron’s blood-curse, the demon had spoken to him—in one-word commands—in addition to flashing violent images through his mind. For the past three days, though, extended speech was Wrath’s preferred method of communicating, and Aeron wasn’t quite used to it. Where was the peace Olivia elicited?

Also, he wasn’t sure what Olivia had been through when she’d been kicked from her home, and he couldn’t allow himself to find out. He might not be able to stop his demon from acting. Could barely stop the demon now. And if he knew the truth, he might not want to stop his demon. If ever there was a time to enjoy what Wrath could do…

Don’t think like that. Aeron didn’t want to soften toward Olivia any more than he already had, and he didn’t want her sinking deeper into his thoughts and decisions. His life had enough complications. And already she’d added more.

She wanted to have fun. As he’d assured her, fun wasn’t a word he was acquainted with, nor did he have time to learn. And he wasn’t disappointed about that. Truly.

She wanted to love. In no way was he right for that task. Romantic love wasn’t something he would ever bring to the table. Especially with someone as fragile as Olivia. And he wasn’t disappointed about that, either. Truly.

She wanted freedom. That he could give her. In town. If she would just get better, damn her!

She would get better, or by the gods he would finally unleash his demon, willingly and without restraint.

Punish. Punish the ones who hurt her.

Why did the demon like her? And Wrath had to like her. Nothing else explained the urge to strike at beings they hadn’t personally encountered. He’d had time to think about this, way too much time, yet no answers had materialized.

Aeron scrubbed a hand down his face. Because he refused to leave Olivia’s side, Lucien had had to continue seeing to Paris’s care and ensuring the warrior fed his own demon properly. Torin, in turn, had had to see to Aeron’s meals, bringing him trays of food throughout the day, but never staying to talk with him. If Olivia were to awaken and see the male… He didn’t relish a repeat of her earlier terror.

Unfortunately, the women of the house had learned of the angel’s presence and had descended en masse to welcome her. Not that he’d let them past the door. No telling how Olivia would react to them. Besides, none of them had known how to help the angel. He’d asked. Fine. He’d snarled.

Although he might have endured fits of terror from Olivia if it meant seeing her conscious again. Why the hell would she not awaken? And now, as still as she was… He rolled to his side, careful not to jostle her, and stared down at her. For the first time, she didn’t curl into him but remained as she was. Her skin was ghostly pale, her veins visible and garish. Her hair was a matted nest around her head. Her cheeks were hollowed out and her lips scabbed from where she’d chewed them.

Yet she was still beyond beautiful. Exquisite, even, in a protect-me-forever kind of way. So much so, his chest constricted at the sight of her. Not in guilt, but in a possessive need to be the one doing the protecting. A need that ran bone-deep.

She had to heal, and he had to get rid of her. Soon.

“At this rate, she’s going to die,” he snarled to the ceiling. Whether he was speaking to her One Deity or to the gods he knew, he wasn’t sure. “Is that what you want? One of your own to suffer unimaginably before perishing? You can save her.”

Look at you, he thought, disgusted with himself. Pleading for a life as the humans never do.

That didn’t stop him. “Why won’t you?”

The barest hint of a…growl? hit his ears. Aeron tensed. As he palmed one of the daggers he’d placed on his nightstand, his gaze zoomed through his bedroom. He and Olivia were alone. No godly being had appeared to chastise him for his impudent tone.

Slowly he relaxed. Lack of sleep was finally catching up with him, he supposed.

Night had long since fallen, moonlight shimmering through the windowed doors leading to his balcony. So peaceful was the sight, so fatigued was his body, he should have finally drifted into slumber. He didn’t. Couldn’t.

What would he do if Olivia died? Would he mourn her as Paris mourned his Sienna? Surely not. He didn’t know her. Most likely, he would feel guilt. Lots and lots of guilt. She had saved him, yet he wouldn’t have done the same for her.

You don’t deserve her.

The thought whispered through his head, and he blinked. It hadn’t belonged to Wrath, the timbre too low, too gravelly—and yet, somehow familiar. Had Sabin, keeper of Doubt, returned from Rome, attacking his self-confidence as was the warrior’s unintentional habit?

“Sabin,” he spat, just in case.

No response.

She’s too good for you.

This time, Wrath rumbled inside his head, prowling through his skull, suddenly agitated.

Not Sabin, then. One, Aeron hadn’t heard Sabin return and, two, he knew the warrior wasn’t due to arrive for another few weeks. Plus, there was no gleeful undertone to these doubts, and Sabin’s demon found great joy in the spreading of its poison.

So, who did that leave? Who possessed the power to speak in his mind?

“Who’s there?” he demanded.

That does not matter. I am here to heal her.

Heal her? Aeron relaxed just a little. There was a ring of truth in the voice, just as there was in Olivia’s. Was this an angel? “Thank you.”

Save your thanks, demon.

Such anger from an angel? Probably not. Or was this a god, perhaps, answering his prayers? No, couldn’t be, Aeron decided. The gods enjoyed their fanfare and would have relished the opportunity to reveal themselves and demand gratitude. And if this were Olivia’s Deity, surely there would have been a hum of power in the air, at the very least. Instead, there was…nothing. Aeron sensed, smelled and felt nothing.