There was no flashing light as Cronus liked to employ when materializing, nor did time stop. One minute Aeron was alone, the next Legion was inside the circle. Simple, easy.
She collapsed to the floor, panting, sweat glistening on her scales.
“Legion.” He bent down and scooped her up, careful not to let a single grain of salt or sugar touch her. It would burn, she’d told him.
Wrath purred, happy again.
Immediately Legion snuggled into his arms. “Aeron. My Aeron.”
The action reminded him of Olivia. Sweet, beautiful Olivia, who was now with Kaia, a demented Harpy with a warped sense of humor, and Cameo, a ruthless killer with a tragic voice. He’d leave William and Paris, two unabashed sex addicts, out of the equation. Because if he didn’t, he would destroy Gilly’s apartment in a fit of rage. Rage, not jealousy, just to be clear. If they messed with the angel, they’d be inviting Lysander’s wrath—and it was that prospect, not the thought of Olivia being attracted to one of his friends, that infuriated him. Of course.
Gilly’s wall would look better with a few holes, he thought then. He’d be doing the girl a favor, helping her decorate.
Plus, as leery as Olivia was with others—anyone but himself, that was, not that he was proud about that—she might not be faring well. Even now she could be hiding, crying, praying for his return.
Surely Gilly’s couch would be more comfortable if it were sawed in two.
Harden your heart, as you so unflinchingly told Paris you could do. Olivia’s state of mind didn’t matter. Her tears didn’t matter. They couldn’t. Actually, they would help. She would leave the fortress that much faster.
Legion was the most important thing to him. The child he’d secretly wanted but had never been able to have. Not just because he’d never committed to a woman, but because he knew how weak babies could be. Becoming a father, something he’d never had himself, hadn’t been worth the agony of watching his own child wither and die.
With Legion, he didn’t have to worry. She would live forever.
“What’s wrong, precious girl?” he asked, carrying her to the couch and falling into its cushions. The scent of sulfur clung to her, and Wrath sighed, clearly homesick. Once his demon had hated that aroma. But now that the fiend knew the horrors of Pandora’s box, hell seemed like Paradise.
“They chassse me.” She rubbed her cheek against his pectoral, abrading skin, and purred. “Almost got me thisss time.”
Her forked tongue always caught on and prolonged her S’s, something he found endearing. When he’d first met her, she’d even spoken like a baby, using the wrong tenses and pronouns. At her request, they’d been working on her grammar, and he was very proud of her progress.
“You’re here now. You’re safe.” He rubbed the two little horns atop her head, knowing how sensitive they were and how much she liked it. “You don’t have to go back.”
“Not exactly,” he said, sidestepping the question for the moment.
They sat like that, silent, for several minutes, while she fought for control of her breathing. Finally, she calmed and the burning heat of her scales cooled. She sat up and that red gaze looked around.
“Thisss isssn’t home,” she said, confused.
Aeron scanned their surroundings, trying to see the place as she must. Furniture in a rainbow of colors: red, blue, green, purple and pink. A wood floor draped with a floral-print rug. Walls dripping with different-sized portraits of the heavens, gifts from Danika.
“We’re in Gilly’s apartment.”
“Pretty,” she said, the awe in her voice unmistakable.
Her sense of femininity had ceased surprising him. When he moved back to the fortress, he would give her a room of her own. A room she could decorate as she wished. He wasn’t sure how much more pink he could stand in his own.
“I’m glad you like it. We might be here awhile.”
“What?” Her awe was replaced by fury as she faced him. “You’re living with Gilly now? Isss ssshe… Doesss ssshe love you?”
Slowly she relaxed. “Okay, then, but I wanna go home now. I missss it.”
Me, too. “We can’t. The angel is there.”
Legion stiffened, fury returning. “Why isss ssshe there and not usss?”
Excellent question. “She’s going to help the others with the Hunters.”
“No. No. I help with Huntersss.”
“I know, I know.” She might be little, but she was fierce. And killing was a game to her. But she’d endured so much strife in her life that Aeron desired only peace for her now. He didn’t want to drag her into yet another battle. He wouldn’t.
She meant too much to him.
“We can be alone here,” he said.
“Fine.” Again, she relaxed against him. “We’ll stay, but I will help more than her.”
Or Olivia would lose her head. Warning received. Time to distract his little darling. “Want to play a game?”
Jumping up, grinning, she wound herself around his neck, slithering like a snake. “Yesss, yesss, yesss.”
Always ready to play, his Legion. Despite her improved speech, she hadn’t lost her childlike needs. “Pick something. Whatever you want.” He reached up to pet her, and his gaze fell to his arm. There was a single patch of bare skin on his wrist. He should have a snake tattooed there, to remind him of Legion. A tattoo to remind him of the good in his life, rather than the bad.
Yes, he liked that idea.
“I want to play…Clothes Optional.”
Also known as Shred Everything Aeron Wore. “Maybe pick something else. What about Beauty Shop, like we played a week ago? You can paint my nails.”
“Yeah!” Legion clapped, her excitement palpable. “I’ll go get Gilly’ssss polisssh.” Off she raced, disappearing around the corner.
“Gilly’s room is the last one on the right,” he called. He would spend an hour or two indulging her and then he would patrol the city for any sign of Hunters, as well as Shadow Girl. After what Legion had endured in hell, he owed her a little recreation, damn his duties.
Owed. The single word blasted through his head, and he cursed. He also owed Paris.
Even though he’d claimed he wouldn’t return to the fortress until Olivia was gone, he had to take care of Paris. That wasn’t a duty he would relinquish for any reason, yet he’d already allowed Lucien to see to Paris’s needs for the last three days. He sighed, disappointed in himself. Just because Lucien had taken the warrior into town didn’t mean Paris had picked anyone.
And while Paris might have slept with Kaia the other night, the strength he’d derived from it wouldn’t last long. Despite his smiles, he’d looked fatigued at breakfast. As Aeron had learned, fatigue was the first sign of trouble.
Aeron was willing to bet the warrior hadn’t been with anyone since Kaia. And that just wouldn’t do.
Legion skipped back into the living room, holding a plastic purple case and grinning widely. “Your nails will look like rainbowsss when I’m done.”
Rainbow. He supposed that was better than the bright pink flares she’d made them last time. “I’m sorry, baby, but our game will have to wait. I need to go back to the fortress and take care of something, which means I need you to stay here.”
The case fell to the floor with a crash. “No!”
“I won’t be gone long.”
“No! You ssssumoned me. You sssaid you’d play.”
“But if Gilly returns before I do,” he continued, as if she hadn’t spoken, “please, please, please don’t try and play with her. All right?” The human wouldn’t survive. “I just have to grab something.” Or rather, someone. “Be a good girl and wait for me.”
Legion stalked to him. She flattened her hands on his chest, her claws slicing past his skin, drawing beads of blood. “I’ll go, too.”
“You can’t, baby. Remember?” He reached up and scratched her behind the ears. “The angel is there. She’s lost her wings and is now visible, but that doesn’t make her any less dangerous to you. She—”
The little demon jumped up and perched in his lap, staring up at him. Already big eyes widened. “Ssshe doesssn’t have wingsss no more?”
“No. She doesn’t.”
“Ssshe’sss fallen, then?”
Once again, Legion clapped happily. “I heard an angel had fallen, but I didn’t know it wasss her. I could have helped them hurt her! But I can fix that. I can snatch my home from her now. I can kill her.”
“No,” he said, more fiercely than he’d intended.
Even Wrath reacted fiercely, growling inside his head, snapping at Legion for the first time.
Because his demon wanted to be the one to destroy the angel? No. Aeron shook his head. That made no sense, considering Wrath’s earlier desire for “more.” Perhaps the demon didn’t want her destroyed by anyone. A suspicion that still made no sense, but was a better fit.
Why did the demon like her?
Later. Aeron cupped Legion’s chin and forced her to keep her attention on him so that he would know she was not already daydreaming about the killing. “Focus on me, baby. Good. Now. You can’t hurt the angel.”
Legion blinked up at him. “I can! I’m ssstrong enough, I promissse.”
“I know you can, but I don’t want you to. She was supposed to hurt me but didn’t.” Instead, she’d given up everything for him.
Why? he wondered for the thousandth time. What kind of person did that? He’d scoffed at her earlier when she’d reminded him of her sacrifice, but truly, he was fascinated and confused. And humbled.
She didn’t know him. Or maybe she did, since she’d followed him for weeks—but that made her decision all the more bizarre. More than that, he wasn’t worth saving. Not to an angel, all that was good and right and perfect. And certainly not to a woman whom he would never allow himself to have.