Guilt, she thought again. Even then, he had carried massive amounts of it. He had enjoyed hurting those who’d hurt others, and had most likely considered himself just as evil as they were.

Before he died, before she died, she would teach him otherwise. He wasn’t evil. He was a protector. No wonder the thought of her death troubled him. In his eyes, he would have failed to protect her. The sweet, darling man.

“Please, go on,” she beseeched.

Gideon nodded. “All those deaths never affected him, making him see fatality around every corner. And then, when our hated enemy, Baden, was not decapitated, Aeron saw that immortals could live forever. That didn’t freak him out.”

Okay, so. The deaths he’d brought about in the line of duty had given him a healthy appreciation for mortality, especially when his dear friend was decapitated. Now, he expected everyone around him to die, knowing there was nothing he could do to stop it—nothing he could do to protect them, as she’d just figured out.

To a man who valued strength and power, that helplessness had to bother him greatly. That must be why he kept himself so distanced from everyone but Legion. The fewer people he cared about, the fewer people he had to worry about saving.

So how had Legion snuck her way past his defenses?

More than that, how had Legion escaped his demon’s need to reprimand? The little fiend had hardly lived a blameless life. Look what the creature had done to innocent Olivia.

“As for Legion,” Gideon said, seeming to read her thoughts. “I think Aeron has never secretly craved a family of his own, and Legion doesn’t give him that.”

So. Aeron had secretly wanted a family—just as she had—and Legion provided that for him. Somewhat. I could become his family, as well, Olivia thought. Not that she wanted to be Legion’s stepmother, but for the pleasure of staying with Aeron, she could endure even so heinous a title.

“I don’t see the eagerness in your eyes, angel, and I’m very glad for it. You should know that, even in the heavens, he preferred wild women, and I can sense that, at heart, you’re as wild as can be—no matter that you clearly haven’t convinced yourself otherwise. Though Aeron thinks that’s what he wants, I assure you, it’s not what he needs.”

Oh…no, she thought, suddenly dejected. Aeron preferred tame women, but Gideon thought he needed someone wild. Gideon also thought that, no matter what Olivia did or said, she wasn’t wild at heart and would never be.

“Why are you warning me away? Only a few minutes ago, you told me how to seduce him.”

“My girl Aeron doesn’t deserve a little torment now and then.”

Oh. A little entertainment. That’s what Gideon considered her.

He was wrong. Maybe she’d been gentle before—or had pretended to be—but the more time she spent in this fortress, the more she was learning about herself.

Gentleness was what she’d had her entire life. Lysander had been gentle with her. The other angels had been gentle with her. She’d been gentle with them.

In Aeron’s arms, she’d come alive with sensation. She’d wanted more, wanted harder and chaotic, control unattainable. She’d wanted wild. A few times, he’d tried to slow things down. He’d tried to soften his touch, proving Gideon’s claim that he preferred gentle. Or thought he did.

He did beg you to fondle his wings, she reminded herself, and that fondling had been anything but tender.

Still. He hadn’t wanted her to pierce her navel. What would he think when she actually did it? When she got a tattoo, as she also planned to do? Maybe of a butterfly. Would he no longer even want to kiss her?

“This conversation has officially depressed me,” she said. “Not that I didn’t enjoy talking with you. You gave me the details I begged for, and I’m grateful, but I think I’ll read to you now, if that’s okay. I need a distraction before I head to the kitchen and try out every bottle in the liquor cabinet.” That’s what many humans did when they were given news they didn’t like.

“Not like we can do both,” he said, and motioned to an array of bottles atop his dresser.

“Really?” Eager, Olivia pushed to her feet, crossed the room and swiped up as many of the fuller bottles as she could hold. The liquid swished inside, different scents drifting to her nose. Apples, pears, lemons. Dark spice. “Giggle juice is what I’ve always called it,” she said, “and I’ve always wanted to try it.”

“Now’s not your chance. Don’t you dare pour any down my throat.”

“That would be my pleasure.” After tipping one bottle over Gideon’s lips while he gulped back mouthful after mouthful, then draining the rest of the contents herself and nearly choking—it didn’t taste as wonderful as she’d hoped—she reclaimed her seat and flipped open the book, unmindful of the page.

The words blurred slightly.

“‘She gripped her breasts and squeezed,’” she read. Interesting. “‘Just as he had done earlier. Her nipples throbbed all the more, wanting his hands. A whimper escaped her. Normally she would have hated herself for making such a sound, but now, this moment, she was owned by her passion.’”

I know the feeling, Olivia thought. Sadly, she might not know it again.

She started on another bottle.

AERON PUSHED HIS WAY INSIDE the fortress, his hands drawn into tight fists. He didn’t look around or head to the kitchen even though he was starved. He started pounding up the steps.

“Where’re you going?” Cameo asked, keeping pace beside him.“To find Olivia.” To question her. He wouldn’t kiss her as he’d been craving these past few hours, thinking about her rather than searching for Nightmares. Worrying that he was becoming obsessed with her in the same way he’d once been obsessed with killing Danika.

Only, he didn’t want to kill Olivia.

He wanted to finally finish what they’d started in his bed. Yes, they’d both come, but he hadn’t sunk inside her. He hadn’t taken her all the way.

Still. He’d already soiled her, he’d decided, by spilling his seed on her belly. He’d already earned Lysander’s wrath. Not that he cared anymore. Not that the angel had come gunning for him yet. So what other harm could making love to her cause?

Just like that, his focus switched. Rather than question her when he found her, he’d strip her. There you go again. Thinking about her rather than taking care of business.

Didn’t help that his demon had yet to shut up. If he heard the word more one more time, he was going to erupt in a blood-craze all his own.

Concentrate. Question her. Yes. That’s what he’d do. No stripping her. Unless her clothes were too tight, then he would be doing her a favor, removing them and helping her breathe.

Concentrate, damn you. Question. Her. She’d predicted that he would be unable to find Shadow Girl. Nightmares. Scarlet. Whatever. And she’d been right. How had she known the girl would seemingly vanish without a trace?

Looked like he needed her, after all, he thought with a scowl. That didn’t mean he’d keep her, though. Definitely not. Strip her, however…

He punched the wall.

“Wow. You like her that much?” Cameo said, incredulous. “I mean, I know you’re fooling around with her, but I’ve never seen you this keyed up over a woman.”

“I don’t want to talk about her.”

“Fine. Don’t.”

“But if you insist…I don’t understand her and it’s driving me insane.” He rarely shared his problems with his friends. They had enough to deal with. But just then, he didn’t know what else to do. He needed help. Before he lost himself completely.

At the landing, he stopped and Cameo did the same. He scrubbed a hand down his face. “She’s making me feel things I’ve never felt before and want things I’ve never wanted before. Cronus has to be teaching me a lesson. That’s the only explanation for her effect on me.” No other woman had ever come close to tying him up like this. “I never should have dared the god king to send me a female I would chase. Except I’ve hardly had to chase her, so she can’t be the one Cronus sent to me. Gods, this makes no sense. Something has to be wrong with me.”

Cameo patted his shoulder, her expression understanding even through the misery etched there. She opened her mouth to respond, but an echoing feminine sob stopped her.

They shared a confused look before Aeron kicked back into motion. He recognized that rich, sexy timbre, even in its sadness, but the sound hadn’t come from his room, or the one next to it.

Masculine laughter abounded next, and he scowled. Gideon. Laughing. That should thrill him, with as much pain as Gideon had recently endured. Thrilled was not what he felt, however.

Aeron rushed around the corner and into his friend’s bedroom. There was Olivia, lying directly beside Gideon, her head buried in his shoulder as her body shook. Gideon, the insensitive prick, was still laughing.

“What’s going on?” he demanded, rushing forward. And no, it wasn’t jealousy pouring through his veins like fire. It was rage. Rage that Olivia was bothering his injured friend. Yes. Rage. At Olivia. He didn’t want to stab Gideon in the heart with one of his daggers. “Someone better explain before I do something we’ll all regret.”

Mine, his demon growled.

Better than “more,” he supposed.

“Aeron?” Olivia met his gaze briefly before turning her watery eyes away from him. She even reached up and wound her arms around Gideon’s neck, holding on for dear life. Her tears soaked his shirt, her body again shaking violently. “Oh, great. Now he’s angry.”

“If you hurt her…” Aeron snarled. Okay, fine. He wanted to stab Gideon.

He’d never purposely hurt one of his friends. Had he fought them? Yes. Bashing each other’s heads into walls was merely a healthy way of blowing off steam. But Sabin had once stabbed him in the back—literally—not to blow off steam but in real anger, and he’d vowed never to make his friends feel that kind of betrayal.