Now, though, he didn’t think he’d be able to help himself. And he wouldn’t be able to blame his demon, either. There were no vile images flashing through his mind, no desire to punish a sinner. There was just more of that blinding rage.

You don’t care about this woman. You’re getting rid of her at the first opportunity, he reminded himself, even as he scooped her up. Her sobs intensified, and she tried to hold on to Gideon.

Aeron shook her loose. “Gideon! Answer me. What happened? What did you do to her?”

“Everything. She’s just a very happy drunk.” Gideon gave him an unapologetic grin.

Pure, sweet Olivia drunk? Worse, someone other than Aeron had corrupted her?

Rage, yes. The dark emotion spread. Surprise, as well. And a jealousy he could no longer deny.

“Oh, Aeron,” Olivia said between gasping hiccups, finally deciding to seek comfort from him rather than his friend. “It’s so terrible. I have no wings and you’re determined to kick me into the streets, alone and desperate. Legion was so mean, and for a few minutes, I was angry. I’ve never been angry before. Not really. I didn’t like it. And I know so much and could help you more than you realize, but you don’t want my help. Maybe Lysander was right. Maybe I need to go home.”

He recalled how bloody she’d been when he’d found her, those wings freshly removed. He recalled how much pain she’d been in when Legion had bitten her. Guilt replaced every other emotion inside him. He should—Wait. Go home?

“You can go back?” he asked her, astonished.

“Mmm-hmm.” Sniff, sniff. “In fourteen…no, ten days. I’m losing count. You told me I was sick for three, right? But if I do return, I’ll be forced to kill you. That’s the only way they’ll welcome me back into their fold.”

So if she returned home, she’d still have to kill him. Or try to. He could live with that. Hopefully literally. She would be out of reach, away from his dark influence and hurtful urges, safe from harm.

“I can take care of myself, Olivia,” he said, and she burst into a fresh round of sobs.

“You shouldn’t always have to, Aeron. Someone needs to protect you the way you always protect others.”

This was how she would kill him, he mused. Through tears and kindness. Already there was a sharp pang in his chest. He’d always been the protector, the one to keep others safe. That someone else wanted to care for him was nearly irresistible. “Get some rest,” he told the still-grinning Gideon before striding out of the room.

That’s when he heard Wrath moaning in his head, as upset as Olivia was. Mine. Hurt. Better.

I’m doing my best. “I may not be able to fix anything you listed, but if you finally tell me what the demons did to you, I can make that better. Remember how?”

Olivia rubbed her forehead against his slightly stubbled jaw. “With a kiss.”

“Yes.” His grip tightened. Gods, he was a giver. “Tell me.”

Sniff, sniff. “No. I don’t want to.”

“Did you tell Gideon?”


So. Even drunk, there was no chance she’d spill. He could have pushed, but didn’t. No more tears. Please, gods, no more tears.

Inside his bedroom, he eased her onto the mattress. She peered up at him, her eyeballs practically spinning. “Do you wanna have sex now?” she asked, then hiccupped. “I think I gave my panties to Gideon, so I’m good to go.”

“You gave your panties to Gideon? And he accepted them?” Incredulous, Aeron fought the urge to check under her skirt, then fought the even stronger urge to return to Gideon’s room and finally attack.

“I did, and he did. So are we going to do this or not?”

Sadly, he was tempted. Even with her swollen eyes and splotchy skin, she looked enchanting—and beddable. His body still craved her, and no one had ever needed comforting more. Not that he knew how to comfort anyone. But she deserved better than a drunken first time.

“Go to sleep, Olivia. In the morning—” at which point she—and he?—only had nine days before he ensured she returned home “—we have a lot to discuss.”


LEGION BATTLED TEARS as she raced through the fires and screams of hell. Once her home, now her hated refuge. She was on all fours, galloping like a lowly animal, a position she knew well. It kept her close to the ground, beneath notice, and increased her speed. Plus, it was the only position allowed for someone like her. Were she to stand and walk, every High Lord within reach would feel compelled to punish her for such impudence.

And speaking of High Lords, they were all around her, torturing the human souls that had been sent here to forever rot. They were laughing, loving every bit of the blood and the pain and the vomit.Aeron didn’t care that she was here, a place he knew she despised, either. Not anymore. How could he? He had protected the angel. Her enemy. He had then saved and, worse, comforted that angel.

Why? Why hadn’t he tried to protect Legion? Why hadn’t he saved and comforted her? The tears began to fall, and laced with poison as they were, they stung her scales.

When she reached a hidden alcove of shadow and stone, she stopped, stood and pressed her back against a jagged, blood-splattered wall. She was having trouble catching her breath, and her heart—which was now broken in half, damn that Aeron—pounded sharply.

The long length of her forked tongue emerged, and she wiped away a few of the tears. While the tart poison would have sent anyone else to their knees, sobbing and begging for mercy, it merely stung anew. So badly she’d wanted the angel to die from that poison, but it hadn’t happened. Aeron had been too determined to save her, and what Aeron wanted, Aeron found a way to get. Always.

What was she going to do? The first time she’d seen Aeron, chained and hungry for blood, she’d loved him. He’d been fighting that hunger, had even hated himself for it, and never before had she encountered anyone who preferred to save rather than destroy. She’d thought, He can save me.

In a mere heartbeat of time, she’d decided to live with Aeron. To marry him. To sleep in his bed every night and wake up next to him every morning. Instead, he’d had his friend Maddox build her a bed of her own. Still, she’d wanted to be everything to him. Had known all she needed was time.

Yet time was not a luxury she had anymore. She couldn’t return to their home because he’d invited the angel to stay. That stupid, ugly angel, with her long curly hair and cloud-pale skin. Legion—and every demon, really—couldn’t remain in the presence of such goodness for long. It hurt. Truly hurt. Somehow eroding everything they were, destroying them little by little.

Aeron didn’t hurt, though, she thought darkly. How could he? He’d welcomed the bitch. Maybe Wrath had lived among humans for too long to react to the angel as a normal demon should. Maybe Wrath was buried too deeply inside Aeron.

Either way, Aeron should have cared about Legion’s pain. But he hadn’t. Just like he no longer cared about her. He’d sent her away.

“What’s wrong, sweet child?”

Legion gasped at the sudden intrusion, peering wide-eyed at the newcomer. She hadn’t heard him approach, yet he was now in front of her, as if he’d simply materialized. Or had been waiting, invisible, all along.

A tremor rolled down her spine. She would have scrambled away, but the rock behind her stopped her. Bad, bad, bad. This was so bad. A visit she couldn’t hope to survive.

“Leave me alone!” she managed to work past the sudden lump in her throat. A lump that held a thousand whimpers.

“Do you know me?” he asked smoothly, completely unoffended. Or seemingly so.

Oh, yes. She knew him. Hence the whimpers. He was Lucifer, brother to Hades and the prince of most demons. He was evil. True, undiluted evil.

Sweet child, he’d called her. Ha! He would stab her in the back the moment she turned away from him and laugh while doing so. Just for “funsies,” as Anya would say. She swallowed.

“Well?” He snapped his fingers and in the next instant, they both stood in the center of his throne room. Rather than stone and mortar, the walls of Lucifer’s palace were composed of crackling flames. “It’s a simple question. Do. You. Know. Me?”

“I—I do. Yesss.” Legion had been here only twice before, but the first time, during her birth into this realm, had been enough to convince her that she never wanted to return. The second time, she was brought here for punishment. Punishment she’d earned for refusing to torture a human soul.

“Concentrate,” Lucifer snapped.

She blinked and forced herself to focus. Plumes of black smoke wafted from the floor, the walls, even the throne atop the dais, curling around her like fingers of the damned. There were screams trapped inside those plumes, and those screams taunted her.

So ugly, they said.

So stupid.

So unnecessary.

Unwanted. Undesired.

“I asked you another question, Legion. You will answer.”

Though she wanted to look anywhere but at him, she forced her gaze to meet his. Lucifer was tall, with shiny black hair and orange-gold eyes. He was muscled, like Aeron, and handsome—but not as handsome as Aeron—despite the inferno always banked in his expression.

What had he asked? Oh, yeah. What was wrong with her? “I—” What should she tell him? A lie, definitely, but something he would believe. “I jussst wanted to play a game.”

“A game, hmm?” His lips curled slowly, wickedly as he strolled around her, closing in, studying, taking her measure and clearly finding her lacking. “I have a better idea.”

The heat of his breath somehow reached the back of her neck, and she shuddered. At least he didn’t stab her as she’d feared. “Yesss?”

“We shall bargain, you and I.”

Her stomach twisted into cutting knots. His bargains were notorious, for they always ended in his favor. That’s how he’d escaped hell for a year to live unfettered on Earth. He’d bargained with the goddess of Oppression, the very one responsible for ensuring the walls surrounding this underground prison were solid, impenetrable. The one who had allowed many demon High Lords to escape. The one who had then died, her bones used to construct Pandora’s box.