- The Darkest Passion
Hunters had been known to use beautiful human females to lure the Lords out into the open, distract them and capture them for torture. This one certainly seemed to meet the criteria, possessing long wavy hair the color of chocolate, skin as pale as a cloud and a curved, ethereal body. Aeron couldn’t make out her facial features just yet, but he would bet they were exquisite.
His wings unfolded from their slits as he answered, “Maybe.” Damn Hunters and their perfect timing. Half his friends were gone. They’d traveled to Rome to search the Temple of the Unspoken Ones, ruins that had recently risen from the sea. They hoped to find anything that would lead them to missing godly artifacts. Four artifacts that, when used together, would then lead to the location of Pandora’s box.
Hunters hoped to use that box to lock the demons back inside, destroying the Lords since man could no longer live without demon. The Lords simply hoped to demolish it.
“There are trip wires out there.” The more Paris spoke, the more Aeron noticed a tremor in his tone. Because of Shadow Girl, as Paris had called her, there hadn’t been time for him to bed anyone in town, so his strength must be draining. “If she’s not careful… Even if she is Bait, she doesn’t deserve to die like that.”
Paris fisted the balcony railing and leaned down for a better look. “Why’s she calling for you?”
And why was she using his name with such familiarity? “If she’s Bait, Hunters are probably out there right now, lying in wait for me. I’ll try and help her and they’ll attack.”
Paris straightened, face suddenly bathed in moon-light. Bruises had formed under his eyes. “I’ll get the others, and we’ll take care of her. Of them.” He was off before Aeron could reply, striding out of the bedroom, boots thumping against the stone floor.
Aeron kept his focus on the girl. As she continued to race upward, closer and closer to him, he realized the white cloth draping her was actually a robe. And the back of it, which he hadn’t been able to see before, was bright red.
She wasn’t wearing shoes, and when her bare toe slammed into a rock, she fell, that mass of chocolate hair cascading around her face. There were flowers woven through the curls, some of the petals missing. There were also twigs, but he didn’t think she’d placed those there intentionally. Her hands were shaking as she reached up and pushed the strands away.
Finally, her features came into view and every muscle in his body jumped, tensed. She was exquisite, just as he’d supposed. Even splotchy and swollen from tears as she was. She had huge sky-blue eyes, a perfectly sloped nose, perfectly sculpted cheeks and jaw, both just a little rounded, and perfect lips that formed a lush heart.
He’d never met her before, he would have remembered, but suddenly there was something almost…familiar about her.
She lumbered to a stand, grimacing and groaning, then started forward. Once again, she fell. A pained sob escaped her, but still she persisted, rising, edging toward the fortress. Bait or not, such determination was admirable.
Somehow she managed to dodge all the traps, weaving around them as if she knew where they were, but when she hit another rock and tumbled to the ground for a third time, she stayed down, shuddering, crying.
His eyes widened as he studied her back. The red…Was that…blood? Fresh, still wet? The metallic tang of it drifted on the breeze and reached Aeron’s nostrils, confirming his suspicions. Oh, yes. It was.
Hers? Or someone else’s?
“Aeron.” No longer a scream, but a pathetic wail. “Help me.”
His wings expanded before he could think things through. Yes, Hunters would purposely injure Bait before sending her into the lions’ den, hoping to gain sympathy from the target. Yes, he’d probably end up with arrows and bullets in his back—again—but he wasn’t going to leave her out there, injured and vulnerable. Wasn’t going to allow his friends to risk their lives to save—or destroy—his little visitor.
Why me? he wondered as he shot from the balcony. Up, up he soared before falling toward her. He zigzagged to make himself less of a mark, but no arrows whizzed by and no gunshots sounded. Still, rather than land beside her, he increased his speed, reached out his arms and scooped her up without ever slowing his pace.
Perhaps she was afraid of heights and that was the reason for her sudden stiffening. Perhaps she’d expected him to be killed before ever reaching her and, when he’d actually managed to latch onto her, had stiffened from terror. Either way, he didn’t care. He’d done what he’d set out to do. He had her.
She began flailing weakly against his hold, grunting in shock and pain. “Don’t touch me! Let me go! Let me go, or I swear to—”
“Be still, or by the gods, I will drop you.” He had her by the stomach, her face aimed toward the ground. That way, she could see just how far she would fall.
“Aeron?” She craned her neck to see him. The moment their gazes connected, she relaxed. Even smiled slowly. “Aeron,” she repeated on a sigh of pleasure. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come.”
That pleasure, undiluted and untouched by malice, surprised—and confused—him. Women never looked at him like that. “Your fear was misplaced. You should have feared I would come.”
Her smile faded.
Better. The only thing that disturbed him now was the radio silence from his demon. As with Shadow Girl, images and urges should have bombarded him by now. Worry about it later.
Continuing to zigzag, he flew into his bedroom, not stopping on the balcony as usual. He needed cover as quickly as possible. Just in case. Except, just as he was retracting his wings, they slammed into both sides of the doorway and fire rushed from the tips to the arches.
Aeron ignored the pain as he skidded to his feet. When he righted himself, he strode to the bed and gently laid his charge atop the mattress, facedown. He ran a fingertip along the ridge of her spine and her heart-shaped lips parted on an agonized groan. He’d hoped she’d been doused with someone else’s blood, but no. Her injuries were real.
The knowledge wouldn’t soften him. She’d probably inflicted the damage herself—or allowed the Hunters to do it—just for the sympathy it would evoke. No sympathy from me. Only irritation. As he stomped to his closet, he drew his wings into his back, but broken as they now were, they wouldn’t fit under their flaps. That only increased his irritation with her.
He didn’t have rope and didn’t want to leave the room to find some, so he grabbed two of the neckties Ashlyn had given him in case he ever wanted to “dress up.” He returned to the bed.
Her cheek pressed into the mattress, her gaze tracking his every move, as if she couldn’t help but peer at him—and not in revulsion as most females did. She watched him with something akin to desire.
An act, surely.
And yet, that desire…there was something familiar about it. Something unsettling. That’s what he’d noticed earlier, he thought. When she’d called his name, that same desire had been evident and deep down, he’d known he’d encountered it before. When? Where?
He continued to stare down at her, and Wrath—was still silent, he realized. This was (supposedly) the first time he’d ever been in her presence, yet his demon still wasn’t flashing her sins through his mind. That was odd. Had happened only once before. With Legion. Why, he’d never figured out. Gods knew his baby girl had sinned.
So why was it happening again? With possible Bait, no less?
This woman, had she never sinned? Had she never said an unkind word to another? Never purposely tripped someone or stolen something as simple as a piece of candy? Those pure, sky eyes said no. Or, like Legion, had she sinned but for whatever reason, flew under Wrath’s radar?
“Who are you?” His fingers wrapped around one of her fragile wrists—mmm, warm, smooth skin—and anchored it to a bedpost with the tie. He repeated the action with her other wrist.
Not once did she protest. It was as if she’d expected—and already accepted—that she would receive such treatment. “My name is Olivia.”
Olivia. A pretty name. Fitting. Delicate. Actually, the only thing that wasn’t delicate about her was her voice. Layer after layer of…what was that? The only word he could think to describe it was honesty, and so much drifted from her, he was knocked backward.
That voice had never told a lie, he would bet. It couldn’t have.
“What are you doing here, Olivia?”
“I’m here…I’m here for you.”
Again, that truth…it was a force that flowed into his ears, through his body, and sent him staggering. There wasn’t room for doubts. Not a single one. He was simply compelled to believe her.
Sabin, keeper of Doubt, would have loved her. Nothing pleased the warrior’s demon more than tearing down another’s confidence.
“Are you Bait?”
Again, he believed her; he had no choice. “Are you here to kill me?” He straightened and crossed his arms over his chest, glaring down at her, waiting.
He knew how fierce he looked, but again, she didn’t react as females usually did: trembling, cowering, crying. She fluttered her long, black lashes at him, seemingly hurt that he’d maligned her character.
“No, of course not.” She paused. “Well, not anymore.”
Not anymore? “So. At one time, you meant to slay me?”
“I was once sent to do so, yes.”
Such honesty… “By whom?”
“At first, I was sent by the One True Deity to merely watch you. I didn’t mean to scare your little friend away. I was only trying to do my job.” Fresh tears filled her eyes, turning those beautiful blue irises into pools of remorse.
No softening. “Who is the One True Deity?”
Pure love lit her expression, momentarily chasing away that sheen of pain. “Deity of you, Deity of me. Far more powerful than your gods, though mostly content to remain in the shadows, and so rarely acknowledged. Father to humans. Father to…angels. Like me.”