- The Darkest Passion
Angels. Like me. As the words echoed in his head, Aeron’s eyes widened. No wonder his demon couldn’t sense any wickedness in her. No wonder her gaze felt familiar to him. She was an angel. The angel, actually. The one sent to kill him, by her own admission. Though she didn’t plan to end him “anymore.” Why?
And did it matter? This delicate creature had been, at one point, his appointed executioner.
Suddenly he wanted to laugh. As if she could have overpowered him.
You couldn’t see her. Would you truly have been able to stop her, had she gone for your head?
The thought hit him and he lost his amusement. She was the one who had been watching him these many weeks. She was the one who had followed him, unseen, driving a pained Legion away.
Which begged the question of why Wrath wasn’t reacting as Legion always did. With fear and even physical agony. Perhaps the angel controlled which demons sensed her, he considered. That would certainly be a handy ability to possess, keeping her intended victims ignorant of her presence—and intentions.
He waited for brutal rage to fill him. Rage he’d promised to unleash on this creature time and time again should she ever reveal herself. When the rage failed to appear, he waited for resolve. He must protect his friends at any cost.
But that, too, remained hopelessly out of reach. What he got instead? Confusion.
“The angel who has been watching you, yes,” she said, confirming his suspicions. “Or rather, I was an angel.” Her eyelids sealed shut, tears catching in her lashes. Her chin trembled. “Now I’m nothing.”
Though he believed her—how could he not? That voice… Seriously, he wanted to doubt her about something, anything, but couldn’t manage it—Aeron extended a shaky hand. What are you, a child? Man up.
Scowling at his display of weakness, he steadied his hand and flipped away her hair, careful not to touch her injured skin. He pinched the scooped neck of her robe and gently tugged. The soft material ripped easily, revealing the expanse of her back.
Once again, his eyes widened. Between her shoulder blades, where wings should have protruded, were two long grooves of broken skin, tendons torn to the spine, ripped muscle and even a peek at bone. They were savage wounds, violent and unmerciful, blood still seeping from them. He’d had his own wings forcibly removed once, and it had been the most painful injury of his very long life.
“What happened?” The hoarseness of his voice threw him.
“I’ve fallen,” she rasped, shame dripping from her tone. She buried her face in the pillow. “I’m angel no more.”
“Why?” Never having encountered an angel before—well, besides Lysander, but that bastard didn’t count because he refused to speak to the Lords about anything of importance—Aeron didn’t know much about them. He only knew what Legion had told him, and of course, there was a very good chance her recounting had been colored by her hatred of them. Nothing she’d described fit with the female on his bed.
Angels, Legion had said, were emotionless, soulless creatures with only one purpose: the destruction of their darker counterpart, the demons. She’d also claimed that, every so often, an angel would succumb to the lures of the flesh, intrigued by the very beings he—or she—was supposed to loathe. That angel would then be kicked straight into hell, where the demons she had once defeated were finally allowed a little vengeance.
Was that what had happened to this one? Aeron wondered. A trip to hell, where demons had tormented her? Possible.
Should he untie her? Her eyes…so guileless, so innocent. Now they said help me. And save me.
But most of all, they said hold me and never let go.
He’d been tricked by such innocence before, he thought, stopping himself before he could act. Baden had been tricked, as well, and had died for it.
A smart man would learn a little more about this woman first, he decided.
“Who took your wings?” The question emerged as a gruff bark, and he nodded in satisfaction.
She gulped, shuddered. “Once I was cast—”
“Aeron, you stupid shit,” a male voice said, hushing her. “Tell me you didn’t—” Paris stalked into his bedroom, but ground to a halt when he spotted Olivia. His eyes narrowed, and he ran his tongue over his teeth. “So. It’s true. You really flew out there and grabbed her.”
Olivia stiffened, keeping her face hidden from view. Her shoulders began shaking as if she were sobbing. Was she finally scared? Now?
Why? Women adored Paris.
Concentrate. Aeron didn’t have to ask how Paris knew what he’d done. Torin, keeper of the demon of Disease, monitored the fortress and the hill it sat upon twenty-eight hours a day, nine days a week (or so it seemed). “I thought you were gathering the others.”
“Torin texted me, and I went to him first.”
“And what did he tell you about her?”
“Hallway,” his friend said, motioning to the door with a tilt of his chin.
Aeron shook his head. “We can discuss her here. She’s not Bait.”
Another swipe of his tongue over his straight, white teeth. “And I thought I was stupid when it came to females. How do you know what she is? Did she tell you and you couldn’t help but believe her?” His tone was sneering.
“She’s an angel, despot. The one who’s been watching me.”
That wiped the scorn from Paris’s expression. “An actual angel? From heaven?”
Very slowly, Paris looked her over. Female connoisseur that he was—or used to be—he probably knew everything about her body by the time he was done. The size of her breasts, the flare of her hips, the exact length of her legs. That did not annoy Aeron. She meant nothing to him. Nothing but trouble.
“Whatever she is,” Paris said, far less angry than he’d been, “it doesn’t mean she’s not working with our enemy. Need I remind you that Galen, the world’s biggest blowhard, says he’s an angel?”
“Yeah, but he’s lying.”
“And she can’t be?”
Aeron scrubbed a hand down his suddenly tired face. “Olivia. Are you working with Galen to harm us?”
“No,” she mumbled, and Paris stumbled backward, just as Aeron had done, clutching his chest.
“My gods,” his friend gasped. “That voice…”
“She’s not Bait, and she’s not helping Galen.” A statement of fact from Paris now.
“I know,” Aeron repeated.
Paris shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. “Still. Lucien will want to search the hill for Hunters. Just in case.”
One of the many reasons Aeron had always followed Lucien. The warrior was smart and cautious. “When he finishes, call a meeting with whoever’s here and tell them about the other woman. The one from the alley.”
Paris nodded and suddenly there was a sparkle in his blue eyes. “Quite an evening you’ve had so far, huh? I wonder who else you’ll meet tonight.”
“Gods help me if there’s another,” he muttered.
“You shouldn’t have challenged Cronus, my friend.”
Aeron’s stomach clenched as his gaze swung back to the angel. Had the god king actually answered his dare? Was Olivia to be the one who led him for a merry chase? His heart was pounding, he realized, and his blood was heating.
He ground his teeth. Didn’t matter whether she was or not. She could try to tempt him, but even she, with her fall of chocolate hair, baby blues and heart-shaped lips, would fail to do so.
“I don’t regret my words.” Truth or lie, he didn’t know. He hadn’t thought Cronus had any power over the angels. So how then would the god king have sent her here? Or was he not responsible? Perhaps Aeron was mistaken and Cronus had nothing to do with this.
Again, it didn’t matter. Not only would the angel fail to tempt him, he would ensure she left before she had time to cause a single moment of concern.
“Just so you know,” Paris said, “Torin saw this one on the hill with his hidden cameras. Said she dug her way out of the ground.”
Out of the ground. Did that mean she had been tossed into hell, and had then been forced to claw her way free? He couldn’t picture the fragile-looking female doing such a thing—and surviving, that is. But then he recalled the determination she’d displayed while running toward the fortress. Maybe.
“Is that true?” He looked her over with new eyes. Sure enough, there was dirt under her fingernails and smeared on her arms. Besides the blood, however, her robe was perfectly clean.
In fact, as he watched, the tear he’d made wove itself back together, much like his body did when wounded. A piece of cloth with healing properties. Would wonders never cease?
“Olivia. You will answer.”
She nodded without glancing up. He heard a sniff, sniff. Yes, she was sobbing.
An ache bloomed in his chest, but he ignored it. Doesn’t matter what she is or what she’s endured. You will not soften, damn it. She frightens and hurts Legion and has to go.
“A real, live angel,” Paris said, clearly awed. “I’ll take her to my room, if you’d like, and—”
“She’s too injured for bedsport,” Aeron snapped.
Paris eyed him strangely for a moment, then grinned and shook his head. “I wasn’t sizing her up or anything, so let go of your jealousy.”
That didn’t even deserve a response. He’d never experienced jealousy, and wasn’t about to start now. “So why were you offering to take her to your room?”
“So I can bandage her wounds. Who’s the despot now?”
“I’ll take care of her.” Maybe. Could angels tolerate human medicine? Or would it hurt them? He knew well the dangers of giving one race something meant for another. Ashlyn had almost died when she’d drunk wine meant only for immortals.