Clearly, they’d gone to the kitchen. And for alcohol, of all things. But where else had they gone and why?
They reached his bedroom and Olivia said, “A toast to your success.”
“That’s right,” Legion said smugly. “My success. I told you Aeron was mine and would never be yours.”
Again, Aeron wanted to shake her.
“And you were right.” The color drained from Olivia’s cheeks as she poured the drinks. With her back to Legion, she ripped a tiny piece of her robe from the sleeve. She then dropped that little speck of material into one of the glasses.
“Sleep,” she whispered as the material dissolved, then rotated to Legion with a forced smile. “I know when I’m beaten.”
The demon claimed the glass greedily and even before she swallowed the last drop of her wine, she began wavering on her feet. Her eyes leveled on Olivia. “Something’s…wrong…”
“Of course it is. Did you really think I wouldn’t doctor your wine?”
“Bitch,” Legion slurred, as her knees buckled. She hit the floor snoring.
Olivia’s robe could clearly do more than Aeron had realized, and at that moment, he should have been filled with a desire to drug Olivia. But to his utter amazement, Wrath was…charmed by her actions. “Heaven” had merely played with “Hell,” and the demon wanted only to hold the winner of that game.
“Are you angry with me?” Olivia asked, drawing him from his odd thoughts.
“Grateful.” He was too raw to deal with Legion right now. Too raw to think about the girl he considered a daughter. Change the subject. Now. “There’s something different about your voice. I noticed it earlier, but now, it’s even more obvious.” She’d told him about Legion, but he’d felt no compulsion to believe her.
“Yes,” was all she said. “Something’s different.”
“What?” he asked, though he thought he knew the answer. She must be losing more of her angel-abilities the more time she spent here.
How would her fellow angels react to that when she returned home? He didn’t like the thought of them shunning so precious a female.
She gave another shrug, but this time her skin brushed his. He closed his eyes for a moment, savoring the softness. And when a cool breeze swept over the balcony, lifting her hair and tossing the strands against his bare chest, he thought his tenuous hold on sanity completely severed.
Mine. Yours. Ours. Forever. Cries from the demon, from him.
Never. A stark reminder.
When he opened his eyes, he returned his focus to the sky. “You used to live up there,” he said, his voice hoarse.
“What was it like?”
“We live in clouds, which are far more than you imagine.” Her affection was obvious. “They have rooms, and whatever we command, they produce. We’re hidden from the rest of the world, but we can still see what’s happening around us. Like angels flying past, or warriors corralling demons. We can see storms but not be touched by them. We can see the stars, blazing so close, but not be burned by them.”
Palpable excitement from the demon. Yes, yes.
“And you gave it all up.” For him. For fun. He was humbled. Guilty. Ashamed. For the most part, he’d given her only pain and worry. But he was also…glad.
“Yes,” she said again, as simply as that. Then, shifting uncomfortably, she changed the subject. “Why do you have two butterfly tattoos? I’ve always wondered.”
“The one on my back is the mark of my demon, and the one on my ribs is of my own making. I wanted to always see, to always know the narrow ledge I walk.”
“I don’t think you ever needed visual aid. You never seem to forget.” Sadness had replaced the affection. “Enough reminiscing. I know you’re heading into battle tonight.”
A sobering reminder. “Correct.” He didn’t ask how she knew about the coming fight. He could guess. She and Legion had spied on him. That’s why they’d left his room.
“I want to go with you,” she said. “If I return home now, I’ll be able to join you and the Hunters won’t know I’m there. I’ll be able to protect you, like a shield. I’ll be able to—”
“No!” He cleared his throat and offered more gently, “No.”
The railing whined again, bending, and he pulled his fingers free, one by one. Again, he thought, Can’t lose her now. Again Wrath whimpered. “That’s not necessary.”
They still had time, damn it.
“I have to leave anyway, so why not now? Why not do so while I can help you?”
Any other time, he would have admired such determination. Now he turned to her, snarling, “Why would you want to help me? Why aren’t you screaming at me? Ranting about what I’m going to do?” That would have been easier to deal with.
Instead, she gazed up at him through calm eyes. “There’s no need for me to resort to such emotions. I’m an angel.”
“Fallen,” he corrected darkly, then blinked. This was the first time he’d ever acknowledged the distinction, and oh, the irony sliced deep.
There was a pause, a regretful sigh. Then, “Not for much longer I’m not.”
He crowded her, closing the rest of the distance between them, fisting her robe and anchoring the handfuls of fabric against the railing so that she couldn’t escape. Did she not care that they would be parted? Did she not care that they would never again be together? That they would never again make love? That he would soon do something vile, unforgivable?
“Let me go, Aeron.” Still so calm.
Never, he thought.
Never, Wrath agreed.
We can’t think like that. “Will your people treat you differently when you…go back?” Even saying it was difficult, but he needed the reminder. “You won’t be the same person you once were.”
“They’ll welcome me home.” She shook her head and more of those silky tendrils danced over him. “With the exception of our Council, they’re very tolerant. Very patient.”
“Lysander doesn’t strike me as either one of those things.”
She smiled wryly. “Well, he isn’t a typical angel.”
That smile…he needed more. Had to have more. As many as possible, until… “There are seven days left.” The words croaked from him. Stupid. Still, he pressed their chests together, felt her nipples bead, and just like that he hardened, ready. “Promise me you’ll stay six.”
The calm finally left her, a storm brewing. “Wh-why?”
“Just promise me. Please.”
Please, Wrath echoed, as pitiful as Aeron. Who would have thought they’d be reduced to this?
“I can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She looked away from him, over his shoulder.
But not before he saw the tears swimming in her eyes. Tears that undid him…emasculated him. He reached up and cupped the back of her neck, forcing her to face him, to see his desire—and a determination that surely rivaled hers.
“So that’s a maybe?”
A shaky laugh escaped her. “No. That’s a no.”
I did that. I made her laugh. “What can you promise me?” At this point, he’d take anything.
“A…a day,” she offered shakily.
A day. A day wasn’t enough. Eternity might not be enough. His grip on her tightened. “You’ll stay until I return from town. Even if that’s a little longer than twenty-four hours. Please.”
“Why is that so important to you?” she demanded, letting loose the first hint of that churning tempest.
Because I need you. Because I want you. Because I hate the thought of being away from you. Because, if it were only you and me, and my decisions didn’t affect anyone else, I would willingly die just to have another minute in your arms.
“You’ll stay?” he insisted, ignoring her question. “If I think there’s a chance you’ll leave, I won’t be able to concentrate.” He’d never manipulated before. He stated facts, for better or worse, unconcerned by the results. Now… “I’ll be an easy target, perhaps injured again. So tell me. Tell me you’ll stay.”
She licked her lips, and her shoulders sagged. “I—All right.”
Not good enough. “Say it.”
“Yes,” she whispered. “I’ll stay until you return from town.”
Without that layer of truth in her voice, he didn’t know whether she lied to him or not. But he chose to believe her, because he couldn’t stand the thought of her absence.
“Now that we’ve got that settled, will you let me go?” Even as she spoke, she placed her hands on his chest, not pushing him away but tracing his tattoos.
Mmm. Wrath sighed.
She might not want to want him just then, but want him she clearly did. “Why do you desire me?” he demanded, another fierce reminder of the obstacles between them. “Why did you pick me? Beautiful as you are, smart as you are, sweet as you are, you could have anyone. Someone not covered with pictures of their sins.”
“Because.” A mutinous answer, though she didn’t back away.
“Why?” He shook her now, desperate for the truth for reasons he didn’t care to contemplate. “Please, Olivia. Tell me.”
Perhaps it was the please that swayed her. Perhaps the savageness of his actions. Either way, she shouted, “Because you aren’t what you believe you are. You aren’t what everyone else believes. You might have delivered countless deaths but you love more fiercely than anyone I’ve ever known. You give of yourself with no thoughts to your own happiness.” She laughed, and it was as bitter-sounding as his own had been. “Funny, isn’t it? The very qualities that brought me to you are the things that are sending me away.”
He quashed the plea before it escaped. Loved more fiercely? By gods, he would. Now, this moment, before time betrayed him.