- The Darkest Passion
That is not for you to decide. He ignored an ancient law and must be punished for it before others think that they can do the same without consequence.
I doubt he even knows what he’s done. She’d spread her arms, beseeching. If you would just allow him to see me and hear my voice, I could talk to him and explain—
Then we would be ignoring an ancient law.
True. Faith was built on the principle that you believed in what you could not see. Only the Elite Seven were allowed to reveal themselves in the mortal plane, as they were sometimes tasked with rewarding people for that faith.
I’m sorry, she’d said, head bowed. I should not have asked such a thing of you.
You are forgiven, child, they’d replied in unison.
Forgiveness was always granted so easily here. Well, except when commandments were ignored. Poor Aeron, she’d thought, even as she’d said, Thank you.
It was just…Aeron drew her. He looked every inch the demon with his tattooed flesh, yet seeing him for the first time had roused desires inside her that had been too strong to ignore. What would it be like to touch him? What would it be like to be touched by him? Would she finally know the joy she brought to others?
At first, those thoughts had shamed her. And the better she’d come to know Aeron, the stronger the desires had become—until falling and being with him had been all she could think about.
Finally, she’d told herself it was acceptable to feel so strongly about him because, despite his appearance, despite what the Council said, he was honest and good. And if he was honest and good, she could do the things that he did, and be honest and good, as well. More than that, it would be okay because he, protector that he was, would keep her safe. From others, from herself.
If he were killed, however, she would live the rest of eternity never knowing how…exquisite experiencing him in every way could have been. She would regret. She would mourn.
But to save him, from her own hand, at least, meant giving up everything she knew, as the Council had proclaimed. More than losing her home and her wings, however, she would also be stuck in a world where forgiveness was not always granted, patience was rarely rewarded and rudeness was a way of life.
He is your first assassination, so we do understand your reluctance, Olivia. But you cannot allow that reluctance to ruin you. You must rise above it or you will pay the price forevermore. Which will you choose?
That had been the Council’s last-ditch effort to save her. Yet she had raised her head and uttered the words that had been churning inside her for all those weeks—the words that led her here. Before fear could change her mind.
I choose Aeron.
The hard voice shook Olivia from the past; it was deeper, richer than anyone else’s and…necessary. She blinked, her surroundings slowly coming into focus. A bedroom she knew by heart. Spacious, with silver stone walls plastered with portraits of flowers and stars. The floor was composed of dark, polished wood, and draped by a soft pink rug. There was a dresser, a vanity and a young girl’s lounge.
Many would have scoffed at the fact that this strong, proud warrior possessed such a feminine room, but not Olivia. The furnishings merely proved the depths of Aeron’s love for his Legion.
Did he have room in his heart for one more?
Her gaze landed on him. Still he stood beside the bed she was sprawled upon, gazing down at her with…no emotion, she realized, disappointed. And who could blame him? What a sight she must be. The tears had dried on her cheeks, making her skin feel tight and hot. Her hair hung in tangles, and dirt streaked her exposed skin.
Meanwhile, he looked gorgeous. He was tall and mouthwateringly muscled, with the most amazing violet eyes fringed by long black lashes. His dark hair was cropped nearly to his scalp, and she wondered if the choppy strands would prickle her palm when she caressed them.
Not that he would allow her to caress him.
He was heavily tattooed, even on the perfectly sculpted planes of his face. Each of those tattoos depicted something gruesome. Stabbings, stranglings, burnings, blood—so much blood—each skeletal face etched in torment. Yet amid all the violence were two sapphire butterflies, one riding his ribs and one outlining the wings on his back.
The other Lords, she had noticed, only had one butterfly tattoo, each a mark of their demon-possession, and she’d often wondered why Aeron had the extra. Wasn’t as if his body contained two demons or anything.
More than that, he despised weakness. Didn’t the butterflies remind him of his folly? For that matter, didn’t the other tattoos, the violent ones, remind him of the terrible things his demon had forced him to do?
As for Olivia, why didn’t this man repulse her as he would have repulsed any other angel? Why did he continue to fascinate her?
“Woman,” he repeated, impatient now.
“Yes?” she managed to croak.
“You weren’t listening to me.”
“Who wanted me dead? And why?”
Rather than answer, she begged, “Sit down, please. Looking up at you like this is straining my neck.”
At first, she didn’t think he would comply. Then he surprised her by easing to his haunches, his expression gentling. Finally, their gazes were level and she could see that his pupils were dilating. Odd. That usually happened when humans were happy. Or angry. He was neither.
“Better?” he asked.
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Good. Now answer me.”
Such a commander. She didn’t mind, though. The reward was too great. Now she could drink in the wonderfully wicked sight of him without effort, while talking to him as she’d dreamed of doing all these weeks. “The Heavenly High Council wants you dead because you helped a demon escape from hell.”
He frowned. “My Legion?”
His Legion? Olivia nodded, winced. Pain wasn’t something she’d ever experienced before—mentally or physically—and she wasn’t sure how she was withstanding it. Lucidly, at least.
Or maybe she did know. Humans produced adrenaline and other hormones, which numbed them somewhat. Maybe she was producing those things, too, human that she now was. More and more, she began to feel pleasantly distanced from her new body and its unfamiliar aches and emotions.
“I don’t understand. Legion had already crawled free by the time we met. I did nothing to earn anyone’s…wrath.” His mouth tightened on that last word.
“Actually, you did. Without you, she wouldn’t have been able to reach the surface because she was bound to the underground.”
“I still don’t understand.”
Olivia’s eyelids, suddenly heavy and seemingly laced with sandpaper, closed—oh, to discuss something else—but she forced them to reopen. “For the most part, demons are able to leave hell only when they’re summoned to earth. It’s a little loophole we didn’t catch until too late. Anyway, when they’re summoned, their bond with hell breaks and in its place they become bound to the summoner.”
“But again, I didn’t summon Legion. She came to me.”
“Maybe you didn’t consciously summon her, but the moment you accepted her as yours, it was as if you’d done so.”
He flexed and unflexed his hands, a gesture she knew he made while trying to get himself under control. Perhaps he was angry. “She has every right to walk this earth. I am demon, and I have done so for thousands of years without punishment.”
True. “But your demon is trapped inside you. Therefore you are its hell. Legion is now unfettered, able to come and go as she pleases. Which means she has no hell, and that defies all heavenly rules.”
She could see he was preparing to argue. Perhaps it would help to explain the origins of hell.
“The more powerful demons were once angels. Only, they fell. They were the first to fall, actually, and their hearts were blackened, all goodness wiped from them. So, rather than lose their wings and powers, they were punished to suffer forevermore. A tradition that has continued with their offspring. There can be no exceptions. Demons must be bound to some sort of hell. Those who break that bond are killed.”
Red seeped into his irises, glowing brightly. “You’re saying Legion has no hell, and because of this, she must die?”
“You’re also saying she was once an angel?”
“No. Once in hell, the demons learned how to procreate. Legion is one of those creations.”
“And you think to punish her, even though she has caused no harm?”
“Not me, but yes. Even though.”
“Understand me now. I will allow no harm to befall her.” Calmly stated, but no less violent.
Olivia remained silent. She wouldn’t lie to him and tell him what he wanted to hear. That he and Legion were safe now, their crimes forgotten by those in the heavens. Eventually, someone would come to do what Olivia had been unable to.
“She didn’t deserve to be there,” he growled.
“That wasn’t for you to decide.” The rebuke emerged softly, as gently as she was able. That the words were an echo of what the Council had said to her left a bad taste in her mouth.
Aeron drew in a rough breath, his nostrils flaring. “You fell. Why aren’t you being thrown into hell?”
“The first angels to fall turned their backs on the One True Deity, hence their blackened hearts. I did not turn my back. I merely chose a different path.”
“But why were you sent to me now? Not as one of the fallen, but as an executioner? Thousands of years ago, I did far more terrible things than break a little demon’s bond to hell. All of us here did.”
“The Council agreed with the gods that you and your brethren were the only ones capable of housing, and perhaps one day controlling, the escaped demons. As I said, you are their hell, and you have been punished for those early crimes sufficiently.”
Victory claimed his features, as if he’d caught her in an untruth. “Wrath will be freed the moment of my death, escaping his so-called hell. What of that? You still think to kill me?”