CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

REYES HAD ALREADY COME DOWN from his demon-high, had caged the beast even now drenched in agonizing physical pain and sated bloodlust. A beast currently purring with satisfaction. Now, Reyes feared the thoughts that must be running through Danika’s mind. He trembled, weakened from his injuries, knowing he couldn’t reassure her yet.

She was currently wrapped in the loving arms of her family—gods, how she glowed. If she knew he was in the room, she gave no indication. Quietly, he stepped into the hall and withdrew his cell phone.

He’d wanted to do this all night, all day, but hadn’t wanted Danika to overhear and hadn’t been able to reach Lucien when he’d been collecting their haphazard breakfast. With Danika preoccupied with her family, there was no better time.

As he dialed Lucien’s cell, his knees gave out and he sank to the ground. Once again, his friend failed to answer. This time, however, the keeper of Death simply appeared in front of him, mismatched eyes bright, face tight with fatigue. The fragrance of roses drifted from him, stronger than Reyes had ever smelled it.

Reyes wiped at his face with one hand and used the other to pocket the phone. He didn’t bother standing. “Here to collect souls?”

“Not yet, but I feel the tug.” Lucien’s gaze slid past him, past the cracked open door. “What happened to you, my friend? You have more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese.”

“Hunters happened. They were here, waiting, holding Danika’s family hostage to use against us later.”

Those unusual eyes jerked back to Reyes, shock in their depths, before once again peering past the doorway. “Bastards. And they call themselves the good guys.”

The sound of feminine laughter, then silence, then urgent female warnings drifted to them.

“You have to kill him, Dani.”

“No, no. You don’t understand.”

“There’s nothing to understand.”

Reyes didn’t hear Danika’s response. Their voices became whispers. Was he the “him” who needed killing? Probably. After this latest battle, he was surprised and humbled to find that Danika hadn’t rushed to agree.

Lucien arched a brow. “The reunion, I take it.”

He nodded and lumbered to his feet, hand immediately going to his temple and rubbing, as if the motion could shove the dizziness away.

“The building is probably wired and monitored,” Lucien muttered. “We need to remove the women as soon as possible.”

“Let’s see what we’re dealing with first.”

“Very well.”

They searched the entire structure and did indeed find a room very much like Torin’s in Budapest. There were computers and screens of the surrounding area, as well as one monitor that seemed to be showing another compound—where a large group of Hunters were gathering weapons.

“They were probably alerted, might even have watched the battle,” Lucien said. “I imagine they’re coming here.”

Reyes hunched over, trying to catch his breath. “Is the fortress secure?”

“Yes.”

“Take us back, then,” Reyes said. “All of us. Me last.”

Lucien nodded, began to mist a second later, when Reyes grabbed his arm, stopping him. “How is Sabin?”

“Better. He’ll recover.”

Good. Lucien disappeared completely then. Reyes couldn’t allow the Hunters to see what was going on, so he used the last of his strength to disable the wires. As he worked, he heard several of the women screaming and knew Lucien had just materialized in front of them. He wanted Danika unafraid, but he wanted her safe more.

Several minutes later, Lucien reappeared. “You’re the last. Ready?”

He gave a single nod. It was all he could manage.

Lucien touched his arm. Next thing Reyes knew, he was standing inside his bedroom in the fortress. His knees gave out again and he collapsed on the edge of his bed, remaining upright by clutching the nearest post. “Where are the women?”

“Locked next door. I will help you deal with them, I just need…the souls are calling to me.” Lucien disappeared. When he returned a long while later, he reeked of sulfur. Reyes, who hadn’t moved an inch, wasn’t surprised the Hunters’ final resting place was hell.

Reyes’s head lolled forward, chin hitting his chest heavily. “Listen. I need you to go to Aeron’s cell.”

“Why?”

“Please. Take your phone and call me when you get there. If I had the strength, I would go myself.”

Expression confused, Lucien once more disappeared. In a heartbeat of time, Reyes’s phone was ringing. He flipped it open, fingers fumbling, and barked a quick, “You there?”

“Yes,” Lucien said.

In the background, beyond his door, Reyes could hear mumbling. He would have given his left arm—literally—to walk to it and press his ear to the wood. But in the end, he didn’t have to. He could hear Danika soothe her family, her voice gentle yet determined. A grin curled the corners of his lips. My little soldier.

He had to see her.

The overwhelming need gave him strength, a surging heat that swarmed through him and lifted him to his feet. One unsteady foot in front of the other and he was flipping the door’s lock and winding his fingers around the knob.

“Reyes, are you there?”

Lucien.

“I’m here. Listen, last night Danika told me about a dream she’d had,” he whispered so the women wouldn’t hear him. “In it, she visited hell. Heard and saw the demons there, heard and saw their victims. But Lucien, I don’t think it was a dream.”

Crackling static. Reception in the dungeon was spotty at best. “I don’t understand.”

“When I’m…with her, I’m somehow propelled out of my body and into the heavens. I think she’s a portal into the hereafter.”

“Are you sure? Perhaps you—”

“I’m sure. Last time, an angel actually spoke to me.”

“Dear gods.”

“I know.”

“But what does this have to do with Aeron?”

“Not Aeron. His friend.”

“The little demon?” Shock rang in Lucien’s voice. “Reyes, break this down for me as though I were a child. Why?”

“Do you remember the Hunter Danika killed? Well, she saw him in hell and a demon was questioning him, demanding to know about the All-Seeing Eye.”

There was more crackling static, tense and heavy. “The repercussions of this could be devastating.”

Reyes knew that well. “Ask the demon why his friends would want information on Danika.”

Bars rattled. Dark curses arose. Both so loud they managed to blast through the weakened phone signal. Lucien sighed. “I only see Aeron.”

“Damn. Try to draw him out. I’ll compose myself and be there in a moment.” He closed the cell and once more pushed it into his pocket—or rather, missed his pocket. The phone clanked to the ground. Scowling, he bent over and swiped it up. He swayed as he straightened, but managed to slide it in place and enter the women’s bedroom without falling.

All four were on the bed and clamped their lips together as they turned to gape at him. Three of them paled. He was still covered in blood, he realized, and probably looked every bit the monster they imagined him to be. He’d been shot. A lot. Stabbed, too. His clothing was tattered, his wounds still seeping. Still, his hungry gaze sought Danika.

“Reyes!” She grinned when their gazes met, but that grin quickly faded. “You’re hurt!” She moved from her family, rushing toward him…soon so close he could smell her stormy fragrance.

Heart pounding in his chest, he shut the door in her face. Turned the lock.

He heard her gasp. Her fists banged against the wood. “Reyes!” she growled.

He’d seen her, knew she was unharmed. It was time to walk away from her. For good. Last night she’d wanted to hurt him during sex. Had been eager to do so. Being gentle hadn’t stopped the dark cravings as he’d hoped. And even though he hadn’t allowed her to hurt him, his demon must have affected her already, propelling her toward the life Reyes had endured for too long. Pain, always pain.

What if she wanted to hurt her family next? She’d fought so diligently to save them. He wouldn’t jeopardize that.

“Reyes! Let me out.”

“Dani,” the grandmother called unexpectedly. “Leave him be.”

The pounding continued.

Reyes ran a fingertip along the wood. Then, slowly, he stepped away from the door. Only when he reached the end of the hallway did he pivot. Some of the home’s furnishings were missing, he realized as he limped. A few tables, all of the knickknacks Ashlyn had added. There was no blood on the walls, so the warriors must have been hard at work, cleaning. Thankfully, he didn’t see any of the warriors in question. He wasn’t sure how he would have reacted if they’d asked him about Danika.

Danika, Pain suddenly shouted.

“Hush,” he replied.

But the more distance he put between him and Danika, the more the demon growled inside his mind.

Danika, Pain shouted again.

“I’m riddled with bullet holes. What more do you want?” Reyes growled back.

Her.

“Why?” She was the epitome of pleasure. “She is not for us.”

Mine.

“No!” Down the stairs he pounded, his steps long and furious, eating up the distance to the dungeon. He found Lucien in front of Aeron’s cell, gripping the bars, silent.

Reyes stopped beside him and looked into the holding. Aeron was still chained to the wall, his eyes bright red, his fangs long and sharp. His nails were elongated into claws. The demon, Legion, slithered around his neck, down his arms and then across his ankles.

“It is able to flash,” Lucien said. “It popped itself into the middle of the cell and now is refusing to talk to me.”

“I talk,” the demon said.

“Then tell me where you went.”

“Hell.”

“Why?”

“You get why, my friend get free,” Legion said, forked tongue flicking out. “He isss sssad. Me not like sssad. Ssso we trade.”

Actually Aeron appeared enraged, his gaze tracking Reyes’s every move, but Reyes wasn’t going to argue the point. “I’m afraid I can’t trade with you. If Aeron goes free, he will try and kill my woman. And Aeron,” he said to the warrior, “I thought you’d like to know you didn’t kill Danika’s grandmother. You walked away before rendering that final blow.”

There was a hitch in the warrior’s breath, a slight tensing of his large form. “I failed.”

“Reason to rejoice.”

“I failed,” Aeron repeated stiffly.

Reyes sighed.

“Uh-oh. You make him mad.” Legion crouched, moving into an attack stance. “You pay.”

Would no one cooperate with him?

“Settle down, boy,” Lucien told the little demon. “We only want the best for Aeron.”

Legion hissed like a startled cat, the noise scraping at Reyes’s skin. “Me no boy. You think me a boy?”

Everyone stopped, stared. Even Aeron.

Reyes was the first to find his voice. “You’re a…girl?”

A nod. “Me pretty.”

“Yes, you are.” Reyes exchanged a glance with Lucien. “Beautiful.”

Aeron had yet to recover from the shock.

“I need your help…sweetheart. There is a demon in hell who was asking a damned soul about a woman,” Reyes said to the she-demon, getting them back on track. “My woman. I think he means to hurt her. Is there anything you can tell me?”

“Oh, oh. Big newsss in hell,” Legion said, lips lifting in a proud, happy smile. He—she—turned to Aeron. “Everyone talking ’bout it. Visssiting demon told them. Can I tell, can I, can I?”

Still silent, Aeron nodded.

“Ssshe ticket to heaven. Whichever demonsss find her, get to ussse her to essscape.”

SABIN LIMPED TO THE CENTER of the entertainment room and turned—swayed, damn it—to face the people who were scattered throughout. Some were playing pool, others watching TV. Some were drinking. Ashlyn was sitting in Maddox’s lap.

“What are we going to do with the girl?” he rasped. His throat was still raw, still healing from the bomb smoke he’d inhaled.

All eyes anchored on him.

“Study her paintings,” Lucien said, cue in hand. “That’s all we can do.”

“That, and treat her well,” Ashlyn interjected.

Softhearted women were the bane of the universe. “Now that they know what she is, Hunters will come after us more fervently now.”

“I’d think that would delight you,” Paris said, glancing up from the flesh-fest playing out on the television screen.

It would, just as soon as he healed fully. Even now he wanted to prop himself against the wall. “We need to lock her up, put her somewhere they won’t think to look.”

Ashlyn gave a firm shake of her head. “No way.”

“Yeah, good luck getting past Reyes.” William slapped Lucien on the shoulder, though his amused gaze never left Sabin. “Man is wicked good with knives.”

“Who invited you into this conversation?” Sabin grumbled.

“Anya,” the immortal replied with a grin. “She said I could stay as long as I wanted. Now, will you let us finish our game or what?”

More and more, Sabin couldn’t help but like the irreverent bastard. “Anya, put a leash on your friend.”

“Why? I’m winning.”

The two returned to their game of pool, Lucien watching Anya bend over to take a shot. “I’d rather we kill the girl than allow her to fall into our enemies’ hands. She’s too powerful, could perpetrate too much damage to our cause.”

No one responded. They’d already tuned him out.

Kane picked up a wine bottle, and the glass shattered. “Damn it!”

Rolling his eyes, Sabin strode to him, grabbed another bottle and filled a glass. “Here. So?” he demanded of the others.

Torin, who stood off in the corner, alone and out of reach, finally acknowledged him. “Touch her, and our groups will split again. Reyes would rather die than lose her, and I would rather lose you than hurt him.”

Sabin sighed, scoured a tired palm down his bruised face. He valued these men and didn’t want to lose them again. Perhaps one day they would prize him as much as they used to.

Perhaps not.

Doubt, you stupid motherfucker. I hate you!

“Then we’re gonna have to push her to find the third and fourth artifacts for us,” he said, “so that the score remains in our favor. Hunters find the other two, and the war might never end.”

HOW AM I TO KEEP HER SAFE when the king of gods, every demon in hell and all the Hunters want a piece of her?

Reyes had trouble sleeping that night. Not only because Legion’s words continued to echo through his mind, but also because Danika was mere feet away. All he had to do was roll from bed, open the door separating them, and he could sweep her into his arms.

He tried not to think of the first and could not help but wallow in the second. His wounds had mostly healed, so he had the strength to claim her.

One more time.

Too dangerous, he’d already decided.

Worth a chance. She’s worth a chance.

If you’re gentle, you minimize the risk.

Gods, he didn’t know where the thoughts originated. With himself or the demon. And did he care? Having Danika one last time, holding her, feeling her warm breath, luxuriating in her soft body, glutting himself on her sweet taste…

Fisting the sheets, he ground his teeth together. These were hazardous thoughts. Hated thoughts.

Welcome thoughts.

She was so much a part of him, he didn’t like being without her. He needed her. Wasn’t complete otherwise. For her own good. Better this way. Be selfless for the first time in your life. How many times would he have to tell himself that? Her family hated him and had every right to do so. They would castigate her for staying with him. Guilt would bloom inside her, and hate would soon follow on its heels.

Distracted as he was, he didn’t sense the intruder until it was too late. A cold blade pressed into his neck.

He stiffened. His lashes lifted and his gaze landed on Danika. Had she been an enemy, he would have reacted less violently. As it was, his entire body shuddered and jolted. Moonlight bathed her, shining around her pale head like a halo. Her hair was loose and tumbling around her shoulders. She wore an oversize white T-shirt. His. A sense of possessiveness awoke every cell in his body.

He was rock hard.

Fight this.

“How did you escape?” he demanded.

“I’ve learned to pick locks since the last time I was here.”

Her stormy scent wafted to him and he couldn’t help but inhale deeply. “Go back to your family.”

“Nope. Sorry. I’m going to prove I can hurt you without suffering myself.”

He didn’t give her time to cut. Quick as a snap, he grabbed her wrist and held tight, preventing her from moving. With his other hand, he claimed the knife and tossed it to the floor. Her eyes widened as he next jerked her forward, right on top of him.

He rolled them over and pinned her into the mattress. Fight this. Fight—her breath fanned over his cheek. Her breasts meshed into his chest. Her legs wound around his waist, placing her wet, bare core against his erection. She was liquid fire.

All thoughts of resisting her vanished. One last time, he found himself thinking again, the urge tempting him. Winning the battle. Not that he’d put up much of a battle. “You should have stayed with your family, tucked safely in bed.”

Her chin jutted stubbornly. “I missed you,” she admitted grudgingly.

He rubbed his erection against her sweet spot, unable to stop his hips from moving. She gasped, he moaned. So good. Always this good.

“You’re naked,” she said on a raspy breath. “Hmm, I’m glad.” Her arms wound around his neck and pulled him down for a white-hot kiss.

His tongue dueled with hers, wild, untamed. He arched back only long enough to rip her shirt over her head and toss it aside before diving back into her immediately. Her nipples stabbed at him, her hands clutched at his back, and her legs fell open, pressing them as close as they could be without penetration.

His cock throbbed, ready, so ready. “Once again, you’re not wearing any panties,” he managed to croak as he kneaded her breast.

She bit his lower lip. “Glad?”

“Dying from the pleasure.”

Smiling, she pushed him, rolling him over and straddling his waist. “Don’t enter. Not yet.”

“I won’t.” She rose above him, a siren he would have died to possess. Once, twice, she glided up and down his length, still without penetration. Her head fell back, hair a sunny halo around her.

“I want to suck you,” she said.

“You’re all over me.”

“I know.” Slowly she edged down him, not stopping until her mouth hovered over his swollen shaft. Her teeth flashed white in the moonlight a split second before her mouth swallowed him.

His hips shot forward of their own accord, pushing his length all the way down her throat. He didn’t mean to, didn’t want to hurt her, but couldn’t stop the action. More. Need more. He and the demon were chanting the words together, and in the back of his mind, he realize that meant the demon was still with him, that Pain hadn’t been transported anywhere. More, more, more.

His fingers tangled in her hair as her mouth rode him up and down, tongue licking at the head, sucking, then flicking against the base. He bit the inside of his cheek, drawing blood.

“Danika,” he panted.

She slammed down hard at the same time she reached behind her, fingers scrambling over the sheet…she paused…he moaned…she lifted her arm, mouth moving again…he writhed…then she sank a dagger right into his shoulder.

Shouting, he came on an explosion, spurting into her mouth over and over again. His entire body shook. Another roar parted his lips, the pleasure and pain an intoxicating blend he couldn’t fight. Didn’t want to fight.

She swallowed every drop he gave her. And when he finally quieted, when he finally stilled, she rose from his length, licking her lips and grinning like a contented cat. Blood poured from his shoulder, stinging so beautifully.

“You stabbed me,” he managed to work past the lump in his throat. He studied her intently, unsure what he would find in her expression. She didn’t appear drunk with bloodlust or even ready to hurt him again.

She appeared satisfied with herself.

“I thought you might take the first knife, so I strapped a second one to my ankle, hoping you would be too preoccupied with the north region to concern yourself with the far south.”

His lips twitched. “Tricky.”

“Necessary.” Still on her hands and knees, chin hovering over his navel, she glared over at him.

Gods, he loved this woman. He could see the desire swimming in the emerald depths of her eyes. His own desire returned, a blazing fire in his blood. His cock hardened anew, filling…filling…desperate for her all over again.

“You will not deny me my right anymore,” she said. “Hurting you will not change me, I swear it. I like knowing I’m doing something for you. I like knowing I’m pleasing you. I know you wanted gentle, I suspect that’s what you’ve dreamed about since being paired with your demon, but you had to know—I had to know—I could give you hard and painful if the need ever came upon you.”

“What right?” he demanded, those words snagging the bulk of his attention.

“I am yours and you are mine. I will see to all your needs. You will not turn to another woman. Ever.”

Her words echoed in his mind, the answer to a thousand prayers. “Danika—angel.” He grabbed her forearms and tugged her atop him. His hands settled on her waist and positioned her for penetration. So hot, so wet. “Wait. I need a condom.”

“I want to feel you this time. All of you.”

He went very still, his heart racing. “What if there’s a…baby?”

“Would you mind?” she asked softly.

“I once thought so. But now, with you…” He liked the idea. Craved it. Would love to watch Danika’s stomach swell with his child. “Would you mind?”

“I think—I think I would like it.”

“You do not think I would be a terrible father?”

“Are you kidding? No child would be more loved, more protected.”

He moaned, and it was a sound of pleasure. True pleasure, deep and inexorable.

“No more pushing me away. Ever.” Her eyes closed as she, too, uttered a pleasure-filled moan.

He was helpless to deny her. He would watch her, make sure she never developed bloodlust or if she did, that she never sated it with anyone but him. He would do anything necessary to win over her family. He would keep Aeron from her always, protect her from Hunters, demons—the gods themselves. Somehow. Someway.

“Are you sure you want me? Be very sure. After this, I will not let you go.”

Her features softened. “The future might be uncertain, but I’m sure about you. About us.”

More beautiful words had never been spoken. “No more pushing you away,” he vowed. “Mine. You are mine.”

“Yours.”

With a single arch, he was embedded deep, all the way in. His mind instantly quieted, the demon silent. Gone? he wondered. Was penetration, physical joining, needed to send the spirit away?

Reyes stopped thinking when Danika’s hands anchored on his chest, her nails digging, stinging. In all his life, he’d never imagined a moment so perfect. A moment where his heart beat for love rather than pain. She was his. He was hers.

He couldn’t give her up; he simply could not do it. She was more important to him than his lungs or his limbs. He was nothing without her. He would keep her. She’d inflicted pain, yet she was still his Danika, still his angel. Good and pure and right. Oh, yes, he would keep her.

The decision unleashed a torrent of joy inside him, so sweet he surged into her, his thumb finding and flicking against her clitoris. That’s all she needed to hurtle over the edge.

“Reyes!”

“Angel, my angel.” He came just as powerfully as before, rolling her over and fusing their mouths, his tongue thrusting deep. He stayed with her this time, and he suspected the bond between them was too strong to allow him through any portal.

Suddenly a blade sank into his back. Not put there by Danika, whose hands were tangled in his hair. He shouted in shock and jerked from the kiss, his head turning.

Aeron stood beside the bed, his wings spread, his eyes glowing crimson. That knife had been meant for Danika.

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