hearts of fire Page 10

“Drink.” The command was a harsh bark, given an instant before smooth, warm skin was pressed to her lips and darkest ambrosia filled her mouth. The taste was sweet and rich, chocolate and rarest wine, laden with secrets and spice. For a moment, Dru could do nothing. Her lips remained numb and cold, her limbs limp. Then her throat convulsed, a weak swallow, and the warmth of what she was being given worked its way through her. It suffused her cheeks, then her neck, speeding up and spreading out until she was flooded with a delicious heat that she only barely remembered from her mortal days. Her chest hitched, then shuddered back to life as she drew in a breath. Her wounds closed, making her whole again. She moved without thinking when she felt him begin to pull away, grasping at his wrist with both hands and dragging it back to her mouth. She latched on hard, drinking so deeply she felt she might drown in the taste of him, and heard his strangled moan.

In her long life, Dru had drunk from countless humans. Drinking from Meresin, though, was unlike anything she’d experienced. They could have been the only two people on earth, and she wouldn’t have cared. Everything ceased to matter but him. The feeling of connection between them—lips to wrist, blood to blood—intensified until she knew her heartbeat was keeping time with his, her every breath matching Meresin’s. Her grip relaxed, and she stroked one hand over his skin while she drank.

Her senses were full of him, and she had no awareness of anything more until the wrist she held began to quiver. Only then did her eyes open again, and she stared up to see Meresin’s strained expression. The light in his gaze was almost feverish, and his skin had gone from alabaster to ghostly white.

Her mouth stilled against his skin as reality returned, swift and brutal, and she reawakened fully.

He saved me. But it seemed to have cost him. She quickly let go of his wrist and tried to get her bearings. Her head was cradled in the crook of his other arm, and she lay curled in his lap like a babe. And though the fog that enveloped her thoughts was still dissipating, she quickly realized that she felt…amazing. Alive in a way that she only barely remembered, vital and awake and so blissfully warm. She wasn’t just back to normal, she was better than normal. What had happened?

Dru struggled to a sitting position in his lap, and she heard how quick and shallow his breath was. He was also staring at her like she was some rare and poisonous insect perched on him, which made it tough to hang on to her gratitude like she wanted to. Frustration sliced neatly through her euphoria. Why did he have to take everything just a little too far? She pressed a hand to his cheek and immediately felt how clammy his skin was, though he tried to jerk his head away.

He doesn’t like to be touched, even now, she thought. But he’d gone and changed the rules.

“You let me take too much,” she said. She didn’t have a very good sense of how long he’d let her drink, but considering how she felt, it had to have been for an extended period of time. “I’ll give you my wrist, and you can take some of it back—”

“I’m not a vampire, Dru,” he said, his voice a harsh rasp. “It doesn’t work that way.”

She fumbled for the right thing to say. She felt too good to get angry at him, though he was back to being as obtuse as ever. His expression was mulish, despite the fact that his blood loss had made his beautiful, angular face taut and drawn. Dru found herself more worried than angry. She lifted her exposed wrist to offer it, though she knew what his reaction would be.

“I know what you are, but you’ve got the fangs for a reason, right?” she cajoled him. “I didn’t know how much you were giving me, Meresin. You’ve lost too much blood, and you look like you’re going to pass out. Take it, honestly.”

“Forget it,” he said flatly, turning his head away to glare into the distance. “I did let you drink a little too long, but the effects won’t last. Only fire can kill me, remember? I’ll be fine.”

She widened her eyes, exasperated. Even now, after one or both of them could have been killed, he felt like arguing. The man refused to see the good in anything, and saving her life had made him as miserable as everything else did. Big surprise. Still, there was something she needed to do before she forgot herself and punched him.

“Meresin,” she said, without really being sure how to begin. After staring helplessly at him for seconds, she grabbed the sides of his face, planting a rough and lingering kiss on his lips. It wasn’t nearly as pleasant as the kisses he’d given her earlier, but it was impossible not to appreciate the softness of his lips even when he was being a sullen jackass. When she pulled back, he was staring at her like she’d grown another head, but at least he wasn’t sulking anymore.

“Thank you,” she said, finally able to say the words. “I owe you my life. And don’t start grumbling about how that’s not true, because it is.” When he opened his mouth to respond, she cut him off with, “Don’t tell me I shouldn’t have gotten in your way, either. You didn’t see him until it was too late. I couldn’t have brought you back like you did me.”

When he pressed his lips into an irritated line, she knew she’d guessed what he was going to say correctly. She was beginning to realize that Meresin was actually fairly predictable in some ways.

“You still shouldn’t have,” he finally said. She arched an eyebrow, sighed, and waited.

“Mmm,” was all she said. Unfortunately, that seemed to egg him on.

“You shouldn’t have gone out with my brothers,” he continued. “It would have saved you all of this.”

Dru felt her face heat in the darkness. Maybe…but she couldn’t tell him the truth, she wouldn’t have traded being tangled up with Meresin in the church for anything. If the price was a near miss that left her standing good as new after a few harrowing minutes, then she’d take it.

“I like your brothers. Mostly. And maybe Bob—I’m sorry, Razer, may his soul rest in peace, or at least stay away from here—would have caught you off guard anyway. Then I wouldn’t have been here to stop him.”

He glowered at her. “When I’m on my own, I’m never off guard.” He stood, then leaned his head back and growled at the night sky, a sensual, inhuman sound that sent a pleasant shiver over her skin. “Hellfire, Dru, is this just a joke to you? You’ve got my blood in your veins now. Do you have any idea what that means?”

“It means you’re pissed off again, obviously,” she said, getting to her feet. “It’s not a joke, Meresin, but come on. We’ve both been around a long time. I’ve had near misses before. The days when I’d let one shake me are long gone. I can’t. We can’t. Alive is what matters, and here we are, so I don’t think a dramatic lecture is really warranted here.” The good feeling rapidly faded. The glimpse she’d caught of what was beneath his hard and spiky shell was all she was going to get.

Moonlight played over his sharp features. Meresin had been right about one thing—he was healing quickly from letting her overindulge. The drawn weariness was gone from his face, and his violet eyes glittered like the sky during a storm. Whatever had quelled it before, the tumult inside him had returned. She could see it in the way he held himself, the stiffness in his broad shoulders, the tension in his jaw. The desire to soothe all of that away was a compulsion Dru knew she needed to break.

“Unless your blood is going to make me grow wings or start shooting flames out of my eyes, I’m going home,” she said wearily. “I can take the fire sword back and tell Justin what happened with Bob. He shouldn’t have been able to get his hands on that sword, but we’ll figure out what happened. Beyond that…I’ll see you. Good luck.”

She gave a halfhearted wave and started to walk away.

I can’t keep doing this. Maybe I should take up a new hobby, or ten. Except after living so long, she was good at almost everything that interested her already. There had to be something she’d missed. Night surfing? Maybe not. Sharks didn’t discriminate between mortal and immortal.

“Dru. Wait.” The quiet urgency in his tone had her turning back around. Meresin flared his wings while she watched, stretching them out and then folding them neatly against his back. The motion transfixed her. For him, stretching his wings was as simple and reflexive as scratching an itch. He had no idea how fascinating he was, which was probably a good thing. She didn’t miss the jagged lightning that traced over the curve of one wing, just another reminder of what he was—and why he was leaving.

When he scrubbed a hand through his hair, making it even spikier than usual, and glowered at nothing in particular, Dru relented. He looked miserable. “What?”

“You need to understand before you go. I didn’t save your life.” He spoke carefully, his voice strained but relatively calm. She knew immediately that the effort not to snarl or shout was for her benefit, which she supposed counted for quite a bit, at least with him.

She sighed and shook her head. “Then what would you call it, Meresin? Do you have a different way of describing it that doesn’t bother you as much? Assisting me in not dying, maybe?”

His lips didn’t betray even a hint of a smile.

“I gave you a temporary reprieve. That’s it. If it had been anyone but me, it would probably be much less temporary. I’m not sure being bound to someone like Gadreel would be much better, but at least you’d be alive to regret it.”

She stared at him, not sure she’d heard him correctly. “I…what do you mean, bound?”

His eyes were dancing violet flames, hinting at some strong emotion, though he spoke carefully.

“I mean that the instant you took my blood into your body, everything changed. I’m no vampire, Dru, no human. To drink an angel’s blood, even a tainted angel, is to bind your life to his.”

She tried to find a way to laugh it off, but the halting, shaken way he said the words told her that he, at least, believed every word he said.

“That can’t be,” she finally managed, speaking through the panic rising in her throat. No matter how attracted she was to Meresin, she’d wanted a lover, not a master. She’d been her own for far too long to really belong to anybody. Not anymore.

“I would have heard about this,” Dru said. Now she was the one trying not to shout. “Uriel would have warned us, at least. How could you all live in our city and not tell us something like this?”

Meresin seemed to vibrate with tension, and she saw a flicker of light coil around one of his closed fists. His voice was soft and seemed artificially flat as he tried to explain. “We didn’t know. Not until Phenex and Sofia. That was when Uriel decided to share that particular secret. If you want to blame someone, by all means, blame him. I do. As for telling people, why should I have? I never planned to inflict myself on anyone else this way.”

She flinched, the word he chose cutting into her more deeply than the fire sword. Inflict. As though he were some dread disease instead of a man…or a mate. It hurt worse because she knew that nothing she could say would convince him otherwise. With a helpless, hollow feeling, she let it go, hoping to at least find some answers before he ran from her again.

“Phenex and Sofia bonded this way?” She should have known. Maybe, in a way, she had.

Phenex, the renegade Angel of Song, had found a very beautiful, very human mate just before the battle that had forced Terra Noctem to move from beneath DC. An old enemy of his, a powerful Fallen lord of Hell, had made off with Sofia—in fact, Belial had been behind the massive demon attack on the city. But the details beyond Belial’s defeat and Phenex’s wings going from black to white were sketchy at best. At least they were to Dru and any vampire she knew. He had found someone to love, and he and Sofia had obviously discovered a way to make the whole human-angel thing work. She assumed she would learn the particulars in time. The two were still pretty focused on enjoying each other in the beach house they were sharing aboveground, and Dru had been careful not to intrude on the love nest so far…besides, not everything was her business. Most things, but not everything.

Now she wished she’d been more determined about asking the right questions. It just hadn’t seemed that important. After all, what were the chances that it would matter to her?

She wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at her own shortsighted stupidity. Everything about these Fallen seemed to be important. Everything.

“I did wonder why I hadn’t heard anything about making Sofia a vampire so she would stop aging. Justin thought Phenex was just giving her time to adjust to the idea,” she admitted.

“She doesn’t need to,” Meresin said. “Sofia was nearly killed. She lives because she’s bound to Phenex. Blood-bound. Her life will last as long as his…but if hers is cut short, his ends, too. They don’t seem to care, but she’s a human, and he’s always had a nauseatingly romantic streak.” His voice dropped, and he looked away, murmuring to himself. “I suppose being chained together might seem romantic if you were brain dead.” The bitterness in his voice burned through her confusion like acid.

Dru’s breath hitched as reality began to sink in. “So this is…this is a permanent thing. Our lives are connected now.” Mated. We’re mated, she thought, completely at a loss over how to begin to grapple with what that meant. She knew werewolves did something similar, forging a physical bond as well as an emotional one. But they did it on purpose.

But here she was, blood-bound to a fallen angel. A mistake she’d never be able to rectify. Tied to a man who had just made himself hers, but who she knew would refuse to ever accept that no matter how long they lived. Any chance she might have had at a true partnership with a mate, something she’d always kept at the back of her mind as a possibility, a pretty fantasy, had just been shattered. She looked at Meresin, so incredibly beautiful in his darkness, and so determinedly distant. He looked as untouchable as the statues of the gods she had once prayed to. And the worst of it was…since the moment she’d set eyes on him, some part of her had wanted this. It was a cruel joke, to discover what it really meant.