hearts of fire Page 11

“So…you’re my mate now.” The words sounded far away. She barely knew what she was saying. All she wanted to do was fill the suddenly unbearable silence. It took all the will she had not to sink back to the ground.

Meresin watched her, his thoughts as hidden as hers were probably on full display. But one thing was clear—he wasn’t happy. He didn’t want her. Not really.

“I…I don’t know if that’s the right word. I don’t know what…this—” Meresin blew out a shaky breath and shoved a hand back through his hair, more agitated than she’d ever seen him. It wasn’t anger, at least. She tried to hang onto that as a tiny, hopeful sign that this wouldn’t be the disaster it felt like. But when his eyes met hers, what she saw was worse than anger.

He wasn’t just unhappy. He was devastated. Meresin quickly tore his gaze away, as though he knew what she’d seen, and tipped his head back to look at the stars. His sensual growl of a voice was strained. “There’s no point in labeling this, Dru. You know I’m leaving. The chances I’m going to live through what needs to be done aren’t great. Now you’re going to pay for it, too.” She saw the apology in his eyes. That he would actually feel remorse about this scared her more than anything else. If Meresin was sorry, it was bad. Worse, even, than she’d thought.

“This isn’t what I wanted. I know this isn’t what you wanted, either,” he said. “It isn’t what anyone should want. Attraction is one thing. Bonding is… I don’t have anything to give you. To anyone. Not as a mate. Not as—” He started to say something else, shook his head, and then bared his teeth, cursing. The flash of anger had lightning flickering over his skin as he paced back and forth, then stopped again to face her. She watched him, and in that moment he was very much an ancient and volatile creature—a demon, through and through. And still, she was pulled to him in a way she’d never been to any other man. A mistake, in a night full of them.

“I don’t have room for anything but surviving, Dru,” he finally finished. “I’m not like the others.” He had never appeared more broken to her than he did in that moment, power coursing through him even as he seemed to loathe it. No, he wasn’t like the others. It was one of the things that had made him impossible to stay away from. And now, for better or worse, she would pay the price for that fascination.

Dru struggled to get herself together enough to speak, reaching for the control that had helped her through two thousand years of what had often been a dangerous life. She could deal with this. She could deal with anything, as long as she was alive. Meresin made the situation sound simple, if brutal. For now, she guessed it was. But he hadn’t said a word about the thing that she had felt—invisible bonds pulling tight around the two of them, soft as silk but strong as iron. Unbreakable. Maybe he didn’t feel it as she did. Or maybe he did, and it was just adding to the fear and anger fueling the light that snapped and sparked over his skin.

Maybe…and none of it mattered at all right this second. Dru took a deep breath. She hadn’t made it this far without being every bit the warrior her brother was. Centurion or no.

“Okay,” she said with a small nod, surprised at how calm she sounded when inside she was anything but. “You’re leaving, and we could both die. So. First things first. We’re not going to die.”

He looked at her in utter disbelief. “Really. Forgive me if I’m not comforted.”

“You should be,” she said with a thin smile. “Because one thing I’m very good at is staying alive. Our lives depend on you, so wherever you’re going, I’m coming along.”

Chapter Eight

Meresin sat in his small, cozy alcove high above Terra Noctem, his wings hidden so that he could comfortably sit at the end of the plush mattress he would normally be lying on, if things were normal. But nothing was normal anymore. For one thing, this was the last day he’d be spending here, at least for a while.

For another, there was a woman in his bed. A very stubborn, immortal woman who had argued with him until the impending sunrise had turned the sky gray, and he’d had no choice but to return here one more time. He should leave while he could, while daylight kept Dru’s attempts to control the universe through sheer force of will at bay. But here he sat.

“I’m your mate, damn it,” she’d said. “Whether that ends up meaning anything or not, I deserve to try to keep us breathing. It’s my ass on the line, too!”

He hadn’t had a very good response to that, probably because there wasn’t one. He didn’t know what to do with her as a woman, but he did understand her desire to fight. It spoke to his deepest instincts. It was why he wasn’t still locked in a cage in some hellpit, waiting for death. He’d wanted to fight for a chance at survival. And though demon he might be, denying that chance to Dru felt…wrong.

So here they were. And when the dark shape appeared at the entrance to his nest, he made no move to force his brother out, instead waiting silently while Murmur folded his wings and approached. He had to give Murmur credit for persistence. He was the only one of their motley crew who showed up here regularly, despite the lack of welcome. For a time, Meresin had suspected that the man was only searching for secrets to extract. But after a while, it was clear Murmur simply wanted company.

Meresin had no idea why, apart from the fact that he supposed he qualified as a good listener since he wasn’t much interested in talking. Murmur certainly ran his mouth enough for two.

“Hey,” Murmur said, his eyes like chips of arctic ice in the dark. “Levi said you were up here.”

Meresin made a soft, irritated sound. “Sometimes I wish he’d mind his own business.”

Murmur smirked as he approached. “He thinks we’re it, I guess.” He grabbed a small stool from where it sat against the wall, set it down a couple feet from the end of the bed, and settled himself on it without any invitation before turning his attention to the still figure buried beneath the blankets.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but what the f**k are you doing?”

Meresin thought about offering an equally caustic retort, but after his night dealing with Dru, he just didn’t have the energy for it. He shrugged. “I have no idea. Winging it. Why do you care?”

Murmur snorted and shook his head, his smile flashing in the dark. “No clue, brother. If you weren’t a ticking time bomb I’d be first in line to tell you to go for it, but your timing here pretty much blows.”

That got a soft laugh out of him. “That’s true enough. Is that why you’re here? Levi send you up to lecture me?”

“No.” Murmur shook his head. “Considering the new mess you’ve got brewing, I was actually going to offer to help you out.”

Meresin stared. “New mess? She’s a two-thousand-year-old vampire. I don’t think she needs anyone’s permission to be here.”

Murmur raised his eyebrows. “You think I’m talking about Dru? If you haven’t noticed, nobody tries to babysit her. This will piss her brother off, but Justin’s been pissed off about you for two years now. He’ll live. No, I mean the fact that the vamp you tried to fry went missing last night. One of his buddies said Razer went looking for you. Never came back. But the buddy did find a Razer-shaped pile of ash when he went out searching before dawn. This is really doing nothing for our PR, Meresin. Even if you make it out of Purgatory in one piece, I don’t know if they’ll let you back in here. What were you thinking?”

It was Meresin’s turn to be surprised. Word traveled quickly here, a fact he tended to forget since he tried to stay out of vampire business.

“You honestly think I would bother with a grudge against some pissant vampire? Believe it or not, I have better things to do,” he said flatly.

Murmur had the nerve to smirk as he glanced at Dru. “No kidding.”

“Shut up. It’s not like that.” He remembered the feel of his hands on her hips, the way she’d fit against him, how hard she’d made him. Exactly none of which was any of Murmur’s business. The smug look his brother gave him told Meresin the other Fallen had guessed at the truth anyway.

“Whatever. You’re telling me you didn’t kill him, then?” Murmur asked.

“Well,” he hedged, “I didn’t say that.”

Murmur sighed. “Kind of what I thought. It’s a problem.”

“Not as much of a problem as the fact that the vamp came after me with a fire sword,” Meresin growled, annoyed that everyone’s first instinct was always to assume he was the guilty party. He’d never killed one of these stupid vampires before this Razer idiot, no matter how much he’d wanted to. It would be nice to have that appreciated once in a while.

Murmur stared at him for a moment, then cursed. “Fire sword? One of our fire swords?”

Meresin rose silently, walked a few steps to where he’d put down his duffel bag, and picked up the sword tucked beneath it. The blade began to smoke and spark at his touch, the fire bound to the metal reacting to his body heat. It could well have been made by Amriel, he thought—so many of these weapons were.

Weapons like him.

He returned and handed it to him. Murmur swore again as he took it, examining the simple design, the plain red, leather-wrapped hilt.

“Shit. It could be from our chest. We at least have one like it.” He turned it back and forth in the dim light and shook his head. “I can’t be sure. The extras are in the chest at Levi’s.”

“Then take it and check,” Meresin said, settling himself on the end of the bed again. “You know I have my own, even if I don’t use it.” He didn’t need one. He was the sword. Murmer’s eyes were troubled. “Whether it is or it isn’t from here, brother, the big question is how a dumb vamp like Razer got his hands on it. You know that.”

“Maybe he’s a savant when it comes to stealing. It happens,” he replied uneasily. This was the thing he hadn’t wanted to ponder. He didn’t have room for it on his list of worries right now.

“You think he stole something out of a locked chest in a house that belongs to the sea monster from Hell? Seriously? Razer, also known as Bob the Overcompensating Vampire?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” Meresin said, his voice taking on an edge. “Just take the damned sword. I have enough to worry about.”

“You’re going to want to add another thing if somebody gave him this sword,” Murmur shot back, glowering. “We have a lot of enemies, brother. They didn’t just disappear when we ditched DC and moved the city here. The Infernal Council is down another member. And considering how many nefari you fried on our way out—”

“I know, all right?” Meresin interrupted him. “I know.” And it made an awful sort of sense. They’d only been in Florida a month. He didn’t want to think that Lucifer and his Council had found them already. But if they had, he would look like the easiest one to try to pick off. He was often alone. And only a fool would think he’d truly be missed.

Besides…Lucifer had a personal interest in hunting him down. The devil bided his time, but when he decided he was ready to move, nothing Above or Below would stop him. He remembered Lucifer’s voice, the cold fury in it, as he’d slammed the door shut on the cage that had been his home since the night he’d left Heaven for the last time. As the key had turned in the lock, this time, he had thought, it would be for good.

“Amriel warned me…he said I couldn’t control what you would become, but I didn’t listen. You swore fealty to me. You swore it! Do you even remember what you were? How pathetic, how sad when you came to me? I promised you everything! I gave you everything! And you’ve repaid me with your disobedience, and your mewling, pathetic defiance of the smallest orders. Those I could overlook, once you’d been properly punished. But this…burning my foot soldiers. Electrocuting my army so that you could run screaming to the gates of Heaven and beg our enemies to take you back! They should have burned you where you stood. You should have asked for that. Because what I’m going to do to you will be so much worse, Meresin. You’ve made a fool of me. And no one makes a fool of the King of Hell.”

Meresin’s hand trembled, and he clenched his fist to make it stop. Didn’t any of his brothers wonder why he was seen so rarely in the Infernal City? Why he didn’t have an estate like the other Lords of Hell? He didn’t think so, even now. But then, he knew not to expect much. The Fallen were self-absorbed by nature.

So had he been…though his concerns hadn’t been so much about wealth and power and pleasure. More like avoiding intense, mind-bending pain and suffering.

Murmur was watching him closely with an expression that said he’d been able to see far too much of what Meresin was feeling. He tried to shut down, to block out all the old horror and humiliation. But not all of it would go, and it wouldn’t be long before he would need to curl into himself in the silence to ride out whatever memories would batter him until they were finished, and he could breathe again. Sometimes he blacked out. He wished for that. It was easier.

“I’ll take it to Levi,” Murmur said softly. “My offer of help still stands. I can come back. You’ll have a better chance of success if you aren’t on your own. And I know my way around Purgatory.”

He waited for some catch, some comment that would reveal the offer to be a cynical play for…something. He didn’t know what. Murmur had never been trustworthy, always working an angle, looking for useful information he could then use for his own ends. But he looked as sincere as he’d ever seen him. It was incredibly disconcerting. Dru in his bed and Murmur offering to help him with a likely impossible task—everything seemed to have turned upside down, and he couldn’t quite get his footing.