hearts of fire Page 15

“What, was it Casual Friday at the office?” he asked, glad to find his footing again as the wonder of what he had done faded…though a part of him was sad to feel it go.

Uriel’s eyes narrowed. Then he noticed they weren’t alone.

“Dru?” Uriel’s golden brows knitted into a thunderous frown. “You shouldn’t be here.”

Meresin had to fight to keep his lips from curving up at the way she faced down one of the most powerful beings in creation. Her hand was on one hip, her stance relaxed, and she managed to appear almost bored.

“Story of my life,” she said. “Don’t worry about me. I can handle it.”

Also the story of your life. The woman thought she could handle anything, up to and including being run through with supernatural weapons and then bound to a wretched creature like him. She hadn’t complained once, he realized. And she hadn’t shied away from what needed to be done. Not even when it meant hurting herself to help him.

Somehow, she wanted to be here. With him. It didn’t make any sense, but then, neither did the amount of time he spent dreaming of those crimson lips and remembering how they tasted. The bonding had only made it worse. Still, she’d proven herself to be far more than an object of lust already. Dru was very…competent. Like a female angel, but with more attitude and less inhibition.

His cheeks warmed, and he tried to focus on Uriel, who for the first time in memory appeared to have been taken completely by surprise.

The archangel’s expression was priceless as he looked between the vampire and the demon.

“I don’t understand this,” Uriel finally said. “I thought there was an outside chance I would find one of the others with you. But not this. Why are you here, Dru?”

“She’s coming with me,” Meresin growled before she could answer. “You made the choice to send me off. This choice is mine.”

Dru raised her eyebrows at him, the surprise evident in her dark red eyes. Did she not expect him to fight to keep her with him? Probably not. But she had no idea how close he’d been to letting the lightning take him just now. He could hear her, when no other voice would penetrate, and it had saved him. He didn’t know why…but it didn’t really matter. He could no longer question her value, even if he didn’t want to think too deeply about it.

“You know she can’t pass into Purgatory,” Uriel said. “Is your mind that far gone, Meresin? You’ll kill her, trying to drag her through the portal!”

“I won’t. My choice,” he repeated. “She comes with me.”

Uriel shook his head. “Madness. You still think of nothing but yourself.”

The words were designed to cut him, and they did. In an instant, he was thousands of years younger, finally having worked up his courage to ask for what he needed—only to have his request dismissed.

“Who are you to judge me?” he asked, wishing he didn’t hear the hurt fledgling he had once been in his voice. “You’re no one to me, Uriel. You never were. And you still don’t know anything about who I am.”

Uriel’s voice was as hard as his eyes. “Neither do you, Meresin. That’s always been a lot of your problem. You rush headlong into what you think you want without a single care for anyone else, but you never find what you’re seeking because you don’t know what it is. That flaw has already cost you Heaven and Hell. I won’t let you add Dru’s life to the debt you owe the universe.”

It was surreal, seeing Uriel pull a massive long sword from between his shoulder blades. And just like that, his wings were visible in all their glory, spread out against the night. His sword flickered menacingly from the flames that had been folded into the metal. His hands were wrapped around the hilt, which was a bright and shining gold, and his eyes went to blue fire. In an instant, he was the terrible warrior Meresin had battled in the skies between worlds.

“You go alone,” Uriel said, his voice echoing. “Or not at all.”

Meresin watched him, stunned. He could hear Dru shouting, faintly, but the wind had come up, hissing across the sand and carrying her voice away. And Uriel, as ever, wasn’t listening. He wasn’t really going to cut him down here, now…over this? He tried one more time to get through to the archangel.

“You really think I would kill her? She’s coming for a reason, damn you! Listen to me!”

For the briefest moment, as Uriel raised the sword above his head, Meresin wondered whether letting the blade come down would finally bring him peace—would bring all of them some peace. He was so tired of the storm within. There was no sound. Everything slowed. There was only the blade, glowing in the night.

And then he remembered Dru. It wasn’t that simple anymore.

The thought was a shock to his system, spurring him to movement as reality sped up. He heard Dru’s scream, heard the whisper of air as the sword sliced neatly through it. And then it stopped with sparks and a sharp clang of metal on metal as Meresin went to one knee.

“Stop! Dru has my blood in her veins now. She can enter Purgatory. Because. We’re. Bound,” he said, teeth bared, enunciating every word so that he could be sure Uriel understood.

He saw his words sink in as the fury faded from Uriel’s face, replaced by stunned disbelief. There might have even been the smallest hint of remorse…though that was no doubt wishful thinking. Archangels were never sorry. And they never apologized.

“The two of you?” Uriel asked, his brows drawing together. “It can’t be.”

As the archangel backed away and lowered his sword, Meresin thought it had almost been worth the attempt on his life just to see how stunned Uriel was. It was a thing he’d never seen and probably never would again.

“It’s not what you think,” Dru said hurriedly. “A vamp he tried to fry got his hands on a fire sword last night and came after him. Meresin didn’t see him right away, and I…got in the way.” She glanced at Meresin. “On purpose.”

Uriel looked stricken. “Dru.”

“I did what had to be done to save her,” Meresin said, not bothering to hide his smug satisfaction. Let the archangel tell him he’d gone insane now. The vampire with him might go after Uriel herself.

Uriel slumped, just for a moment—a telling sign of just how off guard he’d been taken. Then he straightened, slid the sword back into its sheath, and lifted a hand to rub absently at one of his temples.

Meresin didn’t appreciate the complete confusion that lingered on the archangel’s face. So he didn’t hang around women much. Ever, actually. That didn’t mean that this should be the one thing he’d ever seen blow the archangel’s mind.

Finally, Uriel shook his head and then spoke. As he expected, it wasn’t an apology. Just a change of subject. “This was the vampire you got in trouble with last night.”

“Naturally,” he replied.

Uriel regarded him for a moment before speaking again. “And just so we’re clear, that vampire is…”

“Dead. As it should be.”

Uriel sighed softly as he gave a short nod. “I would rather have had him to question, but I’m well aware that you and your brothers don’t do that.”

“Uriel, I’d just had a fire sword rammed through my chest. Meresin did the best he could in a really bad situation.” The snap in Dru’s voice had both of them turning their heads sharply. It was strangely gratifying to see her with her arms crossed, glaring at the archangel. Instinct nearly had Meresin telling her he didn’t need her help. Something, however, held him back this time.

He kind of…liked…that she’d come to his defense.

Uriel’s voice softened when he addressed Dru. “I understand that. And believe me, I’m glad you’re all right.” Then he turned his attention back to Meresin. “Do you have the sword he used?”

“I gave it to Murmur,” he said. “There’s really nothing special about it. Red leather on the hilt, but beyond that, very plain.”

Uriel was frowning. “There were no identifying markings on it? No patterns embossed in the leather?”

An unpleasant feeling curled in the pit of his stomach. “No. Could it be one of the swords from the chest you gave us? I never paid much attention to them.”

Uriel shook his head. “Similar, from the sound of it, at least in color. But no. I selected those swords myself. None match that description.”

He wanted to be surprised, or devastated. Something other than just incredibly tired. But he couldn’t find it in him. “Ah,” was all he said. Dru had gone a bit paler. No doubt she’d have hundreds of ideas for how they could defeat death and live to fight another millennium, mainly because she still didn’t understand the true nature of what she was dealing with…not even now.

Still, it was strange to realize that he didn’t mind having her here to deal with it alongside him.

“This means Hell has found us again already,” she said. “Right?”

Uriel sighed. “Yes. But it was never going to be long. So many places are being overrun with nefari and inferi,” he said, referring to the low demons that served as the armies and minions of the fallen angels who had become demon lords. “They have scouts everywhere. And though many of your city’s people are kind, Dru, a lot of them aren’t very inconspicuous. I’m not surprised. This vampire’s anger probably drew a demon to him once he was aboveground. After that…he may have asked for a way to kill Meresin, or the idea may have been planted in him. Maybe a bit of both. It doesn’t matter.”

Dru made an irritated sound. “I don’t want to have to move the city again so soon. They’ve already shown that they’re escalating, that they’ll try to overrun us. Damn it, I wanted to stay here for a while!”

“There are other things you should be worried about right now,” Uriel replied. “But the problem you speak of is something my brethren and I have been talking about. Mirage is much smaller than DC. There are other things that can be done. Other protections we can now offer you. Especially with both the city and Levi’s Fallen proving their worth so well.”

She looked puzzled by his assurances. “Other—”

“When the time comes, we can discuss it,” he said. “Right now the two of you have more pressing concerns.”

For once, Meresin had to agree with the archangel. He was curious about the added protections for the city, but not enough to linger here any longer than he had to. If Lucifer had finally decided to target him, that made it even more pressing that they get moving. Even Purgatory would be dangerous for him now. He had no doubt that a cage—the cage— had been kept waiting for the day he was captured and forced to return. No doubt Torrin would be thrilled to see him. His jailer had always been so pleasant.

Try to escape, freak, and you’ll be snapped right out of the air for something’s next meal. There are things much bigger than you down here. And they’re always hungry. Can’t you hear them? They can hear you…

“Meresin? You’re starting to, ah, crackle again.”

Her voice startled him out of his memories, out of the tiny prison that hung suspended over things that slithered and snapped in pitch-darkness, never sleeping. His fear had bubbled up to the surface. Heat, familiar and deadly, danced between his fingertips with violet light.

“Sorry,” he said absently as he pulled the power back in again. It pained him, but not too badly this time. Dru was smiling at him in a way that made his own lips begin to curve in return. She was beautiful by anyone’s measure, but when she smiled and meant it, he’d noticed, her eyes did this thing that—

The smile and the sentiment both died when he caught sight of Uriel’s face out of the corner of his eye.

“What?” Meresin snapped, whipping his head around to face him.

“Nothing,” Uriel replied, and quickly collected himself into his usual placid superiority.

“Good description of what’s in your head,” Meresin said flatly. “Just open a portal so we can make the jump.”

Uriel’s mouth thinned ever so slightly with disapproval.

Prick.

Uriel appeared to feel the same way, deciding to ignore him in favor of Dru, who was standing with her pack slung over her shoulder and looking impossibly young for her age. There was nothing girlish about the steely expression in her eyes, though. That had every moment of her two thousand years of survival in it. Seeing it bolstered him.

“Drusilla,” Uriel said, reverting to formality.

Meresin sighed heavily and shifted his weight, waiting for whatever serious pronouncement or set of instructions was coming.

“Do you understand what it means, to have your life now bound to Meresin’s?”

She nodded. “Yes. It’s why I’m going with him.”

“I see.” Uriel glanced at him suspiciously, and Meresin’s hackles rose. Just because he hadn’t spelled everything out for Dru didn’t mean he’d lied to her about the situation. If they were lucky enough to make it back, maybe there would be cause for further discussion. Right now, though, thinking much past tomorrow was pointless. Uriel should know that. There was nothing nefarious going on here.

“Well, for now, you’re right to focus on survival above all else. Which brings me to my concern. I can appreciate your bravery, but I want to warn you against going into Purgatory, Dru,” he said, and his voice was kinder than it ever was when he was addressing the Fallen. “It’s a place full of shadows and unhappiness. It’s easy to get lost, both in the land and in yourself.” Then he frowned. “Does anyone else even know what you’re doing?”