hearts of fire Page 9

“I want to know why you came in after me,” she said.

It took him a full minute to answer, and when he did, it was as unsatisfying as she’d expected. “Why does it matter?”

Dru considered for a moment. “Because you usually go out of your way to avoid me. You act like I have a combination of Ebola and bubonic plague.” She cocked her head. “You sure you haven’t been drinking, too?”

Meresin tensed beneath her, and she found herself torn between annoyance and a fresh wave of arousal. She needed to be firm with him. Otherwise he’d just slink off like he usually did. Her body, however, seemed determined to betray her.

“I was just curious, I suppose,” he said. “It’s not like you to go out with…ah…be out by yourself.”

She understood at once. He hadn’t been on the roof. He knew exactly where she’d been, because he’d been following her around. All night.

“It’s not like me to go out with your brothers, you mean,” she said slowly.

He flushed, looking about as guilty as she’d ever seen him, which was all the answer she needed. Dru stared at him, speechless. She would have throat punched another man for skulking around after her. But with Meresin, she suspected this had more to do with his complete lack of interpersonal skills. Maybe—no, probably—he didn’t know how to be anything but on the outside looking in. Which would make the current situation count as an improvement.

He had issues she could only begin to imagine. Issues she could admit she spent far too much time guessing at.

“Meresin,” she said softly, sensing an opening to tell him with words what she’d already tried to tell him with her body tonight. It was all she had left before just scrawling I want you on a baseball bat and hitting him with it until he got the point. She wished she’d been sure of how he felt before this—coyness wasn’t something she bothered with anymore—but one night was better than none. “I wanted you.”

In a blink, she found herself deposited on the ground as Meresin moved to put some space back between them. Her body protested the loss of his warmth—and her pride stung far more than her backside did when she landed on it. She scrambled to her feet while Meresin retreated to stand by a pool of shadow. She had a terrible feeling he would just vanish into it without a word, as though nothing had happened between them. And this time, there was a distinct possibility he wouldn’t be back.

“Meresin,” she said, more sharply this time. They’d gone from being tangled up in each other right back to “don’t touch me.” What the hell was wrong with him?

“I make a point of knowing where my brothers are, even if I don’t want to join them. Tonight you were with them. Don’t read anything into it,” he warned her.

“Don’t read anything into what? You following me around, or you kissing me so hard I couldn’t think straight? I need specifics if you want to fight about it, Meresin.”

His fangs flashed on a frustrated growl, and she didn’t know whether to scream at him or climb him like a tree. She wished it was still the booze, but it wasn’t. He made her crazy without any assistance at all.

“I don’t want to fight!” he snapped.

Dru threw up her hands with a frustrated growl. “Then what do you want? I don’t understand you at all!” she cried. She’d almost forgotten the helpless feeling of caring for someone who either couldn’t or wouldn’t accept it, but he brought it all back.

This is a totally different situation.

And yet it wasn’t any different at all.

Meresin’s eyes were a storm when they met hers. Angry again. The warm, surprisingly sweet Fallen who’d laughed so hard only minutes ago was gone, replaced by the damaged warrior. His agitation was obvious—light sparked from the clenched fists at his sides, streaks of lightning curling up his forearms and casting a flickering glow on the side of the building. The charred, tattered remnants of the shirt he still wore served as a reminder that he really had been kissing her like she was the only woman he’d ever wanted. She would try to hang onto that. It was all she was likely to get at this point.

“Damn it, Meresin, don’t walk away from me this time.” She tried to keep the desperation out of her voice. The words echoed in her ears, dredging up pieces of the distant past she didn’t want to remember.

Caius, I love you! Don’t shut me out…I want to help. You’re better than this!

No, a long-dead voice whispered in return from the depths of memory, I’m not. And even now she could hear the undercurrent of dark amusement that had shown her the truth…and broken her heart.

“Dru,” he said, and she could hear the longing in his voice before he looked away, shaking his head. “This was a mistake. I have to go.”

A mistake.

The word cut deep even though this was nothing but a stupid fixation followed by heated fumbling, followed by—well, because it was her life it was followed by some sort of Heavenly smiting for screwing around on holy ground. But it still shouldn’t have meant anything to her.

And thinking that didn’t change a thing. He mattered. Even if she couldn’t figure out why.

“I wish you’d stay,” Dru said, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice. She wouldn’t beg. She’d only ever done that once.

A warm breeze kicked up, sending a soft, slightly sinister rush of sound through the trees. The hair prickled at the back of her neck, but Dru pushed away her sudden unease. She was scarier than anything out here. Meresin continued to watch her with an unfathomable expression, his violet eyes glowing in the dark.

“I know you have a lot going on,” she said softly. “But for tonight, could we just—”

The rest of the words died in her throat as she caught a blur of movement out of the corner of her eye streaking toward Meresin. She had the vaguest impression of a human figure—and of a long, sharp object that flickered orange.

Fire sword.

Chapter Seven

Dru reacted instinctively, as much a blur as the interloper. But the faster she moved, the more time slowed, making every tiny detail stand out as she tried to intercept the one weapon that could easily destroy an angel, fallen or otherwise. She saw the startled fury in Meresin’s eyes, the terrible beauty of the blade as it arced down. And finally, the bared fangs of the vampire Meresin had humiliated only hours ago.

Bob. Razer.

Oh, shit.

It didn’t matter how the vamp had obtained the rare weapon. All that mattered was that his aim was true. She knew it with every fiber of her being. A blow through the heart with a sword like that would prove fatal for Meresin. So she did what came as naturally as breathing—she acted as protector.

Just a quick pinch, she thought wildly, hurling herself in front of Meresin with all the precision of a seasoned warrior. I can take it, I’m a vamp, I’ve had worse, I can take it…

She arched back as the sword burned through her chest, her mouth opening on a silent scream. It hurt…hurt with a raw agony she had rarely experienced, a shock of searing pain that quickly subsided to a low and constant burn. She heard Meresin’s roar, saw a flash of violet light that was followed by unearthly screaming. She thought she caught a glimpse of a figure enveloped in purple flames, running in wild circles. Then gentle hands caught her as she sank to the ground. She stared blankly at the burning piece of metal driven so deeply into her chest that she was fairly sure the point had come out the other side. Smoke curled lazily upward from her chest. Black smoke.

“No.”

She almost didn’t recognize the desolate, broken sound as Meresin’s voice, but there he was, his hand on the hilt of the fire sword. He pulled it free, then tossed it aside. Dru gasped as the blade left her, and a fountain of her blood gushed forth with such force that it spattered around them like rain.

But the burning didn’t stop, nor did the smoke.

This isn’t right. I ought to be healing by now, this isn’t right…

“Why?” Meresin asked. His voice sounded far away, even though his face was close to hers. His eyes were impossibly sad, an emotion so out of character for him that she couldn’t begin to wrap her mind around it.

“Why would you do that?” he asked again, the harshness of his voice at odds with the torment she saw etched in his face. “You have no duty to me! I’m not worth your life, you little fool!”

“I’m fine,” she insisted, and her voice sounded funny and slurred again. She licked her lips and frowned. “My lips are numb. I’ll be okay in a minute. Just…bleeding a little longer than usual.” Meresin loomed over her, his eyes like strange fire as they dropped to her chest. She moved her hands to cover the wound, not liking what she saw on his face.

“Let me see,” he snapped.

“It’s not so bad,” she said. “Just a scratch for a vamp.” The joke landed with a thud as he deftly moved her hands away from the wound. His mouth tightened into a thin line. He stared at her wound, at the smoke and blood still leaving her, for what seemed like a long time. She wasn’t healing. This wasn’t working the way it was supposed to.

“Dru,” he said, his voice softening to a whisper. “Your chest.”

She wasn’t at all sure that she wanted to hear more. She wanted her apartment, her bed. Everything familiar and comfortable and normal. Everything just as it should be. This was what she got for throwing a wrench into the works.

“Can you take me home, Meresin?” she asked, struggling to make her lips form the words. “I think I need to lie down.” Her hands were wet and sticky where she’d clasped them over her wound. All these centuries of fighting, and she had never really been wounded. How had one stupid vampire, who had no particular skill, managed to get in the kind of blow that actually did damage? Fear bloomed deep in her ruined chest. She willed her wound to close. It was like holding her hands above a fire. Her palms quickly grew hot.

“You have no idea what you’ve done,” he said, his voice a ragged growl. “I could have handled it. It wasn’t your place to take the blow for me. Why do you always have to interfere?”

He sounded confused and angry. Good thing she hadn’t expected a thank-you. And she wasn’t so hurt that his words didn’t sting. Always interfering?

“I interfere for the same reason you’re a complete a**hole. I’m just built that way,” she said.

He made a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a groan, and the worry written plainly on his face was some small consolation for his words.

“I would have taken care of it,” he muttered.

“You didn’t see him fast enough. Idiot was going to kill you,” Dru said, taking pains to enunciate. “I hope you fixed his ass.” She remembered the running figure enveloped in purple flame and was certain he had. Meresin nodded.

“I did. But not as well as he fixed yours.” She’d never heard his voice so grim.

“I can heal—”

“No,” he said sharply. “You can’t. Not from this. Did you really think a weapon that can kill the highest of angels wouldn’t do the same to a vampire?”

Well…no. But he didn’t have to rub it in. The numbness in her lips spread over her face, then found its way to her hands, her feet. She started to shake, feeling the steady stream of blood from her chest slow even as the heat pouring from it intensified. Her eyes fastened on Meresin’s face as panic began to set in.

“Help me. Please.” Her voice came out as little more than a whisper. Her breath began to hitch, her body shuddering as she tried to draw in air. After all this time, she was dying. It was strange to realize that she still wasn’t ready to go. Not even close. She clutched at him clumsily. “Please,” she repeated.

His hands, long-fingered and graceful, hovered uncertainly over her wound. “If I can just get you home,” he said. “Someone else can—I shouldn’t—I— Hellfire, Dru, I can’t do this!”

His words emerged in a furious rush, but she could see he was torn about something. It filled her with terrible hope. She slid her hand to his chest, splaying her fingers over where his heart should be, willing whatever blackened husk remained to have even a hint of compassion.

“I don’t…I don’t want to die,” she said. “If you can do something…I don’t care what it is.”

His eyes met hers again, and the torment she saw there ripped through her. He could do something. She knew he could. The unspoken truth hung in the air between them.

“You don’t even know what you’re ask—”

Her cry cut him off as a wave of agonizing pain ripped through her, burning like wildfire. She arched, stiffened, then went limp as the pain drifted away, and the world began to fade. She was vaguely aware that her labored breathing had stopped. The burning in her chest subsided, and she began to hear far-off whispers and music she hadn’t heard since she was a child. Her body ceased to matter as she began to will herself in the direction of the song, floating away, despair beginning to change to curiosity. Someone whispered her name, someone so familiar.

“Drusilla?”

Meresin’s voice filled her head, her body, shocking her back into consciousness.

“No!”

Dru’s eyes snapped open as she gasped in air. Meresin had gathered her in his arms, and he filled her vision. She had never seen anything so dark, or so beautiful. He looked half-wild, his ebony wings spread and curved protectively around the two of them. Power shimmered over his fair skin—violet, like his lightning, like his eyes. Her eyes began to slip shut again as whatever lay beyond pulled at her, but she saw him bare his fangs, as deadly as her own.