Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Entangled Otherworld
Ebook release date: October 12, 2010
She has Heaven to lose. He has Hell to pay.
Centuries of heartbreak. Grinding failures punctuated by too-few victories. What angel in her right mind would want this job? Celeste, who’s driven to save Devil-contracted souls before Hell can claim them, is weary but not beaten. Yet.
Her latest case makes her wonder if it’s all worth the anguish. A demon enticed a too-young musician into selling his soul for fortune and fame. To make matters worse, that demon is Damael, an insufferable, frightening minion with airtight contracts—and a body that makes her long for sin.
Damael’s always had a soft spot for Celeste, but if his bored superiors want drama, he’ll give them drama. Though it pains him to trick the angel he wants with all his black heart, eons of restrained lust win out. He makes the deal: her body in exchange for the human’s soul.
She wasn’t supposed to accept.
Damael can’t be trusted, but with the deadline bearing down, Celeste lays everything on the line in a last-ditch effort to save just one precious soul. Even if it means losing hers—along with her heart.
Warning: This title contains graphic language, explicit sex, an angelic heroine with attitude…and a demonic hero who’s smokin’ hot. Literally.
“A thoroughly satisfying read.” 4 stars, RT Book Reviews
“I read this in one sitting and loved it!…Damael was a super character that effortlessly danced between the roles of antagonist and hero and his willingness to change around Celeste made my heart pitter-patter.” Natalie from IReadRomance.com
“A fantastic story of good versus evil. It could have been strictly black and white but it came to life in shades of gray…I highly recommend it to fans of the genre and to those who aren’t and might just become so after reading this one.” Theresa Joseph from The Romance Studio
Celeste held out her hand. “Let me see it.”
Gaze steady upon her own, Damael reached into the breast pocket of his satiny jacket and pulled out a scroll tied with a black ribbon. The corner of his mouth tugged up with smug triumph as he handed it over. “The wording hasn’t changed since last time. You lost that one too, if I recall.”
Indeed, it was rare to find a loophole. Damael straightened his blood-red tie and lapels as she unfurled the thick parchment and read. The text grew smaller and smaller, and to human eyes would have disappeared altogether before the signature line. There was no way Adam had been able to read what he was signing, yet there was his hastily scribbled signature amid splatters of blood like obscene teardrops on the pale background.
Her heart fell and cracked. So young. So desperate.
Without a word, she handed it back to him. He watched her, his expression unreadable, as he rolled it up and returned it to his pocket.
“Why do they send you now?” he asked, surprising her with his sudden intensity. “Why don’t they send you to talk some sense into these idiots before they destroy themselves? Perhaps then you could be somewhat useful.”
Secretly, she agreed. “It has to do with free will, choosing one’s own destiny—”
“Blah, blah, blah. If that’s the case, then he’s chosen it. It’s done. Let him suffer the consequences.”
She sighed, folding her hands in front of her as she met his dark gaze squarely. His irises were a starless oblivion. Black and bottomless. She feared they would pull her right into their void and stretch her into nothing if she stared for too long. Yet she would not allow herself to look away. Those eyes were far less frightening now than when he was caught in the throes of lust—whether for a fresh soul or for her.
“What would it take for you to release him from his contract?” The oft-asked question sounded hollow even to her ears. She already knew the answer.
Flashing that singularly gorgeous smile, he stretched his long legs in front of him and laced his fingers across his stomach. Faint tendrils of smoke curled from his broad shoulders—he must be fresh from the flames. Amazing that a creature so beguilingly beautiful could be capable of such cruelty, but she was reminded of where he came from with every wisp that rose from his body and every smolder in his eyes. She’d witnessed his cruelty firsthand. She’d lost to him so many times. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d won.
The question that came from his lips then stunned her. “How desperate are you to win him?”
Celeste’s brows drew together. “Desperate? That’s hardly the word I’d use.”
“So then…you don’t care that much?”
“Of course I care. I’d like nothing more than to see him continue his life, and then to bring him safely home when his time is up.”
“Even though he essentially renounced all that is holy when he gave himself to me. And he’s lived a life of nothing but debauchery since, hurting everyone who loves him.”
“He’s no more lost than the others who eventually find their way.”
“Oh, I’d say he is,” Damael said. “I’d say he’s quite off the path, and a monster is eyeing him from the bushes, ready to pounce. It’ll strike in about seventeen hours. That monster is me.” He had never looked away from her once and, while she still found that unsettling, she began to relax somewhat. Damael was no threat to her whatsoever; she was off limits to him. “Don’t you get tired of watching it?” he asked softly. “You’re the only one of your kind who stays, you know. The rest of them flee in the final minutes. Why do you not?”
She dropped her gaze to the floor. “To punish myself, I suppose.”
“Because I lost.”
“How?” He unfolded his tall frame from the couch then walked over to stand in front of her. She knew because his shiny black shoes came into her field of vision, a startling contrast to the pristine white of her robes brushing the floor. His voice was sardonic and cold, nothing at all like those she was accustomed to hearing in her realm. “He lost when he signed himself to hell. Just because you can’t undo his stupidity doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.” Two fingers slid under her chin, exerting enough firm pressure to tilt her chin up until she was looking into those fathomless eyes.
Inhaling sharply, she couldn’t lend voice to her indignation. She should have backed away immediately and exhorted him to never touch her again. She should have, but she couldn’t. No dark magic he possessed could bewitch her as completely as the feel of his skin on hers. She’d always assumed it would burn, or pain her in some other way, or at the very least, disgust her. It only called forth a desperate longing for the forbidden. For something beyond her realm of experience.
“You stay and subject yourself to the terror of those you’re trying to protect. Why?”
“Because…” She couldn’t find any more words, lost in the roiling black sea of his eyes. Usually flat and glassy, just now they were turbulent.
“Because in that moment you rip their soul from their bodies and take them down, I don’t want you to be the only thing they see. I want them to see me, and feel my love for them, and know they were loved. That they didn’t have to choose this path.”
“That’s noble of you. But under the circumstances, rather cruel.”
“Maybe my compassion for them is something they can hang on to throughout the torment they face.”
“Most of them deserve it.”
“No,” she said, finding firmness at last, but not the strength to step away from him. He held her completely bound with nothing but his fingertips nudging the tender flesh under her chin. “If I allowed myself to believe that, I couldn’t do this.”
“So again I ask you, little angel, what would you do to win him back? To not have to witness the horror this time?”
She swallowed thickly, a little flare of hope and excitement coursing through her. “You keep asking me what I would do, but I have the suspicion you already have something in mind.”
One black wing-shaped brow edged higher in his forehead. His fingertips fell away, and all at once she felt as if the power that had been holding her upright buckled and collapsed. She almost stumbled, but managed to catch herself.
His gaze roved down from her face, taking in the folds of her white robes. A liquid ache pooled at the juncture of her thighs, spreading farther the longer he looked at her. She wasn’t unaccustomed to this sensation where he was concerned, but still it dismayed her. Wickedness seeped into his expression…nothing perceptible, really, but a subtle shift she could sense rather than see.
“W-what do you want?”
That flat black stare lifted to her face again. This time she felt certain it was pulling her in. “You.”
She blinked, pressing her thighs together in a feeble attempt to squelch the unsettling throb between them. “I don’t understand.”
“I think you do.”
“You want me to take his place? I cannot—”
“No. I want you naked and writhing beneath me.”
Stunned outrage flashed through her, followed too closely by a rush of heat that could have blown up from the very depths of hell itself. She should have stepped back and demanded for him to stop such appalling behavior. It wasn’t proper, it couldn’t happen—
But his voice drew her along as easily as a bit of tissue caught up in a strong draft, blown this way and that, helpless as to the direction or the destination. “I want you, your sweetness, your light. I want to bury myself in it. You, crying out my name. That’s what I want.”
“I’ll never say your name,” she snapped, as if this were the most offensive suggestion he’d made. “You want to ruin me.”
“Oh, no,” he murmured, and she closed her eyes as his hand came up and stroked her hair. “Don’t play coy. You know me. You tried to ignore it, but you know how I’ve wanted you. For all my centuries of hatred, death and decadence, you…” He exhaled shakily, and she opened her eyes in time to see him close his own. “You are somehow perfection.”
This proposition from any other of his kind would send her fleeing. And, as he implied, he should be repulsed by her, not tempted. Why he’d wanted her throughout all these millennia was a mystery to her. She’d always felt it, sensed it, though he’d never put his desire into words. Until now.
Gathering her frazzled senses at last, she straightened and lifted her chin. “Apparently, you’ve spent too long in the fire. You’ve finally lost what’s left of your mind.”
“I’ve spent too long in the fire, all right.” The sensual fullness of his lips became a wry slash.
“Be that as it may, there will be no deals of that nature between us. I want to take the matter before the mediator.”
His brow wrinkled. “Don’t make yourself look foolish because you’re angry at me.”
“No foolishness. I simply think it could be argued Adam was too young and impulsive to fully understand the consequences of his agreement.”
Damael scoffed. “They all are, whether they’re seventeen or seventy. Don’t you think?”
“My mind’s made up.”
“Very well. But keep in mind, there’s an easy way to get through this, with guaranteed victory on your part.” His gaze took another journey down the length of her body, and she fought the urge to wrap her arms around herself even though she was completely covered. “Easy, and dare I say, far more pleasurable than listening to Nicolae’s prattling.”
Without another word to him, Celeste turned and exited the room through the closed door. She had to get him out of her sight. Had to. It wasn’t because she was tempted—
Well, all right, she was. To the tips of her wings, she was tempted. He must be here to do just that: tempt her, make her stumble, watch her fall. She had to keep reminding herself of the demons she’d seen in true form…dripping maw, giant webbed wings, burning yellow eyes with narrow black slits for pupils. Scales blackened from millennia spent near hellfire. Nothing at all like their beguiling personas on earth.
Here, on this neutral playing field, they were each in humanlike form. Otherwise her light would strike him blind. His darkness could have any number of adverse effects on her, if he so desired. And neither was allowed at this juncture.
She wanted to win Adam’s soul, but not on Damael’s terms. No matter how her traitorous body responded to his touch. How much more would it respond if that touch wandered elsewhere? She couldn’t allow it, even if it meant losing again.
In this matter, it was so much more than a simple blow to her pride. It doomed a soul to everlasting slavery, all because of a moment of poor judgment. One moment of giving in to Damael’s mesmeric smile and his promises of fame and riches and glory beyond one’s wildest imaginings, of making all their dreams come true. She could almost understand why they did it, why they were eager to do it. After all, she wanted to believe he might actually give her what he promised if she succumbed to his will.
Would he really release Adam from the agreement?
Giddiness rose in her chest at the very thought of telling that man he was free. Telling him to go and enjoy his life and exorcise that haunted shadow in his eyes.
It would really feel…incredible.
Through her hazy vision, Celeste saw Damael’s shoes step closer, saw him crouch down beside her. More of the world came into view as he pushed the hair from her face, tugging gently as he pulled out bits of leaves and broken twigs. She let her eyelids close when the whirling in her head intensified, but that only seemed to make it worse, so she opened them again. “Th-thank you. For stopping her.”
He didn’t reply, just continued his task. She found it soothing, now that she was oddly confident he would kill any threatening force that came near her. Soothing…until she looked at him. Remnants of his earlier anger was still in his eyes. The black irises were so large there was hardly a ring of white around them.
“Why did you do that?” she asked, not allowing herself to look away. Trying to figure out his motives herself proved too much for her clouded thoughts. “I’d have been one less for your kind to contend with.”
He blinked at her. “Do you think that’s what I want?”
“Well, there are those of us who would like to strike you all dead on sight, run rampant in the earth and maim and kill and destroy until it’s a wasteland. You just met one such as that. But I, sweet angel, rather like the competition.”
“But I’m no competition, am I?”
He seemed to debate with himself for a moment. “You won the Roman emperor that time. Nailed me on the basic required language I’d been writing for centuries.”
She managed to laugh. “I remember now. You took it with exceptionally good grace.”
It might have been her imagination, but she thought his expression darkened, a haunted shadow crossing his perfect features. For the first time in her existence, it occurred to her to wonder what consequences he faced for failing. She didn’t meet any repercussions except sorrowful embraces and encouraging words that gave no comfort. What did Damael’s masters do to him when he didn’t deliver?
She hadn’t seen him for a long time after that miraculous victory. A long, long time.
Which begged another question that sent a chill through her. Would he really risk whatever hell might be in store for him by releasing Adam if she gave in?
“How do you feel?” he asked, and she realized she’d been staring up at him longer than she should have. Behind him, the sky was black and glittering with stars, but it had to be nearing dawn. She could escape into that great open expanse right now, be done with all of this. Leave Adam to the doom he’d only brought upon himself.
But she wasn’t doing it. And it was becoming more apparent to her that she wasn’t going to.
She shifted on the ground and winced at the sharp pains that crackled along her limbs. There really was no reason to lie to him. “Not well. I still hurt.”
“Shall I make it better?”
“If you’ll allow me.”
Wariness crept through her, and she furrowed her brow at him. “That depends on what I must allow.”
He withdrew his hand from her hair and rested his elbow on his bent knee. Under ordinary circumstances, his smile might have been described as seductive, but at the moment she found it to be merely cruel. “A kiss.”
A sound of frustration escaped her, and she turned her face away from him, toward the ground. “You lie. I should have known all of this was leading back to your perverse—”
“It’s the quickest way to draw the energy into myself. Unless you’d rather—”
“Don’t be like that. I can help you.”
“You only want to help yourself.”
“How is that? I’ve offered you everything you want. Adam’s soul. Your healing. I’m a regular good Samaritan here, am I not?”
She gave a bark of laughter and instantly cringed. He couldn’t deny that her vulnerability was tugging at every predatory sense he possessed. She was on the ground, crumpled, helpless. Like a little bird with a broken wing, and he was the cat creeping up on her, step by agonizingly slow step.
Her fingers dug into the ground as another spasm seemed to overtake her, and he made a production of sighing wearily.
“This is needless, I’m telling you. I can take it all away.”
“How long will I be this way?”
“Have you never come under attack before?”
“If I have, it’s been so long I can’t remember.”
“Well, then. You could lie here for days if I don’t help you.”
“And why should I believe that?”
“Because it’s the truth?”
“Ha. Unlikely. You only want me to kiss you.”
“That’s a given. But I’m being sincere as well.”
She glanced at him with a sort of desperation in her blue eyes that left him struggling to conceal compassion he had no business feeling. It made him hope his outlandish scheme to heal her would work, but it always had with humans. Maybe she would be no different. “I want to believe you. So much.” Even as a whisper, her words were strained, agonized.
“What does that say about me? Please, if there is any vestige of selflessness within you, leave me be. Don’t make me into a fool.”
The longer she’d spoken, the more strength her voice had gained, until finally those eyes were blazing at him with righteous anger. He realized his earlier assertion had been off base. Even while wounded, she was not vulnerable. At least not in spirit.
“You’re a worthy adversary,” he told her. “I’ve always thought that. You don’t give up until the end. You deserve more than to be left on the ground, wallowing in pain.” He reached forward and slid his hands beneath her, seeing her eyes fly open wide in alarm. Weakly, she struggled against him, but he was too strong for her at this point. He lifted her and shifted until he was sitting on the ground, cradling her in his arms.
She felt frail against him, insubstantial. The softness of the wings folded tight against her back made his mouth run dry. He’d never touched anything like that before in his life. Hadn’t known such suppleness existed, until she was in his arms.
Her chest was heaving, her hand gripping his jacket even as she stared up at him apprehensively. He couldn’t interpret whether her reaction was from fear or desire or perhaps a combination of both. Sudden frustration engulfed him whole and chewed him up without mercy.
“Stubborn angel, I give you my word, dammit, and I don’t do that often. Let me help you. But I won’t do it without your permission,” he added, hearing the tight, barely leashed desperation in his own voice. “Give it to me.”
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“I Can’t Do This” by Plumb
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