From high in the heavens, Lysander spotted his prey. At last. Finally, I will end this. His jaw clenched and his skin pulled tight. With tension. With relief. Determined, he jumped from the cloud he stood upon, falling quickly.. Wind whipping through his hair
When he neared ground, he allowed his wings, long and feathered and golden, to unfold from his back and catch in the current, slowing his progress.
He was a soldier for Germanus, the leader of the Sent Oneswinged warriors, like angels, but
not. Sent Ones were far more, and Lysander was more than most. He was one of the Elite Seven. With as many millennia as he'd lived, he'd come to learn that each of the Elite Seven had one temptation. One potential downfall. Like Eve with her apple. When they found this
thing, this abomination, they happily destroyed it before it could destroy them.
Lysander had finally found his.
She was the daughter of a Harpy and a phoenix shape-shifter. She was a thief, a liar and a killer who found joy in the vilest of tasks. Worse, the blood of demonshis greatest enemyflowed through her veins. Which meant Bianka was his enemy.
He lived to destroy his enemies.
However, he could only act against them when given permission from Germanus, who had to gain permission from the Most Highthe absolute, final authority in the heavens. The Most High loved humans and wanted them protected. Wanted them trained to fight evil, not destroyed by it. But Bianka wasn't exactly human, was she?
Bianka was more like him, and she had cursed him with a taste for what the mortals referred to as "desire."
Something had to be done.
He'd seen her for the first time several weeks ago, long black hair flowing down her back, amber eyes bright and lips bloodred. Watching her, unable to turn away, a single question had drifted through his mind: Was her pearllike skin as soft as it appeared?
Forget desire. He'd never wondered such a thing about anyone before. He'd never cared. But the question was becoming an obsession, discovering the truth a need. And it had to end. Now. This day.
He landed just in front of her, but she couldn't see him. No one could. He existed on another plane, invisible to mortal and immortal alike. He could scream, and she would not hear him. He could walk through her, and she would not feel him. For that matter, she would not smell or sense him in any way.
Until it was too late.
He could have formed a fiery sword from air and cleaved her head from her body, but didn't. As he'd already realized and accepted, he could not kill her. Yet. But he could not allow her to roam unfettered, tempting him, a plague to his good sense, either. Which meant he would have to settle for imprisoning her in his home in the sky.
That didn't have to be a terrible ordeal for him, however. He could use their time together to show her the right way to live. And the right way was, of course, his way. What's more, if she did not conform, if she did finally commit that unpardonable sin, he would be there, at last able to rid himself of her influence.
Do it. Take her.
He reached out. But just before he could wrap his arms around her and fly her away, he realized she was no longer alone. He scowled, his arms falling to his sides. He did not want a witness to his deeds.
"Best day ever," Bianka shouted skyward, splaying her arms and twirling. Two champagne bottles were clutched in her hands and those bottles flew from her grip, slamming into the ice mountains of Alaska surrounding her. She stopped, swayed, laughed. "Oopsie."
His scowl deepened. A perfect opportunity lost, he realized. Clearly, she was intoxicated. She wouldn't have fought him. Would have assumed he was a hallucination or that they were playing a game. Having watched her these past few weeks, he knew how much she liked to play games.
"Waster," her sister, the intruder, grumbled. Though they were twins, Bianka and Kaia looked nothing alike. Kaia had red hair and gray eyes flecked with gold. She was shorter than Bianka, her beauty more delicate. "I had to stalk a collector for daysdays!to steal that. Seriously. You just busted Dom Perignon White Gold Jeroboam."
"I'll make it up to you." Mist wafted from Bianka's mouth. "They sell Boone's Farm in town."
There was a pause, a sigh. "That's only acceptable if you also steal me some cheese tots. I used to highjack them from Sabin every day, and now that we've left Budapest, I'm in withdrawal."
Lysander tried to pay attention to the conversation, he really did. But being this close to Bianka was, as always, ruining his concentration. Only her skin was similar to her sister's, reflecting all the colors of a newly sprung rainbow. So why didn't he wonder if Kaia's skin was as soft as it appeared?
Because she is not your temptation. You know this.
There, atop a peak of Devil's Thumb, he watched as Bianka plopped to her bottom. Frigid mist continued to waft around her, making her look as if she were part of a dream. Or a Sent One's nightmare.
"But you know," Kaia added, "stealing Boone's Farm in town doesn't help me now. I'm only partially buzzed and was hoping to be totally and completely smashed by the time the sun set."
"You should be thanking me, then. You got smashed last night. And the night before. And the night before that."
Kaia shrugged. "So?"
"So, your life is in a rut. You steal liquor, climb a mountain while drinking and dive off when drunk."
"Well, then yours is in a rut, too, since you've been with me each of those nights." The redhead frowned. "Still. Maybe you're right. Maybe we need a change." She gazed around the majestic summit. "So what new and exciting thing do you want to do now?"
"Complain. Can you believe Gwennie is getting married?" Bianka asked. "And to Sabin, keeper of the demon of Doubt, of all people. Or demons. Whatever."
Gwennie. Gwendolyn. Their youngest sister.
"I know. It's weird." A still-frowning Kaia eased down beside her. "Would you rather be a bridesmaid or be hit by a bus?"
"The bus. No question. That, I'd recover from."
Bianka did not like weddings? Odd. Most females craved them. Still. No need for the bus, Lysander wanted to tell her. You will not be attending your sister 's wedding.
"So which of us will be her maid of honor, do you think?" Kaia asked.
"Not it," Bianka said, just as Kaia opened her mouth to say the same.
Bianka laughed with genuine amusement. "Your duties shouldn't be too bad. Gwennie's the nicest of the Skyhawks, after all."
"Nice when she's not protecting Sabin, that is." Kaia shuddered. "I swear, threaten the man with a little bodily harm, and she's ready to claw your eyes out."
"Think we'll ever fall in love like that?" As curious as Bianka sounded, there was also a hint of sadness in her voice.
Why sadness? Did she want to fall in love? Or was she thinking of a particular man she yearned for? Lysander had not yet seen her interact with a male she desired.
Kaia waved a deceptively delicate hand through the air. "We've been alive for centuries without falling. Clearly, it's just not meant to be. But I, for one, am glad about that. Men become a liability when you try and make them permanent."
"Yeah," was the reply. "But a fun liability."
"True. And I haven't had fun in a long time," Kaia said with a pout.
"Me, either. Except with myself, but I don't suppose that counts."
"It does the way I do it."
They shared another laugh.
Fun. Sex, Lysander realized, now having no trouble keeping up with their conversation. They were discussing sex. Something he'd never tried. Not even with himself. He'd never wanted to try, either. Still didn't. Not even with Bianka and her amazing (soft?) skin.
As long as he'd been alivea span of time far greater than their few hundred yearshe'd seen many humans caught up in the act. It looked
messy. As un-fun as something could be. Yet humans betrayed their friends and family to do it. They even willingly, happily gave up hard-earned money in exchange for it. When not taking part themselves, they became obsessed with it, watching others do it on a television or computer screen.
"We should have nailed one of the Lords when we were in Buda," Kaia said thoughtfully. "Paris is hawt."
She could only be referring to the Lords of the Underworld. Immortal warriors possessed by the demons once locked inside Pandora's box. As Lysander had observed them throughout the centuries, ensuring they obeyed heavenly laws, he knew that Paris was host to Promiscuity, forced to bed a new person every day or weaken and die.
"Paris is hot, yes, but I liked Amun." Bianka stretched to her back, mist again whipping around her. "He doesn't speak, which makes him the perfect man in my opinion."
Amun, the host of the demon of Secrets. So. Bianka liked him, did she? Lysander pictured the warrior. Tall, though Lysander was taller. Muscled, though Lysander was more so. Dark where Lysander was light. He was actually relieved to know the Harpy preferred a different type of male than himself.
That wouldn't change her fate, but it did lessen Ly-sander's burden. He hadn't been sure what he would have done if she'd asked him to touch her. That she wouldn't was most definitely a relief.
"What about Aeron?" Kaia asked. "All those tattoos
" A moan slipped from her as she shivered. "I could trace every single one of them with my tongue."
Aeron, host of Wrath. One of only two Lords with wings, Aeron's were black and gossamer. He had tattoos all over his body, and looked every inch the demon he was. What's more, he had recently broken a spiritual covenant. Therefore, Aeron would be dead before the upcoming nuptials.
Lysander's charge, Olivia, had been ordered to slay the warrior. So far she had resisted the decree. The girl was too softhearted for her own good. Eventually, though, she would do her duty. Otherwise, she would be kicked to earth, immortal no longer, and that was not a fate Lysander would allow.
Of all the Sent Ones he'd trained, she was by far his favorite. As gentle as she was, a man couldn't help but want to make her happy. She was trustworthy, loyal and all that was pure; she was the type of female who should have tempted him. A female he might have been able to accept in a romantic way. Wild Bianka
"However will I choose between my two favorite Lords, B?" Another sigh returned Lysander's focus to the Harpies.
Bianka rolled her eyes. "Just sample them both. Not like you haven't enjoyed a twofer before."
Kaia laughed, though the amusement didn't quite reach her voice. Like Bianka, there was a twinge of sadness to the sound. "True."
Lysander's mouth curled in mild distaste. Two different partners in one day. Or at the same time. Had Bianka done that, too? Probably.
"What about you?" Kaia asked. "You gonna hook up with Amun at the wedding?"
There was a long, heavy pause. Then Bianka shrugged. "Maybe. Probably."
He should leave and return when she was alone. The more he learned about her, the more he disliked her. Soon he would simply snatch her up, no matter who watched, revealing his presence, his intentions, just to save this world from her dark influence.
He flapped his wings once, twice, lifting into the air.
"You know what I want more than anything else in the world?" she asked, rolling to her side and facing her sister. Facing Lysander directly, as well. Her eyes were wide, amber irises luminous. Beams of sunlight seemed to soak into that glorious skin, and he found himself pausing.
Kaia stretched out beside her. "To cohost Good Morning America??"
"Well, yeah, but that's not what I meant."
"Then I'm stumped."
" Bianka nibbled on her bottom lip. Opened her mouth. Closed her mouth. Scowled. "I'll tell you, but you can't tell anyone."
The redhead pretended to twist a lock over her lips.
"I'm serious, K. Tell anyone, and I'll deny it then hunt you down and chop off your head."
Would she truly? Lysander wondered. Again, probably. He could not imagine hurting his Olivia, whom he loved like a sister. Maybe because she was not one of the Elite Seven, but was a joy-bringer, the weakest of the Sent Ones.
There were three factions in the skies. The Elite Seven, the warriors and the joy-bringers. Their status was reflected in both their different duties and the color of their wings. Each of the Seven possessed golden wings, like his own. Warriors possessed white wings merely threaded with gold, and the joy-bringers' white wings bore no gold at all.
Olivia had been a joy-bringer all the centuries of her existence. Something she was quite happy with. That was why everyone, including Olivia, had experienced such shock when golden down had begun to grow in her feathers.
Not Lysander, however. He'd petitioned the Heavenly High Council, and they'd agreed. It had needed to be done. She was too fascinated by the demon-possessed warrior Aeron. Too
infatuated. Ridding her of such an attraction was imperative. As he well knew.
His hand clenched into a fist. He blamed himself for Olivia's circumstances. He had sent her to watch the Lords. To study them. He should have gone himself, but he'd hoped to avoid Bianka.
"Well, don't just lie there. Tell me what you want to do more than anything else in the world," Kaia exclaimed.
Bianka uttered another sigh. "I want to sleep with a man."
Kaia's brow scrunched in confusion. "Uh, hello. Wasn't that what we were just discussing?"
"No, dummy. I mean, I want to sleep. As in, conk out. As in, snores so loud he contemplates kicking me outbefore realizing he can't live without me."
A moment passed in silence as Kaia absorbed the announcement. "What! That's forbidden. Stupid. Dangerous."
Harpies lived by two rules, he knew. They could only eat what they stole or earned, and they could not sleep in the presence of another. The first was because of a curse on all Harpy-kind, and the second because Harpies were suspicious and untrusting by nature.
Lysander's head tilted to the side as he found himself imagining holding Bianka in his arms as she drifted into slumber. That fall of dark curls would tumble over his arm and chest. Her warmth would seep into his body. Her leg would rub over his.
He could never allow it, of course, but that didn't diminish the power of the vision. To hold her, protect her, comfort her would be
Would her skin be as soft as it appeared?
His teeth ground together. There was that ridiculous question again. I do not care. It does not matter.