Paris tossed back three fingers of Glenlivet and signaled the bartender. He wanted an entire hand and by right or might, he'd have it. Except soon after the single malt was poured, he realized an entire hand wasn't going to cut it, either. Fury and frustration were living entities inside him, frothing and bubbling despite his recent fighting.
"Leave the bottle," he said when the bartender made a move to help someone else. Hell, suddenly Paris doubted every drop of alcohol in a ten-mile radius would do the trick, but hey. Desperate times.
"Sure, sure. Anything you say." Shirtless Boy Wonder released the bottle and beat feet.
What? He looked that dangerous? Please. He'd washed off the blood, hadn't he? Wait. Hadn't he? He looked down. Shit. He hadn't. Crimson streaked him from head to toe.
Whatever. He wasn't in a human bar, so no "authorities" would have a beef with him. He was in Olympus, though the heavenly kingdom had recently been renamed Titania. Once only gods and goddesses had been allowed here, but when Cronus reclaimed the realm, he'd changed things, allowing vampires, fallen angels and other creatures of the dark to come and play. A nice little screw you to the previous king, Zeus.
Call the bartender back, Promiscuity said. I want him.
Promiscuitythe demon trapped inside him, driving him. Irritating him. Remember when I wanted fidelity? Monogamy? Paris replied in his mind. Well, we don't always get what we want, do we?
A familiar growl sounded in his head.
Whaa, whaa, pout, pout. He downed the second alcoholic offering and quickly chased it with a third. Both scorched so good he enjoyed a fourth. The potent alcohol razed his chest, burned holes in his abdomen, and flooded his veins. Nice.
And yet, his emotions remained as dark as ever, the edges of that bone-deep fury and frustration un-smoothed. His inability to save a not-so-innocent woman he should hatedid hate, at least a littlebut also hungered for, body and soul, drove him, a constant whip against his flank.
"If I asked you to leave, would you?" a monotone voice said from beside him. A voice accompanied by a blast of arctic air.
He didn't have to look to know that Zacharel, warrior angel extraordinaire and infamous demon-assassin, had just joined him. They'd met not long ago, when the feathered axman had come to Buda to off Paris's friend Amun. Had old Zach actually succeeded, two crystal blades would have been drilling into his spine at that very moment.
I want him, the demon said.
Finally. We 're on the same page. Really hate you right now.
Once upon a time, the demon had spoken to Paris with annoying frequency. Then the stupid sex fiend had stopped, merely urging Paris to bed this person or that person, no matter their gender or Paris's own feelings toward them. Now, the talking had started up again and it was worse than before, because he wanted everyone, especially the ones Paris felt no desire for. "Well?" the angel prompted.
"Leave, when I had to beg Lucien to bring me here and I know he won't be so accommodating next time? No, but I'd damn sure want to know why you gave a crap about my location."
"I do not care about your location."
True story. Zacharel didn't care about anything, a fact you learned real fast in your dealings with him. "That's my point, so get lost."
As Paris nursed a fifth whiskey, he studied the smoke-stained mirror in front of him, covertly panning the area behind him. Bejeweled chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The walls were rose-colored marble, veined with glittering ebony, the floor a sparkling stretch of crushed diamonds.
Throughout the room, men and women talked and laughed. From minor gods and goddesses to fallen angels trying to work their way back into their saintly fold. Good luck with that in a bar. Morons. Anyway. There was probably a demon or two sprinkled among the masses, but Paris couldn't tell for sure.
Demons were as sneaky as they were evil. They could skulk around in their own scales, proudly showcasing their horns, claws, wings and tailsand getting decapitated by warrior angels like Zach. Or they could possess someone else's body and skulk around in their skin.
Paris had thousands of years of experience with the latter.
"I will leave, as you so succinctly suggested," Zacharel said, "after you answer another question for me."
"All right." Something else Paris knew from experience: angels were freakishly stubborn. Better to hear the guy out, otherwise he'd find himself with a new shadow. He turned, facing the dark-haired stunner with eyes the color of jade, and sucked in a breath. Never ceased to amaze him, how magnetic these celestial beings were. No matter their genderor how mind-numbingly dull their personalitiesthey drew and held your attention, every damn time. For some reason, Zacharel did so with more intensity than most.
But the magnetism wasn't what caught Paris's attention this time. Majestic wings arced over the angel's broad shoulders, a turbulent fall of winter clouds with streams of gold winding and curling throughout, snow-flakes raining from the tips like glitter in a globe.
"You're snowing." Captain Obvious, that's me.
"I can answer you, or I can ask my question and leave." Dressed in the long white robe that was customary for his kind, Zacharel should have looked innocent and prissy. Instead, he looked like the Grim reaper's evil twin: emotionless, as frigid as the snow he shed and ready to kill. "Your choice."
No thought necessary. "Ask."
"Do you wish to die?" Zacharel said it as simply as he'd said everything else, mist crystallizing in front of his mouth, creating a dreamlike haze and reminding Paris of the breath of life. Or death.
Definitely ready to kill, Paris mused. "What do you think?" he asked, because honestly? He didn't know the answer anymore.
For centuries he'd fought to live, but now, now he constantly threw himself into the fire and waited to be burned. Liked being burned. What kind of sick prick had he become?
Unflinching, the angel held his gaze. "I think you want one particular woman more than you want anyoneor anythingelse. Even death
Paris pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth. One woman in particular: the not-so-innocent one.
Her name was Sienna Blackstone. Once a Hunter and always his enemy, for Hunters were an irritating army of humans who hoped to rid the world of Pandora's demons. Then fleetingly, she'd been his lover. Then dead, gone. Then she'd been brought back from the grave, her soul merged with the demon of Wrath. Now, she was out there. Somewhere. And she was suffering. Cronus had enslaved her, thinking to use her demon to punish his adversaries, and now that he'd lost control of her, he thought to torture her into submission.
Paris might dislike the things Sienna had done to him, and yeah, as he'd already admitted, part of him might even hate the woman herself, but even she did not deserve the cruel, viciouseternalpunishment being meted out.
I will find her, and I will save her. From Cronus
from himself. Right now, Paris simply couldn't get past the fact that she was suffering. Once that part of the equation was dealt with, he would stop thinking about her. He had to stop thinking about her.
"So I want her," he ended up saying to the angel. Sienna was not up for discussion. "BFD."
"I will pretend I know what that means." Zacharel shook his wings, more of that pure, glistening snow raining down. "As for you, I think that, despite your own desires, your demon wants anything with a pulse."
"Sometimes even a pulse isn't a requirement," he muttered, and damn if that wasn't the truth. Sex, as he'd taken to calling his dark companion, wanted anyone and everyonebut only ever once. With the exception of Sienna, Sex would not allow Paris to harden for the same person twice.
Why could he have Sienna again? No damn clue. "But again, so?"
"I think, even though you crave this particular woman, you slept with your friend Strider's future wife. He is the demon of Defeat, and your actions made his courtship of the Harpy very difficult."
"Hey. You're entering dangerous territory here." Not that Paris had anything to apologize for.
The one-nighter had happened weeks before Strider and Kaia hooked up. Or had even thought about hooking up. Therefore, Paris had done nothing wrong. Technically. And yet, he now knew what Kaia looked like naked, and Strider knew that he knew, and that meant all three of them knew Sex tossed out naked images of the girl every time they were together. A consequence Paris loathed, but couldn't stop.
Zacharel's dark head tilted to the side in a reflective pose, all the more mysterious because of the mist that continued to form with his every exhalation. "I meant only to point out that you have clearly moved on to other conquests and that you are hardly discriminating in your choices, which makes me wonder why you still pursue your Sienna."
Because Sienna had been Paris's one and only shot at monogamy. Because he'd inadvertently brought about her death. Because he'd felt like he lost everything when she died.
"You're annoying," he snapped. "And I'm done talking to you."
Still the angel persisted. "I think you feel guilty about every heart you break, every dream of happily-ever-after you crush, and every bit of self-loathing you encourage when your partners realize how effortlessly you overcame their reservations. I also think you are overindulged and pathetic, and that you have no business crying about your problems."
"Hey! I've never cried." Paris slammed his glass on the counter with so much force the bar split down the center and the cup shattered. Blood welled from the slices in his palm, but the sting was minimal. "And you know what? I think you are seconds away from finding pieces of your body scattered in all the corners of this bar."
Then, while he's down, we can have him! Zip it, Sex.
"Uh, here you go," the bartender said, Johnny-on-the-spot with a clean rag he thrust in Paris's direction. His arm shook. He was still afraid of Paris.
I said zip it! "Thanks, man." Paris fisted the material, applying pressure to the slivers of torn tissue before anyone could scent him and the oh-so-special phero-mones his demon excreted.
One whiff of the intoxicating aroma, and everyone around him would become unforgivably aroused, uncaring about where they were or who they were with. Mostly their hunger would be for Paris, and though that would have been an especially craptastic outcome tonight considering he was operating under a time crunch, he would have enjoyed rebuffing the males with his fists.
the pheromones never enveloped him. He frowned. Sex wanted everyone he'd spotted tonight. Why not take advantage of his ability and force the patrons to want him back?
Paris returned his focus to Zacharel, wondering if the angel was somehow responsible.
Those eyes of the rarest jade narrowed to tiny slits. "I think you hope to save your Sienna, and that is a good thing. I think you mean to keep her, and that is not. No matter how intensely you crave her, no matter that she might be your only chance at forever, your demon will eventually ruin her, for humans were never meant to battle demons, and at heart, she is still a human."
"What about her own demon?" he snapped.
"If one is bad, two is surely worse."
"Enough!" If they continued on this path, his fury and frustration would rise up and consume him. He would lose sight of tonight's goal. "I'm not going to keep her." He would. He so would if given a chance, and if she would have him, of course, but hell, she wouldn't have him.
"Good. Because this particular woman would not like the man you have become."
Snorting, Paris shoved his free hand through his hair. "She didn't like who I was." And now, after he'd irrevocably stepped over the line between right and wrong? Please.
He'd known his actions were reprehensible, and he'd stepped over anyway. He'd killed, callously. Seduced, methodically. Lied, cheated and betrayed. All of which he would do again and again.
"Yet you still rush to save her," Zacharel said.
Yeah. He was as big a moron as the fallen who frequented this place. Whatever. He knew. Didn't care. "Look, I don't answer to you. I don't have to explain myself. And what's with all the questions? You said you only had one more."
"I have asked only the one. The rest have been observations, and I have one more of those to offer." Zacharel leaned into him and whispered, "I think, if you continue on this destructive path, you will lose everything you have come to love."
"Is that a threat?" Paris fisted the collar of the angel's robe. "Go ahead and try something, winger. See what"
Air. He was fisting and yelling at air.
Little growls sprang from his throat as he lowered his arm to his side. The only reason he knew Zacharel had been here was the temperature of his hands. They were practically frostbitten.
"Uh, who were you talking to?" the bartender asked, faux casual as he cleaned an already clean counter.
If an angel didn't want to be seen, an angel wouldn't be seen. Not even by his brethren, fallen or otherwise. So only Paris had seen Zacharel this go-round. Great. "Myself apparently, and we prefer to chat without an audience."
Was Zacharel still here? Paris wondered. Or had he materialized somewhere else? And what was the purpose of all that talk of Paris needing to stay away from Sienna? The angel shouldn't care.