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.
Product WarningsThis title contains graphic language, explicit sex, an angelic heroine with attitude…and a demonic hero who’s smoking hot. Literally.
Copyright © 2010 Cherrie Lynn
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
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 twenty 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.
“You will, of course, give him all of his allotted time, less only that needed to—”
“To sufficiently extricate the essence from its mortal husk and lay eternal possession upon it,” he quoted easily. “I will, to the last second. It’s in his contract.”
The cold nonchalance of his words made her seethe. “You make murder and damnation sound almost pretty. Certainly easy. Just another day on the job for you, right?”
“Yes, well, don’t you get tired of watching it?” he asked. “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 on 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.”
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