PARIS WAS JUST ABOUT TO GO on a rampage when his woman appeared beside the bed. He caught his breath and fell back against the pillows. Her dark hair tumbled over one shoulder. She wore a gown threaded with gold and emerald, jewels sparkling in the material. Her hair was brushed to a luxurious mahogany shine. Those black wings arced over her shoulders.
She had never looked more beautiful.
He sighed with happiness as she threw herself on top of him. "I'm so glad you're awake!"
Her slight weight settled on him, her hair creating a curtain that made them the only two people in the world. He rejoiced. They belonged together.
"Is it true you're now the boss of us?"
She snorted. "You have such a way with words. But yeah, I am kind of the boss of you. Titans kept appearing out of nowhere to pay their respects, and I finally had to make a royal decree for space."
Queen Sienna. He liked it. "I guess that makes me King Paris."
A tinkling laugh escaped her. "I've always known you were destined for greatness."
"I'll get to boss my boys around, of course."
He grinned, so damn happy he could burst. "I knew you'd bring me back, baby. So, am I an undead soul?"
She lifted her head, a soft smile lighting her delicate features. "No, you're very much alive, and you still have your demon."
Yeah, he could feel the bastard waking up, stretching, demanding Sienna, only Sienna. Sex wasn't after random grind anymore. The demon had embraced Sienna and all the different facets of her personality, and didn't want to lose her. She was their lottery ticket.
Maintaining his grip on her with one hand, he patted himself down with the other. No injuries. He was completely healed. "What happened up there?"
She kissed his cheek, his neck. "After you passed out and I flipped my ever-loving lid, Zacharel calmed me down and told me about my new status and abilities. He also gave me a vial of water from the River of Life. For a price. I gave you and all the Lords a sip and you guys have been healing ever since."
"What price?" he asked.
"Well, all along the angels have wanted me in the heavens, helping them with their war. I told him that I was willing to help, but I wouldn't be living there. I will stay with you. If you'll have me. Except, we do have to stay up there for a few weeks so I can learn how to use my new powers. There's where I was just now. And I'm rambling, aren't I?"
"I love when you ramble. But did you really just say the words if you'll have me?" He couldn't help himself. He kissed her hard and fast, staking his claim. "I will have you today and every other. And I will help you help the angels. And yes, I will go with you, wherever you need to go."
A relieved breath left her. "I'm glad. Oh, and just in case it comes up, the darkness inside of you is now inside of me, too."
"What?" He sputtered, paled. "I'm sorry, so sorry. I didn't-"
"Don't worry about it...husband."
Everything stilled inside him. His heart, his lungs, the synapses in his brain. "You know I married you?"
"Of course." A sly smile lifted her lips. "I know a whole lot of stuff now. Like, world-changing stuff."
"World-changing, smorld-changing. You're okay with being bound to me forever? Because I get the impression it's not a two-sided marriage until you say so."
"I'm saying so, and I'm better than okay with it."
He so loved this woman. "Good, because I feel the same. Wife."
Her smile quivered as if she were fighting tears. She told him about Arca, and rather than displaying his customary guilt and shame because of his past actions, he kissed her tenderly. She loved him, too, and she had forgiven him. She saw the best in him.
"Thank you," he said. "With all of my heart, thank you."
"Welcome. Now, back to the darkness," she said, probably trying for a business tone but failing. His woman was a softie, a Twinkie with a cream filling, and he loved that, too. "Wrath feeds on it, and that helps keep him calm. And you know what that means, right? We're perfect for each other in every way."
"I so agree with that. We're a family, you and me, and I love you more than I can ever say."
"That's good, because that's how much I love you."
He planted a quick kiss on her mouth. Anything more, and he'd be all over her before he had all the information he needed. "So where are we right now?"
A wicked glint in her eyes as she said, "Back in the Realm of Blood and Shadows. All the Lords but Kane are here. Amun and Haidee found him, fought for him, but then they lost him again somehow. But don't worry, I'm on the case now. I'll find him once and for all. And I'm, uh, kind of a big deal."
"Now, on to the next topic. I want to show you something," she said. Rolling to her side but remaining within his embrace, she swirled her hand in the air above them. Shimmers of light, a thickening of the particles, and then colors bloomed around a mist.
He saw Baden. Red hair, muscled body.
Joy and grief bloomed inside him.
He saw Pandora. Black hair, leanly honed body.
Guilt and shame.
He saw Cronus. Brown hair, muscled body.
He saw Rhea. Black hair, slender body.
Their mouths were moving, but he couldn't hear them. They stood between thick, white pillars in a temple.
"I'm dead," Sienna said, "but I live. So I can do what even Cronus could not when he had the throne. I can travel there. I can talk to them. And I think I can even get your Baden back."
Tears suddenly burned his eyes. A puss once again, but whatever. This was a dream come true, all of it. "I would love that. Thank you."
Her eyes misted, and she cleared her throat. "Okay, so do you want the good news or the bad news next?"
There was more? His chest constricted. "Bad. Give me the bad, no matter what it is."
"With Cronus dead, his enemies are now mine. I'm not exactly sure who they are, so I'm not exactly sure who to trust. Also, the Unspoken Ones are free, and I have to protect Galen from them."
He breathed out a gust of relief. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, but that wasn't it. "We'll deal with the enemies as they come. As for Galen, we'll discuss it."
She planted another kiss on his neck. "Great, because that's the perfect transition into the good news."
He would never grow tired of her caress and angled his head so that she'd kiss him again. "What?"
"Well, this is a two-parter. First, the Hunters have been all but obliterated. Second, Galen gave me the Cloak of Invisibility."
"Wait, wait, wait. Back up. What?"
"You are currently enemy-free."
"I don't..." Have any words, he realized. He experienced shock, then excitement, then disbelief, then shock again. He'd been fighting the Hunters for so long. Thousands of years. To suddenly find out he would never have to battle another? Almost too much to take in.
When he found his voice, he managed to croak, "Why would Galen give you his only artifact?"
"Well, when Cronus and Rhea died, the Unspoken Ones were freed, as I told you. They are now after him. He gave me the Cloak and in return, I offered him my protection. He hated doing it, and I whittled him down to only two years."
"You should have saved yourself the hassle. One, everyone here wants him dead no matter what, and two, with the Hunters out of the picture, we're good without the Cloak. We won't need to use it to sneak into enemy territory."
"You're welcome," she said, chin going in the air.
"Sorry, sorry. I'm grateful, I swear. That came out wrong. I just hate the fact that you were around him, and now you have to protect him." Which meant Paris had to protect him, too.
She softened. "You still need the Cloak. You can't be sure no one else will rise up against you, and it's better for you to have every weapon at your disposal, rather than someone else's."
"Such a smart girl."
"Besides, we can now search for the box," she said, beaming.
All four artifacts, he mused, awed by this woman of his. She was right. They needed the artifacts, not only to keep them out of enemy hands but to find Pandora's box and destroy it before anyone could use it against them. The goal they had been working toward so single-mindedly and for so long was nearer than ever to being met. "Let's not go searching for the box just yet," he said, tugging at her clothing.
"Such a smart boy." She met his waiting mouth with her own, licking and kissing and sucking on him. "We'll search later. Much later."
Yes! I'm on board!
IN A CORNER OF SIENNA'S MIND, a man's thoughts bubbled up. What's up with this crap? Here comes another apology I have to make.
Strider's voice, she realized. He was walking toward their bedroom, even then.
I tried to talk Paris into booting his girl, just like I tried to talk Amun into booting his, and both of them suffered for it. Not to mention how their women must have felt. So that's it for me. I'm done. No more getting involved with my boys and their women. But then, the only single ones left are Kane and Torin, but Torin is a recluse so he doesn't count. And if ever Cameo brings home a guy, well, all bets are off. Guy will have to prove himself worthy, no matter what. And damn, I'm almost there. Kaia better thank me properly for this, since she's the one who insisted I do it. I hate apologizing, and Paris is the vengeful type. He'll make me get on my knees and beg, I know it. This is gonna be embarrassing. And painful!
"Go away," Paris shouted, hands clenching on Sienna's ass.
"I need to talk to you, man," Strider replied, voice muffled through the doorway. "Also to Her Highness, who I assume is in there with you. I don't really have to call her Your Highness, do I?"
"Yes, you do. But talk later."
"Now. So, uh, yeah. I'm sorry. See ya." Yep, hurt just as bad as I thought it would, Strider thought.
His footsteps faded away.
"What was that about?" Paris asked.
Sienna's own thoughts filled her head. I will not laugh. "Me. He was saying sorry for the way he messed with you about me. Apologizing to both of us, actually."
"I love you, baby," Paris said.
Her lips stretched into another grin. "I love you, too."
When they were both naked, he sank inside her. He was home, finally home. And he was at peace. His woman was with him, and she wasn't leaving him. They were going to be together.
Whatever else came, whatever else happened, they would be together, just as he'd wanted since the beginning.
ONCE AGAIN ZACHAREL found himself high in the heavens, Lysander beside him, the pair of them peering down at a very content Paris and Sienna.
I gained her cooperation," he said, "but not the way you wished. Paris will be joining her here."
"This is not the travesty I had feared it would be," Lysander replied. "When dealing with people and their emotions, allowances must always be made. I sometimes forget."
Emotions. A waste of energy in Zacharel's estimation. You lived, you warred and one day you died. Anything else was unnecessary.
Lysander continued, "I am surprised they complement each other so well, even more surprised they actually aid each other both emotionally and physically. I never would have guessed."
Nor he. Paris should have dragged Sienna down. She should not have had the determination and strength to pull him up. "What happens now?"
"Now, I will begin Sienna's training, and take responsibility for Paris. And you, in turn, will heed the Deity's newest order."
"Very well." The Deity's newest order-or rather, sentence-had come only this morning. Zacharel had been summoned to the Deity's temple, where a second punishment for his prior sins had been heaped upon his head, as if the eternal snowfall wasn't enough. "You must admit you have the easier task."
"True. I do not envy you, my friend."
Zacharel was to lead his own army of warriors. Warriors just like himself, only far worse. Men who had defied the rules one too many times. Men who would-supposedly-teach him the value of following heavenly laws.
They were like no other angels he'd ever dealt with. Some took lovers. Some cussed and drank. Some were tattooed and pierced, and as dark in spirit as many humans.
If he trained them well, the Deity had proclaimed, the snow would cease to fall from his wings, and he would be allowed to remain in the heavens himself. If he failed, if they failed, they would all fall together, forever banned from the only home they'd ever known.
Whatever it took, Zacharel must remain in the heavens. His greatest treasure was here, and he would rather die than be parted from it. He did not consider his attachment emotional, but rather, essential to his survival.
You might not survive even if you remain up here, he thought, rubbing the dark spot growing on his chest.
"If ever you need me," Lysander said, pulling him from his musings, "you have only to call."
"Thank you. I feel the same. If ever you need me..." I might not be around to help. At that moment, the Deity's parting words echoed in his mind. Your life will soon change in ways you cannot even imagine. I hope you are prepared.
Was he? He and his men would find out together, he supposed.