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.
Promiscuity-the 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 unsmoothed. His inability to save a not-so-innocent woman he should hate-did hate, at least a little-but 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 tails-and 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 gender-or how mind-numbingly dull their personalities-they 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, snowflakes 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 anyone-or anything-else. Even death...even life."
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, vicious-eternal-punishment 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 everyone-but 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 na*ed 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."
He tuned out his demon and decided he'd give the charm/sucker thing one more shot. Because, honestly? He had yet to intimidate this female in any way. If this next attempt failed, he would let loose his beast in full force-and he wasn't talking about Sex. There was darkness inside him now, so much darkness, and that darkness would drive him to do what was necessary, no matter how vile.
He had no one but himself to blame, for he'd opened himself up to it. Just a fraction at first, like a crack in a window. But the funny thing was, once you welcomed in a breeze, there was no stopping what came next. A wind, a storm, thunder and lightning, until you could no longer reach the window to close it-and didn't really want to anyway. That's what this new darkness was. Evil in its purest form, an entity very much like Sex, urging him on.
Lie, cheat, betray, Paris thought. Here, now, like all the other times before.
He leaned down, softening his expression, forcing his demon's desires to seep through his pores. Forcing his blood to heat and the musky scent of arousal to drift from him, as sultry as champagne, as heady as chocolate. If Sex wouldn't use those pheromones, Paris would. He hated doing this, because, like everyone else, both he and Sex became mindless, flesh-hungry beings at the first whiff. Worse, the memories of what he forced people to do...to crave...
"Viola, sweetness. Talk to me. Tell me what I wish to know." His tone was a sensual caress, blissful and sure, and yet, even with the pheromones affecting Paris, he wanted only one woman and Viola wasn't her.
"I meant to thank you for my demon," she went on, as if he'd never spoken. As if he did not currently smell like pleasure walking. "He's the best! But then halfway to Budapest to track down your fortress, I forgot all about you. I'm sure you understand." She fluffed her hair, looking away from him as she waved to someone at her right. "So, anyway, now that you're here, thanks. Feel free to relay that to the others. Now you'll have to- Argh! Who put a mirror there?" she ended in a screech.
Undiluted rage blazed from her expression for a single heartbeat, followed by rapturous ecstasy as she studied her reflection.
"Look at me." She angled one way, posed, then angled another and posed again. "I'm gorgeous."
"Viola." Seconds passed, but she never stopped admiring herself. She even blew herself a kiss. Fine. They'd do this the other way. "I can make you beg for my touch, Viola. In front of everyone. And believe me, you will beg. You will cry, but relief will never be yours. I'll make sure of it. But do you know what else? That's not even the worst of what I'll do to you."
Several seconds ticked by, but she never offered a reply.
Darkness...rising... He wanted to strike, to hurt, to kill.
He inhaled, held, held...smelled an infusion of roses...released the breath. Okay. Good. This time he was able to allow both emotion bombs to fizzle before detonation, calming him.
Perhaps Viola couldn't help herself, he realized suddenly. As he knew very well, all of Pandora's demons came with a major flaw. This could be hers. She was Narcissism, after all, a lover of self.
Testing his theory, he stepped in front of her, blocking her view of the mirror. Her entire body stiffened. Her gaze darted left and right, as if searching for interlopers who might have tried to harm her while she'd been incapacitated. No one had approached, and the tension drained from her. She breathed easier.
"I will gut the culprit!" she whispered fiercely.
Bingo. Her flaw, and one she clearly reviled.
"Concentrate on me, Viola." He gripped her by the shoulders, squeezing harder than he'd intended and shaking her until those cinnamon eyes rose to meet his. "Tell me what I want to know and you'll walk away from this unscathed."
Still not the least bit intimidated, she shrugged off his hold. "So impatient. I should be used to it by now, but alas. Men falling all over me...still a burden."
"Fine. Let's see what my worshippers have to say sooner rather than later, shall we?" She lifted her phone and read the screen. "Four hundred and eighty-five votes for Help him by giving him my number. Two hundred and seven votes for Are you stupid, climb him like a mountain, and one hundred and twenty-three votes for He's mine, bitch, walk away." She looked up at him, another smile taking root. "The little people have spoken. Yes, I will tell you about the souls."
Urgency overrode his relief. "Tell me, then. Now."
"Hey, you. Demon scum." The harsh voice rang out from behind him.
Annnd one of the guys Paris had bumped into earlier was finally acting out. Paris ground his molars. His hands returned to the female's shoulders. "Viola. Tell me." She would tell him, and he would leave, finally beginning his search in truth.
"Get your hands off my female!"
Or not. Unleashed aggression dripped from the male's tone, and the need for violence quickly resurfaced inside Paris.
Restrain yourself, common sense counseled. Victory is within reach. "A friend of yours?"
"I have no friends." Graceful fingers reached up and hooked several tendrils of hair behind her ear. "Only admirers."
"I'm talking to you, demon." The male again.
Need rising...higher and higher...a thick black cloud that would not dissipate until blood ran in rivers at his feet. "If you want this admirer to survive, flash us out of here." Popping from one location to another with only a thought always made him sick, but sick was better than distracted.
"I don't," she said. "Want him to survive, that is."
"Are you listening to me, demon?" The tone was harsher, and far more determined. "Move away from her and face me. Or are you a coward?"
The cloud enveloped his mind, a single thought suddenly consuming him. The male was an obstacle in his path, blocking him from Sienna, and obstacles were to be eliminated. Always.
Another small voice of reason whispered through him, a beacon of gold amid an endless stretch of midnight. Zacharel... Current path... Destruction...
"Look at yourself in the mirror, goddess," the male commanded. "I don't want you to see what I do to the demon."
Even as a curse tore from her mouth, Viola obeyed, angling around Paris as if she couldn't help herself and hated herself for it. Just like that, she was once again enraptured by her own image, pinkie-waving and blowing kisses.
The golden whisper was destroyed. Death became inevitable. Paris pivoted on his heels to glare at his opponent.
Soon, blood would flow.