Authors: Dahlia Rose
The Darkest Joy
Copyright © October 2008, Dahlia Rose
Cover art by AnastasiaRabiyah© October 2008
Baltimore, MD 21216
No part of this e-book may be reproduced or shared by any electronic or mechanical means, including but not limited to printing, file sharing, and e-mail, without prior written permission from Amira Press.
So beautiful.He watched her smile while she strapped a piece of rubber around a patient’s bicep. The smile was brilliant, kindly, and full of encouragement as she slipped a hollow needle into the vein. She murmured reassuring words to ease her patient’s fears, and the lifeblood of the man began to fill the tube. Even from far away, he could hear her every word. She talked about the weather and asked about children, a conversation to take a person’s mind from what was happening into a happy place. Finally, she was done, and then she flashed that glorious smile once more.Perfection.
No one could see him as he walked down the corridor behind her. He had done for weeks now. He watched her work, and at night, he sat outside her window and watched her sleep. Her beauty took his immortal breath away. The normality of her life gave him hope for himself. After thousands of years, one mistake had made him who he was now. Only redemption could free him from him immortal torment, his dungeon, his curse. Invisible, he sat next to her while she wrote up charts at her small desk in her space, her sanctuary, where she worked.
He inhaled the scent of her hair like it was a fine wine. The dark tresses smelled of honeysuckle and vanilla spice. He wanted to run his finger down the creamy chocolate shoulder that was exposed when she took off her lab coat. When she turned, her nose was just a breath away from his, yet she did not know it. Her breath caressed his lips. It had the scent of the strawberry soft chews that she liked to snack on at her desk. He stared into eyes that were like liquid chocolate. Her lips were full, and she wore gloss that had a slight color of gold. Pictures of family and friends were all around her, trinkets of her human life that she treasured. One picture she favored themost,and she looked at it every day. She caressed the silver frame that saidgrandmotherin raised letters. He heard her speak of the woman frequently, even saw them go out to lunch, and saw how she hugged her with affection and love. He longed for that emotional connection, that bond with another person that could not be broken. He craved. . . .
The call jarred him from his place next to her. It was like a sledgehammer to his head. He hated when this time came around. He hated being away from her. But if he did not go to his duties, the repercussion would be great, and by the time his punishment was over, a hundred years would have passed and she would be long gone. A frown darkened his face as he moved away from her, and he promised to return to no one but himself. The next time, he would reveal himself to her slowly and let her know the man before she knew the secret.Next time.
Her name was Bliss.Bliss . . . Bliss . . . Bliss.He repeated the name over and over in his head. She would be his bliss and his salvation. He felt it in the fiber of his being. He closed his eyes and phased out of this world owned by humanity and into a world no one wanted to see. The walls of rock were dark with soot, and the ground scorched the soles of shoes. As he walked, the heat caused the rubber to hiss like water dropped into a hot frying pan. He hardened his heart to the screams of torment around him, the pleas for mercy, or even a drink of water to quench eternal thirst. Had he shown any compassion, the consequences would be dire for him and for the person whose plea he answered. No, it was better to pretend he did not see the bodies chained to the rock walls or hear the lashes fromQemuel’swhip against the flesh of his captives as he passed.
“What took you so long,Caim?”
The snarl came from the demonic lips of Belial. His face was almost flawless in its beauty, but it belied the pure evil that hid underneath. There was no one more malevolent, more filled with hate and destruction than Belial.Caimhad long stopped fearing him. He looked at him now with total disinterest.
He leaned his shoulder against the steaming rock wall. It burned a hole through the fabric of his black shirt, down to his skin. It burned his flesh, butCaimdid not even wince, such was the life of a fallen angel in hell.
“So no answer?” Belial asked.
“Why should I give you excuses, Belial? You are not my master. You only dispense assignments. You are basically a secretary. And as soon as I was summoned, I came,”Caimreplied mildly. It gave him great pleasure to see the flaming anger turn red in the demon’s eyes.
“Your insolence will not be forgotten. One of these days, my revenge will be swift.”
“Said the demon to the fallen angel who lives in hell with him.”Caimscoffed, unconcerned. “Why was I summoned? Give me my assignment, secretary, and go back to making coffee.”
With a loud growl that was reminiscent of a lion’s roar, Belial was on his feet. His tail lashed the desk in front of him and split it into two. Black ooze flowed from the wood, and talons sprouted from Belial’s hands. Gone was the perfect man. Now, the face of a demon was pure and visible in its hate.Caimtook battle stance. From his black back wings ripped their way through the fabric of his shirt. In his hands appeared a black sword. If Belial wanted a fight, he would give him one, feathers against scales.
“Enough!” A booming voice cut through the room and shook loose rocks from the ceiling. Both looked around to the hulking figure that stood in the doorway of an executive office.Samael, the lord of this part of the underworld who only answered to Lucifer himself, looked back and forth between the two.Caimstood and let his wings fall to his side. He knew better than to piss offSamael. Belial, still in demon in demon form, ready to fight with razor fangs descended, stood obstinate.
“Belial, do I have to speak again?”Samaelasked coldly.
“No, sire.” Belial went back to his flawless beauty, and with a wave of his hand, his desk was back to its original position, and not even a splinter of wood was missing.
“Come,Caim. We shall speak in here,”Samaelsaid. He spoke like any businessman would speak, butCaimknew the demon under the business suit was the cause of some of man’s greatest downfalls. “Why do you aggravate him so? You know Belial has a short fuse.”
“I have to find my enjoyment in this place somehow,”Caimmurmured.
“The way you say it would make a demon think you were not happy here.”Samaelfixed him with a dark stare.
“Are you happy here?”Caimasked pointedly.
The question causedSamaelto laugh. “Fuck no, that’s why I go topside as much as I can.”
“So why am I here?”
“Your performance has been lacking,Caim. You left two souls’ debts uncollected from yesterday. You know the Devil always gets his dues, and you know how he gets when he doesn’t.”
“What souls? I received no calls.”Caimknew who was responsible, but said nothing.
“Belial sent the call out himself,”Samaelreplied, tapping a long,talonedfinger on his mahogany desk.
“Oh, a demon who doesn’t lie,”Caimsaid sarcastically. “Belial plays childish games. He’s being an asshole.”
“Remember to whom you speak,Caim. I could have you chained toQemuel’swall with a snap of my finger.”
“I apologize, sire. If you say a call came, then I must have been mistaken. I shall take my duties more diligently.”Caimmade his tone as apologetic as possible, even though apologizing was the farthest thing from his mind.
“See that you do.”Samaelpaused. “You are my favorites, you and Belial both. I wish my boys would get along.”
Caimbit his tongue against the remark that rose to his lips.His boys.Caimhad not let the demonic part of a fallen angel take hold. He did not plan to let the evil corrupt his soul more than it had. “Sire, I shall do my best to make peace with Belial. Now I shall go to my duties.”
AtSamael’snod, he knew he had permission to leave. He left the office and passed his nemesis, whose dark look did nothing to falter his steps. He would go collect the debts owed to the Devil, and then he would find his happiness, his Bliss.
* * * *
Never make a deal with the Devil.Caimhad seen it so many times generation after generation. Men’s greed, women’s lust for endless beauty, love of money and power. For as little as getting the girl, humans put themselves in debt to Lucifer. When it was time for the debt to be collected, then was when the magnitude of what they had done seeped in. This was one of Belial’s contracts.Caimcould almost see the sweet smile on his face as he got her to sign. Two sides of the same coin, Belial was the proprietor of contracts. He was a soul collector, a fallen angel who collected the Devil’s pay, and it was time to work. In his open hand, two contracts appeared. The bottom of each was signed in blood.
Caimlifted the parchment to his nose and inhaled the life essence of each new soul. He closed his eyes and phased out of the demon realm of hell and into the office of his first collection, Daniela Delight of Delights Cosmetics. She had been a teenage blonde with a new baby living in a trailer park. Now she was the president of a multimillion-dollar conglomerate known across the world. She had signed the contract in a stifling hot trailer with a crying baby on her hip and tears in her eyes. Everything had changed for her. She had given up the child and had forgotten where she came from. She became hard and cruel, only searching for more fame and fortune. But whenCaimphased into her luxurious office, Daniela had known it was time to leave, and she was making preparations.
Not a glimmer of surprise crossed her face whenCaimappeared, but there was sadness in her eyes. She looked down at a stack of files on her desk.
She began talking whileCaimstood there silently regarding her. “You know I’d give all this up to see my daughter again.” She was signing paper after paper as she spoke. “I gave her to my mother, and I only sent money every month to take care of her. The last time I saw them, she was six months old. That was eighteen years ago.”
Caimstill stood silent. This was sometimes part of the job, listening to the lost before they descended to hell.
“You’re the one he sent for me?” she asked simply. She continued to scribble furiously on the papers. One after the other, she signed with haste.
“I amCaim, and I am the collector of his debts.”
“I am signing everything I won over to my daughter Lorelei. I hope she makes a better life for herself with this than I ever did. I should have stayed in that trailer park and earned my way out.” She closed the last file and set the pen down on top gently. She stood and crossed the room from behind her desk. “I’m ready.”
Caimnodded. He moved from his position and stood before her. She tried to straighten her back to make her five-feet-two inches seem like more against his six feet.Caimliked her strength, her bravery. He always felt remorse for the ones who knew their dealings with Belial was a mistake, but faced it with honor. He would make it as painless as possible for her because he knew what she would face when her soul went to hell.Caimplaced a gentle hand on her back. He heard her gasp when his wings, black as the feathers of a raven, unfurled from his back. He placed his other hand on her chest and tried to pull her soul slowly from her body. Her low cry was the only sound she made as her body crumpled to the floor. Her soul stood next to him now. They both looked down at the shell of her body.
“How will they think I died?” Daniela asked.
“Heart attack. It’s time to go.”
“I’ll be in pain for eternity, won’t I?” she asked softly.
Caimcould not lie to her. The truth would be hard enough as is. It was better she expected it beforehand. As they phased out of her office, back to hell, his words echoed. “Yes, you will be.”
The second soul he went after was an old man, which meant he was not going to go easily. He had hired guards to protect him at all times. Conrad Pendleton ofPenConFoods felt he could outsmart the Devil’s collector. When he had signed the contract, he lived in one room over a Laundromat in Chicago. Now, his mansion was bigger than most apartment complexes, and he still longed for more.Caimcould smell the greed rolling off him as he stood in the middle of the mansion and the armed guards lay strewn around his feet.
“Did you really think you could get out of your deal?”Caimasked mildly.
“I . . . I can give you money, power, whatever you wish!” Conrad stammered hysterically.
“There is nothing you can offer me that I want, old man, except your fate.”
“I was a child. I didn’t know what I was doing!” Conrad shouted.
He opened a drawer quickly and pulled out a gun. He fired rapidly, and each bullet hitCaimin his chest.Caimstood under the barrage of bullets, and when silencereignedonce more, his patience was at an end. Each piece of lead fell out of his body as his wings ripped from his back. He strode toward the desk.
Conrad Pendleton stared at the towering presence coming toward him.Caimripped the soul from his body amid his screams. He felt no pity for this man. What lined his pockets and what he held in the bank were more important to him than anything else. The man begged and pleaded for a reprieve, but there was none to give. Even if he could offer him solace,Caimknew he did not deserve it.
When the soul was taken from him at the gates of hell by the reaper, the hounds of hell bit at Conrad Pendleton’s feet. They could smell the fear, and his shrieks of fright and pain only excited the beasts more.Caimturned away from the grotesque scene playing out in front of him. The reaper dragged the bleeding man away. It was a scene he had been part of for too long. He wanted peace, but it would be a long road before he could call it his own. He had to be very careful as well. If anyone caught on to his plan, he would be more damned than Mr. Pendleton, screaming in the darkest pits.
Bliss stood beside her car, and the cool evening air caressed her creamy skin. It was fall in her small town. Only about two thousand people called Merry, North Carolina, home. With the leaves floating to the grass beneath the outstretched branches of the trees, they blanketed the green with the vibrant colors of fall. She could see why the founders had named this town Merry. You couldn’t help the bubble of happiness that this kind of evening brought. She was working the night shift, and it started at six. She pulled her bag from the car and headed through the swishing door of the hospital.
With the usual greeting to fellow workers, she got on the elevator that took her to her little office on the third floor. Outside she grabbed the door handle and hesitated just for just a moment. For the past few weeks, whenever she was in the office alone, she felt as if someone was watching her. She did not feel threatened, just watched, as if the person had a fascination with her or with what she did.A ghostly phantom who loved phlebotomists. Bliss smiled and shrugged off the thought. She turned the cool metal and flipped the light switch that was on the wall. The room flooded with light, and her little slice of heaven was open for business.
A little knock on her door made her look up from stowing her bag in the drawers of her desk. Bliss smiled warmly in greeting to the woman who stood in her doorway.
“How’s it going tonight, Amber?” Bliss asked. Amber was a nurse in the ER and one of her close friends. She was a redhead with gorgeous blue eyes, and next to herpixielikebody, Bliss felt like a giant.
“You know Merry in a full moon. The freaks come out at night,” Ambersingsonged.
Bliss laughed. “Anything for me to do?”
“That’s why I’m here. Four charts all need blood drawn and tests run.” Amber said. “Hey, are you taller today?”
“I’m wearing heels. I went shopping before work and picked these up at Clara’s, so I’m trying them out.” Bliss stuck her foot out for her friend to see the new red heels.
“Ooh la-la, flashy! Do you have a date or something?”
“No, I decided to splurge for once.” Bliss stood at an Amazonian height of five-feet-eleven inches. With too many curves and a skin color that seemed flat, Bliss didn’t think of herself as a beauty. She just thought of herself as plain,ol’ oatmeal in a small-town bowl.
“You’d better change out of those before the rush comes in.” Amber flashed a smile as she handed Bliss the charts with a flourish. “I am sure we’ll be running around before the night is over.”
Amber’s premonition was soon proved correct. The emergency room filled with people who came up with the weirdest things to do in a small town. One man, who was trying to shoot an apple off his friend’s head, missed and got the shoulder instead. They forgot to mention they were stone-cold drunk when they tried this little exercise. Another case that came through the door was four kids who thought it was really great to go tip over a cow while it was sleeping. Unfortunately, they picked on a bull, and one of them got a horn in the rear for it.Of all the stupidity!Bliss fumed as she drew their blood for testing. Some cases softened her heart and made tears come to her eyes. One woman came in with her son. The baby was two, and his fever was raging. He cried from being sick and from Bliss trying to get a needle into his arm. She was one of the best at what she did, and soon she had what she needed to find out why the poor boy was sick. But damn, every time he cried or sobbed, Bliss felt her own tears begin to form.
“Are you okay?” The deep timbre of a man’s voice reached her ears. She turned as one of her tears fell onto her cheek. She gazed from black leather shoes to dark slacks. A silk shirt covered a wide chest, and when she stared into eyes the color of jade, Bliss feltherselfstop breathing. He was one of the most gorgeous men she had ever seen. The man was clean-shaven with a face that had a rugged jaw. He did not smile, but his lips were so kissable Bliss wanted to taste them immediately. Dark hair flowed over the collar of his shirt, but it was his eyes that beckoned her back into their green depths. They were mesmerizing, but still she saw something there, swirling like dark waters in a troubled storm.
“Are you okay?” he asked again. He raised his hand and wiped the stray tear away with the pad of his thumb.
Bliss knew she was staring with her mouth hanging open, but she couldn’t help it.Say something, you fool!shehissed to herself. “Um, I’m fine . . . fine . . . Can I help you with something? Do you need to be seen by a doctor?”
“No, I saw your face. You looked upset. I thought I might help. Shall I take you to dinner?”
That question caused her mouth to drop open again. “Dinner? Uh, no, thank you. I don’t know you for you to take me to dinner, and I’m working.”Hell, I’m tempted to say yes because he is so fine.
“Then let me introduce myself. I amCaim.” He bowed slightly. “And you are?”
“I’m . . . I’m BlissTadeo,” she offered,thenlaughed, flustered. “Why am I telling you my name? You could be a mass murderer!”
Bliss caught sight of Amber and a few other nurses standing behind the guy who had introduced himself asCaim. The curiosity was on their faces, and they were obviously ogling. Plus, Amber was shaking her fingers as if she were burned while mouthing the wordhot!
“Perfect joy and praise,”Caimsaid.
His comment diverted her attention from the onlookers behind him. “Um, what’s that now?” Bliss felt like fiddling with her hair or something to distract her from his eyes. She couldn’t do anything. Her hands held the fragile basket with tubes of labeled blood.
“BlissTadeo, your name, it means perfect joy and praise.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that.” Bliss couldn’t think of anything else to say to that beautiful statement. “You aren’t from around here, but I feel as if I’ve met you before. Do you have family in Merry?”
He shook his head. “No, I am alone.”
Four words never sounded so desolate in her opinion. “You have no one, I’m sorry.” Bliss saw the frown of the head ER doctor. “Hey, it was nice meeting you,Caim. I have to get back to work. I’ll see you around, okay?”
“Good-bye for now, Bliss.” He made her name sound like a caress, and she could almost sigh as he passed by her and headed for the doors.
As she moved down the hallway, Amber fell into step next to her. “Okay, who was that mysterioushottiewith the killer body? Spill it, woman!”
Bliss laughed lightly, but the flutter in her stomach told her she was excited just as much as her friend was. “I have no cluewhohe is. His name isCaim, and he asked me out to dinner.”
“And you said yes, right?”
“No! I don’t even know him!” Bliss said, shocked.
“Then why did he want to take you out to dinner?” Amber threw her a glance as if her best friend was hiding a secret.
“Because he saw I was upset over the boy who came into the emergency room. He wiped away my tears with his thumb.”
“Oh! That is so sweet. Can we keep him?” Amber gushed.
“Down, little pixie chick. I’m sure I will never see him again,” Bliss said with laughter in her voice.
“Well, shoot, that was the best excitement we had all night.” Amber pouted.
“Did you not see the two guys with the arrow?”
“Yeah, but they were assholes, drunk, and so not cute.”
Bliss grinned as they walked into the lab to drop off the blood. “You got that right.”
She walked down the corridor, back to the ER. She stopped in surprise when a black feather floated down to her feet. She picked it up, twirled the quill of it in her hand, and watched how the shiny black of it caught the light.Probablysome fool going after geese in the middle of the night.Yet, instead of throwing it away, she tucked it into her pocket, and it ended up in a little glass vase she kept on her desk.
* * * *
Caimwas standing outside when Bliss got out of work. He stood still as can be under the streetlight, while the cool night wind buffeted the long dark coat he wore. He felt her presence as soon as the doors of the hospital slid open and she stepped outside. She was like a cooling balm on his soul, or on what little of it he tried to retain.
“Caim?” Her soft voice reached out to him, caressing him. He didn’t expect her to touch him, but when her hand lay softly on his shoulder, he closed his eyes in pleasure.
“What are you still doing out here? It’s after midnight.”
“I was waiting for you,”Caimreplied. He looked at her, and when the lamplight touched her mocha skin, he remembered everything about her features from times past.
“Do I have to get my mace?”
Caimfelt anxiety at her words. “You never had to fear me.”
“I was just teasing,Caim,” Bliss said with a small laugh. “I’m going to my car. Will you walk with me?”
He nodded and took her small hand in his. It felt as if a buzz of electricity went along his arm as they touched. The slight hitch in her breath when their fingers twined let him know that she felt the connection too.
Bliss laughed nervously. “I seem to be at a loss for words.”
“You do not have to say a thing. I enjoy your presence.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“I would like to know you, if that is possible.”Caimlet his thumb glide along the smooth skin of her hand as they walked.
“Um, I am letting a strange man walk me to my car in the middle of the night. My mom would call me stupid right now. But I think I would like if you got to know me.”
“I am very glad to hear that.”Caimfelt elation at her words. It was a small step to happiness, a small step toward humanity. “What shall we do? It is your choice. Wherever you want to go, I will take you there.”
“How about Rome?” Bliss looked up at him with a smile on her face.
If she kept looking up at him with those big, beautiful eyes, he would bring the stars to her. He lost his thoughts for a minute, all the careful planning he had put into revealing himself to her. He pulled her into his arms, and her small hands rested on his chest.
“Then Rome it is. Hold on.”
“Caim,Caim!” she said breathlessly, a laugh in her voice. “I was just teasing. Coffee is fine. We can go for coffee!”
“Coffee . . . You want to go for coffee?”
“Yes, coffee is fine. The way you held on to me, for a moment there, I thought you were going to whisk me off magically,” Bliss said. She stepped out of his arms and looked up at him with her hand on her hips and a big smile on her face. ToCaim, she was a sight to behold.
“Coffee it is then,” he said as they resumed their walk. Soon, they stood next to the little blue sports car.
“I’ll meet you out at the diner on East D Street. Do you know where it is?” Bliss asked. She slid into the seat and started the car.
“Do not worry, Bliss. I will find it,”Caimreplied. “May I ask you a question?”
“Since we are going to get to know each other, yes, you may.”
“Would magic be something so hard to believe?”
“In a perfect world, I’d believe in magic in a heartbeat,” Bliss answered. “I’ll see you at the diner in a half an hour.”
She pulled out of the parking space, andCaimwatched the headlights of her car fade over the hill on the pitch-black highway. There was honesty in her voice when she answered the question. He closed his eyes and phased out of the parking lot. He was tuned in to Bliss like a radio to a station’s frequency.Caimdid not have to know where the diner was to find her. She was like his soul’s addiction from the time he met her. If she had asked for espresso in the lava pit of hell, he would have met her there and set up the table.
* * * *
Merry Go Round Diner was a local piece of history in the small town. The landmark had stood for over eighty years, from the town’s conception, and still was a hub for people to meet. The neon sign that looked like a child’s play toy blinked, a beacon in the night sky directing Bliss into its parking lot.
She pulled past the doorway, and her eyes widened when she sawCaimsitting by the window in one of the booths.How did he gethere so quickly?She locked her car after she stepped out and then headed to the warmth of the diner. The bell over the door jingled in welcome as she stepped across the threshold. The smells of grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers, and the soup of the day made her stomach rumble. She had only had a quick sandwich for dinner in between the mayhem of the ER and decided that the smells were too good to pass up.
Caimsat unmoving in the booth, his dark clothing and coat standing in stark contrast against the red imitation leather that covered where he sat. His eyes met and kept on her face from the time she came into the diner, but his lips never cracked a smile. His eyes were so deep she could drown in them. There was so much turmoil behind them, she could tell.What could have happened to him that he didn’t smile?
“Hi. I can’t believe you got here before me.” Bliss smiled warmly as she slid into the seat across from him.
“I move quickly,”Caimreplied.
“You must have a pretty fast car.”
The one waitress working came over when she saw the two of them seated. She spoke to Bliss, but her eyes were onCaim. “Hey, Bliss, had the late shift tonight, huh?”
Bliss smiled. “Hi, Sandy, yeah, you know how it is.”
“Who’s your friend?” Sandy asked.
Of course, buxom Sandy would be interested inCaimand his good looks. She probably would like him to be another notch in her bedpost, Bliss thought sourly.
“This is my friendCaim.” That was all the information Bliss was willing to give her.
When the waitress realized no more information would be forthcoming, she sighed and asked, “What can I get for you tonight?”
“I’ll have the soup and a chicken fingers plate and sweet iced tea,” Bliss answered politely.
“How about you, handsome?” Sandy asked. Bliss wanted to slap the sappy smile off her face.
“I’m fine, thank you,” he replied. His eyes never left Bliss’s face.
“Okay then.” Sandy flounced away with a pout on her face.
Serves her right!Bliss thought with triumph.Caimnever took his eyes off her face. Bliss felt like he was searching for something in her or about her from looking at her features. She had the urge to fidget under his scrutinizing gaze.
“Is something wrong?” she finally asked.
“Nothing, why do you ask?” The deep timbre of his voice sent a thrill along her spine.
“You keep staring at me,that’swhy I am asking.”
“You are completely beautiful. I cannot keep my eyes off of you.”
“Oh.” Bliss felt breathless. His simple compliment made her tingle all over.
Sandy picked just then to come back with the soup. This time her smile was stiff, and she put the bowl down in front of Bliss. “Your chicken fingers will be done shortly,” she said crisply and walked away.
“She’s not too happy,” Bliss mumbled before she took a sip of her soup.
“Do you care if she is happy or not?”Caimasked.
Bliss laughed before she took a sip of her soup. “Nope, not really. She is a total bitch sometimes. She is just pissed you wouldn’t give her a second glance.”
“Ah, it’s a female thing,”Caimsaid knowingly.
“What does it taste like?” he asked after a few seconds of silence.
“What, my soup?” She glanced up in surprise. At his nod, she extended a spoonful for him to sample. “Here, try it. It’s creamy chicken noodle.”
“No, I can’t.”
Bliss could have sworn she saw apprehension cross his face. “Oh, you’re a vegetarian.”
“Somethinglikethat,”Caimresponded before he asked softly, “Explain it to me . . . please?”
There was something in his voice so endearing that she couldn’t help but do as he requested. “It’s rich, creamy, and smooth. When it touches your tongue, you taste the flavor of the spices—oregano, paprika, and maybe a hint of sage—and the chicken. It warms my insides, and I really did not eat today, so pardon me if I slurp,” she said, teasing him, and was rewarded with a smile.
Sandy came back with her chicken fingers and set them down without a word. Bliss knew that when she told Amber tomorrow, her friend would die laughing. As she ate,Caimasked her to explain the taste of the honey mustard and her food. For some reason, instead of thinking him weird, she found herself complying and loving how he closed his eyes when she spoke. He asked her a lot of questions about her life and answered few about himself. By the time the meal was over, she felt as if he knew her life story, but she knew little about him. He walked her out to the car and stood by the door while she fished her keys out of her purse. She looked up at his tall figure and his deep, soulful eyes. Bliss became breathless, and the night was suddenly not as cool as she thought.
“Uh, good night,Caim.Thank you for watching me eat,” she said, teasing him.
“Good night, Bliss. Does this count as a first date?”
Bliss laughed. “Do you always say the first thing that comes to your mind?”
“Yes, I do,” he replied.
“I don’t know. I guess as far as first dates go, this was not a bad one.” Bliss smiled up at him.
“Do I get to kiss you then?” His voice was soft and smooth, like molasses on biscuits.
“I think I want you to.” Bliss couldn’t deny it. From the time she had seen him in the hallway of the ER, she had thought about his mouth on hers. As she worked, his green eyes had haunted her thoughts.
He moved in closer, his presence filling the space around her. He smelled like something she couldn’t quite distinguish, but it was sexy as hell. She closed her eyes and inhaled when his arms went around her. Bliss held her breath as his lips descended to hers. When they touched, she was lost. A tiny moan escaped when he rubbed his lips gently across hers. The friction made her want more. She needed to feel more of him. As if he sensed her thoughts,Caimcomplied, and soon the kiss had taken on a life of its own. She opened her mouth underhis,and his tongue slipped inside. This time, it was he who moaned as he sampled her taste. Bliss could only hold on to the material of his shirt as they kissed. She felt like if she let go, she would crumple to the asphalt, boneless and weak. He finally raised his head, and she slowly opened her eyes to his jade stare.
“Thank you,” he whispered. His fingers trailed down her cheeks and across her lips. “I’ll see you again soon.”
Bliss watched as he walked away, the hem of his coat ruffled slightly by the breeze.Wow,she thought, getting into her car. That was all her mind could muster.
The bell over the door of the diner gave a cheerful jingle to announce someone had entered. Sandy looked up from her magazine, and her jaw dropped in astonishment. There stood a man as gorgeous as aMcHottiefrom her favorite television show or a model from those sexy men’s magazines. His blond hair seemed to catch the dull fluorescent light of the diner, and his teeth, when he smiled, made her want to lick them.Damn, this is the night for hot guys. Bliss thinks she caught a hot one. She should see this big boy,Sandy thought as she fluffed her bleached blonde hair.
“Well how are you tonight?” The sugary sweet tone of Sandy’s Southern drawl would put most people’s teeth on edge.
The man instead smiled even brighter. “I am absolutely fabulous now I found this place.”
“You had a long trip?” Sandy asked as he slid into the seat by the counter. “Coffee?”
“You could say that I had a long trip.” He grinned and winked. “Oh, coffee would be perfect.”
Jesus H. Malloy, he rolls hisrs,Sandy thought as she poured him a cup.If heknew how wet his voice was making me . . .She blushed at where her mind was going.
“So what brings youtolittleol’ Merry?” Sandy cooed.
“Oh, I came here with a friend. You might have seen him, dark hair, green eyes, and a long black coat.” The man gave her a cocky grin. “It’s kind of histrademark, thatcoat.”
“Oh yeah, I saw him. He was in here a little while ago with Bliss.”
“Hmm, Bliss you say. Who is this?” The man took a sip of his coffee casually.
“Oh, she’s a little thing that works over at the hospital, thinks she is high-and-mighty because she works there,” Sandy said airily. She leaned on the counter and whispered conspiratorially, “But if you ask me, sheain’tthat much.”
“I see. Do they come in here often?” He smiled and winked.
“Bliss is in here all the time, but this is the first time I ever saw her in here or with him. I don’t think she’s ever had a man,” Sandy announced. “The girl wouldn’t know what to do with one.”
“But you do?” the man asked smoothly.
Sandy felt a curl of desire inside her. “You should stick around and find out.”
“Maybe I will do just that.” The man looked at her. His startling blue eyes seemed to see deep inside her soul. “Has anyone ever told you that you should be a model?”
“Really?” Sandy giggled prettily. “Well, you know, I used to be in thosekiddiepageants, and I was Miss Teen Queen eighty-three.”
“And no more? I would think you had some nationals under your belt. Like Miss Universe or something along those lines.”
Finally someone who sees my potential!Sandy licked her lips and put her hands on her hips. His questions about Bliss and her new beau were all but forgotten. “Why the questions about my modeling career? I don’t even know your name.”
He took a silver briefcase off the floor and rested it on the counter.Man, didhe have that when he came in?Sandy wondered, but she figured that his good looks just kept her from noticing what he had in his hands.
“You can just call me B. Everyone does.” The case opened with a soft click, and he pulled out some papers. “I’d like to offer you a deal, a contract of sorts that will make your wildest dreams come true.”
“You mean you can still get me my modeling career?” Sandy asked in breathless excitement.No more working in a deadbeat diner! No more cleaning grease traps!
“I can get you anything you want. All you have to do is sign this. But let’s talk about it a little, okay?” B handed her the contract, and on the top, in very formal embossed letters, she readBelial Agencywritten in gold.
“By the way, do you know what shift Bliss works at the hospital? B asked mildly. “Just in caseCaimneeds to know.”
“It depends, but one of the desk nurses will know if he goes by and asks,” Sandy replied as she trained her focus on the contract. “Hey, this contract says I have to sign in my blood. That is kind of gross.”
“It’s just a formality, my dear,” B supplied. “Let’s talk about how famous I am going to make you first.”
While he talked, Sandy giggled, her focus on her new career and not the smell of sulfur that was coming off the papers she held in her hands.
* * * *
Caimhad phased out of the diner parking lot and directly to New York. Manhattan had its usual crowd on the street, but he walked through the lonely night aimlessly. Nothing he passed or even the glitz of Times Square called his interest like it used to. The only thing that was in his mind and that encompassed his every thought was Bliss. He felt a tremor run through him as he remembered the kiss they had shared. Her taste, her lips were more desirable than he had possibly dreamt. If he were still an angel in heaven, he would have gladly given up eternity to touch her and have her love. Now that he lived in a realm that no one ever wanted to see, the choice was much easier.
The eye-catching glamour of Times Square passed into silent streets. He walked by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where columns stood silently guarding the structure.Iwonder if Bliss has ever seen New York.It was one thought that passed though his head. He didn’t know how long he wandered, but the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral finally brought him out of his musing. He looked down at his feet, where his shoes had begun to sizzle. Even the sidewalk in front of the church was consecrated, but he didn’t step away, preferring the pain of holy ground to being without it. He looked up at the church that rose majestically into the sky. It reached up to heaven where he couldn’t, and its bells encouraged people to enter where he could not tread. Instead he could only stand and stare up at its glorious artistry and feel such an ache and loss over what he had become, it was almost unbearable.
“Missing your past?” The snide remark causedCaimto grit his teeth. “He doesn’t want you back younow,and I’m enjoying watching you sizzle like bacon.”
“What do you want, Belial? Did you have to go on a food run or something, secretary?”Caimasked nonchalantly.
Belial snarled in his face as he turned and stepped off the curb. “One of these days, I am going to kill you for that remark.”
“Yes, and one of these days, you will work yourself up to middle management. Again, what do you want, gopher?”
“I followed your trail, and I decided to stop in and say hello.” Belial’s face changed from anger to the pristine beauty.
“Oh, how sweet, now you’re stalking me. What did I do to deserve that?”Caimsaid, mocking him.
“Stalking is one of our favorite evils that humans perform. But no, I was wondering why you were in a little rinky-dink town called Merry? As far as I know, we have no contracts there.”
Caimfelt his heart drop when Belial mentioned Merry. Not from worry for himself, but for Bliss. “I was looking for new prospects. You know small towns like that always have a few people who would sell their souls for a break.”
“Why,Caim, I didn’t know you were trying to move up in the demon ranks. Could it be you have given up the notion of getting back in the so-called Almighty’s good graces?” Belial had a shocked expression on his face. It was a fake, of course, which madeCaimwant to smash it off his face.
“I’m a demon now. I have come to terms with that.”Caimalmost growled.
“Oh goody, goody!” Belial clapped his hands. “Samaelwill be thrilled to hear it!”
“Can you be anymore gay?”
Belial laughed and then turned serious. “That, dear boy, is called sarcasm. I know you are up to something, and I will find out what.”
“It’s your time to waste, Belial,”Caimreplied. “Now go away. Your stench is gagging the cockroaches.”
“Fuck off!” Belial gave him the finger before he faded out of sight.
“Right back at you,”Caimmuttered as he continued his walk. He would have to be more careful now that Belial was sniffing around. The best thing would be to never see Bliss again. But that would leave an ache in his chest that would not go away, even in an eternity. He couldn’t wait another thousand years to feel like he did now. That little clause had been the only thing that kept him going on for all those endless years. It was the one thing that would save him from an endless eternity in hell. The church bells chimed again and filled his heart with hope and the clear, clean sound. It was like the ones he had left were telling him not to give up. He wouldn’t.
* * * *
“Oh my god!” Amber’s eyes were wide as saucers when Bliss related the night’s events. “Okay, tell me about the kiss again. On a scale of one to ten, how was it?”
“Off the freaking scale!” Bliss leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. “I mean, if kisses were addictive, I’d be hooked right now. What am I saying? I am hooked!”
It was true after that one kiss. Bliss drove home in her little blue car in a state of euphoria. With her lips still tingling and his scent in her nose, she got dressed for bed in a haze and practically floated into bed. Her body tingled with unspent excitement and sexual need after only one kiss. The next day she had gotten up and cleaned her entire house while singing “You Are My Candy Girl.”Ohyeah, I’m hooked.
Amber laughed out loud. “You are such a slut!”
“Hey, it was technically our first date.” Bliss grinned.
“Oh, I retract the slut thing then. When are you going to see him again?”
Amber posed the question, and the intercom interrupted their conversation. It called for Bliss to come down to the ER. She picked up her tools of the trade and left her office with Amber hot on her trail.
“So?” Amber asked again.
“So what?” Bliss pretended to be clueless.
“Oh, don’t make me park outside your house with binoculars. You know what I mean. When will you see him again?”
“I guess when I see him. It’s not like we exchanged phone numbers or anything. Oh my God, I feel like a kid.” Bliss slapped her fingers against her head.
“Ah, young love,” Amber said, teasing her. The two friends separated where the corridor to the ER and another section of the hospital met. Amber smacked Bliss on the bottom, and she let out a tiny squeal. “Bye, babe. Don’t work too hard.”
“Later, gator,” Bliss called. She reached out and hit the automatic buzzer that would open the door to the emergency room.
The hustle and controlled chaos of the emergency room hit her in a rush. The noise was a low hum of murmured voices with the occasional child’s crying or irate patient’s loud voice thrown in. She walked to the main desk to get the information on where she should go.
“Hey, Leslie, where do you guys need me?” Bliss asked the older nurse sitting behind the desk.
The older lady looked up with a smile on her face, but her eyes darted from Bliss’s and stared off behind her. Bliss turned around to see what caught the woman’s attention, and her heart began to pound in her chest.Caim, with the gorgeous green stare that had haunted her dreams last night, was now walking toward her. She watched a smile crossCaim’sface when he saw her. It lit his face up with brilliance.
Bliss heard Leslie mutter, “Whoa,” behind her.
Caim’ssteps now had a purpose behind them as he made a beeline directly toward her.
“Hello.” His simple greeting did nothing to mask the desire and happiness she saw in his eyes.
“Hi,” Bliss answered shyly. “What are you doing here?”
He frowned slightly. “Last night I told you I would see you today. Am I not allowed to anymore?”
His bright face was turning to sadness before her eyes. Bliss felt her heart melt.Hethinks I don’t want to see him.
“No, not like that, I mean at the hospital. I’m working,” Bliss said in a rush. “I won’t be done until after midnight.”
“I can wait. Any time in your presence for me is a joyous one.”Caimsmiled, and his fingers trailed along the curve of her face.
Oh,Bliss thought, and she heard the collective gasps from behind her. When she turned, now three nurses were watching them.
Leslie’s voice broke in. “Bliss, you have a blood draw in curtain seven.” She was in the middle of the trio and handed Bliss a chart.
“Thanks, I’ll get right on it.” Bliss smiled at the nurses. “Caim, do you want to wait in my office?”
“Can I watch you work?” he asked hopefully.
“Girl, you better let that hot toddy watch you work. You don’t want him roaming the halls,” Leslie said behind her. “If only I was a few years younger.”
“Your husband would kill you, Leslie,” Bliss teased her as she walked away.
“Yeah, but it would be a good way to go!” Leslie called back.
“Hot toddy?”Caimasked curiously, following along behind her.
Bliss laughed. “A hot toddy is a drink.”
“So she thinks I am a drink?”
Bliss laughed even harder. “No, sweetie, she thinks you are hot, sexy and/or good-looking.”
He bent low and murmured into her ear, “Do you think I am good-looking, hot, and sexy?”
With his breath against her skin and his close contact, he made her want to melt. “Y-Y-Yes, I do.”
“Then, that is all that matters.”
Bliss couldn’t even think of an answer to his statement.Caimwas so assured and already so intense with his feelings that she felt a bit overwhelmed. She had never had someone form this kind of bond with her. It scared her, but excited her, how quickly it was happening.
She pulled back the curtain to reveal a woman sitting on the hospital bed. In her arms, she held a tiny baby girl dressed in pink whose face was crumpled with tears ready to erupt.Oh no!Bliss thought as she instantly felt tears prick the back of her eyes. She loved children, and this was her curse every time one came into the ER. She couldn’t bear the thought of children suffering or being in pain.
The doctor looked up at Bliss andCaimstanding there. Bliss abhorred having to work with Dr. Maynard. He was cocky and treated the staff like his own personal slave bank. He had asked her out once, and she said no. From then on, he really took an interest in picking on her every chance he got. His eyes met hers, and his lips curled into a nasty sneer. He wanted to say something aboutCaim, she just knew it, but because the patient was there, he wouldn’t.
“I need a full panel on the baby. I need the results as soon as possible,” Dr. Maynard ordered. Bliss nodded as he walked past. He stopped for one moment and said under his breath, just enough for her to hear, “Oh, Ms.Tadeo, stop bringing your boy toys to work. We don’t need to see who’s sharing your bed.”
Bliss rolled her eyes and said nothing. She put her case down on the edge of the gurney and smiled brightly at the worried mother.
“Excuse me for one moment.”Caim’spolite request made her look at him. His eyes were centered on Dr. Maynard as he walked away.
“Caim, it’s okay, please,” Bliss pleaded softly. The mother was already scared to death, and she didn’t need to see a scene betweenCaimand Dr. Jerk. He nodded his assent, and Bliss breathed a small sigh of relief.
Bliss focused on the job at hand. “Hi, I’m BlissTadeo. I’ll be taking her blood today.”
The woman gave a jerky nod before asking, “Will it hurt her?”
“I’ll be as gentle as possible,” Bliss assured the mother. She let her fingers roam over the chubby little hand as she spoke. “What’s her name?”
“Her name is Katie.” Tears were in her voice. Fear for her daughter’s health marred the young mother’s face. “I just want her to be better.”
“We’ll make sure she is,” Bliss promised. “Please hold her as still as possible for me, okay?”
The young woman tried, but as all children do when they are sick and hurting, Katie cried and twisted, and Bliss could not keep her hand still enough to get the needle into the soft skin safely. From the corner of her eye, she sawCaimmove close, and his hand touched the baby’s cheek.
“Be still, little one,” he murmured.
Bliss watched in amazement as the baby quieted down almost instantly and her big brown doe eyes stared up atCaim. She was able to get the twenty-one gauge butterfly needle into Katie’s small vein easily. All present watched as the baby’s blood flowed along the tiny blue tube and into the sample vials. Bliss had to collect four samples for testing, and each had a different colored top so the lab technician would know exactly what to look for. They would look at the white blood cell count and hemoglobin checks to ensure no internal bleeding. Tests for infection to any vital organs would be run as well. They would pay special attention to the liver and screen for blood clots. It was a very slim chance that the baby would have these things, but they still had to be ruled out. They finally had all they needed, and by that time, underCaim’stouch, the baby had fallen asleep as if she had not a care in the world.
“All done,” Bliss whispered, not wanting to wake the now-sleeping infant. “I’ll check back later.”
“Thank you,” the mother whispered. Her eyes settled gratefully onCaim’sface and then Bliss. “Thank you.”
As they passed the nurses’ station, Bliss asked one of the nurses to get the woman something to eat. It would take a few hours for the tests to come back, and the tired young mother already looked dead to her feet. A hot sandwich and maybe some coffee or soda would give her a little more staying power for the long night ahead.
She turned her thoughts back toCaim. Just one touch from him had calmed the baby in mere seconds. There was more to him than he let on. Bliss could tell, and she was excited to find out more about her charming new suitor.Suitor.Bliss laughed at herself as they walked silently down the corridor to her office.Isound like an old historical romance novel. But yet, as they moved together down the lighted hallway, his hand took hers with a simple grace that made her breath catch. This was unlike anything she had ever experienced, and Bliss knew that even though she feared it, she could not deny herself the chance to see where it could go.
The office door closed with a small click, and suddenly the room felt too small for Bliss. But there was also a familiarity to havingCaimin her office, as if she had felt his presence before sharing the same small space. She dismissed the thought as ridiculous since she had only met him the day before. He turned to her and cupped her cheeks. Bliss could not help the sigh that escaped her lips.
“Your hands, your touch, why does it make me feel this way?” she whispered, rubbing her cheek against his palm. “It’s like a cat. I want to lay my head against your chest and purr.”
“I’m glad I make you feel like that.”Caim’svoice was a low rumble in his chest.
“It’s not just me. Look at how you calmed the baby with just one touch. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were magic,” Bliss murmured. Her eyes were closed while she luxuriated in the feel of his touch.
“Do you believe in magic or the unknown?”
Bliss gave a husky laugh. “If I have to believe in something, why not magic?”
“Why not. Can I kiss you again?”
“Are you going to always ask to kiss me?”
“Isn’t that what I am supposed to do?”
Bliss let her hands smooth up his chest to around his shoulders. “I was hoping that one day you might feel comfortable enough to kiss me whenever you want.”
“You say one day as if you plan to keep me around for a long time.”Caim’slips were so close to hers she could feel his breath when he spoke.
“I want to,” Bliss said fervently. “I want it very much.”
The kiss was even better than the first. It buckled her knees, butCaimcompensated by pulling her roughly against his chest. She moaned,a sound filled with pleasure and need. His lips tasted and tempted. He drank from her like a thirsty man who craved a drink of water. Bliss gave willingly and let the kiss slide her deeper into the sensual oblivion he was creating. His hands roamed her shoulders and cupped her neck before moving down to pull her hips closer to him. She could feel his hardness against her, and she rubbed against the cause of her aching. His reaction was a low moan in the back his throat.Caim’shands journeyed up her body to cup her breasts through the material of her green scrubs. Bliss felt the heat of his hands through the cotton material. It was almost more than she could bear. She wanted him then, right there, to be underneath him, to feel his cock sink into her and take away the ache he was causing.
“More, I need more of you,”Caimwhispered harshly against her lips. Between kisses, he bit and licked at her neck and molded her breasts in his palms.
“I need you too!” Bliss was lost in the intensity of the moment. His scent, his touch and taste had her surrounded, and she did not want to break free. He lifted her against him, and she wrapped her legs around his waist before her back was pressed against the wall of her office.
Caimlifted his head as if he heard a sound from a distance. She turned his face back to her and captured his lips, letting her tongue dart into his mouth. He moaned in response, and Bliss gave a sexy chuckle knowing she affected him just as much. He pulled away once more and let her slide to her feet, backing away as if he suddenly regained his senses. There was a look on his face, like dark storms rolling in off the sea, harsh and angry. The warmth of their passion cooled as she looked at the turmoil on his face.
“Caim, what’s wrong?” Bliss reached out to touch him, but he stepped back and shook his head. She let her hand drop in alarm.
“I have to go,” he whispered brokenly.
“Why?” Bliss asked, fearing the answer.
He raised his eyes to hers, and she saw unshed tears glistening in his gaze. “There is so much I have to tell, so much . . .”
His shoulders dropped as if he carried the weight of the world. He tried to move past her, and on instinct, she threw her arms around his waist and held on tight.
For a moment, it stopped his steps, and he pressed kisses into her hair. “Your hair always smells like honeysuckle, no matter how many times I am close to you . . .” With those words he stepped through the door and closed it behind him.
Your hairalways smells like honeysuckle.His words echoed in her mind. He said it as if he spent every day close to her. She opened the door in a rush to race down the hall, to ask him what he meant. She looked up and down the long corridor, looking for his back going down the hall, but he was already gone. Bliss stepped back into her office and closed the door with trembling fingers. She moved to her desk, sat heavily onto the soft chair, and laid her head on the desk. They were so many questions swirling through her mind.He isin trouble. She could feel it. She laid on the cool surface of her desk with thought after thought bombarding her mind. Bliss reached out, took the black feather from its crystal vase holder, and began to rub it against her chin.
* * * *
Caimphased to the down world, which he abhorred. After being with Bliss, the smell of the sulfur felt like it was choking him. He was not in the mood to be there, he never was, but being pulled away from Bliss made it all the more unbearable. He passedQemuel, who was pulling one of his newest torments toward his wall. The demon gave him a toothy grin showing the jagged teeth as he passed. The man he was dragging was begging for mercy.Caimshoved the black marble doors that lead toSamael’slair, which caused them to make a harsh grating sound against the stone floor. Belial was at his desk, and his evil sneer grew twice the size when he sawCaimstride through the doors.
“Did I pull you away from something, dear boy?”
“Fuck you.”Caimscowled at his nemesis.
Belial pretended to be shocked. “Such harsh words coming from your lips, it has to be something good. Care to share the pussy that obviously has you in such a bad mood?”
Caimmoved across the room in a flash. When he slammed his hands down on the table, it shook. “Demon, one of these days, I am going to rip your tail off and beat you with it.”
“Be careful,Caim. Your horns are showing,” Belial said softly, but there was an evil light in his eyes.
Caimreached up, and sure enough, two sharp tips were trying to break though the skin on his forehead.No!hethought wildly. He closed his eyes and calmed his breathing, feeling the heat of his breath against his nostrils. It was demon fire trying to claim him. He couldn’t let that happen. He kept repeating the words in his head.Anger is the enemy. If I give in, it will claim my soul.His anger was the thing that got him banished from heaven, and now he was caught here in hell. If he gave in, he would become something dark, something that was worse than death in his mind, a demon. Then his love for Bliss would mean nothing. He would be nothing. He opened his eyes, stood, and stepped away from Belial’s desk.
“Do you have a pickup for me?”Caimasked slowly while he controlled his emotions.
“Hmm, such a pity.” Belial smiled, and for an instant, his true face could be seen before he put back on his human mask. “I was hoping to be the one who finally ruined the one small part of your soul you kept. Can’t you feel it,Caim? It’s eating away inside you, bit by bit, taking the one pure spot you hold on to like a cancer eating human tissue. Soon, you will be just like us.”
“I will never be like you, Belial. I do my job, and that is all he will never have of me,”Caimsaid vehemently. “Now where do I go?”
“The dark master asked for you to pick this one up personally. He wanted his best on the job.”
Belial’s smile told him one thing. He was going to hate having to do this contract. He snatched it from the demon’s claws and walked out the door without another word. As he phased out of the demon realm to go collect the Devil’s due, he opened the contract and sniffed the blood signature. It brought tears to his eyes. He couldn’t do this much longer. ToCaimit was torture being a fallen angel who retained his soul.
* * * *
The man had sold his soul for his family. It was one of the worst. He knew Belial sent him out to take this soul on purpose. There was no one to complain to. It was hell, after all. If you didn’t do your job, your punishment was unlike anything imaginable. He stood outside the house, and he could feel the alternative protection they tried to put in place to keep him out. Spells and charms, even a salt ring around the entire house. But they didn’t understand these methods were to keep full demons and the Devil’s dogs out. He still retained the good inside him, so these charms did nothing to keep him out. He shook his head sadly and phased into the house where the man sat clutching his wife’s hand. Their eyes widened in terror when they saw him standing there in silence.
“You can’t have him!” His wife jumped up from next to her husband, clutching a Bible and then throwing it at him, hoping the sanctified words would hurt him and cause him to leave. “He has children! We need him!”
“I cannot do anything for your plea. He made his choice,”Caimsaid softly. He picked up the Bible off the floor, and even as it burned his hands, he handed it back to her. “You should let me take him. You do not want someone else to come in my place, someone who will hurt you or your children, or for the Devil to send his dogs.”
The man stood tiredly. “I am ready to go.”
“No!” his wife screamed. She fell to her knees and crawled toCaim. She grabbed his pants and looked up at him with tears streaming down her face and a plea in her eyes. Her words came out in between sobs that brokeCaim’sheart. “Please, please don’t take him. I love him so much!”
“Darling, darling, there is nothing he can do. He is just a messenger.” He pulled his wife to her feet and held her in his arms, kissing away her tears. “I love you, and even in hell, I will continue to love you.” He turned toCaimand said softly, “I am ready to go.”
Caimnodded silently and watched as the woman collapsed on the sofa in tears, her broken screams of despair muffled in the pillow. What could he say? He was the fallen angel that came to take her husband’s soul. The only thing that came to mind was, “I’m sorry.” With that, he took the soul from the man’s body and left his empty shell crumpled on the floor. He phased out from their home with sobs echoing in his head and took the new soul to its anguish.
Qemuelmet him with such glee that it madeCaimwant to snatch the soul away and run with it topside, to take the poor man back to his home, his wife and children, and safety. But it could not be done. The punishment for a person who sold their soul for love was ten times worse than anything that could be dispensed in certain parts of the underworld. It was hell. Here, evil deeds and sin in humans were rewarded. The psychopaths, the sadists, the world’s degenerates lived like kings while people who didn’t know better or tried to save their families were used as fodder, and their suffering was great.
“Something wrong, fallen one?”Qemuelsneered. “Is the job too much for you? Belial said you were having a hard time of it. Maybe a few thousand years chained to my walls would help harden you up.”
“I’m fine. Take your new charge, demon, and stay out of my way.”Caim’stone was neutral as ever. He could never let them see how this place affected him.
Qemuel’sbig hands gripped the head of his new soul. His talons dug into the tender flesh of his scalp, which caused the man to scream in pain and blood to drip from the wounds as he was dragged across the floor.Caimwatched this new soul be taken for processing and then an eternity of damnation. He knew eventually the man would become as sick and dark as the place he dwelled. The filth and the degrading acts of the Devil’s home would seep into him. Whatever love he claimed he would hold on to for his wife would be lost.Caimhad watched it all happen before, and it never got easier. It was happening to him as well. He fought a never-ending internal battle to retain the spark of good left in him and to not let it be corroded by the vileness of hell. He left the underworld, the smell of sulfur, rot, and death, and went backtopsideto gulp in the fresh, clean air. While he was gone, the rain had begun to fall in Merry. He sank to the wet earth, and his fingers dug through the grass, into the soil.
He looked up to the heavens with tears streaming down his face. “Why! Please, why can’t you see that I am sorry? I ask for your forgiveness!”
But he knew that there would be no answer. In a thousand years, there never was.Caimslapped his hands down into the soft earth over and over while sobbing for all the souls he had taken to hell, sobbing for the tears he had seen people shed. In the darkness, he heard a voice say one thing that helped him regain part of his composure.The tears you shed help you keep your soul alive. Find your joy in the darkness,Caim. It is your only hope.His joy in the darkness, his Bliss.Caimgot up from the sodden earth and began to walk to the one place that could bring him comfort in the turmoil. He didn’t need directions. She was like a homing beacon, a light that always drew him to her. He knocked on her door a minute later. She opened the door with the chain still attached.
“Caim!” Her eyes widened when she saw him standing there in the rain.
“I need . . . I need you, Bliss.” His voice was broken with emotion. “Please.”
She closed the door, and he heard the chain slide from the latch. The door opened quickly, and she pulled him inside and into her arms even though he was dripping wet from the rain.
“Oh,Caim, you’re shivering, baby. Come on.” She pulled him along into her bedroom, andCaimlooked down to see that he was leaving a wet trail on her hardwood floor. She said nothing as she undressed him, and he let her. She dried his skin and seated him down on her bed before she climbed behind him to dry his hair. His nakedness was not a concern at that point. He could feel her wanting to soothe what hurt inside him.
“I’m so tired, my love, so very tired,”Caimsaid softly under her ministrations. Bliss murmured words of comfort as she let her fingers and the towel do the work.Caimfelt his shoulders relax, and Bliss gently pushed him back onto the bed. He didn’t protest. She pulled the blankets out from under him and covered him up to his neck before she climbed in beside him and brought him into the cradle of her arms once more.
He let his hands wrap around the curves of her body, her warmth seeping into him, taking away the cold of the rain and in his heart. “I can’t do it anymore, Bliss. I need to escape the darkness. Please help me. I can’t do it without you.”
“Shh, darling, just sleep now. We’ll figure it out tomorrow.” Bliss kissed his cheek gently.
“Say I have you, Bliss. Say you’ll be mine. I can’t leave the dark without you lighting my path,” he groaned. For the first time in years,Caimfelt the calm of sleep begin to overtake him and cloud his mind. No matter how tired he was, he could never find rest, until now in the arms of his love.
“You have me,Caim. Now sleep, sweetheart,” Her tone soothed him. She kept whispering and talking to him, speaking of nothing important, just letting her voice take him away. He fell asleep listening to her heartbeat, and even though it rained and thundered outside, he found peace in the middle of the storm.
Caimwoke to her caress. He felt thefeatherlighttouches of her fingers run across the muscles of his arms and down his shoulders. Her touch trailed down the expanse of his chest and down to the muscles of his abdomen. Under her gentle caress, he felt his desire began to simmer.Caimkept his eyes closed and enjoyed the feel of her fingers running across his body. His breath caught, and his cock hardened when her hands traveled lower than they should. He stifled the urge to moan and beg her to stroke the place that ached.
“You’re awake, aren’t you?” He could hear the laugh in her throaty voice.
“Yes, I am.”Caimstill had his eyes closed, but he felt a smile tug at the corner of his lips.
“Do you want me to stop?” Bliss’s tongue flicked at his earlobe.
“That is not even a question. Of course I don’t want you to stop.” The events of last night plagued him. “Bliss, about last night, I need to talk to you about it.”
She stopped his words with a kiss. “Not right now,Caim. Let’s keep the world outside just a little bit longer.”
Caimdraped his hands around the smooth skin of her neck and pulled her into his kiss. Their lips met in fierce intensity that wiped everything but her from his thoughts. He pulled her across his body so that he could feel her entire body on top of him. He stroked and caressed her curves. He murmured against her lips. “Are you sure about this? You can still change your mind.”