a charity novella benefiting Autism Speaks by Nina Croft
Unable to bear the thought of losing his mortal wife, Caden Wolfe steals the Elixir of Life and offers her eternity. But the theft is discovered, his wife is slain, and Caden is stripped of his angel wings and cast down into the Abyss.
Having drunk of the Elixir of Life, Phoebe Little’s soul is tied to the earth in a perpetual cycle of death and rebirth. Unaware that she has lived countless lives, Phoebe is haunted by the loss of a love she has no memory of.
Caden has spent a thousand years searching for his wife. Now he has found her, and only Phoebe’s love can redeem them both. But Phoebe fell in love with an angel, and Caden is now a demon of the Abyss. Can she see past what he has become, remember the love they once shared, and have a second chance at forever?
Title: Remember Me
Author: Nina Croft
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 97 pages
Release Date: April 2012
Imprint: Entangled Publishing Charity Anthology
Purchase the anthology:
100% of net profits will be donated to Autism Speaks
© 2012 Nina Croft
Cade offered the golden goblet to Eleni. “Drink.”
Hands wrapped around his, she raised the cup to her lips. Cade held his breath—his hopes and dreams within his grasp. But at the last moment, she glanced up at him, and uncertainty flickered in her dark eyes. “If I drink, will we be together for always?”
Her sweet mouth curved into a smile as she leaned toward him and sipped the liquid. Cade watched the movement of her throat as she swallowed, the tension drained from him, and his silver wings spread in triumph.
There was no going back now. Right or wrong, the deed was done.
He had betrayed his own people in stealing the Elixir, but he had no regrets. He would gladly forsake Heaven if that was the price he had to pay to be with Eleni. He’d found his own heaven here on Earth, and he knew his brothers felt the same.
He dropped the goblet to the ground, cupped her beloved face in his hand, and lowered his head to kiss her. The sharp, bittersweet tang of the elixir lingered on her lips, and a shudder of unease ran through him. He shook off the feeling. There had been no other way. “Come, we need to leave. The others will be waiting.”
A small frown formed between her brows. She nodded at the goblet, where it lay in the sand at their feet. “Will you be in trouble for this?”
He forced a smile. “Not if they don’t find us.”
He had arranged to meet his brothers at a small clearing close to Eleni’s village. Clasping her hand in his, he pulled her against his side, and fought the urge to take to the air—but they couldn’t draw attention to themselves. The theft would be discovered soon enough; they had to be away from this place before that occurred.
The sun blazed high above them. An unnatural silence hung in the air. Cade couldn’t dismiss the nagging sense of disquiet, and he increased his pace.
They were almost there—he could see his brothers and their wives gathered, waiting—when a clap of thunder sounded overhead. The sky opened, and a host of angels appeared, blocking out the sun. The beating of a thousand wings filled the air. In seconds, they were surrounded.
Cade cursed. How could they have discovered the theft so soon?
“Cade!” Eleni’s high-pitched scream tore into him.
Hands were reaching for her. Cade tried to wrap her in his arms, but they wrenched her from his grasp. He fought, then. Furiously. But there were too many, and too strong, and he could only scream his rage as they dragged her from him.
All around, his brothers were fighting. Cade drew the sword from the scabbard at his back, whirling and countering the blows that came from all directions, desperate to reach Eleni. But for each one he cut down another took his place. Finally, his strength failed, and the sword dropped from his fingers. He hung exhausted in the grip of two of his captors, his breath coming hard and fast, as despair swamped him.
He lifted his head. Gabriel stood before him, golden wings spread. “You broke the rules, Caden. This time you’ve gone too far. You stole the Elixir of Life.”
The words were softly spoken, but beneath that, Cade could hear the outrage.
“How did you know?” he asked.
“You should have remembered that humans are fickle, jealous creatures.”
Cade’s mind frantically searched for a way out. “My wife? Where is she?”
“The human?” Gabriel shrugged. “Her own kind will deal with her as they see fit.”
The fighting had died to nothing, but Cade couldn’t see Eleni, and panic clawed at his guts.
Through the confusion, she cried out his name, her voice hoarse with terror and panic. The host parted, and he caught sight of her. They had tied her to a stake—people from her own village, people she had cared for—and piled brush wood around her. She was struggling wildly against the restraints, but to no avail, and fear stopped his heart. It couldn’t end like this. He tore at the hands that held him, screaming her name.
For a brief moment, their eyes met and some of the panic faded from her face. “I love you.” She mouthed the words.
“For eternity,” he whispered.
Then the flames licked at her bare legs, and she screamed in agony.
He lost sight of her as they closed in around him. The acrid scent of smoke, burning pitch, and roasting flesh clogged his nostrils, and he fell to his knees and gagged as Eleni’s shrill screams filled his mind.
Finally, she fell silent.
Cade’s heart shattered. He threw back his head and howled.
Long minutes, he knelt there, unsure whether he could even move. His mind reeled in disbelief. She couldn’t be gone, but there was a huge gaping hole inside him, where she had been for so long.
He pushed down the pain and allowed ice-cold fury to envelop his heart. Struggling to his feet, he saw that they had gathered his six brothers together. Their faces reflected his own despair.
“For violating the laws of Heaven, you are banished.” Gabriel waved his hand and a portal opened, a break in reality.
Cade sensed the shadows reaching up to him, and he embraced them.
He stood immobile, barely feeling the pain as they ripped his wings from his back, and then he was plummeting through darkness. He fell for an age, until he finally crashed to the ground.
His mind was numb as he stumbled to his knees. He’d wanted Eleni to live forever, be at his side for eternity. Instead, he had brought about her death, and he would be alone until the end of time. A scream welled up inside him. He knelt in hell, but it was nothing compared to the darkness in his soul.
An icy wind blew across his skin, and he looked up from his torment. In the half-light, a woman stood before him. “I’m Lilith, Queen of the Damned. Welcome to the Abyss.”
“Tell me why I’m here again?” Cade had to shout over the whir of the helicopter blades.
“Here” was about twenty miles south of Kabul, the environment an inhospitable mix of low rocky outcrops and scrubby bushes beneath a washed out blue sky and a pale yellow sun.
“Press conference,” Finn replied. “You’re talking; I’m your bodyguard.”
Cade examined him—Finn certainly looked the part in his camouflage gear and more weaponry than could ever be needed. But then Finn did love his toys. “I don’t need a bodyguard.”
“Maybe not.” Finn grinned. “Okay, definitely not, but it wouldn’t look right for the big boss not to have a bodyguard around here. You might not have noticed, but we’re in the middle of a war zone.”
The helicopter was slowing now. Below them, Cade could make out the vague outline of manmade structures, the same pale ochre as the landscape, so they merged with the rocky terrain. They circled the compound once, hovering above the small crowd of people in the wide open central area, before coming to land on an open rooftop off to the side.
A faint hum of excitement vibrated deep in his gut—maybe he’d been missing this. As CEO of Stormlord Securities, he spent way too long in the office. What he needed was something to take his mind off the fact that time was running out for all of them.
Cade slipped on his dark glasses and jumped down. The sun prickled his skin, but he ignored the sensation; sunlight no longer had the power to harm him—he’d grown beyond that. Thick red dust permeated the air, and he grimaced as he ducked under the still-turning blades and ran for the edge of the roof, Finn at his back.
Despite the sun, the day was bitterly cold, but Cade hardly noticed as he smoothed his suit and breathed in the icy air. The cool breeze hinted at snow and something else—a lingering scent almost forgotten, but still familiar. He came to an abrupt standstill.
The hum of excitement grew to a buzz that spread through his being, filling him with a wild sense of anticipation. His whole mind focused on the elusive scent that teased his nostrils, sweet, spicy with a hint of lemons. A wave of longing swept over him, so strong he almost stumbled. Bracing himself against the low stone wall in front of him, he tried to clear the fog from his brain, as excitement warred with terror.
Could she really be here?
He fought for control, but a fierce exhilaration was building inside him.
“What is it?” Finn asked, but the words scarcely registered.
After all the years of searching, was he finally going to find his Eleni again?
Would she know him?
He fought down the need to leap over the edge of the building, to find her, confront her. But he couldn’t do that. She had to come to him of her own free will, or this time he would lose her forever.
“Cade?” Finn’s low voice came from behind him, and a hand pressed down on his shoulder. “Are you okay?”
Cade shook it off and headed down the open staircase that ran alongside the building.
The scent was stronger here, but mixed with the stench of too many people crowded together. Cade searched the sea of faces. A few wore western clothes, but the majority dressed in dark robes with traditional scarves wrapped around their heads.
Panic clawed at his insides. He couldn’t find her.
A man stepped up toward him, blocking his view, and he gritted his teeth in frustration. “Mr. Wolfe, can you tell me what you think about the current situation in Afghanistan?”
Cade stood, letting the questions flow around him, while the adrenalin surged through his system.
“Mr. Wolfe, would you like to comment on the allegations that Stormlord Securities uses illegal means to gain government contracts?”
A woman’s voice. Clipped and assured. The words hardly registered. For a brief moment, his brain ceased to function. He looked down. A long way down. The woman in front of him was small, but then his Eleni had been tiny—it had always made him feel protective. She’d laugh at him and tell him she didn’t need protecting.
A scarf wrapped around her head, leaving only a narrow band of her face showing between the folds. Dark brown eyes, flecked with gold, stared up into his. They were all he could see. But they were enough. Eyes he’d dreamed about for over two thousand years. He couldn’t believe it; after all the years of searching, she finally stood before him.
Her dark brows drew together in a frown. “The allegations of corruption, Mr. Wolfe—could you comment?”
The scarf muffled her voice, and he wanted to reach out and drag the dusty cloth from her, reveal her to him.
“Cade, we have incoming.” Finn’s voice shouted in his ear, the urgency of the tone finally getting through to him. He tore his gaze away from the woman.
“Goddamn it, Cade. This place is going to explode.”
He forced himself to look upward and shock punched him hard in the gut. Like a comet, a trail of fire streaked across the sky. A rocket heading straight for the compound.
Straight for Eleni.
The guy was definitely acting weird.
Phoebe had studied him as he came down the steps. Unlike his companion who was dressed in full combat gear, Caden Wolfe wore an elegant silver-gray business suit, white shirt—no doubt silk—and a dark red tie which matched his immaculately cut dark red hair.
Prior to the press conference, she’d found out everything she could about him, but even so, nothing had prepared her for Caden Wolfe in the flesh. He was stunning. Which didn’t mean he wasn’t also corrupt.
Patrick, her boss—and one of the best editors in the business—had always told her that the most important quality for a successful investigative journalist was gut instinct. And her gut was screaming that there was something very off with regards to Stormlord Securities.
But she also needed to be fair. Phoebe was the first to admit that she loathed and despised the big multinational corporations. Hated the way they believed themselves above the law, and the way they used and discarded the “little” people as though they didn’t matter.
People like her father.
Because of that, she always went the extra length to make sure her facts were right, always did her research meticulously. She’d looked at Stormlord Securities from every angle, examined the statistics, and the numbers didn’t add up. No company managed to get that many government contracts without making payouts somewhere along the line.
And Phoebe Little, ace reporter, was going to find out where. Expose his sleazy company, and his shady dealings. This story was going to right some wrongs and put her name into the top ranks of investigative journalism.
But she wished he’d stop staring at her—it was making her feel distinctly odd, hot and fluttery. He wore dark glasses, but still she sensed his eyes fixed on her as though he were starving. She tightened the scarf around herself and glanced down. She was covered from head to foot—what was there to gawk at?
His bodyguard spoke to him, and at last he broke eye-contact with her. As he stared upward, horror flashed across his lean handsome face. Phoebe followed his gaze to the sky, and her mind locked in terror. A rocket was heading straight for them. No way could it miss.
A moment later, something slammed into her, and the world went black.
Phoebe was falling through darkness, hot air rushing past her as she twisted and turned.
Had the rocket hit?
She appeared to be heading downward, which was a little worrying, but her mind refused to focus, and all she could do was hold tight as she spun out of control.
All awareness of time faded. She could have been falling for minutes, hours, or even lifetimes, but finally, the descent slowed until she was drifting through the warm air. Still downward, but at least she could think again.
Strong arms bound her tight, pressing her face against a rock solid chest. Wriggling was impossible, and after a moment, she gave up and relaxed. She became aware of other things, the soft whoosh of air as though brushed by huge wings, the clean, spicy aroma of the man who held her locked in his embrace.
They landed with a soft thud. This time when she struggled, he loosened his hold, but now, when she could move, she found she didn’t want to. She wasn’t scared exactly, although something told her that perhaps she should be, but she felt so safe wrapped in his arms. How long had it been since a man held her like this? Not in this lifetime, she was sure. But something felt so familiar, so right.
Maybe the rocket had knocked her out, and she was dreaming.
Either that or she was dead.
No, definitely dreaming.
She pulled free, took a step back, and blinked. Level with her eyes was a broad, naked chest, the skin pale over the smooth swell of muscles. Phoebe bit her lip and took another step back until she could look up and straight into the wickedly handsome face of Caden Wolfe. She closed her eyes tight, counted to ten, and peeked through her lashes. What she saw in his face made heat stir to life low down in her belly.
Didn’t you dream about the last thing that you saw before you fell asleep? Obviously, the last thing she had seen was Caden Wolfe, so it made sense that she’d brought him into her dream. It didn’t mean he was real. None of this was real. At that moment, she became aware of something else, something that definitely proved her point. He had wings.
Blood red wings, each a yard in length. While she watched, they swept the air once then folded against his back, so only the tips showed above his broad shoulders.
Caden Wolfe—an angel.
Though thinking about it, what sort of angel had wings the color of blood? And she’d headed downward—not up—so she was pretty sure she wasn’t in Heaven. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She swallowed and tried again. “Am I dead?”
“No, you’re alive.”
That was reassuring. She peered around her; this place certainly didn’t look like Heaven, but then it didn’t look like Afghanistan, either. In fact, it was like nowhere she’d ever been. The light was dim as though the sun had just set beyond those glittering black mountains, the sky violet shading to midnight blue. They stood on a black sandy beach, by a running stream, surrounded by black boulders.
“Where are we?”
“We’re in the Abyss.”
She swallowed again. “Sounds nice. Isn’t that another name for Hell?”
He shrugged but didn’t seem inclined to answer the question. Maybe he thought she would panic. But why would she panic when it was all a dream?
“Call me Cade.”
He reached out a hand and stroked her cheek, locking the words in her throat. Her skin tingled under his touch, sending quivers running down her spine. She looked up into his face to find him gazing at her with such wonder in his dark blue eyes, as though he couldn’t quite believe she was here. She was finding it hard to believe herself.
In real life, she’d never wanted a man to look at her like that. But this wasn’t real life. She stifled her initial urge to run and stood immobile beneath his touch, while he traced the lines of her face, trailed the pad of one thumb over her sensitive lower lip. A tight knot clenched in her belly, and the flickering heat burst into flames.
Phoebe said nothing as he drew the scarf back from her face and dropped it to the ground behind her. Her shoulder-length hair was tied back in a ponytail, and he loosened the band and ran his fingers through the strands, then cupped his hands around her skull, tipping her head so she looked up into his eyes.
“Eleni,” he murmured.
She frowned at the strange name, but before she could even think to ask, he lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her. All rational thoughts fled from her mind. His lips were soft at first, almost reverent as he learned the shape of hers, then they hardened. His hands held her steady while he slanted his mouth over hers and parted her lips.
As his tongue pushed inside her, the knot in her belly unraveled. A warm wet heat washed through her, saturating the core of her body, and she swayed toward him.
He wasn’t touching her anywhere except for his hands in her hair, his lips on hers, filling her mouth with the slow, languid thrust of his tongue. She made a low moan of need deep in her throat, and he went still against her. Drawing back, he stared down into her eyes, his expression almost fearful.
“Do you want me?” he asked.
She looked at him then. He still wore the pants he’d been wearing in the compound, but his jacket and shirt were gone. Her eyes flickered past the tips of his wings and then quickly back to his naked chest. He was muscular but sleek and lean, his ridged belly almost concave where it disappeared into his waistband. Beneath that, she could see the bulge of his erection pressing against the material of his pants, and her breath caught in her throat.
She tried to remember who he was—Caden Wolfe, CEO of the company she was investigating. The man she was convinced was bribing his way to government contracts. But he was also the man she’d been fantasizing about for weeks now, ever since she’d seen his photograph.
And did it matter what he was in real life? Here and now, he was just some manifestation of her fantasies. She’d dreamed him up because he was the most gorgeous guy she had ever encountered and she was a sad, frustrated woman who hadn’t had sex in five years.
And if she was really hovering on the brink of death, didn’t she deserve a little fun first? Even if it wasn’t real. Or rather—especially if it wasn’t real.
He was watching her, his expression tense, as he waited for her answer. Did she want him? “Oh yeah.” She realized she’d spoken out loud, as relief blossomed on his face.
Phoebe didn’t object as his hands gripped the hem of her tunic and dragged it over her head. His gaze ran over the swell of her breasts in the white cotton bra and her nipples tightened to press against the softness of the material. Hunger and need warred on his face as he reached behind her and unclasped the bra, peeled the material away. His eyes feasted on her until her breasts ached to be touched, and her sex throbbed with need.
Finally, when she thought she would scream, his large hand cupped the fullness of one breast. His thumb rubbed the nipple and it stiffened, sending jolts of pleasure shooting through her, fires dancing along her nerve endings. Lowering his head, he licked the swollen nub, drew it into his hot mouth, and suckled her while his hands slid down over the sharp indentation of her waist. They slipped beneath the waistband of her loose pants to stroke the curve of her bottom. He pushed them down together with her panties, and she stepped out of them, kicking off her sandals to stand before him naked.
He went down on his knees, his wings spreading to frame him. For a minute, his forehead rested against her stomach, as though in prayer. She laced her fingers into his hair, dark with glints of ruby. Then he raised his head. “I have waited so long.”
“But now we are together again.”
“Again?” She was sure they’d never been together before. But her mind couldn’t hold on to the thoughts because he’d leant toward her and was scattering moist kisses across her naked breasts, down over her belly. Red hot desire exploded inside her. She would have fallen, but his hands gripped her hips and held her steady as he rose to his feet, still holding her. Then he lowered her to the silky black sand.
Phoebe couldn’t drag her eyes from him as him as he stood over her, legs braced. Couldn’t move as his hands went to his waist. He flicked open the button on his pants, unzipped them, then tugged them off and tossed them to the ground. A brief glimpse of him showed he was fully aroused, before he sank down beside her. Dragging her into his arms, he pulled her close against the length of him.
Dream or reality—she wasn’t sure it mattered anymore. Nothing mattered except finishing this. She needed him, needed him deep inside her as though they were one body, and some small part of her mind filled with terror that she would wake before they completed the act. A sense of urgency woke inside her and she reached out, curled a hand around his shoulder, and pulled him to her.
The blood throbbed in his veins, pulsating in his shaft so his cock felt as though it was about to explode. His gums ached to feed—he’d never expected that. Would she let him, or would she recoil in horror at what he had become? Last time they were together, he had been an angel. There was nothing angelic left in him now.
The possible implications of what he had done nagged at the back of his mind. He was sure he’d broken the rules of the Covenant by bringing her to the Abyss, but what else could he have done?
It had been nearly two thousand years since he’d last held Eleni, and now that he’d found her, he wasn’t sure he could let her go. Certainly, he couldn’t have stood aside and watched her be blown to pieces by an incoming rocket. He’d acted without thinking; snatched her up, opened a portal, and here they were.
He tried to push the doubts away, but he couldn’t dismiss the idea that this might be all he would ever have.
She looked as he remembered; the curves of her hips, the full breasts, the tiny waist. He reached out and stroked his finger down from her collarbone, between the valley of her breasts, over the gentle swell of her belly…then flattened his palm against the curls at the junction of her thighs. Her hips lifted, pushing against his hand, and she moaned.
For a moment, it didn’t seem real. For so long he’d dreamed of this, of finding her, of loving her. He felt a flare of panic. Was it real? The Abyss could do strange things to the mind—even his. He burrowed his face against her throat, and the familiar scent of her cleared his mind of the doubts. Right now, it was enough just to hold her. It felt like coming home.
He was back in heaven where he belonged.
Now, he would show her what they were to each other through his body, and she would remember that once she’d loved him more than life itself.
Her muttered words filled him with a sense of urgency. Without thinking, his lips drew back, and his fangs sank into the soft skin.
For an instant, she went still beneath him, but he couldn’t stop now with the warm sweetness of her blood flooding his mouth, driving him wild. He came up over her, held himself poised above her, braced on his elbows.
His shaft nudged at the opening to her body, but as he drew back to fill her, an icy breeze whispered over his skin.
Phoebe’s surroundings vanished. All she was aware of was the man poised above her, the hardness of his erection pressing into her belly, his mouth at her throat. The sand was soft beneath her, the wind a gentle caress against her bare skin. She felt as though she was caught in a moment in time, waiting for this man to possess her. She knew she had experienced this before. Cade lying with her like this, but under a bright yellow sun, murmuring words of love in her ear, “Eleni…”
Now, she hovered on the edge of something, something vitally important. Memories whispered through her brain as insubstantial as mist, and she groped to catch them.
“Shit!” Cade raised his head and swore loudly, chasing away the spell that bound her. His body snapped rigid as he stared at something over her shoulder. For a moment, she tried to hold him to her, her hands gripping the silky skin of his shoulders.
Swearing again, he pulled free and rose to his feet in one fluid move. He grabbed his pants and disappeared from her sight.
A sensation of loss washed over her so strong she thought she might drown beneath it. She swallowed and sat up, forced herself to turn around and peer over the edge of the rock to see what had dragged him from her.
A woman stood silhouetted against dim light, so still she might have been a part of the mountain itself. She was the most beautiful thing Phoebe had ever seen, tall and slender, with red-gold hair that fell in glossy curls to her waist. She wore dark pants, long boots, and a crimson shirt, and the pale skin of her face was marked with swirling runes.
Cade crossed the space between them and sank down on to his knee before her. “My queen.”
Phoebe searched around her for her clothes, feeling at a distinct disadvantage naked.
Her body was still clamoring for release, and she had to force herself to concentrate. She had no clue where this dream was going. The whole “nearly making love with Caden Wolfe” thing she could understand. He was stunning, and it had been a long time for her. But why bring another woman into the fantasy?
She finally found her tunic on the ground close by and wriggled into it under cover of the rock. The long cotton robe enveloped her from neck to knees and would have to do for now. Scrambling to her feet, she tucked her hair behind her ears and stepped forward. The woman glanced her way dismissively then turned back to Cade.
“You’ve broken the rules, Caden.” She nodded at his wings. “You’ve shown her what you are.”
“I had no choice,” he ground out. “She was going to die. Within the bounds of the Covenant—I have a right to protect her.”
“Maybe.” She gave an elegant shrug of one slender shoulder. “The rules are still broken—you are not to show your true self.” She pouted a carmine smile and gave a little moue of regret. “A pity. You did it to save her, and now she must die anyway.”
Die? Were they talking about her?
Phoebe inched closer, her gaze flickering between the two people. The woman appeared relaxed, even amused, while Cade’s figure radiated tension, and a low growl rumbled in his chest.
“Die?” Phoebe said. “But this is just a dream, right?”
The woman regarded Phoebe, her eyes as black as midnight. “I am Lilith,” she said. “I rule here.” She considered Phoebe, head cocked to one side. “What if it were reality?”
“But it’s not, is it?” Phoebe turned away and searched for the rest of her clothes. She found her underwear draped over a boulder and her long, baggy pants behind it. She pulled them on.
Cade had risen to his feet. He was pacing the black sand. “I have five days.”
“Five days?” Phoebe realized she was sounding like a parrot but couldn’t help herself. “Five days to do what?”
Nobody answered, and she plonked herself down on the boulder and waited to see how this dream would work itself out. She wished she had her recorder, she wanted to remember what was said, but how likely was that in a dream? Cade still wore nothing but his pants, and she admired his half-naked body and tried to ignore the wings, which were twitching in obvious agitation.
“Only if you stick to the rules,” Lilith said, “and don’t reveal who and what you are. And the rules are already broken.”
“Er…actually, I don’t know what he is,” Phoebe muttered. “What is he?”
Again, they ignored her, and she ground her teeth in annoyance.
“However, I’m inclined to feel generous. It all depends on the woman.”
Did she mean her? Well, it was her dream after all. Lilith strolled toward her, and Phoebe fought the need to jump to her feet and put a barrier between them. Despite Lilith’s beauty, there was something vaguely repellent about the woman.
She came to a halt a foot away. Reaching out, she placed one slender finger under Phoebe’s chin, turning it slightly to the side. Her brows drew together.
“Really, Caden, couldn’t you have shown a little restraint?”
Phoebe resisted the urge to reach up and touch her neck. She had a flashback to Cade’s mouth at her throat, the sharp pain.
Had he bitten her? Was he some sort of vampire? It seemed unlikely she’d bring a blood-sucking monster into her fantasy, but what other explanation was there?
She’d been so drugged by pleasure, she probably wouldn’t have noticed if he’d devoured her whole. Cade didn’t answer, and she glanced across to where he stood, scowling, his lips pressed firmly together.
Lilith dropped her hand and stepped back. “We have a small problem. According to the Covenant, Caden has five days to make you love him, but he’s not allowed to reveal his true self in that time. Now he’s shown himself to you, which means his soul is forfeit, as is your life.” She pursed her lips. “But I’m feeling generous, so I’m willing to give you a chance.”
The words made no sense. “A chance?”
“Let me be more direct. Do you love Caden Wolfe?”
“Just who are you?”
“Answer the question,” Lilith snapped.
Phoebe frowned. Queen or not, Lilith, was starting to seriously piss her off. She glanced at Cade. He was watching her, a hungry, hopeful look in his dark eyes. She turned away from the intensity of his gaze. He couldn’t really expect to tell him she loved him after a few hours.
Phoebe had never told anyone she loved them. Not even her closest family. She had always found the words impossible. She desperately wanted to retreat into her normal flippancy, but she peeked again at Cade, saw that same look in his eyes, almost pleading, and the urge to be flippant drained away.
“I don’t believe in love,” she said with an apologetic shrug in Cade’s direction. Her words weren’t entirely true. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t believe in love, as she wouldn’t allow herself to love. Not even in a dream. Especially not in a dream—Phoebe’s whole life had been haunted by nightmares of a love taken from her, and she wouldn’t risk that pain.
“How…fascinating.” Lilith seemed lost in thought, as she considered Phoebe. After a minutes silence, she turned to Cade. “She’s a dead woman walking. But you know, it might be amusing to watch you squirm. You have your five days. They will begin from the moment of your next meeting, but it must be as though this encounter never happened—she must forget.”
At her words, Phoebe’s panic flared. “I don’t want to forget.”
Even if it wasn’t real, and even if she wasn’t ready to admit to some complete stranger that she loved him, she wanted to remember this more than anything in her entire life. Cade was staring at Lilith, and Phoebe could see the tautness in every muscle, right to his wing tips that quivered and strained. Then the tension seemed to bleed from him, and he nodded once.
He came back to her, cupped her face in his large hand. His eyes filled with regret and something else.
“You’ll forget this,” he murmured. “But you will remember me. When the time is right, you must remember.”
“No, I—” But the light was already growing dim, his face fading, that same sense of loss washed over her and sucked her under.
Her face was damp.
It was the first thing she noticed when she regained consciousness. Her face was damp, and she was lying on the hard ground, the sand sticking to her cheek. She shifted slightly then stopped as a piercing pain splintered her skull. A moan escaped from her.
There was something she needed to remember, but it slipped away even as she tried to hold it tight.
“Eleni.” The word whispered through her mind, then drifted off on the breeze, leaving her bereft and empty.
“Don’t move, Miss.”
Her eyes blinked open at the sound of someone speaking close to her head. A man crouched next to her. He was big and wore camouflage gear with the Stormlord Securities insignia on his chest. She recognized him as the bodyguard she’d seen flanking Caden Wolfe. He ran his hands impersonally over her body, then sat back on his heels and examined her, a strange, intense expression on his face.
“I think you’re okay apart from a bang on the head,” he said. “Do you want to sit up?”
She pushed herself up, wincing at the pain, but found she could function.
She peered about her. The place was in ruins. Small fires blazed at various points around the compound. She flinched. She’d hated fire for as long as she could remember. Her eyes shifted away to the bodies that lay unmoving among the rubble. She realized she was searching for someone. When she didn’t see him anywhere, she turned to the man crouched next to her.
“Caden Wolfe? Is he okay?” She didn’t know why she asked, but she needed to know.
“Yeah, he’s okay. He’s helping out.” He nodded across the compound, and Phoebe saw Caden Wolfe’s distinctive dark red hair. His back was to her; he’d stripped off his jacket and was tending to someone on the ground. He went still as though he could sense her stare, but didn’t turn.
He was safe, and the tight knot of tension inside her relaxed. She sagged against the wall, then glanced back to the man beside her. “What now?”
He straightened, then leaned down and picked her up easily, held her cradled against his chest. “Now, I take you to safety.”
Phoebe fought down the urge to struggle. She didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay close to Caden Wolfe. It was crazy, but with each step that took her away from him, the need to call out built up inside her.
She must have banged her head harder than she’d thought. She swallowed the words and closed her eyes against the fires that burnt all around her.