Demon Angel

Demon Angel cover

For two thousand years, Lilith wrought vengeance upon the evil and the damned, gathering souls for her father’s armies Below and proving her fealty to her Underworld liege. Bound by a bargain with the devil and forbidden to feel pleasure, she draws upon her dark powers and serpentine grace to lead men into temptation. That is, until she faces her greatest temptation—Heaven’s own Sir Hugh Castleford…

Once a knight and now a Guardian, Hugh spent centuries battling demons—and the cursed, blood-drinking nosferatu. His purpose has always been to thwart the demon Lilith, even as he battles his treacherous hunger for her. But when a deadly alliance unleashes a threat to both humans and Guardians in modern-day San Francisco, angel and demon must fight together against unholy evil—and against a desire that has been too long denied…

Who will be the first to succumb?

“Extremely engaging…A fiendishly good book. Demon Angel is outstanding.” –The Romance Reader

The Story So Far

Are you starting with this book? Do you want a series refresher before starting the next? Catch up on The Story So Far in the Guardian series primer.

<– The previous book in the series

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READ AN EXCERPT

From the end of Part One…
Seattle, 1991

The bridge shuddered against the gusting wind; Lilith dragged her sodden hair out of her eyes and decided that if Thaddeus White didn’t jump to his death soon, she would push him.

After weeks of whispering suggestions of suicide into his sleep, and twice as long listening to his whining declarations of misunderstood genius, her patience was at an end. The satisfaction of his splattering against the highway below would almost be worth the inevitable Punishment killing a human would bring.

Almost.

He whimpered and turned away from the edge. Lilith fought the urge to roll her eyes, and let them glow bright red instead. The effect wasn’t as startling as it had been before horror films had inured the American population to monsters and demons, but it was still impressive.

So were the membranous wings and crimson skin she’d chosen to shift into during this assignment. Her face was her own, but when she saw him wavering yet again, she adopted the features of his first victim.

“The police–they suspect, they know,” she said. A hint of impatience threaded through her voice, but she doubted he noticed: he was transfixed by her appearance.

She tucked in the grin that pulled at her mouth; this tactic was one of her best, and she’d employed it often over the weeks with him. He fancied himself in love with his prey, and her ability to mimic each of them had alternately frightened, overjoyed and enraged him–and had reinforced his delusions of godlike impunity. He thought of Lilith as a manifestation of his work, a sign of his imminent triumph over the rest of humanity.

She played on that now.

“They’ll take that away, lock you up and keep you from me forever–but you can join me.” Lilith shifted into another woman, and another. “You can join us. And those pigs will never touch you. You’ll have beaten them.”

He gave a greedy, self-satisfied smile and looked down at the wet concrete as if it held glorious reward.

Lilith shed the dead woman’s likeness and angled her wings to keep the worst of the rain off her head. It wouldn’t be long now; her father would have another soul for his army, and she would be one step closer to regaining his confidence. She’d had a succession of failures, but this time she’d performed her duty and composed Thaddeus’s suicide with skill and style.

So why wasn’t she taking pleasure in the result?

If there was going to be a result. She frowned as Thaddeus paused yet again. For a man who killed others so easily, he apparently considered his own life–and death–valuable. But his wavering kept her from what would likely have been an unsettling self-analysis, and relief slipped under annoyance.

“Why do you hesitate, my love?” she said, and grimaced. The my lovewas overdoing it–certainly none of his victims had ever called him that.

Thaddeus didn’t seem to notice; he stared at the highway below, and his voice held an awestruck tremble. “There’s…an angel waiting for me,” he said, and dived.

An ang–oh, for fuck’s sake!” Lilith leapt atop the railing just as the figure below–bewinged and dressed in a monk’s robes–caught Thaddeus.

Hugh.

Though he obviously did his best to cushion Thaddeus’s fall, the impact of the thirty-foot drop into the Guardian’s arms knocked the human unconscious. Which, in Lilith’s opinion, was splendid–there would be no need to worry about the serial killer witnessing something he shouldn’t. He’d have a nasty case of whiplash and a few unexplained bruises, but he’d remain unaware of her–and Hugh’s–true nature and his brush with real immortality.

Her sword materialized in her hand, and her blood thrummed in anticipation of battle.

This was something she could take pleasure in.

She couldn’t subdue her delighted grin, but she disguised it by affecting a cry of outrage. “This is the last time you interfere, Guardian!”

A flash of lightning accompanied the declaration, and her grin broke through. The more theatrical the confrontation, the better–and it looked as though nature was cooperating in the drama.

Thunder cracked and rumbled as she waited for his response. Hugh tilted his head back to stare at her for a long, silent moment, and she greedily searched his features for a hint of regard. It usually lurked in the silky line of his bottom lip, in the crinkle at the corner of his eyes.

Disappointment and anger settled in her chest when she could find no warmth in his expression, only the somber mask he used to hide his emotions. Her breath hissed through her teeth. Why did he always resist her? Why must he–

“It is the last time,” he agreed quietly.

His tone startled her out of her anger. She considered deliberately misinterpreting his words, taking them as a challenge, but the weariness in his voice was too unfamiliar–and too unnerving–to disregard.

Hugh didn’t sound tired, but exhausted, as if something within him had burned out. A chill that had nothing to do with the rain sheeting upon them rushed under her skin.

Her eyes dimmed, her sword lowered a fraction of an inch. “Why?”

He glanced down at the man in his arms when Thaddeus shifted and groaned. “I have decided to Fall,” he said, and carried Thaddeus beneath the bridge.

She stared unseeing at the place he’d been standing, felt the nausea rise in her throat. Falling. For a Guardian, it meant a reversal of his transformation. A release from his duty and a renunciation of his role.

It meant that he would travel a path she could no longer ambush.

It took her a moment to recognize the cause of the yawning, hollow ache in her stomach: Pain. Loss. It only took another moment for her to twist it into something she could understand and use.

Rage.

She didn’t remember jumping, but she must have remembered to break her fall with her wings; she landed silently on the concrete highway, her muscles coiled and ready. Thaddeus lay on the incline on the side of the roadway–Hugh was gone. A growl rumbled up from her chest. Opening her senses, she focused her anger into a searching sweep of the area. He wouldn’t have left Thaddeus alone with her, couldn’t have gone too far.

“I made you!” she shouted into the dark. Her voice echoed in the concrete barrel of the overpass; knowing he could use the noise to cover his attack, she ground her teeth together and delivered her threat with quiet intensity. “I’m the reason you aren’t a stinking, rotting corpse, and you think to become human again? I’ll see you dead before I allow it.”

A whisper of movement. Instinct and skill proved too slow; he caught the wrist of her sword arm and bent it around, holding it immobile at her side. He yanked her back, trapping her wings between them and dragging her to the shoulder of the highway. Sharp, cold steel pressed against her throat.

“I should have killed you in Lille.”

She felt the difference in the rasp of his voice into her ear, the tension in the taut form behind her: exhaustion, yes–but also something deeper, darker. A shiver ripped through her, and it was answered by a tremor in his hands, his breath.

“You’re on the edge,” she realized. Jealousy dug its claws into her chest, and she welcomed the pain it brought. What–who–had managed to shatter his control, brought this heat from ice?

It should be enough that he came to me, even if it was only to kill me. But it wasn’t enough–she didn’t like to settle. Humans could be happy with half of something; she could not.

She arched her back and ignored the pinch at the base of her throat where his sword cut into her, the warm liquid slide of her lifeblood. “Are you to finish this, then?”

She didn’t think he would–didn’t think he could.

He inhaled sharply, and she knew he scented the blood by the way his grip shifted on his sword, easing its pressure without removing its threat. “I’ve already gone over and back again,” he said.

But not all the way back. If he had, she wouldn’t be able to feel death still burning within him. And then the import of his statement sank in. She vanished her wings and turned in his arms to look at him in surprise, unmindful of the blade he held against the side of her neck.

Hugh slew demons and nosferatu with barely a thought; something else–someone else–must have pushed him to this point.

“You killed a Guardian?” Unimaginable. Whereas demons might destroy each other, the Guardians practically oozed brotherly love and kindness. It was disgusting, really. A wicked grin tugged at her lips. “Was it Michael? Because I’d love to see the golden boy’s head on a pikestaff.”

His gaze dropped to her throat. She was certain the wound had already healed, and the rain had washed most of the blood away. Only a faint stickiness remained. “It was a human.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” She said it automatically, because it wasridiculous, impossible; she could understand his being driven to kill a Guardian–applaud it, even. But he’d had never slain her–as he should have–and so she could hardly believe he would have murdered a human. No matter the provocation.

But Hugh never lied–and only moments before she had been certain he would kill her. It seemed inconceivable, but perhaps, after endless years of sameness, something within him had truly changed.

Rain dripped from his lashes; she’d once thought his eyes must be the same blue as the sky in Caelum, and the only bit of that sacred place she would ever have. Now they were dark, and reminded her of the frozen faces Below, the blue of the tormented and the damned.

“I became you,” he said.

Fear scrambled up her spine. She covered it with a laugh and tried to pull her hands from his grip. He held her fast. Pausing, pretending to submit to his strength, she said lightly, “You became me? If you’d wanted my body that much, you know you could have had it.”

A mistake. She realized it immediately, but it was too late. She should have fought him; he was different, but she wasn’t: she had responded as she always had, expecting him to rebuff her suggestive playfulness.

And this Hugh used her hesitation–and her weakness–against her.

He leaned forward. “I became you,” he repeated softly. “I didn’t put the gun to his head, but I used my Gift against him and he did it himself. He couldn’t face the truth, and he pulled the trigger.” His lips were a breath from hers, and the gentleness in his voice–from him, whom she’d fought and fought for so long–disoriented her; he wrapped her in his Gift before his words registered.

He’d used it against her before. He’d compelled Truth and taken information, but it had always been in focused bursts of power–never this sweet persuasion that seemed to wind through her and steal her resistance.

Because your resistance is a lie, her mind whispered.

She caught the thread of that truth, used it to steady herself. Of course it was a lie; she was a demon. Demons were nothing if not brilliant liars.

And truth was not a tool used solely by those Above.

“So? That was his failing, not yours,” she said, and tilted her head to indicate Thaddeus’s prone form. Hugh’s gaze didn’t stray from her face, as she’d hoped. Relaxing her sword arm, she continued, “Truth is a weapon that can be easily twisted. If humans believe in something strongly enough, it can be used against them. It becomes a truth. ”

“No, that is delusion.”

She smiled and shifted her weight to her left leg. “Perhaps. Is there a difference?”

“Yes.” Sliding his hand from her wrist to the hilt of her sword, he pried the weapon from her fingers. She let him have it; she had others, and her hand was unencumbered now.

He’d used gentleness and seduction as part of his artillery; so could she. She threaded her fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck and pulled his mouth closer to hers. He smelled of damp wool and warm skin, a disturbingly human scent.

But he wasn’t human yet. Wouldn’t be. Her hand itched to call in her second blade, but she wanted–needed–more from him first.

He cupped her chin; his palm was rainwet and cool. His thumb brushed her lower lip. “Your role is your delusion, Lilith.”

She laughed and shook her head. “The outside is an illusion, Hugh, but the role is true. It’s essential.”

He took his sword from her neck, and his arm dropped to his side. “Why?”

Her eyes narrowed. He wasn’t asking because he didn’t know, but because he wanted her to say it. But for what purpose? Her blade appeared on a thought, heavy in her hand, hidden behind his back.

“Because–” Her throat closed, and she felt his Gift strangle her answer. She tried again and couldn’t produce anything but a choked, whistling exhalation.

As if his exhaustion had finally taken him over, he rested his forehead against hers. “I know what you want to say: There is no light without darkness. That is the lie, Lilith. One of many. You must see it. Neither Guardians nor demons have a place in this modern world.”

“No–”

He halted her denial with the soft press of his lips against hers.

This was almost what she’d been waiting for–a touch, given without coercion. Simply Hugh, without having to steal a kiss or bargain him into it. Eight hundred years of wanting, and now she could finish what she’d begun.

But she lost her grip on her sword. Her arms were weak, her chest tight. Her breath burned her lungs.

“Lilith,” he said. His hand moved between them, and the pressure beneath her breast became screaming pain.

She didn’t need to look down at the hilt protruding from her chest to know he’d cut through her heart. She’d waited too long; but then, she’d always been greedy. She’d always let human emotions dictate her actions; it was no surprise that failing had brought her end.

He slid the sword out and held her securely against him. She couldn’t maintain her glamours, and she felt him shudder when he recognized the pale, naked woman in his arms. He smiled and pushed her hair away from her face with his bloodstained hand. His voice was laced with sadness, but not regret.

“So my angel was always under there.”

It hurt to laugh, to shake her head, but she did both. Not me, she’d told him the last time he’d seen her this way. It had been the truth, yet he had persisted in holding onto the illusion that she could be something she wasn’t.

“I am sorry I cowered for so long, Lilith.”

She tucked her face into the warmth of his neck. Hell must be nearing; the raindrops splashing against her cheeks burned her skin. No…no. The oceans Below were of fire, not salt. No, do not weep–this was not Hell, but release. But she had no breath to tell him. She closed her eyes, and there was silence.

It did not last.