OUT of the blue, I had been asked to go. Desmond Pierce, the Director of Antiquities, invited everyone, but as I was the most recent addition to the exhibition department, it came as a surprise to be included. The entire experience seemed like a dream; first the thrill of being chosen for the position, assistant to the exhibition designer; and second, being invited to travel to Italy along with the rest of the museum staff. Dr. Pierce, the man responsible for giving me my job, owned a villa in Gubbio, Italy, and he had extended an invitation to everyone who worked in his department to visit his home after we attended the unveiling of his family’s donation to the Piazza Museo Nazionale. I felt honored at being asked to accompany my colleagues, but I had declined the gracious overture. I couldn’t afford the plane fare, and I didn’t even have a passport. Being the son of hippies who owned a health food store in Petaluma, California, made me the opposite of worldly. There was no way I was going first to Naples and then on to Gubbio.
My new boss, the exhibition designer, Amanda Bennett, was insistent that I go. She said that Dr. Pierce wanted all the new hires to attend. She got my passport application expedited and my ticket paid for by an anonymous benefactor. When I thanked her she was embarrassed, told me it was all Dr. Pierce’s doing and none of her own, and told me to get out of her office and have a good time since I would be working night and day when I got back. She herself had declined the invitation, not wanting to be away from her family. As I boarded the plane in Chicago, I could not remember ever being more excited. It wasn’t until we landed in Rome that I started to have a bad feeling.
I’d been excited to make the trip, happy to be included, and, being an art major, desperate to see the Gabinetto Segreto, the Secret Gallery, in the museum. But when I was told that there was a change, that we would be going to Gubbio first, and it would be just Dr. Pierce and I making the trip along with his friend, Armand Oren, I became uneasy. It made no sense that we would be leaving the others, even though the unveiling was not for two more days. When I questioned him, I was told to relax and enjoy the trip.
An hour later, when we stopped to pick up two other men, I started to panic. I was alone, far from home, and I had no way to call anybody in case I needed help. The men spoke rapid Italian, which I didn’t understand and only added to my unease. I had opted to learn Mandarin instead of a Romance language, as the art I wanted to study resided not in Europe but in Asia.
“What is your name?” the larger of the two men asked me after several more minutes, his eyes raking over me in a way I was not comfortable with.
I squinted at the man sitting across from me in the back of the limousine. “Jake.”
“Jake Gray,” the man repeated my name, leering at me. “Tell me––have you ever been raped?”
There was no time to think. On instinct, I dove for the door, ready to jump out of it even as fast as we were going, but a sharp pain in my leg stilled my motion. Looking down, I saw the syringe buried in my thigh and, turning my head, saw Mr. Oren shaking his head at me.
“Normally we just pick up a prostitute in Rome and bring him along, but my friend Desmond here got a taste for you the second you walked into his office.”
Everything was blurring, getting fuzzier by the second, and my body was so heavy, so hard to move.
“We’re all going to have a taste when he’s done,” he whispered in my ear.
I couldn’t lift my arms. When Dr. Pierce leaned in close to me, I wanted to recoil, but instead I fell back against the seat.
“Isn’t his face magnificent?” he asked the others, and I felt hands on me, pulling and tugging, my clothes being loosened. “I’m sure the body will not disappoint.”
I wanted to fight, but I was frozen, my vision tunneling until he’d become little more than a blur.
“As I suspected… you’re gold all over. I will enjoy seeing your smooth, skin flayed off, Mr. Gray… I have to see you flogged, have to see the knife cut into you, see your face contort in pain… have to see you raped. I must hear you scream… I really can hardly wait. You are by far the most beautiful man I have ever seen, and watching you cry and beg and bleed… my Lord, I think I’m salivating at the very thought.”
I saw his smile, and my stomach lurched at the same time everything went black.
FRIGID water hitting my face woke me up. I gasped and lunged away from the hands that were groping me, running across my abdomen and fondling me through my jeans. As I scrambled away, I looked up and saw three men above me, advancing on me.
I turned toward the voice, and so did everyone else. Directly across from me, across the torch-lined space, wearing long, red ceremonial robes, was Dr. Pierce.
“He has to be given a choice. He has to choose the torture over the beast, or the covenant is broken. Let him see and decide.”
I lunged backward, but I was still drugged and sluggish and slow. The two strangers from the car and Mr. Oren grabbed me and dragged me across the dirt floor to a thick wooden pole that had been driven deep into the ground. It didn’t give at all when they threw me into it.
“Many others have stood where you are now, Mr. Gray,” Dr. Pierce called, advancing toward me, his eyes catching the light from the flames, his pupils dilated, huge and black, as he advanced toward me.
“And they all chose to let us rape them and cut them and gut them instead of being consumed by the beast. You, too, will make the same choice, I know it. You’re weak. That and your beauty is why I chose you.”
He didn’t know anything about me, about the kind of man I was, but maybe, in this instance, that would work to my advantage.
I watched and listened as Dr. Pierce began chanting, and saw Mr. Oren smile as he backed away from me. The other two men followed his lead, and I straightened up, the cold, as biting as it was, helping to clear my head.
Taking in my surroundings, I realized that I was in an enormous cave, an underground catacomb, and the only light at all was coming from the oil lamps that my boss was blowing out one by one.
“Mr. Gray,” Desmond Pierce called over to me, his voice low, “do you want to give up now?”
I shook my head.
“Are you certain? You will hear the beast come, and if you cry out, if you make any noise at all, even a whisper, we will light the torch and claim you, and yes… your death will be slow and agonizing, and you will howl. Still, in the end, it will be death, and the pain will stop. With the beast…I can’t say how long it will go on and the horror…” He smiled. “And the pain… and maybe, with us, if you’re good, maybe, just maybe… we’ll let you live. Think about it, Mr. Gray,” he cackled as he blew out the second to last lantern. “Think about what you truly can and cannot abide.”
The light went out, and I was plunged into primordial darkness. I took a breath and shivered hard, wrapping my arms around myself before I started to jog in place. If I was already moving, there was less chance of being startled and crying out. I had to be silent, whatever happened. I couldn't utter a sound; that was the game.
A second later, I wanted to scream. The flutter of insect wings made me break out in goose bumps; there were sharp clicking sounds, like cicadas, and something spiky and hard slid over my shoulder. It stung, but still I was quiet. I remembered how my boss had looked, the twisted desire in his eyes and the leering faces of the other men, and so I stayed silent instead of begging to be saved.
“Be still,” a guttural voice commanded me.
Keeping my eyes shut tight even though it was dark anyway, I froze in place. When I swayed there were several bristly strokes up my side, abrading my skin as I was kept from falling. When I felt the pressure on my back, I stepped forward.
The sound started as a hum, but in seconds it was as though I was standing in a swarm of flies. There were insects crawling in my hair, over my skin, tickling my ears, my nose, the image in my mind so much worse because I could not open my eyes to see. I fought hard not to gag, even when the smells overwhelmed me. I breathed through my nose, took small sips of air before there was the sharp scent of kerosene.
“The torch is lit, Mr. Gray. Come, open your eyes and behold the beast.”
But there was no rule about that. I didn’t have to look if I didn’t want to.
“Mr. Gray!” He roared, demanding my submission.
I remained silent. I would choose my own fate.
“By your oath,” a voice snarled out, “it made no sound, so it’s mine!”
“No!” I heard Dr. Pierce scream.
I was grabbed, jerked off my feet and crushed in a viselike grip. I trembled hard; the sound of rising breath, snarling like an animal, hot and wet, made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. There was pressure, what felt like claws digging into my skin. It hurt, but my brain could not fixate on that as needles of ice began hitting my skin. I heard the roar of wind in my ears, and when I opened one eye there was a scream, a horrible, high-pitched scream. I wanted to cover my ears even as I felt the reverberations through the creature’s body. The beast was shrieking, whether in pain or glee I had no idea. I wanted to howl, but I clamped my jaw down tight, never uttering a sound.
It was like being on the down drop of a rollercoaster and just stopping all at once. The jerk was simply too severe. I felt pain like a knife in my right eye and then cool, consuming darkness.
I WAS warm, and as my eyes drifted open, I promised myself never to take that for granted again. My second thought was that I was in hell.
Surely the creature I was looking at lived there. It looked like a wasp and a spider had been fused together, but the head was a separate horror. It vibrated, shaking so hard it blurred, and every time it stopped, there was a different swarm of insects. I saw cockroaches, flies, locusts, and then spiders, slugs, beetles, and maggots dripping from the eye sockets. It took everything I had not to vomit. When it moved toward me, I held my ground, fighting down the nausea, gagging but not puking, panting, taking quick breaths, all the time concentrating on breathing. Whatever the outcome, I had passed the test; I was with the creature instead of being brutalized. I knew I could finally speak.
“Try something else,” I coughed, forcing a smile. “Please.”
Before my eyes, the creature collapsed, hitting the dirt floor and becoming millions of centipedes crawling toward me.
“What about bees?” I suggested quickly, hopefully.
The hum was deafening as I was surrounded by honeybees. I liked bees; they never scared me, because I wasn’t allergic. But that many could kill me if they decided to sting, so I called out something else. “Let’s try ladybugs.”
That must have been too hard, because I got spiders instead. When I gasped and scrambled backward, they became scorpions. It took me only one mistake because I had always been the guy that figured out the puzzle on the first try. If I stayed calm, so would the creature. If I frustrated it, the vengeance would be swift, the retribution frightening.
“Being in a cave,” I began softly, my tone sympathetic, “you probably haven’t seen a ladybug in a long time. So, how about a moth instead? How would that be?” I could play name-that-insect all day if that was what it took to keep me alive.
I was swarmed by moths, which was creepy but better than the scorpions.
“Do you think maybe you could pick something, and talk to me?”
Moths became crickets, which were gross, but I used to feed them to my pet lizard, Manny, so I was still okay. At least whatever-it-was and I were, in fact, communicating.
“Whatever you pick, I’ll be okay with it, I swear. You can test me. I’ll pass. I was quiet, wasn’t I? I never screamed,” I reminded the creature.
Reforming before my eyes, it became something I had never seen, like an ant, but gray in color, the size of a horse, with an enormous head and rows and rows of razor-sharp teeth.
“Is this your true form?” I asked gently.
“No,” it answered, the voice more of a hiss than anything else.
“What are you?”
It didn’t answer.
No matter what it was, it had carried me to safety and kept me from being raped. I owed it my sanity, because I might have survived a physical assault, but mentally, emotionally, maybe not.
“I need to thank you,” I said, reaching toward it.
The creature lurched back beyond my trembling fingers.
“Oh.” I forced a smile. “You don’t want me to… sorry… I’m sorry, okay?”
Eyes the size of footballs stared at me for long moments before it moved fast, preternaturally fast, back to my side, and then stood silent, waiting.
I was being trusted not to strike at it, not to try and hurt it, like I was the scary creature in the cave. I reached out, and the second my hand grazed over it, I saw skin. “Oh shit,” I breathed out, startled, flinching away, and the creature once again skittered back from me.
The scream filled the fire-lit space around us and bounced off the stone, echoing out into the endless dark. I covered my ears, the vibrations tearing through me, the ground shaking beneath my feet. A wounded cry from the beast could start an earthquake. I needed to be more careful.
Silence returned and I slowly moved back to crouch beside the crackling fire. After several long minutes, the creature slipped in close to the warmth as well. The flames bathed us both in a warm, golden glow.
“Listen.” I cleared my throat, lowering my voice. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I was just surprised, that’s all.”
The beast tossed its head, and I noticed it was smaller, the jaw less threatening, suddenly resembling a dragon. Having always been a fan, I was comforted, and that, along with its size reminding me of a horse….
“Oh.” I exhaled slowly, remembering one of my favorite mythological creatures, one I used to love when I was a kid. “Can you be… a kirin?”
It changed before my eyes, became that which I had only ever seen in drawings, a half-horse, half-dragon hybrid, bathed in fire. It was gorgeous.
“Holy shit,” I breathed, my voice filled with awe. “If you can be this… why would you ever wanna be anything scary?”
It grew and shifted, becoming the palest blue, a dragon with three claws. I knew what I was looking at—I was an art major, after all. Ryu, a Japanese dragon, was beautiful, and typically, in literature, kind. I took a chance and put my hand flat on its skin. It was warm to the touch, and when I felt it tremble under my palm, the skin jumping like a horse’s, a surge of feeling rose up in me. My jaw clenched and my eyes watered as I was momentarily overwhelmed. It was absolutely terrified of me.
“Why are you scared?” I asked, my voice kind, coaxing. “I’m not a bad guy.”
It leaned closer.
“I’m here,” I said, leaning into its side, closing my eyes as I stretched out my arms and breathed out all my fear. I was safe, and the warm huff of breath that slid down my back and ruffled my hair was comforting. “I’ll stay with you… you don’t hafta be alone anymore.”
It wrapped around me like a snake, coiling, squeezing, and even when I couldn’t breathe because I was wrapped so impossibly tight, I didn’t cry out. Dying like this would be all right. I surrendered myself to it and exhaled.
“No.” The gasp of alarm made my eyes snap open, and I was stunned to find myself held tight in the arms of an angel.
“Oh,” I stuttered, shoving away from him.
Never, ever, had I seen anything as beautiful as the being standing before me. He looked nothing like any of the paintings from college Art 101. The Renaissance masters never envisioned my angel. There was no hint of softness, no trace of doe-eyed innocence, and no creamy porcelain skin or flowing locks. What my angel had instead were hard, rippling muscles, towering height, a chiseled profile, and deep, dark brown eyes filled with heat. His enormous wings were blue as well; folded behind him, they were taller than his six-five height, reaching above his head and dusting the ground at his feet. He was glorious, and I was speechless for the seconds before I was confused.
“I don’t understand,” I said slowly as he advanced on me.
“How could you?” he asked, and his voice was deep and husky.
I took in the armor of a Roman gladiator, the sandals that laced up bulging calves, the thighs corded with muscle, and the roped veins in his hands and forearms. His hair was short, dark brown with traces of gold in it; his eyebrows looked as though they had been brushed on, thick and perfectly arched, dusted with the same gold. Truly I had never seen a more beautiful man. When he opened his wings, showing me the enormous wingspan, the movement stirred the air in the cave, creating a refreshing momentary breeze. The scent of the ocean hit me, flooding my senses with relief. As I watched, the wings were folded together once more before he started forward.
“You are a scholar?” he asked as he reached me, stopping inches away, staring down into my eyes. “Are you not?”
“Not quite,” I sighed, shivering hard, cold again, the farthest I had been from the fire.
The wings opened again; spread wide at the same time he grabbed me and crushed me to his chest, arms wrapped around me, his face buried in the crook of my neck. The metal galerus, or shoulder guard, that covered his right shoulder down to his hand, was cold and hard against my skin, but I didn’t care.
“Forgive me,” he grunted, letting me go, fumbling with the strap across his chest, the piece falling to the dirt at his feet before he gestured for me.
I had no idea what in the world was happening, wasn’t even sure if I was awake, but a man, an angel with the sexiest eyes I had ever seen, wanted me back in his arms. I didn’t hesitate. I leaped at him. He caught me and held me tight, his face buried in my shoulder, mine in the hollow of this throat. I inhaled, the scent of clothes dried in the sun washing over me, the heat from his body warming mine.
“You have reminded me of what I was, and so I am salvaged from madness.”
He trembled in my arms, and I held tighter, my lips parting on his skin, just wanting to taste him, the kiss feather light. The ensuing groan made me smile. “Who are you?”
“Sariel,” he said, rubbing his chin in my hair, breathing me in. “And you are Jacob.”
“Well, Jake, but… how’d you––”
“The men scream your name even now in the darkness.”
I didn’t ask how he could hear them. “Could you explain yourself to me?” I asked, lifting my head, finding his head bent forward, his lips only a hair’s breadth from mine. His warm breath ghosted across my face.
The smile was lazy as his eyes locked on my mouth. “May I?”
“Taste you.” His voice dropped to a growl. “Please.”
I lifted up in silent invitation.
His mouth slanted down over mine fast, his tongue seeking entrance, sliding along the seam of my lips before I parted them for him. One hand fisted in my hair, yanking my head backward while the other was pressed to the small of my back, holding me still, anchoring me against him. I molded my body to his, my knee sliding between his thighs as I reached up and put my hands on his face, kissing him back with all the heat he was giving me.
It was a consuming kiss, devouring, filled with ache and desire and overwhelming tenderness. I was aware of his hands moving, sliding down my back, lower to clutch my ass, cupping it in his large, strong hands, lifting me up. I wrapped my legs around his hips, my arms around his neck as I tipped his head back, my tongue taking inventory of his mouth, feasting on him, missing nothing. I was aware of tugging and heard the jingle of my belt buckle before the zipper parted. When his hands slid over my bare skin, I shuddered.
“Do you know your Bible, Jake Gray?” he whispered in my ear. I nodded, too hot to speak, his fingers kneading my ass, sending electric shocks of pleasure to my groin. My cock hardened painfully fast, and I ached with the need for relief. And it was crazy, I never responded to anyone this fast. I was disciplined; I was smart, but not now, not with this man. I craved him desperately.
“After the fall of man, after being driven from the garden, eons after the death of Abel, man finally settled in the shadow of Mount Hermon. God sent his angels to watch over them once more, but they were weak, the angels, and so lusted after the daughters of men.”
“You’re talking about the Grigori.” I swallowed hard to find my voice, only to lose it seconds later as his fingers trailed over my crease.
“Oh please,” I panted, my tongue darting out, licking over his bottom lip before I drew it into my mouth, biting down on it hard.
He moved in a blur. I was on my feet, unsteady for seconds as my jeans were torn away under his hands, claws I couldn’t see shredding the denim to rags left clinging to my legs, easily brushed away like unwanted leaves. I stood there, naked, staring up at him.
“The angels, the Grigori, all lusted after the daughters of men,” he told me, stepping in close, his hand trailing down my chest, down over my abdomen and lower to my stiff, leaking cock. When his hand closed around it, I couldn’t stifle my moan. “Except for me.”
His hand was warm, callused, and his touch was searing and tender at the same time. As I slid my engorged shaft in and out of his grip, I watched his eyes. They darkened with heat and lust, and the idea of such thoughts filling the heart and mind of an angel made me breathless.
“I found greater beauty in the form of man,” he said, leaning his forehead against mine, his thumb rubbing pearly drops of precome over the throbbing head of my swollen cock. “Speak the words to me, Jake Gray. Tell me that your soul is mine, speak to me that you relinquish it willingly and will either rise or fall at my side.”
My eyes lifted to his. I didn’t even know him. We were strangers; I was me, and he was a fallen angel. If he was telling the truth, then he was Sariel, the angel who had taught men the knowledge of the moon, of planting and harvesting crops, the seasons to seed and sow and store. He had been damned with the rest of the Grigori, the watcher angels, for creating the Nephilim, the killers of men, the angels’ offspring with women. All of them, the Nephilim, had been destroyed in the great flood that Noah had to build his ark for. The Grigori had all been imprisoned, having fallen from grace, and supposedly still were. But now an angel stood before me, his hands all over me, his lips taking possession of mine once more, his fingers creating sensations I had never experienced before.
“Look here,” he instructed as he bent and picked up a small wooden bowl from the ground. I hadn’t seen it before, but as he held it out to me, I knew he was expecting me to know what it was.
“That’s oil, right?”
“It is,” he said gently. “It’s myrrh and I would use it if you would allow me.”
“Yes,” I whispered urgently, “I’ll allow whatever you want.”
Logically he could not exist, and so his hands, as he touched me, the heat, the pleasure he wrung from me—they, too, could not be. As a slippery finger slid between my ass cheeks, I expected to tense as I always did, expected my body to be resistant, but there was nothing, only my muscles relaxing for him, accepting him, ready to receive him.
“I am like no other who has been inside you,” he told me, turning me in his arms, bending me forward, placing my hands on the cold, sharp wall of the cave. “Take me in.”
I let my head fall forward, my chin on my chest. “How are you doing this? I’m always…scared.”
“How does your body open so easily for me? This is your question?” he asked, sliding a finger deep inside me, rubbing over the usually tight ring of muscle.
“Have I cast a spell on you, robbed you of your reason?” he said, adding another finger to my hole. “I think not. You are a smart man, a brave man, and your body craves mine as your soul seeks its home. The mind has dominion over the body and you know you are meant for me.”
I shivered as he added a third finger, pushing in deep, and I wanted to be filled, I was ready, loose, as though he had rimmed me for hours.
“You are so hot inside, Jake, and you’re trying to suck my fingers in so deep. I think you need more… your body needs more.”
I gasped when he withdrew his fingers. At the same time, my ass cheeks were spread wide, and I felt the nudge of his head against my entrance.
“I have waited for you past all endurance, and now you will bind with me. Speak the words, Jake, and become irin of an angel.”
“What is irin?”
“Angels don’t have mates.”
“Not before the fall.”
It took everything in me not to push back and impale myself on him. I had no idea how thick or long he was, but I was going out of my mind, so the mechanics hardly mattered. “You don’t even know me.” I trembled, my fingers gripping the rocky wall.
“The moment you touched me in faith and not fear was the moment I truly saw you,” he said, his lips kissing between my shoulder blades. “When I saw your heart, I was reminded that I am a creature of light and not darkness.”
My body needed him, needed the release, and I couldn’t remember ever wanting anybody more than the angel behind me.
“I will be irin of Sariel,” I pledged to him, letting my head fall back as he gripped my hips hard and buried himself inside me.
He stuffed me full, his cock rammed deeper than I thought my body would allow, and when I cried out, he wrapped his arms around me, his balls pressed to my ass, his chest plastered to my back. When he eased out a fraction only to plow back down into me, I cried his name.
“You are so tight and hot,” he told me, licking behind my ear, clutching me tighter, one hand flat on my abdomen. “You were made to be filled with me, and now you will take all I give you and relinquish your soul as well.”
His words were terrifying and comforting at the same time, but as his hand fisted on my cock, pulsing hard in his hand, my mind went blank. It didn’t matter what he was or who he was, what mattered to my body was that he was needed, wanted, and craved. Pleasure beckoned, and I ran to meet it.
He set a pounding, driving pace, his enormous cock slamming into me over and over, so slick, gliding so deep, and when he grazed my gland, I roared his name.
“Once you bind with me, this can never be undone,” he said, the hand that was gripping my hip tightening, holding me against him. “You will remain at my side even here, in this place.”
He thought I cared. “As long as you’re with me.” I shivered, feeling the sizzling heat gathering in my groin, building momentum, begin its roll through me. “I’ll be happy.”
I heard his growl of pleasure before he impaled me hard, jerking me off at the same time. My orgasm came surging through me, my blood hot, racing though my veins, heat dancing over my skin as I shuddered in his arms, semen coating his hand as I pumped in and out of his fist.
“Irin of Sariel,” he gasped as I felt the liquid heat fill me, “you’re mine.”
The whispered declaration, coupled with the arms wrapped tight around me as his chest was pressed along my back, made breathing nearly impossible. The enormity of what I had just done suddenly drowned me. I had decided in the heat of passion to bind myself to an angel. How sane was that?
I closed my eyes and willed the dream to stop, to release me so that I could open my eyes on the plane, where I surely was, and return to my life.
“You will trust me,” the low voice whispered in my ear as he eased from my body.
The wall, solid and abrasive under my hands, was the only piece of my world that made sense. I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears, and I was hot and cold all at once.
“You fear for all you are and must now give to me,” he said, and I felt him peel his skin from mine. “Look at me.”
The eyes I opened mine up to were infused with warmth.
“You look surprised.” He smiled at me.
“I just… are you going to stay this way or change again?”
“I am restored.”
I reached up to put my hand on his face, and when he leaned into the touch, when I felt the warm skin against mine, everything seemed less alien.
“Will you come with me?”
I nodded, and a smile curled his beautiful mouth as he released a breath, the relief showing on his face a second before he stepped toward me. “You can make me do whatever you want,” I reminded him. “You’re an angel.”
“Your free will is precious to me,” he promised, his mouth next to my ear, sending chills down the side of my neck, covering me with goose bumps. “Never would I strip you of this.”
I would have said something, but he wrapped me in his arms, his wings enfolding us at the same time.
“Do you trust me?”
I could only nod.
The lift was a gentle sway before I felt the cool wind on my face, and then the drop as we fell together. The water was a surprise, as was the golden light that came up through it, illuminating the pool and the area around it. I had not expected to find anything like this in a place of barren rock. That my bath was warm was another revelation.
“Are you magic?” I asked him.
He chuckled deep in his chest as the enormous wings made ripples in the water. “There are hot springs all over these mountains, and this one runs through these caves.”
“And the light?” I pressed him.
“Perhaps crystals. The glow reflected from somewhere else… it’s all natural, I assure you. I’m not trying to bewitch you, simply relax you, and let you bathe… can you remember the last time you had a hot bath?”
I couldn’t at that moment.
“Close your eyes.”
“Talk to me, then,” I bargained. “I have so many questions.”
But the questions had all deserted me. I closed my eyes instead and let my head roll back on my shoulders, savoring the velvet warmth.
“Shall I tell you how I came to be here?” he offered
His hands were on me, sliding over my chest, across my hardened nipples and lower, tracing the muscles in my abdomen; the quivering intake of breath made me smile.
“Your form is so beautiful. You with your golden hair and skin, your eyes the color of the sea, your face, your features so fine and delicate and fragile.”
All my life, I had been told I was pretty instead of handsome, but now, for the first time, I didn’t care in the least.
“A lifetime ago I was damned.”
“Why?” I asked, my eyes drifting open so I could see his face.
“I was sent with the other angels to watch over man, but while the others lost their souls to women, I wanted only to lie with men.”
“And did you?”
Only a trace of a smile accompanied a slight shake of his head. “I did not. I was frightened then, as I knew it was forbidden.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but his hand rose to silence me.
“I don’t mean to say that I kept from the bed of a male lover because to lie with a man was forbidden. I mean to tell you that any contact with either a man or a woman was considered a sin. Angels may guide man and watch man, but they are not to be intimate with them.”
“So you obeyed the law.”
“Then I don’t understand. Why were you damned? Why are you one of the fallen?”
“The intent of sin is the same as sin.”
“No, it’s not.”
“For an angel it is, and I had sinned in my heart. But I had not had intercourse with another, I had not produced offspring, I had not fathered one of the Nephilim. So I was not hurled into the deep bowels of the earth and imprisoned there with the others. I was sent here… to be alone, parted from the rest of my brothers until such time as I could find redemption.”
“But something happened,” I whispered, moving away from him, wanting to look at his whole face, needing the distance between us.
“I felt betrayed, cast out, and as my bitterness grew, my grace was eaten away. I have been here, alone, longer than you can fathom.”
I nodded. “And that horror show you put on? What’s going on with that?”
His eyebrows furrowed. “I do not understand your––”
“The insects.” I shivered involuntarily. “Why were you scary, and why was I even brought here in the first place?”
His eyes were locked on mine.
“Tell me,” I pressed him. “Why did Dr. Pierce bring me here?”
He sank down under the water instead of answering, and I followed, but when I opened my eyes, I was no longer in a shallow bath but in the middle of a vast sea, drifting just below the surface, and I saw Sariel there beside me. I had never seen anything as beautiful. Naked, with his wings slowly stroking the current, floating in the sea, he was irresistible as he gestured me close.
I moved to his side, entwining myself around him, and together we dropped slowly into the bottomless azure deep. The water was so warm, the angel’s skin like silk against mine, so smooth, the arms so strong, so safe. Sinking faster, the water darkening in color, I felt lightheaded before I fell into blackness. Seconds later, my eyes flicked open, and I was wrapped in a blanket, lying beside a fire. Sitting up, I looked around for the angel but found no one. Beyond the glow of the fire, there was only a wall of darkness.
“You are a wonder to me.” The voice spoke from close by, but I couldn’t see him. “You truly trust me.”
“So that was what… another test?”
“But why wouldn’t I trust you?”
He simply appeared. One moment I was alone, the next he sat across the fire from me, the flames dancing in his eyes, casting shadows across his face. “I fear your hatred.”
I was surprised. “You saved me. I could never hate you.”
“My failings have been great.”
“Let me decide for myself.”
Sariel gave a quick nod before he let out a sharp exhale of breath. “In the darkness, over time, seeing no others, I forgot my form. Seeing others of my kind reminded me that I was an angel, a creature of light, but here, alone, there was nothing, and so I became what I saw, mimicking it. Then a century ago, the man came, and I was discovered.”
“Not a century ago.” I shook my head. “Dr. Pierce can’t be more than––”
“Let me explain everything to you before you doubt my words.”
I nodded. “Sorry. What was he looking for?”
“I heard him speak to others in his party, of underground cisterns where men bathed. They were looking for paintings, evidence of use.”
“Probably they were looking for frescoes from the Romans,” I told him. “That makes sense. But they found you instead.”
“The rock above falls often, and in one such collapse, I was buried.”
He was talking about cave-ins, which were probably common. “So they found you, and what?”
“There was one among them, Dr. Pierce, who knew about angels and trapped me within a ring of death that I could not cross.”
I didn’t want to know, but I forced myself. “Tell me what that is.”
“Before I could guess his intention, the man cut the throat of another with him and drew a circle around me with her blood. I had to watch the young woman die, and as I did, I wept.”
I waited for the rest, watching his face, the sorrow in his eyes, the clenching of his jaw. It was painful for him to remember, and my heart went out to him.
“I could not move. I could do nothing but weep. I was not strong enough to rise or smite him, and the man, Desmond Pierce, wiped my face with his shirt, and I knew what he had done.”
“I don’t––you need to explain this to me.”
“By collecting my tears, my essence, he had taken some of my grace, bound me to him.”
“By drinking my tears that he wrung from the cloth,” he answered solemnly.
I had to digest everything he said. “So you’re his slave?”
“No. He keeps me here, in darkness, and when he calls for me, summons me, I must appear before him. I cannot move until I am released.”
“You moved without permission when you took me.”
“Because you chose me,” he said, looking into my eyes, “by making no sound.”
“So that’s the deal? If the person is silent, you claim them, but if not, Dr. Pierce, he kills them in front of you, rapes them, tortures them, and you collapse, unable to move, and the tears just come. You can’t control it; you just weep.”
He swallowed hard, turning away from me. “It is pathetic, and even more so when you use your human words to speak my action to me.”
“When Adam and Eve were cast from the garden, the angelic tongue was taken from man, and so word and action were forever split apart, both to speak and understand. Had you this blessing still, no one could lie, and I could speak to you my feelings without using such a small word like ‘love’. This is why humans must prove their words in deeds, because the words themselves hold no promise.”
“Words alone used to carry weight. That’s what you’re saying to me?”
“Words were bonds.”
I got up and moved around the fire, sinking down beside him, the blanket falling to my lap as I reached for him, my hands framing his face as I returned his eyes to mine. “Well, I’m telling you now that my word still means something, and when I tell you that I am your mate, I am, and that won’t change.”
He nodded, the emotion welling up in him.
“And the word ‘love’ is a great big word, my friend, and never one to be used lightly.”
“And as for you being pathetic… you’re an angel. How were you supposed to bear seeing sin committed right in front of you?”
“I have seen war, Jake, pestilence, famine, and murder… all the horrors of your world, I have borne witness to, but before this one poor woman was slaughtered in my sight, no atrocity was ever committed because of me. If I did not exist, the hundreds who have died in my name since Desmond Pierce came upon me would still be alive.”
“That’s survivor’s guilt talking,” I assured him, my thumb tracing over his beautiful, sensual lips, the pain in his eyes making my heart hurt.
“Tell me… do you know why he makes you weep?”
“He wants to live forever, and by taking the grace of an angel, this has been granted. I know not how long he has survived, but he is well past his natural years on Earth.”
“That’s what you meant earlier. He really is a hundred years old.”
“So by drinking your tears, he’s immortal.”
“For a time.”
“It wears off?”
“He must drink my tears once every season to remain immortal.”
“Okay, it’s spring now, so if he doesn’t have any of your tears by the summer, he’s back to being a regular guy?”
He nodded, turning his head to kiss my palm. “Already he will be mortal.”
“He made a covenant with me that he learned from one of the demon bowls––”
“What’s a demon bowl?”
“Curses and incantations that the Grigori imparted to men were inscribed on pottery and bowls—demon bowls, now, as the angels were cursed. These can be used to make covenants with angels.”
“And I bet to most people, they just look like old pieces of pottery or something, huh? Stuff you pass by under glass at a museum and don’t even care about.”
“Yes. Unless you know what you are looking for, these things would seem ordinary and without value or beauty,” he said, his hands settling on my hips.
“But a learned man like Desmond Pierce…” I shifted closer to him, allowing myself to respond to the gentle but insistent request in his fingers. “He would know what he was looking at.”
“But now that the cycle is broken, now that he failed to trap you like all the other times he––”
“His life is forfeit to God’s law.”
It took several long minutes for him to speak. “To break covenant with an angel is death, and he swore that if any of his sacrifices ever chose me that he would reap the justice of the lake and burn for eternity.”
I scooted closer still, unable to stop myself. “But why would anyone make a bargain like that?”
“It is the only kind to be made. A covenant with an angel must be one of life and death; all else binds not. Just as I took your oath from your lips, your life freely given to me, there can be no rescinding of your promise. I will take your life should you try and take flight from my side.”
I smiled at him. “It’s scary when you say it like that.”
He looked confused, and I understood. There were no shades of gray for an angel, only black and white, good and evil, life and death.
“I won’t ever leave you,” I promised, and I realized I was sincere.
His hand dropped down between us, slipping under the folds of the blanket to wrap around my swelling cock. I couldn’t stop myself from pushing in and out of his hand.
“You crave my touch, my irin,” he said, leaning forward to kiss his way up my throat.
“I want… I want you to be free,” I told him, lifting up to rock forward into his lap, my legs on either side of his hips as I settled against him.
“I am free,” he told me, his face lighting up, his eyes glittering. “You, my irin, you saved me. When you sought to understand instead of fear me, I was saved.”
“Then why… oh.” I sucked in my breath as he squeezed my shaft tight, fisting it only to increase his rhythm as his other hand slid under me and cupped my ass.
“Why do we remain?” He smiled at me, slipping one finger between my cheeks, pushing, pressing, until he reached my entrance. There was still oil there from before, which eased the way.
“Yes,” I gasped, lifting up just slightly so he could curl it inside me, past the strong ring of muscle and up into my ass.
“There is still my seed from before,” he rasped into the side of my throat before he opened his mouth against my skin. “It drips from you even now.”
He pressed his thumb against the head of my penis, rubbing the precum over the tip, at the same time adding a second finger to my hole. I could not control the trembling.
He moved fast, and I was spilled over on my back, the hastily spread blanket cushioning me from the cold, hard ground. His arms slipped under my knees as he pressed them down against my chest. “Speak to me your desire.”
“Don’t test me anymore,” I exhaled, staring up into the now copper-colored eyes. “Just trust me and show me that I belong to you.”
The muscles in his jaw clenched as he drove down into me in one hard, fast, fluid motion, burying himself in my body.
I pushed up to meet his thrusts, wanting him deeper, feeling the shiver of his muscles as he held back.
“Take me,” I begged him. “I’m yours.”
The guttural growl made me smile. “You are mine.”
The words, the look in his eyes, and the ravaging thrusts let me know that he meant every word he said. All I was belonged to him.
I wrapped my legs around his waist as he pounded into me, one hand digging into my hip, holding me against him, the other stroking my cock, bringing me closer to a shattering climax with every thrust.
“Sariel!” I screamed his name as semen spilled over his hand and onto his abdomen and chest. The pleased look, very male and smug, took my breath away before he took hold of my calves, bent and leaned forward at the same time, draping my knees over his shoulders as he folded me in half. He filled my passage, stuffing me with the long, hard, thick length of him as he came deep inside my body.
It was too much, the sensations overwhelming. I felt as though I was on fire and freezing at the exact same time. I screamed his name, and it echoed off the walls.
“Say you will bide with me for all time,” he said, pushing in deeper, again hitting my prostate as he had done on every stroke before.
“Wherever you go, I’ll go,” I promised. “I swear on my life.”
“And now,” he said as he eased out of my still spasming channel, my body not ready to release him, still in the throes of trembling pleasure, “I will take you from this darkness.”
I shivered as the tremors continued to course through me even as I was pulled tight against his chest, his wings forming a cocoon around me, only my head peeking out from the feathers.
“But first I will smite down those who meant to sacrifice your beauty to a fallen angel.”
I was terrified, but the look in his eyes, the anticipation… I couldn’t say no. The second I nodded, the air shimmered around me, blurring, rushing by, and I was suddenly standing before the men who had kidnapped me.
There was a yell in what I thought might be ancient Greek as Dr. Pierce gestured to Sariel, commanding him to come forward and fall at his feet.
Enormous wings were spread wide as I took a step closer to my lover, realizing that I was dressed in a heavy silk robe of blue brocade tied at my waist. I watched in amazement as the men screamed and dropped to their knees in pain.
“Behold the irin of Sariel,” his voice boomed off the walls, “and know what your sin has brought upon you.”
Dr. Pierce lifted his face to me, and I saw the look of shock and amazement. He had underestimated both my spirit and Sariel’s heart.
“This cannot be. This is against God’s law! An angel cannot love a human! It’s a sin, and a mortal sin, for one man to lie with another.”
“In answer, I say you know nothing of grace or love.” Sariel’s voice was like thunder. “And as my irin has reminded me: I, too, am worthy of both.” He turned to look at me. “Wrap tight about me and close your eyes. Do not open them until I tell you.”
I stepped in front of him and grabbed him tight, my face buried in his shoulder. I heard the screams for mercy and my name, but I just clutched tighter, feeling a brush of hot desert wind across my face as I was enfolded into a tight embrace. I sighed deeply, inhaling the scent of the angel, rain and musk all rolled up together. I felt the shroud of the velvet wings at my back and the rock-hard chest against mine. I trembled in his arms.
“Open your eyes.”
I found myself standing beside the car I had been brought in, my duffel bag still in the back seat, next to a man who had no wings. He was, in fact, dressed just like I was, in jeans and a T-shirt. “What happened?” I asked as I stepped out of his arms.
“I would not have you see divine law unleashed.”
“How long were we in there?” I asked, looking at the columns carved into the side of the rock. I had seen none of the beauty of the place when I was carried in, unconscious.
“I was there from before Rome fell. You… a day.”
I waggled my eyebrows at him. “You win.”
The way he sucked in his breath, the bemused expression on his face before the slow, sweet smile… he was enchanted, and the knowledge warmed me.
“I will take you to Naples. You wanted to see the Gabinetto Segreto, did you not?”
I was stunned. “How did you know?”
“I know all that lives in your heart, my irin. Do you still want to go?”
I reached out for him, my hands on his face. “I do, but you’re more important. Tell me what’s going to happen now.”
“Make me understand your question,” he asked, hands on my hips.
“Are you going to stay with me?”
He took a slight step closer, and I had to tilt my head back to see his face. At six-five, he towered over my own height of five-ten, and he was staring down into my eyes with an intensity that was overwhelming and comforting at the same time. “You’re mine. We will never be parted.”
I held my breath. “Do you think that… someday you could grow to––”
“Foolish man. I love you even now.” He scowled down at me. “Well, you should know this. You are my irin.”
“Yeah, but it was just luck that––”
My breath was squeezed from me as I was grabbed tight and crushed against the broad chest of my massive lover. “You are a gift, make no mistake. I was forgiven and so was granted my irin. Your path to me was set the day you were born, as you were created to be the heart of an angel.”
The weirdest part of all was that I knew—I could feel the truth inside and accepted his words as absolute fact. I was his, he was mine, and it was done.
“Where are your wings?” I asked when I found my voice, looking up at him.
“As I am now restored, brought forth from my exile and forgiven, my wings go unseen but when I will it otherwise.”
“You have been forgiven? How do you know?”
“I was granted my irin, and my wings are mine to reveal, or not, as I see fit. This can only be given by God.”
I threw myself at him, and he caught me, clutching me tight.
“My irin, you are the only one in the world who was able to walk into the darkness and see me. Only you saw past the abomination to the angel underneath. Only you could conquer your own fear.”
“I had no choice.”
“No, it was all your choice.”
As I took a deep breath, I was dizzy for a moment. My head clearing, I realized I was in a room with wooden floors and a huge ceiling fan rotating lazily, just barely moving the air around.
“Where are we now?” I asked as he set me on my feet again.
He crossed the room to the shutters and threw them open. The city of Naples was spread out in front of me, twilight descending on buildings I knew from postcards and travel magazines, awash in a blaze of color. It was breathtaking, as was the man’s smile.
“Tomorrow we’ll go out together and see everything. Tonight we’re going to eat and drink and you will sleep by my side.”
It sounded like heaven.
As he walked over and dove down onto the bed, I watched him, unable to tear my eyes away. He moved with the grace of a dancer, and the muscles moving under his clothes, the way he toed off his sneakers and rolled over on his back—just looking at the man flushed my skin with heat.
“Where did you get the jeans?” I asked, my eyes riveted on the strip of gold skin revealed by his T-shirt riding up when he laced his fingers behind his head.
“I mimic you now.”
I really needed to start wearing fewer clothes.
Moving to the side of the bed, I reached down into my backpack, which I had carelessly flung there, and retrieved the lube I had brought with me in hopes of sharing some one night stands with hot Italian guys. As I stared down at my angel, I realized that I could have never imagined the perfection that was him. He belonged to me. It was hard to wrap my brain around.
“What is that?” He was interested.
“This is ten times better than your oil,” I teased him. “You’re going to like this.”
He scowled at me. “I have important matters to discuss with you.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, barely listening to him.
“By saving me, you have saved countless others,” he continued, looking up at me, his eyes heating, darkening to almost black. “For I am known by more than one name.”
I had to get my hands on him and so sank down beside him on the bed.
“Heard you my words?”
What he was saying was barely registering, the need to be close to him overwhelming everything else.
“Jake?” My name came out as a rasp.
“In the cave, you were the master, but here… it’s me,” I said, watching his eyes drift closed, feeling him tremble under my hands as I opened his belt and the buttons of his fly. He had copied my underwear as well, and I was glad as my hand snaked down inside the boxers to the hot skin beneath. When my fingers closed around the long, thick, hard length of him, he shuddered.
“I want this buried inside me, but first I’m going to make you scream.”
Confused eyes opened to look at me as I straddled his thighs, and I slid lower as I urged him to lift up, shucking down the jeans and underwear, allowing the enormous, swollen shaft to bounce free.
“I would tell you my––”
I cut him off as I bent and swallowed his cock.
He gasped my name, palming my head, his body jolting under my mouth. I sucked and licked, missing nothing, coating him in saliva: the heavy sac, the underside of his beautiful, cut cock, my mouth ravenous on his skin.
The writhing and the way he bucked up into me made me smile around the rigid velvet shaft, and I looked up into his clouded eyes.
“I would speak to… you,” he moaned, his head falling back, eyes closing as I sucked harder, swirling my tongue around him, gently using my teeth. “Jacob Gray!”
I chuckled over his yell and leaned back, unsealing my lips but still licking the flared head, loving the taste of him, his smell.
He was panting beneath me, his hands now fisted in the bed sheet as he stared at me.
“You taste so good,” I told him, leaning forward again, lowering back over him, urging him to move, to fuck my mouth.
He was helpless against the sensations I created, and his body, infused with heat and need, relinquished control to me. Pushing up, his cock thrusting against the back of my throat, he came hard, my name on his lips. I swallowed down the sweet, thick cum as the aftershocks of his orgasm tore through him.
The eyes that stared up at me made me smile as I licked my lips.
He gestured for me.
I crawled up his body, and when I was close enough, he grabbed me and flipped me over on my back, coming down on top of me. Pinned hard to the bed, I let out a deep sigh as he ground his mouth down over mine. His tongue slid between my lips, taking absolute possession, and I sighed out my pleasure.
He was frantic to get my clothes off, pulling, yanking, and I smiled against his lips.
“Jake…” He whispered my name, and I opened my eyes to look up into his. “By your trust and faith, you have returned my grace and set me back upon my path. For now I can speak again for man, to man, as I am more than Sariel but Metatron as well.”
My eyes widened even as he fisted my throbbing, aching shaft. “You’re the voice of God?”
His smile as he looked at me stole my breath. The love in the gaze was palpable. “Yes, my irin. I was in exile, and so men could no longer hear God’s words. Now, because of you, they will again.”
“You know, no one will ever believe me if I try and tell them who you really are,” I said, grabbing the tube beside me and flipping the cap open before I passed it to him.
“What am I to––”
“Use that like you did the oil.”
He did as he was told, and coated his thick shaft before he gently, tenderly, lifted my legs up over his arms, and positioned himself above me. “Never concern yourself with people not believing who I am, for I will be at your side, as your mate. Everyone will accept me as this. What more is there?”
He was right—there was nothing more, only his weight as he eased inside me, pressing inside deeper and deeper, filling me, stretching me. The sizzling, demanding heat stroked over my skin, and as I arched up against him, he pulled out just enough to then pound back down inside me. Teetering on the verge of an explosive orgasm, I could barely breathe.
“You belong to me,” he said, stroking over my prostate, making me cry out. “My savior, my irin.”
My answer was unnecessary: he knew my heart. I let my body speak for me as it welcomed him home.