Bittersweet seraphim, p.26
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       Bittersweet Seraphim, p.26

           Debra Anastasia
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  Everett supposed he was still in existence. He was aware, at least—aware that the punishment for all of Hell had been given just to him. At the moment he was floating on top of a bubbling hot spring in a forest. The water around him was brilliant blue. Colors he’d seen previously only in Heaven were now here on Earth. But to say time passed slowly was an understatement. He could only think and watch. And boil. No mouth to scream with, no arms to pull himself out. He was a speck. An anomaly. A type of organism that could survive in impossibly high temperatures.

  Everett wondered what this was supposed to teach him. Maybe that having power is overrated? He knew now he’d taken a lot for granted—like breathing, and closing his eyes. Endless awareness was a bitch.

  At first he’d tried counting the sunrises, but then they all got pushed together. Now it was either hot from above and below, or just from below. Sometimes he floated near the edge of the spring, and he yearned to get washed up on it so he could dry out, but that never happened. He just came tantalizingly close. Once in a while wildlife would walk by, and that was something.

  This was his life. He looked forward to passing squirrels. So he watched with great interest one day when a hiker came by with a test tube. He seemed to be some sort of scientist. The man was nowhere near Everett as he collected a sample from the water and capped it tightly. But periodically he came back. Everett estimated it was about every three days, and each time he wished desperately to be chosen. Wherever that scientist went, Everett wanted to go too.

  Chapter 43

  Emma put on her third outfit. She was trying way too hard. And why? She had just two more days home before she, Shannon, and Karen headed back to the city. Maybe she should just forget all this. Life was not supposed to be spent having horrible nightmares about some fantasy.

  After opening presents with extended family, she’d napped for an hour on the couch while her parents watched the Yule log burn. When she woke up screaming in a cold sweat, they were understandably alarmed. Her father didn’t like the rash of bad dreams she’d been having, and he’d wondered aloud if she was having an allergic reaction to something. After assuring them she was fine, Emma took a long shower. The only thing her body was allergic to was not being around Jack. She could never forget all this.

  She brushed her hair one more time and hoped her outfit was okay. She’d settled on her favorite jeans and a long-sleeve top. Jack was a low-fuss kind of guy. How do I know that? I shouldn’t.

  Emma spritzed on her favorite perfume, which smelled like cotton candy and cake. It felt very high school to get picked up at her parents’ house for a date, but her dad had seemed pleased to get the opportunity to intimidate a suitor.

  A loud motorcycle pulled into the driveway. Crap. Her dad was not going to be thrilled to have his daughter ride off on the back of a bike. She heard the doorbell and forced herself to stay in her room so Jack could face the awkwardness on his own for a minute. She smiled—couldn’t even stop herself—when Jack’s grumbly voice drifted up the stairs.

  “Emma! Your date is here!” Her mother was obviously doing her best to put Jack out of his misery.

  Emma had to hold the handrail to steady herself. His brown eyes were waiting for her, and he nodded as she began her descent.

  Her dad handed Jack back his driver’s license. “Ever been in an accident, son?”

  Emma winced. Jack surprised her by answering politely and with respect. “No, sir. I’ve been on two wheels more than I’ve been on my feet. I tried to rent a car for the evening, but Hew’s was all out. I promise to drive with extreme caution.” He slid his license into a money clip.

  He’d dressed up a bit. His jeans looked fancier coupled with a tucked-in white button down. He still wore layers of necklaces and his leather cuff, but his hair was pulled back.

  Her mother whispered in her ear before pushing on her lower back. “Woof.”

  Emma’s heart felt like a rabbit’s from sheer nervous energy. She went to the closet and selected her fancy jacket.

  Jack clucked his tongue, and she looked at him.

  “Sorry, darlin’. It’s a little cold tonight. Have anything warmer?”

  Emma pulled out her riding jacket, which was thin but really warm. Jack motioned for it and held it out to her. He wasn’t smooth at all, which made her laugh.

  She turned and mumbled, “First time being a gentleman?”

  He shook his head and rolled his eyes for her benefit. After a few more threats from her father and an exuberant goodbye from her mom, they were out the door. Jack grabbed a helmet and forced it on her head.

  “Whose helmet is this?” she asked before he could slap down the face shield.

  He seemed embarrassed. “I have an extra.”

  “For girls. I get it.” She fixed her purse to be secure across her body.

  Jack zipped his jacket and straddled the bike. “Get on.”

  Emma settled behind him, and the seat forced her close to his back. Having him between her thighs made her moan, just a little.

  “Don’t. Don’t make that noise or I won’t be able to drive.” His voice was muffled by the helmet.

  Emma gave him her loudest moans and pretended to thrash around behind him.

  “You’re a wise ass.” He started the bike, and it was freaking loud and vibrated. “Hang on.”

  She slid her arms around his waist and pulled in closer as he accelerated. The ease with which he commanded the bike was ridiculously hot. She watched as the dusk settled around them. He was right—it was chilly. She scrunched down to stay out of the wind.

  When they pulled up to house instead of a restaurant, she knocked on his helmet like it was a door.

  He pulled off his helmet, looking supremely annoyed. “What the Hell?”

  She tried to take off her helmet and failed. Then she tried to lift the face shield and failed again. She pouted at him through the acrylic. “I’m trapped!”

  He laughed at her, and it was like a massage. God, his laughter touched every part of her body.

  He helped her get the helmet off and his fingers traced her throat. He nodded toward the house. “I felt like we couldn’t talk at a restaurant because of, you know, discussing dragons and stuff, so I’ll make you dinner here.”

  She gave him a skeptical look.

  “What? I can cook. If you’re not comfortable—”

  Emma got off the bike and headed for the door as he rushed to put the bike in a more permanent position. It was kind of a sweet little house. The bushes and grass were dormant for winter, but they were trimmed and neat. Jack unlocked the door and stepped in to hold it for her as he flipped on the lights. His place seemed freshly cleaned.

  “Did you do some panic cleaning in here?” She unzipped her jacket, and he draped it on the couch.

  “You have no idea,” he confessed. “I busted my ass like freak today.”

  He took off his leather jacket and set it next to hers. Then he lit a few candles and put on some music. Emma tried to make a smart remark, but she couldn’t help smiling at the thought of him bustling around. The kitchen smelled fantastic, and he set a pot of water on to boil.

  He poured her a gorgeous, ruby red glass of wine and held it out. His high cheekbones and sharp jaw were captivating. They locked eyes, and she reached for the glass, but took a knee instead. It was a flash again. She and Jack in a smoky bar. Emma felt illegal and happy. She wasn’t afraid of him in this daydream, but for him. He was bare-chested with her name written on his skin. “Goddamn it. Angel cake dipped in wine. Girl, you will kill me.” He was kissing her so deeply…

  She opened her eyes and saw the same face, except he was worried instead of lusty in the real world.

  “Again? Was I there?” he asked.

  She was in his arms, his white shirt covered in red wine. He must have splashed it all over himself trying to catch her. She nodded and tears came to her eyes. “What’s going on? This isn’t normal.”

  “Where were we?” Jack pulled her even clos

  “A smoky bar? You had a tattoo of my name. I was happy.” She tried to sit up, give herself some space from his face.

  “It was a pause. We were there illegally.”

  Emma was shocked. “You know?”

  He nodded.

  “You know why we’re having similar dreams? Why I’m falling all over the place?” She pulled away from him. “Tell me. Tell me right now.” Instead of a date, this night seemed to be tinged with horror.

  “I can’t. You need to remember on your own. I don’t want you overloaded with information.” He rubbed his hand on the back of his neck.

  “Stop, Jack whatever-your-last-name-is. Tell me right now or I’m leaving.” She pointed at him and snarled.

  “I drove you here.” He tried to lighten the mood with his words, but his eyes showed only concern.

  She felt like she was choking.

  “Just after I left you, I remembered everything,” he told her. “Damn near killed myself on my bike.” He watched her.

  His words burst a dam in her.

  He must’ve thought she was going down for the count because he quickly grabbed her up. She had her head against his chest, listening to his regular, soothing heartbeat as it all came back to her: her first life, Feisty, Everett, and dying in the fire. And then she was an angel. God was her friend, and Everett was evil. Jason…Seriana, Dean. And Jack, dear heavens, Jack. When she’d died again as an angel, her last thought had been of him. She opened her eyes with a gasp.

  “I love you.”

  He had tears running a path down his face. He nodded. “Back at ya, pretty child. So, so much.”

  “This…This…” She couldn’t make her words make sense, but he understood. She was frantic for his mouth. He kissed her for what must have been hours, their tears mingling and interspersed with hugs as they sobbed together.

  Life. They had life.

  Seeing Emma remember was a tidal wave of emotion—relief, ecstasy, amazement. Jack had hoped, of course, but he wasn’t positive she would come around. Then he’d fretted that she wasn’t meant to think about her previous lives.

  He’d cleaned like a hopped-up mom and cooked to let off steam. Not running to her the instant he knew had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. He was panicked, horrified at the thought she might be in danger. But she was in his arms now, safe and not cringing at the fact that he’d been the Devil.

  Emma yanked off his shirt, buttons flying. “Don’t want this, looks like blood. Are you okay?”

  She stopped assaulting him to hold his face. She was so…present in her eyes. His Emma. Not just a body that looked the same, but her light, her courage—it was all there.

  “Yeah. I was…not sure if me being the Devil would be a thing now.” He looked from her mouth to her eyes.

  “I think I was the Devil last, right? So how do you feel about that? No. This is our reward from God. Don’t you see what He did? We get to start from scratch! I was wondering how it’d work—if we’d be in Heaven, on Earth, what would be next. And here’s our answer.” She finally got his shirt off completely and hugged him again.

  They were tossing around on his kitchen floor. She deserved a bed, a nap, worship. He stood and pulled her to her feet. “See, I thought it might be more of a punishment because as humans we eventually—”

  “Die? I’ve done that a bunch. We’ll be okay if we just love each other.”

  “A human life isn’t enough time.” He already felt rushed about the minutes they were wasting.

  “Oh, hey,” she said, smiling brightly. “We can probably have kids. Can you imagine?” She pulled him closer and kissed his whole face.

  He smiled through her affection. “We can do whatever you want.”

  “It’s you.” She started to cry again.

  The lump in his throat made his voice faulty. “It’s you.”

  He lifted her off her feet and had every intention of taking her to his bedroom when he remembered the stove was on. Now it all mattered. Keeping her safe was everything. No accidents, no fires, no nothing. He could already feel himself getting paranoid.

  He nuzzled her neck. “Can you turn those off?”

  She reached down and twisted the burner’s knobs. “Damn, this smells good.”

  “You want to eat?” he asked. She’d need health care and food and retirement. The desire to provide for her welled up in him. She should want for nothing.

  “Not until after.” She traced his lips with her fingers.

  “After?” Jack glanced at the door to make sure it was locked. It was. He carried her up the stairs, remembering their time in the pause, in the sunshine. He’d been stronger then, but he still managed to get her on to his bed now.

  She was already shimmying out of her jeans, and his mind shut down at the sight of her panties. She was so ready for him. He crawled onto the mattress, and theirs was a wickedly paced—as if they were racing against time—love making session. He hit the right spots, and her moans put him over too fast. He was embarrassed immediately.

  Emma pulled him to her naked chest and laughed. “I think we rushed.”

  “I’m so sorry. That was supposed to be epic. Kill me.” Jack kissed her soft skin, hiding the blush he knew was forming.

  “No, thank you. I was totally afraid something bad would happen before we could—like a meteor tearing through the house.” She pulled the tie out of his hair, and it all fell across her pale skin.

  “I will do that again properly. I’m just…yeah.”

  She didn’t seem to care. “My love, I’d volunteer to live a thousand lives if I got to spend any part of them with you.” She buried her face in the bedding, and her short inhales told him she was crying.

  He uncovered her head and looked at her luminous eyes, sparkling with tears. “And I’ll kill as many assholes as I have to to make sure that happens.”

  They were serious now, and hearing her speak like an angel made everything better.

  “Let’s go shower.” She smacked his ass hard.

  Jack widened his eyes with surprise. “You little tart.”

  He tickled her until she begged him to stop, and finally Jack let her off his bed, determined to make more of an impression between her legs. He tried not to mourn the loss of all his fancy Devil tricks. The vibrating fist…his extra-long tongue…

  She stood stark naked with no shame, like a woman already married to him, as she set the temperature of the shower. She slipped behind the curtain, and he realized he still wore his socks and motorcycle boots, his jeans around his ankles. So fucking suave. She was wetting down her hair when he finally got in the shower with her.

  “How can I miss you when there’s just a curtain between us?” She wiped the water from her eyes.

  Jack looked at her skin, slick with water. She was all he’d ever need. He didn’t answer her question, just pulled her against him and twirled them both under the spray. He’d promised to take his time, but his hands were greedy. He touched every part of her that made her gasp or shiver, and as he watched the reactions play across her face, he tried to memorize them. She began exploring him as well, and he tried batting her away. She was about to unman him, again. He grasped her wrists and held them behind her back. “You need to just take for a few fucking seconds. I’ve a reputation to uphold.”

  She laughed at him, and he bit her lip gently to punish her. She moaned. With his other hand he felt the weight of her breasts, her body so very much his. When he found her nipples, she bit his lip in return.

  He slid his hand between her legs and found the heat there. Now, with her held still, he could prove he knew exactly what to do. She was already tensed and forgetting herself, saying his name again and again. As she spread her legs wider, he dropped to his knees and let go of her wrists. She grabbed handfuls of his hair and urged him on. With both hands, he could be everywhere she needed. He wasn’t delicate with her, yet she begged for more.

  That, he could do. Jack pushed her out of the shower, never stop
ping his hands until he had her, sopping wet, on his bed. He grabbed a chair. He was going to be between her legs so long he’d need it. Jack pushed her legs apart and leaned down to taste her. His tongue may have been longer as the Devil, but nothing was trying to kill them at the moment, so he made up for it. When she came she thrashed, yanking his bedspread so hard it ripped. But he didn’t stop. He insisted on more. Her muscles relaxed, and he could tell she thought she was done. He knew better. He wound her up in a frenzy again, his hands more insistent and adding fingers and teeth to take her where she could explode again for him.

  “In me. Get in me!”

  Emma spoke her first coherent words in quite some time, and Jack complied. He slipped her knees over his shoulders and kept pressure on the spot he knew would give her the most release. He pounded into her like the Devil he’d been and the man he wanted to be. Having her convulse against him was better than any power he’d ever possessed.

  She scratched his back and slapped at his ass with her feet, laughing and gasping at the same time. At her ultimate joy, Jack gave in to his own need. She clenched just for him, and he saw stars. He landed next to her, barely trusting himself, his muscles twitching.

  “Well.” She turned his face to look at hers.

  “Well,” he replied, a huge smile on his face while he panted with her.

  “Sex that good should be illegal.”

  Her smile was so satisfied. Jack felt the most masculine pride of a job well done. Thank God.

  “I love you, Emma the human angel.” He put a possessive arm across her chest.

  “I love you, Jack the sweetest Devil.” She patted his arm and sighed.

  Chapter 44

  This time Emma was driving. She’d complained that the throbbing between her legs made it impossible for her to ride Jack’s bike.

  He’d simply blown on his fist and winked. “By the time I’m done with you, you’ll have calluses like a runner down there.”

  “That’s gross.” She tried to listen to the GPS over the music.

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