Black Heart Page 53

“Stairs?” Beezle said. “No elevator?”

“I don’t know why you’re complaining,” I said. “You’ve never walked up a set of stairs in your life. You’ve always been carried.”

“It’s psychological pain,” Beezle said. “It’s hard for me to watch you expend that much energy.”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

J.B. paused when he reached the door. “I wonder if I should send you outside, and then send him out.”

I cocked my head to one side. “Why?” I asked.

“Because I don’t know how he’s going to react, and I would hate for my condo to be destroyed.”

It was kind of weird standing there with J.B. like this, with him more or less acknowledging that Nathaniel was my boyfriend. Which he was, and he wasn’t. And it was even weirder that the two romantic rivals had been sharing the same living quarters for the last few months.

I started to speak, to tell J.B. that maybe it was best if Nathaniel and I went outside anyway, as I wasn’t particularly interested in an audience for our reunion. But the front door flew open, and Nathaniel stood there.

I remembered the first time I met Nathaniel, standing in the doorway of my father’s ballroom. He was golden and arrogant and perfect, and I’d hated him on sight.

Now he was silhouetted in another doorway, his hair dark instead of gold, his eyes no longer icy blue but the same jewel-bright shade as Puck’s. Instead of looking polished and tailored, he wore a flannel shirt and jeans that looked like they were falling off his frame.

I didn’t hate him anymore. I wasn’t sure what I felt for Nathaniel. That had been the problem we’d had before I left, before he thought I died. But I was happy to see him. That, I couldn’t deny.

He was thinner, a lot thinner, and he looked tired. But he saw me, and his eyes blazed.

Beezle flew off my shoulder to J.B.’s. “Umm, we’ll just . . . get out of your way.”

Nathaniel stepped into the hallway. His feet were bare, but he never hesitated, his eyes never leaving my face. J.B. and Beezle slipped into the apartment behind Nathaniel and quietly closed the door.

I stood still, and I waited. My insides were all jumbled up, in need and confusion. This was what he did to me.

He put his hands on my face, like a blind man, feeling my cheeks, my nose, my eyebrows.

“You’re alive,” he said.

I nodded. I wanted to crack a joke to lighten the tension, but I couldn’t be flippant in the face of his emotion. He’d thought I died, and it was just sinking in now that I hadn’t, that the last few months of grief need never have been.

“You’re alive,” he repeated.

And then his mouth was on mine, devouring, almost punishing. It was like he was trying to crawl inside me, trying to breathe the same air I was breathing. He was marking me, claiming me as his.

I was breathless, and he was relentless, and I welcomed it. And then I remembered Gabriel. My lust turned to confusion. Gabriel was dead. I was alive.

But he was watching me. He’d said so.

“Nathaniel,” I tried to say, but it came out a jumble of syllables.

He kept kissing me, like he couldn’t stop, like an addict reunited with his drug of choice.

I pushed at his shoulders, and he finally got the message. He pulled away from my mouth, leaned his forehead against mine, looking into my eyes.

“I thought you were dead,” he said. “Sokolov told J.B. you were dead.”

“I know,” I said soothingly, taking his hands in mine. This wasn’t the time for a heart-to-heart about Gabriel, or the future of my relationship with Nathaniel.

But I was going to have to make some kind of decision soon. Would I continue to live in the past, with the memory of Gabriel? Or would I let Nathaniel in?

“Sokolov told us you were dead,” Nathaniel repeated.

The air around him seemed to change, to crackle with electricity. His hands dropped away from mine and curled into fists.

“I will tear him to pieces,” Nathaniel said, and when he spoke he didn’t sound like Nathaniel anymore.

He sounded like Lucifer when he was in Prince of Darkness mode. He sounded like something not of this earth, something not human at all—which he wasn’t. He was the son of Puck and an angel of the host, and there wasn’t a drop of humanity inside to temper his rage.

“Nathaniel, don’t,” I said, grabbing his shoulders. His fury was a palpable thing, heat pouring from his body. “Don’t make it worse than it already is. If you kill Sokolov, the Agency will not be able to ignore you anymore. They’ll come for you.”

“Let them come,” Nathaniel said. “I will destroy them all.”

“Nathaniel,” I said, my hands on his face, trying to draw him back to me. “Don’t bring grief upon yourself for my sake. I’m here. I’m alive.”

“I would do anything for your sake, Madeline,” Nathaniel said. His jewel-blue eyes burned. “I would slaughter a thousand enemies for you. I would tear the sun from the sky for you. I would defy the laws of the universe, reorder the galaxies, stand against Lucifer and his brothers in defiance, if that was what it took to keep you safe. I will not lose you again. I will not.”

“You won’t,” I said. “You won’t.”

“You cannot make such a guarantee,” Nathaniel said.

“Neither can you,” I said softly. “Death comes for us all.”

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