Authors: Sara York
This wide-shouldered man, with hair as black and long as the proudest Indian chief, was as significant as they came. Even from several feet away, she knew he’d smell of spring trees and new grass. His dark eyes weren’t black, though from half a street away, they appeared like coal. They were the darkest blue, a shade she’d never seen on another person. And his name was…
“Raphian,” she said when she stood a yard from him, still in the street.
His eyes went wide with surprise. His mouth opened.
Suddenly, he dived for her, yanking her towards the sidewalk as a car blaring
Deck the Halls
passed so close it brushed the back of her skirt.
Her vision swam. “Oh my God,” she whispered. “I almost…”
Raphian caught her as she slumped against his chest. Her heart beat too fast. She couldn’t breathe. She’d almost died. Wasn’t her life supposed to flash before her eyes or something? All she’d seen was a glimpse of silver grille decorated with a garish wreath.
Gently, he brushed her hair from her face. “You’re safe for now.”
For now? That didn’t exactly instil confidence. Taking a deep breath and pushing against his chest, she gathered her wits about her and straightened. Good lord, she wasn’t the proverbial wilting flower. Heaven keep her from ever being that sort. Not that leaning against his impressive chest with his strong arms around her didn’t have merit. Oh, she’d give the feelings flowing through her an A plus. The sensation of his hard thighs pressed to hers was definitely extra-credit worthy.
“I’ve, ah, gotta go,” she said. “Thanks for, you know, saving my, um, life.”
He grabbed her hand as she started to step away, capturing her fingers in his icy grip. “You must stay with me.”
She tried to yank away, but his hold turned to iron. Dream or not, he was starting to freak her out. Taking a deep breath, she tried to stay calm. She put on her best school teacher voice and looked him straight in the eye. It never failed to let the recipient know she meant business. “Look. You need to let go of me. I don’t know you from Adam and—”
“Adam can’t protect you. You’re
Okay, that was a little weird. Her façade of confidence slipped, and she stared at him as captivated as a deer in the path of an oncoming car. She winced. Bad analogy. Been there, done that. But she couldn’t look away from him. She stopped pulling her arm. She really was like a deer in the headlights…and she couldn’t bring herself to move from the startling allure of his presence.
What was it with him…? He’d been in her dreams. Had it created an unbreakable connection? She swallowed, wide-eyed, as her mystical side warred with her common sense. For the first time in her life, her spiritual gut feelings were winning. There was something supernatural about this man—and it didn’t scare her like it should.
She didn’t fight as he pulled her to his chest.
The desire in his eyes captured her and drew her back to a memory of being in bed with him, their bodies sliding against each other. The insides of her thighs seemed to tingle where the curling hair on his legs had slightly abraded them. Was last night more real than dream, or was it a foretelling of things to come? A warning? She couldn’t fight the rightness of his arms around her.
“Raphian,” she whispered, acknowledging that she knew him. She truly
him. How, she couldn’t explain. Perhaps she’d inherited more of her grandmother’s psychic abilities than she’d ever imagined.
her inner voice chided.
You’re insane, Lissa. That’s how you know him. You should run—
His mouth covered hers and interrupted her thoughts. Wisely, her inner voice shut up as his lips pushed hers apart with the skill of a man who knew his lover well. How did he know her? The familiarity tormented her as she sank into the kiss, the taste of honey filling her senses. Crazy. This was crazy. Crazy, but so right.
A satisfied sigh escaped as he cupped the back of her head. His fingers speared through her hair as he anchored her to him and angled her to better receive him.
Like she was going anywhere.
Thankfully, her students were on their way home. Six year olds did not need to see their teacher making out in the street with a hot, hot stranger. She eased closer to him until their bodies were flush. Heat seemed to radiate from his palms to spread through her and pool in the tips of her nipples as they pressed to his chest. Something entirely different pooled at her pussy, a creamy reminder of her need for him. Reminder? More like a screaming proclamation.
Need coiled in her womb, crying for Raphian’s thick cock to thrust into her sheath and release the tension sending tremors up her spine. Vivid pictures of his lust-filled eyes, boring into hers as he rode her, filled her mind. His hair had fallen around them like a curtain and she’d buried her fingers in it, holding him to her.
Now, her fingers curled into his shirt as memories assailed her. She moved her leg around his, trying to drive their groins closer together. Impossible. He was at least half a foot taller than her. His rigid cock pressed into her belly while she straddled his thigh. She groaned at the friction, wanting more. She
His forehead rested against hers as he pulled his mouth slightly from hers. His ragged breath feathered over her damp lips.
She panted as her senses started to return. Oh God…they were practically in the middle of the street. She started to pull away but his arms tightened around her. A rightness and a strange sense of protection blanketed her.
“Take me home,” he urged again.
No, Lissa. That would be stupid…
“Okay,” she murmured.
Despite her annoying inner voice, Lissa experienced an odd sense of peace—a sense of being protected. She hadn’t felt as secure since she’d woken that morning. All day, she’d been stalked by a foreboding shadow of unease. How many times had she felt something menacing in the shadows? She’d lost track of the number of times she’d jumped in surprise or glanced uneasily over her shoulder. Something was just…
Given her skittishness, she should have been apprehensive when she’d seen Raphian standing across the street. Instead the solemn man had drawn her.
Against every sane thing she knew, his being beckoned to her, offering safety, while the school behind her seemed a huge chasm of danger. Even the bright, cheery Santa pictures seemed…ominous.
It was stupid really. To have a sudden fear of the place where she’d worked for years. Maybe it was some malfunctioning psychic blip, an odd sense of something to come. She hoped not—not with all the innocent kids who walked those halls for school. They’d been the only relief from her scaredy-cat weirdness today.
The task of getting them on their buses had seemed interminable. Usually, she loved their laughter and frantic cries of goodbye as they went off on vacation. This afternoon, she’d barely been able to keep her mind on her task. Every minute had seemed an hour, and she’d been afraid Raphian would disappear before she could cross the street to his side.
She snuggled deep into his arms as he held her tightly.
“Think of home,” he urged.
Raphian knew the moment he’d spoken the direction that he’d made a mistake. Lissa could think about home from now until the end of time, and it wouldn’t do any good. Sadness welled inside him.
Her thoughts followed his command even as she looked at him in confusion. It was an instinctive reaction of her mind to think of the place when he mentioned it, not a deliberate action on her part. A picture of her home came to him through the connection that bound guardian and ward. It filled his thoughts, directing him to transport them.
He could not.
He had retained some of his abilities, but without his wings, he was as earthbound as the mortal he held in his arms.
The higher beings had designed the fallens’ punishment that way—to feel the call, to sense the need to assist or protect, but to be unable to do anything about it. Divine torture. A constant penance for his deed. But despite everything, he couldn’t regret his action. His desires had taunted him for far too long. The fulfilment in Lissa’s arms had been perfection. He only regretted the danger now overshadowing her life because of the demons hunting him.
He’d miss his wings, but he’d miss her more.
He winced as she flattened her hands on his back, unknowingly pressing her palms to the wounds there.
“Can you take us home?” he managed, fighting to keep his breaths even.
She bit her lip, and he knew she was considering the sense of taking a stranger home.
I’m not a stranger. You’re safe with me,
You will always be safe with me, because I will never hurt you.
She nodded, though she couldn’t have comprehended the suggestion he’d sent through to her. “It’s officially Christmas break. I don’t need to stick around. I put everything I need into my car during the children’s recess.”
She pulled a small key ring from her pocket and glanced up at him, a pink flush stealing up her cheeks. This wasn’t her normal behaviour. He of all beings knew that. Lissa didn’t bring home strange men. She didn’t indulge in casual sex. She’d had three men in her lifetime—none recently—and protecting her when she’d been with them had been pure hell for Raphian. Seeing her with them, wanting her beyond all reason, unable to leave the room—he’d been forced to endure the sounds of her moans while the men had taken pleasure in her flesh. He could not watch. On those nights, the ability to turn away his face had become an unspeakable blessing.
Each time she’d dated, dread had filled him. She was his. Not just his responsibility, but his. Somewhere along the line, it had ceased to matter that an angel and a mortal could not be together. The pull to lay with her had become stronger with each hour in her presence. He’d had to find a way.
And he had. Through her dreams…
His desires weren’t secret to those who would gleefully see him fall. The demons had marked him, homing in on his lust. They’d whispered the way to him. At first, he’d ignored the idea. He could not see them, and he hadn’t known where the knowledge had come from. In his infinite stupidity, he’d thought it to be his own notion. A brilliant idea. Who would know?
The entire heavens and hell had. One had cried, the other had cheered as he’d knelt on the end of Lissa’s bed and shed his robe. Even then, he could have turned back. He hadn’t.
Remembering his folly, he buried his face in her sweet-smelling hair, the pain from her hands punctuating the bliss of having her tightly encircled in his arms.
Each mortal was paired with an angel for their lifetime. She was his. He’d crossed the line. He’d grown to desire her, allowing feelings forbidden to a guardian. But how could he regret being with her? He couldn’t.
Would he have turned back if he’d known all those who watched his clandestine moves? Perhaps. It wasn’t his intention to put his love for Lissa on display. Yet everyone else knew. He’d had one night of bliss then he’d been recalled, leaving her without his presence for the first time in twenty-eight years.
A chill having nothing to do with the cold stole through him, and he jerked his head upright, all his senses on alert. A few feet away, the air shimmered where an otherworldly being fought to materialise. No! Dread of the upcoming battle filled him. The sun wasn’t yet down, and already the demons were attempting to break the barrier into the human realm. There was no escaping. Night was rushing towards them.
Tonight, he’d protect her. In the morning, his time would end.
He’d go to a plane of existence that was neither heaven nor hell. Just
. With nothing. No pain, no pleasure, no form, no love. She’d be safe though. Once he’d completed this final night with her and refused to join the demons, they’d kill him, and she’d become nothing to them. He’d be beyond their reach.
And his sacrifice would protect her.
Extracting himself from Lissa’s embrace, he grabbed her hand and dragged her towards her parked car. Being out in the open wasn’t safe. By the Maker, even her home wouldn’t be safe, but at least he had a better chance of protecting her there. And possibly of uniting with her. In union, he could fully hold off an attack. No demon could touch her when Raphian became one with her. There was nowhere he’d rather be.
Her tiny hand clenched around his, her trust piercing him. He didn’t deserve it. He’d caused this night of trial for her by bringing on the horde.
Guilt and trepidation weighed heavily on him as he folded himself into her tiny red car. He was acutely aware that for the first time, Lissa would be unprotected as he rode with her—she would not receive another protector until after his battle.
He breathed deeply of the cold air, attempting to draw calm around himself while the ice crystals filling the earth’s heavy atmosphere burnt his lungs. It pressed him, reminding him he was no longer ethereal. The wounds on his back screamed as tension pulled his shoulders tight. His knees pressed to the console. He took a deep breath, but his fists still closed on his thighs as she turned the key and the vehicle’s engine roared to life.
Dear God, he could no longer deflect cars…or keep her path straight.
Night was racing towards them. What if a demon appeared in this cramped space? What would Raphian be able to do? He swallowed hard around the lump in his throat and stared at the road, mentally willing the other vehicles to stay clear while he willed her to hurry.
It was a useless effort, but…
Sensation accelerated in his centre, gaining momentum as he commanded her safety. His eyes widened as realisation shocked him. Was he imagining things? He glanced at his clenched fingers and saw a faint golden aura surrounding them. Was it possible the guardians of the heavens had taken his wings but not his power? If so, he’d still have some ability to fight the onslaught when it came. A tenuous strand of hope wove through him. Suddenly, he had more than desperation girding him for battle. He had a chance.
A surreal sense of calm came over him, and he relaxed as Lissa steered her car into the driveway of her small home. He turned towards her and brushed a wisp of her silky hair from her face.