Xypher came awake to die oddest sensation of his existence. A woman snuggled against him. He lay there on his side in silence, just feeling her against his spine. Her right arm was draped over his waist, while her thigh was nestled between his. Her cheek lay against his shoulder and her breath tickled his skin.
He closed his eyes, savoring every nuance of her against him. Was this what being human felt like? Did human males take this for granted?
How could they? To have someone trust you enough to lie unconscious against you while you did the same, and for both of you to awaken unharmed . . .
It was heaven.
No, Simone was heaven.
Why couldn't he have been born human? Born to this time and place so that he could stay with her. The fact that he couldn't was even more cruel than the torture he'd endured in Tartarus. He wanted to crawl inside her and stay there forever.
But it wasn't meant to be and all the dreaming in the world wouldn't change the fact that once this reprieve ended, he'd be right back in hell where memories of her would torture him forever.
How would he be able to stand it?
His heart heavy, he carefully rolled over so as not to hurt her. She whimpered in her sleep before she moved and smacked him in the nose with her elbow.
Ow! He rubbed die up of his nose and blinked back involuntary tears.
"You're going to pay for that," he whispered against her skin.
Pulling the covers back, he stared at her naked body. Her curves were lush and full, her nipples slightly puckered. Her hips were flared and rounded, while her legs were parted just enough for him to see that she was still moist. It was the most inciting sight he'd ever beheld.
The frown returned to her face before she grabbed at the sheet to cover herself and rolled away to cocoon in it.
Xypher laughed. She was a cantankerous thing in the morning. So much for all her talk about beginning her day with a purpose. More like she began her day with pouting. Amused by that, he leaned down to nibble the underside of her breast.
Simone came awake to small licks that caused her stomach to contract and her body to melt. Opening her eyes, she saw Xypher staling up at her with a look so intense that it stole her breath.
"What are you doing?" she teased.
"I'm licking you," he said, before he drew one nipple deeper into his mouth, "I couldn't be this close to you and not touch you. Besides, you owe me for my latest shiner."
She rubbed at her eyes. "Latest shiner?"
"My nose. You slapped me while you were sleeping."
"No I didn't."
"You're right. You actually slammed your elbow into my nose."
She brushed the hair back from his eyes and touched his nose where she'd accidentally hit him. "Oh, my goodness. I guess I'll have to kiss it and make it all better."
His look was wicked and warm as he crawled up her body. "I've got another boo-boo for you to lass."
She looked between their bodies to see his erection. "Hmmm, and what a big boo-boo it is, too."
Xypher kissed her, his heart pounding at the way she teased him without malice. He honestly loved the newness of it.
People were afraid of him. They were angry at him.
No one had ever laughed with him or played with him.
And it was then he came to the most shocking conclusion of all.
He loved her.
Deep inside in a place where he never looked, he felt that love blazing. It burned and it ached, and it would do anything in the universe and beyond to keep her safe. The knowledge lifted him up.
And terrified him to the depth of his soul.
No! The scream of denial ran all the way through him. He didn't want to love anyone. Love was for weak-minded fools.
Glancing at his arm he read the words he'd branded there . . .
It's a tool used to manipulate and ruin anyone who is stupid enough to hold it.
Don't be stupid. Love destroys.
He'd given his love to Satara and she'd thrown it back in his face and then lashed him for his foolishness. But Satara had never treated him like this. There had been no laughter. No tender touches. No early-morning blushes and lasses that warmed him all the way to his core.
And in the honor of his realization over Simone was the knowledge that he'd never really loved Satara. He'd wanted to know love so badly that he'd contorted the concept of it to fit a relationship that it had no part in.
This time love had come up behind him and clubbed him on the head when he hadn't been expecting it. These emotions took him by surprise, they weren't conjured by some inner need he had.
When he'd met Simone and thrown her into her car, she'd been nothing more than a pawn.
Now she was his world.
And there was nothing he wouldn't do for her. How the hell had that happened? Yet there was no denying it. The worthless demonspawn who'd been wanted by none had given his heart over to a human misafy . . .
Simone moaned as she felt a shift in Xypher's touch. It was tender and sweet. Almost reluctant.
And at the same time it was master fill. His hands roamed her body, giving her pleasure and making her sigh.
Lifting his hand, she kissed his scarred knuckles. Then she took the pad of his forefinger into her mouth to gently suckle it.
Xypher rolled with her, pulling her on top of him. Smiling, Simone straddled his waist and stared down at him with an expression of kindness.
He'd never seen anything more beautiful or welcome. "Love me, Simone."
"Make love to me."
Simone nodded. There was something needful in his eyes. Something that said this meant more to him than just a physical act. Wanting to make him understand that she would never hurt him, she kissed his lips softly as she slid herself onto him.
Xypher threw his head back as she slowly moved against his hips. It was an exquisite torture. Slow and steady. One so fierce that all he could do was tremble.
He was helpless against his woman and her guileless charms.
The light cut across her body, making it glow. She leaned over him, letting the ends of her hair brush against his chest and stomach while she rode him ever so gently.
Biting his lip, he lifted his hips, driving himself into her even deeper. Needing to feel as much of her as possible.
Simone smiled at the beauty of Xypher. She ran her hand down his muscular chest, cupping and stroking the tawny flesh. She couldn't imagine going back to her life without seeing his face every day. It would kill her.
In no time at all, she'd grown accustomed to his being a permanent fixture in her life.
She never wanted him to leave.
Normally when someone was around her all the time, she got irritable with them. Even Tate. But Xypher was like Jesse. Even when he was annoying, it was charming and she didn't mind it in the least.
His eyes sealing her, he took her hand into his and led it to his mouth so that he could nip the side of her flesh. God, those lips were beautiful. Leaning forward, she ran her tongue over the stubble on his chin. It was so rough and masculine. She loved the sensation of it prickling her skin.
Xvpher wrapped his arms around her and lifted his hips, meeting her strokes.
The warmth of his body and the feel of his skill on hers-it was more than she could stand. Staling into his eyes, she came in a blinding white moment of sealing peace.
Xypher laughed deep in his throat as he felt her climax and watched the pleasure play out across her features. He loved the way she felt in his arms, the way her brows drew together an instant before she came. And the sound of her contented purrs as her body spasmed against his.
Burying his head against her shoulder, he gasped as he felt his own release finally come. Grinding himself against her, he held her close as he released himself inside her.
She collapsed against him. He held her there, tracing lines over her back while her breath fell against his nipple.
"That was a nice start to the day."
He kissed the top of her head. "Yes, it was."
Simone sighed contentedly, stretching like a newborn kitten against him. "Now I don't want to get up. I just want to stay here in your aims for the rest of the day . . . You think Jesse could teach my classes?"
He chuckled at the thought. "I think watching him try could be highly entertaining."
"Well, I'd ask you to go do it, but that would defeat the purpose of my staying here ... I wonder if I could retire early and live on the streets? What do you think?"
"Living on the street wouldn't work. Not enough privacy for what I want to do with you."
She smiled. "Very good point."
Her alarm clock started blaring.
Xypher growled at the piercing sound. "Rip that out of the wall." He flung his hand out at it, but she quickly diverted his blast.
"Don't you dare. I love that alarm clock."
He snorted. "You get attached to the damnedest things."
After rolling away from him, Simone switched the clock off and smiled at the truth behind that statement. She really did get attached to the oddest things and Xypher had to be the strangest of all her attachments.
He yawned as she returned to bed, "You sure you want to go back to teaching today? We didn't make much progress yesterday on training you to conceal your powers."
"Well, I'll have to mix with normal people eventually. Do you think it'll be worse today than yesterday?"
He brushed her hair' back from her shoulders. "Have you learned your body's signals for changing?"
"It's a weird burning behind my eves before they go weird."
"Then you should be fine. When you feel that, then you know to get out of public view as quickly as possible. If it happens in class, tell them you have a stomach bug and you have to run to the bathroom."
She wrinkled her nose at the thought. "That's gross."
"Well, then wear sunglasses and tell them you have an eye infection."
She nibbled the stubble along his jawline. "You know, that's not a bad idea."
"Of course die glasses won't be much use when the horns pop out of your head or the wings out of your back, but-"
She shrieked at the thought. "No they won't!"
He smiled evilly. "No. But that look on your face was worth it."
Laughing, she pushed him back on the bed.
"That's it, I'm going to beat you down and make you sorry."
Xypher froze as he braced himself for her attack.
But instead of her giving him pain, she tickled him. It took him several seconds before he realized her intent. By then she was pouting.
"You're not ticklish. Well, that stinks." She sat back and crossed her arms over her chest, hiding the breasts he loved to tease.
"I'm sorry," he said, trying to cheer her. "If it'll make you happy, I'll pretend to be."
"No, it's okay. Can't have everything, I suppose." She paused at the edge of the bed. "But you come darn close."
"Close to what?"
"Being perfect. Only you're more than that, Xypher. You're wonderful."
Xypher couldn't move as she left him to go to the bathroom. He couldn't breathe as those words sank into his consciousness. She thinks I'm wonderful . . .
No one had ever thought such a thing about him before. Pain in the ass. Rude. Violent.
But wonderful. . .
That knowledge hit him like a punch in the gut.
As he started to get up, Jesse appeared in the doorway with a stem look on his face. "What are your intentions?"
"I was getting out of bed to shower and dress."
Jesse's eyes narrowed. "Not that. Toward my girl. You two have been locked in here like two horny bunnies all night long, and before you break Simone's heart, I want to know if you intend to do right by her. Or do I need to go recruit some demons to lack your ass?"
He'd like to see Jesse try-in fact he'd pay for that entertainment. But while he was offended the ghost would think that of him, he would expect no less from Jesse who was only trying to protect Simone.
"I would never hurt her, Jesse. Or you. But I can't stay here and you know it, so don't make me feel any worse about leaving than I already do."
Jesse frowned at him. "You really are decent up under all that bluster, aren't you?"
"No. I'm still the same angry bastard who'd sell his own mother's heart to make Satara pay. Nothing has changed."
"Except you love her."
He had to bury the surprise deep inside before he betrayed himself. He wasn't about to give that knowledge up to Jesse or anyone else. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Jesse snorted. "Yes you do. I can sense it and you know I can."
And he hated that. But mere was nothing to be done for it. So he narrowed his gaze on Jesse. "Don't you dare tell Simone."
"Don't worry. It's not my place. But if I were you, I'd let her know before it's too late."
That was so much easier said man done. "What do you know about it?"
"I'm a ghost, Xypher. I thought I had all the time in the world to tell the people around me how I felt about them and to build my future, But in one heartbeat, a cement truck driver looked down to change his radio station, weaved into my car, and in the blink of an eye, I lost everything."
He glanced away, but even so Xypher saw the pain in his eyes. "The last memory I have is my girlfriend holding me while the rain poured down on us, mixing with my blood as it ran over her. She was telling me that she loved me and begging me not to die. I didn't want to go."
His voice broke from the emotions he was trying not to show, but Xypher felt and saw them anyway. "There was so much I wanted to say to her, but the wreck had crushed my windpipe and I couldn't make a single word come out. I tried so hard to stay with her, but it wasn't meant to be ... I couldn't even lift my arm to touch her one last time."
He locked gazes with Xypher. "So, yeah, I have a better understanding of your situation than you do. Been there, done it, and it still aches deep inside me that I never once told Julie how much I loved her. Three seconds was all it would have taken. Three seconds I wish to God I had back. Think about it." He vanished from the room.
Xypher sat in silence as he realized that for a kid, Jesse had a lot more sense than he'd given him credit for. But the problem was, it wasn't that simple. What good would it do to tell Simone he loved her when he couldn't stay? It would only hurt her more and that was the last thing he wanted to do.
No. It was best to keep his love to himself. Locked inside him, it would hurt only one person-him. He preferred it that way.
Pushing himself up from the bed, he went to join her in the shower.
"You didn't dream again last night, did you?"
Xypher paused in his shaving to look at Simone in the mirror. "How did you know?"
"I was thinking of it while I was in the shower, I'm not sure why, but I had a thought. Did you dream while you were in Tartarus?"
"No. Hades took that from me so that I couldn't use it as a way to escape my torture."
"Do you think that's why you haven't dreamt here?"
He rinsed His razor in the sink. "Jaden returned all my powers to me. I should be able to dream without a problem."
She paused by his side. "Did you try to dream?"
How could he explain to her that he was living the best dream of all just by being here with her? "Not really."
"Maybe that's it then. Maybe you just need to try."
How he wished it were that simple. There was something more to the fact he wasn't dreaming, but he didn't want to think about it right now.
All he wanted to focus on was her. Kissing her hand, he returned to shaving.
Even though they were no longer joined by the cuffs, Xypher spent the rest of the day with Simone. He told himself that he'd go after Satara tomorrow. He just wanted one more day with the woman who made him laugh.
A woman who thought he was wonderful. . .
Even Jesse and Gloria came out after the classes to hang with them while they walked around the French Quarter and had dinner at the Alpine Restaurant.
"Have you lived here your entire life?" he asked as they walked along the shops on Royal Street, back toward her condo.
She smiled. "I have. Except for the time I spent in the children's home after my father died."
"You don't speak much about your foster parents."
She hooked her arm in his as they walked. "Carole and Dave. They were wonderful people. They'd wanted their own kids, but Carole had been unable to have any. Originally, they wanted to adopt a baby, but finally they gave up and decided to take in older children. I was the youngest of four they adopted."
"So you have siblings?"
"Not really. My adopted siblings were out of the house by the time I came along. We exchange Christmas cards, but honestly we're barely more than strangers. The only thing we had in common was the O'Learys. And I do miss them a lot. Any time I was ever sad, Carole used to take me down to Fifi Mahoney's to try on wigs and to play with their makeup. She had a smile that could light up an entire room."
She paused to look up at him. "You think so?"
Simone was warmed all the way through by his compliment. They walked on, arm in arm, joking and teasing until they reached her condo.
"So what happened to your foster parents?"
She took a deep breath at the sadness that question conjured. "They died in a car wreck my first year of college."
"I'm really sorry."
"It's okay. It was a long time ago, but it left me scarred for years. I kept thinking that I was cursed to lose everyone I ever cared about." She shook her head. "There for a time, I'd even get up in the middle of the night just to make sure Jesse was still with me."
Xypher drew a sharp intake of breath. And now he was going to have to leave her, too . . .
No, he could never tell her he loved her. It would be cruel.
Simone opened the gate to her condo, then paused as she saw Someone slumped over at the end of the small walkway. Rushing toward the person, she was stunned to find Kyle Peltier there. He had a vicious wound in his stomach. Blood was steadily pouring out of him.
Trembling, he reached up and grabbed Xypher's shirt. "The gallu are attacking Kerryna in her condo. Help her. Please!"
Xypher shot to his feet. "Get him to Sanctuary." Simone swallowed. "What about you?"
"I have a fight to join. Jesse, go with Simone and make sure nothing happens to her. If she needs me, get me immediately."