As the drops hissed, he fled—effonating out of sight—but he wasn’t fast enough. More guards appeared in the open doorway with their weapons drawn. Eric’s eyes locked with the barrel of the gun. A shot was fired directly into his stomach before his body disappeared, taking the bullet with him.
The gun shot diverted Eric’s effonation. He couldn’t concentrate. The pain coursing through his body from the bullet was overwhelming him. As the internal flames of the effonation consumed him, Eric knew he was losing control. The heat built under his skin, increasing in agonizing intensity, but he couldn’t stop it. He was going to be spliced—his skin would be stripped off his body—if he didn’t redirect himself now.
The location that was glaringly bright, the one place he didn’t want to go, was the only one he could still picture in his mind. The vivid paint, the dark colors, the Omen’s wings and Eric’s burning eyes all encased in paint, screaming out like voices in a nightmare. The energy from the effonation diverted and dropped him on the floor of Natalia’s bedroom. He landed hard, at the foot of her paintings, doubled over, clutching his gut. The bullet wouldn’t kill him, but it hurt like hell. He felt warm blood, sticky and slick on his hands.
Natalia gasped when he appeared, “Eric? What happened to you?” She dropped the book and ran to him, kneeling at his side. She tried to pull his hands away to see his wound.
But he snapped at her, “No! Don’t touch me. The blood. There’s too much blood.”
She read his book, cover to cover, several times. Each time she found him more horrifying, and yet, she was kneeling at his side trying to help him. “Demon blood can’t hurt me. You already gave me some, remember? It did nothing. Let me help you, Eric.”
Eric couldn’t remember. He felt like his guts were on fire. He groaned, curling tighter around the wound. Natalia watched him for a moment. She sat on her heels, long hair pulled away from her face in a high pony tail. Her white tee shirt already had a smear of his blood on it.
He rasped, “How can you sit there offering to help me, when you know what I’ve done?”
She was finished waiting for him to comply. Natalia pushed Eric onto his back. A pair of shears appeared and she sliced open his shirt. Eric’s hands kept moving toward the wound, but she slapped them away. “Maybe I’m more sadistic than you think. Stop doing that, or I’ll tie you up.” Taking Eric’s shirt in her hands, she wiped away the blood. The gun shot was clean and went straight into his stomach. The skin was beginning to heal over the bullet hole.
Eric tried to sit up, “I’ll fix it. I don’t need you…”
Shoving him back down, she said, “Yeah, I know. You don’t need me. You’ll kill me. I got it.” She quickly ran around the room gathering the things she needed, and then sat down hard next to Eric. “Don’t move.” Her eyes met his. They were calm, like the sea after a storm. She moved quickly, cutting open the flesh that had healed, using the supplies she had to extract the bullet from his body. Eric winced, gritting his teeth as she worked. Natalia didn’t look at his face, but she could see his skin was glistening with sweat and his fingers turning white, gripping the carpet hard.
She spoke while she worked, not expecting him to be coherent enough to remember anything, “So, every woman you’ve loved has died, either by your hand or because of you. No wonder why you’re so fucked up. And alone.” She shook her head, as she worked the bullet to the surface of his skin. “Angels are loners to start with, but add in the stuff that happened to you and no wonder you’re the way you are.” She eased the bullet out, wiping away the blood with the hem of her shirt. The rag she’d torn from him was soaking wet, unable to hold another drop. His eyes closed when the metal was taken from his gut. His hands were still balled into fists, his muscles tense. Natalia, tore the hem of her shirt off, pressing it to his stomach as it healed. “And the Masterson family was always strict, like the Portelli family. Simone Portelli kind of looked like me. She had the same dark hair and blue eyes.”
Eric’s eyelids peeled open. He stared at her as she spoke. Continuing, she asked, “What do they do to angels when they fall?”
“They’re hunted down,” his gaze didn’t waiver. “Destroyed.”
Her heart was pounding. This was the information she wanted. After years of searching, she’d know why her mother was needlessly slaughtered. “Why?”
Memories plagued Eric, stinging him like a swarm of bees. He looked away, lips parted with his hand on his gut. “When an angel falls, they retain some of their power. They still have angel blood flowing through their veins, and that’s dangerous. Simone fell in love with a mortal. That kind of relationship was always forbidden and she knew it. It was only a matter of time.” Eric didn’t know why she was asking him this, but he recognized the need in her voice. It was more than a question to her, but he was too out of it to realize where this conversation was going.
Natalia nodded. “You’ve always been a bit of an assassin then?”
He arched an eyebrow at her, not speaking. His recent activities weren’t yet logged in his book and he wondered if she knew what he was up to.
She swallowed hard and said, “There were more assassinations tonight. More leaders killed. The President was among them. His men managed to fire a shot before the killer fled—a single shot to the stomach. A lethal shot.” Her eyes were soft, softer than they should have been. “Any other assassin would have died, but not you. So tell me, Eric—what are you doing killing off world leaders?”
He stared up at her, his mouth hanging open. She figured out what he was doing, at least in part. Natalia wiped the blood off her hands, but held onto the scissors. Her eyes narrowed when she looked up at him. Eric’s gut was still burning like it was on fire, but he recognized that something changed. Natalia wasn’t afraid of him. She never was. Whatever he had mistaken for fear was long gone.
“Taunting someone,” he answered.
Natalia’s stance was different. She held the scissors like she was thinking about something, like she wanted to act but was containing herself. Eric had been suspicious of her since he’d seen her in Carina’s. Her presence there didn’t make any sense. Her hostility now left him baffled.
Tapping the sheers in her palm, she tilted her head. “Who?” Natalia wanted to take her chance, but she needed to know what Eric set into motion. It wasn’t just maneuvering one piece of a chess board. His actions tonight set off a string of events, each one spurring another. The assassinations weren’t the heart of this and she wondered what was.
There was something that she said that Eric’s mind wouldn’t gloss over. It was a thought that didn’t belong, mixed in amongst the rest. Eric didn’t answer her question. Instead, he asked, “You said that angels are loners.” She nodded, not thinking anything of it. His brow arched, surprised. He expected her to deny it or create some reason for saying something so random, but she didn’t. That was the problem. That was the part that didn’t mesh.
Eric maintained his cool façade, “That’s true. Angels are loners, and I’m wondering how you could possibly know that because there was no mention of that little detail in my book.” His words fell out of the air like stones. Natalia’s icy eyes rested on his, the scissor gripped tightly in her palm.
She smiled coyly, “No, it wasn’t, was it? That book contained almost everything I wanted, but there were parts missing. It was very nice for you to give it to me, like we’re friends or something more. Trying to warn me away from you,” she laughed coldly, “as if that could help.”
The tension in Eric’s body increased. His eyes locked on hers, his heart forcing more blood into his body like he was ready to fight. She played him. All this time he was trying to protect her and she played him. Anger flashed through him, but he hid it from her. He didn’t want her to know the effect she had on him, how much he grew to adore her.
Eric breathed, “Who are you?”
She shrugged in a girly way, “Someone that you hunted down, and missed.” Her lips pulled into a deadly smile. Natalia was confident now; her eyes flashing with an emotion Eric knew too well—vengeance.
There were so many memories, so many people he destroyed over so many years. His life was such a mess of killings that he didn’t know why he would have hunted her or when. “Tell me what you are, or I’ll… ”
“Or you’ll what?” she demanded. “You think you can overpower me? You think you know what I’m capable of? Poor sweet little Natalia,” she mocked. “I’m not what I seem.” Her voice was cold. As she spoke she rose and pointed the silver sheers directly at Eric’s heart.
He knew better than to smile at her, “So you’ve said. Over and over again.”
“And so you’ve failed to listen. Over and over again.”
Eric was on his feet, standing opposite her. “That can’t kill me.” What was she doing? If she knew who he was, what he was, she knew that those scissors couldn’t kill him. His eyes were turning to pools of gold, heating, watching her. Knowing that she wanted to hurt him made something come to life inside of him. Her body moved the way Eric taught her, the way a predator moves to kill.
“But I can sure have fun trying.” She arched a dark brow at him and grinned. “The scissor is to pin you to the wall while I drain your life away. Will the curse let you die? Or will I just have an eternity of fun tormenting you for what you did to me? Nobody knows, Eric. And according to your little notes, you can be killed. That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it? You’re taunting the blue ghost, hoping she’ll destroy what cannot be destroyed.”
Natalia’s sex appeal just shot through the roof. He couldn’t help it. This side of her, this part of her that was dormant for the past few years excited him—as stupid as that was, he couldn’t deny it. The two stood opposite each other, arms outstretched, ready to fight. He moved slowly, carefully, waiting and watching for an opening, knowing she was doing the same. Her body was corded tightly, her thin frame ready to pounce as soon as she saw where to strike.
Eric grinned, taunting her, “As sexy as that is, I’d like to know why you want to kill me.”
The corner of her mouth lifted. It wasn’t a smile. It wasn’t a smirk. It was the face of a woman with a secret. Natalia knew something Eric didn’t. “You missed a few things, Eric.”
“Obviously,” he replied far too light-hearted for the situation he was in.
The tension was building, each of them moving slowly, turning in deliberate circles. Natalia wanted to thrust the metal through his shoulder and pin him to the wall. A single kiss would have killed him, if he wasn’t cursed. Now she didn’t know what would happen. But she had to find out. This was the moment she waited for.
When Eric materialized and fell on the floor of her room, she faltered. She wanted more information, as was her nature, but she should have done it then—when he was weak. She patched him up to confirm what she already knew, what her heart wanted to deny. She wasn’t like him. Natalia would never be like him. Her kills were revenge. There was always a reason, and Eric had more reasons for her to destroy him than he realized.